Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Flood of Authenticity

Gilgamesh is a prehistoric text in cuneiform that predates Abraham by five centuries and Homer by eight centuries. It contains the story of the flood. Utanapishtim is Noah’s counterpart in the older story and I wanted to quote a section of it here from Benjamin R. Foster’s 2001 translation: “On the seventh day, I brought out a dove and set it free. The dove flew off, then flew back to the ship, because there was no place to land. I waited, then I brought out a swallow and set it free. The swallow flew off, then flew back to the ship, because there was no place to land. I waited, then I brought out a raven and set it free. The raven flew off, and because the water had receded, it found a branch, it sat there, it ate, it flew off and didn’t return.”

Of course, the King James Version of the Bible has it this way in Genesis 8:6-12: “And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: and he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark. And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; which returned not again unto him any more.”

Also, the Quran has the Noah (Nuh) story of the flood and other ancient civilizations have versions of it as well. One can find comparative charts online, harmonizing the various versions. I bring all this up here to ask a couple of questions: why are there so many stories of the flood if there was none? Do you know of that many other persistent myths that are not based on some actual historical event?

It is fascinating as well to look at other events in Gilgamesh, such as Gilgamesh’s plot to kill Humbaba, the guardian of God’s forest, and cut down the tree he guards as a sign of strength. These stories remind me of those of modern day primitive peoples such as the Yanamama of South America, who have several versions of the same historical or cultural events.

Aprocryphal stories lack authenticity. But there is a deep authenticity, far beyond the merely literal, in the Biblical book of Genesis.

No comments:

Post a Comment