Spring 2012

Religion and Spirituality

The Great Deluge

David Hulme

Knowledge of a catastrophic flood is known to be preserved in the ancient histories of 68 peoples, according to the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary.

The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh tells of a hero Utnapishtim, who is informed of coming catastrophe and is instructed to build a boat and save himself and his household and “the seed of all living creatures.” He is not to warn his neighbors but rather deceive them about impending doom. The flood lasts seven days, the boat is grounded on a mountain from where a dove, a swallow and a raven are sent out. When Utnapishtim leaves the boat, he offers a sacrifice to the gods.

Though aspects of the story sound very familiar to any reader of the biblical account of the Flood, there are more differences than similarities. Importantly, the goodness and mercy of God in renewing human life are absent from the Mesopotamian legends. Accordingly, the Anchor Bible Dictionary informs us, “claims of direct dependence [of the biblical account on the Epic] have been largely abandoned.” It is more likely that corruptions of the biblical account emerged in post-Flood societies.