The Babylonian Flood Myth

A recurring myth though out the whole of the Middle East is that is that of a great flood or deluge. Indeed the theme is discovered as far as Western Europe and India.

According to the Babylonian version the flood is caused by the great storm god Enlil to punish mankind. In a city called Shuruppak on the river Euphrates there lived a man called Uta-Napishtim. He was the favourite of Ea, the god of wisdom and was warned by the god. Uta-Napishtim built himself a great boat 120 cubits high and the same wide. He took inside it his family, many craftsmen and a great stock of food. The pilot was called Puzur-Bel.

For six days and six nights it rained. The sun was blocked out. Even the gods were frightened and all men except Uta-Napishtim were destroyed. The gods were distraught at man's destruction. The boat of Uta-Napishtim came to rest on Mount Nisir. On the seventh day of their resting on Mount Nisir he sent out a dove, which finding no place to land, returned and then he sent out a raven which did not return so he knew it was safe.

When he went out of his boat he made a sacrifice to the gods. The goddess Ishtar came and created a rainbow: her necklace. When Enlil discovered that Uta-Napishtim had escaped him he was furious and would have killed him. Ea persuaded Enlil that complete destruction of mankind was wrong. He said that only the men who had done wrong should be killed and not all mankind. Enlil was persuaded but still turned Uta-Napishtim into a god so that no man had escaped him.

The Mesopotamian stories contain many similarities to the biblical account. The flood marks a turning point in primeval history. It is brought on by divine decision as a punishment for man's sins against the gods. One man, the favorite of a god, is singled out for salvation. To save his family and representatives of all living creatures, he is to build a vessel caulked inside and out with pitch. The flood results with a rainstorm. After the devastation of the flood, the vessel comes to rest on a mountain peak. Birds are dispatched to discover whether dry land has appeared. When the hero leaves the boat he offers a sacrifice. The gods express their sorrow over what has happened. There are many other similarities that seem to resemble one another in certain general details but there are clear and unmistakable differences throughout.