The Epic of Gilgamesh Questions and Answers

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Compare and contrast the Flood stories of the Bible and The Epic of Gilgamesh? What are some differences in the story and what are some similarities?  

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Tyler Larue eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Similarities between the biblical account of the flood and the flood of Gilgamesh:

In the Bible, Noah is told to build an ark, a type of boat, out of cypress wood. Specific measurements of the ark are also given to him directly by Yahweh, the living God. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim is similarly instructed to build a boat, by one of the gods, Ea. He is given specific measurements to use in building the boat.

Noah’s ark is supposed to carry two of all living creatures. Similarly, Utnapishtim’s boat is supposed to carry all living creatures.

In the Bible, Noah’s ark finally rests on...

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JOHN THORBURN eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The above answer is fairly comprehensive but contains some minor inaccuracies and omissions. Firstly, Utnapishtim was rewarded with immortality, but there is no dramatic contrast here with traditions in the Hebrew Bible. According to oral tradition based on a cryptic comment in Genesis, Enoch was also granted immortality. In Elijah's case this seems even more explicit in the text.

Secondly, we are not told why the gods decide to send the flood in Gilgamesh. Although the Gilgamesh flood story is based on the Epic of Atrahasis - where human overpopulation and noise disturb the rest of the gods - the relevant information is omitted in the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh epic. Ultimately, however, the Gilgamesh version contains a similar message to Genesis where the emphasis is particularly focused on "violence" (Gen 6:11-13). The difference is that it is the unwarranted destruction of human life by Enlil, the god primarily responsible for sending the flood, that is condemned in the older, Mesopotamian version of the story.

Other significant parallels include the fact that both ships settle on a mountain range in northern Mesopotamia, both flood heroes offer sacrifice after alighting from their vessels, the deities are attracted by the sweet savour of the sacrifice, a memorial is established (a rainbow in Genesis and an astral necklace that some feel may also refer to a rainbow in Gilgamesh), and the clear implication in Gilgamesh, expressly stated in Genesis, is that there will never be another universal flood.