Comparitive Flood Stories Essay

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Comparitive Flood Stories




Most comparisons between Genesis and ancient Creation or Flood stories can be classified
as comparative religious studies. They generally involve one text isolated from its
original historical context (e.g., the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish or the Flood
tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic) and one related biblical narrative. On the basis of
currently available evidence, their earliest-known written form can be dated only to the
first half of the first millenium B.C.

William Shea of Andrews University has pointed out that by using isolated, solitary
Creation or Flood stories, that we neglect a large amount of other literary critcism which
can be very helpful to our understanding. The Genesis flood account is often taken and
interpreted outside of the context in which it was written. A proper understanding of
other Ancient Near East flood narratives provides a foundation for proper interpretation
of the Genesis Flood narrative.

There are three main flood narratives, The Sumerian creation-flood story, the Babylonian
creation-flood story, and the Hebrew Genesis flood story. Here is an overview of the
content of each of these narratives.



THE SUMERIAN CREATION-FLOOD STORY: THE ERIDU GENESIS

The texts to this compilation were, until recently, separated into three different
accounts. They have since been put into one.

This portion of the text is during the antediluvian period of the narrative. It recites
the birth goddess Nimtur’s remedy for the nomadic and uncultured condition of mankind. She
gave instructions for the building of the antediluvian cities not only as centers of
culture and civilization, but especially for the worship of the gods, including herself.

"May they come and build cities and cult-places,
that I may cool myself in their shade;
may they lay the bricks for the cult-cities in pure spots, and
may they found places for divination in pure spots."
She gave directions for purification, and cries for quarter,
the things that cool (divine) wrath.
She perfected divine service and the august offices,
she said to the (surrounding) regions:
"Let me institute peace there"

The following is a summary of the initial creation:

“When An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursaga [Nintur]
fashioned the darkheaded (people)
they had made the small animals (that come up) from (out of)
the earth come up from the earth in abundance,
and had let there be, as befits (it), gazelles,
(wild) donkeys, and fourfooted beasts in the desert''

The god of wisdom, and Nintur were active in creation. It is obvious that this is
referring to Sumerians, as they named themselves, “the dark-headed people” in history.
This seems to indicate that this part of the text was preceded by a creation account.

Shea also believes that the previous missing section is related to “the development of
man’s plight”. In a text from Ur, we find a reference to a time when there was neither
agriculture nor weaving of cloth. Despite the obvious danger of this type of poverty, the
people lived safely, as there were no dangerous animals and man had no opponent.

The next legible section of the text, according to scholars, discusses the establishment
of kingship, which was believed to be a gift from the gods. As the chief agent responsible
for carrying out the gods' commands, the king directed the construction of cities and
provided cult places and services for the gods. He also guided the people in the
irrigation and growth of crops. Each city received half-bushel baskets from the harvest.
Nintur assigned a patron deity to each of the five cities.

The next portion contains the end of the list of kings who reigned in these cities.
III. The Flood Story
The great noise from the increasing human population prevented the gods from sleeping.
Angered by this noise the god Enlil decided to eradicate mankind. Nintur mourned, but Enki
foiled the plan by warning Ziusudra, the last king of Shuruppak:

"May you heed my advice:
By our hand a flood will sweep over (the cities of)
the half-bushel baskets, and the country.
The decision that mankind is to be destroyed has been made,
a verdict, a command by the assembly, cannot be revoked.
An order of An and Enlil is not known
ever to have been countermanded.
Their kingship, their term, has been uprooted,
they must bethink themselves (of that)''
The remainder of Enki's advice is missing. But parallels in other Flood stories indicate
that Enki instructed Ziusudra to build an ark and load it with his family and the animals.
The text resumes with the storm:

All evil winds, all stormy winds gathered into one
and with them, the Flood was sweeping over (the cities of)
the half-bushel baskets for seven days and seven nights.
After the flood had swept over the country,
after the evil wind had tossed the big boat about on great waters
the sun came out spreading light over heaven and earth
The final scene records a speech by Enki who apparently obtained the agreement of the gods
to accept the survival of Ziusudra and his family. When Ziusudra sacrificed to An and
Enlil, they responded by offering him immortality and an eternal home:

And An and Enlil did well by him,
were granting him life like a god's,
were making lasting breath of life, like a god's,
descend into him.
That day they made Ziusudra,
preserver as king of the name of the small animals
and the seed of mankind,
live toward the east over the mountains in Mount Tilmun
Interpretation
T. Jacobsen was the scholar who synthesized the text of these fragments into a coherent
story. He has selected three main themes to explain the significance of this text. In the
first theme the culture that developed from Nintur's directions is considered to be
superior to man's nomadic state. In the third theme Jacobsen holds that the Flood story
was well preserved and known in the ancient world because it is a story of survival rather
than one of destruction.

The second theme is important for our literary critical study. For the section of the
Eridu Genesis, which deals with the antediluvian kings and their cities, Jacobsen has
noted:

In style this section is clearly modeled on the great Sumerian King list and its formulaic
language and arrangement. As to its import one is somewhat at a loss. . . . the closest
one can come is probably to credit the inclusion of this section in the tale to pure
historical interest on the part of its composer .

Since similar passages in Genesis also can be viewed historically, Jacobsen's conclusion
about this section of the Eridu Genesis is significant for comparative purposes.

Next, Jacobsen compares the Eridu Genesis with the biblical parallel found in Gen 1-9. The
threefold divisions of both narratives obviously correspond. The first two sections deal
with Creation and the antediluvians, especially through lists of the leading figures of
that period. Both conclude with a story of the Flood.

Jacobsen has further noted that both sources have arranged these main segments along a
linear time line, rather than grouping them around a folk hero as is more common in such
literature. This arrangement allows the successive events to relate logically to each
other as cause and effect. Such arrangements in literary compositions from the ancient
world are so unusual that Jacobsen was compelled to suggest a new designation:

. . . [this arrangement] is very much the way a historian arranges his data, and since the
data here are mythological we may assign both traditions to a new and separate genre as
mytho-historical accounts

Also relevant is their particular attention to chronology:
In both [traditions] we are given precise figures for respectively the length of reigns
and the lifespans of the persons listed, and in both traditions the figures given are
extraordinarily large. . . . This interest in numbers is very curious, for it is
characteristic of myths and folktales that they are not concerned with time at all (18).

Jacobsen believes that "interest in numbers of years belongs elsewhere, to the style of
chronicles and historiography'' His best analogy for this literary style is in historical
documents such as the royal annals which have provided further confirmation for
categorizing the Eridu Genesis in the mytho-historical literary genre.

“Jacobsen's study offers valuable contrasts. In the Eridu Genesis man's lot improved from
his original wretched state while in the biblical account man's condition, along with his
environment, worsened through his sinfulness which led to the Flood. This element of moral
judgment is both absent in the Sumerian story and conveys a more pessimistic view of man's
nature. Jacobsen urges caution in interpreting myths and their relationships because myths
are fluid, relative and changeable in different cultural contexts, thus prohibiting easy
generalizations.


THE BABYLONIAN CREATION-FLOOD STORY: THE ATRA-HASIS EPIC
I. Texts
The Atra-hasis Epic is named after its human hero who served as the Babylonian Noah.
Several whole and partial copies of the cuneiform tablets comprising this series are
known. All tablets and fragments have been edited together in a definitive edition of the
textual series by W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard.

II. Creation
The commencement of the Atra-hasis Epic is set in a time before the creation of man, a
time when Enlil forced the younger gods to dig rivers and canals. After forty years the
junior gods rebelled, burned their work tools, and marched on the house of Enlil:

"Let us confront the chamberlin,
That he may relieve us of our heavy work.
The counsellor of the gods, the hero,
Come, let us unnerve him in his dwelling!"
Awakened and warned by a servant, Enlil called an assembly of the gods to deal with the
situation. To satisfy the younger gods, Enki proposed that man should be created to be
drudges. They agreed to this suggestion and summoned Nintu, the mother goddess, to
cooperate with Enki in the project. Made from clay mixed with the blood of a sacrificed
god (We-ila), man would be a mixture of the divine and human. We-ila's identity and nature
remain obscure, and perhaps his name is a deliberate distortion of the word for man,
awilum.

Enki opened his mouth
And addressed the great gods,
"On the first, seventh, and fifteenth day of the month
I will make a purifying bath.
Let one god be slaughtered
So that all the gods may be cleansed in a dipping.
Let Nintu mix clay,
That god and man
May be thoroughly mixed in the clay".
These instructions were then carried out, as is related in an almost word-for-word repetition of the instructions.
Purifying baths for the god to be sacrificed took place on the 1st, 7th, and 15th days of
the lunar month. Though they were not exactly chronological weeks, these quarters of the
moon are relatively close in length. The god's execution and the Creation of man
apparently followed directly after the purifying bath on the 15th day of the month. This
places man's creation at the end of one lunar quarter or ''week.'' Similarly the biblical
creation of man took place on the 6th day of a 7-day week.

Sabattu appears to have been the day in which We-ila was killed and his blood mixed with
clay. This was the great initiating point in man's creation, though more steps in this
process remained to be accomplished. The clay/blood mixture ensured that man would be a
combination of the divine and human. In a sense, therefore, man was created on sabattu. In
Genesis man was created on the day before šabbat, but this difference is much less
important than the over-arching connection between sabattu/šabbat and the creation of man.
It is unlikely that such a specific linkage occurred in both accounts by chance. Both
accounts can be traced to the same basic conception, which was known to both cultures.

Therefore “the idea of the link between Sabbath and the Creation of man can now be found
in an extra-biblical source from the first half of the second millennium BC, and as is
commonly believed by some, many elements in this type of story undoubtedly derived from
still older written or oral traditions. From the biblical point of view the differences
involved in the Babylonian account would have been introduced by gradual corruption from
polytheistic conceptions”.

The second phase in the process of Creation involved Enki, Nintu, and some assistant birth
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