In response to questions from readers, let’s delve a little more into the story of the Biblical Flood. One reader commented, “I think it is important to remember that the flood story in the Bible is pretty much stolen whole cloth from the epic of Gilgamesh. So, you do need to ask whether the flood in the Bible is the same flood as in the epic or if it was a localized flood or if it was just a cool story to tell.
OK. For readers not familiar with Gilgamesh, it is debatable whether Gilgamesh was a real king of Uruk in Babylonia or a mythical figure. According to a Washington State University Web site page, many stories and myths were written about Gilgamesh, some in Sumerian as early as 2000 B.C. Wikipedia tells us that the early Sumerian versions of the epic did not include the flood story. The flood story appeared in the “standard” Akkadian version sometime between 1300 B.C. and 1000 B.C. The Institute for Creation Research Web site states that fragments of the flood story have been found on tablets dated around 2000 B.C., and that linguistic experts believe the story was compiled from materials written well before that date. The Sumerian cuneiform writing has been estimated to go as far back as 3300 B.C.
The Gilgamesh flood chapter, whenever it was written, tells us Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim (similar to Noah). Utnapishtim had found immortality by building a ship to weather the Great Deluge that destroyed mankind. He brought all of his relatives and all species of creatures aboard the ship, he released birds to find land, and the ship landed on a mountain after the flood. These were similarities, but there were many dissimilarities as well in this story of a hero that could be compared to our stories of Hercules.
So, to answer my reader’s statements:
The flood story in the Bible is pretty much stolen whole cloth from the epic of Gilgamesh.
Not so. There are many disparities between the two versions, but that’s not what I base my opinion on. First of all, there are other similar accounts of the global flood from Babylonian, Phoenician and Hebrew writings. Were these nations all running around plagiarizing each other?
Consider this for a moment from a Biblical standpoint, even if you are not of that persuasion. After the Flood, Noah and family (eight people in all) descended from the ark. These eight people repopulated the Earth.
And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dried. And God spoke to Noah, saying, “Go forth of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you.” Genesis 8:15-16. Genesis, Chapter 10, goes on to list how Noah’s descendants began to spread out and establish various nations. It’s too long to include here, but that’s where you can find it in the Bible.
The point I’m making is this: The Flood had a tremendous impact on Noah and family. Suppose, for instance, we lived in a house on the end of the street and a plane crashed into the street and destroyed every house but ours and killed every neighbor. Wouldn’t that be a story that was told over and over? Our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids would know the story. So, isn’t it reasonable to believe Noah’s descendants knew the story of the flood that destroyed, not just the neighborhood, but the whole world? And wouldn’t the tale bear repeating over and over to their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren? In fact, it’s unreasonable to believe this story wasn’t told over and over.
Each generation would carry the story forward, but each generation would put their own spin on it. So after a few centuries, in the different areas of the Middle East where Noah’s descendants had settled, the Flood story would be known, would be told, and would be very similar, yet have differences. Are these nations all plagiarizing someone’s original story, or all telling different unique flood stories, or – as I believe – all telling the same story with their version modified through the centuries? Is it reasonable to believe the story could be handed down from generation to generation with every sentence identical? No. In my opinion, the reason why the Flood story was told throughout the Middle East is because it was carried down through the ages by descendants of the original cast who actually lived through the Flood. The Gilgamesh flood story may have been a version of the original Biblical Flood or may have been pure fiction inspired by tales of the original Biblical event.
As far as the Bible Flood being a local flood, that would not make any sense. If it were a local flood, there would be no reason to build an ark, no reason to save every species of animal. “And the waters prevailed exceeding upon the earth, and all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered.” Genesis 7:19.
As far as it being just a cool story to tell? Delete the word “just” and it is definitely a cool story to tell, just as Noah’s descendants discovered. And the coolest thing about the story is that it is historical fact, told to us by none other than our creator. Who should know the story better than the one who “broke up the fountains of the great deep” and opened “the windows of heaven,” and set his bow in the cloud as a token of a covenant between him and the earth?