Sunday, April 6, 2014

Five Ancient Flood Stories

The Biblical story of Noah was not the first and certainly not the only flood story ever written. As Ingrid Lilly, a visiting scholar at Pacific School of Religion, writes in an essay for Religion Dispatches, at least five other flood stories predate Noah.

Do you know all the stories? Here are the ones Lilly outlines.

  • The earliest flood story comes from the Sumerian creation myth and star the gods An, Enlil, Enki. As Lilly notes, "this story sets the basic elements of the ancient genre: gods try to eradicate humanity, while a flood hero builds a boat to save the animals." 
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh, another Mesopotamian story, written between 2750 and 2500 BCE,  tells the story of the historical King of Uruk. The hero builds an ark and as Lilly says he was commanded to “tear down the house and build a boat; abandon wealth and seek living beings; spurn possessions and keep alive living beings.”
  • Another flood story that Lilly outlines is found in the Book of Enoch. She notes that while the flood is barely mentioned, it is clearly justified. "The Flood itself is hardly reported, but Enochic readers can rest assured in its justification."  
  • The Genesis flood is yet another story. Here, Lilly notes, "God sees human behavior, regrets that he made humans, overwhelms them with a flood, changes his mind about how to manage human behavior, and needs the rainbow as a reminder not to fly off the divine handle at them in the future."
  • The Mahabharata, an ancient Indian religious text, also relates a flood story. As Lilly writes, "Manu, the Hindu protagonist of the Flood, does not bring his family; rather he is joined by seven sages."
"With such an ancient and cross-cultural pedigree,"  Lilly concludes,  "among the earliest stories written down by civilized humans, The Flood is less like a fixed tale etched on a tablet and more like an arrow, shooting through time."

You can read about other flood stories from around the world here at Talk Origins. John R. Morris has an interesting short essay called "Why Does Nearly Every Culture Have a Tradition of a Global Flood."

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