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Don Stewart :: Did the Biblical Flood Account Borrow from Other Ancient Accounts?

Don Stewart
There exists an ancient account of a great Flood recorded by the Babylonians known as the Epic of Gil h. It has many similarities to the biblical narrative. This has caused some to accuse the Bible of borrowing from the Babylonian account. But when the two Flood accounts are compared the differences are striking.

Monotheistic

The biblical account is monotheistic, i.e. it teaches that there is only one God who exists. This one God planned and carried out the Flood. The Epic of Gil h is polytheistic, it recognizes the existence of many gods. These gods purportedly planned the Flood at a council of the gods.

Reason For Flood

According to the Bible, the reason God sent the Flood was because of the sin of humanity. The Epic of Gil h says that the gods sent the Flood because their rest was disturbed by the noise of human beings.

Hero Was Human

The hero in the Epic of Gil h was Utnapishtim. He was given divinity and immortality after the Flood. The Bible says it was Noah to whom God revealed the plan of the Flood. After the Flood Noah was not granted any special favor from God as Utnapishtim. Furthermore, the Bible does not teach that humans can become divine as it does in the Babylonian account.

Different People Spared

In the biblical record, Noah was spared along with his wife, his three sons, their wives, as well as representatives of each animal. In the Epic of Gil h representatives of all living things as well as several families, including craftsman and technicians were spared.

Different Ark

The Biblical account says that an ark was prepared to save the people from God's judgment. The ark was rectangular, 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits (a cubit was approximately 18 inches). There were three levels in this ark. In the Babylonian account, the structure was cubical, 120 cubits by 120 cubits by 120 cubits. There were seven levels and nine sections to the structure. It would not have been seaworthy like Noah's ark.

Time Of Flood

In the Bible, the Flood lasted 150 days. It was caused by heavy rains, upheaval of land, and the breaking up of subterranean waters. In the Epic of Gil h, the duration was only 6 days and nights and consisted of rain, wind and the breaking of dikes.

Worship God

After the Flood, Noah sacrificed to worship God. The Epic of Gil h records a sacrifice to appease the anger of the gods.

Vast Difference

Hence, we see that any surface similarities of the two accounts are outweighed by their differences. They are not the same story.

Borrowed From The Babylonian Account?

There are some writers who still believe that the Genesis account was written after the Babylonian version or that both arose from a common source. William Stiebling writes:

Thus it can be safely assumed that the Biblical Flood stories and the Mesopotamian traditions are related to one another, but it is impossible to reconstruct the exact relationship. . . It is clear, though, that the Mesopotamian traditions have temporal priority and that they were the ultimate source of the Biblical versions (William A. Stiebling, A Futile Quest: The Search For Noah's Ark, The Biblical Archaeology Review, June 1976,Vol. II, No. 2, p. 20).

Borrowed From The Bible

As for the similarities between the two accounts the evidence testifies that the Epic of Gil h borrowed from the biblical account, not the reverse. Arthur Custance comments:

One strong indication that the biblical account is older lies in the fact that in the Cuneiform accounts more sophisticated terms are used in reference to the vessel itself. It is called a ship, not an ark, and it is spoken of as sailing, whereas Genesis merely says that 'the ark went.'
Furthermore, in the Babylonian and Sumerian traditions the vessel boasted a 'steering-man,' i.e. a helmsman. One would suppose that writers like Frazer, dedicated to the evolutionary views of things, would be reluctant to derive a story of a barge without sail or helm out of a story with sails and rudder, since this is to derive the less sophisticated out of the more sophisticated - evolution in reverse (Arthur Custance, The Flood: Local or Global, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979, p. 82).

Summary

We conclude that the biblical account of the Flood was not borrowed from any previously written Babylonian or Sumerian account, nor written after them. If any borrowing were done it was from the Bible, or a common source, not by the Bible from some pagan source.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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