Archive for March 3, 2014

Like many ancient civilisations the peoples of Mesopotamia had accounts of flood myths. To date we know of three versions of the flood myth. These epics are known as the epics of Attrahasis, Gilgamesh and Zuisudra. Attrahasis and Zuisudra are both accounts of the survival of a flood while the epic of Gilgamesh recounts the story of the flood. They all appear to date in written form from around the period 1700 to 2000 BCE, although most of the records that have survived come from a period around 600 to 800 BCE. It is likely that one of the functions of the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh was to copy old or damaged tablets in order to preserve their contents.

Attrahasis tablet
Cuneiform tablet of Attrahasis epic from British Museum collection

A version of the epic of Attrahasis was discovered in the library at Nineveh. However, we do know that these are later copies as a version was also found at Sippar, an ancient cultic centre, near Babylon, which dates to the 17th century BCE.

In this account of the myth, the gods weary of doing work, decide to create humankind to perform it in their place. Initially this works well, but as the population increases, humankind becomes very noisy. This irritates the gods and they send down drought, plague and famine in an attempt to reduce the population. Finally they decide to send down a flood to wipe out the whole of humankind. However, one of the gods, Enki or Ea [akkadian-sumarian variants], warns Attrahasis, the son of king Ubara-Tutu, and gives him instructions for building a boat. Unfortunately the section of the epic that actually deals with the boat and the flood has not yet been found and the next part of the story that is known sees Attrahasis sacrificing to the gods for his deliverance from the flood. His survival causes a great deal of argument amongst the gods, who decide in the end to grant him immortality to make him unlike other humans.