BAR 4:04, Nov/Dec 1978
What the Babylonian Flood Stories Can and Cannot Teach Us About the Genesis Flood
The Babylonian flood stories are similar to the Genesis flood story in many ways, but they are also very different. If we look deeply enough into those Babylonian flood stories, they teach us how to understand the structure of the Genesis flood story. At the same time such a comparison also emphasizes how different the Genesis flood story is from anything that preceded it.
Three different Babylonian stories of the flood have survived: the Sumerian Flood Story, the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and the Atrahasis Epic. Of these, the best known is Gilgamesh XI, which was one of the earliest cuneiform texts to be discovered and published. In 1872 George Smith read a paper called The Chaldean Account of the Deluge in which he presented fragments of the flood story from the Gilgamesh Epic. These fragments, dating from the seventh century B.C., were discovered in the library of King Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. However, other examples of tablets of this epic date from about 1000 years earlier than the fragments from Nineveh. These earlier tablets are evidence that the composition of the epic and the flood story contained in it occurred no later than the beginning of the second millennium B.C.; also, many of the episodes included in the epic have prototypes in the Sumerian language which are much older than the composition of the Gilgamesh Epic.