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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Baal Cycles

The Baal Cycles are a series of stories pertaining to the Assyrian god, Baal. He is known as the great conqueror, and he was one of the most well-known gods of the Ancient Near East. In this particular account, a great feast is held at the house of El in the middles of a great mountain. Sea and River, two gods, are sent to request of El the release of Baal. El refuses unless some ransom is paid. Kothar, chief counselor of the gods, gives two clubs to Baal. The two clubs are named Driver and Chaser. Baal takes the clubs and destroys Sea and River. The chorus then sings his praises as the conqueror.

Anat, Baal’s sister, sings the tales of Baal the Conqueror. She goes to El in order to request that Baal have his own house. Evidently, Baal, his wife and children, all live in El’s house. El does not listen to Anat, but sends her to Kothar for counsel. Kothar sends her to Asherah, El’s wife, requesting that she approach El on her behalf. Asherah does so, El listens, and El requests Kothar to oversee the building of a house for El. The house is the heavens, the skies, and it is through a special window in the house that Baal can thunder so that those on earth can hear him.

Baal eventually dies so that he can go to the underworld. El and Anat mourn his death, and El sets up a new god in Baal’s place. Anat, mourning her brother’s death, seeks death herself to ask if he will relinquish Baal. He denies her request, and Anat kills him, and she spreads his carcass throughout the earth, so that anything it touches, plant, animal, or person dies. Anat, unable to locate Baal, goes to the Sun, who sees all. The Sun tells her where Baal is located. Baal and Death fight, and their strength was equal. Just as Death was about to gain victory over Baal, the Sun arose, frightened Death. Baal was once again exalted as Baal the Conqueror.

The significance of the Baal Cycles for biblical studies is that they give a clear picture of the mythology of the Ancient Near East at the time Israel was settling in the land. Baal and Asherah are well-known names in the Old Testament for the gods the Canaanites worshipped, and whom the Israelites were to stay away from. The fact that Baal thunders from the heavens is especially revealing in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, where Baal was the god of the rain and Asherah the goddess of fertility. Yet, Israel’s God was more powerful than either of them in withholding the rain for three years.

Enuma Elish

The Seven Tablets of Creation are more commonly known as the “Enuma Elish,” which receives its title from the first couple of words of the text translated as, “When on high.” It is an important document for Mesopotamia in that it explains the creation of the universe, mankind, and the rise of Marduk as the god of gods. OT scholars find the story important on account of its age and its description of creation.

The story line depicts the rise of Marduk to the highest ranking god by means of his defeat of Tiamat. Tiamat is the goddess of the seas or waters that are on the face of the globe. In ancient myths like this one, the god or goddess and their physical representation are often conflated. In this case, the Akkadian word tiamat means seas, but it is also the proper name of the goddess of the seas. Tiamat, however, is not the only god. Apsu, (land?) is her husband. Another god couple consists of Ea and Damkina who are the parents of Marduk.

As with many cosmogonies, the gods begin to fight with one another, and in this narrative, Tiamat is the antagonist. She raises an army from her own children in order to take by force the highest position amongst the gods for herself. Ea learns of her schemes, and seeks counsel from Anshar, evidently the eldest of the gods. Anshar asks for Marduk so that he might persuade him to fight against Tiamat. Marduk agrees to fight against Tiamat for a price–that he be exalted as the god of gods. Anshar agrees to the terms.

Marduk, then, marches off to battle Tiamat, and again we see the conflation of the seen and unseen worlds, for how can one do battle against the sea and gain victory. Marduk brings with him seven winds to assist him. As he approaches Tiamat, all of her children shrink back in fear of Marduk so that Marduk and Tiamat are left alone in hand-to-hand combat. In order to defeat her, he uses one wind to hold open her mouth, and a second wind to open her throat. With her distended, he then shoots an arrow down her throat, killing her instantly.

After the death of Tiamat, Marduk begins to arrange the world to his liking. He first splits Tiamat into two parts, placing one in the sky, and leaving the other on the ground. Thus, there is an expanse of water above the sky, and one on the earth, which is similar to the description found in Gen. 1:9-10. Then Marduk places the images in the sky, which would be the constellation of the stars. He also puts Ea and Enlil in the sky to dwell there. Finally, he creates mankind to serve the gods and to worship Marduk, the god of gods.

Marduk, when he created humankind, actually performed two wonders at the same time. He took Kingu, the chief of Tiamat’s army and her counselor, and he killed him. The reason for killing Kingu was to atone for the sins of the gods who rebelled. Then, with the spilled blood, he created mankind. On account of the fact that he redeemed the gods, they created a heavenly shrine to worship him. Marduk enjoyed the worship so much, that he asked them to build him an earthly shrine for mankind to worship him, and he called the shrine Babylon. At the dedication of this new temple, the gods praised the 50 names of Marduk, and so also his parents, Ea and Damkina came and worshiped him.

The significance for Old Testament studies is found in the parallels in the creation story: the dividing of the waters from above and below, the creation of the stars, the sun and moon, and of humankind. The long section of praise to Marduk also parallels passages in the Old Testament where God’s people exalt him and praise his name. The Enuma Elish does not correct the biblical narrative. It corroborates the creation account in Genesis, and the parallels perhaps help us to understand better the details of the biblical text.

Malachi

Malachi is the last of the post-exilic prophets and the last of the minor prophets. He describes the new generation as a people who are immature and ignorant. They do not know God or understand their covenant with Him.

Author and Date

Most likely, Malachi was prophecying during the days of Nehemiah. Many of the issues that Malachi mentions, Nehemiah also mentions. Also, Malachi mentions a clearly Persian governor (1:7). Most date the message of Malachi about 430 B.C.

Outline

  1. God’s Love (1:2-5)
  2. God’s Honor (1:6-2:9)
  3. God’s Covenant (2:10-16)
  4. God’s Hope (2:17-3:6)
  5. God’s Law (3:7-12)
  6. Fear of God (3:13-4:3)
  7. God’s Coming (4:4-6)

Theme(s)

The message of Malachi assumes a dialogue between the people and the Lord. The people seem to have an entire lack of spiritual understanding. The Law states that they must sacrifice, and they do, but they bring sick and blemished animals for sacrifice. The people were to go to the priest for instruction from the Law. Instead, the priests were telling them what they wanted to hear.

Another major question in this little book is who is Elijah mentioned in 4:6. Malachi adds to the information about the Day of the Lord by stating that Elijah will preach during the Day of the Lord and before the great and awesome day of the Lord.

Zechariah

The prophets, Zechariah and Haggai, minister at the same time in Jerusalem. The Jews have returned to Judah after being held captive in Babylon for 70 years. Zechariah describes a series of visions that are similar to John’s Revelation and apocalyptic in nature.

Author and Date

Unlike Haggai, Zechariah lists his lineage, but that is all. He dates his visions and messages according to the Persian dating system because Judah does not have its own king. His ministry spans from about 525 to 520 B.C.

Outline

  1. Eight Symbolic Visions (1-6)
  2. Four Messages (7-8)
  3. Two Oracles (9-14)

Theme(s)

Zechariah is unlike any of the other minor prophets because of his apocalyptic visions recorded in the first six chapters. The word apocalyptic literally means “to reveal.” The prophet may be revealing the unseen world in past, present, or the future. He may also be revealing the events which will take place during the last days. This latter usage became popular on account of John’s Revelation.

The four messages in chapters 7-8 demonstrate the continuity between the pre-exilic and post-exilic prophets. In chapter 7, the Lord indicts the people for similar issues: “do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (7:10). Chapter 8 records words of hope of a future restoration of Israel. The focal point of this future blessing is the time when all nations will worship the Lord (8:23).

Haggai

The last three minor prophets are commonly known as the “post-exilic” prophets. Their ministries come after the people of Judah return to Jerusalem after more than seventy years in captivity in Babylon. Haggai is a brief book which emphasizes the importance of correctly aligned priorities.

Author and Date

The book begins with the governor, Zerubbabel, and the priest, Joshua. About Haggai’s lineage, the book is silent. The prophecy is dated according to the Persian dating system because Judah is technically under the governance of the Persians, about 525 B.C.

Outline

  1. Judgmental Call (1)
  2. Prophetic Promise (2:1-9)
  3. Priestly Decision (2:10-19)
  4. Messianic Prophecy (2:20-23)

Theme(s)

The theme of Haggai, on one level, is clearly that Judah needs to rebuild the temple, and that rebuilding the temple is of primary importance. The people of Judah still do not grasp that the Lord is to receive first priority in all things. Only then will he bless them beyond measure and supply all of their needs. Instead, they try to take care of that which appears urgent, while the temple remains in shambles.

The book ends with a short prophecy directed toward Zerubbabel, the governor. In an unclear reference, the Lord says he has chosen Zerubbabel (2:23). Because he is mentioned in Matthew’s geneology of Jesus, some believe this promise is that the line to the Davidic throne passes through Zerubbabel even though he is not an actual king (Matt. 1:12).

Zephaniah

Zephaniah, like Joel, depicts the future Day of the Lord. At the same time, he adds new information to Joel’s description of end time events.

Author and Date

Zephaniah is the only prophet who comes from a royal line. His royal lineage is given in the introduction, linking him to King Hezekiah. He preaches during the reign of Josiah while Judah is enjoying a time of peace (640-621 B.C.).

Outline

  1. The Day of the Lord (1:1-3:8)
  2. The Restoration of the Lord (3:9-20)

Theme(s)

The topic at hand is the day of the Lord. Like Joel, the phrase “day of the Lord” has both a general and specific application. Chapter 1, a general application of the phrase, stands alone describing the coming attack of Babylon. Unlike Joel, Zephaniah’s description is more ambiguous and more difficult to pinpoint. The chapter begins and ends with a universal statement about the entire earth. In the days of Noah, the Lord used the metaphor of washing a dish. Zephaniah uses a similar metaphor of sweeping a floor.

Zephaniah compares the coming destruction with the future Day of the Lord—a terrible time of judgment in an unknown future. A couple of events that Zephaniah adds to Joel’s timeline are 1) destruction of the nations, 2) gathering of Israel, 3) presentation of Israel, 4) re-unification of world languages, and 5) the nations will worship the Lord only (3:8, 9, 19-20).