The Gilgamesh Epic is an ancient Mesopotamian story about life and the suffering one must endure while alive. Included in the story, is a tale of a great flood that covered the earth, killing all but a select few of it’s inhabitants. This story of a great flood is common to most people, and has effected history in several ways. It’s presence in the Gilgamesh Epic has caused many people to search for evidence that a great flood actually happened. It has also caused several other religions and cultures to take the same basic story, claiming it for their own.
Whether in Christianity in the form of Noah’s Ark, or through Mesopotamian history in the form of an immortal, the idea of a great flood has proven to be a common story throughout the world. Though Noah’s Ark may be the most popular form of the story, it is not the oldest. Many people believe Noah’s Ark was based on Utnapishnem’s flood story. The two stories are obviously based on the same thing, but one must wonder which one is true or which came first. The story of Utnapishnem in the Gilgamesh Epic starts with a dream that warns Utnapishnem of the coming flood.
The gods are angry and want to rid the world of mankind. Utnapishnem built a boat large enough to carry his family, personal belongings, and “the seed of all other living creatures. ” After Utnapishnem finished, the rain fell for six days and six nights, and it was so bad that the gods climbed into heaven for safety. After the rain stopped, the boat came to rest on Mount Nisir, and Utnapishnem released a dove and a swallow. Both birds returned because they could not find land. Then a raven was released and it did not come back, proving that there was land for it to rest on.
Utnapishnem then came out of the ship and offered a sacrifice to the gods. When the gods smelled the sweet odor of the sacrifice, they blessed Utnapishnem and his wife to be like the gods and live forever. The story of Noah’s Ark begins with God being upset at mankind’s wickedness. He decides to destroy it with a flood. God new Noah was righteous and told him to build an ark so he would be safe from the rain. Noah did so and took aboard his family and pairs of every kind of animal. It rained for forty days and nights, until the highest mountains were covered.
Then God sent a wind and the waters receded, and the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. After forty days, Noah sent out a raven, which kept flying until the waters had dried up. He next sent out a dove, which returned without finding a place to rest. A week later he set out the dove again, and it returned with an olive leaf. The next week, the dove didn’t return. Everyone then emerged from the ark. Noah built an altar and made a sacrifice to God, and God promised never again to destroy all living creatures with a flood, giving the rainbow as a sign of His covenant.
The similarities between the two stories are obvious for the most part. It makes one wonder if perhaps Noah and Utnapishnem were the same person, and the different stories may have been caused by the same happening seen from different viewpoints. Though this may be the only logical answer, many people are still searching for the truth behind the tales. This has lead many people to devoting their lives to finding scientific proof that a flood covering a vast stretch of land actually occurred several centuries ago. The search for proof of a great flood has been going on for decades.
Based primarily in the Middle East, the search begins with questioning history for any detail that may suggest there was a flood. Then they must ask what conditions are necessary for causing a flood of the magnitude described in the Gilgamesh Epic, or that may have seemed as large to the people affected by it. If these conditions were indeed met, what scientific evidence do we have that could prove it really happened? A flood of the magnitude stated in these two fables that ends up destroying most, if not all, the life on Earth would not be quickly forgotten by any culture.
This catastrophe would have affected all of mankind, and would have been recorded in documents other that the Bible and tablets found in the ruins of Nineveh. This story can be found with great variation in over two hundred separate cultures all over the globe. Though these stories are, for the most part, all unique to their own culture, they all have at least these four things in common: The cause of the flood was a moral one, and people brought it on themselves; one person is warned of the oncoming flood, and he saves himself and friends and family; the world is depopulated except for the few survivors; and animals play some sort of role.
All other details differ in such a way that borrowing from the Bible or the Gilgamesh Epic is almost excluded altogether. These separate accounts from different cultures are probably recollections of an event that was never forgotten, although the details may have become blurred. All the evidence collected from the different cultures suggests that a worldwide flood did occur. A flood of this size would have needed more water than the Earth currently has. If all the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere fell to the Earth in rainfall right now, it would only increase the world’s sea levels by two inches.
How could it be possible for the world to be covered in water when there isn’t enough water on Earth? Two possibilities are that the water flooding the world did not just come from rainfall, and the Earth before this great flood was much different than afterwards. Many scientists believe that the ancient Earth was covered with a “water-vapor canopy” that caused permanent cloud cover over the entire world, kept the world watered with dew (no rainfall), kept the world wind-free, and keep the entire world at an even temperature and climate.
In order for the “water-vapor canopy” to release the water vapor, there would need to be some sort of event that caused wind to blow. Scientists believe that pressurized subterranean resoviors may have erupted, causing the water in the chambers to be released, and causing wind, which, in turn, caused the water-vapor canopy to pour down rain. Another suggested idea, is that a large comet or small wandering planet could have flown by the Earth at close range, causing the gravitational havoc. The gravitational pull between the two planets could have been enough to collapse the water-vapor canopy, and cause tidal waves, and sea bed upheavals.
These ideas could very well have caused a flood that could cover the entire Earth. Although the conditions for causing a great flood may have been present in ancient Earth, one would think that the Earth’s crust would hold some sort of evidence that this flood did indeed exist. If it did happen over five thousand years ago, would the evidence still be there? And would scientists be able to recognize it? Scars on the sides of many mountains show that the possibility of flooding was greatly possible. Several theories have come about describing the flood.
Two of the theories are that of a tidal wave and universal flooding. The theory of a tidal wave basically states that a gigantic tidal wave could have affected the whole world, if large enough. The tidal wave breaking on one coast would lead to the water spreading over much more land, perhaps causing what looked like a universal flood. That would explain the reason that the flood occurred so quickly in the Gilgamesh Epic and Noah’s Ark tales. The water would also have receded fairly quickly back into the oceans, which could be the reason that it did so in the tales mentioned.
What caused the tidal wave is still a mystery, although many people believe it was caused by volcanic eruption, or a large meteorite crashing into the Earth’s surface. The other theory is of universal flooding. The idea of a great flood has been found to be conclusive with geological findings all over the globe. A flood this large would have deposited sediment throughout the world. It has been scientifically estimate that more than seventy-five percent of the Earth is covered with sediment. Fossils have also been found in the Rockie Mountains that contain shells and fish.
Many other petrified “fish beds” have been found all over the world, including Mt. Everest, suggesting that a global flood did indeed happen. Though scientists cannot agree on whether or not a global flood occurred, the effect of these stories on science has been monumental, as well as the effect of the stories on cultures and religions throughout the world. If this great flood did , in fact, occur, it’s effect on history would have been great because of the huge numbers of people lost to it. Though they may be fables, one must keep asking themselves if they may have been based on fact.