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For centuries, theologians as well as curiosity driven anthropologists, scholars, students, and devoted worshipers have sought to discover evidence and the true meaning behind the story of the Great Flood. This tale of Noah and his magnificent ark has compelled those grasping a better understanding of the Old Testament and it’s teachings. There is however, another story of a destructive flood, one that some believe may outdate the Bible’s recollection of the Noahic Flood. This second story of a great flood comes from the Far East, and was discovered to be part of the well-known Gilgamesh Epic. Through greater research and careful analysis a distinct parallel between the two stories is clear, and the amount of similarities between them is amazing. This paper will help to identify a great number of those similarities, as well as a few differences between them. The importance of each story will also be addressed, and some critical viewpoints as to which story may have appeared first will be offered.


Background


Though the tale of Genesis flood is well known to most, a brief background of the story will be helpful in order to distinguish it from the Gilgamesh Flood. Genesis 6, verse 5 explains


“ The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”


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This became the reasoning for the Great Flood, as the Lord saw man as evil, sinful creatures that had become obnoxious to God. God had intended to wipe mankind, as well as all animals and creatures from the earth, but one man, Noah, found favor in His eyes. Noah was instructed by God to make a wooden ark, with three levels, to be 450 ft. long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Inside this ark Noah was to bring his family, as well as two of every living creature, both male


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and female, on earth. Once completed, Noah was told by God that rain would descend upon the earth for forty days and forty nights, and would wipe every living creature from existence. And just as God had said the rains came, and after forty days and forty nights, Noah and his family, as well as the creatures he brought onto the ark were the only remaining creatures on earth.


In comparison, the Babylonian tale of the Gilgamesh Flood, which is found on the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, contains many of the same distinguishing features. The Gilgamesh Flood story came as a result of the gods desire to also wipe out mankind due to their numerousness and noisy behaviors. The story states


“In the time before the flood, there was a city, Shuruppak, on the banks of the Euphrates. There, the counsel of the gods held a secret meeting; they resolved to destroy the world in a great flood. All the God’s were under oath not to reveal this secret to any living thing, but Ea (on of the gods that created humanity) came to Utnapishtim’s house and told the secret to the walls of Utnapishtims’s house, thus not technically violating his oath to the rest of the gods.”


In this Babylonian account, Utnapishtim is the hero much like Noah in the Genesis story. The walls of Utnapishtim’s house inform him of Ea’s desire that he create a great boat, its length as great as its breadth, to cover the boat, and to bring all living things into the boat. Utnapishtim gets straight to work in building the boat, and then loads it with gold, silver, and all the living things of the earth. Soon after Ea orders Utnapishtim into the boat himself and shuts him in, the thunder god Adad brings the black clouds, and the earth is covered in darkness and flood. The flood continues for seven days and seven nights, and finally light returns to earth. When Utnapishtim’s boat comes to rest, he opens a small window to discover he and everything on his boat are the only remaining creatures on earth.


It is clearly evident, even from limited summaries of both flood accounts, the parallel between the Genesis and Babylonian stories. Although each contain different characters, as well


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as varied settings, each story shows a great deal of commonality with the other. By furthering an analysis of each tale, specific similarities amongst the two are easily identifiable and can be pinpointed.


Comparison of the Babylonian and Noahic (Genesis) Floods


Through an in depth analysis of both the Babylonian text, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” and the Hebrew text in the Old Testament containing the Genesis Flood, there are about 1 major points each story has in common. These similarities allude to a distinct parallel and nearly prove the stories are essentially identical. Starting these points from the beginning of each story, here is what can be found in common amongst the Genesis and Babylonian floods.


1. The genesis story depicts how God wanted to eliminate mankind because they had become hopelessly sinful and wicked. In the Babylonian account, the gods wanted to destroy mankind due to their numerousness and noise making.


. In each story, the method of destruction was a chosen worldwide flood. This flood was intended to drown every living creature on earth, as well as eliminate all land.


. The Gods (or God) found only one man to be righteous, these being Utnapishtim and Noah.


4. The Gods (or God) ordered the hero to construct a multi-story wooden boat.


5. In each account, the hero had originally complained about being chosen to build the boat.


6. Both the Babylonian and the Noahic account state the boat was to be sealed with pitch.


7. Both boats were to be built with numerous compartments.


8. In each story, the massive boat was to be created with only one door.


. The Babylonian as well as the Noahic story both state the boat would have at least one window.


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10. The boat in each story was only to include the hero’s family, a few other humans, and samples of all earth species and land animals.


11. After Utnapishtim and Noah were locked away inside, a great rain began to fall and cover the earth.


1. In both accounts, the mountains as well as all other land were covered by the great amounts of water.


1. Upon conclusion of the flood in both the Babylonian and Noahic stories, the boat came to rest atop a mountain in the Middle East.


14. In both accounts, in order to test for dry land, both heroes’s incorporated the use of a bird, at regular intervals.


15. In each story, the first two birds Utnapishtim and Noah sent out of the boat circled and returned when they were unable to find dry land. It was the third bird that eventually found dry land, as it did not return.


16. After receding of the floodwaters, both Utnapishtim and Noah left the boat with their families, and ritually killed an animal and offered it a sacrifice to the Gods (God).


17. In both accounts the Gods (God) knew of the sacrifice.


18. Both Utnapishtim and Noah were blessed.


1. Upon the conclusion on each story, the Gods (God) seem somewhat sorry for the genocide they caused. In the Babylonian account, it is mentioned that the flood so scared even the Gods that they trembled and cried. In the Noahic account, the covenant made between God and Noah demonstrates a slight regret, as God promises he will never again bring the floodwaters to earth.


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Despite the astounding numbers of similarities that both the Babylonian and Noahic flood stories share, there are also a few key differences that can be stumbled upon when comparing the two. In this case, there are only about six significant differences between the two stories, many still alluding to a parallel, simply offering more specifics behind each account. An analysis of both the Gilgamesh flood and the Noahic flood has resulted in the following discrepancies.


1. In the Genesis flood, Noah received his instruction directly from God. In the Gilgamesh Epic, Utnapishtim was warned about the flood indirectly, learning about Ea’s desire for him to build a great boat through a dream in which the walls of his house told him to do so.


. In the Babylonian account of the flood, the boat was estimated to be six stories high and square. Noah’s ark was said to be rectangular and 450 ft long, 75 ft wide, and 45 ft high.


. In the Babylonian story, Utnapishtim invited a few additional people aboard the boat that included a pilot and some skilled craftsmen.


4. The final resting places of each boat following the floods also differ slightly. Though both boats landed atop mountains in the Middle East, those mountains actually only being a few hundred miles apart, Noah’s ark was said to rest on Mt. Ararat, while Utnapishtim’s boat came to lie on Mt. Nisir.


5. In the Genesis flood story, the floods were said to have been created by both rain from the heavens, and also water that emerged from beneath the earth. The Babylonian story only mentions the floods being caused by the rains of heaven.


6. In the Genesis tale, Noah only released two birds, a raven once, and a dove twice. Utnapishtim in the Babylonian tale released three birds, a raven, a dove and a swallow.


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7. The duration of the floods also varied amongst the Babylonian and Noahic accounts. In the Babylonian story, the flood only lasted for seven days and seven nights, while in the Noahic story, the floodwaters continued for 40 days and 40 nights, which symbolized a period of judgment in the Hebrew Scriptures.


The Significance of Both Stories


From the perspective of conservative Christians, the story of the Genesis flood is inerrant, meaning it is believed to be completely truthful and free of error. Because God inspired Moses to write the book, Christians believe this meant it was free of any untruths, and the Noahic flood happened exactly as stated in Genesis. In order to explain away the similarities between the Babylonian and Hebrew texts, Christians offer two probable factors. 1. Both were accounts of the SAME worldwide flood, and . The Genesis account is absolutely true, and was written during the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. The Babylonian account had to have been written much later, and its author may have copied elements from the Hebrew story.


“The Epic of Gilgamesh, then, contains the corrupted account as preserved and embellished by peoples who did not follow the God of the Hebrews.” (1)


However, to liberal Christians, the story is thought to have been written by three separate authors. The story of the flood is seen primarily as a legend with great spiritual significance, however it is not believed there was an actual worldwide flood. Liberal Christians also believe that the Noahic flood story was derived largely from the earlier Babylonian account, and was picked up by the ancient Israelites as an oral tradition and later written down by the three authors.


As for the debate of which story actually came first, it depends on whom you ask. The Babylonian tablets, the 11th tablet containing the flood story, have been dated around 650 BCE.


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Some portions of the story however have been found on tablets from about 000 BCE. A study that was conducted on the language used on the tablets indicated that the story may have originated much earlier that 000 BCE. A few variations of the Babylonian story have been found translated into other ancient languages.


Conservative Christians believe that the flood actually occurred in 4 BCE. However, Moses didn’t write down the account spoken of in Genesis until the 1450’s BCE. It is also the belief then that the Babylonian text must be a corrupted version of the Genesis story that was later adapted. It may also be an independent attempt at explaining the events of the worldwide flood.


Liberal Theologians tend to stick to the belief that the Genesis flood story was a compilation of input from different authors from a variety of traditions. Taking into consideration the different names used to refer to God, and the different writing styles throughout the Pentateuch, these scholars believe that Genesis was assembled over a four-century interval, from around 50 to 540 BCE.


Conclusion


No matter what your belief, or what religion you belong to, the unmistakable parallel between the Babylonian flood and the Noahic flood is still evident. There is extremely limited evidence that provides an undisputable answer to which story actually came first, which tends to promote the idea that each story is simply an independent account written to explain the events of a singular worldwide flood. Aside from some aesthetic and character differences between the two accounts, the stories are essentially identical. It is entirely possible that one story was written after the other, but this may simply be due to varying tradition and religious basis. It is my belief that both stories stem from the exact same event, and that each was written to satisfy the beliefs


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and traditions of a specific religion or culture. I truly cannot say which I feel came first, the Noahic account or the Babylonian account, only that I see them both as stories meant to praise the honor of sinless men and ways in which to warn future generations about the ultimate holiness of God.


1. Lorey, Frank. “Impact # 85 The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh.”


Bibliography


1. The Teen Study Bible, New International Version. The Zondervan Corporation. Grand Rapids, MI. c. 1, 18.


. Lorey, Frank. “Impact #85 The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh,” Institute for Creation Research. El Cajon, CA. c. 17.


. “Myths of the flood The flood narrative from the Gilgamesh epic,”


Http//www.relg-studies.scu.edu/netcours/rs011/restrict/


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