Friday, October 16, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- the Jewish flood

All right.  The urban legend is that the Biblical flood story is a version of Gilgamesh.  By now, you know that I wouldn’t bring it up if the provenance supported the urban legend.
The original Mesopotamian flood story is a fragmented tablet naming Zidusura, king of Shuruppak, one of the original five cities of Sumer.  Archaeology shows that Shuruppak experienced a terrible flood in 2900 BCE but recovered and survived until it was destroyed by the Gutians by 2100 BCE.  You can access a translation here.
The Gilgamesh epic on the same site is here:
Notice that this narrative includes only 5 stories.  This is the version of Gilgamesh that existed for centuries.
About 1700 BCE we find a new version of Gilgamesh, in twelve tablets.  The last three tablets are about Gilgamesh’s expedition to find Utnapishtim “the far away” who survived the flood.
Utnapishtim tells his story, and it is almost identical to the flood story in Atra-Hasis, our copy of which dates to the same period.
About this same time, the name Gilgamesh was added to the Sumerian kings list.
Gilgamesh’s flood was published in sections, first by Thomas Fish in 1935, then more parts by Maurus Witzel in 1936 and finally by Samuel Kramer in 1949.
The twelve-tablet version of Gilgamesh has turned up in the Hittite capital 1500 kilometers away, before 1500 BCE; in Megiddo about 1300 BCE (the period of Akhenaten); in Ugarit (which was destroyed about 1190 BCE); in Nineveh between 1300 and 1000 BCE; in Ashurbanipal’s library of the 600s BCE.  All of these finds have slightly different texts.  The story was still evolving in the millennium after the oldest known find of the story about Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim, kind of like the changes in the King Arthur epic from the Mabinogion through Chretien de Troyes to T.H. White’s Once and Future King.
For those who believe that the ancestors of the Jews copied their law from Hammurabi, the 1700 BCE twelve-tablet recension of Gilgamesh seems like a great find.  For those who believe that the ancestors of the Jews copied monotheism from Akhenaton, the fact that Gilgamesh was popular in the Holy Land in that period seems like a great find.  But remember, tablets means cuneiform means low probability that the Jews or their ancestors ever read those tablets.
And what about the Greeks?  That’s next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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