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Gilgamesh vs. Genesis

By Gary F. Zeolla

The "Gilgamesh Epic" records a story of a world-wide flood and pre-dates Genesis. So some claim that this invalidates the Genesis record. But P.J. Wiseman presents an interesting theory in this regard in his book Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1985).

He believes that Moses did not WRITE Genesis but rather TRANSLATED it from ancient stone tablets written in Cuneiform script. The tablets each would have been originally written by eye-witnesses of the particular events, or those who received their information from eye-witnesses.

He breaks Genesis into parts according to the phrase "These are the generations" (KJV; "This is the history" - NKJV; "This the account" - NASB; NIV; Gen 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12,9; 36:1,9; 37:2).

He compares the use of this phrase and the structure of each section to the stone tablets written in cuneiform script. Many of these tablets have been discovered and they date to the third millenium BC.

Wiseman's theory is that Genesis is translated from individual tablets which would have contained the material before each occurrence of the above phrase. So the narratives of the creation of the universe (Gen 1) and of the Garden of Eden (Gen 2) would have been written on one tablet by Adam as these events were revealed to him by the only Eye-witness of the events, God Himself.

The narratives of the Fall and subsequent events would have been written on another tablet by Adam as an eye-witness of the events. Adam then passed each of these tablets on to his descendant Seth. Seth then recorded the events of Gen 5 and passed the tablets to his descendant Noah.

Noah then recorded the events of Gen 6-9 and passed the tablets to his descendant Shem, and so one until Joseph. Joseph then recorded the final chapters of Genesis and placed all of the tablets in the library of the pharaohs. Moses then, while in pharaoh’s court, would have had access to these tablets. He then translated them into his native Hebrew.

The above theory "fits" with various evidences in the Scriptures. For instance, it would explain such passages as Exod 6:3: "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD [YHWH], I was not known to them."

But the Tetragrammaton appears in Genesis, making for an apparent contradiction. However, this problem is easily explained if Moses translated, but did not write, Genesis. While translating, when Moses came across the name for God in the cuneiform tablets, he used the Name God revealed to him to translate it. So the Name YHWH was not known to Abraham and other Genesis figures.

Also, note that in the Bible Genesis is never said to be written by Moses, whereas the other four books of the Torah are. For instance, in Matt 18:4-5 Jesus refers to two quotes from Genesis. He introduces them with the general phrase, "Have you not read...." But in verse 8, when referring to a passage from Deuteronomy, Jesus specifically attributes the statement to Moses.

In addition, Wiseman's theory is consistent with the relationship of Gilgamesh and Genesis. There are some similarities between the two, yet many important differences.

More specifically, if Genesis was translated from stone tablets written by the main characters of the events, then these tablets would pre-date the writing of Gilgamesh. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh was based on oral transmission of the events.

So the record in Genesis would be the accurate record; whereas Gilgamesh would be a somewhat "twisted" record. Being based on oral traditions passed over centuries, the latter would be expected to keep some of the main points intact but alter many of the details.

Wiseman's theory also fits with the archeological evidence of the character of the ancient cuneiform, stone tablets as compared to the Genesis narratives. There are many similarities in the writing structure between them. He summarizes all of the evidences on pages 144-148 of his book.

He concludes by stating:
These twenty-four strands woven together make a cumulative muster of evidences, so exceptional both in character and importance, that they establish the antiquity of Genesis as a contemporary record of events upon a sure foundation. This foundation is the internal testimony of the book itself, supported by the external corroboration of archeology.

I don’t know if I agree with all of Wiseman’s ideas. But I do find them interesting. To anyone else who is interested, I would recommend his book It might still be available from the book clubs listed at Christian Books and Software.

Gilgamesh vs. Genesis. Copyright 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above message was posted on this Web site and in various Newsgroups in October 1997.

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