Sumer Arc Instructions. Many Generations before Noah.

This is a cool story.  For some reason, it's making the rounds again, but was previously published 4 years ago.

Cuneiform (Sumeran) tablet was found giving instructions for how to build an arc for impending flood.  The story of the tablet is interesting.  Apparently, it was picked up by a soldier, or bought in a market, and languished for decades.  Eventually the soldier's  son was able to get it to someone who know what to do with it, Irving Finkel.

"In Mr Finkel's translation, the god speaks to Atram-Hasis, a Sumerian king who is the Noah figure in early versions of the ark story.The tablet's translation says:

"Wall, wall!

Reed wall, reed wall

Atram-Hasis, pay heed to my advice, that you may live forever!

Destroy your house, build a boat; despise possessions

And save life!

Draw out the boat that you will built with a circular design;

Let its length and breadth be the same."

The tablet is dated to about 1,700 BCE.

Check this link for appearance of the tablet.  The Guardian.  "The tablet gives a version of the ark story far older than the biblical accounts, and Finkel believes the explanation of how "holy writ appears on this piece of Weetabix", is that the writers of the Bible drew on ancient accounts encountered by Hebrew scholars during the Babylonian exile."

This story is so universal.  If we could forget about willfully ignorant christian reactionaries ("see, the universal stories show there WAS a great flood!) and ponder the story, maybe we could gain insights into the human condition.  

Is it just a about a flood?   Probably.  That is the most straightforward translation.  And floods are truly universal.  They occur almost everywhere, throughout human history, and into the current time.

The flood stories also play into submission to virtue, or to gods, and attachment to a physical, transient world, to grief, fear of death, and hope for renewal.  There is reward of the good and faithful, by saving them and them only.  There is punishment of the unfaithful and unbelieving.  Even in my workplace, and past workplaces, managers often express that there is impending disaster unless we act now by working harder and sacrificing more.  Not warning a flood, but warning for other tales of corporate doom.  I have not read much Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell.  I imagine they had something to say about these themes.

The theme of impending disaster, wanting to save loved ones, belongings, and way of life, is universal.  Not only is there the Noah tale, and Gilgamesh (2,000 BC?  I don't know the relation of that ballad to this tablet.  They may be interwoven, or may be unrelated; some speculate the Gilgamesh story inspired the Noah story).  

There is also a great flood of Chinese mythology, dating to 2,000 BC? ...

Like endless boiling water, the flood is pouring forth destruction.

Boundless and overwhelming, it overtops hills and mountains.

Rising and ever rising, it threatens the very heavens. How the people must be groaning and suffering!

—Emperor Yao, as quoted in the Book of History, describing the flood

I won't copy the list, but there are great flood myths from many ancient cultures.  Many of which could not have any connection to the others.

The modern equivalents to the flood story, can be found in christian woe-saying - and schadenfreude - about god about to bring destruction and doom to the world for sinfulness, and among the secular, climate change fears.  I'm not denying that last - it's impossible to escape that climate change may finally be a disaster of biblical proportions.  But the desire to preserve our way of life for future generations, harkens to the floods stories of the ancients.  We all share a strongly human fear of the unknown, attachment to the known, and desire to preserve the known for the benefit of ourselves, our families, and future generations.

For a humanist, these stories describe the universality of human experience.


Images source:  WIkipedia commons.:

Noah's Ark ca. 1590  Miskin Mughal dynasty Akbar(r. 1556 - 1605)  India

The Deluge", Frontispiece to Gustav Doré's illustrated edition of the Bible...shows humans and a tiger doomed by the flood futilely attempting to save their children and cubs...  19th century.

1499, the Aztecs performed rituals, including a child sacrifice, to appease the angry gods who had flooded their capital, Tenochtitlan

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I saw a report on CNN about the tablet. Christians will be all over it, claiming it proves the truth of the story of Noah and the flood. The thing is, though, that the instructions for building the ark in the tablet are totally different from the instructions given in Genesis (6:15-16). So either the Christians will have to admit that the Genesis account is wrong, casting doubt on the inerrancy of the Bible, or admit that both accounts are literally true, though they contradict each other on the instructions.

I find it hard to believe that this one tablet describes a circular boat.  Noah's ark was rectangular (an "ark" is simply a container, like the Ark of the Covenant), and the boat in Gilgamesh was an enormous cube, 120 cubits on a side.  The stories of the Flood in Genesis and in Gilgamesh are practically the same, differing only in details, and I would consider the size and shape of the boat a detail.  Both stories include: an angry God or gods; a single righteous man being chosen to survive, along with his family; animals being saved; a flood that covers the entire world; the boat grounding on a mountaintop; the righteous man sending out birds to find dry land; the righteous man performing sacrifices (burnt offerings) upon disembarking; God or gods drawn by the pleasing aroma of roasting meat; God or gods expressing regret.  Differences are in the incidentals, such as the way in which God or gods warns the one righteous man, shape of the boat, the number of people saved, the length of the flood, etc.  Collectively, these stories--and other, similar stories--are striking examples of folklore.  The Sumerian tablet in the news and the Gilgamesh epic both have "Noah" warned in a dream--sent by the gods, of course--to tear down his house and use the materials to build a huge boat.

The different reasons for the flood reveal an evolving understanding of God.  Ancient polytheistic religions described gods as often indifferent to the fate of humans.  The Babylonian god Enlil demands the destruction of humanity by flooding because people are so noisy he can't sleep.  Petty stuff.  The Biblical God destroys humanity because of corruption and violence.

Even so, these are different cultures' version of the same stories with incidental changes adapting the flood theme to the different cultures' values, and these cultures originate in the same little corner of the world.  (Abraham, according to Genesis, lived in Ur, a city on the Euphrates, when God told him to pack up and head for the promised land.  Ur was well south of Babylon, not far from the Persian Gulf, and Abraham traveled well north of Babylon and Damascus to Haran, on a tributary of the Euphrates.) 

When cultures overlap, each is influenced by the other.  Floods would have been familiar, annual events for all of them, since cities grow where there is a reliable source of fresh water, but really big floods would have been terrifying.  THE flood may have occurred when the Mediterranean chewed its way into the Black Sea about 7,000 years ago.  But even that one didn't cover the tops of the mountains.

Fscinating! Flood stories all over the Earth. 

There have been at least five major ice ages in the Earth's past :

Huronian, 2.4 to 2.1 billion years ago (Gaya), during the early Proterozoic Eon (the Pre-Cambrian Era). 

Cryogenian, 850 to 635 million years ago (Mya), during the Neoproterozoic Era, ice reached the equator. 

Andean-Saharan, 460 to 430 million years ago (Mya), during the late Ordovician and the Silurian period, which was the second-largest of the five major extinction events in Earth's history

Karoo Ice Age, 360–260 million years ago (Mya), during the Phanerozoic Era which represents a relatively brief period of half a billion years that constitutes the age of multicelluar life on Earth.

Quaternary glaciation, 2.58 million years ago (Mya), to present We are still in this Pleistocene glaciation or the current ice age, that refers to a series of glacial events separated by interglacial events. The creation of 1.9 to 2.5 miles thick ice sheets caused a global sea level drop of about 390 ft. 

During each of these ice ages, the sea levels fell, followed by rising sea levels as they melted. Outside these ages, the Earth seems to have been ice-free even in high latitudes.  

There surely was a massive flood during human memory; the most recent ice age, the one we are still in, Quaternary glaciation, that started 2.58 million years ago (Mya), continues to exist. The big melts, and the ones that impacted WA, ID, and Montana so greatly, The Missoula Flood, shaped our rivers and valleys and created scab lands and rich layers of glacial gravels. Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA. are the end of the flow from Montana to the Pacific Ocean and have a rich history altered by those massive events, long before human habitation. 

Yes, I think the biblical flood stories are real and based on memories of early Homo sapiens' experiences. Telling and retelling stories centuries before being written down, with personal editing along the way, created the material that we know as Noah's Arc and all that goes with it. 


There are also modern floods. The Mississippi floods repeatedly, but without as much loss of life. The tsunamis in Japan, Indonesia were certainly of biblical proportions, for local people there. The New Orleans Katrina flood. These cataclysms remind us of the fragility of human life, and how it can all be washed away in a moment.

The Nile floods were life-giving. I dont know about the floods of Mesopotamia.

If the Missoula floods brought Montana soil to me, then I owe it much.

By all means, the modern floods caused by the events you describe prove that humans are vulnerable and often make choices that put their lives and property at risk. I think I am correct in saying, and am open to being challenged, the Mississippi, Nile, Tigris and Euphrates floods refreshed the soils with high mineral content soils. 

The difference between these floods is populations knew and expected and valued the floods for their restorative purposes and built structures away from the danger zones. Modern humans build right on the flood plane and expect to be insured against losses. This philosophy and practice, to me, is just plain silly. 

My old geology courses taught that the Portland/Vancouver aquifers were the largest in the world and provided a natural water filtering system to the populations that would eventually build on top of it. The problem was, once the aquifer became polluted with human sewage it was no longer possible to use the water without expensive water treatment. Had they installed sewer systems to pull sewage away from the aquifer, it would still be pristine. 

I stand ready for refutation; I don't have citations to support my memory. 

It probably floods worse now than it did for the Cahokians.  THe river is narrower, more channeled, and has lost its floodplains.  I love reading about them.  This land had much more history than most people know.

I grew up up-river from you.  The town where I lived was on a high bluff.  Down by the bay, many people had houses on stilts.  They knew they were in a flood plain.

Here is a native American legend about a great flood.  

That makes me wonder - was there exposure via missionaries, and the original contact forgotten but the story not forgotten. Or, it taps into human psyche and behaviors that span across cultures and history.

I have never been to the Cahokia mounds and regret that deeply. My interests in archeology and geology combine to prepare me to visit such sites. The wisdom of those early people resides in their ability to remember ancient events through their oral traditions, from which early theology rose. 

Paying attention to folklore one finds an echo from the past, brought to the present all dressed up in myths and legends. Sorting out reality from mythology presents challenges to any archeologist or geologist. 

Joan, I grew up on what they called locally "Mississippi river bottoms", which wasn't really the river bottom but rather vast floodplains made usable via levees and dams.  And therefore, makes flooding downstream worse, and stops the renewing, but that's modern geoengineering.

And it was very rich soil.  The local legend was the blacker the soil, the better.  I don't know if that's true but maybe.  Could be due to high organic matter.

My well must draw from that aquifer.  The iron level is very high - the filter fills quickly with rust.  The water tastes metallic.  We had a new super filtration system installed.  Now it is clear and tastes good.  The garden still gets the well water.  Digging, there are countless pockets of what appear to be rust, scattered throughout the soil.  My soil analysis confirmed the iron level is very high.  

I doubt floods will happen in  my lifetime at this altitude.  Downtown Portland flooded a few years ago.  There was once a town named 'VanPort" on an island or lowland in the Columbia, settled by shipbuilders.   There was said to be racism in building the town in the lowlands.  It washed away in a big flood.  

Many christians today attribute floods and disasters to their versions of sinfulness.  If I remember correctly, their god stated he would not do that again after he screwed up with the great flood.  Genesis 9:11 "King James Bible  And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.

One could say he broke that promise too.  Codependent christians who serve as the god's enablers, would say "Yes, but he only destroys communities and countries - not the whole planet".

File:Vanport flood overturned cars.jpg

Vanport flood image source:  Wikipedia.

Daniel, yes, that awful Vanport flood was a result of faulty human construction. The people living there were the blacks brought in to build for WW II. Those buildings of the 1940s were something to behold.

My Dad built many such projects during the war, and he told of being instructed to cut 2x6" lumber into 2x4". He scoffed at the decision because of the labor costs to cut down the lumber for no good reason. The mills could have made 2x4s. The extra 2" he and the swarms of other carpenters who re-cut the lumber was then waste. 

We had the same kinds of housing built to the west of downtown Spokane to house military soldiers and their families. Poorly constructed, poorly insulated for the northern climate, they quickly became military housing slums and then public housing. 

Farragut Naval Training Station at the southern tip of Lake Pend Oreille, east of Spokane rose on the floodplain of Lake Missoula drainage, not to see another flood since the present ice age began to end. The housing was built as quickly and as poorly as the other housing projects of the era.

The difference between Farrogut and Spokane, to Vanport, was the cause of the flooding. Farrogut and Spokane were in direct line for the Ice Age floods that will not recur in the modern era. The island upon which Vanport was build was on the floodplain that continues to be a floodplain.   

The soil from floodplains is very rich. All that glacial gravel, sand and dust hold many basic minerals. I use glacial sand and dust in my garden for the trace elements it provides. Mt. St. Helens eruption was good for my garden soil as well. It wasn't good for the insect population, but the soil was enriched with 2" or so that I received. 

The gravels and sands you have in the Portland/Vancouver area probably do have a lot of iron in them. Those ice fields in Canada crushed huge quantities of ore into boulders embedded in glaciers and pushed them south across into Montana and Idaho, only to flush through the gorges into the Columbia River, further grinding them to finer grains of gravel and sand. 

Friends who garden in Spokane Valley have much more gravel than I do. Their carrots and root crops grow in and around the gravels. I live on the south hill above the Spokane River and my house was underwater during the floods. My soil has no gravels, but a lot of glacial sands and clays. My particular piece of ground is in a small valley that drains the nearby hills into ponds above downtown. My ground is an old swamp that filled with reeds and grasses that formed perfect mosses that turned to black soil. Yes, there is a lot of humus in black soil and lots of natural organic matter. 

I should say the ground upon which my is house is built was underwater during the Ice Age floods. 

This story has surfaced to promote Finkel's new book, The Ark Before Noah. This tablet went on display recently, but the British Museum has had a similar tablet, containing the flood story from the Epic of Gilgamesh, on display for many years. I saw it in 2003. The stories on the table and in Genesis are quite alike, down to the sending out a bird to find land. Finkel thinks the story was passed onto the Jews of Israel and incorporated into their scriptures.

Of course the news outlets have revised the story to say that "Noah's ark was round." You can alwasy rely on the popular press to get it totally wrong.




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