Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh tablet XI at the British MuseumIt’s always funny when this happens. A recent YOM post, Will That Boat Float?, opens:

Bible critics have long discounted the biblical narrative of Noah’s Flood as an adaptation of flood myths from the surrounding area of Mesopotamia.  One such flood myth is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which has many similarities to the biblical account of the Flood.  But just how well do the two stories compare, and which one is more feasible?

Young Earth creationists have a complicated relationship with flood stories from other cultures. On the one hand, they are used as evidence that the Flood was global etc etc. But on the other hand they also defend their claim that theirs has the correct depiction of events by rubbishing the feasibility of the other accounts. For example in November of last year John Morris said of the Gilgamesh flood story:

It is so full of fanciful and unbelievable details that probably no one ever considered it true.

Yes, we are deep into hypocrisy territory here.

Returning to this post, YOM gives the following claimed similarities:

  • Global flood
  • Cause: man’s wickedness/sin
  • Intended for all mankind
  • The hero is righteous
  • The hero is ordered to build a boat
  • The boat had many compartments
  • It had only one door
  • It had at least one window
  • Covered with pitch
  • Animals brought on the boat
  • Release of birds to find land
  • Ark landed on a mountain
  • Sacrifice offered after the flood

Quite striking, really. They have a couple of differences though:

  • Yahweh (God) vs. a group of bickering gods
  • The hero is Noah vs. Utnapishtim
  • The message came directly from God vs. a dream
  • Ark had three stories vs. six
  • Shape of the Ark was rectangular vs. a cube
  • People saved were eight (Noah’s family only) vs. the family and a few others
  • The flood was caused by ground water and heavy rain vs. rain only
  • The rain lasted 40 days and nights vs. six days and nights
  • Ark landed on the mountains of Ararat vs. Mt. Nisir

Most, if not all of these are quite minor. One more interesting difference between the two accounts is that the story in the Gilgamesh epic is much more specific than the flood myth we are familiar with. God tells Noah to cover the Ark with pitch; Utnapishtim tells how much. Indeed, we even have a brief description of the launching process of the boat – something I’ve always wondered about the Ark.

The most apparent difference is in the shape of the ark.  Gilgamesh’s ark was a cube.  According to the epic, “Her dimensions shall be to measure, equal shall be her width and her length … One (whole) acre was her floor space, ten dozen cubits the height of each of her walls, ten dozen cubits each edge of the square deck” (Pritchard, Ancient Near East Texts, 93.).  That boat might float in easygoing seas, but it might not survive in the raging torrents described in Genesis 7.  On the contrary, detailed studies of the biblical Ark’s construction have proven it to have been tremendously stable even in very rough seas.

The bible never actually gives details about the shape of the Ark, beyond three dimensions:

The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.

I have looked at a simulation of the seaworthiness of the Ark in a previous article, and one of the many important problems with it was that, due to the vagueness of the Genesis account, the crucial element of the precise shape of the boat (beyond simply being longer than it is wide) has to be guessed. Given the problems faced by more recent wooden boats not even of the same extended length of the Ark, I can with some confidence assert that Noah wouldn’t have had a much better chance than Utnapishtim – he can only be even slightly salvaged by ruthlessly exploiting the bible’s vagueness. Interestingly, Genesis 7 also never talks about any “raging torrents,” but the Epic does. There is a reason why the concept of a “tranquil” biblical flood exists, and it’s that the bible doesn’t actually say half the things YECs claim.

If the biblical writer had copied Gilgamesh’s design for the Ark, maybe there would be cause for doubt; but Genesis 6 lays out exact dimensions for building a truly sea-worthy vessel.

Oh, this article is delicious. It concludes:

Who do you think really copied the flood story?

The implication of the post is that one or the other story must be true, but I kinda doubt either of them are.


You can read the Epic of Gilgamesh here. The flood story itself is located in Tablet XI.

2 thoughts on “Gilgamesh

  1. Have you ever come across a YOM article in which they display an awareness of the (correct) concept of irony? Or do they simply lack the mental tools necessary to experience it?

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