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Epic of Gilgamesh, The

by Gilgamesh

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Even before Abraham offered to sacrifice Isaac, people were singing the praises of a Mesopotamian king named Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh was written down around 2000 BC, but it was probably composed hundreds of years before that. The best archaeological evidence suggests that Gilgamesh lived between 2800 and 2700 BC.

Students should be familiar with this work for no other reason than the fact that, as one commentator says, “it is today the finest surviving epic poem from any period until the appearance of Homer’s Iliad: and it is immeasurably older.” But Christians should be doubly intrigued by this epic because it also recounts a global flood.

Many ancient cultures told stories of a deluge initiated by the gods to punish men for their wickedness. Most non-Christians dismiss these accounts as myths, and they often suggest that the biblical story of Noah merely borrows from these fables. But another explanation is possible: perhaps a global flood really did occur and was faithfully described in Genesis 6-8. Perhaps the account we find in The Epic of Gilgamesh is a corrupted memory of a real event.

Students will be surprised to find some striking similarities between the Gilgamesh account and Genesis. The man who survives the Gilgamesh flood, Utnapishtim, is warned by one of the gods to build a boat and then “take up into the boat the seed of all living creatures.” After the storm subsides, Utnapishtim peeks outside the boat: “I looked at the face of the world and there was silence, all mankind was turned to clay.” The boat soon comes to rest upon a mountain surrounded by water. And then Utnapishtim does a remarkable thing: “When the seventh day dawned I loosed a dove and let her go. She flew away, but finding no resting-place she returned.”

There are contradictions, of course. The most notable, for my money, is the polytheism (almost animism) of the Gilgamesh epic. But the similarities are eerie, and leave very little room for compromise: either the Bible is the Word of God and accurately recounts a global flood, or the Bible is a man-made collections of myths that includes a “flood-fable” probably borrowed from sources like The Epic of Gilgamesh.

by Jeff Baldwin