The Book of Genesis vs. the Epic of Gilgamesh
Two Different Books with Similar Stories The Book of Genesis and The Epic of Gilgamesh have many clear similarities. One major, noticeable similarity is that in both stories, there are flood legends. There is the legend of Noah and the Ark in The Book of Genesis and the story of Utnapishtim in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
In both stories, a higher power wants to wipe out the human race and decides to save one person who is then assigned to build an ark to hold himself, his family, and one of each animal. There are also many specifics about this flood that the two stories have in common, not just the basis of the tale.
For example, both stories tell of a long storm. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, it says: “Six days and seven nights the wind and storm” (Gilg. Tabl. XI, 127). In The Book of Genesis, it says: “rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Gen. 7:12). In both cases, the story is specific about the number of days the storm lasted. Noah and Utnapishtim make sacrifices to their respective higher power– Noah to God and Utnapishtim to Enlil. In the story of Noah and the Ark, it says that he “”offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Gen. :20) which is a sacrifice to God. In the story of Utnapishtim, it says that he “offered a sacrifice” (Gilg. Tabl. XI, 155) by pouring a libation to Ea, which is a form of spiritual sacrifice. These stories do not exist for entertainment, they serve the purpose of teaching people lessons about humankind and God or the gods. These flood legends tell us about a couple of different religious beliefs of the ancient people, one being that people are instinctually bad. A higher power wanted to wipe out the human race in both legends because humans were doing wrong.
If humans were good by nature, the higher powers would not have wanted to destroy them all. The stories of these floods also show flaws in the high powers. Usually the gods or God are considered to be perfect, but in this story we see that the higher powers do indeed make mistakes. They made the mistake of creating an earth populated by flawed people. This is important because it shows that not even God or gods can achieve perfection, and humans certainly cannot. Even though this still makes the gods better than humans, no one is perfect.
These two stories are also very similar in their views of humans versus animals. In both stories, the higher power assigns a man to build this ark and lead a new world with his animals. This shows his authority over the animals. Since he and his family are intended to be the only humans after the flood kills everyone else, this makes the humans the leaders of the living beings. The stories send a clear message that humans are above animals and humans have power over all animals. This tells us that animals are not viewed as equals and certainly do not receive the same respect as humans in either culture.
This explains why people eat meat, have pets, farm, or anything else humans do to control animals and establish a higher power over them. Although there are very major similarities between The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis, there are also many differences. One of the main differences is the attitudes about sex. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh sleeps with all of the women in the town that he rules. Also, after a successful journey with Enkidu, they reward themselves by having sex with prostitutes. Prostitutes are also seen as mystical and powerful.
Even more different from the other story is that the gods in The Epic of Gilgamesh sleep with human beings. Sex is much more common and casual in this story. Also, because it is provided to the warriors as a reward for a successful journey, it makes sex almost a trophy. Overall, this tale makes sex out to be a spiritual, powerful, and pleasurable action. This is very different from The Book of Genesis. In The Book of Genesis, sex is not for pleasure. People are not supposed to have sex until marriage, and it is mainly for the purpose of procreation.
This is very different from The Epic of Gilgamesh in which Gilgamesh sleeps with many women while unwed. The difference in sexual attitudes in the stories exemplifies how sex is viewed differently in different cultures. Some may see it as a form of pleasure, while others view it as a means for creating children. Another minor difference between the stories is the idea of immortality. In both stories, all humans are born mortal. Although Gilgamesh is 1/3 god and 2/3 human, he is still mortal because he can be killed. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim is given immortality by the gods before flooding out the human race.
However, in The Book of Genesis, God does not give anyone the gift of immortality. This shows how the Christian culture believes that humans are far less powerful than God and they can never be anywhere near as strong and wise as Him. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, humans can be granted special powers by the gods, and Gilgamesh himself is part god. This puts far less emphasis on the division between humans and gods than The Book of Genesis. The obvious similarities between The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis tell us that the people of the world coming from different cultures still have many mutual beliefs.
The similarities in the stories also show how important these stories are to people, since the beliefs are so widespread that multiple different variations of the stories have been written. It is clear that the people of the ancient world believed that the world was created by a higher power in a number of days, that a higher power created the human race, humans are very flawed, and many other mutual beliefs that can be found in The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Book of Genesis.