Genesis and Gilgamesh: Comparing and Contrasting
The story of Genesis and the epic Gilgamesh have many similarities and differences. The human-god interactions convey how the people at the time understood god(s) or an all-knowing all-powerful ruler of their world. The gods in the stories want the best for all of their creation, but when disobeyed, can be harsh. Both stories reveal that gods will not hesitate to implement strict punishments if they feel that their subjects are out of line.
There are numerous similarities between the two stories. One that I find interesting is that a serpent is the reason immortality is lost in both stories. In Gilgamesh when the serpent steals the plant that restores life, and in Genesis when the serpent temps Eve to eat the fruit. The god-human interaction mimics a parent-child dynamic. God knew what would happen if Adam and Eve eat from the tree, and specifically told them not to. God loved them, as they were made in his image, and wanted them to procreate and enjoy the beautiful, sinless world he had just created, full of light, plants, and animals (cite). Like a child after they have disobeyed their parents, Adam and Eve immediately feel shame and regret after eating from the tree. God punishes them, harshly, with Eve getting painful childbirth and submission to her husband, and a life of hard work for Adam. A lot of the old testament seems to focus the on good and evil in the world and how God responded to it. As Genesis continues we see mankind becoming more evil and God plans to destroy everything he created.
The decision to destroy mankind happens in both stories and is significant. God saw wickedness and evil in mankind and decided to destroy them. In Gilgamesh the gods saw the uproar of mankind and decided to exterminate them. In the end the God in Genesis and the gods in Gilgamesh both promise not to destroy humankind again. How I interpreted this is that the gods want the world to stay how they created and intended it and will exterminate humans if they threaten the earth they created.
A difference between the two stories is that in Genesis there is only one God, he created earth and is the most powerful. In mythology, like Gilgamesh, there are multiple gods and goddesses with varying powers. Another difference that I found compelling is that unlike God in Genesis who punishes Adam and Eve for disobeying him, the gods and goddesses in Gilgamesh act more human-like. For example, Ishtar seems to act totally out of selfishness when Gilgamesh rejects her. She sends a bull to kill him, and, when Enkidu kills the bull, she kills him. That was not meant to be a godly lesson; Ishtar retaliated out of pure emotion, which seems more humanly than godly. In both stories the gods are pleased by sacrifices and they reward good behavior and hard work, again, as a parent would. We see this when Noah gets dominion over the animals and told to populate the each, and in Gilgamesh through eternal life for Utnapishtim.
In conclusion, the gods act like parent figures who know what is best for their subjects. Humans respect their god(s), but sometimes disobey them. When that happens, the god inflict harsh punishments in order to keep the world as they intended it to be.
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