The Atrahasis Epic, the Genesis Flood and Capital Punishment -- By: Anonymous
BSP 8:1 (Winter 1979) p. 17
The Atrahasis Epic, the Genesis Flood and Capital Punishment
The traditional understanding of the reason for the great flood described in Genesis 6–9 is that man was being punished for his wickedness by being obliterated from the face of the earth. Genesis 6:5–7 would seem to lead to such a conclusion:
And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
But there are some serious problems associated with this interpretation. If God wanted to punish man for his sin, would it be necessary to destroy all animal life as well? And then we are told in Genesis 8:21 that because of the wickedness of man, God would never again destroy all of life:
And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart. I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
Here is a seeming paradox. The very reason the flood was sent in the first place is also given as the reason why God promised never
BSP 8:1 (Winter 1979) p. 18
again to destroy every living thing. How can we reconcile this? Perhaps archaeology can come to our aid and give us a deeper insight into the purpose and meaning of the Genesis flood.
Archaeology gives us a better understanding of the Bible in a number of ways: by providing a historical and cultural background of Bible times, by providing ancient texts which help us better understand the languages of the Bible, and by putting the Bible into its proper context in the ancient world, to name just a few. A case in point is the recent work of Prof. Tikva Frymer-Kensky of Wayne State University. By studying the Babylonian version of the flood story, Prof. Frymer-Kensky believes that she has found the key to understanding the biblical account of the flood. The following is a summary of her analysis.
The Babylonian Flood Stories
Three different Babylonian stories of the flood have survived: the Sumerian Flood Story, the ninth tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and the Atrahasis Epic. The Sumerian Flood Story is not much help since it is in a very fragmentary state and it can only be unde...
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