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Noah versus Gilgamesh

I would almost be willing to bet that somewhere along the line you have heard that there are many striking similarities between the story of Noah and a certain Sumerian or Babylonian epic poem. That the story found in the Bible and the Chaldean records of Gilgamesh (sometimes rendered Gilgamec or Gilgames) are perhaps versions of the same “legend,” that they share numerous details, or share a common source. If you have watched any of the many History or Discovery Channel programs on the flood or on any number of other related religious topics, or if you have read any of the several articles that have appeared in print through various venues over the last several decades, you cannot have missed the work of scholars seriously comparing the two. We are told flatly that there are many parallels.

I am not an educated man. Certainly I can use a little knowledge around the house now and then. I’m sure not in any danger of learning too much. Neither are you. And these programs are filled with information and they come at you with expressed facts and dates. It is all so compelling.

Too bad it’s mostly hogwash.

In today’s world of computer access, Internet sites, and with the World Wide Web, even the simplest amongst us can go out and do searches and even some fact checking now and then. If you can read, you can find things. You don’t even need to have the correct spelling, as that is only an option. An amazing world of information is literally at our fingertips.

This is not to say that it too is not fraught with some bad information and the occasional equivalent stinking heap of electronic garbage. But, if you can find it (and you likely can), then you can generally also find out whether or not it is portrayed factually, within reality, or with some accuracy (the pronoun “it” in the previous being the antecedent for just about anything). Just ask Dan Rather.

One of my favorite sites is Snopes.com, which friend and co-conspirator Mark Zaveson led me to some time ago. They seem to concern themselves (along with simply locating things) in dispelling rumors, eliminating factoids, and vaporizing urban myths. Another is Wikipedia the online encyclopedia. That one is one of Brent’s favorites and mine too. The dictionary at www.m-w.com (Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, whose site also includes The Encyclopedia Britannica) is useful when you do want to get the spelling and perhaps some other things correct. There are numerous others. Can you imagine what would have been the possible results if our ancestors had this mountain of information so easily and handily available?

Anyway, all of my adult life I have seen this type of a gaseous fog emanating from some academic forum or another on this topic and a number of others. That is why I generally call academicians the wise guys. If they are so smart why do they so regularly and speciously spew forth such vapid and empty-headed nonsense? Especially now when some people will actually take the time to look and see if what is offered has any merit. I think that it must pay very well.

If they told us the moon was blue, some would no doubt take it at face value. Yet, why not just go outside at night and take a look? But some won’t look because the information comes to us well polished, decorated, and with an air of academic credence, and we are such trusting souls. The modern magician with his sleight-of-hand and magnificent disappearing acts comes with a similar bag of tricks, planning on the same outcome. The Ponzi schemer or con artist also uses the same techniques.

P. T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every second, and two to take him.” He was mostly counted in the second group, and seemed to know what he was talking about.

But don’t take my word for it. Is the Gilgamesh epic startlingly similar to the record of Genesis? Let’s play Fox News and you decide.

First, it is not news that these two records have been and are being compared and stated as being similar. This farce has been going on since the eleven tablets inscribed with the Gilgamesh “Epic” were first found nearly three centuries ago. There have been claims made along the way that a record of the flood as described in Genesis has been found in many ancient cultures and this is the sterling example poised in support.

Second, the records are all translated and available for reading and inspection. I downloaded the translated versions so that I could accurately quote them and present them here.

What then would stop us from making a cursory examination of the premise that these two records are so similar? What would stop us from examining whether or not the Chaldean records are the oldest form of storytelling records of this kind?

The answer is that nothing can stop us now.

Let’s take the second point first: that these tablets contain the oldest known writing, story, and records of historical import. Unfortunately there is nothing in the Gilgamesh tablets that suggests they are historical documents at all other than a few of the names also appear in some other ancient records. That however, doesn’t even slow these things down. Historians date these records and the fragments found at Kish, Me-tura and Urhu from about 2,600 years before Christ. That roughly corresponds to the time of the building of the first pyramids in Egypt.

Aside from that, none of these tablets actually pre-dates the templates or the events in the writings of Moses, or more correctly, that of the story of Abraham, let alone Noah and the rest going right back to Adam. Abraham’s saga may be contemporaneous to these things, if they can be said to be contemporary. Yet in all that it appears that Gilgamesh could not predate the Bible, that is unless you discount that Moses wrote the book of Genesis.

By the way, this is exactly where this premise gets its legs, when you scrape away the nonsense and get down to the roots. You must accept that the writings of Moses are fraudulent and come along after this Chaldean record or any of the others containing similar stuff. Babylon was likely not much of a mud brick town when Abraham was living, and may not have existed at all during Noah’s day. But to buy into this, you must accept Moses did not write the first books of the Bible and that they are later productions simply filled with myths.

And if you believe that Moses did not write Genesis, why believe that he wrote anything at all? You also act to make Jesus out a liar, because he plainly stated that the writer of the first five books of the Old Testament was Moses. Then you end up with another set of problems to explain away, and the only way to do that is to say Jesus was not the Son of God, who he said he was, equal with God Almighty both omniscient and omnipresent, but was mistaken, or, better yet, was a fraud. As with many other things, you just can’t have it both ways.

Along with that the Jews should be up for the grand prize as the most easily duped people in all of history, supposing that Moses did not write what was in all times attributed to him, and that all of it was created and supplied sometime after the rule of David (nearly a full millennia later) during the rule of Josiah or thereabouts, that is, if David and the rest actually ever existed. But that is the theory, and you have to buy that to make the other work. Wow. This is like buying in on the JFK theory for the shooter on that grassy knoll — you must suspend the facts, toss the records, physics, along with good sense and reason out just to get there. It makes me winded just thinking about it.

In short you have to accept that everything in the Hebrew culture was a full-blown fabrication, and not a simple one, but the most elaborate kind, one that lasted for a few thousand years. Can you imagine how hard it would be to line up the conspirators over time? You must accept that although they were the greatest and most accurate recorders of all time. But to be true to this they had to be conniving recorders of fairy tales who made up stories that they then attributed as being their own, in place of what must have been a more failed history. Once that one settled in then they sold it to each successive generation — sold it to several million other unsuspecting dolts. To work, it had to all be a most elaborate myth and conspiracy, in the same fashion as the many conspiracy theories currently in vogue concerning Jesus. After all, history is a pack of lies told on the dead (a remark once attributed appropriately to the atheist Voltaire and then bandied about by many others since – who are each certainly in a position to know lies when they should hear them).

Just the presentation of that heap of empty nonsense stinks to high heaven. It does have its use though — it presents me with an opportunity to poke a little fun at some seriously bad scholarship.

What actually applies is that Noah’s ordeal predates the Akkadian, Sumerian, Chaldean, or any other story like it by at least a millenium. The order that the scholars have it in is just opposite of the chronology and the facts. The details in Gilgamesh and the others is sifted from the biblical record, not the other way around. That is the only plausible explanation, and the one that actually fits both dates and data. Of course, to get here you have to accept the only reasonable explanation of how the information got out in the first place. That is that Moses was the writer/recorder of the five books which bear his historical imprint, the ones attributed to his hand by all ancient and modern histories.

When you come to examining the translations of Gilgamesh, you will find mention of a flood in just a handful of places where occurrences of the English word are found in the documents. Most of these are found in the ninth and eleventh tablets and when they are taken in what little context there is, most of these details bear no resemblance to anything in the narrative of Noah.

A flood is also mentioned in some of the other tablets, by example (the breaks are where an unknown number of lines are missing or are not readable or where the record is simply incomplete): “…… having traveled all the roads that there are, having fetched …… from its ……, having killed ……, you set up …… for future days ……. Having founded ……, you reached ……. Having brought down the old …… forgotten forever and ……, he (?) carried out correctly ……. …… the flood …… the settlements of the Land.”

Scholars may be able to load up their pipes light them and dream in the night to make something of that, but less sensible and less educated folks might read it and think the whole section is good for nothing at all.

The body is certainly an epic though not a poem in the sense of say Coleridge’s “The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner”. The English translation is barely coherent, while the ancient translated text of the Old Testament is fluent, and though antiquated, quite readable and understandable in comparison.

Now let’s get to the single section that might be said to parallel the Noah account. Whoops, I let the proverbial cat out of the bag! It is perhaps two or three pages in length, or about three times the length of the story of Noah. See if you can find all the parallels and similarities that are crammed in here that the scholars see, or perhaps just the single glaring one that I tripped over. (You can find the English text at this link although we will not link to it here http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Epic_of_Gilgamesh#Tablet_IX)

Gilgamesh or Utanapishtim (it is impossible for me to tell which) was told to tear down a place called the Reed House at the Euphrates and build a boat out of its materials. (Now that’s a similarity: there is a boat in both stories.) For this story, however, the boat, though 10 times 12 cubits high and as large as a “field,” took just a week to construct.

“The boat was finished by sunset. The launching was very difficult. They had to keep carrying a runway of poles front to back, until two-thirds of it had gone into the water(?). Whatever I had I loaded on it: whatever silver I had I loaded on it, whatever gold I had I loaded on it. All the living beings that I had I loaded on it, I had all my kith and kin go up into the boat, all the beasts and animals of the field and the craftsmen I had go up. Shamash had set a stated time: ‘In the morning I will let loaves of bread shower down, and in the evening a rain of wheat! Go inside the boat, seal the entry!’ That stated time had arrived. In the morning he let loaves of bread shower down, and in the evening a rain of wheat. I watched the appearance of the weather– the weather was frightful to behold! I went into the boat and sealed the entry. For the caulking of the boat, to Puzuramurri, the boatman, I gave the palace together with its contents. Just as dawn began to glow there arose from the horizon a black cloud. Adad rumbled inside of it, before him went Shullat and Hanish, heralds going over mountain and land. Erragal pulled out the mooring poles, forth went Ninurta and made the dikes overflow. The Anunnaki lifted up the torches, setting the land ablaze with their flare. Stunned shock over Adad’s deeds overtook the heavens, and turned to blackness all that had been light. The… land shattered like a… pot. All day long the South Wind blew …, blowing fast, submerging the mountain in water, overwhelming the people like an attack. No one could see his fellow, they could not recognize each other in the torrent. The gods were frightened by the Flood, and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu. The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall. Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth, the sweet-voiced Mistress of the Gods wailed.”

I would think that a shower of bread followed by a rain of wheat might preclude the need for bringing on a flood. As getting chonked on the head by a loaf would probably get most peoples attention, if they survived. To be fair, it seems the food is for the boat people, although why they needed a sky full is not broached. There is really nothing to compare this to in the Noah story.

There is apparently a fire going on preceeding, or (how can it be?) during the flood in this tale, along with a few other related catastrophes, as if the flood just wasn’t bad enough. And a mountain they came across in the very abbreviated journey was submerged with the folks on the summit in the water and not doing well. Three birds were released at the end (a dove, sparrow – both returned, and then a raven) and following that everything was let go, so that’s a similarity of sorts.

The boatman came out of this better than most, as he received a palace from Gilgamesh for just caulking everything up. Not a bad deal if you can get it. But then what good is a submerged palace full of stuff.

There were animals aboard (though it says nothing of how many) so that’s certainly a similarity, and there was a crowd of people, a lot more than a mere eight souls (both “kith and kin,” which I had always thought was a Scottish phrase, and other assorted hanger’s on). Gilgamesh apparently took all the cash he could get his hands on with him, not knowing what he might come across. It doesn’t state how many people were present or how much money was aboard either. But, I think the boat was loaded.

Apparently this “universal” flood covered only the Euphrates basin, lasted just one week, and didn’t get rid of everybody and everything.

“How, how could you bring about a Flood without consideration? Charge the violation to the violator, charge the offense to the offender, but be compassionate lest (manknind) be cut off, be patient lest they be killed. Instead of your bringing on the Flood, would that a lion had appeared to diminish the people! Instead of your bringing on the Flood, would that a wolf had appeared to diminish the people! Instead of your bringing on the Flood, would that famine had occurred to slay the land! Instead of your bringing on the Flood, would that (Pestilent) Erra had appeared to ravage the land!”

The flood was pegged by Gilgamesh as an apparent inconsiderate act on behalf of the gods, and it’s too bad that he didn’t file the complaint prior to embarking. Noah’s God wasn’t concerned with such things, as his intent was to destroy everything and everybody excepting righteous Noah. And Noah didn’t whine about things, he simply did as he was instructed.

It appears that Gilgamesh or perhaps it’s Utanapishtim (it’s still difficult by reading to know who did what and Gil may have been just along for the ride) made it to the mouth of the rivers by the end of the week’s surge (it is unspecified as to which rivers it is talking about – but likely again, it’s the Tigris and Euphrates) and there he or they were allowed or were forced to disembark. Utanapishtim and his wife get a reward for suffering through this and are made gods. It then states that all the cities were still very much intact. This part is easily as entertaining as some of the descriptions found in the Book of Mormon.

This is the final paragraph of this portion. It is also one of the best parts. See how many parallels you can find.

“Urshanabi, this plant is a plant against decay(!) by which a man can attain his survival(!). I will bring it to Uruk-Haven, and have an old man eat the plant to test it. The plant’s name is ‘The Old Man Becomes a Young Man.'” Then I will eat it and return to the condition of my youth.” At twenty leagues they broke for some food, at thirty leagues they stopped for the night. Seeing a spring and how cool its waters were, Gilgamesh went down and was bathing in the water. A snake smelled the fragrance of the plant, silently came up and carried off the plant. While going back it sloughed off its casing.’ At that point Gilgamesh sat down, weeping, his tears streaming over the side of his nose. “Counsel me, O ferryman Urshanabi! For whom have my arms labored, Urshanabi! For whom has my heart’s blood roiled! I have not secured any good deed for myself, but done a good deed for the ‘lion of the ground’!” Now the high waters are coursing twenty leagues distant,’ as I was opening the conduit(?) I turned my equipment over into it (!). What can I find (to serve) as a marker(?) for me! I will turn back (from the journey by sea) and leave the boat by the shore!” At twenty leagues they broke for some food, at thirty leagues they stopped for the night. They arrived in Uruk-Haven. Gilgamesh said to Urshanabi, the ferryman: “Go up, Urshanabi, onto the wall of Uruk and walk around. Examine its foundation, inspect its brickwork thoroughly– is not (even the core of) the brick structure of kiln-fired brick, and did not the Seven Sages themselves lay out its plan! One league city, one league palm gardens, one league lowlands, the open area(?) of the Ishtar Temple, three leagues and the open area(?) of Uruk it encloses.”

(Retrieved from “http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Epic_of_Gilgamesh”)

This last bit comes from another of the earlier tablets although it too mentions a flood.

“Enlil’s advice was given to Enki. Enki answered An and Enlil: “In those days, in those distant days, in those nights, in those distant nights, in those years, in those distant years, after the assembly had made the Flood sweep over to destroy the seed of mankind, among us I was the only one who was for life (?), and so he remained alive (?) — Zi-ud-sura, although (?) a human being, remained alive (?). Then you made me swear by heaven and by earth, and … that no human will be allowed to live forever (?) any more. Now, as we look at Gilgamec, could not he escape because of his mother?’”

As I said, I came up with only one true similarity: it seems that a flood is mentioned, and it records a corresponding boat ride. Again, the other details and that one central similarity seem to be lifted from Noah, and not the other way around. This flood clearly was not universal, however.

As for other similarities there really aren’t many that I can find. But there are enough for the truly wise among us to able to probably identify how the parallels and common threads made their way from the Old Testament and into Gilgamesh. So, why is it that this (the clearly inferior record and later record) is thought to be the source, while the clearly superior and early one is deemed the copy? Go figure. To do that you must make the theory fit for your own use. If you don’t believe that the earliest complete record of antediluvian doings is the Bible then you must find a way to have other less valuable things to predate it. By ridding yourself of Moses you can accomplish what you seek. Only then will the pieces fit.

I do see a little divergence as with some of the items already mentioned (or a lot of that perhaps). Here no human is mentioned as afterward allowed to live forever, and that doesn’t parallel anything in the story of Noah in the Old Testament, as that notion was taken care of long before Noah had appeared.

Noah built the ark, but Gilgamesh hired it out. Noah used wood and Gilgamesh found reeds useful. But then, Gilgamesh, Utanapishtim and company weren’t floating around for nearly as long as Noah.

Last but not least, the gods are apparently in as big a mess throughout this whole episode as are the other characters, which is a sure sign of human invention and tinkering. “The gods were frightened by the flood and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu. The gods were cowering like dogs.” You will never find anything even remotely similar to that in the whole of the Bible.

In the last bit of narrative, the character Enki (perhaps from the famous trio Enki, Dinki, Doo?) survived the flood, but it seems the writer indicates that good ole Gilgamesh didn’t make the final cut. I’m confused. Gilgamesh’s mother may possibly have had a hand in his undoing, too. That is, if in fact he was undone. There is no such ambiguity in the account of Noah as is found here and throughout this entire record.

Well, there you have my report of this rather grand work of antiguity. My one point worth pondering was made earlier and then repeated: this record does not predate the five books of Moses, and the story of Noah found there was the source for the “shared” details in this fable. To assign this as a fable (or is it art?) you need only to read this tablet or any of the earlier ones, and all of that will be crystal clear. You may read some of the Bible and think it full of fables too, but the stories there all end in a single central point. The details are less stupendous and contrived. The events always glorify the one and only God, and the details match from place to place, through superior writing and in careful relating of the narrative. But that is really for you to decide.

So, we reported and we’ll let you decide. Of course, you couldn’t get hurt by going on-line and reading some more of this seriously empty stuff for yourself. It works better and faster than any over-the-counter sleeping potion. Perhaps you’ll find it readable and uplifting and not at all as I found it — unable to float.

In another essay on another day, I’ll take a look at the Babylonian “creation” epic that is similarly said to “closely follow the biblical account.”