Damien F. Mackey
During the Old Babylonian era of King Hammurabi there arose classic literature such as the Atrahasis Epic and the Epic of Gilgamesh whose biblical similarities have long been noted.
As we read in:
Solomon and Sheba
the tombs of Senenmut – our Solomon in Egypt (the Solon of the Greeks) – reveal his enjoyment of literature, for example the famous Egyptian folktale, the Story of Sinuhe (TSS). The reason for this may not be hard to find if Senenmut were indeed Solomon, and if, as I have suggested in various articles – with reference to professor E. Anati’s opinion that TSS ‘shares a common matrix’ with the Exodus account of Moses – e.g. my:
that Sinuhe was a modified Egyptian version of Moses himself.
Highly popular tales such as TSS and the Old Babylonian Atrahasis and Gilgamesh would have undergone significant changes and modifications down through the years, with our current versions of the Old Babylonian epics being late neo-Assyrian copies dating to the C7th BC era of Ashurbanipal – hence, well after their original composition at about the time of Solomon, according to this present series.
The Atrahasis Epic
This document with its abundant Book of Genesis-like parallels is typically considered to have influenced the biblical text. My take on it would be, instead, that it was – just as in the case of the famous “Covenant Code”, or Law Code, of Hammurabi (see Part One of this series: https://www.academia.edu/25899658/Solomonic_Influence_on_Hammurabi_s_Babylon) – inspired by the universally known and acclaimed Israelite (Jew), King Solomon, based on his profound knowledge of the Torah.
The same comment would apply to the original Epic of Gilgamesh.
Atrahasis and other like documents are discussed in relation to Genesis in the following (http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2007/02/23/Genesis-and-Ancient-Near-Eastern-Stories-of-Creation-and-Flood-Part-III.aspx):
Creation and Flood
Until recently, the Creation and the Flood have often been treated as separate units. One of the reasons for this may be that initially discovered ancient Mesopotamian documents provided either a Creation myth without the Flood story (“Enuma elish” and others) or the Flood story without a Creation motif (“Gilgamesh Epic,” tablet XI), all in seventh-century neo-Assyrian copies from the Nineveh of Ashurbanipal’s time.1 Therefore, scholars were busy comparing Genesis 1 with “Enuma elish,” and Genesis 6–8 with “Gilgamesh” XI, without integrating these two sections of Genesis.
However, we now have some evidence that the “continuous narrative of the first era of human existence” in the ancient Near East covered both the Creation and the Flood, as Millard (1994: 116) and others have noted. For example, the “Atra-Hasis Epic” from the Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1630 BC) [sic], which Lambert and Millard presented in 1969 in a thorough study, with the text and its translation,2 covers the history of man from his creation to the Flood. This history was widely known in ancient Mesopotamia, and a similar tradition with the same overall structure was known in the early second millennium BC.
Recently Jacobsen suggested the existence of a Sumerian version of such a tradition. According to him, the Sumerian Deluge Tablet from Nippur, which gives not only an account of the Flood but also a list of five cities before the Flood like those in the Sumerian King List,3 may be combined with another Sumerian fragment from Ur and a later bilingual fragment from Nineveh. This combined text, which he names the “Eridu Genesis” (1994: 129–30),4 comprises: (1) the creation of man, (2) the institution of kingship, (3) the founding of the first cities and (4) the great Flood. While Jacobsen’s reconstruction of two Sumerian fragmentary texts (ca. 1600 BC) and one Sumerian-Akkadian bilingual fragment (ca. 600 BC) from three different places remains hypothetical, it seems that an overall tradition linking Creation, early kings, and the Flood existed in Babylonia from early times (Millard 1994:125).
The article continues, now introducing the standard biblical scholarship of the confusion-fostering JEDP theory with its underlying false notion of biblical dependence upon pagan literature. For my own view on all of this, see e.g.:
Preferring P. J. Wiseman to un-wise JEDP
Comparative Approach. Biblical scholars have accepted the view that a similar tradition, which links Creation and the Flood, is also reflected in the overall literary structure of Genesis 1–11. Coats, following Clark, notes that in the Sumerian King List and the ‘Atra-Hasis Epic’, “various narrative elements are set together in something of the same series as the OT primeval saga” (1983: 38).
According to Clark, “in his total outline P is influenced by the King List tradition which had now (in some editions) incorporated the flood narrative.”
As for “J,” he proposes that “J is basically dependent on the tradition of the Atrahasis epic for his outline of the primeval history including the sequence of creation, repeated sin, punishment, and divine grace culminating in the flood” (1971:187–88).
It is not so simple, however, to divide the Mesopotamian traditions exactly between the King List, “priestly” tradition, and the “Atra-Hasis” “epic” tradition. In fact the latter played important roles in the priestly tradition. For example, it is reported that a Babylonian incantation priest cited a part of the “Atra-Hasis Epic” to advise a late-Assyrian king on a drought (Lambert and Millard 1969: 27–28).5
A number of scholars have made a thorough study of “Atra-Hasis” and its relevance to Genesis research.6 For example, Kikawada, who abandons the source analysis of Genesis, studied the structural similarities between “Atra-Hasis” and Genesis 1–11 as a whole. According to him, both compositions used the same literary convention, “a five point outline,” consisting of (1) creation: man, (2) first threat, (3) second threat, (4) final threat: flood, (5) resolution, narrating primeval history up to the time of a great flood, followed by a solution to the problem that persisted throughout the pre-flood history, namely “increase of population.”
The similarities between the Genesis account and the “Atra-Hasis Epic” do not support the idea that Genesis is a direct borrowing from the Mesopotamian but do indicate that Mesopotamian materials could have served as models for Genesis 1–11, as Jacobsen holds (1994:141). P.D. Miller also admits that “there were Mesopotamian models that anticipate the structure of Genesis 1–11 as a whole” (1994:150).
K.A. Kitchen notes a similar outline, namely “creation-flood-later times,” and a common theme, namely “creation, crisis, continuance of man,” of the “primeval proto-history” in the “Atra-Hasis Epic,” the Sumerian Flood story, and the Sumerian King List, as well as in the Genesis account. He recognizes here a common literary heritage, formulated in each case in Mesopotamia in the early 2nd millennium BC (1977: 31). ….
[End of quotes]
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Shawna Dolansky has noted, like many others, the obvious similarities between this highly popular Old Babylonian Epic and Genesis, though she thinks that “it is difficult to state with any certainty that the Epic directly influenced the stories of the Bible”. This is what she has written (http://www.bibleodyssey.org/places/related-articles/gilgamesh-and-the-bible.aspx):
Gilgamesh and the Bible
The Epic of Gilgamesh, a literary product of Mesopotamia, contains many of the same themes and motifs as the Hebrew Bible. Of these, the best-known is probably the Epic’s flood story, which reads a lot like the biblical tale of Noah’s ark (Gen 6-9). But the Epic also includes a character whose story bears even more similarities to stories in the Hebrew Bible: Gilgamesh’s possession of a plant of immortality is thwarted by a serpent (compare Gen 3), he wrestles in the night with a divinely appointed assailant who proclaims the hero’s identity and predicts that he will prevail over all others (compare Gen 32:23-32), and he is taught that the greatest response to mortality is to live life in appreciation of those things which make us truly human (compare Eccl 9:7-10).
The Gilgamesh Epic was familiar in the biblical world: copies have been found at Megiddo, Emar, Northern Anatolia, and Nineveh. It shares many motifs and ideas (such as the Flood) with other ancient Near Eastern texts. Because of this, it is difficult to state with any certainty that the Epic directly influenced the stories of the Bible. For example, it was widely believed that dreams could be divinely inspired, cryptic forecasts of the future. So when Joseph dreamed of sheaves of corn and bowing stars (Gen 37:5-11), the author was probably not copying Gilgamesh’s oracular dreams. Likewise, the idea that it is mortality—the impetus behind Gilgamesh’s quest—that separates gods and humans is found in other Mesopotamian and Egyptian writings, as well as in Gen 3:22.
In the Epic, the gods create Enkidu, who runs wild with the animals in the open country, as a companion for Gilgamesh. There are particularly interesting similarities between the Garden of Eden story in Genesis and the story of Enkidu’s movement from nature to culture and civilization. In both stories, a woman is responsible for the transition of a man who had once eaten and drunk with the animals to a state of estrangement from nature. Once Enkidu is rejected by the animal world, the woman Shamhat gives him clothing and teaches him to drink beer and eat bread—all technological developments that separate humans from animals.
In Genesis, once Adam has eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge, he covers his nudity and is sentenced to a life of cultivating food by harsh labor. This is the cost of divine knowledge. In Gilgamesh, when Enkidu becomes estranged from the animals, Shamhat tells him that he has become “like a god.” Later, on his deathbed, Enkidu laments his removal from a state of nature, only to be reminded by the god Shamash that while civilized life is more fraught with difficulty and the knowledge of one’s own mortality, it is a worthwhile price for cultural knowledge and awareness.
Dolansky will proceed to make an observation about the Epic of Gilgamesh that I find to be most fascinating in light of what I wrote in Part One about Hammurabi’s Law Code being influence by King Solomon’s Ecclesiastes. She begins (my emphasis): “The closest parallel between a biblical text and the Epic of Gilgamesh is seen in the wording of several passages in Ecclesiastes, where a strong argument can be made for direct copying”. And then continues:
The author of Ecclesiastes frequently laments the futility of “chasing after the wind” (for example, Eccl 1:6, Eccl 1:14, Eccl 1:17, Eccl 2:11, Eccl 2:17, Eccl 2:26, Eccl 5:16, etc.), a notion reminiscent of Gilgamesh’s advice to the dying Enkidu: “Mankind can number his days. Whatever he may achieve, it is only wind” (Yale Tablet, Old Babylonian Version). Earlier in the story, Gilgamesh persuaded Enkidu that two are stronger than one in a speech containing the phrase, “A three-stranded cord is hardest to break” (Standard Babylonian Version, IV, iv). Similarly, Ecclesiastes tells us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work…. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl 4:9-12). These may simply be common sayings picked up by both authors, but Eccl 9:7-9 seems to directly quote [sic] the barmaid Siduri’s advice to Gilgamesh on how to deal with his existential angst:
When the gods created mankind,
They appointed death for mankind,
Kept eternal life in their own hands.
So, Gilgamesh, let your stomach be full,
Day and night enjoy yourself in every way,
Every day arrange for pleasures.
Day and night, dance and play,
Wear fresh clothes.
Keep your head washed, bathe in water,
Appreciate the child who holds your hand,
Let your wife enjoy herself in your lap.
This advice sums up the message of both the Epic of Gilgamesh and Ecclesiastes, two texts that wrestle with the search for meaning in the face of human mortality.
Shawna Dolansky, “Gilgamesh and the Bible” ….
[End of quotes]
But there may be yet more.
For apparent likenesses between the epic hero, Gilgamesh and the biblical strong man, Nimrod, see my:
Tightening the Geography and Archaeology for Early Genesis. Part Two: The Epoch of Gilgamesh