The Chaldean Account of the Deluge and The Chaldean Account of Genesis, by the 19th century British archaeologist George Smith, describes how the stories of the Creation and the Flood in the book of Genesis originated from older Babylonian stories. The similarities between these ancient works are unmistakable. In the Creation stories both have Earth originating in chaos and covered in water; both have mankind being created last after all the animals and in both this event occur after the gods discuss it among themselves. This lead Smith to conclude,
These fragments of the cuneiform account of the Creation and Fall agree so far as they are preserved with the Biblical account, and show that in the period from B.C. 2000 to 1500 the Babylonians believed in a similar story to that in Genesis.1
In regards to the flood, we see the same type of similarities. Both floods were a result of man’s wickedness. In both a single family is saved (although the Babylonian version adds a few extra members). In both stories the hero sends out three birds to determine if the flood has subsided and in both the hero burns an offering to appease the gods after he reached land.
The Babylonian Creation story is now commonly known as The Enuma Elish and the flood story is known as The Epic of Gilgamesh. Since the Babylonian stories predate the Biblical ones, the conclusion of most scholars is that the authors of the Bible copied or were at least were inspired by the Babylonians.
Frank Lorey at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) disagrees however. In his article entitled The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh, he analyzes the similarities and differences between the two narratives. To his credit includes a chart (below) showing these details which may be the most complete comparison I have seen:
COMPARISON OF GENESIS AND GILGAMESH
|Extent of flood||Global||Global|
|Cause||Man ‘s wickedness||Man ‘s sins|
|Intended for whom?||All mankind||One city & all mankind|
|Sender||Yahweh||Assembly of “gods “|
|Name of hero||Noah||Utnapishtim|
|Hero ‘s character||Righteous||Righteous|
|Means of announcement||Direct from God||In a dream|
|Ordered to build boat?||Yes||Yes|
|Did hero complain?||Yes||Yes|
|Height of boat||Several stories (3)||Several stories (6)|
|Windows||At least one||At least one|
|Shape of boat||Rectangular||Square|
|Human passengers||Family members only||Family & few others|
|Other passengers||All species of animals||All species of animals|
|Means of flood||Ground water & heavy rain||Heavy rain|
|Duration of flood||Long (40 days & nights plus)||Short (6 days & nights)|
|Test to find land||Release of birds||Release of birds|
|Types of birds||Raven & three doves||Dove, swallow, raven|
|Ark landing spot||Mountain — Mt. Ararat||Mountain — Mt. Nisir|
|Sacrificed after flood?||Yes, by Noah||Yes, by Utnapishtim|
|Blessed after flood?||Yes||Yes|
Lorey does alright in the article until he gets to his conclusion. He does admit that The Epic of Gilgamesh is much older than Genesis but then adds,
the probability exists that the Biblical account had been preserved either as an oral tradition, or in written form handed down from Noah, through the patriarchs and eventually to Moses, thereby making it actually older than the Sumerian accounts which were restatements (with alterations) to the original.
Yes, Mr. Lorey that probability does exist. The probability also exists that all of the oxygen in the atmosphere will collect in a single place suffocating all animal life on Earth. That probability, just like the one you suppose, is very low. Low enough in fact that it can be ignored.
Oral tradition is not a least reliable way to preserve a story. There are no advantages to oral over written testimony. There is also no evidence to support his claim at all. Lorey doesn’t provide a single reference to back up his argument. If Moses (assuming he existed and wrote the Torah), had received the flood story from a prior oral tradition, there is a good chance he would have mentioned it to his audience. But no such mention can be found.
The fact that The Epic of Gilgamesh predates Genesis and contains much of the same material, serves as an excellent sign that Genesis borrowed at least some of its content. Couple this with the fact that the Jews were under Babylonian occupation for several decades and the archaeological evidence points to the composition (or at least the redaction) of the Torah during or after this occupation2 and you have a pretty good case to argue that the Israelites must have copied from the Babylonians.
Lorey ends with the same old circular reasoning common among evangelicals and Creationists when he says,
The divine inspiration of the Bible would demand that the Genesis account is the correct version…To those who believe in the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, it should not be a surprise that God would preserve the true account of the Flood in the traditions of His people. The Genesis account was kept pure and accurate throughout the centuries by the providence of God until it was finally compiled, edited, and written down by Moses. The Epic of Gilgamesh, then, contains the corrupted account as preserved and embellished by peoples who did not follow the God of the Hebrews.
Lorey does offer one reference here, but it is from John Whitcomb and Henry Morris (both ICR members). To argue that the Genesis account was kept “pure “and “accurate” is very far-fetched. Furthermore, Lorey has no evidence to back up that claim either. He insists upon the idea because the Bible is inspired by God. And how do we know that the Bible is inspired by God? Because God told us in His Bible of course. Thanks for completing that circle Mr. Lorey.
1. Smith, George The Chaldean Account of Genesis London: Chiswick Press, (1876) p. 100
2. Wellhausen, Julius Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1885)