Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Real Story of Noah's Ark (and Gilgamesh)?

Are you familiar with the story of Noah's Ark? Most people know the basics of the tale of an old man, Noah, who saved two of each animal in a huge boat as the world is destroyed by a flood. One source, the Bible's Book of Genesis, is summarized like this:

"God, seeing the wickedness of man, is grieved by his creation and resolves to send a great flood. He sees that Noah is a man "righteous in his generation," and gives him detailed instructions for the Ark. When the animals are safe on board God sends the Flood, which rises until all the mountains are covered and all life is destroyed. At the height of the flood the Ark rests on the mountains, the waters abate, and dry land reappears. Noah, his family, and the animals leave the Ark, and God vows to never again send a flood to destroy the Earth."

An interesting piece of history that many students might not know is that the ancient Sumerians have a very similar tale about humanity being wiped out by a catastrophic flood, with only a select few being saved. This epic poem is about a hero named Gilgamesh, and comes from an older oral tradition. Although only fragments of the whole story survive on broken clay tablets, most scholars believe the earliest Gilgamesh stories to be from about 2000 B.C.E.

"The flood story tells how the god Enki warns the hero Atrahasis ("Extremely Wise") to dismantle his house (perhaps to provide a construction site) and build a boat to escape the flood planned by the god Enlil to destroy humankind. The boat is to have upper and lower decks, and to be sealed with tar. Atrahasis boards the boat with his family and animals and seals the door. The storm and flood begin. Even the gods are afraid. After seven days the flood ends and Atrahasis offers sacrifices to the gods."

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