The Mythic Flood


Subsiding of the waters of the Deluge.  Thomas Cole.

[Campbell (p121-127)].

Flood strata — unearthed — various Mesopotamian city sites > do not correspond in date.

Shruppak + Uruk (Erech) = close of Jemdet Nasr period (c 3000 BC). Ur = close of Obeid (Ubaid) period half millenium before (c 35000 BC). Kish (c 3300 — 3200 BC) = local catastrophes. Each city — each local flood = over-interpreted as cosmic event.

Earliest deluge story = Nippur Expedition tablets (1895 — 1896). [Incantation 10673] University of Pennsylvania. Cuneiform text (circa 1750 BC). Cities to be destroyed = Eridu, Larak, Badlibira, Sippur, Shuruppak.

Earliest Sumerian variant of biblical deluge = Book of Genesis. Genesis = 2 late Semitic versions. (1) — Jehovistic (Yahwist) = 9th century BC. [See Genesis 6.19]. (2) — Priestly (Elohist) = 5th century BC. (See Genesis 7.2).

Sumerian sources = antecedent. In text of 1750 BC (Nippur) — only 1 man + family + animals = saved in a boat full of beasts. This man = 10th and last of a line of antediluvian kings (in Bible = patriarchs).

10th king = Ziusudra of Shuruppak. In west = Noah’s flood. In India = Manu’s flood.

By 1750 BC — Sumeria (as a political force) — collapsed. Civilisation > Semitic peoples of Akkad. Final Sumerian period = Ur III (c 2050 — 1950 BC).

Deluge of Ziusudra = Semitic influence at work. Sudden stress given to Utu. Utu = Sumerian counterpart — Semitic sun-god Shamash > indicates priestly editing. NB — laming of Noah — moon + lion.

Deluge Myths (Hooke).

Ziasusdra, ut-na-pushtim, Noah. Flood myths — Babylonian and Sumerian forms .‘…can be explained as due to the periodical occurrence there of disastrous floods.’ (16). = Tigris/Euphrates valley. However — other flood myths = Greece, Canaan > myth brought there by diffusion/migration from elsewhere.

The Myth of the Flood = myth of destruction of mankind by flood = worldwide, some form or other. Central motif = God’s decide to destroy mankind. Biblical version — based on Babylonian > based on Sumerian.

Outline of the Sumerian version = a god [= Enki] appears — intention of saving mankind from the destruction which the gods have decided to bring upon them.

Enki instructs Ziusudra (pious king of Sippur) to stand by a wall where the will of the gods is revealed. Enki tells Ziusudra what he must do to escape the coming flood.

Part of the text — Sumerian — describing the boat building is missing. Existence implied in the text 951). Reference 4, 63.

The Babylonian version = Sumerian version — fragmentary. Expanded in the Babylonian. [Gods want to destroy mankind for being too noisy and thus keeping the gods awake at night]. Babylonian version embedded in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

A mythological theme is absent from Sumerian myth but present in Semitic mythology = the problem of the existence of sickness and death + quest for immortality.

After death of Gilgamesh’s companion Enkidu, he goes in search of his ancestor Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim = Babylonian equivalent of Ziasudra. Gilgamesh goes in search of Utnapishtim to find the secret of immortality. Eventually Gilgamesh finds Utnapishtim.

How has Utnapishtim acquired immortality asks Gilgamesh. The reply is the story of the deluge. This = 11th tablet of the 12 tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Widespread myth > Hittite and Human fragments of the myth have also been found. Utnapishtim = a man of Shuruppak, most ancient of cities of Akkad.

Outline of the Babylonian/Akkadian version

Ea — reveals to Utnapishtim (through the wall of his reed hut) that the gods are going to destroy mankind with a flood.

Ea instructs him to build a ship into which he is to bring the seed of all living things. Dimensions/shape of ship are given = a perfect cube. Loading — see quote p48, ref— p64. Storm description p48.

Storm rages 6 days and 6 nights. Subsides on 7th day. Ship grounds on Mount Nisir. Utnapishtim waits 7 days and then sends out a dove — this returns (no resting place). Then a swallow (which returns) — then a raven (which does not).

Hen lets out all in ship and offers a sacrifice. Gods appeased and Utnapishtim + wife receives immortality from Enlil.

Excavations = evidence of severe floods at Ur, Kish, Erech — but no evidence for a flood covering the whole country. Severity and date of floods differ for each city. The myth does rest upon a tradition of a severe flood.

Thus – ‘As a result of the settlement of Semitic peoples in Mesopotamia, the ancient and crude Sumerian myths had undergone a process of editorial revision.’ (116). This includes the flood myth.

The hebrew myth of the flood = Yahwist (see also priestly Elohist). Egyptians — no flood myth.

The Hebrew myth of the flood = form in Genesis = two versions woven together by final editor. Similarities/resemblances see p133-35.

Mesopotamian origin = clear. Babylonian/Hebrew accounts resemble each other remarkably. Baylonian measurements suggest building — not a boat (a ziggurat?). Thus ziggurats = refuges from floods in Mesopotamian delta.

Historically the flood can be seen “…as a record of a deluge which overwhelmed the whole world, drowning almost all men and animals, the story conflicts with the plain teaching of geology, and must be rejected as fable.” [Frazer, J. G.  Ancient Stories of the Great Flood.  J.Roy.Anth.Inst. 46 (Jul-Dec), 1916].

Deucalion’s Flood. [Graves. The Greek Myths. Pp138-143].

Distinguished from the Ogyggian flood. Caused by Zeus’s anger against the impious sons of Lycaon (son of Pelasgus). Zeus > great flood — wipe out mankind.

Deucalion (king of Phthia) warned by his father Prometheus — built an ark, went on board with his wife Pyrrha (a daughter of Epimetheus — brother of Prometheus). After flood — ark ­floated 9 days. Waters subsided — ark rested on Mount Pamassus (or Mount Aetna, or Mount Athos, or Mount Othrys in Thessaly). Deucalion reassured by a dove. Myth of Seucalion flood ­brought back from Asia by the Hellads. Has same origin as biblical myth of Noah.

Not only deluge myths = origin of wine. Noah invented wine. Noah’s invention of wine = subject of a Hebrew moral tale — justifying the enslavement of Canaanites by their Kassite and Semite conquerors.

Deucalion invented wine — but this suppressed in later Greek myth in favour of Dionysus. Deucalion = ‘new-wine sailor’ = deucos + haliens. Deucalion myth records a Mesopotamian flood of 3rd millenium BC (3000-2000 BC) — plus autumnal New Year Feast of Babylonia, Syria, Palestine. This feast celebrated Pamapishtim’s outpouring of new sweet wine to the builders of the ark.

Remember — ark in Babylonia = ziggurat. Parnapishtim survived the flood in the ark. Flood sent by Ishtar. The ark was a moon-ship (see 123.5)) and the feast was celebrated on the new moon nearest to the autumnal equinox — as a means of inducing winter rains.

Ishtar in Greek myth = Pyrrha. Pyrrha = name of goddess-mother of the Puresati (Philistines) — a Cretan peole who came to Palestine by way of Cilicia (about 1200 BC). In Greek pyrrha means `fiery red’ = an adjective applied to wine.

Deucalion and Pyrrha on Pamassus made new people by throwing stones over their shoulders (see 6 on 142). These Pamassians migrated to Arcadia. The Arcadian Zeus began as a rain-making sacred king. Deucalion’s son = Hellen (father of all Greeks).

Xisuthros (Ziususdra) = hero of Sumerian flood legend. Ark rested on Mount Ararat. All arks built of acacia wood. Also used by Isis for building Osiris’s death barge. Myth of angry god who decides to punish mankind was borrowed by Greeks from Phoenecians or Jews.

The Greek Iapetus was father of Atlas. In Genesis Iapetus = Japhet (Noah’s son). Japhet = ancestor of the Sea-peoples confederacy. Sometimes Iapetus appears as Poseidon’s son, patron of Greek sailors. Noah = Deucalion, and Iapetus = Deucalion’s grand-father. This eponymous ancestor of the Canaanite tribe that brought the flood myth of Mesopotamia to Greece.

Armenia = Ar-minni — the high land of Minni. Minni is summoned by Jeremiah (Li.27) to war against Babylon. Minni = Minyas used to describe Noah’s flood. Minyas = moon-man.

[Woolley, Sir L.  (1955). The Flood in:  Myth and Legend, Bell & Sons, London].

Two versions of flood story. Differ in certain small respects. Ancient Mesopotamia = clay tablets – on which written another version of the Flood Story – the Sumerian version.

Sumerian account = written before the time of Moses. Therefore “…the Flood story was not by origin a Hebrew story at all but had been taken over by the Hebrews fom the idolatrous folk of Babylonia; it was pagan legend…”

The Sumerian Flood Story = religious poem. Reflects “…the religious beliefs of a pagan people just as the biblical story reflects the religious beliefs of the Hebrews…”

For Woolley = proved the Flood really happened. But – does not mean that all the details of the Flood are true. Sumerian version = antediluvian man lived in huts made of reeds. Under the flood deposit – found the wreckage of reed huts.

Thus – “Lower Mesopotamia is so flat and low lying that a flood having that depth (26 feet) at Ur would spread over an area 300 miles long and 100 miles wide.”

Image (423)

Noah’s flood – not a universal deluge = vast flood in the valley of the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

[Malin, M. F.  (1931). Noah’s Flood.  Antiquity. V (18), June].

In the absence of any geological evidence – “…for a universal flood submerging the whole earth, it is thought that the Great Flood was confined to Mesopotamia.” Before the flood – various groups of Neolithic people lived in reed huts at Kish. Using polychrome pottery.

Then – the first group of Sumerians arrived…bringing the rudiments of a higher civilisation in the form of attempts at pictorial scripts, and possibly the art of making bricks.”

The Great Flood – “…drowned all the dwellers in the Valley of the Euphrates, except the chief of Shuruppak, called Uta-Napishtim, Xisthros or Noah…”


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