“The Epic of Gilgamesh” is the world’s oldest heroic saga. The actual writings of the earliest portions of this epic can be traced to 2000 BCE and were found on twelve stone tablets. The eleventh tablet is particularly interesting in that it tells a story very similar to one found in the Old Testament. This is a story that we now know has been told in many different forms by ancient cultures around the world – but this, the oldest known telling, is so similar to the biblical story we are familiar with that it created quite a stir when it was first discovered.
The original translation was done by George Smith, an assistant in The British Museum in 1872. It’s said that when he first read it he “…jumped up and rushed about the room in a great state of excitement, and, to the astonishment of those present, began to undress himself.”
Here, then, is the eleventh tablet of “The Epic of Gilgamesh”. See if you can recognize it.
Uta-Napishtim said unto him, to Gilgamish: I will reveal unto thee, O Gilgamish, a hidden mystery, And a secret matter of the gods I will declare unto thee. Shurippak, a city which thou thyself knowest, On the bank of the river Puratti (Euphrates) is situated, That city is old; and the gods dwelling within it Their hearts induced the great gods to make a windstorm, There was their father Anu, Their counsellor, the warrior Enlil, Their messenger En-urta andTheir prince Ennugi. Nin-igi-ku, Ea, was with them in council and reported their word to a house of reeds.
Ea Speaks to Uta-Napishtim
"O House of reeds, O House of reeds! O Wall! O Wall! O House of reeds, hear! O Wall, understand! O man of Shurippak, son of Ubar-Tutu [= Uta-Napishtim], Throw down the house, build a ship, Forsake wealth, seek after life, Hate possessions, save thy life, Bring all seed of life into the ship. The ship which thou shalt build, The dimensions thereof shall be measured, The breadth and the length thereof shall be the same. Then launch it upon the ocean."
I understood and I said unto Ea, my lord: "See, my lord, that which thou hast ordered, I regard with reverence, and will perform it, But what shall I say to the town, to the multitude, and to the elders?"
[Ea Speaks Again]
Ea opened his mouth and spake And said unto his servant, myself, "Thus, man, shalt thou say unto them: Ill-will hath the god Enlil formed against me, Therefore I can no longer dwell in your city, And never more will I turn my countenance upon the soil of Enlil. I will descend into the ocean to dwell with my lord Ea. But upon you he will rain riches A catch of birds, a catch of fish . . . an [abundant] harvest, . . . the sender of . . . . . . shall make hail [to fall upon you]." The Building of the Ship As soon as dawn broke . . .
[Lines 49-54 broken away.]
The child . . . brought bitumen, The strong man . . . brought what was needed. On the fifth day I laid down its shape. According to the plan its walls were 10 gar, (i.e. 120 cubits) high, And the width of its deck was equally 10 gar. I laid down the shape of its forepart and marked it out. I covered it six times. . . . I divided into seven, Its interior I divided into nine, Caulking I drove into the middle of it. I provided a steering pole, and cast in all that was needful. Six sar of bitumen I poured over the hull, Three sar of pitch I poured into the inside. The men who bear loads brought three sar of oil, Besides a sar of oil which the tackling consumed, And two sar of oil which the boatman hid. I slaughtered oxen for the workpeople, I slew sheep every day. Beer, sesame wine, oil and wine I made the people drink as if they were water from the river. I celebrated a feast as if it had been New Year's Day. I opened a box of ointment, I laid my hands in unguent. Before the sunset the ship was finished. . . . was difficult. The shipbuilders brought the . . . of the ship, above and below, . . . two-thirds of it.
Uta-Napishtim Loads the Ship
With everything that I possessed I loaded it. With everything that I possessed of silver I loaded it. With everything that I possessed of gold I loaded it. With all that I possessed of all the seed of life I loaded it. I made to go up into the ship all my family and kinsfolk, The cattle of the field, the beasts of the field,All handicraftsmen I made them go up into it. The god Shamash had appointed me a time, saying "The sender of . . . . . will at eventide make a hail to fall; Then enter into the ship and shut thy door." The appointed time drew nigh; The sender of . . . . . made a hail to fall at eventide. I watched the aspect of the storm, Terror possessed me to look upon it, I went into the ship and shut my door. To the pilot of the ship, Puzur-Enlil the sailor I committed the great house, together with the contents thereof.
As soon as dawn shone in the sky A black cloud from the foundation of heaven came up. Inside it the god Adad thundered, The gods Nab and Sharru went before, Marching as messengers over high land and plain, Irragal tore out the post of the ship, En-urta went on, he made the storm to descend. The Anunnaki brandished their torches, With their glare they lighted up the land. The whirlwind of Adad swept up to heaven. Every gleam of light was turned into darkness. . . . . . the land . . . . . as if had laid it waste. A whole day long the flood descended . . . Swiftly it mounted up . . . . . the water reached to the mountains The water attacked the people like a battle. Brother saw not brother. Men could not be recognized in heaven. The gods were terrified at the cyclone. They shrank back and went up into the heaven of Anu. The gods crouched like a dog and cowered by the wall.
The Lament of Ishtar
The goddess Ishtar cried out like a woman in travail. The Lady of the Gods lamented with a sweet voice, saying:"May that former day be turned into mud, Because I commanded evil among the company of the gods. How could I command evil among the company of the gods, Command battle for the destruction of my people? Did I of myself bring forth my people That they might fill the sea like little fishes?"
The Flood Dies Down
The gods, the Anunnaki, wailed with her. The gods bowed themselves, and sat down weeping. Their lips were shut tight in distress . . . For six days and nights The wind, the storm raged, and the cyclone overwhelmed the land.When the seventh day came the cyclone ceased,the storm and battle which had fought like an army. The sea became quiet, the grievous wind went down, the cyclone ceased. I looked on the day and voices were stilled, And all mankind were turned into mud, The land had been laid flat like a terrace. I opened the air-hole and the light fell upon my cheek, I bowed myself, I sat down, I cried, My tears poured down over my cheeks. I looked over the quarters of the world, to the limits of ocean. At twelve points islands appeared. The ship grounded on the mountain of Nisir. The mountain of Nisir held the ship, it let it not move.
The first day, the second day, the mountain of Nisir held the ship and let it not move. The third day, the fourth day, the mountain of Nisir held the ship and let it not move. The fifth day, the sixth day, the mountain of Nisir held the ship and let it not move. When the seventh day had come I brought out a dove and let her go free. The dove flew away and then came back; Because she had no place to alight on she came back. I brought out a swallow and let her go free. The swallow flew away and then came back; Because she had no place to alight on she came back. I brought out a raven and let her go free. The raven flew away, she saw the sinking waters. She ate, she waded, she rose, she came not back.
Uta-Napishtim's Sacrifice to the Gods
Then I brought out everything to the four winds and made a sacrifice; I set out an offering on the peak of the mountain. Seven by seven I set out the vessels, Under them I piled reeds, cedarwood and myrtle. The gods smelt the savour, The gods smelt the sweet savour. The gods gathered together like flies over him that sacrificed.
Now when the Lady of the Gods came nigh, She lifted up the priceless jewels which Anu had made according to her desire, saying"O ye gods here present, as I shall never forget the sapphire jewels of my neck So shall I ever think about these days, and shall forget them nevermore! Let the gods come to the offering, But let not Enlil come to the offering, Because he took not thought and made the cyclone, And delivered my people over to destruction."
The Anger of Enlil
Now when Enlil came nigh He saw the ship; then was Enlil wroth And he was filled with anger against the gods, the Igigi, saying: "Hath any being escaped with his life? He shall not remain alive, a man among the destruction."Then En-urta opened his mouth and spake And said unto the warrior Enlil: Who besides the god Ea can make a plan? The god Ea knoweth everything that is done."
Ea's Speech to Enlil
The god Ea opened his mouth and spake And said unto the warrior Enlil, "O Prince among the gods, thou warrior, How, how couldst thou, not taking thought, make a cyclone? He who is sinful, on him lay his sin, He who transgresseth, on him lay his transgression. But be merciful that everything be not destroyed;be long-suffering that man be not blotted out. Instead of thy making a cyclone, Would that the lion had come and diminished mankind. Instead of thy making a cyclone Would that the wolf had come and diminished mankind. Instead of thy making a cyclone Would that a famine had arisen and laid waste the land. Instead of thy making a cyclone Would that Irra (the Plague god) had risen up and laid waste the land. As for me I have not revealed the secret of the great gods. I made Atra-hasis to see a vision, and thus he heard the secret of the gods. Now therefore take counsel concerning him."
The Blessing of Uta-Napishtim
Then the god Enlil went up into the ship, He seized me by the hand and brought me forth. He brought forth my wife and made her to kneel by my side. He touched our brows, he stood between us, he blessed us, saying,"Formerly Uta-Napishtim was a man merely, But now let Uta-Napishtim and his wife be like unto us gods. Uta-Napishtim shall dwell afar off, at the mouth of the rivers. And they took me away to a place afar off, and made me to dwell at the mouth of the rivers."