The Flood Tablet – Evidence for the myth of religion?

If you have ever been lucky enough to visit the British Museum, tucked away on the top floor behind a glass display sits The Flood Tablet. As a regular visitor, I often watch museum goers shuffle blindly past the hand sized stone. More than 5 minutes in the Mesopotamian section often induces in a cuneiform overload in my own mind, leading me to automatically reject anything carved in a language other than English and so, to me, The Flood Tablet is understandably neglected.

Discovered in the library of the Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal , The Epic of Gilgamesh caused a British Museum assistant to undress himself in astonishment upon its translation. Gilgamesh was the legendary King of Uruk, infamous for his desperate quest for immortality. The 11th Tablet is engraved with the story if Utnapashtim – a man warned by the Gods of a great flood. To protect himself, he built a boat to shelter his kith and kin, many animals and craftsmen. Mankind was destroyed but the crew survived. After the sixth day, Utnapashtim released a dove which returned to him, confirming that the world was still covered by sea. He later released a raven which disappeared, signalling the waters had begun to recede.

Copies of the tale have been discovered in Syria and the Levant. The significance of this tablet, which is effectively an Assyrian version of the Old Testament and the story of Noah, is a valuable tool in the understanding of Abrahamic religious history. Whether this is used as evidence for the truth in religion or evidence for its mythical basis, I encourage you to read the epic. If you are not enticed to read it for its theological significance, you may be by the philosophical journey taken by Uruk which provokes a revaluation of the value of life and for what we live.


Noora Ismail


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