The Gilgamesh Epic – A problem for the flood?

Gilgamesh cube vessel

Correct proportions of the vessel in the “Gilgamesh Epic – a cube, not a ship

The Gilgamesh Epic is a series of Sumerian poems that tell heroic stories about the Sumerian god Gilgamesh. Included in the poems is a story of a global flood. That story is named after the people in Mesopotamia who occupied the land after the Sumerians – the Babylonians. The stories are written in clay tablets in cuneiform – one of the oldest, if not the oldest, form of writing known. Thus the Epic of Gilgamesh has come to be known as the Babylonian flood epic, and is one of the oldest written stories known.

Secularists who (true to form) deny the existence of the supernatural of course do not believe the Babylonian flood epic either. But they use it as a means to try to disprove the Biblical flood epic since that is clearly a symbol of divine judgment. Using the story of Pandora as an example, their logic goes something like this:

The story of Pandora and the closed box of evil that she opens which releases all manner of evil upon the world is myth, not to be believed.

The story of Eve in the garden of Eden who takes a bite of the forbidden fruit, which releases all manner of sin and evil upon the world is borrowed from the story of Pandora, and thus is also a myth, not to be believed.

Of course they have more sophisticated reasons for doubting the Biblical flood account, which we’ll get to, but that’s basically the reasoning. The flaw in such reasoning should be obvious. Just because there is a false variant of a true story, the mere existence of a variant does not make the original true story false. That just means there were errors in the retelling of the story. Consider the following diagram:

Information transmission and variants

Suppose you had a true story with elements ABCD as in the top of the diagram. The story was shared among a group of people, who went off and became separate distinct groups from the original teller of the story. As different groups tell it various elements might be changed. Instead of elements ABCD, you might have ABDE. Notice the minor change: one element is gone, and one new element has been added. No doubt you can still recognize the original story but, clearly, this story is different.

As people migrated away from each other after the flood, (below is a possible migration route) it’s easy to see how various elements of a story could get isolated and localized to a particular region. You can also see why the estimate of the number of different flood stories range between anywhere from hundreds to thousands to nearly one in every culture.[1]

Paths of migration after the flood and the Babel dispersion

But if you’re unsure of the original and thus start with only the various stories from the various people groups, (the bottom line in “Story Elements” graphic)  how can you know which is the correct version? As Christians, we know because we have the inspired word of God which has given us the original, correct version found in Genesis 6.1 – 9.29. Therefore we know all other versions are derivations from the original Biblical account.  Other flood stories include various changes and/or additions made by different people groups.

But is there another way apart from Biblical authority to identify the original? Can science and logic help us identify the true flood account? And can they tell us whether that original account was factual; that it actually happened? Indeed they can. They can help with both: identifying the correct version and whether that version relates true history. And though there are literally hundreds of different flood accounts, we will limit our comparison to the one used by secularists to try to discredit the Biblical account: the Babylonian flood story, the Gilgamesh Epic.

Identifying the True Flood Account

In broad strokes, the stories look similar: A: A divine judgment, B: A global flood, C: A hero who builds a lifesaving ship, D: A small group of humans are saved along with animals. But, as is typical, it’s not the broad strokes that are key to identifying the truth, it’s the final details. As we examine the details of the two accounts we’ll note two types of evidence that will help us identify the true flood account.

1. Included elements that are not true.
2. Omitted elements from one account that point to one or more scientific truths by their inclusion in the other account.

In type 1 elements, inclusion disqualifies that story as being original. In type 2, omission of these elements disqualifies the omitting story as being original. It’s easy to delete something that’s already existing. And if you don’t know a hidden truth, like the cause of the ice age, it’s unlikely you’ll include it. Especially if it’s not plainly obvious. Thus an element that points to a hidden scientific truth that’s missing points to a derived work omitting it. What we’ll see is that the Gilgamesh epics has included elements that aren’t true, disqualifying it; and has omitted elements that the Biblical account include that science indicates are true, that indicate the Gilgamesh epic is not original. Together these reasons disqualify the Babylonian account from being either true or original.

For those not familiar with the Gilgamesh epic, following is a summary, told from a secular point of view. The secular view characteristically tries to discount the Biblical account and shore up the false secular account. The below video summary does both. The most notable lie in this account is the shape of boat, which is not as specified in the Gilgamesh Epic. More on that below.

Elements Used to Identify the Truth

For a comparison of the various elements and how they differ between accounts, see this ICR article.[2] But we can narrow our focus to four items which will decisively tell us unequivocally which is the correct account. Those items are:

Items inherent in the account:
1. The shape of the boat
2. The source of the flood waters

Items that can be verified as a result of the account
3. The reason for the Ice Age
4. The reason for the current count of Mitochondrial DNA lineages we find 

Evidences that Identify the Biblical Account as the True and Accurate account of the Global Flood

1. The Shape of the Vessel

This is an obvious one. As pointed out in the Gilgamesh video above, the producers of the Unearthed episode “Lost City of the Sumerian Gods”[3] lied about the shape of the vessel as stated in the Gilgamesh epic. The vessel in Babylonian story is clearly stated to be a cube as depicted in the featured picture at the top of this article from AIG’s Ark Encounter. Why would they lie about the shape? Perhaps they know that as Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis points out, a cube vessel in the storms of a global flood would be unstable, and there would be no survivors, as AIG depicts below.

No survivors from the flood in the cube shaped Gilgamesh vessel.

The dimensions of the Biblical ark – Noah’s Ark – are known to be quite stable and would weather the storm well. For more on why Noah’s Ark is stable and the Gilgamesh vessel is not, see Jonathan Sarfati’s article “Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic”[4]

2. The source of the water

The Gilgamesh epic only mentions rain as the source of the water. The Bible mentions that when the flood began, the “fountains of the great deep” (Gen 7.11)  broke open, and the  “fountains of the deep” (Gen 8.2) were closed when the rain stopped . Geologist Andrew Snelling explains in the video below with a demonstration of the water pouring out of the fountains of the deep, which are responsible for not only the floods, but also  jets of water that shot up in to the atmosphere[5], (which cooled and came down as snow, creating our next piece of evidence). But first, here is a model of the effects of the breaking of the “fountains of the great deep” and how they explain much that happened with the flood and subsequent events.

The Gilgamesh epic has no mention of the breaking up of the earth, or of “the fountains of the great deep,” so it cannot explain where much of the water came from, nor the Ice Age which followed the flood.

3. The Ice Age that followed the Flood

How do you get an ice age? Creation Ministries International (CMI)[6] and Answers in Genesis (AIG)[7] explain the heated waters from “the fountains of the great deep” are critical to the dynamics of the ice age:

“To develop an ice age, where ice accumulates on the land, the oceans need to be warm at mid-and high latitude, and the land masses need to be cold especially in the summer.”
CMI

“An ice age also requires huge amounts of precipitation. The Genesis account records the “fountains of the great deep” bursting forth during the Flood. Crustal movements would have released hot water from the earth’s crust along with the volcanism and large underwater lava flows, which would have added heat to the ocean.”
AIG

“Warm oceans evaporate lots of water, which then moves over the land. Cold continents result in the water precipitating as snow rather than rain, and also prevent the snow from thawing during summer. The ice thus accumulates quickly.”
CMI

“A shroud of volcanic dust and aerosols (very small particles) would have been trapped in the stratosphere for several years following the flood. These volcanic effluents would have then reflected some of the sunlight back to space and caused cooler summers, mainly over large landmasses of the mid and high latitudes. Volcanoes would have also been active during the Ice Age and gradually declined as the earth settled down.”
AIG

“Therefore to cause an ice age, rare conditions are required – warm oceans for high precipitation, and cool summers for lack of melting the snow. Only then can it accumulate into an ice sheet.”
AIG

The jets of lava-heated water ejected into the atmosphere when “the fountains of the great deep” broke open are a key component to creating the ice age. Thus the Biblical account also explains the ice age that followed the flood. The Babylonian Gilgamesh account does not.

4. Current Mitochondrial DNA lineages

The Bible records that Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives (Gen 7.7) entered the ark. Noah was 600 years old at the time. With Noah being 600 and the testimony of Gen 9.19 that the earth was re-populated by Noah’s three sons, it’s a safe assumption that Noah’s wife did not contribute to the repopulation after departing from the ark. Thus the only people reproducing immediately after the flood are the three couples consisting of Noah’s three sons and their wives.

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother. So all mitochondria has been handed down from the mother’s side of the family. Interestingly,  scientists now say that all people on earth have mitochondrial DNA that can be trace back to one of three woman. And those three woman are all descendants of one woman since there are little differences between the three mitochondrial lines. This fits perfectly with the Biblical account of both the flood – with three women reproducing after the flood – and the original creation of one couple in the garden – Adam and Eve. But this does not fit with the Babylonian account. For more on mitochondrial lineages, see the footnoted articles [8]

Summarizing the Scientific Evidence

With these four elements, we’ve made a positive case that the original flood account is the Biblical one, based on these strong evidential items:

Identified by the Biblical Account, but not the Gilgamesh account:
1. The shape of the boat – stable enough to survive the flood
2. The source of the flood waters – breaks in earth’s crust verified by plate tectonics

Evidence possible only from the Biblical Account, not the Gilgamesh account:
3. The dynamics that make an ice age possible
4. The reason for current count of exactly three Mitochondrial DNA lineages  which we find in all people, all over the world. 

Having established the Biblical account is true not only because it is the  inspired word of  God, but also because it is scientifically supported by a number of lines of evidence, let’s turn our gaze and look at the arguments secularists make to support the Gilgamesh epic, and see why their claims don’t work to undermine the biblical account.

Secular Arguments Against the Biblical Account

After using the story of Pandora’s box as an illustration of erroneous thinking I mentioned above that secularists offer reasons for their misguided claim that the Gilgamesh epic undermines the biblical flood account. Here are the popular reasons for that:

1. The written Babylonian Gilgamesh epic is older than the biblical account.
2. Therefore since it is older, the Hebrews copied the biblical account from the Babylonians when they were taken into captivity in the 6th Century BC (2 Kings 25.1 and following).
3. The Babylonian account is not true, so the (supposedly) copied Hebrew account is also not true.
4. Besides, there was no global flood, only local or regional floods, so the biblical account can’t be true.

These arguments are easily refuted, so let’s take them one by one:

1. The Babylonian written story is older than the Biblical account.

You may have noticed from the dates provided in the video of the Gilgamesh epic above that they claim a date of the 17th century BC for the written version of the Gilgamesh epic, which was written in cuneiform. Let’s review the history of the world as given by the Bible.  Key dates according to the Bible  are given in the chart below. (Click to see the entire chart.)

Age of the earth and world events timeline according to the Bible.

Moses, author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), which includes the account of the flood and Noah’s ark, wrote in the 15th century BC. The flood was in the 24th century BC. They’re claiming a date in the 17th century BC for the Gilgamesh epic. If true that would make it some 200 years older than the written Biblical account.

But the “earlier” date for the Gilgamesh epic doesn’t help their claims. Whenever skeptics do textual criticism, they consider the text closest to the events most reliable. That’s why they fight over the date of the Gospels. Were they really written in first century (very close to the actual events)? Or were they written later, like in the second or third century (and thus accuracy is more questionable)? If first century, that leads credence to their accuracy. (In passing, the gospels were indeed written in the first century, starting with Mark’s Gospel around 50 to mid 60 AD, followed by Matthew and Luke (not necessarily in that order) followed by John – estimated at between 70 and 90 AD.)

Children older than their parents?

But we already know the Gilgamesh epic is a derivative work – derived from the Biblical account,  based on the four evidences examined above. Being “older” and thus closer to the actual event should make it more accurate. But it is clearly less accurate. That’s a big problem.

So what are we to make of the claim it is older? Can children be older than their parents? Of course not. Neither can a derivative work be older than the original. It’s also not surprising when children look like their parents. Thus, when we see echoes of the Genesis creation account in the Babylonian account (example: a 6 day flood followed by a blessing in the Gilgamesh epic; reminiscent of the 6 day creation followed by the hallowed Sabbath day of rest in the Bible), these clearly point to the Gilgamesh epic being the copy, the derivative work, with the biblical account being the original.

Thus being first in written form clearly didn’t help make the story to be more accurate or believable. It has merely served to record in written form for all to see the errors of this clearly pagan text. Notice I said “written form.” That’s because it is widely believed that at least some of the early biblical accounts were passed on via oral tradition. So though they may not have been written, the biblical account likely existed in oral form (long before the Babylonian story) before God led Moses to record it accurately with the elements God wanted us to know. 

Echoes of The Ancient Dinosaur Art conundrum

If the claim is that the Babylonian story is myth that the Hebrews copied, then the question becomes how did the Hebrews copy it so inaccurately, so incorrectly, that they managed to add scientific truth to it? Truth about things like climate dynamics and mitochondrial DNA that they could not have known? This is similar to the problem of ancient dinosaur art:

Sauropod dinosaur depicted in cave drawing

There are numerous examples of ancient dinosaur art, like this sauropod dinosaur on a cave wall. If the ancients didn’t see them, how did they know to draw them? Likewise how could the biblical account get factual items like the breaking of the earth’s crust, creating the dynamics of plate tectonics (which geologist study today), all  due to the opening of “the fountains of the great deep”? Why are there three mothers to repopulate the entire earth in the Genesis account – the exact number science has determined is correct according to mitochondrial DNA lineages – not one or two or four or five or some other number? Precisely three.

These all point to the fact that despite the alleged age of the Babylonian text, the biblical account, is the original, older, historically accurate text.

2. The Hebrews copied the account while in captivity in Babylon
Secularists generally take pleasure in denying claims of the Bible. Among the claims they like to deny is that Moses wrote the first five books, and that there was a global flood. The challenge to Moses’ authorship comes in its most heated form from a theory called the documentary hypothesis, which has been thoroughly discredited. For more on the documentary hypothesis, see my article on the Tower of Babel (where they make the same false claims).

Besides the fact that the documentary hypothesis gets the author wrong, additionally it gets the time frame for writing the first five books of the Bible wrong. Since those five books are key to understanding the rest of scripture, it is quite a serious error to get the time of when they were written incorrect, as the documentary hypothesis does.

This theory can be rejected on the timeline alone. From the timeline above you can see the fall of Jerusalem in 586-587 BC – the 6th century BC. Notice this is centuries after the Exodus. We have very strong evidence for the date of the Exodus which I document in “Do Ancient Chronologies Challenge the Bible? Part 1: The Date of the Exodus.” Moses, the leader at the time of the Exodus, would have written his books during this time period.

Even scholars who deny things like miracles in the Bible and thus accept neither the miracles of the Exodus nor the correct date of the exodus accept what is known as the “late” date for the Exodus. The late date is around 1270 BC during the reign of Rameses II due to the mention of his name in Ex 1.11. (That’s the time frame Ridley Scott uses in his blasphemous movie, “Exodus – Gods and Kings.”) Even by that incorrect date, the Exodus (and thus the writing of the first five books of the Bible) are written more than 600 years before the Babylonian captivity. So the biblical account was written hundreds of years before the Babylonian captivity. Clearly the Bible skeptics are grasping at straws and anything else to provide reasons (however faulty) to disbelieve the biblical account if they’re suggesting the reason the biblical account can’t be true is because the Hebrews copied it during the Babylonian captivity. Unfortunately for them, their attempts to deny biblical truth are extremely transparent, and more importantly, easily falsified.

3. The Babylonian account is not true, so the (supposedly) copied Hebrew account is also not true.

This argument is clearly fallacious. To name just a few of the logical fallacies this argument commits: Composition, False Equivalence, Faulty Comparison, Selective Attention, Suppressed Evidence and no doubt others. There are too many to go into detail on each one but here is the main point that should be clear to all:

It is invalid to take a myth, which is known to be false, and then because another story has a number of similar elements claim it’s the same myth and claim this other account is likewise a myth and false. Particularly when the other account has much evidence to back up its veracity.

Suffice it to say, that once again secularists are grasping at straws, any false straw, to try to convince you the biblical flood account is not true. Most do so for an obvious reason: They don’t like the point of the biblical flood account.  The point is, of course, that there is a holy God who judges sin. There’s only one method of escape from his judgment that he himself has provided. While salvation has always been through faith in God’s provision, in Noah’s day God made an object lesson of what that looks like: That object was, of course,  the ark. Today (and always) the object of faith for salvation is Jesus Christ. You have but one option to save yourself: believe and accept God’s provision. If not, judgment has already been pronounced:

18 “Whoever believes in him [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

(John 3.18-19)

4. Besides, there was no global flood, only local or regional floods, so the Biblical account can’t be true.

Because secularists don’t like the idea of being sinners under the judgment of a holy God from whom they need to accept the gift of salvation; since they rebel against that idea, they deny any evidences that are true. This is particularly true regarding the massive evidence of a global flood. Many of those evidences are listed in my article “The Global Flood: The Best Evidence of Creation?

I present many lines of evidence for the flood in the article. Let me give you just one here – one I consider particularly powerful because of its pervasive nature – its worldwide presence.

If there were a global flood, what would you expect to find as evidence? You’d expect to find:
Billions of dead things, buried in rock layers,
laid down by water, all over the earth.

What in fact has been found all over the world?
Billions of dead things, buried in rock layers,
laid down by water, all over the earth

The article of course covers this in more detail, but a little reflection on this fact alone should help you realize that the fossil record is not a record of evolution. It is a record of the deposition of creatures that died during the global flood that occurred during the days of Noah nearly 4,500 years ago.

Conclusion

Secularists hate the account of the global flood of Noah’s day. They deny the massive amounts of evidence for it. They’re fine saying they see evidence of a global “megaflood” on Mars[9] but absolutely refuse to acknowledge the evidence of a global flood on earth. The dynamic is similar to the many scientists, the main stream media and social media sites who denied the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in treating Covid-19 – though it was clearly true and could have saved many lives. But they refused to acknowledge it because they didn’t like the bearer of the message – the 45th president Donald Trump. (In passing, the effectiveness of HCQ in treating Covid-19 has now been admitted by the American Journal of Medicine.[10])

Likewise secularists don’t like the message of the flood. (Nor do they like the bearers of the message: Christians, particularly creationists.) They don’t like hearing that they’re sinners who now stand under condemnation and need to be saved. They don’t like the reminder that God destroyed the world once by water, and has promised to do it again – next time by fire. (2 Pe 3.7) They don’t like being told they need to accept God’s provision of salvation – Jesus Christ. So rather than accept the truth, they prefer lies. And they prop up lies to support their denial of reality. And so they mislead by promoting the lie that the Gilgamesh flood story is older (the story itself is not older – only the written version), and the lie that the Hebrews copied from it. The only truth they maintain is that the Gilgamesh story itself is a myth – only so they can also falsely claim that the Biblical flood is also a myth.

So don’t be surprised when people who don’t believe the Bible, and don’t believe the account of creation, or the flood, or the dispersion at Babel want to tell you that a clearly false story is the basis of what the Bible presents as history. In this they’re like the serpent whispering in your ear, “Did God really say…” Yes, all God said about the flood is true. So don’t listen to the whispering lies of the fools and hypocrites who want you to be just as foolish as they are and stay outside of God’s provision with them, where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 24.51) when the judgment comes. Don’t be foolish. Look at the evidence. God judged the world by water once. The flood proves it. He has promised to judge the world by fire next. Your only hope: Trust in Jesus Christ. Like the ark, he is God’s provision to keep you safe through the onslaught of God’s judgment. As for the Babylonian flood myth, I suggest you look at it with knowing amusement; knowing it’s false. The same type of knowing amusement when you look at children’s stories with bathtub shaped arks with giraffe heads hanging out the side. You know better about that ark. You also now know better about the supposed Babylonian boat and the story that goes with it.


Duane Caldwell | June 17, 2021 | Printer friendly version
 

Related articles:
Are Biblical accounts copied from pagan religions? Part 1. The God of Creation
Are Biblical accounts copied from pagan religions? Part 2. The Resurrection

 


Notes

1. Stating there are “over 200 legends about a massive global flood found in cultures around the world.” AIG’s Journey Through The Ark Encounter, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2017, p. 74

Stating “..there are thousands of such flood legends all around the world…”
Jonathan Sarfati, “Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic” CMI, Creation 28(4):12-17, September 2006, https://creation.com/noahs-flood-and-the-gilgamesh-epic

Stating: “Nearly every culture around the world ahs a creation legend and just as many have worldwide flood legends…”
Troy Lacey (With Bodie Hodge) “What about creation, Flood, and Language Division Legends” from The New Answers Book 4,  Green Forest, AR: Masterbooks, 2013, p. 199
Back

2. Frank Lorey, “The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh”, ICR, March 1, 1997, https://www.icr.org/article/noah-flood-gilgamesh/
Back

3. Unearthed episode “Lost City of the Sumerian Gods”, Science Channel documentary, 2021
Back

4. Jonathan Sarfati, “Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic” CMI, Creation 28(4):12-17, September 2006, https://creation.com/noahs-flood-and-the-gilgamesh-epic
Back

5. Walter Brown states that due to huge pressure the water was under, the water shot up through cracks (which acted like a jet nozzle) at supersonic speeds, propelling it not only into the atmosphere, but also above it.
ref. from Creation in the 21st Century, episode “The Horror of the Flood”, broadcast 9/2/2017
Back

6.”What About Ice Ages” in The Creation Answers Book, (Batten, Catchpoole, Sarfati, Wieland), Powder Springs, GA: Creation Book Publishers, 2006, p.203
Back

7. “Where Does the Ice Age Fit?” by Michael Oard in The New Answers Book, Ken Ham, Gen. Editor, Green Forest, AR: Master Book Publishers, 2006, p. 212-213
Back

8. Robert W. Carter, “Adam, Eve and Noah vs Modern Genetics”, CMI, May 11, 2010, https://creation.com/noah-and-genetics
“DNA – Proof of Noah’s Flood”, AstirInch, accessed 6/14/21, http://www.astirinch.com/creation/dna-proof-of-noahs-flood/
Back

9. Evidence Of An Ancient Mega-Flood on Mars, IFLScience!, accessed 6/16/2021, https://www.iflscience.com/space/evidence-of-an-ancient-mega-flood-on-mars/
Back

10. Nancy Oakley, “The American Journal of Medicine Now Recommends HCQ for Covid-19”, Oathkeepers, Jan 27, 2021, https://oathkeepers.org/2021/01/the-american-journal-of-medicine-now-recommends-hcq-for-covid19/
Back 


Image:
Gilgamesh vessel – by Duane Caldwell 2017

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments