Saturday, April 26, 2008

History of the Flood Account: Sumerian

I'm starting a series of posts on the history of the flood account. I'll start here with the Sumerian one. For those interested in reading it for yourselves I am using the text from ANET (Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 2nd Ed.)

Along with the Sumerian counterpart, the antediluvian Noah, this account is by far the closest to the Biblical account. The introductory passages are significant for those interested in Mesopotamian cosmology; there are statements concerning the creation of man, the origin of kingship, and the existence of at least 5 antediluvian cities. Unfortunately, only one tablet with the myth has been uncovered; of that tablet only about 1/3 survives. The account in some sections is therefore quite fragmentary, however there is enough extant material to allow the piecing together of a coherent narrative.

(Approx. the first 39 lines are destroyed)

Lines 28-50 (ANET 2nd Ed.):
A god, probably either Enki or Anul, is stating that he will save mankind from destruction; "I will return the people to their settlements..." (40). It is stated that men will build temples to the gods as a result; "Of the cities, verily they will build their places of (divine) ordinances, I will make peaceful their shade/ Of our houses, verily they will lay their bricks in pure places,/ The places of our decisions verily they will found in pure places" (41-43)

(Approx. 37 lines are destroyed)

Lines 88-100:
It is related that kingship was lowered from heaven and that five cities were founded. This provides us with information regarding the relation between the king and heaven; the ruler is conceived of as divine.

(Approx. 37 lines are destroyed):
The missing section probably dealt with the decision of the gods to bring about the flood. See analysis of subsequent lines below.

Lines 138-160:
Some gods appear to be dissatisfied with the decision to destroy mankind. "Then did Nin[tu weep] like a...[final word(s) missing]" (141)Nintu, incidentally, was the goddess of birth. The flood mentioned in line 138 (the word is, in fact, all we have of line 138), establishing that it is the flood which is talked about. It is also mentioned further down in line 151, "By our...[word(s) missing] a flood [will sweep] over the cult centers; to destroy the seed of mankind." In this section we are also introduced to Ziusudra, the Sumerian "counterpart" to Noah. He receives instructions from a sympathetic god regarding the building of a boat in order to be saved from the flood waters and is told to bring plants and animals onto the boat.

(Approx. 40 lines are destroyed)

Lines 201-261:
The flood rages for seven days and seven nights, until Utu (the sun god) finally comes forth and the deluge ceases. Ziusudra then sends out a bird in order to see if there is land. He tries this three times; the third time the bird does not return to the boat, thus signifying there is land to be found. He is called the "preserver of the name of vegetation and of the seed of mankind/ In the land of crossing, the land of Dilum, the place where the sun rises, they (Anu/Enil) caused to dwell". (260-261)

(The last 39 lines are destroyed)

I will place this in a historical context/analyze the account a bit later; the Sumerian account will, for the most part, be used as a sounding board to compare to subsequent accounts. Thus the analysis will be rather abridged; more will come out when I compare it to later accounts.

Analysis [still in progress]:
As stated in the beginning of the post, the Sumerian account of the flood offers the closest extant parallel to the Biblical account. I shall endeavor to bring these to light; though I will be treating the Biblical account in a later post. To be sure, there are important differences. For one, the desiscion to bring about the deluge was made by a number of gods in the Sumerian account; obviously there is only one Hebrew god who decides to flood the Earth. Moreover, as stated above, this desicion was not approved of by all the gods (cf. Nintu)

The name Ziusudra means something like "he who laid hold on life of distant days". This could be a reference to the immortality that was bestowed upon him following the flood.

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