The Flood Story:
Jewish, Mesopotamian, Indus, & Other Comparisons
The tale of a devastating flood appears among the legends of ancient peoples throughout the world. In some versions, the story of the flood serves to explain how the world came to be. In others, the flood is heaven’s punishment for evil deeds committed by humans.
Read the documents and answer the following questions
1. Based on source A, what promise does god make to mankind?
2. What are some of the differences among the gods in Source A, B and C?
3. What are some of the similarities among the flood stories in Sources A, B, and C?
4. In Source D, what is the dove brining to Noah and what might it represent?
Document A: The Torah
Only one man, Noah, found favor in the Hebrew God Yahweh’s eyes….
And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them… Make yourself an ark of cypress wood… And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind onto the ark… they shall be male and female…
The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights… At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark… and … sent out the dove… and the dove came back … and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth…
The God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark… Bring out with you every living thing that is with you… I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Document B: The Epic of Gilgamesh
In this Mesopotamian legend, Utnapishtim, like Noah, escapes a worldwide flood by building an ark. Ea, the god of wisdom, warns Utnapishtim of the coming catastrophe in a dream.
“O man of Shurrupak, son of Ubara-Tutu; tear down your house and build a boat, abandon possessions and look for life…
I loaded into (the boat) all that I had of gold and of living things, my family, my kin, and the beast of the field both wild and tame…
For six days and six nights the winds blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed the world… When the seventh day dawned the storm from the south subsided, the sea grew calm, the flood was stilled; I looked at the face of the world and there was silence, all mankind was turned to clay… I opened a hatch and the light fell on my face. Then I bowed low, I sat down and I wept, the tears streamed down my face, for on every side was the waste of water.
Document C: The Fish Incarnation of Vishnu
The Hindu god Vishnu, in his first earthly incarnation, took the form of Matsya, the fish, and saved humankind.
One day, as the sage Manu was praying at the river Ganges, a small fish asked for his protection. Manu put the fish in an earthen jar, but soon the fish was too big for the jar. So many put it into the river, but soon it outgrew the river. So Manu put the fish in the ocean…
The fish told Manu there would be a great deluge (flood). He advised Manu to build a large boat and take… the seeds of various kinds of plants, and one of each type of animal. When the deluge came, the fish said, he would take the ark… to safety.
Sure enough, when the deluge occurred, the fish was there. Manu tied the boat to the horns of the fish… The fish then pulled the boat through the waters unit it reached a mountain peak.
Document D: Anonymous
This art dates back from the fifth century AD. It shows Noah and his ark in the Hebrew flood story. In this picture, Noah is welcoming back the dove he had sent out from the ark at the end of 40 days. The dove is carrying in its beak an olive leaf.