Historical Genesis

From Adam To Abraham

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Chapter 12 - Revelations in Clay

When King Ashurbanipal built his library at Nineveh, pre-flood literature was held in low esteem so the king did not allot precious time and material making copies. What has been preserved and recovered are somewhat ragged legends pieced together with words inserted sometimes where they look like they belong. Still, the preponderance of material collected over the years is more than sufficient to document a flood episode paralleling the Genesis account.

In the legend of Ziusudra kingship was "lowered from heaven" and established at Eridu. The Sumerian king list continues:

In Eridu Alulim became king
and reigned 28,800 years.

Obviously, the length of rule is suspect. The reign of all the pre-flood kings, recorded in Sumerian measure, runs into thousands of years. Using a sexagesimal system, the years recorded for the ten kings ending with Ziusudra were in multiples of 60 or 60 squared. Probably there is something we do not understand about how they recorded years, but suffice it to say the Sumerians believed these kings ruled for long periods and must have lived many years.

In succeeding verses, the kingship was transferred, through warfare probably, from Eridu to Badtabira, to Larak, then Sippar, ending in Shuruppak with the reign of Ubartutu, the eighth king. Suruppak, or "Su-Kur-Lam," was the son of Ubartutu, and Ziusudra was Suruppak's son. There is some disagreement in lists discovered. Some name eight kings, some list ten; some lists end with Ubartutu, while others end with Ziusudra. In Jacobsen's Sumerian King List, this narrative follows the list of pre-flood kings:

The Flood swept thereover,
After the Flood had swept thereover,
When the kingship was lowered from heaven The kingship was in Kish.

A tablet recovered from Nippur contained about 300 lines with the first thirty-seven lines missing. Following is a part of the flood account originally written in Sumerian cuneiform:

The gods of heaven and earth Then did Ziusudra, the king ... build a mighty ...
Obeying in humility and reverence, ... the gods, a wall ...
Ziusudra, beside it, stood and hearkened.
`Stand on my left by the wall ...
By the wall will I speak a word to thee, my speech]
By our ... a flood To destroy the seed of mankind ...
This is the decision, the decree of the assembly By the command of Anu (and) of Enlil ...
Their kingship, their dominion (Break of about forty lines.)
The hurricanes, in monstrous fury, attacked as one;
At the same time the deluge swept over the places of worship.
Then, for seven days (and) seven nights,
The flood was poured out over the land,
(And) the great ship was tossed by the hurricanes
upon the mighty waters.
Utu came forth, he who sheds light over heaven and earth.
Ziusudra opened a window in the great ship;
Utu, the hero, cast his beams into the interior of the giant boat.
Ziusudra, the king, fell on his face before Utu.
The king kills an ox, slaughters a sheep.

It cannot be ignored that the extra-biblical versions parallel the biblical version to varying degrees. Details differ, but a common thread can be seen that suggests a common source. God was (or, in the extra-biblical versions, the gods were) displeased with the state of humanity. A man and his family were singled out. That man was warned of an impending flood; the man built a boat and loaded it with animals and birds. They rode out the storm and came to rest in a hilly or mountainous region. Birds were released and a sacrifice or libation was offered. In the end, God (or the gods) smelled "the sweet savor."

Attempts to write off the Mesopotamian flood stories as erroneous mythology, or merely pagan lore, are unjustified. For one thing, we have the flood layers themselves. Many of the cities named in stories about the flood have been excavated to reveal the actual clay layers between remnants of ancient populations. Furthermore, the layers at Kish, Shuruppak, Uruk, Lagash, and the higher layer at Ur, all date to roughly the same period, 2900 BC. From the evidence, we can infer that all the flood stories, both biblical and extra-biblical, were predicated on an event.

Many historians believe the Hebrew version in Genesis was derived from pagan mythology. This belief is unfounded. What should be seen quite easily is that the Genesis narrative of the flood, as well as the parallel epic myths, are all based upon one spectacular historic event.