“Genesis” and “Exodus” tell cosmic stories, myths, if you will. However, they are also read as history by some. How can these two opposing viewpoints–myth and history–be reconciled? What similarities do you see in these two books of the Old Testament and The Epic of Gilgamesh? What are the differences?
The way I was raised was to take every word of the Bible as the literal truth, sent directly from God’s mouth to the writers’ hands without error. Since then, my views have changed 180 degrees. Now, I lump the stories of the Bible in with The Epic of Gilgamesh and the thousands of other myths from around the world. After all, even though three of the world’s major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) accept the Old Testament or Torah as truth, that still leaves out pretty much all of Asia and the Native Peoples of the Americas.
So, the question is, how do we reconcile the literalist viewpoint I was raised with and the opposite extreme of treating the Biblical books of “Genesis” and “Exodus” as complete myth? After rereading these books for the first time in years, I think I have an answer: like most myths, these ancient stories are based in at least some fact. Sure, the story of God creating the Earth in six days has been disproven by science and is obviously a myth. However, some things, like the extremely detailed lineages, such as “From Adam to Noah” in Genesis 5, are more likely to be based in fact. The ages of these men, most of whom are recorded as living nearly a thousand years, are a bit hard to believe; but still, the fact that such detail is given to recording each name has to account for something.
Another way to reconcile history and myth is to look for the root cause of the stories, as well as similar myths from other cultures. From what we know, people were telling people stories for thousands of years before they began to write them down. So, it is likely many of our ancient written accounts are likely based on much older traditions passed down orally. Which brings me to the big similarity of the Old Testament and The Epic of Gilgamesh: the Great Flood. The specific similarities of these two stories are hard to ignore, especially the detail of the arcs created by both Noah and Utnapishtim and the way they both tested for dry land by releasing doves. An important thing to note about both of these flood myths is they came from the same area. Sure, it is possible The Epic of Gilgamesh was told first and the tellers of Noah’s flood simply stole the story and repurposed it. However, it is also possible the story is actually half true: there was a “Great Flood”, it just was not worldwide, as these myths say. Instead, it was a localized flood. In fact, “in 1993, oceanographers Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman of Columbia University used sonar to survey the floor of the Black Sea—and found evidence supporting the story after all…. Ryan and Pitman argued that over 7,000 years ago, the Mediterranean began to rise…. The event caused the Mediterranean to spill into the Black Sea, triggering a catastrophic flood” (Montgomery).
Montgomery, David. “Biblical-Type Floods Are Real, and They’re Absolutely Enormous.”
Discover Magazine. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.