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Gilgamesh vs. Noah

"The Deluge", Frontispiece to Gustav...

Nice Way To Die

I was going over the Babylonian Epic Of Gilgamesh and was not surprised at the similarities nor was I surprised at the differences. I was shocked at the few unmistakable instances of outright plagiarism.

Before I begin let me say the reason I conclude there was outright plagiarism between the stories is the the Babylonian epic came well before the flood story we read in Genesis.

I will try to present the similarities in a chronological order. Anybody that has read this blog before should be familiar with my predilection for starting at the beginning and here I will not disappoint so the first thing we look at is why the flood. In Genesis the now familiar reason was that mankind was sinful and wicked so god would destroy them although he once upon a time said his creation was good. The Babylonian epic says the flood was because there were too many people and they were too noisy. It should be clear that these 2 reasons are similar.

In both cases the flood was supposed to be global this is a direct plagiarism. The only difference was the Babylonian gods became the god of the bible.

Again we now find a direct plagiarism. Both stories have one righteous man, The names are different. In the Babylonian story we have Ut-Napishtim and in the bible we have Noah .

God [the gods in the Babylonian story] ordered both to build an ark. Both men complained about it and both received the revelation differently. Babylonian story was in a dream while the bible story was direct revelation. That is a very close similarity. If the revelation was the same it would be an obvious case of plagiarism and 2/3rds of this little piece of the story is a plagiarism.

Now let’s look at the description of the arks. First I will mention the differences. In the Babylonian story the ark was 6 stories and square. In the bible the ark was 3 stories and rectangular. Seems those differences were changed to make the plagiarism less obvious. Now for the similarities. In both cases the arks were sealed with pitch, had many internal rooms [compartments], had one door and one window. I would call this plagiarism

Here we have a difference as far as human passengers but a plagiarism as far as the animal. In the Babylonian story there is Ut-Napishtim and his family plus a pilot for the ark and a few craftsmen. In the bible it was just Noah and his family [once again with the incest to populate the world]. This is a similarity.

In  the Babylonian story, the flood was caused by rains. In the bible it was caused by rains and ground waters. This is a very close similarity. I can’t call it a direct plagiarism although it may very well be.

Here is the only large difference. In the Babylonian story the rains lasted 6 days and 6 nights. In the bible the rains lasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Since 40 is a fairly common number found in judgments in the Old Testament, this may be a plagiarism with the number changed but I think we can let the bible story have this one.

In both flood stories the mountains were covered with water. This may seem self-explanatory but because both stories mentioned it [with reason] I felt it should be included. This is a direct plagiarism.

In both stories, birds were sent out to find dry land. This is a direct plagiarism.

In both stories the first 2 birds returned and the third bird didn’t return. Once again we have a direct plagiarism.

Here is a similarity, most likely a minor change so the above didn’t look like a plagiarism. In the Babylonian story the 3 birds were a dove, a swallow and a raven. In the bible story the 3 birds were a raven and 2 doves.

Both arks landed on mountains in the middle east. The Babylonian ark landed on Mt. Nasir and the bible ark landed on Mt. Ararat which are no more than a few hundred miles apart.

Everything after the landing is direct plagiarism but I will list them for posterity.

After they left the arks in both stories, an animal was ritually slaughtered and offered as a sacrifice.

In both cases the stories wrote that god [gods in Babylon] smelled the sacrifice.

In both stories the “hero” was blessed.

And finally in both stories god repented.

Any thinking person that reads this can’t think the flood story in the bible is anything more than shameless stealing from the Babylonian Epic Of Gilgamesh.

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9 Responses

  1. I’ve read the Babylonian Epic Of Gilgamesh but never really compared it to the Genisis story so closely. This is a great reference for my studies.Thanks.

  2. You are on the right track if you dig even deeper the trail will lead you into the Sumerian literature. That is where you will find the origins of the Biblical flood story. :):)

  3. Here is a question for you: Why are there two versions of the creation story in Genesis chapters one and two?
    In chapter one God creates plants, animals,man and Eve. But in chapter two he creates man first and then plants, animals and Eve was last! The plot thickens! :)

  4. This isn’t so much plagiarism as it is oral tradition. The Epic of Gilgamesh became part of many of the cultures of early civilization, it is only natural that aspects of old religions would find their ways into religions under development.

    • Thank you, Patrick. I am very interested in the points of comparison identified here but when the author decided to use the term plagiarism to describe a shared Creation fable the work becomes suspect. To say the JudeoChristian Bible story of Noahs Ark is lifted from the Babilonians, is to say the Babylon account is actually based in truth unlike the other version which is just copied. Silly.

  5. Logic check. Just because the Epic of Gilgamesh is oldest does not automatically mean that it is the original account and that the Genesis account is false.

    For example, let’s say we have two journalists and they both witness the exact same event: an alien spaceship coming to earth. Journalist A hastily writes his article and it is published the following morning in the newspaper. Journalist B wants to be more thorough and doesn’t get his work published until about a year later.
    Is the work of Journalist A more true than the work of Journalist B?
    Not necessarily.
    All we can say is that Journalist A got his work printed first, Journalist B may very well have the more detailed account of what really happened.
    First does not automatically mean best and one would also be assuming that there are not other Genesis fragments of the Flood that are even older than the oldest Gilgamesh fragments.

    For those with open minds, one has to admit that these are possibilities that need to remain on the table.

  6. While I feel that Gilgamesh inspired the Noah myth, to call it plagiarism leaves a bad taste in the mouth. When we think plagiarism, we think of a person taking a scholarly article, or a work of fiction and calling it their own. These myths predate any notion of plagiarism. The fact is that most of these epics and myths were told in oral form and were handed down throughout the generations. The geographical origin of both myths are not that far from each other and could have evolved from the Utnapishtim to the Noah myth.

  7. “Plagiarism” is probably not the best word to use. By this measure the Gilgamesh epic also “plagiarised” the flood story from the epic of Atrahasis. However, according to scholarly standards for literary borrowing Genesis is definitely dependent on the older Mesopotamian flood myth. That is, we find multiple parallels, in almost exactly the same order, and there is a logical explanation available to explain the borrowing. Additionally, some of the parallels make literary dependence almost certain, notably the incident of the birds and the description of the gods smelling “the sweet savour” of the sacrifices after the flood. To this we might add descriptions of the animals going in “two by two” on a recently translated cuneiform tablet dating to around 1850 BCE (google “Irving Finkel”).

    The most reasonable explanation for this borrowing is that it occurred during the period of the Babylonian exile. The exile provides both the occasion and the rational for the string of polemical and subversive retellings of older Mesopotamian myths found in the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

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