Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Flood stories

This may be the worst time to write my post. I love it when my landlord, M, offers me wine. He usually does if he's pouring out for his and S's dinner, and I happen to be in the kitchen preparing a dinner that will go well with wine. Right now I've just had a glass of Chilean Merlot with my salmon and pasta. At first I used to refuse, saying I had my own red wine, but then it really is best to accept when someone is kind enough to offer you something.

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I went for a walk after the sun came out today. Everyone else was out too. SJW is all about café culture. There are about 6 of them on and around the high street. Right, I am ready to post about the flood stories now.

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Gilgamesh vs Noah

Follow-on from Steliano's Gilgamesh epic, I'm adding a comparison between the Hebrew and Babylonian flood stories. I wrote an essay on it in high school.

The two are essentially the same:
  • a giant compartmented vessel sealed with pitch
  • containing pairs of creatures,
  • the family boarded the boat
  • a deluge of water as high as the mountains
  • ran aground on a mountain-top
  • 3 birds released to find land

Major differences:

NOAH: Was told directly by Yahweh to build a boat according to certain specifications / UTNAPISHTIM: Was warned in a dream by Ea that Enlil was sending a flood
N: Yahweh regretted creating man who had become so sinful / U: No reason other than caprice for destroying man.
N: Warned his neighbours of the coming flood but they wouldn't believe him / U: Lied to his neighbours so they would help him build the boat for himself
N: Yahweh was in control of the flood / U: The gods scrambled to avoid the rising waters
N: The wooden ship's specifications are seaworthy / U: An unseaworthy cube made of slate
N: Only his family in the boat / U: Family and crew
N: 40 days of rain, 1 year of flood / U: 6 days of rain, 3 weeks of flood
N: Released 2 doves and a raven to find land / U: Released a dove, swallow and raven
N: Ordered to repopulate the earth / U: Granted immortality by Enlil

My favourite two comparisons are in the ending.
1) Noah built an altar and made a burnt offering to Yhwh. Utnapishtim did likewise for his gods, who gathered around like flies.
2) Yahweh the Hebrew God promised with a rainbow that he would never cause a worldwide flood again. After an initial squabble among the gods, Ishtar lifted up her bejewelled necklace (parallel to the rainbow?) and promised to remember this day.

Scholars agree that, whereas the Gilgamesh story is more of an impracticable myth, the Genesis account is a logical and mostly plausible account.

Apparently other cultures in the region share similar flood stories. Indeed, scientists have proven that there was a catastrophic regional flood a few thousands years ago.

But why are the versions so similar? Almost like Chinese whispers, a game in which a phrase is passed around a circle until it reaches the beginning again, completely altered. It is said that there was an original version. I posit, rather controversially, that it existed in the early days when language was scattered from the Tower of Babel. People took the legend with them as they migrated, and over the generations after the diaspora, as cultures diverged and new religions formed, the structure of the event remained the same but the characters and various elements were corrupted or embellished, however you choose to see it.

10 comments:

Jia Li said...

I like your Chinese wisper theory, you are so right, well to me. How word of mouth can distort facts

Steliano Ponticos said...

Thanks Olivia..I just put a link to your post on my blog.

Rami said...

Very interesting!!!
I am wondering; which one was written first, Gilgamesh or the Torah?

Olivia said...

The Torah and Gilgamesh epic were roughly contemporaneous in their writing, condensed from oral laws and traditions that had been passed down from generations before.

Incomplete texts of Gilgamesh have been found from more than 2,000 years B.C.
The most complete version of Gilgamesh was recorded in the 7th century B.C.

The Torah as an oral law has also been with us for over 3,000 years. Although forbidden, writing began between the 10th and 6th centuries B.C. and became most complete by about the 7th century B.C.

Steliano Ponticos said...

People started pondering the story around 2000 BC, the most complete and recent text of Gilgamesh is from 1100 BC. WHich confirms professor Olivia's thesis :P

Olivia said...

Professor Olivia? I like that ;-) Thanks for confirming, Professor Steliano (you do teach already!)

Rami said...

Thank you for the info., ProfessorS :)

Anonymous said...

Professor Olivia and Steliano,
very interesting comparison between the two stories. Thank you for educationg us.
Vanessa

Olivia said...

Gosh Miss Vanessa, you really are behind this week. Thank you loads for catching up with me so faithfully ;-)

The Angry Pig said...

Great post!!!

Obviously, for so many unconnected cultures across the globe to have a "flood" story, it would only make sense that such an event took place.

Why is it that so many scholars try to use the fact of such widespread commonality as a proof of "copying each other's myths" rather than testimony of a long ago event?