The Noah Story and Mesopotamian Myth, Pt 1

enlil-wifeMost people are completely unaware of the rich background of story and myth which is the setting of the Bible and especially books like Genesis. In the synagogue reading cycle, this week is Genesis 6:9 – 11:32, the story of Noah, Babel, the table of nations, and the genealogy up to Abraham. It is a fitting week to deal with the Noah story and the Mesopotamian mythological background which is so remarkably parallel with it.

Perhaps one reason synagogues and churches rarely discuss the mythological backdrop of the flood story is the potential controversy. How do we deal with the fact that the Bible

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9 Responses to The Noah Story and Mesopotamian Myth, Pt 1

  1. tnnonline says:

    Excellent blog. It is time that we not be ignorant of ANE mythology, but are able to discuss the comparisons and contrasts between it and the Bible.

    Ironically enough, my lead article for October addresses this exact same issue of the Flood narratives, but with a little more application.

  2. peterygwendyta says:

    Very interesting blog. I have heard and read some of this before while I was at Bible College years ago. But it will be interesting to here your take on it.

    Peter

  3. judahgabriel says:

    >> “This is a relatively easy thing to do, since the average Jewish or Christian worshipper is not likely to ever find out about Atrahasis or Utnapishtim.”

    I think this “ignorance is bliss” approach is working far less in the 21st century than it did in previous ages. In the Age of Information, we’re practically bombarded with information. I’ve seen televised documentaries on ANE flood myths at least 5 times in the few years. And atheists have regularly pointed me to such myths as evidence of the Bible’s fallibility; with the internet, information is just a click away. IMO, it’s better for Messiah’s followers to be aware of these issues and directly address them.

    John McKee’s got some great material on Noah’s flood account and its ANE contemporaries.

    • tnnonline says:

      I remember when the Jewish Study Bible was released in late 2003, and many people I knew in Messianic circles had to have a copy. They were totally shocked when reading things like JEDP wrote the Torah, the Israelites adapting Ancient Near Eastern mythology, and claims like the Book of Esther being a fictitious novella. Of course, this could have been in any liberal Christian study Bible as well.

      Judah is right: we are going to have to consider these things in the future, and not just hide under our beds or run off to ArtScroll when we need an answer.

  4. jroush81 says:

    just an interesting additional tidbit:

    In Latter-day Saint thoelogy, the archangel Gabriel lived in his mortal life as the patriarch Noah. Cabriel and Noah are regarded as the same individual; Noah being his mortal name and Gabriel being his heavenly name.

  5. rebyosh says:

    Hey Derek,

    Any topics related to the Ancient Near East (ANE) are obviously close to my heart being that I have a degree in ANE Civs. Just to clarify your comment:

    “The oldest civilization leaving written records is Sumeria (until the rise of Babylon around 1730 B.C.E.).”

    I am not sure what your qualifier means in the perentheses. Sumeria IS the oldest civilization leaving written records predating Babylon. And the language to follow Sumerian is Akkadian – which became the lingua franca for a few centuries. In fact, Akkadian words also find their way into the Bible.

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  7. msmarko says:

    I think this is important, but it must (often) be approached slowly and carefully because people need their beliefs.

    Wasn’t it Solomon who is credited with saying “There is nothing new under the sun”? And, so, this presaged the current age of rediscoveries. To discover that Judaism appears to be “derivative”, as we say in the art world, should not send anyone running into the arms of a dissociative disorder, or more seriously, terror and confusion. Trust that you are alive. In a way we were warned. This has all been bigger than us since the beginning and so to be made aware of that fact in this way is actually not such a big deal, even if WE are what is bigger than us.

    I think that Judaism must change in the face of these discoveries but in what way is up to the individual. The rabbis will not admit the challenge to the validity of their orthodoxy. Many of them have fallen in with the Christians who reconstruct their ignorance and wield it like a club. I have personally witnessed rabbis say that all these things are just fabrications planted by G-D to test faith.

    I, myself must look for the clearest understanding. I believe that this is good for the human race. Ignorance is preferable to some and I respect that, but don’t expect me to want to mix my water with theirs.

    Ciao

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