A Great Flood
‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ is a myth about one man’s quest for eternal life. Within the epic, there is a story about a flood that is much like the Biblical account in Genesis. The purpose for both of the floods is similar, as are the arks that save both Noah and Utnapishtim. Although there are a few differences, the retellings of the world-wide flood also have resemblances to each other.
To begin with, the purposes for the floods are alike. The Genesis account states that God brought the flood as a judgment on a sinful earth. “So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7 ESV). In ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh,’ the gods send a flood to destroy a prosperous city, only because the gods were ‘in a killing mood.’ The Gilgamesh version claims Ea, the god who was friend to man, warns Utnapishtim. “O man, the floods will come; now, save thyself; dismantle all they home.”
Secondly, to be rescued from great waters, both men are commanded to build arks. The version of the Genesis account is more realistic than the other, for Utnapishtim’s ship is a cube; Noah’s ark is more of a rectangle. “This is how you are to make it: The length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits...” (Genesis ESV). The Lord even tells Noah what kind of wood to use. Noah’s ship takes 120 years to build, but Utnapishtim’s a mere week. Meanwhile, the building of the vessel of Utnapishtim does not have specific instructions. “...With boards, construct a vessel, water-tight and large... As seven decks with nine compartments neared completion; cube-like was its shape....” Though both ships are watertight and seaworthy, the Genesis account is more reliable because of its rectangular shape.
Finally, because God and the pagan gods do not want to destroy all the earth’s inhabitants, Noah and Utnapishtim gather food and load animals onto their vessels. Although many animals are taken aboard the arks, the Bible clearly states how many of each species are taken and that there are both male and female of each kind. On the other hand, the Gilgamesh Epic does not clarify the amount of each animal and the gender of the animals taken aboard.
The similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Genesis account are striking, especially considering the fact that they come from two different civilizations. Both narratives contain a flood, a ship, one spared man and his family. However, the two sagas are different from each other in the purpose for the flood, the shape of the ship, and the length of time to build the arks. “The LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” (Genesis 7:21-22 ESV).