A Comparison Between the Archetypes in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Book of Genesis
Epic of Gilgamesh vs. The Hebrew Bible-Genesis
The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Genesis book of the Hebrew Bible share a certain number of archetypes. These archetypes are found in many of the myths in most of the religions that we hear about today. They have the same Noah-type archetype, a disastrous event that wiped out the earth. You’ll find all these stories in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, the Grecian myths. They are everywhere. This essay, however, is about comparing and contrasting the Epic of Gilgamesh and the first chapter of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible.
Take the flood, for example. In both tales, there is the archetype of a character who is favored by a god or gods and is warned about an event that is intended to wipe out humanity and give the earth a clean slate. In Gilgamesh, the character Utanapishtim is warned, on the sly, that Enlil is too annoyed by the noise of the humans he created and is planning to wipe them out. Utanapishtim builds a boat and takes his family onboard. Six days and six nights they’re on the boat then after that he sends out several birds to find dry land. Utanapishtim and his wife are made immortal later. In contrast, Noah is directly told by god to build a boat, so he could wipe out the Nephilium that had plagued the earth. He takes his immediate family and two of each animal on the boat. Forty days and forty nights later, he also sends out several birds, when finally one comes back with an olive branch in its mouth. When they get back on land, God promises that he will never again flood the earth with a rainbow symbolizing that promise. Noah isn’t immortal, but he lives to be about 1000 years old.
Looking at the immortality archetype, you might also notice similarities in which the immortality is lost. Gilgamesh is returning from Utanapishtim’s home and has stopped at a lake. While bathing, a snake comes and eats the immortality seaweed and Gilgamesh returns home empty-handed, but ready to start improving his city. With Adam and Eve, however, it’s different. They already had immortality and were all cheerful and didn’t care that they were naked or exposing themselves to anything and everything. But when the serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, she fell to temptation and enjoyed the apple. She enjoyed it so much that she offered it to Adam and he ate an apple. Then they realized that they were naked and exposing themselves. So they covered themselves with grass and leaves and other green things. And when God was like, “Where are you?” and Adam and Eve hid from him, knowing they would get into trouble for eating the forbidden fruit. Eventually they were found and punished. Eve had to go through the pain of childbirth and Adam had to go through working the cursed soil. The serpent didn’t get away unpunished though, he was cursed to crawl on it’s belly. Thus, both immortalities were taken away by a serpent, which is a representation of evil.
Now to look at the similarities between the city of Uruk and the Tower of Babel. Now, there is doubt in my mind that Uruk was built for the same reason as Babel, but there is no question that Uruk was a beautiful, mighty fortress. Back then, the bigger the walls, the more powerful you were. The tale says that “search out the foundation box of copper, release it’s lock of bronze”. Now, they weren’t as rare as they are now, but copper and bronze still weren’t cheap. The walls themselves weren’t made of either precious metal, but of “kiln-fired brick”. And if I’m correct, there were stone stairways and the upper wall “gleamed like copper”. It truly was a beautiful city. Now Babel was quite similar, although there aren’t many descriptions in the Hebrew Bible, I believe the general consensus was that it was made of a stone that looked like gold, perhaps fool’s gold. The text says it was built of stone and brick. It was to lead up to the heavens, with a ziggurat (a type of complex temple design) on top. God didn’t like that at all and smite them over all the earth. He changed them so they would all speak different languages. That’s why it’s called the tower of Babel,because when God had scattered them all over and changed their languages, they were babbling. Uruk was grand and beautiful and meant to be a fortress that proved the strength of Gilgamesh. Babel was meant to be the people’s way up to the heavens. Two beautiful cities for two different purposes.
The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Hebrew Bible have many similarities, but to be honest, they probably have just as many differences. Utanapishtim and Noah, the lost immortality, and the two brilliant cities are only some of those examples. I chose these topics for a few reasons : just about everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve and the story of Noah, and the Tower of Babel is an interesting concept to me. Connecting these few stories with subjects in Gilgamesh didn’t prove to be very difficult, because as I stated before, every culture has some sort of a great rebirth and immortality crisis. Every culture started from one object and this only shows how similar these objects truly are.
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