In Torah, Noach is not a copy of Gilgamesh. First, there’s the cuneiform thing. In fact, Gilgamesh was THE basic school text for learning cuneiform, and that’s why it shows up so many places. They all had cuneiform schools. And one thing that we have some reason for believing, is that the ancestors of the Jews didn’t go to cuneiform school.
Then, although they both have a flood story, the Gilgamesh version is a version of the one in Atra-Hasis, and our copies of both date at earliest to the 1700s BCE.
Noach’s flood begins when people behave badly and after a long period (in earthly terms) of trying to think of a solution, Gd decides to wipe out everybody with a flood, except for Noach “who was righteous in his generations.” In the Mesopotamian story, people behave badly – they make too much noise – and the gods try a famine to reduce the noise, but people reproduce fast enough to bring the decibels back up to an uncomfortable level.
Noach builds his ark of a specific kind of wood that we can’t identify any more. In the Mesopotamian story, wood isn’t just lying around to be used in an ark. Atra-Hasis and Utnapishtim have to tear down their houses for wood to build the ark. (Which is pretty strange because in Mesopotamia, houses have always been built of mud brick.)
Noach takes aboard two of every kind of life, a male and a female – except that he takes aboard seven male-female pairs of tahor animals. We know which animals these are. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 tell us which ones they are (or rather are not). They are suitable for sacrifice, in accordance with the meaning of tahor as suitable for a given purpose, which I discussed in the legal part of this blog. Atra-Hasis and Utnapishtim take aboard animals but the tameh/tahor distinction is absent, of course.
Noach takes aboard his three sons, their wives, and his own wife. Atra-Hasis and Utnapishtim take aboard their workers as well as their families.
When the flood waters abate, Noach’s ark lands on Ararat, a version of the name Urartu for a place in the Lake Van region, near where proto-Semitic developed. Utnapishtim’s ark lands on Omar Gudrun in the Zagros mountains between Ararat and, say, Kish. We don’t know where Atra-Hasis landed; that fragment is missing.
Noach tests whether the land is ready to occupy by sending out first a crow, and then a dove three times. Utnapishtim sends out a dove, a sparrow, and then a crow. This part of Atra-Hasis is missing.
When Noach leaves the ark, he offers a sacrifice, a reach nichoach l’****. This phrase in the Jewish Bible is always used of sacrifices properly offered to the Jewish Gd. Now we know why Noach needed seven pairs of tahor animals. If he only had one, he would have to sacrifice the male, but if the female wasn’t pregnant at the time with a male, then the entire line would be wiped out. No more sheep or cattle or goats or whatever. Utnapishtim and Atra-Hasis also offer sacrifices but this survival problem is never discussed.
I’ll discuss the sequel next week.
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