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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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How does Enkidu's fall from nature in the Epic of Gilgamesh compare to Adam and Eve's? Is discussing Biblical parallels meaningful?

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I think it is appropriate and meaningful to compare and contrast the stories of Adam and Eve from Genesis with Enkidu's story from The Epic of Gilgamesh. Both stories deal with the acquisition of knowledge, yet in different ways and for different reasons. Enkidu is transformed by civilization; he does not change civilization. He is, at best, its passive tool. On the other hand, Adam and Eve are responsible for bringing about human life on Earth - which means that their story has shaped all subsequent human life. I think comparing these two stories is a worthwhile endeavor because they tell us something about the societies that produced them: what they valued most and how they explained the world around them.

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There are certainly parallels between the story from Genesis and the story from The Epic of Gilgamesh. Both stories are ultimately about the acquisition of knowledge (and the loss of innocence that results). Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, gaining an understanding of good and evil; for this they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Enkidu's story represents his initiation into civilized life. Just as Adam and Eve cannot return to the garden, neither can Enkidu return to his life in the wilderness.

There are key differences as well. Enkidu's transformation primarily impacts himself. He was created outside the bounds of civilization, but he holds no greater responsibility for the larger course of human history. Human civilization has preceded him and it will continue long after his death. The story of Adam and Eve, on the other hand, speaks of the very first human beings created on Earth. Thus, their expulsion from the garden has shaped the lives and experiences of every human being that has ever lived upon the Earth. Adam and Eve are father and mother to humanity, and their story is one of the human condition.

Personally, I think it's very appropriate and meaningful to compare and contrast these two texts (and other texts much like them). Keep in mind, these stories are not only literature but are also cultural and historical artifacts of the Ancient Near East and provide a great deal of insight and knowledge into their respective cultures. Furthermore, be aware that these different civilizations did not exist in isolation: cultural exchanges and diffusion were carried out across the larger Mediterranean World. By reading these stories in conversation with one another, we can better hope to understand this larger context that created them.

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Enkidu's "fall" does share similarities with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, though his is not so much a case of sin as it is a case of civilization.

Enkidu starts life as a wild man, only communing with animals and living as one with the natural world. After the sacred prostitute Shamhat sleeps with Enkidu, he has lost his "wild" state. He is shunned by the animals, who see him no longer as one of their own but as a man. Enkidu finds this state of affairs initially sorrowful, and in his low moments, he blames Shamhat for bringing him into the human world. But without this loss of animal communication, Enkidu would have never found love with Gilgamesh. His "fall" was necessary to come to greater understanding.

In traditional Christian doctrine, the fall of Adam and Eve is viewed as wholly tragic. Adam and Eve are more civilized than Enkidu in that they are already ordained by God as being higher than the animals; however, they do commune with the animals, and they exist in a state of innocence, not even aware of their own nudity. When the two eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then add insult to injury by trying to shirk their responsibility in the act before God, they are thrust into a fallen state and expelled from Eden.

However, there are alternate views of the Adam and Eve story, from both Christians and Jews, which line up more with the idea of Enkidu's "fall." Rabbi Harold Kushner argues in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People that the fall is more an allegory about what it means to be human than a tale of why man is corrupt and deserving of suffering. While the animals remain unaware of morality, Adam and Eve, in eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, become aware of morality and therefore suffer in making moral choices. In Kushner's view, this is what makes humans different from the animals, just as Enkidu's carnal knowledge of a civilized woman (who is also a representative of the gods in her profession) makes him closer to gods than to beasts.

As for comparing The Epic of Gilgamesh to the Bible, there are a few reasons why scholars do so. Firstly, Gilgamesh features one of the earliest Great Flood narratives, even predating the one presented in the Book of Genesis. Secondly, both are early works of literature which detail how earlier civilizations related to the divine and to the never-dated question of what makes us human.

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