Friday, December 30, 2011

The Flood

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The Flood Stories

It is strange to find so many similarities between the flood Story in Gilgamesh and Noah’s flood story in Genesis. Noah’s flood story is supposed to be part of the origin of mankind, yet the flood story of Gilgamesh was recorded earlier. The stories are comparable in a number of ways, yet there are many differences that make the two stories vary.

The similarities that exist between the two stories include the main idea and the order in which the events occur. For instance, the reason for the need of a flood in both stories is the same. In Gilgamesh, the gods see that the uproar of mankind is intolerable and decide to exterminate the evil in the land. In The Old Testament, God sees that the wickedness of man is great and it disgusts Him, so He decides to destroy mankind. In both stories one man is given work to build a boat. Utnapishtim is the chosen man in Gilgamesh as is Noah in The Old Testament. Both are given specific instructions about the building of the boat and what to bring on it. After everyone is on the boat, the flood begins and continues until the water prevails over the earth. When the rain stops, both men send out three birds to attempt a landing. The first thing both Utnapishtim and Noah do is make an offering. The gods in Gilgamesh and the Lord in The Old Testament smell the sweet savour, go to the sacrifice and each man in the story is given some type of covenant.

Many of the differences in the two stories include the small details. In Gilgamesh, Ea warns Upnapishtim in a dream, whereas in The Old Testament, Noah is told directly by God. The flood in Gilgamesh lasts only six days and nights, but in The Old Testament it lasts forty days and nights. I believe the duration of the floods is the most striking difference between the two stories. Six days and night are quite a bit shorter than forty days and nights. The duration of each flood will, in turn, impact the amount of water produced during each flood. In each story the men send birds out to see if the waters retreated. Utnapishtim sends a dove and then a swallow, but neither finds a resting-place and return. Last, he sends a raven that sees that the waters have retreated and so it does not return. Noah, on the other hand, sends a raven, then a dove, but both return to him. The third bird he sends is another dove. It returns with an olive leaf in its mouth. This lets Noah know that the water has abated. In the end of each story, each man is given a covenant. In Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim and his wife are blessed with everlasting life and placed in the distance at the mouth of the rivers. In The Old Testament, God blesses Noah and his sons and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. God then establishes a covenant with them saying, “neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood and neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth” (57).

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The similarities in each flood story are very striking. In fact, they are so similar that much controversy has been brought up about these two stories. However, the differences are still very strong and greatly contribute to these stories.

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