COMPANION GNOSIS OF MYTH POST: Noah’s Ark
Gilgamesh is one of the oldest known myths, circa 2700 BC, which pre-dates that Christian Bible by as much as 1,000 years. Yet, when most hear about the flood story described in the Gilgamesh epic, it’s thought to be a story of Noah’s Ark. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Gilgamesh epic takes place in a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf called Mesopotamia. On a modern map, it’s the area that includes Iraq, southeastern Turkey, eastern Syria, and southwestern Iran. This Epic was widely distributed, and without question, well-known to the early Hebrews who didn’t begin writing the Old Testament and the 2 stories of Genesis until around 800 BCE. (According to the Documentary Hypothesis, which states that the writing of Genesis began around 800 BCE and was completed around 500-400 BCE.) This story is truly the original and most authentic “Hero’s Journey” in existence, partly because it was the original template upon which numerous other mythologies were built, including the Christian Bible.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is more than just an archaeological curiosity. Despite its innumerable omissions and obscurities, its strange cast of gods, and its unfamiliar theory about the creation of the universe, the story of Gilgamesh is powerful and gripping. It’s not only an exciting adventure that celebrates kinship between men, it contains many profoundly lucid, spiritually-evolved, and very non-primitive ways of thinking about and understanding the human condition. Perhaps what I found most moving was how Gilgamesh describes the existential struggles of a superlatively strong man who must reconcile himself to his mortality and find meaning in his life and the human experience in general, despite the inevitability of death.
Beyond Uncanny Similarities
- The Genesis story describes how mankind had become obnoxious to God; they were hopelessly sinful and wicked. In the Babylonian story, they were too numerous and noisy.
- The Gods (or God) decided to send a worldwide flood. This would drown men, women, children, babies and infants, as well as eliminate all of the land animals and birds.
- The Gods (or God) knew of one righteous man, Ut-Napishtim or Noah.
- The Gods (or God) ordered the hero to build a multi-story wooden ark (called a chest or box in the original Hebrew).
- The hero initially complained about the assignment to build the boat.
- The ark would be sealed with pitch.
- The ark would have with many internal compartments.
- It would have a single door.
- It would have at least one window.
- The ark was built and loaded with the hero, a few other humans, and samples from all species of other land animals.
- A great rain covered the land with water.
- The mountains were initially covered with water.
- The ark landed on a mountain in the Middle East.
- The hero sent out birds at regular intervals to find if any dry land was in the vicinity.
- The first two birds returned to the ark. The third bird apparently found dry land because it did not return.
- The hero and his family left the ark, ritually killed an animal, offered it as a sacrifice.
- God (or the Gods in the Epic of Gilgamesh) smelled the roasted meat of the sacrifice.
- The hero was blessed.
- The Babylonian gods seemed genuinely sorry for the genocide that they had created. The God of Noah appears to have regretted his actions as well, because he promised never to do it again.
The Few Differences
- Noah received his instructions directly from Jehovah; Ut-Napishtim received them indirectly during a dream.
- Noah’s ark was 3 stories high and rectangular in shape. Two estimated dimensions are 547 x 91 ft. and 450 x 75 ft. The Babylonian ark was 6 stories high and square.
- Ut-Napishtim invited additional people on board: a pilot and some skilled workmen.
- Noah’s ark landed on Mt. Ararat; Ut-Napishtim’sat on Mt. Nisir; these locations are both in the Middle East, and are located few hundred miles apart.
- In the Bible, some of the water emerged from beneath the earth. And the rains from above lasted for 40 days and nights. A 40 day interval often symbolized a period of judgment in the Hebrew Scriptures. 2 In the Babylonian account, the water came only in the form of rain, and lasted only 6 days.
- Noah released a raven once and a dove twice; Ut-Napishtim released three birds: a dove, swallow and raven.