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Posted by Richard D. Stafford, Ph.D. on July 13, 2001 18:25:07 UTC

To All,

I have done a lot of reading in my life. When I was young, I once ran across a very interesting document. It was a Doctor of Divinity thesis which was an "original" translation of a clay tablet source of "The Epic of Gilgamesh" in cuneiform.

If you haven't heard of the Epic of Gilgamesh, there is a summary of the epic apparently based on some relatively recent work on the following web page:

http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/GILG.HTM

The original epic includes both the Babylonian myth of the creation and a version of the flood myth. Most biblical scholars credit it as the source of the biblical myths as Abraham is presumed to have come from Ur.

What made the thesis above so interesting was the fact that the document actually contained detailed photographs of the tablets, glossaries of the symbols together with the sources and reasoning of the meanings. In essence, the thesis allowed one to read the epic in the original (or, at least see what the translations were based on). It was extremely clear that the translator was a very religious man as there were a number of places where he added interpretations which could only have come from his imagination.

Some of the translations were actually funny. For example, when ever a god's residence was being referred to, it was always translated as "the palace of" but when a man's residence was being referred to, it was always translated as "the hut of". What was clear was that the cuneiform symbols for the two concepts were identical: i.e., the translation was in the mind of the translator -- certainly a god would not live in a "hut".

He had made his free translation of the thing (which read very much like any other version of the epic I had seen) so I took the liberty of making my own free translation based directly on what the tablets seemed to say. What follows is a paraphrase of what I remember being on those tablets.

First, the Babylonian myth of the creation begins with a discussion of how hard life was for the gods. The gods had to work from sun up to sun down in the fields and their work was very hard. The tablets actually took up the space to say this twice (which I took to imply that the writer wanted to emphasize the issue). My first thought was that the situation being described had to be less then 10,000 years ago as it mentioned agriculture which I have been told was only invented about then.

Anyway, it was the serpent god who got upset with the amount of work they had to do (he was apparently the original union organizer). According to the tablets, the gods set fire to their hoes and surrounded the (palace or hut) of the chief god and demanded that he do something to make their work easier. The chief god's wife was the one who got the great idea of creating man to do their work for them and everybody agreed to the solution.

It turns out (according to the tablets) that, in order to create man, a god had to be destroyed. It says they needed a "spirit" for man and that only gods had "spirits" (that's the word the translator used). I don't know what the correct translation should be, all I know is that the gods had something that the man had to have. So the gods drew straws and the god with the short straw was killed. (The thing actually referred to a god with a short straw.) Apparently that method of choosing volunteers is pretty ancient.

The god was killed. His body was cut up into small pieces, all the other gods spit on the pieces and the pieces were thrown into the fire. He was completely destroyed so that it was as if he had never existed. The next thing that happens is that men appear on the scene. There were both male and female and I got the impression it was more than two; however, the actual number is unclear. In the story, they appear only as children and cannot work in the fields. The job of raising them until they can is given to the chief god's wife and the gods go back to work.

Again, some time later, the serpent god again gets upset about the work and complains that it's time to put man to work. But the tablet says that the chief god's wife had become fond of man and didn't want man to have to work in the fields. She told the serpent god that they couldn't let man work in the fields because man didn't know what was good to eat and what was bad and would poison the gods. The serpent god said that they could test man and see if he knew what was good to eat. So a test was proposed.

Now the chief god's wife was very fond of man and didn't want man to pass the test so she told them in secret not to eat what they were offered. But they did and they were put to work. The gods could now take life easy, one of them invented music, another invented writing -- ah leisure is great.

But soon there were many men (the tablets say there were more men than gods - the uneducated do tend to multiply fast). They were very noisy and in particular disturbed the chief god's sleep. He decided that he needed to get rid of man (so soon they forget what life was like before). He told all the gods that none should feed man and that man should starve so they could be rid of man. It came to be that man was starving and had nothing to eat.

However, the god Ea felt sorry for man and he went to the god of the "upper waters" and distracted him so Ea could jam the lock gate with a "wrench" so that the god of the "upper waters" could not hold back the waters. (In his glossary of cuneiform, the translator used the word "wrench" but I suspect he meant something like a pry bar or such, at any rate, Ea used something to jam the gate.) As a result, the fields were flooded and when the lock gate was fixed and the water receded, the fields were covered with fish and the men ate the fish and didn't starve.

The chief god was very disappointed with the failure of his plot but it had given him another idea: he would flood man out. He ordered the god in charge of the "upper waters" to hold back the waters until he had enough water to flood the entire world (the whole settlement?) and then flood man out. He also forced the gods make and oath that they would not warn man of the coming flood.

Again, it was Ea who felt sorry for man. Ea went to the "hut or palace" of his (head, best or most important???) man and told the *hut* to build a boat, specifically stating that he was not talking to the man (he wasn't breaking his oath). But the man heard him and asked him what a boat was (yeh, it says that the man did not know what a boat was!)

Whoa, the gods knew what boats were and the men didn't? Maybe that explains gods "walking on water" -- they had boats and the men didn't! Boy, what advances leisure and technology can craft. At any rate, Ea explains how to make a boat -- essentially make such and such size wooden box and seal it with pitch.

On the tablets, it never says that the man even knew what the box was for. All he knew was that he was supposed to get in his box on a certain day (I guess Ea came and told his hut). When the man finished his box he threw a party and all his neighbors came. When they asked him why he built it he said because his god told him to. After the party, he got in his box and the waters came. It was a terrible flood, the tablets say gods died like flies (well like some kind of bug or another). The whole earth was covered with water!

Whoa, how did this guy, who didn't know what a boat was, deduce that the whole world was covered with water. Maybe he looked around and couldn't see land? After a while, the waters recede and the first thing to show is the top of a mountain (which was, from the biblical myth, apparently Mt. Ararat). Perhaps he had drifted to the coast?

Meanwhile, back to the story! According to the tablets, the gods who survived the flood (not all did as the chief god's wife talks about how many gods died) are pretty upset with the chief god. The man prepares a feast for the gods and they refuse to allow the chief god to eat until he agrees that what he has done was wrong. So they all eat, have a good time. The chief god decides that creating man was a bad idea and the gods promise never to do it again. Finally, man and gods agree to go their own way.

This whole story comes to us through Gilgamesh who was, I have been told, a historical king in ancient Babylon some 6,000 years ago. It appears that Gilgamesh actually looked up the survivor of the flood (who was apparently alive in Gilgamesh's time) and got the story straight from the horses mouth so to speak. It notes in the tablets that Gilgamesh was surprised that Utnapishtim (the name the translator gives to the survivor - Noah??) appeared to be an old man.

Now I am a very suspicious man. I really don't believe most people are very inventive. What I am saying is that I think that anytime you hear a story, the story is based on real events. Oh, the story may be very distorted and translations over the years may lead to something very different from what happened but none the less, something happened.

I look at that story and compare it to what I know and it seems to fit historical circumstances very well.

First, I think the gods existed! I think they were no more than a relatively small community of people some six or seven thousand years ago. I think they thought up one of one of the worlds most significant inventions: I suspect the "creation of man" was the invention of slavery. I think that in order to create this slave class they created orphans from their own group (destroyed one family except for the kids).

Having a slave class allowed the gods the leisure to develop other things ordinary people didn't have. A clear superiority over their neighbors (the land of Nod??) The sons of the gods found the daughters of man fair and heroes were born!! Makes sense to me! Things seem to have gone along well for quite a while! Perhaps even long enough for the great idea of getting others to work for you to be communicated to other groups of people (great ideas do get communicated).

Who knows how long this state of affairs lasted. What is clear is that another major event took place some time later. The chief god got pissed off with all the dammed men around (probably didn't give him any respect)! He didn't need them, he had plenty of "stuff".

So the gods are supposed to starve their men. Ea felt sorry for them men and brought on the first flood. Now this implies that they had irrigation systems with flood gates; not an irrational idea if they had agriculture when they first "created" man. All the religious translators always translate this section as if it were allegory (of course, they don't really believe the gods existed). Why not just take what was said as what happened, it makes a lot of sense.

The result is that the chief god decides to have a really big flood (since men can't "walk on water" they will die). But again Ea interferes with the chief's plans and Noah has a boat. (I think the sizes are probably an exaggeration particularly if the event took place sometime around the reign of Gilgamesh.)

It appears that the chief got a little more than he intended! Maybe when the god in charge of the upper waters (the flood gate keeper??) had about all the water he could hold there was a storm which added an unexpected surplus. Maybe instead of just floating up until the flood was over as they expected, the boats got washed out to sea. They look around and the whole world is covered with water. If they didn't know what a boat was, I doubt they knew much about sailing.

At any rate, if this whole story is supposed to bear any resemblance to historic fact, they apparently drifted to a beach near Mt. Ararat where they had the big picnic party and the gods decided to never create man again. Now Gilgamesh hears about this survivor of the flood who obviously must be very old if he has been around since the whole world was flooded. That had to be so long ago that Gilgamesh's people didn't know about it as, if they did, they wouldn't have credited Gilgamesh with obtaining the story. I think we are just looking at a little bit of confusion in communication here.

Now add to this story some other historic facts. Maybe some of these "facts" are questionable but they do have some support. Could it be that the gods referred to above lived (before the flood) in Egypt? The Israelis found signs of a canal in the desert that the historians were unaware of. There is evidence the Sphinx may be much older than the historians think and there is the remains of a building in Egypt which has every sign of predating the historic Egyptian civilization.

We can explain the character of the civilizations around the Mediterranean very easily by just presuming events unrolled somewhat like the story told by Gilgamesh. First, the survivors of the flood strongly influence Babylon's explanation of the world. We have a religion where priest kings take care of the world in the absence of the gods.

If the gods went north, we have the Greeks (and the related cultures) where the leaders all claim direct decent from the gods. Maybe they are! The god would certainly have been better organized than the natives. Also, the fact that they promised never to create man again (a slave class out of themselves) reflects their attitudes about rights of individuals. Of course, making slaves out of other people is fine.

And last, but not least, we have Egypt itself. Contrary to the beliefs of those who drifted to the beach off Mt. Ararat, everybody didn't die in the flood! And the survivors continued the old god man dichotomy set up by their ancestors. Eventually the gods died off and all we are left with are the priests who have to make them imaginary in order to continue their livelihood (taking care of the needs of the gods). That explains a rather strange event which took place in Egypt at the time of Amenhotep IV also known as Akhenaton. He is the pharaoh who introduced monotheist idea that there was only one
god "Aton". According to historians, his "mind responded with marvelous sensitiveness and discernment to the visible evidences of God about him". Yeh, he responded so well that according to the record the reason he did what he did was that Aton came to him personally and told him that there were no other gods alive. Could that have possibly been true?

Families die out. If family identity is traced through one sex or the other, it can be shown that the family has a definite half life of about 300 years and will disappear in sufficient time. Maybe the gods just eventually -- died out. According to the records, they left a lot of second relatives around which would make sense if they were real.

It couldn't be? I don't know about that! Suppose we take everything with a grain of salt!

Have some fun -- Dick

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