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Flood Legends

By Daniel Nuckols


t h e   n e a r   e a s t

The background of the Gilgamesh Epic

The Gilgamesh Epic probably more closely parallels the Biblical account than any other of the flood stories.  It is so close in fact, according to Alexander Heidel in his book, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels: these flood stories unquestionably have a "historical and genetic relationship."  The question that would naturally arise, "how does one ascertain which account influenced the other?"  This will be addressed in the later section in this paper, entitled, "A Common Original."

In all, twelve cuneiform tablets make up the Epic of Gilgamesh.  However, only tablet XI contains the flood account.

The Gilgamesh epic was recovered during archeological excavations at Nineveh during the mid - nineteenth century and was found in the libraries of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal (668 - 633 B.C.)    Of the twelve tablets, the eleventh is the most complete, and intact.

The epic is much older than the seventh century B.C.  The earliest version was probably written at the end of the third millennium to the start of the second millennium B.C.  The Biblical account of the flood was written by Moses probably in the fifteenth century B.C.

Gilgamesh, the hero of the epic, was a king of Uruk in the middle of the third millennium B.C.  The epic is about Gilgamesh's quest for eternal life, in which he seeks out Utnapishtim, who obtained eternal life from the gods, because he saved human and animal life during the deluge.  Utnapishtim relates this story to Gilgamesh...


The Gilgamesh Epic

The god, Enlil, was disturbed by all the clamor of the overcrowded world and told the council of the gods that it is "intolerable."  So the council decided to bring a deluge upon the earth.  The god Ea warned Utnapishtim in a dream to tear down his house and build a boat.  Then Ea gave instructions on how to build the boat, and told him to "take up into the boat the seed of all living creatures."  Utnapishtim and some other craftsmen then set to the task of building the boat, which was one hundred and twenty cubits square and had seven decks.  Utnapishtim's boat was then caulked with pitch, asphalt, and oil.  The boat building took seven days to complete.  Then Utnapishtim loaded the boat with his family, kin, the craftsmen who had helped build the boat, and the beast of the field, wild and tame.  Then the gods sent a flood upon the earth.  This fury frightened all the gods, and they wept when they saw the people of the earth drowning.  For six days and nights the flood overtook the earth, but on the seventh day the storm abated, and the flood was stilled.  Utnapishtim then looked out and saw the world silenced, and every person had turned to clay.  He opened a hatch and saw only water everywhere.  He finally saw Mt. Nisir in the distance, on which the boat landed securely.  After being grounded on the mountain for seven days he let loose a dove, but the dove returned, for she had found no resting place.  The same thing happened when Utnapishtim released a swallow.  Lastly, Utnapishtim let a raven go.  The raven flew around, ate, and did not come back.  After this they left the boat, and Utnapishtim made a sacrifice.  The gods smelled it and crowded around it like "flies," except Enlil, who got quite upset that the other gods spared some people from the flood.  But after Enlil got rebuked by Ea, Enlil blessed Utnapishtim and took his wife and himself to "live in the distance at the mouth of the rivers."  Then the gods gave Utnapishtim eternal life.


"A common original"

As mentioned above, the Biblical Flood and Epic's account of a deluge are most likely related.  What question needs to be asked, is to "what degree of relationship" these two accounts have; Did the Biblical account influence the writing of the Gilgamesh Epic?,  Did the Epic influence the Biblical account? or Did they both descend from a common origin?

The first option could be the explanation for the similarities between the two accounts.  Even though it has already been seen that the Epic was written several centuries earlier than the writing of Pentateuch, one cannot exclude the possibility that Moses had original documents written by Noah and other patriarchs of the pre-flood world.

The second option is widely accepted by many liberal scholars, who attempt to point out Babylonian influences in the Biblical account.  However in the article, Flood Stories - Can They Be Ignored?,  Ariel A, Roth says, "Such efforts are poor arguments, since similarities of terminology purporting relationship between the two are not unique."  He goes on to point out the uniqueness of the Biblical account, "The Bible gives the most detailed account available and is fiercely monotheistic, while the other accounts are strongly polytheistic."  Also, if the epic did influence the Biblical story, how does one explain away all the other stories around the world that are similar?  The Bible provides grounds for this.  (This will be discussed in the conclusion of this paper.)

The third is the most rationally and scripturally sound.  "how can one explain the worldwide dominance of stories of this kind of catastrophe, if they did not have a common basis?  A common origin lends to the Biblical model, according to which the flood story would be spread from Asia Minor by the few survivors of the flood as they repopulated the earth.  The Genesis account would be based on the event itself."


Other Near Eastern flood accounts

Other flood legends in the Near East come from the Sumerians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, Arabs, Persians, and Zoroastrians.


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Three core deluge accounts appear in Greek folklore each with its own Noahic figure: Ogyges, Deucalion, and Dardanus.  Sir James G. Frazer in the book, Folk-lore in the Old Testament, attributes some of these Greek deluge accounts to localized floods that happened by natural means.  This could be the case for some of these stories, but definitely not all five hundred stories around the globe can be attributed to this rationalization!  Of the three basic Greek legends, Deucalion's flood is by far more famous than the other two, and it parallels the Biblical account more closely.

Deucalion's flood

Apollodorus conveys the Greek legend of a flood this way:  Deucalion, who was king of Phthia, was warned by his father, Prometheus, of a flood that Zeus was going to send to destroy mankind.  Deucalion built an "ark" or a "chest," which he filled with provisions to sustain himself and his wife, Pyrra.  After Deucalion and Pyrra entered into the ark "Zeus poured a great rain from the sky upon the earth."   The rain flooded "the greater part of Greece" and broke the mountains of Thessaly, so that the "world beyond the Isthmus and Peloponnese was overwhelmed," so that everyone perished except those who sought refuge from the mountains.  Deucalion and Pyrra rode the flood for nine days and nine nights in the safe confines of the ark.  The "chest" then landed on Mt. Parnassus, and the rain ceased.  Then Deucalion and Pyrra sacrificed to Zeus after disembarking from the ark.

This story exceeds the time of Apollodorus, because the Greek historian, Hellianicas, tells this story only with a slight variation to the lore.  The legend is also told by the Greek poet, Pindar ( c.518 - c.438 B.C.), but his version parallels Apollodorus' description.  The Greeks believe that Deucalion's flood is much more ancient than the Greek scholars who tell of it, because in a Greek chronological table made in 265 B.C, the Chronicler dated Deucalion's flood in the year 1539 B.C.

Different variations occur in the Deucalion account and most alterations deal with the mountain on which Deucalion landed on.  Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.) argues that the flood was a localized event, due to the Achelous River changing its beds numerous times.  One variation is interesting to point out.  It comes from the famous Greek writer, Plutarch (c.46 - c.120 A.D.).  Plutarch tells of Deucalion letting a dove go from the ark to see if the storm had ended.  Because this appears late in the life of the legend, some scholars believe this element is derived from Hebrew or Babylonian stories. 

Of particular interest in connection to the Greek flood story are coins from the city, Apamea Cibotos (Cibotos means "ark" or "chest" in Greek) in Phrygia.  Phrygia is in modern day Turkey. These coins were minted during the reigns of Severus (r.222 - 238 B.C.?), Septimius Severus (r.192 - 211 A.D.), Macrinus (r.217 - 218 A.D.), and Philip the Elder (r.244 - 249 A.D.?).  On these coins there is a picture of a man and a woman in an ark that is floating on water.  There are also two birds that appear on the top of the ark: a raven and a dove with an olive branch.  In the picture of an ark on this coin, is inscribed the name "Noe" which is Greek for "Noah." Standing beside the ark are a man and a woman, presumably Noe and his wife.  Scholars have been divided as to whether these coins are based on ancient Greek deluge accounts or were influenced by Jewish people and the Biblical Noahic flood story.  One possibility for the apparent propinquity of these coins to the Biblical narrative is the fact that the ark landed on the mountains of Ararat. Phrygia is close to that locale, hence, explaining the strong parallel to the Biblical account.  Did the people of that region feel proud of a correlation in locale from where they came?


Other legends

 In contrast to the five hundred flood legends around the world, indubitably, Europe does not have the wealth of flood legends as some regions have.  Other flood legends that have been found in Europe include:  Roman, Scandinavian, Celtic, Welsh, Lithuanian, and Transylvanian Gypsy. 


a f r i c a


Although not many deluge accounts are found in the large continent of Africa,  one flood legend does stand out:  The Masai deluge account.  The reason that the Masai account stands out is because of the  close analogousness to the Noahic account.  Because of these similarities, some scholars attribute this legend to an outside influence, possibly Christian or Mohammedan.  This is possible, but not necessarily true.
The following is the basic deluge legend of the Masai tribe from East Africa that a German officer preserved in writing.

There once was a righteous man in God's sight who was named Tumbainot who had a wife named Naipande.  She bore to him three sons, Oshomo, Bartimaro, and Barmao.  He then married his brother's wife, when he died, and she bore him three more sons. There was a high population on the earth in those days, and the people were sinful and disobeyed God.  They had all refrained from murder, until one day a man named Nambija killed another man named Suage, "This was more than God could bear, and he resolved to destroy the whole race of mankind.  Only the pious Tumbainot found grace in the eyes of God, who commanded him to build an ark of wood, and to go into it with his two wives, his six sons and their wives, taking with him animals of every sort."  Tambainot also stored away a lot provisions.  Then God caused it to rain really hard, so a flood came and drowned all life, except for those who were on the ark.  Anxious to get off the ark due to low provisions, Tambainot released a dove to see what stage the flood was in.  The dove returned, and Tambainot knew the floodwaters were still at a high state.  After a few days Tambainot let a vulture loose to ascertain how the flood was doing.  After the flood went away and the ark landed in a prairie, Tambainot left the ark and saw four rainbows in the sky.  He believed that this was a sign that the wrath of God was over.


Other stories

Other Flood legends come from various tribes all over Africa...  Komililo, Nandi, Kawaya, Pygmy, Ababua, Kikuyu, Bakongo, Bachokwe, Basonge, Bena Lulua, Yoruba, Efik-Ibibio, Ekoi, and Madingo.  They also are found in the regions of, Cameroon, lower Congo, southwest Tanzania, and Egypt


f a r   e a s t

The background of the Gilgamesh Epic

Legends of a flood in China's texts are found as early as 1000 B.C., in the Book of Odes and in the Book of Documents.  The Book of Documents has some of the earliest writings of the Chinese, even older than bone oracle inscriptions of China.  This book contains a flood story that runs as follows:  "The flood waters were everywhere, destroying everything as they rose above the hills and swelled up to Heaven."

Nuwa and the flood

This story is found from the Huai-nan-tzu in the 2nd century B.C.  In comparison to other flood stories around the world, this legend does have all the obvious elements as the others do.  For this reason, similarities from the Biblical account, will be pointed out at the conclusion of the legend.  These parallels are taken from the book, God's Promise to the Chinese By Ethel R. Nelson.

"In very ancient times, the four pillars [at the compass points] were broken down, the nine provinces [of the habitable world] were split apart, Heaven did not wholly cover [earth] and Earth did not completely support [Heaven].  Fires flamed without being extinguished, waters inundated without being stopped, fierce beasts ate the people, and birds of prey seized the old and weak in their claws.  There upon Nuwa (Nu-kua) fused together stones of the five colors with which to patch together azure heaven, and cut off the feet of a turtle to re-set the four pillars."


Similarities to the Biblical deluge:

1. Similar phonetic sound to the Biblical Noah "Nu-wa, (Nu-kua)

2. "The four pillar [covenant] on the earth upholding heaven were broken down.   Genesis 6:11 'The earth was corrupt before God'"

3. "The whole habitable world was destroyed... by an unstoppable flood."  God  destroyed all life on the face of the earth.

4.  "The nine provinces [the whole land] were split apart [literally.]."  Genesis 8:2  'The fountains of the deep' rent upheaval in the earth .'"  Or maybe this part of  the legend refers to the days of Peleg when the earth was divided.

5.  "Nu-kua alone saved the world when he patched the heavens.  Genesis 6:8  'But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.'"

6.  "Nu-kua restored the pillars between heaven and earth.  Genesis 9:9  God said,  And as for Me, 'behold, I establish My covenant between Me and all your  seed...'"

7.  "Stones of Five Colors patched the azure heaven.  Genesis 9:13  'I set My  rainbow in the cloud, and it be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the  earth."


China's language

In recent times the communist system in China has tried to simplify the characters of their language.  If one goes back to the ancient traditional characters for the Chinese pictograph for "boat," one will find that it is made up of three radicals, "eight," "people," and "vessel." Is it just mere coincidence that the Chinese word for "boat" is based on "eight people in a vessel"  or does it have grounds in a story that many nations upon earth share, the story of eight people God saved in an ark?


Other Asiatic stories

Other stories from Asia come from: Siberia, Mongolia, India, Tibet, Burma, Bengal Thailand, Taiwan, Formosa, Malaysia and various other areas.   However, Japan contains no known flood stories.  


n o r t h   a m e r i c a

The Red Record

The Red Record or the "Wallam Olum"  is an account written by the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) Indians of their ancient history.  In 1820 this pictorial record was obtained by Dr. Ward in Indiana after helping a Lenni Lenape record keeper recover from an illness.  He then imparted these to his friend, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque.  Rafinesque also obtained the lyrics of this epic song that belonged to these wooden records, which he translated by 1833.

Besides a great creation account similar to that in Genesis, the Red Record also contains a flood story strikingly similar to the Noahic flood.  The Wallam Olum tells of a time when there was excessive violence.   The Mighty Serpent, described in the Wallam Olum, decided that men and living things should be destroyed.  This serpent brought a "snaking flood" that flooded, filled, smashed and drowned things.  But "Nenabush" the grandfather to humanity escaped on a turtle.  At the end of the record of the deluge account, it talks of the flood drying up.


Other flood stories

Other flood stories come from various tribes all over North America.  Here are a few of some of the most recognizable tribes: Nez Perce, Blackfoot, Chippewa, Cherokee, Mandan, Choctaw, Pawnee, Navajo, and Hopi.


s o u t h   a m e r i c a

The Incas

In the pictographic records of the Incans, who lived in Peru, is a legend that conveys a story of a great deluge, where everyone on earth perished by a flood that covered the highest mountains, and only a man and a woman escaped the flood in a box.

A Spanish historian, Herrera, said of these flood stories that the Incans possessed, "The ancient Indians reported, they had received it by tradition from their ancestors, that many years before the Incas, at a time when the country was very populous, there happened a great flood, the sea breaking out beyond its bounds, so that the land was covered with water and all the people perished."


Other legends

Many deluge legends in South America and around the world tell of the means of escape for the few people that survived the flood, by climbing a mountain.  It is possible that these traditions could have mixed up the means of escape (the ark) with the finality of reaching safety (Mt. Ararat).

A couple other South American legends that are interesting to point out, due to correlations between the Biblical account and the native deluge accounts.  One legend talks of one man, who solely survived the flood in a canoe.  He let a rat go to determine if the flood had abated.  Later that rat returned with a corn cob in its mouth.  (Like Noah and the birds he sent out to see if the flood waters receded.)  Another South American legend tells of giants on the earth before the flood.  ("The Nephilim were on the earth in those days.")


p a c i f i c   i s l a n d s


"The people had turned so evil, so Kane punished their sin with a flood.  Nu'u and his company were saved by entering into the Great-Canoe, a large canoe roofed over like a house, which had been given to them by Kane.  The canoe contained a number a things, and Nu'u ruled over the whole like a chief.  After the flood these people repopulated the islands.  The waters came up while a wicked brother-in-law of Nu'u was indulging himself in pleasure.  He ran to enter the ark, but his cries were unheard by those inside.  He prayed to the god, Lono, in the name of his sister but did not escape.  He became angry at the first pair of people who had brought this trouble by bringing this evil into the world, and he prayed to Lono that the earth be destroyed and that the first pair of people be brought back to life to witness the trouble they had caused."


Other tales

Other Pacific Islander deluge accounts come from various tribes in different regions: New Guinea, Palau Islands, Western Carolines, New Hebrides, Lifou, Fiji, Samoa, Nanumanga, Mangaia, Rakaanga, Raiatea, and Tahiti.


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An Aboriginal account

A western Australian Aboriginal tribe kept a story of a flood that they possessed before they came into any contact with missionaries.  This is expressed in the words from an old Wunambal tribal member, Mickie Bungunie, who said, "This is an old time story told by the earliest, profoundly knowledgeable elders."

"Ngadja, the Supreme Being, then instructed Gajara, saying, 'If you want to live, take your wife, your sons, and your sons' wives, and get a double raft.  Because of the Dumbi affair, I intend to drown every one.  I am about to send rain and a sea flood.'  'Put on the raft long-lasting foods that may be stored.'  he told him.'"  The legend then goes on to describe various Aboriginal foods and various Australian animals Gajara gathered and put on the raft.  "Gajara gathered his sons as the crew, and his own wife and his sons' wives together."  After this, Ngadja sent rain clouds, and every living thing in the earth perished, except for Gajara and those who were on the raft with him.  Gajara then sent a cuckoo and some birds from the raft.  The cuckoo did not return, because it had found some land.  After the flood subsided they killed the kangaroo that had been with them on the raft, and Gajara's wife put it in the earthen oven with the other food she was cooking.  The smoke rose to the sky, and Ngadja smelled it, and he was pleased.  Then Ngadja put a rainbow in the sky to hold back the rain.  "Our people [the Aborigines] understand the significance of it.  When we see the rainbow we say, 'there will not be any more abnormally heavy rain'"


Other deluge lore

Other flood legends come from all over the continent of Australia, including the country of New Zealand.


c o n c l u s i o n

The superiority of the Biblical account

Here are some reasons that give superiority of the Biblical flood in contrast to others:

1.  Internal support:  In addition to the flood, the Bible explains how it is possible for all peoples to possess a story of a great flood:  Babel.  After the flood God dispersed men all over the earth.  These men, all descendants of Noah would have remembered the story of the great flood and would have passed it on generation after generation, which of course, would have obviously become distorted through the centuries.  "From one man [Adam] He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth..."
The only totally true account is found in Genesis, because of the belief that the Bible is inerrant.  It is a matter of faith to accept this.

2. Detailed:  As already mentioned in an above section, the Biblical account is very detailed.  Most other deluge stories in the world contain only certain elements that the Biblical account has, plus, there are many variations to which elements each story possess and the quantity of the elements.  This points to a common origin, one containing all these elements, which is the Biblical account of the Noahic Flood.

It is ironic to think of, but if there had been no stories of a event, such as a great flood in people's legends, liberal scholars would have attacked the Bible's credibility at the point of Noah's flood.  However, we possess hundreds of these flood stories as evidences that speak to the actuality of the Biblical narrative.  People do not want to hear of God's righteous judgment on the earth, because they enjoy their sins.  That is the main reason they do not admit to the superiority of the Biblical account.

It was predicted:
"...you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following after their own evil desires.  They will say, "Where is this 'coming' He promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."  But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed."  2 Peter 3:3-6
(Emphasis added.)


b i b l i o g r a p h y


Barnes and Noble New American Encyclopedia.  (Grolier Inc., 1991)

Frazer, James George, Sir.  Folk-lore in the Old Testament  (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927.) Abridged edition

Gaster, Theodor H.  Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament.  (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1969.)

Heidel, Alexander.  The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels.  (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1949.)

Kluger, Rivkah S.  The Archetypal Significance of Gilgamesh: a Modern Ancient Hero  (Switzerland: Daimon Verlag, 1991)

McCutchen, David.  The Red Record, The Wallam Olum: The Oldest Native North American History.  (New York: Avery Publishing Group Inc., 1993.)

Morris, Henry.  The Genesis Record.  (Michigan: Baker Book House.  1976)

Nelson, Ethel R., Broadberry, Richard E. & Tong Chock, Ginger.  God's Promise to the Chinese.  (Dunlap: Read Books, 1997.)

Peterson, Dennis R.  Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation.  (Green Forest: Master Books. 2002)

Sanders, N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh.  (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1960.)


Magazine articles:

Conolly, Rebecca & Grigg, Russell.  "Flood!",  Creation Ex Nihilo  December 2000: p.26-30

Coates, Howard.  "Aboriginal Flood Legend",  Creation Ex Nihilo  October, 1981 p.9-12


Internet articles:

A Brief History of Roman Emperors, Rulers, and Their Families.  An Article found at the website: www.geocities/WallStreet/3953/emperors.html

Roth, Ariel A.  Flood Stories - Can They Be Ignored?  An article found at the website: www.grisda.org/origins/17051.html



All Scripture Taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION.  Copyright  1973, 1978, 1984, by International Bible Society.  Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.  All rights reserved.




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