Flood Stories


  • New Finds Worldwide - National Geographic - May 2002


    Noah, also spelled NOE, the hero of the biblical Flood story in the Old Testament book of Genesis, the originator of vineyard cultivation, and, as the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the representative head of a Semitic genealogical line. A synthesis of at least three biblical source traditions, Noah is the image of the righteous man made party to a covenant with Yahweh, the God of Israel, in which nature's future protection against catastrophe is assured.

    Noah appears in Genesis 5:29 as the son of Lamech and ninth in descent from Adam. In the story of the Deluge (Genesis 6:11-9:19), he is represented as the patriarch who, because of his blameless piety, was chosen by God to perpetuate the human race after his wicked contemporaries had perished in the Flood. A righteous man, Noah "found favour in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8). Thus, when God beheld the corruption of the earth and determined to destroy it, he gave Noah divine warning of the impending disaster and made a covenant with him, promising to save him and his family. Noah was instructed to build an ark, and in accordance with God's instructions he took into the ark male and female specimens of all the world's species of animals, from which the stocks might be replenished. Consequently, according to this narrative, the entire surviving human race descended from Noah's three sons. Such a genealogy sets a universal frame within which the subsequent role of Abraham, as the father of Israel's faith, could assume its proper dimensions.

    The story of the Flood has close affinities with Babylonian traditions of apocalyptic floods in which Utnapishtim plays the part corresponding to that of Noah. These mythologies are the source of such features of the biblical Flood story as the building and provisioning of the ark, its flotation, and the subsidence of the waters, as well as the part played by the human protagonist. Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh epic introduces Utnapishtim, who, like Noah, survived cosmic destruction by heeding divine instruction to build an ark.

    The religious meaning of the Flood is conveyed after Noah's heroic survival. He then built an altar on which he offered burnt sacrifices to God, who then bound himself to a pact never again to curse the earth on man's account.

    God then set a rainbow in the sky as a visible guarantee of his promise in this covenant.

    God also renewed his commands given at creation but with two changes: man could now kill animals and eat meat, and the murder of a man would be punished by men.

    Despite the tangible similarities of the Mesopotamian and biblical myths of the flood, the biblical story has a unique Hebraic perspective. In the Babylonian story the destruction of the flood was the result of a disagreement among the gods; in Genesis it resulted from the moral corruption of human history.

    The primitive polytheism of the Mesopotamian versions is transformed in the biblical story into an affirmation of the omnipotence and benevolence of the one righteous God.

    Again, following their survival, Utnapishtim and his wife are admitted to the circle of the immortal gods; but Noah and his family are commanded to undertake the renewal of history.

    The narrative concerning Noah in Genesis 9:20-27 belongs to a different cycle, which seems to be unrelated to the Flood story. In the latter, Noah's sons are married and their wives accompany them in the ark; but in this narrative they would seem to be unmarried, nor does the shameless drunkenness of Noah accord well with the character of the pious hero of the Flood story.

    Three different themes may be traced in Genesis 9:20-27: first, the passage attributes the beginnings of agriculture, and in particular the cultivation of the vine, to Noah; second, it attempts to provide, in the persons of Noah's three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, ancestors for three of the races of mankind and to account in some degree for their historic relations; and third, by its censure of Canaan, it offers a veiled justification for the later Israelite conquest and subjugation of the Canaanites.

    Noah's drunkenness and the disrespect it provokes in his son Ham result in Noah's laying of a curse on Ham's son Canaan. This incident may symbolize the ethnic and social division of Palestine: the Israelites (from the line of Shem) will separate from the pre-Israelite population of Canaan (which is depicted as licentious), who will live in subjection to the Hebrews.

    The symbolic figure of Noah was known in ancient Israel, before the compilation of the Pentateuch. Ezekiel (14:14, 20) speaks of him as a prototype of the righteous man who, alone among the Israelites, would be spared God's vengeance. In the New Testament, Noah is mentioned in the genealogy of the Gospel According to Luke (3:36) that delineates Jesus' descent from Adam. Jesus also uses the story of the Flood that came on a worldly generation of men "in the days of Noah" as an example of Baptism, and Noah is depicted as a preacher of repentance to the men of his time, itself a predominant theme in Jewish apocryphal and rabbinical writings.

    - Encyclopedia Britannica



    GILGAMESH AND NOAH

    The Epic of Gilgamesh has been of interest to Christians ever since its discovery in the mid-nineteenth century in the ruins of the great library at Nineveh, with its account of a universal flood with significant parallels to the Flood of Noah's day.

    The rest of the Epic, which dates back to possibly third millennium B.C., contains little of value for Christians, since it concerns typical polytheistic myths associated with the pagan peoples of the time. However, some Christians have studied the ideas of creation and the afterlife presented in the Epic. Even secular scholars have recognized the parallels between the Babylonian, Phoenician, and Hebrew accounts, although not all are willing to label the connections as anything more than shared mythology.

    There have been numerous flood stories identified from ancient sources scattered around the world.

    The stories that were discovered on cuneiform tablets, which comprise some of the earliest surviving writing, have obvious similarities. Cuneiform writing was invented by the Sumerians and carried on by the Akkadians. Babylonian and Assyrian are two dialects of the Akkadian, and both contain a flood account. While there are differences between the original Sumerian and later Babylonian and Assyrian flood accounts, many of the similarities are strikingly close to the Genesis flood account.

    The Babylonian account is the most intact, with only seven of 205 lines missing. It was also the first discovered, making it the most studied of the early flood accounts.

    The Epic of Gilgamesh is contained on twelve large tablets, and since the original discovery, it has been found on others, as well as having been translated into other early languages.

    The actual tablets date back to around 650 B.C. and are obviously not originals since fragments of the flood story have been found on tablets dated around 2,000 B.C.

    Linguistic experts believe that the story was composed well before 2,000 B.C. compiled from material that was much older than that date.

    The Sumerian cuneiform writing has been estimated to go as far back as 3,300 B.C.

    The Story

    The Epic was composed in the form of a poem. The main figure is Gilgamesh, who actually may have been an historical person. The Sumerian King List shows Gilgamesh in the first dynasty of Uruk reigning for 126 years.

    This length of time is not a problem when compared with the age of the pre-flood patriarchs of the Bible. Indeed, after Gilgamesh, the kings lived a normal life span as compared with today. The King List is also of interest as it mentions the flood specificallyˇ"the deluge overthrew the land."

    The story starts by introducing the deeds of the hero Gilgamesh. He was one who had great knowledge and wisdom, and preserved information of the days before the flood. Gilgamesh wrote on tablets of stone all that he had done, including building the city walls of Uruk and its temple for Eanna. He was an oppressive ruler, however, which caused his subjects to cry out to the "gods" to create a nemesis to cause Gilgamesh strife.

    After one fight, this nemesisˇEnkiduˇbecame best friends with Gilgamesh. The two set off to win fame by going on many dangerous adventures in which Enkidu is eventually killed. Gilgamesh then determines to find immortality since he now fears death. It is upon this search that he meets Utnapishtim, the character most like the Biblical Noah.

    In brief, Utnapishtim had become immortal after building a ship to weather the Great Deluge that destroyed mankind. He brought all of his relatives and all species of creatures aboard the vessel. Utnapishtim released birds to find land, and the ship landed upon a mountain after the flood. The story then ends with tales of Enkidu's visit to the underworld.

    Even though many similarities exist between the two accounts, there still are serious differences.

    The table below presents a comparison of the main aspects of the two accounts of the flood as presented in the Book of Genesis and in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

    COMPARISON OF GENESIS AND GILGAMESH
    GENESIS GILGAMESH
    Extent of flood
    Cause
    Intended for whom?
    Sender
    Name of hero
    Hero's character
    Means of announcement
    Ordered to build boat?
    Did hero complain?
    Height of boat
    Compartments inside?
    Doors
    Windows
    Outside coating
    Shape of boat
    Human passengers
    Other passengers
    Means of flood
    Duration of flood
    Test to find land
    Types of birds
    Ark landing spot
    Sacrificed after flood?
    Blessed after flood?
    Global
    Man's wickedness
    All mankind
    Yahweh
    Noah
    Righteous
    Direct from God
    Yes
    Yes
    Several stories (3)
    Many
    One
    At least one
    Pitch
    Rectangular
    Family members only
    All species of animals
    Ground water & heavy rain
    Long (40 days & nights plus)
    Release of birds
    Raven & three doves
    MountainˇMt. Ararat?
    Yes, by Noah
    Yes
    Global
    Man's sins
    One city & all mankind
    Assembly of "gods"
    Utnapishtim
    Righteous
    In a dream
    Yes
    Yes
    Several stories (6)
    Many
    One
    At least one
    Pitch
    Square
    Family & few others
    All species of animals
    Heavy rain
    Short (6 days & nights)
    Release of birds
    Dove, swallow, raven
    MountainˇMt. Nisir
    Yes, by Utnapishtim
    Yes

    Some comments need to be made about the comparisons in the table. Some of the similarities are very striking, while others are very general. The command for Utnapishtim to build the boat is remarkable: "O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu, tear down thy house, build a ship; abandon wealth, seek after life; scorn possessions, save thy life. Bring up the seed of all kinds of living things into the ship which thou shalt build. Let its dimensions be well measured."

    The cause of the flood as sent in judgment on man's sins is striking also. The eleventh tablet, line 180 reads, "Lay upon the sinner his sin; lay upon the transgressor his transgression."

    A study of these parallels to Genesis 6-9, as well as the many others, demonstrate the non-coincidental nature of these similarities.

    The meanings of the names of the heroes, however, have absolutely no common root or connection. Noah means "rest," while Utnapishtim means "finder of life."

    Neither was perfect, but both were considered righteous and relatively faultless compared to those around them.

    Utnapishtim also took a pilot for the boat, and some craftsmen, not just his family in the ark. It is also interesting that both accounts trace the landing spot to the same general region of the Middle East; however, Mt. Ararat and Mt. Nisir are about 300 miles apart. The blessing that each hero received after the flood was also quite different. Utnapishtim was granted eternal life while Noah was to multiply and fill the earth and have dominion over the animals.

    - Frank Lorey



    Flood Stories From Around the World

    By Mark Isaac

    EUROPE

    Greek:
    Zeus sent a flood to destroy the men of the Bronze Age. Prometheus advised his son Deucalion to build a chest. All other men perished except for a few who escaped to high mountains. The mountains in Thessaly were parted, and all the world beyond the Isthmus and Peloponnese was overwhelmed. Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha (daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora), after floating in the chest for nine days and nights, landed on Parnassus. When the rains ceased, he sacrificed to Zeus, the God of Escape. At the bidding of Zeus, he threw stones over his head; they became men, and the stones which Pyrrha threw became women. That is why people are called laoi, from laas, "a stone." [Apollodorus 1.7.2]

    An older version of the story told by Hellanicus has Deucalion's ark landing on Mount Othrys in Thessaly. Another account has him landing on a peak, probably Phouka, in Argolis, later called Nemea. [Gaster, p. 85]

    The Megarians told that Megarus, son of Zeus, escaped Deucalion's flood by swimming to the top of Mount Gerania, guided by the cries of cranes. [Gaster, p. 85-86]

    An earlier flood was reported to have occurred in the time of Ogyges, founder and king of Thebes. The flood covered the whole world and was so devastating that the country remained without kings until the reign of Cecrops. [Gaster, p. 87]

    "Many great deluges have taken place during the nine thousand years" since Athens and Atlantis were preeminent. Destruction by fire and other catastrophes was also common. In these floods, water rose from below, destroying city dwellers but not mountain people. The floods, especially the third great flood before Deucalion, washed away most of Athens' fertile soil. [Plato, "Timaeus" 22, "Critias" 111-112]

    Roman:
    Jupiter, angered at the evil ways of humanity, resolved to destroy it. He was about to set the earth to burning, but considered that that might set heaven itself afire, so he decided to flood the earth instead. With Neptune's help, he caused storm and earthquake to flood everything but the summit of Parnassus, where Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha came by boat and found refuge. Recognizing their piety, Jupiter let them live and withdrew the flood. Deucalion and Pyrrha, at the advice of an oracle, repopulated the world by throwing "your mother's bones" (stones) behind them; each stone became a person. [Ovid, book 1]

    Jupiter and Mercury, traveling incognito in Phrygia, begged for food and shelter, but found all doors closed to them until they received hospitality from Philemon and Baucis. The gods revealed their identity, led the couple up the mountains, and showed them the whole valley flooded, destroying all homes but the couple's, which was transformed into a marble temple. Given a wish, the couple asked to be priest and priestess of the temple, and to die together. In their extreme old age, they changed into an oak and lime tree. [Ovid, book 8]

    Scandinavian:
    Oden, Vili, and Ve fought and slew the great ice giant Ymir, and icy water from his wounds drowned most of the Rime Giants. The giant Bergelmir escaped, with his wife and children, on a boat. Ymir's body became the world we live on. [Sturluson, p. 35]

    Celtic:
    Heaven and Earth were great giants, and Heaven lay upon the Earth so that their children were crowded between them, and the children and their mother were unhappy in the darkness. The boldest of the sons led his brothers in cutting up Heaven into many pieces. From his skull they made the firmament. His spilling blood caused a great flood which killed all humans except a single pair, who were saved in a ship made by a beneficent Titan. The waters settled in hollows to become the oceans. The son who led in the mutilation of Heaven was a Titan and became their king, but the Titans and gods hated each other, and the king titan was driven from his throne by his son, who was born a god. That Titan at last went to the land of the departed. The Titan who built the ship, whom some consider to be the same as the king Titan, went there also. [Sproul, pp. 172-173]

    Welsh:
    The lake of Llion burst, flooding all lands. Dwyfan and Dwyfach escaped in a mastless ship with pairs of every sort of living creature. They landed in Prydain (Britain) and repopulated the world. [Gaster, pp. 92-93]

    Lithuanian:
    From his heavenly window, the supreme god Pramzimas saw nothing but war and injustice among mankind. He sent two giants, Wandu and Wejas (water and wind), to destroy earth. After twenty days and nights, little was left. Pramzimas looked to see the progress. He happened to be eating nuts at the time, and he threw down the shells. One happened to land on the peak of the tallest mountain, where some people and animals had sought refuge. Everybody climbed in and survived the flood floating in the nutshell. God's wrath abated, he ordered the wind and water to abate. The people dispersed, except for one elderly couple who stayed where they landed. To comfort them, God sent the rainbow and advised them to jump over the bones of the earth nine times. They did so, and up sprang nine other couples, from which the nine Lithuanian tribes descended. [Gaster, p. 93]

    German:
    A louse and a flea were brewing beer in an eggshell. The louse fell in and burnt herself. This made the flea weep, which made the door creak, which made the broom sweep, which made the cart run, which made the ash-heap burn, which made the tree shake itself, which made the girl break her water-pitcher, which made the spring begin to flow. And in the spring's water everything was drowned. [Grimm 30]

    Turkey:
    Iskender-Iulcarni (Alexander the Great), in the course of his conquests, demanded tribute from Katife, Queen of Smyrna. She refused insultingly and threatened to drown the king if he persisted. Enraged at her insolence, the conqueror determined to punish the queen by drowning her in a great flood. He employed Moslem and infidel workmen to make a strait of the Bosphorus, paying the infidel workmen one-fifth as much as the Moslems got. When the canal was nearly completed, he reversed the pay arrangements, giving the Moslems only one-fifth as much as the infidels. The Moslems quit in disgust and left the infidels to finish the canal. The Black Sea swept away the last dike and drowned the workmen. The flood spread over Queen Katife's country (drowning her) and several cities in Africa. The whole world would have been engulfed, but Iskender-Iulcarni was prevailed upon to open the Strait of Gibraltar, letting the Mediterranean escape into the ocean. Evidence of the flood can still be seen in the form of drowned cities on the coast of Africa and ship moorings high above the coast of the Black Sea. [Gaster, pp. 91-92]

    Vogul:
    After seven years of drought, the Great Woman said to the Great Man that rains had come elsewhere; how should they save themselves. The Great Man counseled the other giants to make boats from cut poplars, anchor them with ropes of willow roots 500 fathoms long, and provide them with seven days of food and with pots of melted butter to grease the ropes. Those who did not make all the preparations perished when the waters came. After seven days, the waters sank. But all plants and animals had perished, even the fish. The survivors, on the brink of starvation, prayed to the great god Numi-tarom, who recreated living things. [Gaster, pp. 93-94]


    NEAR EAST

    Middle Eastern generally:
    In this region, it is common to believe that the earth was originally covered with water, and that there is now a layer of water beneath the earth. Hebrews also have a layer of water above the earth.

    Egypt:
    People have become rebellious. Atum said he will destroy all he made and return the earth to the Primordial Water which was its original state. Atum will remain, in the form of a serpent, with Osiris. [Faulkner, plate 30] (Unfortunately the version of the papyrus with the flood story is damaged and unclear. See also Budge, p. ccii.)

    Persian:
    In early times, the earth was full of malign creatures fashioned by the evil Ahriman. The angel Tistar (the star Sirius) descended three times, in the form of man, horse, and bull respectively, causing ten days and nights of rain each time. The first flood drowned the creatures, but the seeds of evil remained. Before returning to cause the second flood, Tistar, in the form of a white horse, battled the demon Apaosha, who took the form of a black horse. Ormuzd blasted the demon with lightning, making the demon give a cry which can still be heard in thunderstorms, and Tistar prevailed. The poison washed from the land by the second flood made the seas salty. The waters were driven to the ends of the earth by a great wind and became the seas. [Vitaliano, pp. 161-162]

    Assyrian:
    The gods, led by Enlil, agreed to cleanse the earth of an overpopulated humanity, but Utnapishtim was warned by the god Ea in a dream. He and some craftsmen built a large boat (one acre in area, seven decks) in a week. He then loaded it with his family, the craftsmen, and "the seed of all living creatures." The waters of the abyss rose up, and it stormed for six days. Even the gods were frightened by the flood's fury.

    Upon seeing all the people killed, the gods repented and wept. The waters covered everything but the top of the mountain Nisur, where the boat landed. Seven days later, Utnapishtim released a dove, but it returned finding nowhere else to land. He next returned a sparrow, which also returned, and then a raven, which did not return. Thus he knew the waters had receded enough for the people to emerge. Utnapishtim made a sacrifice to the gods. He and his wife were given immortality and lived at the end of the earth. [Sandars, chpt. 5]

    Sharur destroyed Asag, demon of sickness and disease, by flooding his abode. In the process, "The primeval waters of Kur rose to the surface, and as a result of their violence no fresh waters could reach the fields and gardens." [Kramer, p. 105]

    Sumerian:
    The gods had decided to destroy mankind. A god (probably Enki) warned the priest-king Ziusudra ("Long of Life") of the coming flood by speaking to a wall while Ziusudra listened at the side. He was instructed to build a great ship and carry beasts and birds upon it. Violent winds came, and a flood of rain covered the earth for seven days and nights. Then Ziusudra opened a window in the large boat, allowing sunlight to enter, and he prostrated himself before the sun-god Utu. After landing, he sacrificed a sheep and an ox and bowed before Anu and Enlil. For protecting the animals and the seed of mankind, he was granted eternal life and taken to the country of Dilmun, where the sun rises. [Hammerly-Dupuy, p. 56; Heidel, pp. 102-106]

    Hebrew:
    God, upset at mankind's wickedness, resolved to destroy it, but Noah was righteous and found favor with Him. God told Noah to build an ark, 450 x 75 x 45 feet, with three decks. Noah did so, and took aboard his family (8 people in all) and pairs of all kinds of animals (7 of the clean ones). For 40 days and nights, floodwaters came from the heavens and from the deeps, until the highest mountains were covered. The waters flooded the earth for 150 days; then God sent a wind and the waters receded, and the ark came to rest in Ararat. After 40 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 perch. A week later he set out the dove again, and it returned with an olive leaf. The next week, the dove didn't return. After a year and 10 days from the start of the flood, everyone and everything emerged from the ark. Noah sacrificed some clean animals and birds to God, and God, pleased with this, promised never again to destroy all living creatures with a flood, giving the rainbow as a sign of this covenant. Animals became wild and became suitable food, and Noah and his family were told to repopulate the earth. Noah planted a vineyard and one day got drunk. His son Ham saw him lying naked in his tent and told his brothers Shem and Japheth, who came and covered Noah with their faces turned. When Noah awoke, he cursed Ham and his descendants and blessed his other sons. [Genesis 6-9]

    The Koran [11:25-48] refers to the same flood event, adding that the earth swallowed the water, the boat came to rest on the mountain Al-Judi, and one of Noah's disbelieving sons drowned in the flood.

    Aprocryphal scripture tells that Adam directed that his body, together with gold, incense, and myrrh, should be taken aboard the Ark and, after the flood, should be laid in the middle of the earth. God would come from thence and save mankind. [Platt, p. 66, 80 (2 Adam 8:9-18, 21:7-11)]

    A woman "clothed with the sun" gave birth to a man child who was taken up by God. The woman then lived in the wilderness, where the Devil-dragon, cast down to earth, persecuted her. At one time he cast a flood of water from his mouth trying to wash her away, but the earth helped the woman and swallowed the flood. [Revelation 12]

    Babylonian:
    Three times (every 1200 years), the gods were distressed by the disturbance from human overpopulation. The gods dealt with the problem first by plague, then by famine. Both times, the god Enki advised men to bribe the god causing the problem. The third time, Enlil advised the gods to destroy all humans with a flood, but Enki had Atrahasis build an ark and so escape. Also on the boat were cattle, wild animals and birds, and Atrahasis' family. When the storm came, Atrahasis sealed the door with bitumen and cut the boat's rope. The storm god Adad raged, turning the day black. After the seven-day flood, the gods regretted their action. Atrahasis made an offering to them, at which the gods gathered like flies. and Enki established barren women and stillbirth to avoid the problem in the future. [Dalley, pp. 23-35]

    Chaldean:
    The god Chronos in a vision warned Xisuthrus of a coming flood, ordered him to write a history and bury it in Sippara, and told him to build and provision a vessel (5 stadia by 2 stadia) for himself, his friends and relations, and all kinds of animals, all of which he did. After the flood had come and abated somewhat, he sent out some birds, which returned. Later, he tried again, and the birds returned with mud on their feet. On the third trial, the birds didn't return. He disembarked in the Corcyraean mountains in Armenia and, with his wife, daughter, and pilot, offered sacrifices to the gods. Those four were translated to live with the gods. The others at first were grieved when they could not find the four, but they heard Xisuthrus' voice in the air telling them to be pious and to seek his writings at Sippara. [G. Smith, pp. 42-43]

    Zoroastrian:
    "After Ahura Mazda has warned Yima that destruction in the form of winter, frost, and floods, subsequent to the melting of the snow, are threatening the sinful world, he proceeds to instruct him to build a vara, 'fortress or estate,' in which specimens of small and large cattle, human beings, dogs, birds, red flaming fires, plants and foodstuffs will have to be deposited in pairs." [Dresden, p. 344]

    
    
    
    

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