THE FLOOD MYTH: The Sinking of the Ark
By Donald Roberts
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Uta-Napishtim, Dionysus, Osiris and Noah
In the ancient region of Sumer the gods one day resolved to
destroy the human race. Assembled in the town of Shuruppak,
which is situated on the banks of the Euphrates, the great gods
Shamash, Anu, Enlil, Ninutra and Ennugi decided to drown the
earth with a deluge. But Ea, who was also present, took pity on
mankind. He confided the secret of the project to a reed hut. As
Ea intended, the secret was overheard by an inhabitant of
Shuruppak named Uta-Napishtim:
"Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu,
Destroy thy house, build a vessel,
Leave thy riches, seek thy life,
Store in thy vessel the seeds of all life."
Uta-Napishtim listened to Ea's advice and set to work
without delay building a great ship. He loaded it with all he
possessed in gold and silver. He took his family aboard and
herded his cattle, together with animals and birds of the land.
Meanwhile the hour appointed by Shamash had arrived. That
evening the Lord of Shadows caused the rain to fall, a rain of
filth. Uta-Napishtim hastened to board his vessel and make fast
"When dawn broke
A cloud as black as night rose from heaven's
thin it Adad bellowed!
Shullat and Khanish marched at the head,
Nergal tears away the mast.
He comes, Ninuta, he spurs the attack,
The Anunnaki are bearing torches,
Their brilliance lights up the land,
Adad's tumult reaches the skies,
All that is bright is changed into darkness."
Seized with fear the Gods sought refuge in the sky with Anu.
They crouched like dogs on the ramparts and their burning lips
quivered with fright. Ishtar `cried out like a woman in labor'.
She repented having supported, perhaps even provoked, the
decision of the gods. She had not contemplated a chastisement so
"May the day become as mud,
That day when I spoke evil to the assembled gods,
For I spoke evil to the assembled gods,
In order that my people might perish, I commanded
I give birth to my people!
Like the spawn of fish they fill the sea!"
But nothing could stop the scourge. "Six days and six nights
the winds were abroad and the deluge descended." At last, on the
seventh day the evil wind grew peaceful, the sea became calm; the
voices of men were stilled, "and all mankind was changed into
At this spectacle Uta-Napishtim could not hold back his
tears. Meanwhile his ship had come to rest on the top of Mount
Nisir, the only land which had emerged from the waves.
Uta-Napishtim let loose a dove and then a swallow, but they
came back to the ship, having found no where to alight. A raven,
in his turn released, didn't come back at all. Then
Uta-Napishtim came out from his boat. He poured wine and placed
a burnt offering on the summit of the mountain. With joy the
gods smelled the good odor of sacrifice. Only Enlil was enraged
to see that some mortals escaped the disaster. But Ea managed to
appease him by carefully chosen words. In token of
reconciliation Enlil took Uta-Napishtim and his wife by the hand.
He touched them on the face and said:
"Formerly Uta-Napishtim was a human being. Now
Uta-Napishtim and his wife will be like unto us, gods." And he
fixed their abode `far away, at the mouth of the rivers', in an
In the classic Greek myths, the gods flooded the world and
destroyed the human race because of it's wickedness. However,
Deucalion and his wife were granted safe passage through the
destruction by building and provisioning an enormous wooden
chest, after which they repopulated the world by throwing over
their shoulders stones, which were magically transformed into
people. Deucalion was also strongly associated with the vine --
as indeed, was Dionysus (Bacchus), god of wine and vegetation in
general. A common theme in classical Greek art and myth was that
of `Dionysus at sea', sailing in his boat with grapes hanging
from the rigging. Also ancient Greek hymns describe a boat
crowded with animals.
In Egypt, Osiris was a god with almost identical attributes
to Dionysus. He was murdered by his brother and his body, locked
in a wooden chest, was set afloat on the sea on the seventeenth
of the month, the same day as that given for the beginning of the
Biblical flood. Here, the passage is symbolized by
the journey between life, death and rebirth.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Sumerian Empire, Noah builds and
stock an enormous chest. Noah and his family are cast out to
sea by the rising flood waters. Later Noah and his family are
grounded on uninhabited shores near or in "the mountains of
Ararat" and start the second rebirth of mankind.
While some, who follow Judeo-Christian doctrine, will find
it difficult to draw firm conclusions in this matter, these
figures -- Uta-Napishtim, Dionysus, Osiris and Noah -- draw on a
common archetype, a sort of hero who was remembered with the
vine, agriculture and a fateful journey in an enormous boat.
Uta-Napishtim, Dionysus, Osiris and Noah share a common
experience. Can they be the same archetype also?
To find out where the Hebrews assimilated the story of the
`Great Flood', one needs to look no further than to Ancient
Babylon -- during a period of time when the enslaved Jews called
Babylon home. The issue of the integration of myth from one
culture to another is common. Technology and religious beliefs
have always, more or less, flowed freely between cultures. The
important issue here is that the Judeo-Christian myth about a
deluge is neither exclusive to the old testament nor a record of
Hebrew experience. The earlier Babylonian account provides
striking parallels to all the major elements of the later Jewish
version of a `Flood story':
The destructive rains, the warning given to one person (in this
case a man named Uta-Napishtim), the construction of an enormous
vessel to protect both people and animals, and the release of
birds to test the condition.
Misunderstood by most theology students, the `Holy
Scriptures: Part 1' are an appropriation of the Epics of the
Akkadians and Sumerians from the third millennium B.C. and other
older legends of the region.
There have been many attempts to elucidate the mythical
stories of the deluge. However, all the legends of a universal
Flood are mere exaggerations of purely local events. This is
easily understood when one considers that most if not all delta
areas around the world do flood -- sometimes more disastrously
than other times. It wasn't until the last half of the 21st
century that we see man's technology managing delta flood plains.
The flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in ancient Sumer
and the Nile delta in Upper Egypt are indeed legendary. The
closest Flood legend of actual Noachian proportions was the one
that occurred in 2357 B.C.. The great alluvial plains of China
were buried under billions of tons of water from incessant rain,
melting snow, and river inundations. Chinese chronologers
recorded the plains flooding to have lasted 152 years. The older
Sumerian legend peaks and ebbs perhaps a thousand years or more
before Noah reaches the scene.
The study of Flood legends is not simply a question of
identifying one local oral tradition, such as the Babylonian, as
the `original'. If we study the Judeo-Christian Flood myth, next
to the Creation myth, the Flood story is undoubtedly the most
controversial episode in the Old Testament. It clearly
records the grandest experiment -- the creation of life by the
god Yahweh. Not happy with his creations, Yahweh set in motion a
the downward spiral of the human race into degeneracy until,
circa 2370 B.C., the coming of Noah. In the Assyro-Babylonian
region the bronze age had emerged. The first pyramid had been
built in Egypt. Elsewhere on the planet, before and
uninterrupted by the supposed global deluge, Huang-ti had been
the Emperor of China, Knossos was founded by Minoans in Crete,
the Clovis people reached Arizona, and the Algonquian maritime
traditions had been in existence for at least 3,000 years.
TIME LINE COMPARISON BETWEEN FLOOD MYTH AND WORLD HISTORY
4236 First date on Egyptian calendar.
3760 First date on Jewish calendar and traditional date of
3372 First date on Mayan calendar.
3000 Phoenicians settle eastern Mediterranean coast. Old
Copper Culture in North America.
2697 Huang-ti Dynasty in China is established.
2500 Knossos founded by Minoans in Crete.
2370 Traditional date of Noah myth.
2350 Sumerian empire founded. Yao Dynasty in China is
2150 Aryans invade Indus Valley.
2000 Bronze Age begins in northern Europe.
1950 End of Ur empire.
1830 First Dynasty of Babylonian Kings.
1513 Traditional date Moses begins writing the Bible.
1400 Knossos destroyed. Iron age begins in Asia and India.
Was Noah a real person? There is no evidence that Noah was
a singular individual compared to the inference that a `Noah' is
a mythological archetype of many local heros. For certain this
`Noah hero' is not the only player in the Flood myths. There are
other equally powerful and equally important heros associated
with the Biblical Flood that are often overlooked. In case you
are not familiar with the Noachian drama it begins like this
(with a contemporary translation):
The `Others', beings from an alien world under Yahweh's
command, landed on Earth bringing science and technology and
enjoying the bountiful wine, women and song of the region.
Increasingly, the technology gave the human race the knowledge
and strength to overcome Yahweh's influence.
The cultural interference of Yahweh's legion was in direct
violation of some prime directive and Yahweh had to do something
to cover up his error in judgement for allowing this intrusion.
Eventually Yahweh decides to exterminate all life forms on the
planet! What precisely was wrong or displeasing to Yahweh is not
specified. What has been recorded is that he was disturbed with
`the corrupt and lawless goings-on' by unnamed perpetrators. Why
did Yahweh decide to use the forces of nature to snuff out life
by the means of drowning?
When the rains came Noah's boat was carried out to sea. For
a year or so Noah wandered on currents, setting no sail, in an
oversized box. Where did he set forth and where did he land?
Was he on the great alluvial plains of China?
Once the cleansing process was completed, the Experiment of
Humanity II began with the demi-god Noah symbolically replacing
Adam as the father of the human race and is given charge of his
tribe and the tribes through his sons Ham, Shem and Japheth. The
second experiment apparently fails soon after when a naked Noah
passes out from the over-indulgence of wine. When Noah was just
coming to, Ham was passing by and discovered Noah had been
engaged in pedophilia activities with Ham's son Cain. Noah, the
demi-god that he was, needed to save face and negate his
misdeeds. In a less than god-like move and, perhaps, to keep Ham
and his son from filing sex abuse charges with the clan elders,
Noah ordered Ham and his tribe out of the district.
The complexity of the Biblical Flood story raises many
questions: If the globe was under many feet of water, what
happened to all the plants and trees? If Noah gathered all the
animals and released them in the mountains of Arrat, why aren't
animal species equally distributed around the planet (i.e. how
did all the Kangaroos hopped to Australia)?
Whether you choose to believe the Biblical Flood story as a
myth or not, it is important to understand a few key points:
If there ever was a widespread global deluge the most
reasonable view is that it took place in remote
prehistoric times before humans learned to walked upright.
The Biblical Flood story comes from Jewish oral
traditions which are adapted from ancient pre-Sumerian
legend that predates the Jewish concept of Yahweh.
The Biblical version of the Flood story has been heavily
overlaid with a layer of myth about a culture hero or
demi-god who fathered the second human race, protected
animals and created wine. This hero journeys safely
through the battle of god-like beings and ends up, with
family, as sole survivors in a geophysical place they
perceive is the entire world.
In truth the Biblical Flood story cannot be understood in
historical, geological, theological, or mythological terms. In a
purely metaphysical sense the imagery on the stage of the `Flood'
speaks of a safe passage from an old world to a new world through
a ritual of purification symbolized by the element of water.
Symbolically, we tread a narrow passage between the seen and
unseen worlds before embarking onto the sea of universal
consciousness. This passage is symbolized by washing away the
negative realities of the everyday life. As an act of ritual
purification, we cleanse and calm the physical self in order
to reach the other side of conscious reality. We may not know
where on the other side our spiritual `boat' will dock and we may
not have any control over the currents that exist in the realms
beyond the physical. We do, however, have faith that our
purification by water will carry us safely to the opposite shore
and back to this world.
For a copy of the published version which includes footnotes
and Bibliography send $2.00 and mailing instructions to:
Sauvie Island Press P.O. Box 751 Beaverton OR 97075-0751.
Allow one week for delivery. The opinions expressed do not
reflect the editorial policies of the publisher. This is an
informative and unbiased article presenting known scientific
and accademic facts.
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