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Is THAT in the Bible?

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Is THAT in the Bible?


The Epic of Gilgamesh

The story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, circulated among the Babylonians as early as 2,000 B.C.E. Gilgamesh, two-thirds god and one-third human, is by virtue of his strength and arrogance the scourge of the population. The people of Uruk implore the goddess Aruru to relieve their distress by fashioning an adversary and companion for Gilgamesh. Aruru then “pinched off clay and cast it on the plain; on the plain she created valiant Enkidu,” shaggy of hair and neither civilized nor domesticated. Like a wild animal, “with the gazelles he feeds on grass, with the wild beasts he jostles at the watering-place.”  

The Wild Man’s Humanization

One day a hunter encounters this wild man at the watering-place and tells Gilgamesh about him. Gilgamesh dispatches a harlot-lass to seduce him and entice him away from the beasts. She does so, and after their love-making he no longer runs with the animals. Enkidu now “had wisdom, broader understanding.” She tells him, as he sits at her feet, “Thou art wise, Enkidu, art become like a god!”

She persuades him to meet Gilgamesh and to engage him in feats of strength. In the meantime he has come to enjoy the food and drink of human beings, and now clothes and grooms himself. Enkidu confronts Gilgamesh, and battles him to a draw in an epic wrestling match. The two adversaries become fast friends and set off on an expedition to conquer a mythic monster in a distant cedar forest. When they return after subduing the beast, the goddess Ishtar [compare the Canaanite fertility goddess Ashtart] invites Gilgamesh to be her lover, but she is rudely rebuffed. In her anger, she cries out for revenge. The gods, meeting in council, decide that Enkidu must die, for his complicity in the insult against Ishtar.

The Search for Immortality

When Gilgamesh loses his friend to a withering disease, he mourns the death of his friend, and bewails the prospect of his own death as well. He sets out to discover the secret of immortality from a certain Utnapishtim, a legendary figure who survived a great flood and has been admitted to the Assembly of the gods, endowed with immortality. After a difficult journey Gilgamesh finally meets him and hears his story.

A Story within the Story

Utnapishtim says to him, “I will reveal to thee, Gilgamesh, a hidden matter, and a secret of the gods will I tell thee.” The gods are planning a flood, but the god Ea slyly leaks the news to Utnapishtim, with the warning, “Tear down your house, build a ship! Give up possessions, seek thou life.” He is told, “Aboard the ship take thou the seed of all living things.” The ship he builds has six decks, and is cube-shaped, about 180 feet each way. The workmen calk the hull with bitumen and asphalt. Utnapishtim celebrates the completion of the vessel with feasting and drinking for the workmen, who are given wine to drink “as though river water, that they might feast as on New Year’s Day.” The ship is launched, supplies are loaded aboard, together with silver and gold, and livestock. “All my family and kin I made go aboard the ship. The beasts of the field, the wild creatures of the field, all the craftsmen I made go aboard.”

As the terrible storm approaches, Utnapishtim boards the ship. Even the gods are frightened by the deluge which comes: “The gods cowered like dogs, crouched against the outer wall.” After seven days, “the sea grew quiet, the tempest was still, the flood ceased. Stillness had set in, and all of mankind had returned to clay.”

The ship came to a halt on Mount Nisir, and after another seven days Utnapishtim “sent forth and set free a dove. The dove went forth, but came back; since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round. Then I sent forth and set free a swallow. The swallow went forth, but came back. Then I sent forth and set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not around.” Then Utnapishtim lets out all to the four winds, and offers a sacrifice.

As the gods smell the sweet savor of the sacrifice, and “crowd like flies about the sacrificer,” Ishtar expresses resentment at Enlil because “he, unreasoning, brought on the deluge.” Enlil arrives on the scene, and, seeing the ship, discovers that some one has escaped the deluge. He (rightly) accuses Ea of divulging the secret plan of the gods. Yet Enlil is conciliatory. “Thereupon Enlil went aboard the ship. Holding me [Utnapishtim] by the hand, he took me aboard. He took my wife aboard and made her kneel by my side. Standing between us, he touched our foreheads to bless us: ‘Hitherto Utnapishtim has been but human. Henceforth Utnapishtim and his wife shall be like unto us gods. Utnapishtim shall reside far away, at the mouth of the rivers!’”

The Plant of Immortality Won—and Lost

Gilgamesh is called upon to endure further ordeals, not entirely with success, and is about to return home when Utnapishtim tells him of a special plant: “If thy hands obtain the plant, thou wilt find new life.” Gilgamesh is obliged to dive, with heavy stones tied to his feet, into deep water to pluck the thorny plant, and finally brings it to shore. Triumphantly Gilgamesh announces, “This plant is a plant apart, whereby a man may regain his life’s breath. I will take it to ramparted Uruk. Its name shall be ‘Man-Becomes- Young-in-Old-Age.’  I myself shall eat it and thus return to the state of my youth.”

On the return journey, Gilgamesh stops for the night beside a well whose water was cool, and lays down the plant. But when he goes down into the water to bathe, a serpent snuffs the fragrance of the plant and carries it off.

Thereupon Gilgamesh sits down and weeps, his tears running down over his face. “For whom have my hands toiled? For whom is being spent the blood of my heart? I have not obtained a boon for myself. For the serpent have I effected a boon.” Having failed in his main enterprise, Gilgamesh nevertheless returns to Uruk and takes some delight in the city’s impressive ramparts and walls.

(Condensed from J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 72-97.)


Are THESE in the Bible?

A man created from clay
The man seduced by a woman
The man, humanized: clothes, grooming
Had wisdom, became like a god
Gods meeting in council
A plant found which gives perpetual youth
. . . . . .
Serpent takes plant by stealth, depriving the hero of immortality

A story within the story:
Warning of a flood: “build a ship”
Multi-decked ship; calked
Family [and craftsmen] and animals, aboard
Death of all other humans, who returned to clay
The flood
Ship rests on mountain
Series of birds sent out; last does not return
Sacrifice, smelled by gods
Utnapishtim and wife will become like gods




Is THAT in the Bible?

Revised October 31, 2003





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