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Babylonian Myth- The Old Babylonian Flood Myth-Atra-Hasis

Updated on December 30, 2012


It seems that the Babylonian dynasty followed that of the Sumerian Dynasty when a state was established in Southern Syria with Babylon as its capital city. The language was popular and well written and became the language of many tribes in the area. Scribes from Babylon were sent all over the known world to act as scribes to the King and Court. The empire acheived its greatest powers in the century before the coming of Christ when it was led by Nebuchadnezzar II.

The myth of the flood

If you have read the Sumerian myth of the creation of mankind then this myth carries on from then. The myth starts at the time when the minor Gods were working very hard, labouring manually for the benefit of the greater Gods, At this tie the God ea ( also known as Enki to the Sumerians) was asked by his mother to create man to do all the hard work for the Gods.

This myth differs from the Sumerian version in that one God is killed on Enki's orders and his flesh is mixed with the clay that is being used to mould the figures. The beings are created in seven couples, man and woman, and rules are laid down so that they can procreate and expand the human population for the Gods whilst ensuring a growing labour supply is available.

The tower of Babylon
The tower of Babylon | Source

The chattering classes

However the human beings are noisy and always chattering about nothing and disturbing heaven's peace and calm. With more and more human beings reproducing the noise is getting worse and is destroying the serenity of the Gods. The God Enlil decides that the number of Humans needs to be reduced and sends plague followed by famine to reduce the population. The God Enki hears of his plans and makes offerings of healing and graind to the Gods which stops them grumbling about the human beings. Enlil is very angry and wants to wipe out human kind forever and plans to devastate and kill human kind once and for all, by sending a massive flood to wipe them all out of heaven.

The flood

Enlil talks to all the Gods about his plan and gets them to agree to it. Enki hears of this plan and appears in a dream to Atra-hasis "the exceedingly wise" human being. Enki tells Atra-hasis to build a boat and load it with his family and animals. With echoes of the biblical story of Noah in the Ark, Atra-hasis and his family, living in the boat, are saved whilst all the other humans are drowned.

Even though the Gods knew this would happen, the Gods are deeply distressed at the loss of their human beings, especially the mother God who mourns the loss of her creation as a mother would a child. When the flood waters retreat Enlil realises that Atra-hasis is still alive and that his family will continue to populate the earth. Enili is furious. Enki seizes the day and tells Enlil he was wrong to try and wipe out mankind. He Argues that although mankind had its failings, the Gods relied on the human beings work and that wiping them all out would result in a return to lesser Gods toiling in the fields and streams.

A truce

the Gods agree a truce. Enlil agrees that he will control his temper and punish only those who deserve it. Enki agrees to take steps to limit the size of the human population. He decreed that some women should be barren, unable to bear children or be in jobs such as priestesses where they would not be able to give birth to children. also introduced by Enki was the idea of infant mortality which was personified by a demon who roamed about snatching children when their parents were not looking. Atra-hasis, the hero of the hour was given eternal life for saving human kind.

When I read stories such as this which mention common themes such as the Flood it strengthens my belief that this did indeed happen and that someone saved the human race from destruction


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