Hello and welcome to the conclusion of the Akkadian epic of Atrahasis. In the first two posts we examined the first and second tablets that detail the creation of humankind and the gods attempt to control the population by torturing mankind with disease, starvation, and thirst. In this post we will look at the conclusion of these three tablets with the story of the flood. Unlike the first two stories, the third story is missing portions due to erosion of the clay tablets the story was recorded on. We begin the story after 36 missing lines of tablet.
The story of the flood begins with an angry Enlil ranting that his will and the will of the Annuna (the collective of higher gods) has been defied by the Igigi (lesser gods) and Enki. Within the missing lines of the text, it could be extrapolated that mankind was allowed some type of respite from the relentless oppression of the gods and allowed to flourish as long as Enki was able to keep them in check and “hold the balance” of mankind.
In his anger, Enlil tells Enki, that he helped create mankind and now he must destroy it. As Enki is the god of water, Enlil commands him to destroy his creation using his own power by creating a flood to destroy humanity. Enlil begins to insist that Enki take an oath to the gods that he will do follow through with this. In response Enki says,
‘Why should you make me swear an oath?
Why should I use my power against my people?
The flood that you mention to mt.~
What is it? I don’t even know!
Could I give birth to a flood?
That is Enlil’ s kind of work!
After a gap of 10 lines in the story we see Atrahasis for the first time in this tablet. Enki has allowed him to witness this scene through a dream and Atrahasis awakens to question Enki with the meaning of the dream in which he has just witnessed. Enki begins to instruct Atrahasis to dismantle his home and build a boat. After several lines of instruction on boat building and animal gathering, Atrahasis gathers the elders of his area and tells them that his god (Enki) has fallen out of favor with their god (Enlil) and he is not welcome there and must go to the Apsu (primordial waters) to be with his god.
10 lines of the tablet are missing.
This is followed by the elders and craftsman showing up to help Atrahasis complete the boat and fill it with animals. After the boat is completed, Atrahasis invites everyone to a celebratory feast and the storm begins. Adad (the weather god) begins the rain and Anzu tore at the sky. The sky blackened until no sun could shine through as the land flooded.
The gods, in realizing what they have done begin to suffer. They grow parched and famished and begin to weep for the death of humanity. The next several lines of the story are lamentation of the gods of allowing Enlil to give the order to for the flood and how they will regret it for all eternity.
58 lines of the story are missing.
The story picks back up after an offering has been placed. The starving gods gather together at the offering to partake and begin to bicker amongst each other regarding the death of all life from the flood. Then Enlil spots the boat and erupts in a fury.
The warrior Enlil spotted the boat
And was furious with the Igigi.
‘We, the great Anunna, all of us,
Agreed together on an oath!
No form of life should have escaped!
How did any man survive the catastrophe?’
Anu speaks up to say ‘who else would do this but Enki?’ to which Enki responds:
‘I did it, in defiance of you!
I made sure life was preserved ‘
The epic then concludes with what seems to be an acceptance among the gods that man will exist and the gods continue to set forth rules they establish to control the population of mankind. These exact measures are unknown due to missing script in the tablets.
The story of the flood, while familiar, has some undeniably important changes. This flood story is among the oldest in record. It can be suggested that other versions of this myth that come from the same general region will be branches of this version of the story.
The stage is set with angry Enlil ordering Enki to destroy life on Earth and Enki is resistant. He has done so much to protect the lives that he helped to create. The other gods in this story do nothing to stop Enlil from destroying not only humans but animals as well. Enki then exposes this plot to destroy man and beast to Atrahasis. Enki gives specific instructions to Atrahasis to build a boat. Notice that I did not say, “build an ark” as that is a Judeo-Christian concept and not the way in which boats were constructed during this period in history along the Euphrates and Tigris River’s. For more information regarding the specifics on this mythology and the art of ancient boat building I have posted both a video and book by the epic rockstar, and god among men, Irving Finkel of the British Museum.
More important that the flood or ancient boat building techniques is a theme in which is used over and over throughout religion. As this story and culture predates many other ancient cultures and gods, it is by construct one of the first times which the son of the father god becomes the savior of humankind.
In the story of Atrahasis we see Enki help craft and create humans. He then protects them by repeatedly defying the will of Enlil to end the suffering he has ordered the gods to inflict upon the people and the land. Enki’s final act of defiance occurs when he saves both human’s and animals alike when he instructs Atrahasis to build a boat to survive the coming flood. Enki is the hero of the story. The son of the father god Anu has become the savior of mankind.
As the story of Atrahasis was recorded around the 17th century BCE it is believed that the story is much older and was passed down through oral tradition. This tale is part of a foundational basis that comes from the ancient middle east. These are the stories that Christianity has altered and continued. They may have changed the details to fit the time and the narrative in which they project but it is important to remember that the Torah was written either during the end of or directly after the Babylonian captivity which saw the forced captivity of the Jewish people in Babylon. We will leave that story for another time…