A Babylonian Flood Story

24 January, 2008

waterEnlil the Storm God was upset. Long ago the other Gods had become tired of working in the fields and so had created humanity to work for them. Thus could the Gods relax, lounge about, have incestuous affairs and do all the other odd things that Gods tended to do. While the Gods partied, humanity bred. The population grew and the people talked, and talked, and sang, and danced, and built and made a tremendous noise. The noise became so loud that it interrupted Enlil who was lost in thought, and so he became upset. Enlil had long ago killed the Sea Serpent Tiamat. He had tamed the primal chaos and created the world, and for his actions had been proclaimed King of the Gods. Now the other Gods had, in their laziness, created a race that just wouldn’t keep quiet. Angrily, Enlil summoned his council.

The Gods attended the Council, and Enki, the Earth God, saw the anger on Enlil’s face. He feared something bad was going to happen and before long his worst fears were realised. Enlil was ranting and raging about the humans and berating the other Gods for having created them in the first place. He talked about destroying them once and for all. All the Gods were made to swear that they would help with this endeavor and kill all the humans. Enki agreed to the oath and then legged it down to the earth and to just outside the house of his favourite human, Uta-Napishti. “Wall, wall, ” he cried out in a loud enough voice for Uta-Napishti to hear him inside, “I cannot tell any human of what I have heard, but I will tell you. Enlil is to release the primal chaos, the great flood and the terror of the sea onto mankind. None will survive, even my favourite Uta-Napishti will be killed unless he were to, for instance, build a large cubic boat with six decks and a roof and stock it with many animals…” The Earth God Enki continued to tell the wall the precise way to survive the coming deluge and moaned bitterly that he was not allowed to tell any human about the flood. Once he had finished, and hoping that Uta-Napishti had good enough ears, Enki ascended back to the heavens.

Fortunately for humanity, Uta-Napishti had just had just come back from having his ears syringed, and he heard all that the Earth God had said to him. He gathered his family and friends around and spoke of what he had overheard. Being used to odd behaviour from the Gods the people believed that this noise emanating from a mud wall was accurate, and so they constructed a huge wooden cube and filled it with all their goods and animals. Uta-Napishti paid for the labourers work with his house, a bargain for all concerned. Then the clouds rumbled, the Storm God Adad rode across the sky heralding the oncoming deluge. The rain started, the people rushed on board, and Enlil opened the doors of heaven and the primal waters of the Deep flooded out upon the world. The winds howled, the earth shook, no one could see their neighbour. Even the Gods were frightened by the power of the flood and retreated back to the heavens. For six days and seven nights came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land.

On the seventh day all was calm. The cubic boat floated on a calm ocean that stretched across the world. Eventually it came to anchor on the tip of a mountain that poked through the top of the water. Uta-Napishtin let loose a dove in the hopes that it would find land, but it circled and came back. Then he let loose a swallow, but it too came back. Finally he released a raven which did not return for it had found land. The people were happy for they knew now that the waters were receding. In celebration they cooked a banquet and made offerings to the Gods. The smell wafted up to the heavens.

The Gods had been starved of offerings and the smell was delicious to them. They delighted in the survival of humanity, and rushed down to the boat to sup on the sweet sacrifices. Then Enlil arrived, enraged to discover that some had survived the flood. “No man was to survive the annihilation!” he cried. Enki the Earth God stepped up to the fuming Enlil. “Be calm Enlil, yes mankind had become too noisy and populous, but sending the Flood was too much. Send a lion, or a wolf, or a famine to diminish their numbers, but do not destroy them completely.”

Enlil calmed, the smell of offerings doing much to sate his mood. “Very well then, I shall not kill these last humans. But since this one who built this boat has heard the council of the Gods I shall grant him eternal life. He and his wife shall never die, but live at the mouth of the great rivers.” And so it was that Uta-Napishti was made immortal, as was his wife, and they lived forever. And never again did Enlil try to wipe out humanity. Of course that didn’t stop some others Gods from trying to do the same thing…

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2 Responses to “A Babylonian Flood Story”

  1. Daldianus Says:

    I just love this story. And I’ve never read it like this. Where did you get it from or have you formulated it in this very readable way?

    And the similarities between this flood myth and the one from the Bible are obvious indeed.

    Thanks a lot and keep up the good work!

  2. magisteria Says:

    I based it on the text from the Gilgamesh epic, at the part where he meets Uta-Napishti on his quest for immortality. I have the penguin classics translation of it, though there are a good few others. There are a few different Babylonian versions of the flood story, not just the Gilgamesh one, and some of the ideas I used are from those as well.

    I hope to do one of the biblical flood narratives in a future blog entry!


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