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Tyndale Bulletin 18 (1967) 3-18.

                             THE TYNDALE BIBLICAL

                       ARCHAEOLOGY LECTURE, 1966


                                  By A. R. MILLARD

Association of the Hebrew accounts of Creation and the Flood

with the Babylonian is a commonplace of Old Testament

studies. It is now some ninety years since George Smith's

discoveries of a Flood story in Akkadian very similar to the story

of Noah, and of tales of the creation of the earth.1 During that

time many studies have been made of the interrelationship of

the various accounts. The following expression by G. von Rad

represents a widespread current view with regard to the Flood

of Genesis. 'Today . . . the dossier on the relation of the Biblical

tradition to the Babylonian story of the Flood as it is in the

Gilgamesh Epic is more or less closed. A material relationship

between both versions exists, of course, but one no longer

assumes a direct dependence of the Biblical tradition on the

Babylonian. Both versions are independent arrangements of a

still, older tradition, which itself stemmed perhaps from the

Sumerian. Israel met with a Flood tradition in Canaan at the

time of her immigration and assimilated it into her religious

ideas.'2 The situation is similar, though less certain, with

regard to Creation. Most commentators suggest that the

Israelites adopted and adapted the Babylonian, story Enuma

as transmitted through Canaanite sources.3 The few

dissentient voices are largely ignored.4

            Old Testament scholars have generally concentrated upon

            1 See G. Smith, The Chaldean Account of Genesis, Sampson Low, London (1876).

            2 Genesis, SCM Press, London (1961) 120.

            3 E.g. C. A. Simpson in The Interpreter's Bible, Abingdon Press, New York (1952)

I, 195, 445f.; S. H. Hooke in M. Black and H. H. Rowley (eds.), Peake's Com-

mentary on the Bible , Nelson, London (1962) §§144, 145; S. G. F. Brandon, Creation

Legends of the Ancient Near East, Hodder Stoughton, London (1963) 118-157.

            4  Such as A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis2, University of Chicago Press (1954)

139, or J. V. Kinnier Wilson in D. W. Thomas (ed.), Documents from Old Testament

Times, Nelson, London (1958) 14.

4                         TYNDALE BULLETIN

the famous Enuma elish in considering the Creation stories,

neglecting the other Babylonian accounts entirely. In fact, the

relevance of Enuma elish is considerably less than has normally

been thought, as an important paper by W. G. Lambert has

recently demonstrated. This conclusion, in part, follows from 

the dating of the composition of Enuma elish at the very end of

the second millennium BC, in part, from a study of Babylonian

Creation accounts as a whole. Although Enuma elish embodies

earlier material, this is clearly turned to the poem's main

purpose, the exaltation of Marduk, patron of Babylon. Scrutiny

of all Babylonian Creation stories is essential before theories

can be erected upon apparent similarities with the Hebrew.

The significance of such similarities will only appear when each

has been evaluated in its own context.

            Fewer complications attend comparison of the Flood stories.

A. Heidel's book The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels6

remains the authoritative study of the theme. The Babylonian

material to be utilized is found in two compositions only, the

Epic of Gilgamesh and the Epic of Atrahasis.

                      THE EPIC OF ATRAHASIS
Our present purpose is to add more information concerning the

Creation and Flood stories rather than to reconsider the whole of

this material. The Epic of Atrahasis provides most of this new

material. Until 1965 about one-fifth of the story was known, now

four-fifths of the whole can be restored. Briefly, it recounts the

events precipitating the creation of man, namely, the refusal of

the gods to tend the earth, his disturbance of Enlil, the god

ruling the earth, and the attempts to quell the trouble, culminat-

ing in the Flood and subsequent reorganization of the earth.7

The most complete text belongs to the Old Babylonian period

and bears dates about 1630 BC. How much earlier it was actually

composed cannot yet be said. At that time the poem was con-

            5 JTS  NS 16 (1965) 287-300.

            6 Second edition, University of Chicago Press (1949).

            7 The text is mostly published in Cuneiform Texts XLVI, The British Museum,

London (1965) pls. I—XXVII; an edition of the Epic with translation and discussion

by W. G. Lambert and the writer is in preparation; understanding of the text owes

much to the acumen of Lambert. Parts of this paper are based upon a thesis sub-

mitted to the University of London, 1966, entitled The Atrahasis Epic and Its Place in Babylonian Literature.               

          A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY                  5

tained on three large tablets, consisting together of 1,245 lines of

writing. Parts of four copies of the first tablet, two of the second,

and one of the third are known at present. In addition, the

Assyrian libraries at Nineveh almost a thousand years later

included at least three copies equivalent to the first tablet, two

covering parts of the first and second, and two of the third,

showing evidence of varying editions. A neo-Babylonian frag-

ment was unearthed at Babylon, and a piece of uncertain date,

probably Kassite, at Nippur. The story was thus well known,

or, at least, widely available, in ancient Mesopotamia. It

circulated further afield, too. A tablet from the Hittite capital,

Bogazköy, mentioning the hero Atrahasis, shows that something

of the story was known there, about 1300 BC.8 At the same period

a copy of a form of the Epic was present at Ugarit on the Syrian

coast.9 Thus knowledge of the Epic of Atrahasis was very far

flung in the second millennium BC.

            As far as can be observed the significance of this composition

for Genesis studies has not been noted by Old Testament

scholarship in recent years, although its nature as an account

covering both Creation and Flood was clearly demonstrated ten

years ago from the material then available.10 It is the only

Babylonian parallel to the Hebrew Genesis in providing a

continuous narrative of the first era of human existence.

            The import of this is immediately apparent: comparisons of

accounts from the two literatures made heretofore have generally

treated the Creation and the Flood as separate parts—neces-

sarily so since no all-embracing Babylonian narrative was

recognized. Some modification of this statement is necessary,

for there is one Sumerian composition covering the ground.

That is the Deluge Tablet from Nippur of which about one-

third survives. It can be dated about 1700 BC. A discussion of

its place in comparative contexts was published by the Assyrio-

logist L. W. King fifty years ago.11 It is now evident that this

Sumerian narrative belongs to the same tradition as the


            8 Keilshrifturkunden aus Boghazköi VIII, Staatlichen Museen, Berlin (1924)

No. 63; cf. H. G. Güterbock, Kumarbi, Europaverlag, Zürich (1946) 30f., 81f.

            9 J. Nougayrol, Comptes rendus de l' Academie des inscriptions et belles lettres (1960) 170-171

            10 J. Laessøe, Bibliotheca Orientalis 13 (1956) 90-102; cf. W. G. Lambert, JSS 5

1960 113-116.

            11 Legends of Babylonia and Egypt in relation to Hebrew Tradition, Schweich Lectures for 1916 Oxford University Press (1918).                

6                      TYNDALE BULLETIN

Atrahasis Epic. It differs from the latter in including before the

Flood a list of five cities founded as cult-centres for particular

deities. Here an association can be made with the Sumerian

King List, for these same five cities (Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larak,

Sippar, Shuruppak) are given as the seats of the ante-diluvian

kings (incidentally, they were never dynastic centres after the

Deluge). The association is not merely a modern one; a small

fragment of a neo-Assyrian tablet lists these kings and then

continues with a narrative, using a phrase characteristic of the

Atrahasis Epic.12 As is well known, the King List has a complete

break with the coming of the Flood, and a fresh start afterwards.

While this may be the result of joining a list of ante-diluvian

rulers to the later King List, it establishes that there was a

tradition linking Creation, early kings, and the Flood in

Babylonia, reaching back to the early second millennium BC at


            It is possible that the Atrahasis Epic was compiled from

separate narratives of the two major events, and the Sumerian

Deluge Tablet likewise. In their present form, however, neither

shows any sign of a conflation of sources. An attempt to isolate

literary 'strata' in the fragments of the Atrahasis Epic known

ten years ago fails completely in the light of the new material.13

I. The beginning of the world. No account of the creation of the

world is found in the Atrahasis Epic; it is concerned exclusively

with the story of Man and his relationship with the gods, and

this is hinted at in the incipit 'When the gods, man-like, . . . '.

The introduction does describe the situation at the outset of the

story, when the world had been divided between the three major

deities of the Sumerian-Akkadian pantheon.

            'The gods took one hand in the other,

            They cast the lot, made division.

            Anu went up to heaven,

            12 See T. Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List, University of Chicago Press (1939);

Cuneiform Texts, XLVI, p1. XXIII, No. 5.

            13 J. Laessoe, Bibliotheca Orientalis 13 (1956) 95-96. Similarly, efforts to demon-

strate the fusion of two disparate narratives into the Flood story of Gilgamesh XI,

based upon 'doublets' of names and supposed contradictions or inconsistencies,

can be disproved as shown in chapter 7 § i.c of the thesis mentioned in n.7.

          A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY             7

            [Enlil] . . . the earth to his subjects.

            The lock, the bar of the sea,

            They gave to Enki, the prince.'

Some interest attaches to the last of these realms. The word for

‘sea’, is tiāmtu, the common noun from which the name Tiamat

was developed. There is no need to consider the identity of this

word and תְּהוֹם ; theories concerning, or based upon, that

equivalence collapse with the demonstration that the words are

no more than etymological cognates.14 The texts show that the

proper name is certainly not intended in the Atrahasis Epic,

nor is there any hint of a battle with the sea as found in Enuma

elish. Nevertheless, the implication is that the sea is an unruly

element in need of control. If a parallel is to be sought in the

biblical narrative it may be found in Genesis 1:9, 'Let the waters

from under the heaven be gathered to one place and let the dry

land appear'. This brief ordinance should be considered along

with the other references to God confining the sea and preventing

it from overwhelming the land. We may doubt whether it is

legitimate to understand any Old Testament passage as depict-

ing a primaeval battle between God and the sea. The Rahab,

Leviathan, and Tannin verses do not have this implication,15

nor do the descriptions of the containing of the sea adduced by

Gunkel to this end appear really convincing.16 The words

employed in the three major passages (Job 38:8-11; Proverbs

8:29; Psalm 104:6-9) are not those employed elsewhere of

conflict; thus they contrast with the Rahab, Leviathan, Tannin

texts which clearly describe battle. They do refer to bars and

bounds and doors.

            Some caution should be present in drawing the parallel of

the barring of the sea, as it is found in one other Babylonian

Creation story, the bilingual Marduk Account. This text relates

the creation of man and beast, rivers and vegetation, and then

            14. A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis 98-101; W. G. Lambert, loc. cit. 293; K. A.

                 Kitchen, Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 44 (1966) 3.

            15 K. A. Kitchen, loc. cit. 3-5.

            16 H. Gunkiel, Schöpfung und Chaos, Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, Göttingen

 (1895) 91—111; W. G. Lambert, loc. cit. 296 (note that the Ninurta Epic there cited

as having a parallel conflict with savage waters is describing the salvation of the

land from flooding after Creation; the passage is summarized in S. N. Kramer,

Sumerian Mythology2, Harper and Brothers, New York (1961) 80, 81; all the Old

Testament allusions to the raging sea refer to the creation and sustaining of the world

order, not to a later catastrophe).

8                         TYNDALE BULLETIN

states, 'He built up a dam at the edge of the sea'. As the next line

described the draining of a swamp, this may have been related

to that, but mention of the sea suggests that the dam's purpose

was to keep the land from sea-floods.17

2. Paradise. The introductory description of the world situation

in the Atrahasis Epic depicts the junior gods (the Igigu) labour

ing at the behest of the senior deities (the Anunnaku):

            ‘When the gods, man-like,

            Bore the labour, carried the load,

            The gods' load was great,

            The toil grievous, the trouble excessive.

            The great Anunnaku, the Seven,

            Were making the Igigu undertake the toil.'

In particular, this task took the form of digging the beds of the

waterways, the corvée work later considered a menial occupa-

tion. Such work was too much for the gods; they held a meeting

and decided to depose their taskmaster, Enlil. So they set fire to

their tools and advanced to force Enlil to relieve them. It was

night-time and the god slept, but his vizier awoke him, soothed

his terror, and advised him to consult with his colleagues upon a

means to appease the rebels. The council decided to send a

messenger to enquire into the cause of the disturbance. Upon

learning the state of the gods, the council further deliberated,

eventually deciding to make a substitute do the work, namely


            No other Babylonian myth exhibits this theme in this way.

The conflicts in Enuma elish are put down to the youthful

exuberances of the gods (Tablet I:21-28), not to refusal to work.

but later it is evident that the followers of Tiamat were set to

work, eventually to be liberated by the creation of Man (Tablet

IV: 107-121, 127; V: 147, 148; VI: 152, 153; VII: 27-9).18 A

bilingual Creation story dating from at least the late second

millennium19 speaks of the creation of the rivers and canals,

although without naming the agent of creation, then concen-

trates upon the making of man to maintain them. Other
            17 Cuneiform Texts XIII, P1. 38,1. 31. A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis 63.

            18 Cf. B. Landsberger and J. V. Kinnier Wilson, JNES 20 (1961) 178-179.

            19 E. Ebeling, Keilschrifttexte aus Assur Religiösen Inhalts, J. C. Heinrichs, Leipz

 (1919) No. 4, datable by its script to the Middle Assyrian period, vide E. F. Weidner,

AfO 16 (1952-3) 207; A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis 68-71.

          A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY            9

Akkadian texts indicate man's purpose as the upholding of

earth's order so that there is produce to feed the gods.20 One

Sumerian myth exhibits almost all the features of this episode

in the Atrahasis Epic; the introduction to the tale Enki and

Ninmah clearly belongs to the same tradition as Atrahasis.21

            The underlying idea of the Atrahasis Epic and the other

Babylonian Creation stories, then, is that man was made to free

the gods from the toil of ordering the earth to produce their food.

The gods instructed the Mother-goddess (Nintu or Mami):

            'Create a human to bear the yoke.

            Let him bear the yoke, the task of Enlil,

            Let man carry the load of the gods.'

            Genesis has something in common with this. 'The Lord God

took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it

and to keep it' (2:15). However, the garden and, indeed, the

rest of the earth had produced vegetation already, without great

labour (although it is stated that either rainfall or irrigation was

necessary, 2:5), and were at man's disposal. The rivers are

named and their courses indicated, but there is no account of

their formation. Only after the Fall does man really face the toil

of wresting his food from a reluctant soil.
3. The making of man. The Atrahasis Epic is more specific on

this matter than any other Babylonian Creation account.

            'Let them slaughter one god,

            So that all the gods may be purified by dipping.

            With his flesh and blood

            Let Nintu mix clay.

            So let god and man be mingled

            Together in the clay.

            .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

            After she had mixed the clay,

            She called the Anunna, the great gods.

            The Igigu, the great gods,

            Spat upon the clay.

            Mami opened her mouth

            And said to the great gods,
            20 A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis 61-63,65-66.

            21 See S. N. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology 69-70; J. J. van Dijk, Acta Orientalia 28

 (1964) 24-31.

10                  TYNDALE BULLETIN

            "You commanded me a task

            And I have finished it.

            .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

            I have removed your toil,

            I have imposed your load on man."'

Man was created from the flesh and blood of a slaughtered god

mixed with clay. Various aspects of the slaughter do not concern

us, but we note that the clay was provided by Enki, presumably

from the Apsu, his realm, and mixed with the corpse by the

Mother-goddess. When the mixture was ready the gods spat

upon it and, with the task completed, the rejoicing gods con-

ferred upon the goddess the title 'Mistress of the gods'. In an

elaborate process of birth, the first human couples then came

into being, their substance the god-clay mixture.

            Once again there is a theme also known to other Babylonian

myths. Slaughter of a god and utilization of his blood is found

in Enuma elish (Tablet VI), and in the bilingual account already

cited deities are killed. The Sumerian Enki and Ninmah may also

have the same idea. Allusion to the clay is absent from Enuma

elish and the bilingual account; it probably appears in another

bilingual text from Babylon as the substance of creation, and in

references in other texts.22 The gods participating in the creation

of man vary from text to text.

            Comparison with Genesis may also be made on this topic.

God 'formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into

his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul'

(2:7). Man's earthy constituency is emphasized by both

Babylonian and Hebrew narratives, and his divine part equally.

It is tempting to equate the breathing of Genesis with the spitting

of the Atrahasis Epic, but they are very different actions. The

'breath of life' is peculiar to God and man in the Old Testament;23

the spitting may have no more significance than preparation of

the material for working. Yet we may wonder whether it was

the life-giving act, finally preparing the material. No hint of

the use of dead deity or any material part of a living one is found

in Genesis.

            22 A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis 65-66; Theodicy 258, 276-278, W. G. Lambert,

                 Babylonian Wisdom Literature, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1960) 86-89.

            23 As T. C. Mitchell has demonstrated, VT 11 (1961) 177-187.

         A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY            11

4. The multiplication of mankind. From the creation of man

the Atrahasis Epic passes to the great increase in his number,

with a short, and damaged, account of how he now laboured on

earth. No other Babylonian text treats of this phase of human

history, so this Epic may be placed alone beside Genesis. God

commanded man to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28),

and as man multiplied, so did his sin. The narrative relating the

increase of man and sin is Genesis 6:1-8, and in studies of this

passage the Epic of Atrahasis has been mentioned as a 'parallel'.24

The Atrahasis Epic recounts that:

            ‘There had not passed twelve hundred years,

            The inhabited land had expanded, the people had multiplied,

            The land was bellowing like a wild bull.

            The god was disturbed by their clamour,

            Enlil heard their din.

            He said to the great gods,

            “Grievous has grown the din of mankind,

            Through their clamour I lose sleep. . .".'

To meet the problem Enlil sent a plague to decimate the

human race, but this was terminated by the intervention of

Enki, the god who had been responsible for creating man. He

instructed his devotee, Atrahasis, that he should order the city

elders to proclaim a cessation of worship of all the gods except

the responsible plague-god, who might be persuaded thereby to

lift his hand. The command was duly obeyed; the plague

ceased; mankind recovered and began to multiply again.

Enlil, disturbed by the increasing noise, instigated a drought.

Enki gave the same instructions to Atrahasis and the visitation

was ended. The next stage is obscure owing to damaged manu-

scripts; it is clear that there was another attack in the form of a

prolonged dearth. This may have been stopped by Enki and

Atrahasis, for the gods are next found planning a destruction,

the Flood.

            The Epic of Atrahasis reveals a motive on the part of the gods

in sending the Flood. This is lacking from the Flood story

contained within the Gilgamesh Epic—it was irrelevant there,

the simple statement that the gods decided to send the Flood
            24 E. G. Kraeling, JNES 6 (1947) 193-195; A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and

Old Testament Parallels2, University of Chicago Press (1949) 225-226.

12                   TYNDALE BULLETIN

being sufficient to the account of how Uta-napishtim (=Atra-

hasis) obtained immortality (Gilgamesh XI:14).25

            Genesis 6 states that: '. . . men began to multiply on the face

of the earth' (verse 1); 'And God saw that the wickedness of man

was great in the earth . . .' (verse 5); '. . . The end of all flesh is

come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through

them' (verse 13).

            In the common analysis of the literary structure of Genesis the

first four verses of chapter 6 are detached from the remainder

of the chapter. The episode related is treated as an aetiology of

the Nephilim and characterized as a pagan myth, its offensive

details whittled down until it was just fit to be absorbed into the

Hebrew sacred literature.26 Many of the problems attached

to these verses fall beyond this study; a few points do arise in

the present context. If parallelism of scheme is allowed between

Hebrew and Babylonian traditions of ante-diluvian history,

then this section should be accepted as an integral part of the

scheme; it presents the 'population explosion' theme not found

elsewhere in the Hebrew account.

            The sin of the promiscuity of the 'sons of God' cannot be

explained directly from Babylonian texts, but some hint may be

found of their nature. A theory recently propounded as to their

identity involves Babylonian concepts, and is attractive: the

‘sons of God’ are not divine beings, but kings.27 Support is found

in application of the title 'son of God' to kings in various ancient

texts.28 The sin of the 'sons of God' was, therefore, ‘the sin of

polygamy, particularly as it came to expression in the

harem . . .'.29 Gilgamesh, heroic king of Uruk some time after

the Flood, well exemplifies the type of activity described in

Genesis 6:1 ff.30

            The sin of mankind as a whole was his evil conduct resulting

in violence, according to Genesis. While an equation with the

‘din’ of the Atrahasis Epic may appear improbable, the basic

      25 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 80; ANET 93.

            26 Cf. B. S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament, SCM Press, London

(1960) 49-57.

            27 M. G. Kline, WTJ 24 (1962) 187-204.

            28 It may be noted that an Akkadian god-list identifies several of the ante-diluvian;

rulers with Dumu-zi, Tammuz; Cuneiform Texts XXIV, pl. 19, K4338b; XXV,

pl. 7, K7663+11035.

            29 M. G. Kline, loc. cit. 196.

            30 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 30 (Tablet II.22-37); ANET 77-78.

         A NEW BABYONIAN ‘GENESIS’ STORY               13

idea of disturbing deity is surely common to both narratives as

the provocation leading to the decision to send the Flood.31

            The several attempts to quell man's noise in the Atrahasis

Epic have no counterpart in Genesis. It has been suggested that

there is a similarity between the one-hundred-and-twenty-year

‘period of grace’ in Genesis 6:3 and the plague, drought, dearth

episode in Atrahasis.32  Certainly, the number 'an hundred and

twenty' could have Babylonian undertones from the sexagesimal

system, and the intervals between the visitations in the Epic are

delimited by the expression 'not twelve hundred years had

passed'. Therein a further theme linking this episode with the

Flood sequence may exist.33

5. The Flood. No Babylonian text provides so close a parallel

to Genesis as does the Flood story of Gilgamesh XI. Con-

siderable study has been devoted to the accounts in the two

languages and to comparison of them. The work of Alexander

Heidel is the most comprehensive, the commentary of Umberto

Cassuto the most detailed.34

            In the Atrahasis Epic the Flood is the major topic; at the

end the whole composition is apparently referred to as 'the

Flood'. Since the major text of the Epic dates from the

seventeenth century BC (see above, p. 4), it is thus about a

millennium older than the texts of Gilgamesh XI which stem

from Ashurbanipal's Library at Nineveh and from neo-

Babylonian Babylon. Nevertheless the story is the same. That

is not to say that every word is identical, nor even every incident,

but the greater part is closely similar where both Epics are

preserved. The differences are partly due to editorial redaction

when the story was inserted into the Gilgamesh cycle, partly

inexplicable with any certainty.

            A notable fact is the portrait of the Babylonian Noah,

Atrahasis. He is entitled 'servant' of Enki and was quite clearly

a special devotee of that god. Indeed, it is possible to interpret

his name as 'the exceedingly devout' as well as 'exceedingly

wise', the common explanation, for the root hss has the sense of

      31 J. J. Finkelstein, JBL 75 (195 ) 329 n.7 sees an 'echo' of Atrahasis in Genesis 6.

      32 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 230-232; M. G. Kline, loc. cit. 597.

      33 The figure in Gn. 6:3 may denote man's life span, not a period of grace at all,

so B. S. Childs, op. cit. 52-53; cf:, however, K. A. Kitchen, loc. cit. 6.

      34 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of

Genesis II, Magnes Press, Jerusalem (1964)  4-24; cf. G. Hilion, Le Deluge dans la Bible

et les Inscriptions akkadiennes et sumériennes, Geuthner, Paris (1925).

14                    TYNDALE BULLETIN

devotion, respect, and care. This describes aptly the character

of the hero portrayed in the Flood story, for it was not of his

own wisdom that he saved himself, but by obedience to divine

instructions. Moreover, the reason given by Enki for revealing

the plan to exterminate humanity to one man has more weight

when understood as 'I caused the exceedingly devout one to see

dreams, he heard the decision of the gods' than as 'the exceed-

ingly wise one' (Gilgamesh XI: 187; not preserved in the

extant text of the Atrahasis Epic). His piety then appears

clearly as the reason for his survival. In addition to his relation-

ship to his god, he had authority to summon and instruct the city

elders, pointing to his high rank, consonant with his representa-

tion as a king in the King List tradition, and as a priest in the

Sumerian Deluge Tablet.35 This supports the contention that it

was for his piety he was saved from destruction, just as Noah was

saved for his righteousness.36

            Other points of similarity are those already found in the

Gilgamesh Flood story and require no new examination at

present. The episode of the birds is not present in the Epic of

Atrahasis, but it cannot be said definitely that it was never

included because the only manuscript is broken at the appro-

priate point. Agreement between the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh

narratives on so much of the story lends weight to the supposition

that the incident was included.37

            After the Flood, Atrahasis made sacrifices to the gods who are

depicted as sitting miserably in heaven without food or drink for

its duration. The gods, already regretting their action, indulged

in further recrimination. Enki made a speech similar to that in

Gilgamesh XI which begins 'On the sinner lay his sin; on the

transgressor lay his transgression' (line 180), but that illuminat-

ing line does not occur in the incomplete text of the Atrahasis

Epic. Atrahasis' destiny is also unknown because of damage to

the tablets. The gods so ordained society thereafter that there

would be some control of the number of mankind.


                    HEBREW ACCOUNTS COMPARED

I. The scheme as a whole. There can be no doubt that the con-
      35 Cf. J. J. Finkelstein, JCS 57 (1963) 48.

      36 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 228; contra U. Cassuto, op. cit. 20.

      37 W. G. Lambert, loc. cit. 292, is noncommittal.

           A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY               15

cept of a history of man from his creation to the Flood is similar

both in Babylonian and in Hebrew. Any future consideration of

possible origins of the Hebrew story must take this into account,

and not treat Creation and Flood separately. Thus it is no longer

legitimate to describe the Hebrew Flood story as 'borrowed'

from a Babylonian 'original' without including its complementary

Creation account.38 The objection may be raised that exactly

such a separation is made within Akkadian literature; the

Flood story is given in Gilgamesh XI without its context.

However, that poem itself makes the reason plain: Uta-napish-

tim related the story of how he gained immortality, and for his

purpose the Creation narrative was unnecessary. That it is

there a case of literary borrowing cannot be doubted, but the

intention is clear and the new context, the account related by

the hero, is quite natural.
2. While the overall scheme, Creation—Rebellion—Flood, is

identical, most of the detail is different; on a few points only there

is agreement. A summary may help in considering inter-


a. Man's constituency. Both the Bible and some Babylonian

Creation accounts depict man as created from 'the dust of the

earth' or 'clay'. To this is added some divine component,

‘breath’ in Genesis, flesh and blood of a god, and divine spittle

in Babylonia. This concept of clay and divine substance mixed

is not exclusive to these two literatures. It is found in Egypt in

certain traditions, and, further afield, in China.39 Common

ideas need not share a common source. The earthy concept

may be placed in the category of a deduction from natural

processes which could be made independently. The belief in a

divine indwelling ‘spark’ seems to be common to so many faiths

and cultures that this also need not be traced to a common origin.

b. Divine rest. In Babylonian tradition the creation of man

relieved the gods of the need to work; they entered a new era of

rest. In Genesis God rested after His creation was complete.

The actions are very similar, the contexts are quite different.

The Hebrew God needed not to labour for His sustenance, nor

      38 As, for example, A. Richardson, Genesis I-XI, SCM Press (1953) 97.

      39 See S. G. F. Brandon, Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East, Hodder &

Stoughton, London (1964), and La Naissance du Monde, Sources Orientales I, Editions

du Seuil, Paris (1959).

16                      TYNDALE BULLETIN
did He tire of His work. The Babylonian gods, on the other 

hand, were 'like a man', toiling and wearying, needing help in

the business of keeping alive. Wholly different theologies underlie

these two views. Emphasis is often laid on the word שַׁבָּת and 

its Akkadian cognate šapattu.40 Both words basically denote

׳cessation, completion׳. However, use of cognate terms does

not carry with it identity of practice or of the origins of a prac-

tice. In fact, the Akkadian word denotes specifically the

moon, the peak of the lunar cycle on the fifteenth day of the  

lunar month, and nothing else. Hebrew שַׁבָּת is not used in

that way, nor is it used solely of a week's end. An analogy is

found in the usages of the cognates תְּהוֹם and Tiāmat. Thus only

the idea of divine rest is really similar; no derived Sabbath

existed in Babylonia. It may be asked, therefore, whether this

similarity is strong enough and striking enough to indicate


c. Man's task. Again it may be argued that cultivating and

tending the earth is so common an occupation that the designa-

tion of this as the reason for man's existence could have arisen

in two places independently. In fact Genesis does not express

this so simply as man's purpose.

d. Man's rebellion. While the biblical Fall finds no counterpart  

in Babylonia, the provocation of deity leading to the Flood is

comparable in general terms.

e. The Flood. Here is the section most similar in the two tradi-

tions: the Ark, its passengers, the birds, the grounding on a

mountain, and the sacrifice are all basically shared.

3. Did the Hebrews borrow from Babylon? Neither an affirmative

nor a negative reply to the question can be absolutely discounted

in the light of present knowledge. Reconstructions of a process

whereby Babylonian myths were borrowed by the Hebrews,

having been transmitted by the Canaanites, and 'purged' of

pagan elements41 remain imaginary. It has yet to be shown

that any Canaanite material was absorbed into Hebrew sacred

literature on such a scale or in such a way. Babylonian literature

itself was known in Palestine at the time of the Israelite conquest,
            40 W. G. Lambert, loc. cit. 296f.

            41 E.g. C. A. Simpson in The Interpreter's Bible I, Abingdon Press, Nashville

 (1952) 195, 445-450.

           A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY               17

and so could have been incorporated directly. The argument

that borrowing must have taken place during the latter part of

the second millennium BC because so many Babylonian texts of

that age have been found in Anatolia, Egypt, and the Levant,42

cannot carry much weight, being based on archaeological

accident. The sites yielding the texts were either deserted or

destroyed at that time, resulting in the burial of 'libraries' and

archives intact.43 Evidence does exist of not inconsiderable

Babylonian scribal influence earlier (e.g. at Alalakh and


            However, it has yet to be shown that there was borrowing,

even indirectly. Differences between the Babylonian and the

Hebrew traditions can be found in factual details of the Flood

narrative (form of the Ark; duration of the Flood, the identity

of the birds and their dispatch) and are most obvious in the

ethical and religious concepts of the whole of each composition.45

All who suspect or suggest borrowing by the Hebrews are

compelled to admit large-scale revision, alteration, and re-

interpretation in a fashion which cannot be substantiated for

any other composition from the Ancient Near East or in any

other Hebrew writing.  If there was borrowing then it can have

extended only as far a the 'historical' framework, and not

included intention or interpretation. The fact that the closest

similarities lie in the flood stories is instructive. For both

Babylonians and Hebrews the Flood marked the end of an age.

Mankind could trace itself back to that time; what happened

before it was largely unknown. The Hebrews explicitly traced

their origins back to Noah, and, we may suppose, assumed that

the account of the Flood and all that went before derived from

him. Late Babylonian ages supposed that tablets containing

information about the ante-diluvian world were buried at

Sippar before the Flood and disinterred afterwards.46 The two

accounts undoubtedly describe the same Flood, the two schemes

            42 Is W. G. Lambert, loc. cit. 299-300.

            43 This is true of almost eve large collection of literary texts in cuneiform, not

only Amarna, Ugarit, Bogazköy at this period, but also Ur and Nippur earlier,

Assur, Nineveh, Nimrud, and Sultantepe at the end of the Assyrian Empire,

Babylon and Uruk even later; cf. W. G. Lambert, Revue d' Assyriologie 53 (1959) 123.

            44 D. J. Wiseman Syria 39 (1962) 181-184 for Alalakh; W. F. Albright, BASOR

163 (1961) 45 for Byblos.

            45 Most recently stated by K. A. Kitchen, loc. cit. 7.   

            46 Berossus; A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 117.

18                      TYNDALE BULLETIN

relate the same sequence of events. If judgment is to be passed

as to the priority of one tradition over the other, Genesis

inevitably wins for its probability in terms of meteorology,

geophysics, and timing alone. In creation its account is admired

for its simplicity and grandeur, its concept of man accords well

with observable facts. In that the patriarch Abraham lived in

Babylonia, it could be said that the stories were borrowed from

there, but not that they were borrowed from any text now known

to us. Granted that the Flood took place, knowledge of it must

have survived to form the available accounts; while the Babylo-

nians could only conceive of the event in their own polytheistic

language, the Hebrews, or their ancestors, understood the action

of God in it. Who can say it was not so?

            Careful comparison of ancient texts and literary methods is

the only way to the understanding of the early chapters of

Genesis. Discovery of new material requires re-assessment of

former conclusions; so the Epic of Atrahasis adds to knowledge

of parallel Babylonian traditions, and of their literary form.

All speculation apart, it underlines the uniqueness of the

Hebrew primaeval history in the form in which it now exists.


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