Great Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology: The Sumerian King List -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 16:4 (Fall 2003)
Article: Great Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology: The Sumerian King List
Author: Bryant G. Wood

Great Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology:
The Sumerian King List

Bryant G. Wood

The best-documented event in the Bible is the Flood of Noah’s day. Cultures around the world have oral traditions of a great flood coming upon the earth in antiquity. In Mesopotamia, where writing first developed, the Flood story found its way into Sumerian mythology and was recorded on clay tablets early in the second millennium BC.

One such account is the Sumerian King List. The best-preserved copy is a clay prism purchased in Iraq shortly after World War I and now in the Ashmolean Museum in England. It begins, “When kingship was lowered from heaven, kingship was first in Eridu.” Following this is a list of eight kings (some versions have 10) who reigned for long periods of time ranging from 18,600 to 43, 200 years. Then, “the Flood swept over the earth.”

This is similar to Genesis 5, where the generations from Creation to the Flood are recorded. Interestingly, between Adam and Noah there are eight generations, just as there are eight kings between the beginning of kingship and the Flood in the Sumerian King List.

After the Flood, the King List records kings who ruled for much shorter periods of time. Thus, the Sumerian King List not only documents a great Flood early in man’s history, but it also reflects the same pattern of decreasing longevity as found in the Bible Men had extremely long life spans before the Flood and much shorter life spans following the Flood.

(For further information, see, Raúl E. López, The Antediluvian Patriarchs and the Sumerian King List, CEN Technical Journal 12 [1998]: 347-57.)

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