Sumerian & Babylonian Interpretations of Noah and the Ark

Throughout different cultures, there have been various interpretations of the biblical story pertaining to Noah and the Ark, which main theme centers on the flood myth. In this article, we will deal with the Sumerian and Babylonian concepts dealing with the flood myth.




It is stated in the 11th tablet of the Gilagamesh Babylonian epic that the Noah and the Ark story is connected to the flood tale within this record. As it goes, the Gods decided to do a bit of spring-cleaning on the earth, which was getting rather overpopulated. The God Ea decided to send a warning to an individual by the name of Utnapishtim, in the form of a dream. In response to this dream, Utnapishtim gathered a few helping hands to construct a large ark, which eventually consisted of seven decks. The ark is said to have measured an acre.


After the ark was built, Utnapishtim gathered up his family and those of the workers and together with a representation of every living creature.  In an effort to cleanse the land, the Gods created a storm that would go on for six days and six nights. The waters rose up and practically swallowed the earth. Across the globe, living things perished, causing the Gods to feel remorse. On the seventh day, they calmed the storm. As for the ark, it landed upon the top of Nisur, which was a mountain in the area. All of the land except for this mountain was covered by water. Utnapishtim released a dove into the sky, but it soon returned, finding nowhere to settle. Next, a swallow was let loose, but he too returned to the ark. They waited a little while and after another seven days had passed, a raven was let loose. This time, the bird did not return, so the people decided to venture out of the ark. Utnapishtim honored the Gods by making a sacrifice to them. As a reward, he and his wife were granted the gift of immortality and made a home at end of the earth.




Over the course of 3,600 years, the Gods were annoyed with the overpopulation of the earth and decided that something should be done. This occurred a total of three times, each with a different approach. First, the Gods delivered a plague unto the people, followed by famine. During this time, the God Enki told the humans that maybe they should try to bribe the God that was causing all of their misfortune. The third time, the Gods decided to rid the earth of humans by creating a flood that would cause massive destruction. Enki was against this and prompted Atrahasis to construct an ark so that a few humans would be able to withstand the flood.


Atrahasis did as he was told and by the time the ark was completed, his family, along with various cattle, birds and wild animals were the only living things on the boat. Looking down upon the destruction of life, the Gods wished for the destruction to end. They ceased the floodwaters. To deal with the problem of overpopulation across the earth, Enki developed stillbirths and women who could not conceive children upon mankind.