The Epic Of Gilgamesh, Tablet XI, The Flood And A Comparison To the Bible’s Flood


In 1880, English Assyriologist Geroge Smith published the translation of Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh containing the flood myth. The translation of the clay tablet raised a number of problems and controversy due to its similarity to the Genesis Flood Narrative.

The Genesis flood narrative (found in chapters 6–9 in the Book of Genesis) is one of the many flood myths.

The story tells of God’s decision to return the Earth to its pre-creation state of watery chaos and then remake it in a reversal of creation.

The narrative has very strong similarities to parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh which long predates the Book of Genesis.

So, which came first?

The obvious answer here is the Flood Myth from the Epic Of Gilgamesh, although certain elements were copied from the Epic of Atrahasis.

As noted by a number of scholars, the Gilgamesh Flood Myth was most likely added to Tablet XI in later times by an editor who made use of the flood story from the epic of Atrahasis.

The Epic of Atrahasis is an 18th-century BC Akkadian epic written down on several clay tablets. The Atrahasis or Atra-hasis tablets include both the creation myth and the flood myth. Atrahasis, just as Gilgamesh, is the protagonist of the Epic.

Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet XI, and the Flood:

Ea leaks the secret plan

  1. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh a secret story that begins in the old city of Shuruppak on the banks of the Euphrates River.
  2. The “great gods” Anu, Enlil, Ninurta, Ennugi, and Ea were sworn to secrecy about their plan to cause the flood.
  3. But the god Ea (Sumerian god Enki) repeated the plan to Utnapishtim through a reed wall in a reed house.
  4. Ea commanded Utnapishtim to demolish his house and build a boat, regardless of the cost, to keep living beings alive.
  5. The boat must have equal dimensions with corresponding width and length and be covered over like Apsu boats.
  6. Utnapishtim promised to do what Ea commanded.
  7. He asked Ea what he should say to the city elders and the population.
  8. Ea tells him to say that Enlil has rejected him and he can no longer reside in the city or set foot in Enlil’s territory.
  9. He should also say that he will go down to the Apsu “to live with my lord Ea”.
  10. Note: ‘Apsu’ can refer to a freshwater marsh near the temple of Ea/Enki at the city of Eridu.
  11. Ea will provide abundant rain, a profusion of fowl and fish, and a wealthy harvest of wheat and bread.

Building and launching the boat

  1. Carpenters, reed workers, and other people assembled one morning.
  2. [missing lines]
  3. Five days later, Utnapishtim laid out the exterior walls of the boat of 120 cubits.
  4. The sides of the superstructure had equal lengths of 120 cubits. He also made a drawing of the interior structure.
  5. The boat had six decks [?] divided into seven and nine compartments.
  6. Water plugs were driven into the middle part.
  7. Punting poles and other necessary things were laid in.
  8. Three times 3,600 units of raw bitumen were melted in a kiln and three times 3,600 units of oil were used in addition to two times 3,600 units of oil that were stored in the boat.
  9. Oxen and sheep were slaughtered and ale, beer, oil, and wine were distributed to the workmen, like at a new year’s festival.
  10. When the boat was finished, the launching was very difficult. A runway of poles was used to slide the boat into the water.
  11. Two-thirds of the boat was in the water.
  12. Utnapishtim loaded his silver and gold into the boat.
  13. He loaded “all the living beings that I had.”
  14. His relatives and craftsmen, and “all the beasts and animals of the field” boarded the boat.
  15. The time arrived, as stated by the god Shamash, to seal the entry door.

The storm

  1. Early in the morning at dawn, a black cloud arose from the horizon.
  2. The weather was frightful.
  3. Utnapishtim boarded the boat and entrusted the boat and its contents to his boatmaster Puzurammurri who sealed the entry.
  4. The thunder god Adad rumbled in the cloud and storm gods Shullar and Hanish went over mountains and land.
  5. Erragal pulled out the mooring poles and the dikes overflowed.
  6. The Anunnaki gods lit up the land with their lightning.
  7. There was a stunned shock at Adad’s deeds which turned everything to blackness. The land was shattered like a pot.
  8. All day long the south wind blew rapidly and the water overwhelmed the people like an attack.
  9. No one could see his fellows. They could not recognize each other in the torrent.
  10. The gods were frightened by the flood and retreated up to the Anu heaven. They cowered like dogs lying by the outer wall.
  11. Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth.
  12. The Mistress of the gods wailed that the old days had turned to clay because “I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people who fill the sea like fish.”
  13. The other gods were weeping with her and sat sobbing with grief, their lips burning, parched with thirst.
  14. The flood and wind lasted six days and six nights, flattening the land.
  15. On the seventh day, the storm was pounding [intermittently?] like a woman in labor.

Calm after the storm

  1. The sea calmed and the whirlwind and flood stopped. All day long there was quiet. All humans had turned to clay.
  2. The terrain was as flat as a rooftop. Utnapishtim opened a window and felt fresh air on his face.
  3. He fell to his knees and sat weeping, tears streaming down his face. He looked for coastlines at the horizon and saw a region of land.
  4. The boat lodged firmly on mount Nimush which held the boat for several days, allowing no swaying.
  5. On the seventh day, he released a dove which flew away but came back to him. He released a swallow, but it also came back to him.
  6. He released a raven which was able to eat and scratch and did not circle back to the boat.
  7. He then sent his livestock out in various directions.

The sacrifice

  1. He sacrificed a sheep and offered incense at a mountainous ziggurat where he placed 14 sacrificial vessels and poured reeds, cedar, and myrtle into the fire.
  2. The gods smelled the sweet odor of the sacrificial animal and gathered like flies over the sacrifice.
  3. Then the great goddess arrived, lifted up her flies (beads), and said
  4. “Ye gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli [amulet] around my neck, I shall be mindful of these days and never forget them! The gods may come to the sacrificial offering. But Enlil may not come, because he brought about the flood and annihilated my people without considering [the consequences].”
  5. When Enlil arrived, he saw the boat and became furious at the Igigi gods. He said “Where did a living being escape? No man was to survive the annihilation!”
  6. Ninurta spoke to Enlil saying “Who else but Ea could do such a thing? It is Ea who knew all of our plans.”
  7. Ea spoke to Enlil saying “It was you, the Sage of the Gods. How could you bring about a flood without consideration?”
  8. Ea then accuses Enlil of sending a disproportionate punishment and reminds him of the need for compassion.
  9. Ea denies leaking the god’s secret plan to Atrahasis (= Utnapishtim), admitting only sending him a dream and deflecting Enlil’s attention to the flood hero.

The flood hero and his wife are granted immortality and transported far away

  1. He then boards a boat and grasping Utnapishtim’s hand, helps him and his wife aboard where they kneel. Standing between Utnapishtim and his wife, he touches their foreheads and blesses them. “Formerly Utnapishtim was a human being, but now he and his wife have become gods like us. Let Utnapishtim reside far away, at the mouth of the rivers.”
  2. Utnapishtim and his wife are transported and settled at the “mouth of the rivers”.

That above comes from the translated text of Tablet XI.

Genesis 6

Noah’s Favor with God

8Noah, however, found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

9This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. 10And Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

11Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and full of violence. 12And God looked upon the earth and saw that it was corrupt; for all living creatures on the earth had corrupted their ways.

Noah Builds the Ark
(Genesis 9:1-17)

13Then God said to Noah, “The end of all living creatures has come before Me, because through them the earth is full of violence. Now behold, I will destroy both them and the earth.

14Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15And this is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. 16You are to make a roof for the ark, finish its walls a cubit from the top, place a door in the side of the ark, and build lower middle, and upper decks.

17And behold, I will bring floodwaters upon the earth, to destroy every creature under the heavens that has the breath of life. Everything on the earth will perish. 18But I will establish My covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.

19And you are to bring two of every living thing into the ark—male and female—to keep them alive with you. 20Two of every kind of bird and animal and crawling creature will come to you to be kept alive. 21You are also to take for yourself every kind of food that is eaten and gather it as food for yourselves and for the animals.”

22So Noah did everything precisely as God had commanded him.

Geneses 7

Entering the Ark
(Genesis 3:1-7Romans 5:12-212 Peter 3:1-9)

1Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your family because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2You are to take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male, and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3and also seven of every kind of bird of the air, male and female, in order to preserve their offspring on the face of all the earth. 4For seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living thing I have made.”

5And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him.

6Now Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters came upon the earth. 7And Noah entered the ark, along with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives, to escape the waters of the flood. 8The clean and unclean animals, the birds, and everything that crawls along the ground 9came to Noah to enter the ark, two by two, male and female, as God had commanded him.

The Floodwaters Arrive

10And after seven days the floodwaters came upon the earth. 11In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month, all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12And the rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

13On that very day Noah entered the ark, along with his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and his wife, and the three wives of his sons— 14they and every kind of wild animal, livestock, crawling creature, bird, and winged creature. 15They came to Noah to enter the ark, two by two of every creature with the breath of life. 16And they entered, the male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah; and the LORD shut him in.

The Duration of the Flood

17For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and the waters rose and lifted the ark high above the earth. 18So the waters continued to surge and rise greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the waters. 19Finally, the waters completely inundated the earth, so that all the high mountains under all the heavens were covered.

20The waters rose and covered the mountaintops to a depth of fifteen cubits. 21And every creature that had moved upon the earth perished—birds, livestock, animals, every creature that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind. 22Of all that had been on dry land, everything that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23And every living thing on the face of the earth was destroyed—man and livestock, crawling creatures and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth, and only Noah remained, and those with him in the ark.

24And the waters prevailed upon the earth for 150 days.

Genesis 8

The Ark Rests on Ararat

1But God remembered Noah and all the animals and livestock that were with him in the ark. And He sent a wind over the earth, and the waters began to subside. 2The springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained. 3The waters receded steadily from the earth, and after 150 days the waters had gone down.

4On the seventeenth day of the seventh month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5And the waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month, the tops of the mountains became visible.

Noah Sends a Raven and a Dove

6After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark 7and sent out a raven. It kept flying back and forth until the waters had dried up from the earth.

8Then Noah sent out a dove to see if the waters had receded from surface of the ground. 9But the dove found no place to rest her foot, and she returned to him in the ark, because water still covered the surface of the whole earth. So he reached out his hand and brought her back inside the ark.

10Noah waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11And behold, the dove returned to him in the evening with a freshly plucked olive leaf in her beak. So Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth.

12And Noah waited seven more days and sent out the dove again, but this time she did not return to him.

Exiting the Ark

13In Noah’s six hundred and first year, on the first day of the first month, the water had dried up from the earth. So Noah removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14By the twenty-seventh day of the second month, the earth was fully dry.

15Then God said to Noah, 16“Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives. 17Bring out all the living creatures that are with you—birds, livestock, and everything that crawls upon the ground—so that they can spread out over the earth and be fruitful and multiply upon it.”

18So Noah came out, along with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19Every living creature, every creeping thing, and every bird—everything that moves upon the earth—came out of the ark, kind by kind.


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