Comparing the flood stories in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis, one is impressed with the numerous similarities between the two accounts. The common elements between the two have been perplexing for some scholars. Alexander Heidel shows the three main possibilities about the relationship between the two accounts: “first, the Babylonians borrowed from the Hebrew account; second, the Hebrew account is dependent on the Babylonian; third, both are descended from a common original.”1 Because the Epic written in Akkadian predates the Old Testament written in Hebrew, “The most widely accepted explanation today is the second, namely, that the biblical account is based on Babylonian material.”2 This theory poses an awkward problem for Christians. While the fact that there are flood legends like the Genesis Flood account in most cultures around the world is used to testify to the reliability of the Bible,3 the Gilgamesh Epic is used to deny the authority of the Bible because of its predating. According to the extant clay tablets, scholars reckon the time of the first compilation of the Epic in Akkadian around the second millennium B.C.4 Since there is a Sumerian version behind the Akkadian, the Epic is, “…upon any view of the date of the Book of Genesis, considerably older than the biblical narrative.”5 Therefore, it is important to explain the relationship between these two accounts. Thus, this thesis is the result of this writer’s commitment to the authority of the Bible and interest in flood traditions.
Statement of purpose
This writer’s research question is this: what is the relationship between the flood accounts of the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis? Through this study, this research question is investigated by comparing five perspectives of these two accounts. The purpose of this thesis is to support the trustworthiness of the Bible in order to strengthen Christians’ faith in the Bible.
Significance of the study
It is indispensable for Christians to have faith in the authority of the Bible. Without trusting the Bible, no one can have confidence for one’s salvation and sanctification. Needless to say, it is an important thing for a pastor to proclaim the trustworthiness of the whole Bible. Today, Christians who do not believe the Bible as the truth, or who cannot distinguish the true and false are increasing in number. Especially, Genesis is regarded as a mere myth by some Christians. However, if someone loses his faith in one part of the Bible, it will be difficult to believe other parts of the Bible. Therefore, it is important for the authority of the Bible to investigate the theory that the Flood account in Genesis was derived from the Gilgamesh Epic. Some Christians may weaken or lose their faith because of this theory. It is fatal for Christians to lose faith in the authority of the Bible. Thus, it is evident that there is need for examining the relationship between the flood accounts of the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis in order to distinguish the true and the false and to demonstrate that the Epic cannot be used to deny the authority of the Bible.
For the purposes of this study, the following delimitations are made. This study is limited to the exegetical study of the Gilgamesh Epic tablet XI, the flood account, and to Genesis 6–10. As the Akkadian text of the Gilgamesh Epic, R. C. Thompson’s version, the reprinted Oxford edition,6 and Simo Parpola’s version of The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project7 are used. For exegesis of the Genesis account, Biblia Hebraica8 is used. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version.9
Though there are many translations of the Gilgamesh Epic, some of them seem to be linguistically unreliable. Thus, it was important for this project to work from the original Akkadian. This is difficult because many parts of the tablets were broken and some words are unclear. Nevertheless it is vital to read the Gilgamesh Epic in its original language to identify the original contents correctly. For exegesis of the Gilgamesh Epic, its Akkadian text, linguistic dictionaries and grammar books are indispensable. Biblia Hebraica, scientific resources, unpublished material, and some historical resources are also used to analyze the reliability of both accounts.
In the first chapter, this writer will briefly explain the background of the Gilgamesh Epic. In the second chapter, this writer will summarize the flood accounts in the Gilgamesh Epic tablet XI and Genesis and analyze their common elements and differences. Then, this writer will compare the differences between the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis in several ways. In the third chapter, this writer will compare both accounts from the aspect of their ethics. In the fourth chapter, this writer will compare specific points of both accounts. In the fifth chapter, this writer will analyze these accounts from the angle of the scientific reliability. In the sixth chapter, this writer will compare both accounts to examine their internal consistency. In the seventh chapter, this writer will compare both accounts with secular historical records. By this process and method, this writer expects to find that in spite of their similarities, their differences will show that the Gilgamesh Epic has little reliability, and it would be unlikely that the author of Genesis would use the Epic as the source for the Flood account.
Chart: “Language Families of the Ancient Near East”10
G. Herbert Livingston, “The Pentateuch In Its Cultural Environment,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1974), p. 62. Used with permission.
|ATRAHASIS||W.G. Lamber and A.R. Millard, Atrahasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood.|
|CAD||The Assyrian Dictionary|
|CANE||Jack M. Sasson, ed. Civilizations of the Ancient Near East.|
|Deut.||Deuteronomy of the Old Testament|
|Ex.||Exodus of the Old Testament|
|Ezek.||Ezekiel of the Old Testament|
|Gen.||Gensis of the Old Testament|
|Gil.||The Epic of Gilgamesh|
|Isa.||Isaiah of the Old Testament|
|Jon.||Jonah of the Old Testament|
|NIV||New International Version of the Holy Bible|
|Parpola||Simo Parpola, The Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh: Cuneiform text, transliteration, Glossary, indices and sign list, State Archives of Assyria Cuneiform Text Volume 1.|
|Prov.||Proverbs of the Old Testament|
|Ps.||Psalm of the Old Testament|
About the author
earned her M.A. writing “A comparative study of the flood accounts in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis” as her thesis while attending Wesley Biblical Seminary in the USA, where she also studied Akkadian. She has also studied at Japan College of Social Work, where she earned her Bachelor of Social Welfare, and Tokyo Biblical Seminary and Kobe Lutheran Theological Seminary where she earned her M.Div. She graciously agreed to allow us to publish this on the Answers in Genesis website as a study helpful for refuting the claim that Noah’s Flood was derived from the Gilgamesh Epic.