One could argue that the tale of the deluge and flooding of the world found in the Epic of Gilgamesh is the foundation of all other flood myths. This story is dated to around 3000 BC and is very likely the oldest written book, or story, available to contemporary civilization.
Let us compare the Old Testament of the Bible for example. At its earliest, and then known as the Septuagint, (later and with some variation by the Jews the Torah), the Old Testament is really a derivative, or retelling, of a Mesopotamian book different in important parts from the Jewish version of this text which became the Pentateuch, or Hebrew Bible, and which was later adopted by Jerome when compiling the books of the Bible. This “Hebrew” version of the Babylonian and Sumerian tales dates at the earliest to around 1800 BC.
Jerome, it seems, felt the Hebrew, rather than the Sumerian version, was more conducive to Christianity. Evidence shows, however, that the Old Testament is in many ways a corruption of the original Mesopotamian text, this Old Testament, especially the book of Exodus, a Jewish invention meant to impart their theory of one vindictive God who favors the Jewish people:
The books of the Jewish Bible are believed to have been written over several centuries, beginning in the 10th century BC – by which time the Hebrews are settled in Canaan, or Palestine. But in many parts the scribes are writing down a much older oral tradition. It is thought that some of the events described may go back as far as the 18th century BC. (source here).
Let us then propose one theory, by means of which we might try to get a clearer picture of the real origin of Man, and by which we might offer a clearer explanation as to where the West’s holiest book has its own origins. It appears to me that civilization as we know it began somewhere in the region of Mesopotamia. It was here—in the land between the rivers—that Men began their discourses, or at least put them down in writing, and so here that they laid down their first recollection of oral historical traditions which were, prior to that time, passed along from father to son by word of mouth. One of these books first scribed was the Epic of Gilgamesh:
Gilgamesh was an historical king of Uruk in Babylonia, on the River Euphrates in modern Iraq; he lived about 2700 B.C. Although historians (and your textbook) tend to emphasize Hammurabi and his code of law, the civilizations of the Tigris-Euphrates area, among the first civilizations, focus rather on Gilgamesh and the legends accruing around him to explain, as it were, themselves. Many stories and myths were written about Gilgamesh, some of which were written down about 2000 B.C. in the Sumerian language on clay tablets which still survive; the Sumerian language, as far as we know, bears no relation to any other human language we know about. These Sumerian Gilgamesh stories were integrated into a longer poem, versions of which survive not only in Akkadian (the Semitic language, related to Hebrew, spoken by the Babylonians) but also on tablets written in Hurrian and Hittite (an Indo-European language, a family of languages which includes Greek and English, spoken in Asia Minor). All the above languages were written in the script known as cuneiform, which means “wedge-shaped.” The fullest surviving version, from which the summary here is taken, is derived from twelve stone tablets, in the Akkadian language, found in the ruins of the library of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria 669-633 B.C., at Nineveh. The library was destroyed by the Persians in 612 B.C., and all the tablets are damaged. The tablets actually name an author, which is extremely rare in the ancient world, for this particular version of the story: Shin-eqi-unninni. You are being introduced here to the oldest known human author we can name by name!” (source).
The very first tablet of Gilgamesh acknowledges a flood:
The one who saw all [Sha nagba imuru ]I will declare to the world,
The one who knew all I will tell about
He saw the great Mystery, he knew the Hidden:
He recovered the knowledge of all the times before the Flood.
He journeyed beyond the distant, he journeyed beyond exhaustion,
And then carved his story on stone ["naru"].
Gilgamesh was supposedly two-thirds god and one-third human, and his quest, one could say his consuming desire, was to live forever like the gods, something not possible for him because of his human portion. The epic about him tells of his life and his quest to achieve immortality. He was no real “upstanding citizen” this Gilgamesh, although his virtues may be, and were at least in his time, the only real virtues, the old virtues praised by Nietzsche and condemned by the weak that became strong: honor, valor, dignity, pride, strength, virility, and so on. Whether or not he was “good”, as we know him, is an entirely different question depending on your idea of what constitutes virtue.
Regarding the “priority” of the flood accounts, Nozami Ozanai summarizes the dilemma correctly, but comes to a different conclusion than we will have to draw, as we will see, ourselves:
“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” (ibid.)
His account is taking possibility #1 as the correct one, when this is a bias based on his religious preferences and nothing else of scientific or historical accuracy. It is taken on faith. Once again, the possibilities for the chronology of the flood myth:
1. The Sumerian account comes from the Hebrew.
2. The Hebrew comes from the Sumerian.
3. Both the Sumerian and the Hebrew come from an earlier account.
In my opinion proposition 1 is highly unlikely, in fact the least likely of the three. To show this, we must discuss a bit the meaning of “Hebrew.” Hebrews are known as the ancestors of Israelites, and it should be noted that neither, at this point in history, has anything to do with the area of Palestine or the eastern end of the Mediteranean Sea. There is nothing in the literature or historical and archaeological evidence to show that a “Hebrew” was someone from anywhere near what is present-day Israel.
Some accounts, like that of Blavatsky, make of these people a nomadic tribe originating in Babylon, the “Khabiru” or “Habiru” tribe, to be precise, a renegade sect of Babylonian religion. See Rainey, Anson (2008-11) “Shasu or Habiru. Who Were the Early Israelites?” in Biblical Archeology Review (Biblical Archaeology Society) 34 (06 (Nov/Dec), and also see most Encyclopedia articles about the Hebrews. By extention, we find these literate nomads combining elements of their native beliefs with new ones of their own and thereby founding Judaism. In fact, inscriptions in Egypt from around the 12th century BC tell of these nomads settling in Egypt at that time.
This would all be cut-and-dry evidence for our Judaism being but another cult were it not for the debate over the word “Shasu” used by the Egyptians to refer to these Khabiru. One can see where a tribe originally from Mesopotamia had, over the course of a few hundred years, migrated to the Levant, and from there continued further into Egypt. “Shasu of Yahweh,” though, is a strange coincidence, one that cannot be waved off lightly, and one which serves to identify these Shasu with the Khabiru. From Wikipedia:
Yahweh (יהוה) (ya•’we) is the primary Hebrew name of God in the Bible. Jews normally do not pronounce this name, considering it too holy to verbalize. Instead, whenever they encounter this unpronounceable string of consonants, (YHWH) they speak the name Adonai. Orthodox Jews strenuously avoid mentioning or even writing the divine name, preferring such circumlocutions as “the Holy One,” “the Name,” or the defective writing“G-d.” …In Christian Bibles, Yahweh is usually translated as “the LORD,” a rough equivalent to the Hebrew “Adonai.” The Hebrew Bible indicates this reading by inserting the vowel pointing from the word Adonai on the consonants YHWH, rather than use the actual vowels. Based on a literal reading of this pointing (יְהוָֹה), many modern Protestant Christians read God’s name as Jehovah.
Elohim is the generic term for God in the Hebrew Bible, translated “God.” Muslims refer to God as “Allah,” which originates from the same etymological root as “Elohim.”
Yahweh, the Tetragammaton, YWH, all of these are a specific God believed in by these Shasu, one could say, their patron god. Armed with this, these homeless people trod from city to city, seeking not merely food and work, but as missionaries to convey their god and claim to supremacy. Given this scenario, is it any wonder they were “persecuted”?
Early Hebrew writing, furthermore, is a derivative, coming distinctly out of the Phoenician. Given that the Phoenician itself came out of primitive Canaanite in about the 15th century, this seems to indicate that the Sumerian script, from perhaps the 30th century BC, predates it by ages. Scientifically, there is no comparison. To put the dagger in the “Israelite is older” theory once and for all, there is also “The discovery of artifacts (ca. 2600 BC) associated with Enmebaragesi of Kish, who is mentioned in the legends as the father of one of Gilgamesh’s adversaries, [that] has lent credibility to the historical existence of Gilgamesh (Dalley 1989: 40-41).
And, we might add, the older evidence of a worldwide deluge.
The Epic of Gilgamesh brings us to a time when gods walked on Earth among Men. Its tales about warring gods, prostitutes , seers, and demi-gods, we can see clearly, form the basis of the “Sons of God” found in Genesis, those who came from the heavens and found the women of the Earth to be fair, and who mated with them, and had children by them. One such child is Gilgamesh, who marks the beginning of the developing mind of Man rebelling against the self-serving laws of the powers that be.
King Gilgamesh lived and reigned about 2700 BC. According to the Sumerian king list, he was the fourth king of Uruk in Sumer (see Google Timeline, e.g.). There are in fact several variations of the story that span centuries, and much archaeological evidence supports his actual existence, the latest copies found in the library of Assurbarnipal. Below, I present fully the content of Tablet XI, thanks to Ancienttexts.org, which any discerning reader will see as the story behind the story of Noah in the Bible. The specific Atrahasis flood story, though, may be an even earlier story, incorporated into the Gilgamesh epic, and in any case posits an account of the deluge millenia before the Hebrew account.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Story of the Flood
Gilgamesh spoke to Utanapishtim, the Faraway: “I have been looking at you, but your appearance is not strange–you are like me! You yourself are not different–you are like me! My mind was resolved to fight with you,
(but instead?) my arm lies useless over you. Tell me, how is it that you stand in the Assembly of the Gods, and have found life!”
Utanapishtim spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:”I will reveal to you, Gilgamesh, a thing that is hidden, a secret of the gods I will tell you! Shuruppak, a city that you surely know,situated on the banks of the Euphrates, that city was very old, and there were gods inside it. The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood. Their Father Anu uttered the oath (of secrecy), Valiant Enlil was their Adviser, Ninurta was their Chamberlain, Ennugi was their Minister of Canals. Ea, the Clever Prince(?), was under oath with them so he repeated their talk to the reed house: ‘Reed house, reed house! Wall, wall!
O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubartutu: Tear down the house and build a boat! Abandon wealth and seek living beings! Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings! Make all living beings go up into the boat. The boat which you are to build, its dimensions must measure equal to each other: its length must correspond to its width. Roof it over like the Apsu.
I understood and spoke to my lord, Ea: ‘My lord, thus is the command which you have uttered I will heed and will do it. But what shall I answer the city, the populace, and the Elders!’
Ea spoke, commanding me, his servant: ‘You, well then, this is what you must say to them “It appears that Enlil is rejecting me so I cannot reside in your city (?), nor set foot on Enlil’s earth. I will go down to the Apsu to live with my lord, Ea, and upon you he will rain down abundance, a profusion of fowl, myriad(!) fishes. He will bring to you a harvest of wealth, in the morning he will let loaves of bread shower down, and in the evening a rain of wheat!”‘
Just as dawn began to glow the land assembled around me-the carpenter carried his hatchet, the reed worker carried his (flattening) stone… the men …The child carried the pitch, the weak brought whatever else was needed.
On the fifth day I laid out her exterior. It was a field in area, its walls were each 10 times 12 cubits in height, the sides of its top were of equal length, 10 times It cubits each. I laid out its (interior) structure and drew a picture of it (?). I provided it with six decks, thus dividing it into seven (levels). The inside of it I divided into nine (compartments). I drove plugs (to keep out) water in its middle part. I saw to the punting poles and laid in what was necessary. Three times 3,600 (units) of raw bitumen I poured into the bitumen kiln, three times 3,600 (units of) pitch …into it, there were three times 3,600 porters of casks who carried (vegetable) oil, apart from the 3,600 (units of) oil which they consumed (!) and two times 3,600 (units of) oil which the boatman stored away. I butchered oxen for the meat(!), and day upon day I slaughtered sheep. I gave the workmen(?) ale, beer, oil, and wine, as if it were river water, so they could make a party like the New Year’s Festival…. and I set my hand to the oiling(!). 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: “The olden days have alas turned to clay, because I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods! How could I say evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people!!
No sooner have I given birth to my dear people than they fill the sea like so many fish!”
The gods–those of the Anunnaki–were weeping with her, the gods humbly sat weeping, sobbing with grief(?), their lips burning, parched with thirst.
Six days and seven nights came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land. When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding, the flood was a war–struggling with itself like a woman writhing (in labor). The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped up. I looked around all day long–quiet had set in and all the human beings had turned to clay! The terrain was as flat as a roof. I opened a vent and fresh air (daylight!) fell upon the side of my nose.
I fell to my knees and sat weeping, tears streaming down the side of my nose. I looked around for coastlines in the expanse of the sea, and at twelve leagues there emerged a region (of land). On Mt. Nimush the boat lodged firm, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway. One day and a second Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway. A third day, a fourth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway. A fifth day, a sixth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway. When a seventh day arrived I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me; no perch was visible so it circled back to me. I sent forth a swallow and released it. The swallow went off, but came back to me; no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a raven and released it. The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back. It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.
Then I sent out everything in all directions and sacrificed (a sheep). I offered incense in front of the mountain-ziggurat. Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place, and (into the fire) underneath (or: into their bowls) I poured reeds, cedar, and myrtle. The gods smelled the savor, the gods smelled the sweet savor, and collected like flies over a (sheep) sacrifice.
Just then Beletili arrived. She lifted up the large flies (beads) which Anu had made for his enjoyment(!): “You gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli around my neck, may I be mindful of these days, and never forget them! The gods may come to the incense offering, but Enlil may not come to the incense offering, because without considering he brought about the Flood and consigned my people to annihilation.”
Just then Enlil arrived. He saw the boat and became furious, he was filled with rage at the Igigi gods: “Where did a living being escape? No man was to survive the annihilation!”
Ninurta spoke to Valiant Enlil, saying: “Who else but Ea could devise such a thing? It is Ea who knows every machination!”
La [Ea?] spoke to Valiant Enlil, saying: “It is yours, O Valiant One, who is the Sage of the Gods. 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 (mankind) 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! It was not I who revealed the secret of the Great Gods, I (only) made a dream appear to Atrahasis, and (thus) he heard the secret of the gods. Now then! The deliberation should be about him!”
Enlil went up inside the boat and, grasping my hand, made me go up. He had my wife go up and kneel by my side. He touched our forehead and, standing between us, he blessed us:
“Previously Utanapishtim was a human being. But now let Utanapishtim and his wife become like us, the gods! Let Utanapishtim reside far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers.”
They took us far away and settled us at the Mouth of the Rivers.
“Now then, who will convene the gods on your behalf, that you may find the life that you are seeking! Wait! You must not lie down for six days and seven nights.”
As soon as he sat down (with his head) between his legs sleep, like a fog, blew upon him.
Utanapishtim said to his wife: “Look there! The man, the youth who wanted (eternal) life! Sleep, like a fog, blew over him.”
His wife said to Utanapishtim the Faraway: “Touch him, let the man awaken. Let him return safely by the way he came. Let him return to his land by the gate through which he left.”
Utanapishtim said to his wife: “Mankind is deceptive, and will deceive you. Come, bake loaves for him and keep setting them by his head and draw on the wall each day that he lay down.”
She baked his loaves and placed them by his head and marked on the wall the day that he lay down. The first loaf was dessicated, the second stale, the third moist(?), the fourth turned white….the sixth is still fresh,
-suddenly he touched him and the man awoke.
Gilgamesh said to Utanapishtim the Faraway: “O woe! What shall I do, Utanapishtim, where shall I go! The Snatcher has taken hold of my flesh, in my bedroom Death dwells,and wherever I set foot there too is Death!”
Home Empty-Handed Utanapishtim said to Urshanabi, the ferryman: “May the harbor reject you, may the ferry landing reject you! May you who used to walk its shores be denied its shores!
The man in front of whom you walk, matted hair chains his body, animal skins have ruined his beautiful skin. Take him away, Urshanabi, bring him to the washing place. Let him wash his matted hair in water like ellu.
Let him cast away his animal skin and have the sea carry it off, let his body be moistened with fine oil, let the wrap around his head be made new, let him wear royal robes worthy of him!
Until he goes off to his city, until he sets off on his way, let his royal robe not become spotted, let it be perfectly new!”
Urshanabi took him away and brought him to the washing place. He washed his matted hair with water like ellu. He cast off his animal skin and the sea carried it off. He moistened his body with fine oil, and made a new
wrap for his head. He put on a royal robe worthy of him.
Until he went away to his city, until he set off on his way, his royal robe remained unspotted, it was perfectly clean.
Gilgamesh and Urshanabi bearded the boat, they cast off the magillu-boat, and sailed away.
The wife of Utanapishtim the Faraway said to him: “Gilgamesh came here exhausted and worn out. What can you give him so that he can return to his land (with honor) !” Then Gilgamesh raised a punting pole
and drew the boat to shore.
Utanapishtim spoke to Gilgamesh, saying: “Gilgamesh, you came here exhausted and worn out. What can I give you so you can return to your land? I will disclose to you a thing that is hidden, Gilgamesh,
a… I will tell you. There is a plant… like a boxthorn, whose thorns will prick your hand like a rose. If your hands reach that plant you will become a youngman again.”
Hearing this, Gilgamesh opened a conduit(!) (to the Apsu) and attached heavy stones to his feet. They dragged him down, to the Apsu they pulled him. He took the plant, though it pricked his hand,
and cut the heavy stones from his feet, letting the waves(?) throw him onto its shores.
Gilgamesh spoke to Urshanabi, the ferryman, saying: “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.