There are many stories of global flood that destroyed earth and all mankind except for one man, his family, and samples of every land animal. The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by N.K. Sandars, and “The Flood” in Genesis, parallel each other in many ways. They are so similar that you wonder if they are two different versions of the same story. They have many similarities, yet at the same time they have distinguishable differences.
The Epic of Gilgamesh tells the story of a man named Utnapishtim. In this story the gods decided to destroy the earth by a global flood. The god, Ea, picked Utnapishtim to be saved because he was Ea’s favorite. “The Story of the Flood” story is about Noah’s Ark and how God decided to wipe out mankind by global flood for their wickedness. God picked Noah and his family to restart earth after the flood. Utnapishtim and Noah, the “chosen” men in each of the stories, are seemingly identical, except for some key differences.
Each of these men are very similar in the way they are portrayed in each story. Utnapishtim and Noah were both chosen by a divine power to survive a global flood. Both these men were seemingly ordinary men. They were human. Utnapishtim and Noah both had strong faiths. They were described as righteous men. Each of them was asked to build an Ark, to house him, a few others and samples of each land animal. The god Ea said to Utnapishtim: tear down your house and build a boat, abandon possessions and look for life, despise worldly goods and save your soul alive.
Tear down your house, I say, and build a boat. These are the measurements of the barque as you shall build her: let her beam equal her length, let her deck be roofed like the vault that covers the abyss; then take up into the boat the seed of all living creatures (“Gilgamesh” 37)
This showed that Ea had chosen Utnapishtim and told him what to do in order to be saved. Like Utnapishtim, God asked Noah:
And God said unto Noah, the end of all flesh is come before me;
for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold,
I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark of gopher
wood; rooms shalt thou make the ark, and shalt pitch it within
and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt
make it of…[thou I shall destroy earth and everything on it]
with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into
the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives
with thee. And every living thing of all flesh, two of every
sort shalt thou bring into the ark, too keep alive with
thee…Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him,
so did he. (“Genesis” 57)
With this you can see how Noah was told by God to do in order for him to be saved. Both of them did what was asked of him. After the flood had finished both men made sacrifices to their respective god. Utnapishtim and Noah had covenants made to them at the end by a divine power. The examples from each story show how similar these men were.
However, there are a few distinct differences between these two men. Although these men both had tremendous faith each of them showed it in different ways. Utnapishtim gave up everything he had. He gave up all his possessions and he even tore down he own house to build this ark. That shows faithfulness beyond anything else. Noah’s faith, on the other hand, was shown in the mere way that he walked with God his whole life; he stayed true. However, he did make a huge sacrifice giving away all he had.
Another difference between Utnapishtim and Noah is how they were told they would be the “chosen” one to survive the global flood. The god, Ea, in a dream, tells Utnapishtim what he must do. Ea does not tell Utnapishtim directly either. Ea talk to the walls of Utnapishtim’s house. In the Epic of Gilgamesh it is written,
He whispered their words to my house of reeds, ‘Reed-house, reed-
house! Wall, O wall, hearken reed-house, wall reflect; O man of
Surrupak, son of Ubara-Tutu; tear down your house and build a boat,
abandon possessions and look for life, despise worldly goods and save
your soul alive.’ (“Gilgamesh” 37)
This clearly illustrates that Ea spoke to the walls of Utnapishtim’s house.
This in unlike how Noah was told. Noah was told directly by God. As it was
written in Genesis, “God spoke unto Noah…” (“Genesis” 57); evidently
showing that Noah had a direct conversation with God.
To point out a final difference between Utnapishtim and Noah, is how they were rewarded by the divine power. Utnapishtim was awarded eternal life by the god, Enlil, who wanted to destroy all of earth, never to restart it again. Ea was not the one who awarded him. It was up to Enlil as to what to do with Utnapishtim after the flood. As written in the Epic of Gilgamesh it is said by Enlil, “In time past Utnapishtim was a mortal man; henceforth he and his wife shall live in the distance at the mouth of the rivers” (“Gilgamesh” 39). Thus illustrating that Utnapishtim was awarded eternal life. God on the other hand gave Noah an extended life. Noah was already 600 years old, and he was given another 350 years to him. Utnapishtim was given eternal life and Noah was given a very long extended life.
In conclusion, these stories of Utnapishtim and Noah, who were chosen to save mankind and the beasts of the earth, from a global flood are strikingly similar. Even though with few differences, you could almost be convinced that they are the same men whose story has two versions. Word of mouth, like the game of broken telephone, changes as it is passed from one person to the other. So as these two stories were passed by word of mouth for many years, they changed in detail until two different people wrote them down. Henceforth today we have two different stories with strikingly similar characteristics. You are left with the question; do they come from the same origin?
“The Story of the Flood.” “Gilgamesh.” The Norton Anthology of World
Masterpieces: Expanded Edition in One Volume. Ed. Maynard Mack. New
York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997. 37-39.
“The Flood.” “Genesis.” The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces:
Edition in One Volume. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton &
Co., 1997. 56-59
Claire E. Owen
Dr. Z. Piltch
Readings in the Humanities
October 5, 2005