The Epic of Gilgamesh Questions and Answers

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How is the Epic of Gilgamesh and Genesis 6–9 related?

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Both The Epic of Gilgamesh and chapters 6–9 in The Book of Genesis deal with the gods or God flooding the entire world due to mankind's wickedness. However, a chosen few are warned in advance, allowing humanity a second chance after the waters have receded. In the biblical story, Noah and his family are the lone survivors, while in Gilgamesh, the chosen one is Utnapishtim. Both stories end with the boat carrying all that remains of life on earth settling on a mountaintop, followed by Utnapishtim/Noah sending out three birds to survey the landscape.

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The flood stories in Genesis and Gilgamesh are so similar that most qualified scholars suggest the Genesis flood story is based on the framework of the older Mesopotamian myth. The most striking of the many parallels are the episode of the sending out of the birds and the anthropomorphic description of the gods savoring the aroma of post diluvian sacrifices. No other ancient flood story exhibits such close, detailed parallels with the one in Genesis.

The occasion of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE provides both the perfect opportunity and a logical explanation for the literary borrowing in Genesis. Fundamentalists aside, most scholars date the writing or redaction of Genesis to the fifth or sixth centuries BCE. Furthermore, the early chapters of Genesis are infused with Mesopotamian references and literary allusions. However, rather than simply borrowing, Genesis modifies and subverts the foundation myths of Babylonia in polemical fashion. The long and pompous Babylonian Creation Story in which Marduk the patron god of Babylon brings about an ordered cosmos by violent conquest becomes a brief, elegant and irenic tale in Genesis one. The temptation and civilization of a primitive man by a city prostitute in Gilgamesh becomes a tragic loss of paradise and immortality when Adam and Eve are forced to leave their garden home in an anticipatory parable of exile. The expansionist designs of the ancient king of Uruk who wants to unite the region by language and religion in "Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta" becomes a mocking tale of hubris and frustrated imperial ambition in the Genesis story of the city of Babel. Similarly, the flood that in Gilgamesh is a tragic and unjust punishment on innocent humanity becomes divine judgement on a a corrupt and violent civilization in Genesis, evoking the historical fall of the neo Babylonian empire.

 

 

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