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A previous question asks about the comparative timescale of the flood story that appears in the Book of Genesis and the one that appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh. An interesting apparent difference is that Noah was told to save himself by the same God who sent the flood, while Utnapishtim was told by Enki (Ea) who was only one of many gods.

In the Biblical flood, God wishes to destroy both humanity and the earth, because of the corruption and violence that had engulfed both due to the evil of humans (Genesis 6:9). Was there a similar motivation for the Mesopotamian flood myth? Did the gods (presumably plural) wish to destroy both humanity and the earth, or only the former, and was it because of the evil of people? Did they all sanction Utnapishtim's survival as a "good man", or was he more of a "rebel" against the will of the gods?

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In the "standard version" of the Babylonian epic (see the translation by Andrew George, Penguin, 1999), it is not very clear. After the gods discover that Uta-napishti has survived the flood, Ea upbraids Enlil for sending the flood without first talking to the other gods (emphasis mine):

Instead of your causing the Deluge,
a lion could have risen, and diminished the people!
Instead of your causing the Deluge,
a wolf could have risen, and diminished the people!

Instead of your causing the Deluge,
a famine could have happened, and slaughtered the land!
Instead of your causing the Deluge,
the Plague God could have risen, and slaughtered the land!

Apparently, Enlil send the flood to "diminish the people". But this raises another question: Why did Enlil want to "diminish" the people in the first place?

The standard version of the epic keeps silent on this matter, so we need to turn to another Babylonian story, namely the The Epic of Atraḥasis (sometimes spelled Atram-hasis). This story tells us that the gods created man in order to delegate the hard work to them: "Create a human being, that he bear the yoke".

Andrew George writes in the introduction to his Gilgamesh edition (page xliii - xliv):

But the human race had another defect: it bred with great ease and rapidly became too numerous. As the poem of Atram-hasis relates, three times, at intervals of 1,200 years, the god Enlil tired of the relentless hubbub of the new creation, which kept him awake in his chamber. Each time he resolved to reduce the human population, first by plague, then by drought and finally by famine. Each time he was successful at first, so that the number of man were considerably diminished.

In other words, the Deluge is Enlil's final solution to man's "relentless hubbub".

  • "The standard version of the epic keeps silent on this matter" - I was afraid of that. Thanks for finding some relevant info from another source! – Rand al'Thor Jan 19 at 19:27
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Here is another version of the answer above, also referring to "The Epic of Atraḥasis", in Gary Beckman's introduction to Stanley Lombardo's verse rendering of "Gilgamesh" (Hackett, 2019). In a section called "Gilgamesh and Noah," Beckman writes:

A major difference between the Biblical and Akkadian accounts is the role the Deluge plays within the respective national traditions. In the Hebrew Bible, as an incident within the development of their relationship to God as set forth in the Torah, men bring their destruction upon themselves as a result of their wicked behavior. While after the trial God promises not to repeat the eliminationist flooding, he insists that human nature remains essentially evil. In Mesopotamia by contrast – as as seen more clearly in the fuller account provided in “The Story of Atrahasis” – there is no question of human disobedience or perversity involved. Humans in their multitudes and noisy, frenetic activity had simply become a nuisance within the once-serene universe, leading the gods to seek to eliminate them. But following the example of the Mother Goddess, they almost immediately regret their decision:

Belet-ili cried out in her lovely voice,
Our Lady wailing like a woman in childbirth:
“The days of old have turned into clay 
Because I said bad things among the gods. 
How could I say bad things among the gods, 
Declare a war to destroy my people? 
I am the one who gave birth to these people, 
And now they fill the ocean like fish!” 
The Anunnaki wept along with her; 
Tears in their eyes, the gods were weeping; 
Their lips were dry and parched with fever.
                         (Tablet XI 109–19)

Indeed, it is their relief in learning of the survival of Utanapishtim, who immediately takes up his duties of caring for and feeding the gods, that leads them to bestow upon him and his spouse the eternal life that lies beyond the reach of all mortals.

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