The Story of Noah's Ark


In Judeo-Christian mythology, one of the best recognized stories from the Old Testament is the story of Noah and the Ark, and how they survived God's great flood. This story is a common one throughout many mid-east cultures, both past and present. The most notable of these is in the ancient Mesopotamian mythology, with the story of Utnapishtim and his story of survival of the gods wrath. Though both are telling what is assumed to be a tale of the same event, there are many similarities as well as differences in certain details of the story. Although some of these differing aspects are for the most part, fairly trivial, some of them are quite drastic from one version to the other.

The source of the myth in the two cultures is quite different, as well as the way the story narrated. In the case of the ancient Mesopotamian version of the myth, it is found in The Epic of Gilgamesh. It is told to Gilgamesh by Utnapishtim when Gilgamesh encounters him while on his quest for the plant of everlasting life. Here we have a first hand account of the flood, by one of the sole survivors of the flood, the tale itself is found in an epic of a great king, which wasn't exactly revered as a sacred book in the Mesopotamian culture, but was still treated with a great deal of respect.

This is quite from the ancient Hebrew account of the flood. In the Old Testament, it is presumably Moses who is telling the story of Noah in the book of Genesis. In this case, we have a second hand account of the story, found in what is considered to be a sacred piece of scripture, as written by one of the most important figures of the religion. The reason that man was to be exterminated from the face of the earth is also different in both myths. In the Mesopotamian version of the story, man was becoming an inconvenience for the gods he was so loud due to his numbers that he was keeping the gods up at night. Because man was causing this disruption, Enlil approaches the other gods and they agree to get rid of man by way of a great flood, so that they may sleep at night once again. Utnapishtim is warned by Ea through a dream, and is instructed with a rough guide to the dimensions, to build a great barque for himself and his family, animals, craftsmen, and all of Utnapishtim's belongings.

This is an extreme contrast to what is found in the Hebrew version. In that account, man was becoming too evil for God to bear, and so it was decided by God that due to his wickedness, he should be wiped off the earth. In this case, man was not an inconvenience, he was just not in favour with God. Noah was the only one out of all of man who was still in God's favour. So God came to Noah and told him to also build a barque, also with the exact dimensions given, and instructed Noah to bring on board his family, their families, and two, a male and female, of all the animals of the world.

However, there is no mention of this news of a flood coming to Noah in a dream, nor of him being permitted to bring with him any other humans besides his immediate family, and their wives. Also, the amount of detail regarding the dimensions of the barque is quite different. In the Biblical story, the dimensions are very explicit, with length, width, and height given. However, in the Mesopotamian story, the dimensions are not as precise, giving only a rough guide as to what the boat should look like.

The final warning before the flood is different in each version also. In the Hebrew account of the flood, once Noah has completed the construction of the Ark, God tells him to go out and collect a male and it's mate from every type of animal and bird, and that in seven days, he shall bring forth the floodwaters and destroy man. In the Mesopotamian version of this aspect, there is not as much of an advanced warning given. Shamash comes to Utnapishtim and says that when the Rider of the Storm arrives that evening, to enter the barque