The Flood Story In Bible And Cuneiform Literature -- By: I. Rapaport

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 12:3 (Summer 1983)
Article: The Flood Story In Bible And Cuneiform Literature
Author: I. Rapaport


The Flood Story In Bible And Cuneiform Literature

I. Rapaport

[Rabbi Dr. I. Rapaport, O.B.E., Emeritus Chief Minister of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation and Chairman of the Melbourne Beth-Din, has written extensively on Biblical and Judaic subjects. The present article is a non-technical abridgment of his book “The Hebrew word SHEM and its original meaning,” published in Melbourne, 1976. Dr. Rapaport now lives in Givatayim, Israel.]

I have recently had occasion to re-examine the Akkadian text of Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh Epic, which has long been looked upon as the classical tablet on the Flood in ancient Assyro-Babylon and the prototype of the Flood narrative in Genesis chapters 6–9. Various reasons had prompted me to make this effort. The most immediate one was the knowledge of the wide disagreement among Assyriologists over the rendering and interpretation of numerous features in the cuneiform narrative, and I thought that a new attempt at sorting out those differences might be worthwhile.

However, I seem to have found more than I had bargained for. In fact, as I am about to point out, it was not only invidividual features which were a source of much dispute, but the thesis itself which was originally propounded by George Smith in 1872 — that Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh Epic contained a Babylonian Flood story — began to appear based on assumptions which one was hardly entitled to make in the first instance. So that, in a sense, my statements here are an invitation to contemporary scholars to undertake a new inquiry into the theme of Tablet XI in general and into its relationship to the Flood story in Genesis 6–9 in particular.

1. One of the difficulties concerns the question of the source of the Flood, or of how it came about. In the Biblical account, the cause of the Mabbul is explicitly stated: The water came in massive quantities both from the “windows of heaven” and the “fountains of the deep.” But in Tablet XI the source of the cataclysm is not clearly indicated so that scholars have to speculate over it. Thus

we find that Alexander Heidel attributes it to natural rainfall. L.W. King speaks of an inundation by the Euphrates and the Tigris which caused the Flood. Again, Friedrich Delitzsch maintains that it was due to tidal waves from the Persian Gulf, and the eminent Viennese geologist Eduard Suess says that it was the result of seismic disturbances in the Indian Ocean.1

In our view, such a variety of opinions on one and the same upheav...

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