Grace Theological Journal 12.2 (Spring, 1971) 3-22

Copyright 1971 by Grace Theological Seminary. Cited with permission from

 

ATRA-HASIS: A SURVEY

 

JAMES R. BATTENFIELD

Teaching Fellow in Hebrew

Grace Theological Seminary

 

 

New discoveries continue to revive interest in the study of the

ancient Near East. The recent collation and publication of the Atra-hasis

Epic is a very significant example of the vigor of this field, especially

as the ancient Near East is brought into comparison with the Old Testa-

ment. The epic is a literary form of Sumero-Babylonian traditions about

the creation and early history of man, and the Flood. It is a story that

not only bears upon the famous Gilgamesh Epic, but also needs to be

compared to the narrative of the Genesis Flood in the Old Testament.

The implications inherent in the study of such an epic as Atra-hasis

must certainly impinge on scholars' understanding of earth origins and

geology.

 

The advance in research that has been conducted relative to Atra-

hasis is graphically apparent when one examines the (ca. 1955) rendering

by Speiser1 in comparison with the present volume by Lambert and

Millard.2

 

Although Atra-hasis deals with both creation and flood, the pre-

sent writer has set out to give his attention to the flood material only.

Literature on mythological genres is voluminous. Therefore the present

writer will limit this study to a survey of the source material which

underlies Atra-hasis, a discussion of its content and its relation to the

Old Testament and the Gilgamesh Epic.

 

James R. Battenfield earned the B. A. degree at San Diego State College,

and the B. D. and Th. M. at Talbot Theological Seminary. He taught for

two years at Talbot Theological Seminary and pursued graduate study

at U. C. L. A. He is presently taking work toward the Th. D. degree

at Grace Theological Seminary.

3



4 GRACE JOURNAL

 

SOURCE MATERIAL

 

The source material behind the present edition has been a long

time in coming to the fore. The great amount of energies that have

been expended on this research will hardly be reflected in this brief

study; however, the main lines of endeavor can be traced.

 

One may surmise that the Atra-hasis epic flourished in Babylon-

ian civilization for some 1,500 years. At the time of Alexander the

Great, when Hellenism figuratively and literally buried what was left

of Mesopotamian cultural influence in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, Atra-

hasis was lost. For over two thousand years the only record known

to man of a great Flood was the story in Genesis. Berossus, a Baby-

lonian priest about the time of Alexander, wrote a Babylonian history

which is also lost. Fragmented traditions of his history have come

down to the present through such worthies as Polyhistor and Eusebius.3

 

The middle of the nineteenth century saw the beginning of serious

exploration in Mesopotamia, particularly among British and French in-

terests. Reliefs and monuments were unearthed and taken to Western

museums. Thousands of clay tablets awaited decipherment, an inter-

esting process in its own right.4 Kuyunjik, the larger mound at Nineveh,5

is the site where much Atra-hasis material was found, although its iden-

tification was not apparent for a long time. In 1842/3 Paul Emile Botta

first dug at Kuyunjik, but he did not find any spectacular museum pieces

such as were expected in those days. Austen Henry Layard6 secured

British rights to dig in the area and this caused a conflict with French

interests. By 1851 the palace of Sennacherib had been found.7 Hormuzd

Rassam, a Christian of local extraction, who favored the British, be-

came the leader of native digging efforts. At first he and his helpers

dug secretly at night. Having come across the most magnificent reliefs

found to date, Rassam continued digging by day. They had dug into the

palace of Assyria's last great king, Ashurbanipal.8 His library is now

well known as one of the great discoveries from antiquity. Practically

all of Ashurbanipal's library was taken to the British Museum, thanks

to Layard and Rassam.

 

In London a "layman" in scholarly circles was put to work sort-

ing the fragments of Ashurbanipal's collection. This man was George

Smith. At fourteen the humble lad was apprenticed to a firm of bank-

note engravers. From an Old Testament background, his first love

soon took over in his life as he read with diligence concerning the

archaeology of Mesopotamia. He gave up engraving for archaeology

before long, and soon was at work collating the thousands of fragments

of Ashurbanipal's library. In his own words, Smith mentions with kind-

ness the labors of Botta. Botta found Sargon's palace (which dated from

 



ATRA-HASIS 5

 

ca. 722-705 B. C.) at Khorsabad, after his work at Nineveh had proven

afailure.9 He mentions Layard and Rassam as well, but does not men-

tion Rassam's nocturnal digging.10 Smith showed that he knew as much

about the tablets as anyone and in 1866, at the age of twenty-six, he was

made Assistant in the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the museum.

 

Others knew that works of mythology were preserved,

but only George Smith collected and joined enough bro-

ken pieces to reconstruct entire episodes, and only he

could understand the content. His lack of philological

training was made up for by hard work and sheer ge-

nius.11

 

It was on December 3, 1872, nearly one hundred years ago, that

Smith read a paper to the Society of Biblical Archaeology concerning his

discovery of a Babylonian version of the Biblical Flood story. This paper

rocked the world of Biblical scholarship. Four years later Smith pub-

lished The Chaldean Account of Genesis, and among this selection of

Babylonian literary texts was one Smith called "the story of Atarpi."12

This is now known as the Epic of Atra-hasis.

 

An amazing feature of the story of the gathering of the fragments

that make up Atra-hasis is the unusual length of time required to join

the fragments properly. Smith had three broken pieces, enough to gain

a plot and to distinguish this from other creation/flood stories. Smith

mistook obverse for reverse and his mistake was not corrected properly

until 1956. Even more amazing is the fact that, after Smith's untimely

death in 1876, the three "Atarpi" fragments became separated and were

not joined again until 1899, and the third of the pieces was not published

until 1965, and not joined to the other two until 1967. This is the rea-

son that Atra-hasis is spoken of as a "new" flood epic: it is new be-

cause its tablet sequence has only recently been finalized.

 

Other fragments of Atra-hasis naturally experienced independent

histories from their discovery to their publication. V. Scheil, a French

priest, published a fragment of a flood epic in 1898. His differed from

Smith's, and he dated it to the reign of Ammi-saduqa (1646-26 B. C.)

of the Old Babylonian dynasty.13 The same year a mythological text

from the same period was copied by T. G. Pinches. This last text

describes the creation of man.14 In 1899, the German scholar, Hein-

rich Zimmern wrote an article in which he gave the Umschrift of Smith's

two then available fragments, showed Scheil's and Pinches' work was of

the same epic,15 and demonstrated that the name of the hero should be

not Atarpi, but Atra, or Atra-hasis. Still at this point the correct

order of the fragments was undetermined, and so the matter remained

for fifty years.



6 GRACE JOURNAL

 

It remained for the Danish scholar, Jorgen Laessoe, to point out

the proper sequence.16 Lambert and Millard take credit for publishing

material done by the same original scribe who wrote Scheil's 1898 frag-

ment. This material had been in the British Museum since 1889.

 

CONTENT OF THE EPIC

 

By way of definition, the Epic of Atra-hasis is more a literary

tradition than a narrative with precise bounds and limits. Lambert states

that plagiarism and a lack of respect for literary rights were common in

the ancient world.17 The only "title" that Atra-hasis had in antiquity

is seen repeated in the colophon at the end of each tablet, inuma ilu

awilum, "When the gods like man."18

 

The principal edition used by Lambert was copied out by Ku-Aya,

"the junior scribe." This fact is also discernible in the colophons.

Scheil in 1898 had given the name as Ellet-Aya or Mulil-Aya; neither

of these is acceptable. It is known that ku + divine name is Sumerian.

At one time there was some question about ku in Old Babylonian, but

this sign is found in the Code of Hammurapi20 as well as in Ammisa-

duqa's own famous "Edict."21 Ku-Aya's text is not that of a schoolboy,

even though he is called "junior scribe." He did his copying ca. 1630

B. C., if one holds to the "middle chronology," the majority opinion,

on Babylonian chronology.22 The original must be before 1630 B. C.,

making Atra-hasis one of the oldest, practically complete texts now

known. Ku-Aya's work is an edition in three tablets. Other collated

pieces must be relegated to much later periods, to the late Assyrian

(ca. 700-650 B. C.) in particular. George Smith's "story of Atarpi,"

now brought into comparison with the other pieces, must be of the

Assyrian Recension, according to Lambert, since it shows marked

Assyrian dialectal forms. The distinction between Old Babylonian and

Middle Assyrian would show up in the orthography as well. The Assyr-

ian story is essentially the same as Ku-Aya's, but substantially rewritten,

Neo-Babylonian fragments differ even more. A Ras Shamra fragment,

written in Akkadian, not Ugaritic, has been found, and is included in

Lambert. Its first three lines read:

 

e-nu-ma ilanumes im-tas-ku mil-ka i-na matatimes.ti

a-bu-ba is-ku-nu i-na ki-ib-ra-ti

 

The translation is:

 

"When the gods took counsel in the lands,

And brought about a flood in the regions of the world."



ATRA-HASIS 7

 

The sixth line reads:

 

mat-ra-am-ha-si-sum-me a-na-ku-[ma], "I am Atra-

hasis."24

 

As to the theme of the text, the essence of its content, one must

categorize it as both a myth because gods play a dominant role, and an

epic, because the leading character is a hero. Most basically Atra-hasis

deals with the problem of organization. A certain dialectic goes on here,

viz., there is a conflict which goes through two phases. Both phases

feature supernatural forces, but in the first "act" the conflict is among

the gods for their own sakes and has to do with divine goals; the second

phase concerns the conflict of the gods for the sake of man, i. e.,

human organization enters the picture.

 

Tablet I

 

The story begins with a hearkening back to an earlier time. It

almost has a "once upon a time" flavor. Certainly the plot is etiolog-

ical from the outset.25 "How did man become as he is?" "Once it was

like this," the modern storyteller might commence. Once the gods,

those superhuman reflections of man's aspirations, worked and suffered

as men do now. Quite understandably, since Mesopotamia has always

depended upon man-made waterways to redistribute the capricious flood-

ings, the gods are represented as digging the canals. This was at a

time when only the gods inhabited the universe. The greater and lesser

gods are mentioned in 11. 5-6. The seven great Anunnaki are men-

tioned. The term is used for all gods at times; at other periods the

Anunnaki are the gods of the nether world.26 Three senior gods are

mentioned individually. They are Anu, Enlil and Enki. In 1:12 they

evidently cast lots to determine their particular spheres of influence.

Anu rules henceforth from heaven; Enlil evidently stayed on earth; Enki

descended to his abode in the Apsu, a subterranean body of water. The

Assyrian recension of the epic from 1:19 ff. probably indicates that Enki

set the Igigi (here, junior gods) to work on the canals.27 The Igigi suf-

fered this humiliation for forty years and then rebelled, "backbiting,

grumbling in the excavation" (1:39b-40). They agree to take their mu-

tual grievance to Enlil. They want not just reduction of their workload,

but complete relief from it. In typically anarchous fashion the junior

gods set fire to their digging tools, and utilize them as torches to

light their way to Enlil by night. They surround Enlil's temple, called

Ekur, in the city of Nippur.28 Enili's servants, Kalkal and Nusku,

bring word to the god29 that he is surrounded. Lines 93 and 95 of this

first tablet are a little unclear. Lambert believes some kind of prover-

bial usage of the word binu/bunu, "son" is employed. If this term were

clear, it might be more readily apparent why Enlil does not hesitate to



8 GRACE JOURNAL

 

summon Anu from heaven and Enki from the Apsu to stand with him

against the rebels. It must be assumed that the gravity of the situation

was reason enough for a coalition of the senior gods to deal with the

matter. It is Anu in 1:111 who seems to be the supreme leader. The

question is put to the rebels, "Who is the instigator of battle?" (11.

128, 140). The answer comes: "Every single one of us. . . " (1. 146).

When Enlil heard that the extent of the antagonism toward him in his

realm, earth, was so great, he cried (1:167).

 

It is curious that Enlil seems to recover his composure so quickly

and begins to command30 Anu to go to heaven and bring down one god and

have him put to death as a solution to the problem. Perhaps more might

be known about the decision to slay a god, if it were not for the fact

that right at this juncture (11. 178-89), the text is unclear, and the var-

ious recensions must be used to fill the gap. At any rate, when the

text resumes, Belet-ili is on hand.31 It is she who is summoned to

to create32 the "Lullu-man."33 Man now will bear the work burden

of the gods. Belet-ili is called Mami in 1:193,34 and then it would seem

that she is also called Nintu.35 Though she is the birth-goddess, she

disavows any claim to being able to "make things."36 She points to the

skill of Enki in that realm. But in 1:203 it becomes apparent that Enki

must give her the clay so that she can create man.

 

Enki will make a purifying bath. One god will be killed; this is

one called We-ila (1:223). He is not mentioned but this once in the

text.37 His flesh and blood, combined with Enki's clay will result in

man. God and clay, therefore, are mixed to make man in the Baby-

lonian conception. Line 215 is instructive: "Let there be a spirit from

the god's flesh."38 The plan to make a man is agreed upon by the

Anunnaki, the plan is carried out, and the Igigi spit on the clay. Mami

then rehearses before the gods in typically redundant, oriental fashion

what she has done. The summum bonum of her work is this: the gods

are free. Yet, strangely, the work is not complete, because more

birth-goddesses, fourteen, are called in on the project and the group

proceeds to the bit simti, "the house of destiny"39 (1:249) to get at

the work in earnest. So the creation of man is not too clear. Four-

teen pieces of clay designated as seven males and seven females, are

"nipped off, " and separated by a "brick." (1:256, 259). Another break

in the story occurs here. Then there are some rules for midwifery in

the Assyrian recension that fills the gap. Ten months is the time neces-

sary before the mortals are born. Finally they are born and the text

relates some rules about obstetrics and marriage, but it is not parti-

cularly clear until 1:352.

 

At this point the significant statement is made. "Twelve hundred

years had not yet passed."40 This sentence begins the second part in



ATRA -HASIS 9

 

the plot, if one views its story content apart from the tablet divisions.

This much time, twelve hundred years, is given as the span of time

from man's creation to the Flood. During this period people multiplied

and their noise became intolerable to Enlil, who becomes dissatisfied

with the noise because he cannot sleep. ". . . Let there be plague,"

reads the last part of 1:360. Enlil has decided to reduce the noise by

reducing the source, man. Namtara, the plague god, is summoned

(1:380), but first, the reader is startled by the abrupt introduction of

Atra-hasis, the king (1:364). Perhaps he has been mentioned in some

lost portion earlier. He must be a king because his personal god was

Enki himself. Usually a Babylonian's personal god was a very minor

deity. This is seen in much of the wisdom literature and prayers.41

Enki is one of the chief gods; Atra-hasis must be a king. Atra-hasis

petitions Enki to intervene and stop the plague. Enki advises the people

to direct their attentions to Namtara, so that he will relax the plague.

This is what then ensues as Tablet 1 closes with the statement repeated,

"Twelve hundred years had not yet passed."42

 

Tablet II

 

The sequence that ended Tablet I is now paralleled. Enlil lost

his sleep again, and decides to use drought/famine to eradicate men.

Adad the storm god43 should withhold his rain (11:11); waters should not

arise: from the abyss. Again Atra-hasis entreated Enki and at length

Adad watered the earth, Lambert says, "discreetly. . . without attrac-

ting Enlil's attention."44

 

From this point on in the epic the gaps frequently hide the story

development. Evidently Enlil slept again but was roused by a third vis-

itation of noise. By now Enlil must realize that some god is thwarting

his extermination plans. Enlil resumes the drought. In column 3, 4

Atra-hasts is praying to Enki. By column 4 the famine is still in prog-

ress. Enki acts in the behalf of Atra-hasis in column 5. A late Baby-

lonian piece inserted here tells of a cosmic sea that existed in the bot-

tom of the universe.46 From this area, fish were caught up in a type

of whirlwind, and the second drought perpetrated by Enlil was averted

by the sending of these fish among starving mankind. Enlil by now is

tired of seeing his plans frustrated. Enki has been his adversary, he

surmises. Since water (and fish) was used to save humanity this last

time, water will be man's destruction, and Enki is sworn to an oath

not to interfere in Enlil's plan. It would seem at this juncture Lullu-

awilum, puny man, is doomed.

 

Tablet III

This last tablet contains the flood story itself. Lambert observes



10 GRACE JOURNAL

 

that "the version known to George Smith from Tablet Xl of the Gilgamesh

Epic is in fact largely derived from the account in Atra-hasis."47

 

Fortunately, Ku-Aya's Old Babylonian text is the main source of

the third tablet. Atra-hasis is addressing Enki as it begins. It would

seem that Enki, as is so typical of polytheistic morality, has already

found a way to get around his oath to Enlil. 111:1:18 begins Enki's mes-

sage for avoiding the flood, and it has a familiar ring: "Wall, listen,

to me! Reed wall, observe my words!"48 Atra-hasis is told to destroy

his house, undoubtedly made of reeds, and build a boat.49 Reeds grow

particularly in southern Mesopotamia, near the Persian Gulf. Perhaps

the story originated in such an environment. Interesting nautical terms

are employed in 11. 29-37. Concerning the boat:

 

Roof it over like the Apsu.

So that the sun50 shall not see inside it

Let it be roofed over above and below.

The tackle should be very strong.

Let the pitch be tough, and so give( the boat) strength.

It will rain down upon you here

An abundance of birds, a profusion of fishes.

He opened the water-clock and filled it;

He announced to him the coming of the flood51 for the

seventh night.

 

Atra-hasis did as Enki commanded him. The reason for the flood

is given "theologically" in the fact that the two gods of the earth and

the deep are angry with one another. This sounds primitive indeed.

Since Atra-hasis is a devotee of Enki, he must side with him and no

longer live in Enlil's earth.

 

Column 2 of the third tablet is badly broken. It would seem the

boat is being built by such as a "carpenter" and a "reed worker."52

By line 32 of this column, clean and fat animals are mentioned as being

put on the boat. And, then, in the lines remaining of the column, the

most personal touch in the poem is given. Atra-hasis must go to live

with his own god. He calls for a banquet for his people and his family.

Yet he cannot enjoy or even participate in this festivity because he is

overcome with grief in contemplating the impending horror. At the banquet

he was "in and out: he could not sit, could not crouch" (1.45). His

heart was broken instead and he was vomiting.

 

By now the weather worsened. Adad's thunders being heard in the

clouds overhead. Pitch was brought to enable Atra-hasis to close his

door. The winds and the waves rose. He cut his restraining hawser

and set his reed-boat adrift.



ATRA-HASIS 11

 

Lines are missing at the beginning of column 3 of tablet III. Re-

stored by conjecture is the mention of the Zu bird in line 7. Zu is men-

tioned again in one of the recensions.53 and is also found elsewhere in

ancient Near Eastern mythology.54 The strength of the flood came upon

the peoples; its destruction was a nightmare. Enki took it badly from

the outset. The birth-goddess Nintu55 and the Anunnaki regret the dis-

aster. Nintu bewails the loss of her children, who have become "like"

flies."56 She seems to have lost her purpose for existence. She rightly

blames Enlil for such a lamentable act. Her crying is enunciated in

111:4:5-11. The gods thirsted during the flood, as if they could no more

subsist on salt water from the Apsu than could humans. Nintu wanted

beer in fact in 111:4:16. The gods stood like sheep standing together in

a dry trough waiting for a drink.57

 

Seven days and seven nights the deluge continued. As column

5 is missing its first 29 lines, the flood itself is over at III:5:30.

Atra-hasis is "providing food" (line 32), and as the gods smell the food.

"they gathered like flies over the offering." This last statement is hardly

very flattering to the gods, and most typical of the skepticism of the

wisdom genre in Babylonian literature. After the god's repast. Nintu

arises and complains concerning the unknown whereabouts of both Anu

and Enlil. Since they are the instigators of this terrible calamity.

where are they? The question is not immediately answered. Instead

an etiological explanation is given on flies, telling of the manufactured

flies in the jewelry of lapis worn around the necks of Mesopotamian

deities. The reason for this episode is given by Lambert:

 

Thus the flies in the story are a memorial of the

drowned offspring of Belet-ili, and the idea may have

been suggested to its originator by a proverb or cliche

about dragon-flies drifting down the river.59

 

Enlil, who now has appeared, sees the reed boat and becomes

angry at the Igigi. After all, the gods had decided to exterminate man;

all the gods were under oath. How did man survive? Enlil wants to

know. Anu points out that only Enki, whose realm is the sea, could

save man. Enki steps forward and freely admits his deeds and evidently

seeks to be exonerated (in a badly damaged passage). Volume 7 is of

no help in the flood story; its chief concern is proverbial sayings on

childbearing. Column 8 begins at the ninth line: this is the epilogue.

The text is so problematic that it is not certain who is speaking in

III:8:9-18. Lambert thinks the mother goddess is a leading candidate.

In line 15 the whole epic is perhaps called anniam zamara, "this song."60

Perhaps the song was recited in some way in Babylonian religious wor-

ship.61 Thus ends the last tablet.



12 GRACE JOURNAL

 

RELATION TO GILGAMESH XI

 

Still foremost in size and state of perservation among Akkadian

epic selections are the twelve tablets (containing over 3,000 lines) of the

Epic of Gilgamesh.62 The eleventh tablet here deals with the Flood.

 

Gilgamesh meets the figure who is synonymous with Atra-hasis of

the recent epic, Utnapishtim.63 The latter is called "the Faraway"64

or "the Distant"65 because he dwells removed from others, he is im-

mortal. Gilgamesh had thought in Utnapishtim he would find one prepared

for battle,66 but he lies indolent upon his back (line 6). Gilgamesh has

long sought immortality and he asks the serene Utnapishtim how he

attained the blessed state.

 

Utnapishtim will tell Gilgamesh a secret which begins in Shurup-

pak,67 the city where the gods lived. There the hearts of the gods led

them to produce the flood.68 The gods present are the same as those

in Atra-hasis, among whom are Anu, who is called abasunu, "their

father,"69 and Enlil, who is denominated maliksunu, "their-counselor."70

Ninigiku-Ea is present. This name is another appellative of

Enki the god of wisdom who dwells in the Apsu.71 As in Atra-hasis.

Enki/Ea speaks to the house of reeds, Utnapishtim's home:

 

Reed-hut, reed-hut! Wall, walll

Reed-hut, hearken! Wall, reflect!

Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-tutu,

Tear down (this) house, build a ship!72

 

Thus in both epics the command to build a boat in order to escape

the flood is similar. The seed of all living creatures is called to go up

into the ship. Dimensions are not given for the ship in Atra-hasis; how-

ever, Gilgamesh mentions that the ship should be accurately measured,73

and that the width and length of the boat are to be equal, or square.

Finally, the boat should be covered, ceiled over like the Apsu, i.e.,

impenetrable.

 

Like Atra-hasis, Utnapishtim pledges to carry out Enki's orders.

He must sever his tie with Enlil's terrestrial economy and go to his own

god, Enki.

 

There is a large break in the left margin of the tablet that extends

from about line 41 to the center at about 45, and then proceeds to the

center of 55 and angles back to reveal the first sign of 53.74 A lesser

break at the right side extends over lines 48-53.

 

Children brought pitch for Utnapishtim's boat. The "strong"75



ATRA-HASIS 13

 

or the "grown ones"76 brought all else needful. The floor space of the

boat is said to be about 3,600 square meters,77 or approximately an

acre. The walls were 120 cubits high, the decks were 120 cubits on a

side. The boat had six decks. Speiser conjectures that the ship took

seven days to build from his restoration of line 76.78

 

Utnapishtim's family, the beasts of the field, and all the crafts-

men were made to go on board the ship. This is a greater number than

Atra-hasis. The rain that is coming is called by Speiser "a rain of

blight." It was Enki's water-clock that was set for Atra-hasis. Here

it is Shamash,79 the sun god, who sets the time of the flood.

Adad's thunders signal the approaching deluge. Nergal, god of

the underworld,80 tears out the posts of the world dam, letting the waters

loose. There must be a connection between Atra-hasis 111:3:9-10 and

Gilgames XI:I07, where in both cases it is stated that the land was shat-

tered like a pot.81 This must have reference to a cataclysmic force,

something of diastrophism. Countless other examples could be given

of this kind of parallelism between the two epics. Cataclysmic language

is repeated in Speiser's rendition of line 109, "submerging the moun-

tains. "82

 

The gods cowered during the storm in typically mortal fashion.

Ishtar83 seems to take the role of the Mami/Belet-ili/Nintu birth-goddess

in Gilgamesh. It is she that laments the sad state of things and blames

herself.

 

On the seventh day the flood ceased. All of mankind had returned

to clay. The ship comes to rest on Mt. Nisir.84 Utnapishtim sends

forth first a dove, then a swallow and lastly a raven, which does not

return to the ship. Thereupon he lets out all his "passengers" to the

four winds,85 and offers a sacrifice. The gods, smelling the aroma

as in Atra-hasis, "crowded like flies about the sacrificer."86 Ishtar

and the jewels are brought into the context here too, with the idea that

the jewels are a memorial remembering the flood. Enlil is excluded

because he perpetrated the crime.

 

Utnapishtim is specifically called Atra-hasis, "the exceedingly

wise," in line 187. Enlil seems to abate some of his anger and by

11. 193-4, he pronounces a blessing upon the Babylonian Noah and his

wife:

 

"Hitherto Utnapishtim has been but a man;

But now Utnapishtim and his wife shall be like unto us

gods.87



14 GRACE JOURNAL

 

Thus the close similarities can be seen between Atra-hasis and

Gilgamesh XI. As has been said Atra-hasis is the older of the two, its

copy dating from the Old Babylonian with an archetype perhaps as early

as ca. 1800 B. C. Both compositions are part myth and part epic.

Both show the marks of wisdom literature in their themes of introspec-

tion. It must be remembered both heroes are "wise men." Simply

because it is longer and better preserved at key points of flood-story

interest, Gilgamesh remains the more detailed document on the flood.

 

RELATION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT

 

In Genesis 6:5-9; 19 the author of the Book of Genesis, Moses,

writes concerning God's judgment of the world by a flood. Immediately

one is struck by the solemnity of the story: hvhy xr;y.ava, "the

Lord/Jehovah saw" the wickedness of man. There is no pantheon of gods

conniving against one another. There is no "noise" prompting the de-

struction by the flood. The God of Heaven is hardly dismayed over all,

the noise men may make. The problem here in Genesis is not organ-

ization or the lack of it, the problem is that "every imagination of the

thoughts" of man "was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). Such a world

wide problem as moral corruption is so vastly more realistic than noise.

 

In 6:14 God tells Noah to build a hbATe, "an ark."88 The

ark will be of sturdier construction than mere reeds: it will be of

rp,go-xcefE, "gopher wood." The ark will be covered with rp,Ko,

"pitch."89 The dimensions of Noah's ark are superior as well. It is

not square but more boatshaped. All three accounts speak of the boat,

the pitch and the door. God promises deliverance to Noah in 6:17; Enki

indicates that Atra-hasis will "save life," if he escapes as planned.90

Only in the Biblical account is the number of animals to be brought

into the ark realistic. The tablet is marred in Atra-hasis 111:3:32 ff.,

but indiscriminate numbers of birds (?), cattle (?) and other wild crea-

tures (?), plus Atra-basis' family, go on board.91 The "clean beast"

of Genesis 7:2 may be reflected in the elluti of III:2:32.92

 

The duration of the actual rain is more realistic also. Forty

days and nights are cataclysmic duration on a world-wide scale. Six

or seven days is far less believable. The flood of Genesis lasted 371

days.93 With the words of Genesis 7:11, tnoy;f;ma-lKA Ufq;b;ni

UHTAp;ni Myimaw.Aha tBoruxEva hBAra MOhT; the action and extent

of the flood are clear. The niphal verbs here show that these natural



ATRA-HASIS 15

 

forces were acted upon by an outside Agent, God. One might assume

that Enki's Apsu erupted adding to the waters, but the only clear

statements have to do with Adad's roaring in the clouds, e. g., in

III:2:49, 53 of Atra-hasis.

 

The closing of the boat's door is treated variously. Genesis

7:16 states simply, OzfEBa hvhy rGos;y.iva. What obliging soul

brought the kupru ("pitch")for Atra-hasis to close his door?94 Then

that one was swept away in the flood?

 

Very little is said about the amount and the subsequent assuaging

of the waters. Even if this is the case, it is a little difficult to see

how one could say of Gilgamesh XI that it portrays a local flood, since

the mountains were submerged. That claim is better supported with

respect to Atra-hasis, but chiefly from silence, because the latter does

not give any real clue as to the extent of the flood.

 

The destruction of man and beast is deemed complete, however.

This would imply a universal catastrophe for both Atra-hasis and Gil-

gamesh. All flesh died; the waters had to seek out all, in effect. Gen-

esis 7:21-23 is most plain on this point.

 

Atra-hasis III:5:30 may have a reference to the sending of some

kind of bird to find dry land.95 Gilgamesh clearly indicates a dove,

swallow and raven, while Genesis employs a raven and a dove.

Atra-hasis does not give the place of the ark's landing. Mt.

Nisir should be identified with Pir Omar Gudrun in Kurdistan, accord-

ing to Speiser.96 Ararat (FrArAxE yrehA) has generally been thought to

coincide with the mountain of that name in what was ancient Urartu, the

region of Lake Van.97

 

The altar that Noah built is "paralleled" in the Babylonian epics,

as has been shown. The words HaHoyn.iha Hayre-tx, hvhy Hray.Ava

"and the Lord smelled the sweet savor" (Gen. 8:21), have their grossly

polytheistic analogy in both Atra-hasis and Gilgamesh. Leupold has said

that God "viewed the sentiments behind the sacrifice with satisfaction."98

 

If there is a blessing on Atra-hasis at the end of his epic, it is

missing. III:7 is about childbirth and seems as if it has no real con-

nection with the rest of the poem. Utnapishtim obtains immortality and

goes to live somewhere in the West. Noah receives a promise from

God that He will not judge the earth by water again. The Covenant is



16 GRACE JOURNAL

 

given to Noah; there is no Babylonian counterpart to the covenant.

 

CONCLUSION

 

After languishing in museum collections for nearly a century, the

Epic of Atra-hasis has at last been presented to the scholarly world in a

more readable form. The process is as yet incomplete. It is hoped

that more fragments may be added to the missing sections of Tablet III.

Such a discovery would enhance Flood studies even more. It must be

admitted at this point that Gilgamesh XI is still the chief extra-biblical

document on the Flood from the standpoint of completeness and parallels.

Gilgamesh is a dynamic composition; its story is quite captivating. All

of its twelve tablets constitute a marvel of ancient literature, surpassed

only by Scripture itself. Atra-hasis, on the other hand, is somewhat

colorless by comparison. Lambert has forewarned his readers on this

account: "a modern reader must not expect to find our translation im-

mediately appealing or fully intelligible."99 The greatest appeal in Atra-

basis must be, in the final analysis, for the philologist. The present

author has only given a taste of the rich mine of comparative linguis-

tical material in the epic. As to content, it may be reiterated with

previous generations of academicians, all accounts--Atra-hasis, Gil-

gamesh XI (including the Sumerian flood story of Ziusudra, purposely

not touched upon here) and the Genesis Flood--go back to an actual,

historical occurrence of a world-wide flood catastrophe. The inspira-

tion of the Holy Spirit has preserved the Biblical account without any

mythology, polytheism or low moral concepts, and its very text has

been supernatlurally preserved as well.

 

DOCUMENTATION

 

1. E. A. Speiser, trans., "Atrahasis" (in Ancient Near Eastern

Texts, James B. Pritchard, ed. 2nd edition. Princeton: Prince-

ton University Press, 1955), pp. 104-6.

2. W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atra-hasis: The Babylonian

Story of the Flood (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969, pp. 42- 105).

Recent periodical discussions by these co-authors include: Lam-

bert, "New Light on the Babylonian Flood," Journal of Semitic

Studies, 5/2:113-23, April, 1960; and Millard, "A New Babylonian

'Genesis' Story," Tyndale Bulletin, 18:3-18, 1967.

3. Lambert, Atra-hasis, pp. 134-7.

4. E. g., cf. Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians (Chicago: The

University of Chicago Press, 1967), pp. 3-32.

5. Work continues on the smaller mound until very recently, cf.

Geoffrey Turner, "Tell Nebi Yunus: The Ekal Masarti of Nine-

veh," Iraq, 32/1:68 (and especially pl. XV), Spring: 1970.



ATRA-HASIS 17

 

6. Layard's works are well known. Some of them include: Nine-

veh and its Remains (new edition; 2 vols. in 1. New York:

George P. Putnam, 1852); also A Popular Account of Discoveries

at Nineveh (abridged; New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers,

1852).

7. Layard's remarks on his second expedition are interesting, cf.

his Discoveries Among the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon (New

York: G. P. Putnam and Company, 1853), pp. 67ff.

8. Lambert, Atra-Hasis, p. 2

9. George Smith, Assyrian Discoveries (3rd edition. New York:

Scribner, Armstrong and Company, 1876), pp. 2-3.

10. Ibid., p. 4.

11. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 3.

12. Ibid.

13. "Dates are according to the "middle chronology" on Hammurapi,

as presented by J. A. Brinkman in A. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient;

Mesopotamia (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968),

pp. 335-52.

14. Theophilus G. Pinches, The Old Testament in the Light of the

Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia (London:

Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1902), p. 117. This

fragment is from Scheil and has come to be denominated "W" in

Lambert, cf. the latter's p. 129.

15. As early as 1902, i.e., at the time of Pinches' first edition of

his work quoted immediately above, Pinches is willing to say,

p. 117: "It is not improbable that the fragment published by the

Rev. V. Scheil O. P., belongs to this legend. . . ." Pinches

does not seem as convinced as Lambert implies he was.

16. Lambert, Atra-hasis, pp. 4-5.

17. Ibid., p. 5.

18. Ibid., pp. 32, 42.

19. Ibid., p. 31, n. 1; cf. also Rene Labat, Manuel d'Epigraphie

Akkadienne (quatrieme edition; Paris: Imprimerie Nationale,

1963), pp. 210-11.

20. The sign is * in Old Babylonian, and is found in phrases

such as ina kaspi (KU. BABBAR)-su, "in his silver," cf. E. Berg-

mann, Codex Hammurabi: Textus Primigenius (editio tertia;

Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1953), p. 8 (Law 35,

line 3, of the Code).

21. I.8' in the edict reads, in part, ku.babbaram, "and silver," F.

R. Kraus, Ein Edikt des Konigs Ammi-saduqa von Babylon,

Studia et Documenta ad iura Orientis Antiqui Pertinenta, Vol. V

(Leiden: E. J~i11~8), p. 18. Incidentally, Clay has an-

other version of the name of the scribe in the collophon: Azag-



18 GRACE JOURNAL

 

dAya, cf. Albert T. Clay, A Hebrew Deluge Story in Cuneiform

and Other Epic Fragments in the Pierpont Morgan Library.

Oriental Series, Researches, Vol. V-3. (New Haven: Yale Uni-

versity Press, 1922), p.61.

22. Cf. Brinkman in Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 337.

23. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 131.

24. Ibid., pp. 132-3.

25. The "etiological motif" was first popularized by Gunkel and is still

a topic of current discussion, cf. F. Golka, "Zur Erforschung der

Atiologien in Alten Testament," Vetus Testamentum, 20/1:90, Jan-

uary, 1970.

26. Giorgio Buccellati, "Religions of the Ancient Near East" (unpub-

lished lecture notes, University of California, Los Angeles, Cal-

ifornia), April 16, 1970.

27. Lambert, Atra-Hasis, pp. 42-3.

28. The word E. KUR may be subdivided: E is "temple" and KUR is

"mountain," in Sumerian/Akkadian. Thus the Ekur in Nippur was

the "mountain temple," Enlil's ziggurat; cf. Buccellati, "Religions."

April 28, 1970.

29. Nusku calls Enlil Beli, "my lord." This name has had a wide

distribution in Semitic languages and is seen in the West Semitic

lfaBA, "to marry, rule over;" lfaBa, "owner, lord," and the

many compound names using this epithet, Francis Brown, S. R.

Driver and C. A. Briggs, eds., A Hebrew and English Lexicon

of the Old Testament (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1962), pp.

127-8 (Hereafter BDB).

30. The word liqi is an imperative from lequ in 1:171.

31. The name indicates "Mistress/Lady of the gods." By 1 247 Ma-

mi has undergone what Moran terms "a change of status" to be-

"Mistress of all the gods," William L. Moran, "The

Creation of Man in Atra-hasis I 192-248," Bulletin of the Amer-

ican Schools of Oriental Research, 200:48-9, December 1970.

32. The term libima is from banu, final weak, analogous to the

Hebrew hnABA "to build."

33. Lullu is to be taken here as lullu-awilum, "mankind," Lambert,

Atra-hasis, pp. 175, 187. -

34. The usual word for "mother" in Babylonian is ummu, R. Borger,

Babylonische-assyrische Lesestucke (Roma: Pontificium Institu-

turn Biblicum, 1963), p. LXXXVI.

35. Nintu is but one of the many names of the mother-goddess.

The name means "queen who gives birth," according to Kra-

mer, Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary

Achievement in the Third Millennium B. C. (revised edition; New

York: Harper and Brothers, 1961), p. 41.



ATRA-HASIS 19

 

36. I:200, Lambert, Atra-hasis, pp. 56-7.

37. Ibid., p. 153, n. 223

38. The word for "spirit" is etemmu, "ghost," Ibid., p. 177. There

is, of course, no analogy to the Holy Spirit.

39. Simtu is a word normally translated "fate" or destiny," Oppen-

heim, Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 201. These renderings are mis-

leading, though, because the Akkadian word means much more

than the connotation in English. "Destinies" can be conceived

concretely, they can be written down, hence a "table of des-

tinies. " The power of the gods is not inherent in Babylonian

thought, but is in a god's power to hold onto the destinies, cf.

Buccellati, "Religions," April 21, 1970.

40. The text reads "600.600 mu.hi.a." Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 66.

"To acquire a god" was to experience unexpected good fortune.

Jacobsen says: "In Sumerian religion the power whose presence

was felt in such experiences was given form from the situation

and was envisaged as a benevolent father or mother figure con-

cerned with the individual in question and bent on furthering his,

fortunes,"Thorkild Jacobsen, "Formative Tendencies in Sumer--

ian Religion" (in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, G. Ernest

Wright, editor. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Com-

pany, Inc., 1961), p. 270.

42. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 71.

43. Like Baal in his actions, his name appears in many personal

names, e. g., dSamsi-dAddu, Samsi Adad, king of Assyria, cf.

Georges Dossin, Correspondance de Samsi-ddu. Archives

Royales de Mari, I (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1950), p. 34

(ARM 1:7:3).

44. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 10.

45. The frequent breaks in the text have caused Lambert to number

Tablet II differently.

46. The Babylonians believed everything floated (?) in a heavenly

ocean, Buccellati, "Religions," April 9, 1970.

47. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 11, cf. George Smith, The Chaldean

Account of Genesis (4th edition: London: Sampson Low, Marston

Searle, and Rivington. 1876).

48. For the relevant lines. cf. Gilgamesh XI:21-2 in E. A. Speiser.

trans. "The Epic of Gilgamesh" (in Ancient Near Eastern Texts.

James B. Pritchard. ed. 2nd edition, Princeton: Princeton Uni-

versity Press. 1955). p. 93.

49. Again, the words "build a boat." bini eleppa show that in "to

build" a boat and "to create" a man, banu/hnABA is used synon-

ymously. It is interesting to note that in Genesis 2:22. Nb,y.iva

from hnABA, is used in the creation of Eve.



20 GRACE JOURNAL

 

50. Actually dSamas, the sun god, is indicated.

51. Abubu is "flood" in Babylonian, from * 'bb, or ebebu, "to puri-

fy, clean," Borger, Lesestucke, p. LIII.

52. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 160.

53. Ibid., pp. 125, 167n.

54. Cf. Speiser, "The Myth of Zu" (in Ancient Near Eastern Texts,

James B. Pritchard, editor. 2nd edition. Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 1955), p. 111 ft.

55. Nintu has feverish lips, a disease, Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 161.

56. The word zubbu is "fly" in Atra-hasis. In the Ugaritic literature

il.dbb is used, where it probably means "Lord of the Fly," Cyrus

H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Roma: Pontificium Institutum

Biblicum, 1965), p. 388. The z-d is phonemically assured.

II Kings 1:3 and Matt. 12 :24 are-later instances of this pheno-

menon of the king of demons.

57. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 163.

58. Ibid., Gilgamesh XI:167-9 accuses Enlil alone.

59. Ibid., p. 164.

60. BDB, p. 274. Hebrew equivalents are: hrAm;zi and rymizA, "song,

melody."

61. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 165.

62. Cf. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, p. 255.

63. Cf. Speiser, "Gilgamesh," p. 88, n. 143, and also cf. Thorkild

Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List. Assyriological Studies, No.

11 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966), pp. 76-7, n. 34.

Ubar-Thtu the father (?) of Utnapishtim is recorded in the king

list, but Ziusudra, Utnapishtim's Sumerian name, is missing.

64. Speiser, "Gilgamesh," pp. 92ff.

65. Alexander Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Par-

allels (2nd edition; Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,

1967), p. 80.

66. Speiser, "Gilgamesh," p. 93.

67. Cf. Borger, Lesestucke, III, Tafel 60, line 11. It must be due

to scribal error that this reading is uruSu-ri -pak when it should

be uruSu-ru-pak.

68. Ibid., line 14: there is *** , a-bu-bi, "flood."

69. Ibid., II, 94.

70. Ibid, Mlk designates "king" in Hebrew, but the idea inherent is

"counse1or" in Akkadian. Certainly the two are closely aligned.

71. Henri Frankfort, et al., Before Philosophy (reprinted: Baltimore:

Penguin Books, 1968), p. 267.

72. Speiser, "Gilgamesh," p. 93.

73. Translation by Heidel, Gilgamesh, p. 81, 1. 29.

74. Borger, Lesestucke, III, Tafel 61.

75. Heidel, Gilgamesh, p. 82.

76. Speiser, "Gilgamesh," p. 93.



ATRA-HASIS 21

 

77. Heidel, Gilgamesh, p. 82

78. Speiser, "Gilgamesh." p. 94.

79. It is an easy matter to trace, Utu of the Sumerians through

Shamash of the Akkadians to wm,w,, the word for "sun" in the

Old Testament.

80. Speiser, "Gilgamesh," p. 94, n. 205.

81. cf. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 93

82. There is a broken sign ( * ). This could be restored to

*, KUR Sumerian; sadu, Akkadian, "mountain which is what

Speiser is supposing.

83. The Sumerian Inanna.

84. Vide infra.

85. Instead of anything analogous to tOHUr fBar;xa, "four winds,"

in Hebrew, the text here has the numerical ***

(4.IM. MES), 4 sari, "four winds, " Borger, Lesestucke, I, LXXXI;

II, 99; III, Tafel 65.

86. Speiser, "Gilgamesh," p. 95.

87. Heidel, Gilgamesh, p. 88.

88. John Skinner, A. Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis

(in The International Critical Commentary, S. R. Driver, et al.,

eds. 2nd edition. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1930), p. 160;

and G. J. Spurrell, Notes on the Text of the Book of Genesis

(2nd edition, revised; Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1896), p.

76, think that this is possibly an Egyptian loanword, perhaps

teb(t), "chest, sarcophagus." It is interesting that the Egyptian

word for "box" is written * . The first sign, *,

stands for a reed shelter in the field, the * is the sign

for water, and the last is a determinative for any kind of box

or coffin. The resultant word is hnd.

If, however, the word is * in Egyptian, as Ludwig Koehler

and Walter Baumgartner, eds., Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti

Libros (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1951), p. 1017, say, then Gardiner

lists in his grammar *, "floats," under *.

the first sign of which indicates "reed floats used in fishing and

hunting the hippopotamus," Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar

(3rd ed., revised; London: Oxford University Press, 1966),

p. 514, cf. also A. S. Yaduda, The Language of the Pentateuch

in its Relation to Egyptian (London: Oxford University Press,

1933), 1, 15*.

89. BDB, p. 498. The equivalent is given in Atra-hasis, III:1:33,

90. Lambert, Atra-hasis, pp. 88-9.



22 GRACE JOURNAL

 

91. Ibid., pp. 92-3.

92. Ibid., p. 178; the verb elelu, "be pure," has as its noun ellu,

"pure."

93. John C. Whitcomb, Jr., and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood

(Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company,

1962), p. 3.

94. Lambert, Atra-hasis, pp. 92-3. The words are [k]u-up-ru ba-

bi-il. The verb is from abalu, "to carry," The form babil does

not look passive, but it is well-attested that from Old Akkadian

on by-forms with an initial b are passive, Ignace J. Gelb, et al.,

The Assyrian Dictionary (Chicago: The Oriental Institute,1964),

vol. I, pt. I, pp. 10, 28-9. "Pitch was brought" is the correct

translation.

95. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 98; the words ana sari, "to the winds, "

are all that is left.

96. Speiser, "Gilgamesh," p. 94, n. 212.

97. Cf. the Assyrian Empire map in the unnumbered back pp. of

Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican

Books, 1966). The present writer has long wondered what con-

nection is possible between the biblical Mt. Ararat and the "city

state of Aratta, probably situated somewhere in the region of the

Caspian Sea, "Kramer, The Sumerians, p. 42. Urartu itself had

a long history and appears, e. g., in Sargon's eighth campaign

in the late eighth century, B. C., cf. Francois Thureau-Dangin,

Une Relation de la Huitieme Campagne de Sargon. Textes cune-

iformes, Musee du Louvre, III (Paris: Librairie Paul Geuth-

ner, 1912), 1. 61; p. 12, pl. III.

98. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book

House, 1950), I, 322. The Targum is careful to avoid such an-

thropomorphisms. Genesis 8:22 reads there: yAy; lyBeqav;

h.yneBAr;qA tya xvAfEraB;, "and the Lord received/accepted with

pleasure his sacrifice/gift," cf. Marcus Jastrow, comp., A Dic-

tionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and

the Midrashic Literature (New York: Pardes Publishing Company,

1950), II, 1309, 1486 and 1411, for the terms. lbaq; the

Pael here, is "he received"; xvAfEra is "pleasure," and NBAr;qA,

the term referred to in Mark 7: 11, "Corban" (A. S. V.).

99. Lambert, Atra-hasis, p. 6.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Grace Theological Seminary

200 Seminary Dr.

Winona Lake, IN 46590

www.grace.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu