Significance for Our Understanding
of Genesis 1–9
Three different Babylonian stories of the flood have survived: the Sumerian flood story, the ninth tablet of the Gilgamesh epic, and the Atrahasis epic. Details in these stories, such as the placing of animals in the ark, the landing of the ark on a mountain, and the sending forth of birds to see whether the waters had receded, indicate clearly that these stories are intimately related to the biblical flood story and, indeed, that the Babylonian and biblical accounts of the flood represent different retellings of an essentially identical flood tradition. Until the recovery of the Atrahasis epic, however, the usefulness of these tales toward an understanding of Genesis was limited by the lack of a cohesive context for the flood story comparable to that of Genesis. The Sumerian flood story has survived in a very fragmentary state, and even its most recent edition (by Miguel Civil in Lambert and Millard, Atrahasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969) can only be understood with the aid of the other known flood stories. The Gilgamesh epic presents a different problem for comparative analysis. Here the flood story is clearly in a secondary context, and, more important, this context is so different from the biblical as to cause serious differences in content. In the Gilgamesh epic the story of the flood is related as part of the tale of Gilgamesh's quest for immortality. Utnapishtim tells his descendant Gilgamesh the story of the flood in order to tell him why he became immortal and, in so doing, to show Gilgamesh that he cannot become immortal in the same way. This purpose is explicitly stated, for
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Publication information: Book title: Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism. Contributors: Tikva Frymer-Kensky - Author. Publisher: Jewish Publication Society. Place of publication: Philadelphia. Publication year: 2006. Page number: 51.
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