Comparison/Contrast of gods in Gilgamesh and Genesis

By: Marjorie Montenegro

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Comparison/Contrast of gods in Gilgamesh and Genesis
The gods of the Sumerian culture liken to the gods of the Hebrew culture in many ways; however, the most notable see in our text are their methodology for creation of man, the practice of punishing man, and the lack of tolerance for the fall of man.  (It is also interesting to note as a sidebar that although the Gods should be aniconic, they are portrayed as anthrapanorpic such as when they are "walking through gardens" and "taking counsel.")  Through examining the actions of both the Sumerian and Hebrew gods in the texts of Gilgamesh and Genesis, we are beter able to see the parallels.
In Genesis 2 we are told of how God brought man to being, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."  Similarly, we are told in Gilgamesh of the creation of Enkidu, "So the goddess conceived an image in her mind, and it was of the stuff of Anu of the firmament.  She dipped her hands in water and pinched off clay, she let it fall in the wilderness, and noble Enkidu was created."  Here we are shown the creation of man from earth, a practice shared by both.
The discipline of man by gods are a common theme of both the Sumerian and Hebrew culture.  In Genesis 3, when Eve and Adam ate of the trees of knowledge, God was quick to punish both as shown in the text below:
Unto the woman he said, I will multiply thy sorrow and they conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.  And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten fo the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt though eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee . . . till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Additionally, in Gilgamesh, Part 3, Enkidu awakens having been sent a vision that the gods had passed judgment upon him.  Here, he describes to gilgamesh what is to happen:
O my brother, such a dream I had last night.  Anu, Enlil, Ea and heavenly Shamash took counsel together, and Anu said to Enlil, 'Because they have killed the Bull of Heaven, and because they had killed Humbaba who guarded the Cedar Mountain one of the two must die.'
This, however, is not the only example of discipline doled out by the gods.  There is the strinkingly similar story of the Great Flood in both Genesis 6-9 and the book of Gilgamesh, which not only shows the disciplining, but the lack of tolerance for the fall of man.  In Genesis "God saw that the wickedness of man was great" and the Lord said "I will destroy man whom I created from the face of the earth."  But one man, Noah, had gained favor in the eyes of God and was spared by being instructed, "Make thee an ark of gopher wood  . . . and of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark."  Meanwhile, back in Shurrupak the gods held counsel and decided "The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babel."  Howver, Utnapishtim had gained favor in the eyes of one of the gods and was spared by being instructed, "Tear down your house, I say, and build a boat . .  .then take up into the boat the seed of all living creatures."  After many days and nights of rain the storm abated.  When the time had come to leave the vessels both Noah and Utnapishtim let loose two birds, one who returned and the other, having found a place to rest, never returned.  Stark similarities such as these are found in only the brief context of one ancient story and one part of the Kings James Version of the Bible.
Over the course of 2,000 years people and events have surely changed, however, for all of these changes the stories and beliefs of people, whether Sumarian or Hebrew, somehow stayed the same.  Why the similarities?  That is a question that merits more than a paper to answer; however, certainly similarities exist.  From the disciplining of Adam and Eve in Hebrew and Enkidu in Gilgamesh to the flood that swept from the land all of the offending people of the time, these are the stories that converge to give us lessons and examples, fears and awe.  The writing of these wondrous happenings have molded, and continue to mold, the audience for which they are intended.  The hand of God upon our shoulders has remained the same hand for thousands of years, merely wearing a different glove made in a different land.

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