Archaeology Culture History Religion

The Story Of The Ark Before Noah, From Sumer To Babylonia To Israel

The Judeo-Christian myth of a small group of select men and women surviving a primordial deluge to repopulate the world has very long roots in the ancient religions of Mesopotamia. The original prototype probably derives from the traditions of the peoples of Sumer, a riverine region in what is now southern Iraq, one of the cradles of human civilisation. In fragmentary tales dating from the 17th century BCE we are told that Ziusudra, the lord of Shuruppak, a fertile Sumerian city-state effected by a catastrophic outbreak of fire and then flood before its abandonment around 2000 BCE, was informed by the sympathetic deity Enki of a plan by the other gods to cleanse the world with destructive rains. Forewarned of this event he rode out the storms and torrents in a large boat for seven days, sacrificing an ox and a sheep to celebrate his eventual survival. From this early Sumerian legend eventually came the well-known Old Testament story of Noah and one of the founding beliefs of the three modern “desert religions”: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Below is a 2014 lecture by Professor Irving Finkel, the Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script at the British Museum. In it he examines how the Sumerian myth passed through Babylonian hands on its way into the traditions of the prehistoric Jewish peoples.

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