Thursday 25 September 2014

The Story of the Deluge - 4,600 years ago

The Ark Tablet in the hands of its decipherer,
Dr. Irving Finkel (Benjamin McMahon)
On Sunday's edition of Sunday Morning Live, one of the guests was Irving Finkle, an archeologist with the Middle East dept of the British Museum. Dr. Finkle has come to prominence recently after the publication of his book, The Ark before Noah. It tells the story of an Assyrian cuneiform tablet that was brought into the museum 30 years ago and which, after examination, was discovered to relate the story of the great Flood millennia before that of Noah and of Dr. Finkle's subsequent research into it.

The story of The Flood predating that of the Bible has a much longer history however being first brought to light in 1872 by George Smith, who worked in the British Museum studying fragments of cuneiform tablets from Nineveh in Mesopotamia. Among these fragments he found a story about the great deluge containing a Mesopotamian version of The Flood, with the dove, the ark and their equivalent of Noah. Funded by the Daily Telegraph Smith went to Nineveh where he found more tablets. The story, fleshed out from these Babylonian, Assyrian and Sumerian tablets, became known as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Since that time the story has come and gone and the article below tells the story of another such discovery which was reported in The Witness newspaper of 24th July 1914.


Flood Tablet - Penn Museum
Some remarkable tablets in the vaults of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, have recently been translated by Dr. A. Poebel, of the John Hopkins University. Dr. Poebel had written for the university museum some of the most interesting results of his work, an account of which appears in The New York "Times." These included the stories of the Creation and of the Deluge, as told on some of the tablets. In the Story of the Deluge it is stated --

"At that time Ziugiddu was King, a pashish-priest of Enki; daily and constantly he was in the service of his god." In order to requite him for his piety, Enki informs him that, at the request of Enlil it has been resolved "in the council of the gods, to destroy the seed of mankind," whereupon Ziugiddu -- this part of the story, however, is broken away -- builds a big boat and loads it with all kinds of animals.

For seven days and seven nights a rain-storm rages through the land, and the flood of waters carries the boat away, but then the sun appears again, and when its light shines into the boat Ziugiddu sacrifices an ox and a sheep.

Lastly we find Ziugiddu worshipping before Enlil, whose anger against men now has abated, for he says -- "Life like that of a god I gave to him," and "an eternal soul like that of a god I create for him," which means that Ziugiddu, the hero of the Deluge story, shall become a god.


A Babylonian story of the Deluge, continues Dr. Poebel, has been known ages for a long time from a poem, that is imbedded in the famous Gilgamesh epic. There exist, also, several fragments of other versions of the story, and the museum possesses a small fragment of thirteen partially preserved lines, which was published by Professor Hilprecht some years ago.

Our new text, however, is an entirely different account, as will be seen from the fact that the hero bears a name different from that found in the other Deluge stories.

A Flood tablet in the British Museum
But what makes the new account especially important is that it is not, like the other versions, written in the Semitic Babylonian language, but in Sumerian -- that is, the old tongue of the non-Semitic race which, in the earliest days of history, held away over Babylonia.

As will be seen from some of the quotations, the text is a kind of poetical composition, and as such was originally not intended to be merely a historical record, but served some practical, ritualistic, or other purpose. For various reasons, it seems to me that our tablet was written about the time of King Hammurabi (2117-2075), thus being the oldest Babylonian record we have at the present time of the Creation as well as the Deluge. The text, however, may go back to even a much earlier time.


Judging by the colour of the clay, the shape of the tablet, and the script, our text belongs with another tablet that contains a list of Kings. It even seems to me that there were three tablets of about equal size, measuring about 54 by 7 inches, on which a historically interested scribe wrote the world's history, or at least its outlines.

The first of these tablets, I believe contained the Babylonian theogony, and then related the famous fight between the younger generation of the gods and the deity of the primeval chaos, which ultimately resulted in the creation of heaven and earth out of the two parts of chaos.

Here the tablet I have just described comes in and gives the history of the world as far as the Deluge. Then a third tablet gave a complete list of the Kings of Babylonia from the time of the Deluge to the King under whom the tablets were written. A portion of this third tablet, or to be more accurate, the reverse of this portion, which contains about an eighth of the whole text, was published six years ago by Professor Hilprecht.

It contained two of the last dynasties of this list of Kings. I succeeded in copying also the much effaced obverse, which contains the names of Kings of the period immediately after the Deluge, and in addition to this I also found larger and smaller fragments of three other and older lists of Kings. I need hardly emphasise the great historical and chronological value of these new lists, since they gave us not only the names of the Kings, but the length of their respective reigns; and in some few instances even add some short historical references relating to these Kings.

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