A Flood Story Older Than Noah

A recently deciphered Mesopotamian tablet offers yet another alternative telling of the flood story – and at 3,750 years, it predates the Genesis version we know so well. Mark Esposito is enthused:

The find is important because it points up the similarities in the ways ancient cultures viewed the world and coped with its unpredictable circumstances. Seeing themselves as pawns before angry gods and survivors of catastrophes beyond their control empowered these civilizations and brought disparate tribes together. Indeed, some scholars have opined that a function of ancient religion was to galvanize groups of humans with a common ancestry and belief system regardless of the effects of geography or political culture. The flood story seems have served that function many times over as it spread throughout the Fertile Crescent into Egypt and North Africa and beyond. You can read about flood stories around the world here. There are hundreds.

British Museum curator Irving Finkel, author of the forthcoming The Ark Before Noahexplains what makes this new story unlike the others:

When the gods decided to wipe out mankind with a flood, the god Enki, who had a sense of humor, leaked the news to a man called Atra-hasis, the ‘Babylonian Noah,’ who was to build the Ark. Atra-hasis’s Ark, however, was round. To my knowledge, no one has ever thought of that possibility. The new tablet also describes the materials and the measurements to build it: quantities of palm-fiber rope, wooden ribs and bathfuls of hot bitumen to waterproof the finished vessel. The result was a traditional coracle, but the largest the world had ever dreamed of, with an area of 3,600 square meters (equivalent to two-thirds the area of a football pitch), and six-meter high walls. The amount of rope prescribed, stretched out in a line, would reach from London to Edinburgh!

To anyone who has the typical image learnt from children’s toys and book illustrations in mind, a round Ark is bizarre at first, but, on reflection, the idea makes sense. A waterproofed coracle would never sink,and being round isn’t a problem – it never had to go anywhere: all it had to do was float and keep the contents safe: a cosmic lifeboat. Palm-and-pitch coracles had been seen on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers since time immemorial: they were still a common sight on Iraq’s great waterways in the 1950s.