The Flood of Gilgamesh

The “Epic of Gilgamesh” is one of the greatest of Ancient Near Eastern literature. It narrates the story of a hero, Gilgamesh, whose quest for eternal life takes him through many adventures. Along the way, he finds a man name Utnapishtim who reached immortality, and relates to Gilgamesh his story. Utnapishtim says that the gods told him to build a ship in order to escape a great flood. The gods gave specific instructions on how to build the ship. Then his family and the animals boarded the ship. The flood came as a great judgment upon the people. The mountains were smashed, and “the landscape was as level as a flat roof.” After the rains subsided, Utnapishtim sent out a dove, then a raven. When they did not return, he knew the waters had subsided. He exited the ship and offered sacrifices. Enlil was not pleased that humans survived his wrath. Ea intervened, and Enlil blessed Utnapishtim and his wife giving them eternal life.

For Christians, the significance of the Epic of Gilgamesh is the parallel story of the destruction of the earth by means of a flood. Utnapishtim is the biblical character, Noah, who built the ark according to Genesis 6. The specific points of comparison between the biblical account of the flood and Utnapishtim’s story are reflected in the ship, the sending out of the birds, the sacrifices afterwards, and the blessing. Though this portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh does not prove the historicity of the biblical flood, It is an interesting, and very ancient, corroborating tradition passed down outside of Israelite tradition.

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