Legend has it, that when George Smith, a young scholar at the British Museum in 1857, managed to decipher the cuneiform tablet he was working on and realized that he had discovered a Mesopotamian version of the story of the flood described in the book of Genesis, he undressed in euphoria, unable to contain his excitement. The discovery that there is such a parallel story is a landmark in biblical research and in understanding that the Bible did not spring out of nowhere and is innately connected to the cultures surrounding Israel.
Versions of the story of the flood are found in three major Mesopotamian writings: the stories of Zeosudra (Sumerian) and Atrahasis (Acadian), which are fairly similar, and the Epoch of Gilgamesh. In Atrahasis, the gods, weary of all the hard work of building and working the land, decided to create man, in order for him to do their labor. However, although humans did undertake this task, they were extremely loud, and the gods were unable to rest as they had longed. They therefore took various measures in order to destroy human kind, the last of which was to bring a seven day flood upon the Earth. The only person to survive was Atrahasis, who gathered his family into a ship, closed the door behind them, and remained there until the storm abated and the birds he sent out did not return.
In the epoch of Gilgamesh, the hero bearing that name sets out in search of eternal life. At the end of his quest, he meets a couple who achieved immortality, having survived the flood, but could not reproduce. The hero, Utnapishtim, tells a story of the flood similar to that of Atrahasis.
Although there are clear similarities between the biblical story and the Mesopotamian legends, there are also very important differences: in the biblical story, God decides to destroy human kind due to moral reasons – he could not allow the Earth to continue existing in its corrupt and violent state, while the Mesopotamian gods simply wanted to sleep and found destruction to be the fastest and easiest solution, showing no regard for human life; Noah does not achieve immortality, unlike Utnapishtim; Noah does not close the door of the arc himself, therefore leaving out the rest of mankind – God does this (Genesis 7:16), for only He can determine who will survive the flood; in the biblical story, God vows that he will never again destroy human kind, while in the Mesopotamian story, the gods find solutions for the abundance of humans by the creation of various phenomena such as stillborns and barren women.
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