Mesopotamian Myths and the Genesis Flood

An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach Bruce Walke wrote a nice piece comparing and contrasting the Mesopotamian flood myths and the Biblical account of the flood.  Here it is (most of it, anyway):

“There are three Mesopotamian myths: 1) the Sumerian account with the hero Ziusdra, 2)the Old Akkadian account with the hero Atrahasis, and 3) the Old Babylonian account with the hero Utnapishtim.”

“As is well known, the Mesopotamian flood narratives closely approximate the biblical account: 1) a hero builds a boat to preserve the human race through a universal, devastating flood from which a new world emerges…. 2) The hero sends birds to survey the earth’s new terrain after the flood.  3) When the humans emerge from the boat, they offer sacrifices to their gods.”

“The biblical narrative, however, stands apart in significant ways, both in wisdom and in theology.  For example, the dimensions of Noah’s ark are those of modern ships, but the Babylonian ship…is an unstable cube.  Noah sensibly first releases the raven, which braves the storm, can feed on carrion, and can remain in flight much longer than the dove.  …The hero in the Babylonian parallel, however, sends in sequence a dove, a sparrow, and then a raven.”

“The most radical difference in the two accounts is the Bible’s investing the story with a covenant concept.  In the Mesopotamian accounts, overpopulation or humanity’s noise interrupts the sleep of the gods and provokes their wrath, and the hero’s wisdom and bravery saves him.  In the Bible, humanity’s wickedness arouses God’s anger, and Noah’s righteousness, not his wisdom and bravery, motivates God to save him.  The biblical narrative is calculated to place all wisdom on God and to promote human trust and obedience to him.  In the Mesopotamian account, the gods gather around the sacrifice like flies because they are hungry; in the biblical account, Noah’s sacrifice assuages God’s heart with regard to sin.”

Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 291.

shane lems