That the Biblical deluge story is not original with the Hebrew redactors of the Bible has been known now for more than half a century--from the time of the discovery and decipherment of the eleventh tablet of the Semitic Babylonian "Epic of Gilgamesh." The Babylonian deluge myth itself, however, is of Sumerian origin. For in 1914 Arno Poebel published and carefully translated a fragment consisting of the lower third of a six-column Sumerian tablet in the Nippur collection of the University Museum, the larger part of whose contents is devoted to the deluge myth. 88 Unfortunately this fragment still remains unique and unduplicated; neither in Istanbul nor in Philadelphia have I succeeded in uncovering any material that might help to restore the broken part of its contents. v
The first part of the poem deals with the creation of man and animals and with the founding of the five antediluvian cities: Eridu, Badtibira, Larak, Sippar, and Shuruppak. For some reason--the passage involved is completely destroyed--the flood was decreed to wipe out man. But at least some of the gods seemed to regret this decision. It was probably the water-god Enki, however, who contrived to save mankind. He informed Ziusudra, the Sumerian counterpart of the Biblical Noah, a pious, god-fearing, and humble king, of the dreadful decision of the gods and advised him to save himself by building a very large boat. The long passage giving the details of the construction of the boat is destroyed; when our text begins again it is in the midst of describing the flood:
Again a long break follows; when our text becomes Intelligible once more, it is describing the immortalizing of Ziusudra:
In those days, Ziusudra, the king,
The preserver of the name of . . . and man,
In the mountain of crossing, the mountain of Dilmun, the place where the sun rises,
They (An and Enlil) caused to dwell.
The remainder of the poem is destroyed.
As yet we have but one tablet inscribed with the text of this poem; it is in the Nippur collection of the University Museum and has been copied and translated in part by
This figure gives the obverse and the reverse of the deluge tablet as published by Poebel in 1914. 88 The marked passage contains the lines describing the flood and reads as follows:
For the translation, see pages 97-98.
Click to enlarge
(For description, see opposite page.)
[paragraph continues] Edward Chiera some twenty years ago. 89 The action of the story takes place in the city of Ninab, "the city of cities, the land of princeship," a still unidentified locality in Mesopotamia. Its tutelary deity seems to have been Martu, a west-Semitic god adopted by the Sumerians into their pantheon. The relative time when the events took place is described in laconic, antithetical phrases at the beginning of the poem, phrases whose exact meaning is as yet obscure:
For some reason not altogether clear in the text, the god Martu decides to get married. He therefore goes to his mother and asks her to take him a wife:
The remainder of the speech is obscure; it ends with:
His mother advises him accordingly. A great feast is then prepared in Ninab, and to it comes Numushda, the tutelary deity of Kazallu, with his wife and daughter. During this feast Martu performs some heroic deed--the passage involved is partly broken and largely unintelligible--which brings joy to Numushda of Kazallu. As a reward the latter offers Martu silver and lapis lazuli. But Martu refuses; it is the hand of Numushda's daughter which he claims as his reward. Numushda gladly consents; so, too, does his daughter, although an effort is made by
one of her close relatives to disparage Martu in her eyes as a crude barbarian:
To this argument Numushda's daughter answers simply: "Martu I shall marry," and our poem ends.
This charming agricultural myth, 90 which I have entitled "Inanna Prefers the Farmer," is another example of the Cain-Abel motif. The characters of our poem are four in number: the seemingly ubiquitous Inanna; her brother, the sun-god Utu; the shepherd-god Dumuzi; the farmer-god Enkimdu. The plot is as follows. Inanna is about to choose a spouse. Her brother Utu urges her to marry the shepherd-god Dumuzi, but she prefers the farmer-god Enkimdu. Thereupon Dumuzi steps up and demands to know why she prefers the farmer; he, Dumuzi, the shepherd, has everything that the farmer has and more. Inanna does not answer, but Enkimdu, the farmer, who seems to be a peaceful, cautious type, tries to appease the belligerent Dumuzi. The latter refuses to be appeased, however, until the farmer promises to bring him all kinds of gifts and--here it must be stressed the meaning of the text is not quite certain--even Inanna herself.
The intelligible part of the poem begins with an address by the sun-god Utu to his sister Inanna:
But Inanna refuses:
A break of about twelve lines follows, in which Inanna continues to give the reasons for her preference. Then the shepherd-god Dumuzi steps up to Inanna, protesting her choice--a passage that is particularly remarkable for its intricately effective phrase-pattern:
Follow four lines whose meaning is not clear; then begins Enkimdu's effort at appeasement:
[paragraph continues] But the shepherd remains adamant:
[paragraph continues] Thereupon the farmer offers to bring him all kinds of gifts:
And so the poem ends, with the seeming victory of the shepherd-god Dumuzi over the farmer-god Enkimdu.