From the Wikipedia article about the Epic of Gilgamesh:

From the diverse sources found, two main versions of the epic have been partially reconstructed: the standard Akkadian version, or He who saw the deep, and the Old Babylonian version, or Surpassing all other kings. Five earlier Sumerian poems about Gilgamesh have been partially recovered, some with primitive versions of specific episodes in the Akkadian version, others with unrelated stories.

It seems that the standard Akkadian version was discovered all in one place, at the ancient Library of Ashurbanipal, and it was clear that all of these tablets were part of a single unified story. About the Old Babylonian version, by contrast, Wikipedia says:

This version of the epic, called in some fragments Surpassing all other kings, is composed of tablets and fragments from diverse origins and states of conservation. It remains incomplete in its majority, with several tablets missing and big lacunae in those found. They are named after their current location or the place where they were found.

... and then goes on to list various tablets found in ones and twos at diverse locations (the Pennsylvania tablet, the Nippur school tablet, the Tell Harmal tablets, the Ishchali tablet, the Sippar tablet, etc.), many of which roughly overlap with parts of the story told in the standard Akkadian version.

What is the evidence that all of these scattered tablets are parts of a unified whole? In other words, why do they talk about an "Old Babylonian version" rather than fragments of what might be various different versions in contrast with the single long Akkadian version?


There isn't any single Old Babylonian version. The same is true even of the different witnesses to the so-called standard version, but to a lesser extent, hence "standard" – the Old Babylonian versions being non-standard in that they differed from each other and from the later recensions more than did the later recensions from each other.

What unites them is that they have some things in common opposed to the late standard version, being from the same time period and sharing the same language. (I am not a Babylonian scholar, but I can give one example: The Old Babylonian texts spell Gilgamesh Gish, whereas the standard texts spell his name GISH-gim-mash.)

This article by A. R. George (pp. 12-15) compares a short parallel passage between four Babylonian versions (including the standard version). The two tablets share some of the same text, but in a different order. It's impossible to guess what other tablets might have had unless more ever become uncovered, but to put it as broadly as possible, we would probably find, as in this case, some parallels and some totally different texts.

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