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Akkadian Atrahasis and Sumerian Ziusudra Deluge Stories

Stephanie Dalley observed:

Atrahasis the wise man, who built an ark and save mankind from destruction, is a figure of immense prestige and antiquity to which various literary and really just traditions were attached... the story of the Flood was one of the most popular tales of ancient times, and is found in several ancient languages, reworked to suit different areas and cultures so that the different settings and details are found in each version...

According to one version of the Sumerian King list, in the years just before the Flood swept over the earth, Ubara-Tutu (who is named as the father of Atrahasis in Gilgamesh) was King of Shuruppak, modern Tell Fara in central southern Mesopotamia, where some of the earliest writings know in the whole world have been unearthed. According to a different version of the Sumerian king list, Atrahasis, called there by his Sumerian name Ziusudra, himself ruled the city Shuruppak, preceded by his father who was named like the city, Shuruppak and he was presumably regarded as the eponymous ancestor of the citizens there. A waste and composition known as the instructions of Shuruppak is now attested on clay tablets from the Early Dynastic period in their early third millennium BC, and contains sage advice given by Shuruppak to his son Ziusudra. Atrahasis was a notable figure at the dawn of history and literary tradition was attached to him at an extremely early period.

'Extra-wise' is the meaning of his name in Atrahasis, he is Ut-Napishtim and Uta-na'ishtim in Gilgamesh, a name which can mean 'He found life.' Sumerian Ziusudra is an approximate translation of Akkadian Ut-napishtim together with his epithet, in which the element sudra corresponds to Atrahasis' epithet ru_qu, 'the far distant.' The name used by Berossus for the survivor of the flood is Xisuthros, probably a phonetic rendering of Ziusudra. Prometheus, Deucalian's father, may possibly be an approximate Greek translation of Atrahasis, and it is possible that an abbreviation of (Uta)-na'ish(tim) was pronounced 'Noah' in Palestine from very early times... The names Odysseus and Outis may be based on a pronunciation of the logogram for Ut-napishtim, which is UD.ZI.
Dalley, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989, 1-2.

In UD.ZI we find additional corroboration of the meaning of the name He who found life, the meaning of the syllable ZI or ZA as life being established by Michael Ventris' work in deciphering Linear B and being traced back to the early forms of Sumerian. We find this same syllable ZI at the beginning of Ziusudra, also representing "life" in Dalley's rendering.

Nearly seventy years earlier, Clay offered the translation for the Sumerian Ziusudra (or Ziusuddu), renderiing its three elements as ZI "life," U^ "days" and SUDDU "to be distant" [or to prolong] (Clay, Albert T. A Hebrew Deluge Story in Cuneiform. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922, 12):

Zi-u-suddu...has been variously translated: "He who lengthened the days of life," "He who made life long of days," etc. Certainly this is not a personal name, which fact the Gilgamesh Story fully recognizes. (Clay 23).

Ut-napishtim was said in the account to be king of Shuruppak, one of the five antediluvian Sumerian cities. Many early Sumerian tablets have been found in its excavation. Six or seven years of famine before flood in the Atrahasis account

"The Sumerian story of the universal Flood is preserved in a fragmentary condition. More than two-thirds of it is missing, and because of breaks on the clay tablet which is the only available source, only five disconnected episodes survive. Although these are not sufficient to reconstruct the entire narrative, it resembles the longer version preserved in the Babylonian poems Atra-h_asi_s and the Epic of Gilgames^. It also bears a strong similarity to the biblical account." (212)

Flood Story in Gilgamesh Epic

"Utnapishtim tells him [Gilgamesh] the story of the flood, how he alone was warned by his lord Ea, built an ark and saved his family and pairs of all animals in it and eventually, after the flood, was granted eternal life by the gods as a reward for having saved human and animal life. It is a story of a unique event which will never recur. " (Jacobsen 206)

In progress. Rogers, Robert W. Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament. New York: Eaton & Mains, 1912. 80-

See also Roger 103 - "Another Recension of the Deluge Story"

The Eridu Genesis

The noise made by man in his teeming settlements began to vex Enlil sorely, and, driven beyond endurance, he persuaded the other gods to wipe out man in a great flood. Enki, thinking quickly, found a way to warn his favorite, one Ziusudra. He told him to build a boat in which to survive the flood with his family and representatives of the animals. Ziusudra wisely followed Enki's instructions and after the flood had abated Enki was able to persuade the other gods not only to spare Ziusudra but to give him eternal life as a reward for having saved all living things from destruction (Jacobsen, Treasures, 114).

Sumerian, Akkadian, or Amorite Account?

We must question the directionality of Dalley's statement that "Sumerian Ziusudra is an approximate translation of Akkadian Ut-napishtim together with his epithet." She notes that "A Sumerian story of Ziusudra and the flood, still largely incomplete, appears to be a relatively late composition based on the Akkadian version of the story" (Dalley 6).

Compare the Sumerian dieties named the Akkadian flood account (the sky-god An, the air-god Enlil, and Enki the god of wisdom, etc.) with the Semitic dieties Ishtar, Marduk, Erra, and others found in true Akkado-Babylonian myths such as Erra and Ishum (Dalley 285-315), or even the earlier Akkadianized names of the Sumerian dieties found in the Akkadian and Old Babylonian periods (i.e. Anum instead of An, etc.). The fact that the Akkadian flood story features the names of the Sumerian Gods instead of indigenous Semitic dieties would appear suggest that the Akkadian story was borrowed from Sumerian, rather than the other way around, even if the Sumerian version which has come into our hands may be a late copy. Yet Dalley makes no mention of this.

Antiquity of the Genesis Account

Dalley further wrote:

Berossus, writing from Babylonia for the Greeks in the third century BC, includes some details which are not known elsewhere except in the Priestly account in Genesis...Notable items are that the survivor of the Flood (Xisuthros [=Ziusudra], Noah) is the tenth antediluvian king in both Berossus and Genesis (Priestly source), that the month in which the Flood happened is named, and that the ten antediluvian kings whom Berossus cites ruled for 432,000 'years' (i.e. 86,400 x 5, five years being sixty months) and in Genesis (Priestly source) for 1,656 'years' (i.e. 86,400 weeks), so the two accounts may originally have shared a common chronological scheme (Dalley 6).

Yet far from "proving" that the Genesis story is a steal from late Babylonian sources, the correlation between Berossus' account and Genesis demonstrates precisely the opposite. Dalley herself acknowledges based on several data points that "Berossus' account of the Flood story must be derived from a Sumerian version of the story" (6) whereas the Hebrews had no contact with the Sumerians; the remarkable correspondence of key details between these accounts separately preserved for more than two millennia before the earliest extant manuscripts of Genesis and the life of Berossus corroborates the fact that the Genesis account is very ancient going back to a common source even older than the Sumerian and cannot be explained by contemporary sources available to Hebrew authors.

In his 1922 work A Hebrew Deluge Story in Cuneiform, Albert Clay presented evidence that the Akkadian account was derived from the Amorite of Hebrew flood story, and not the other way around. He observes:

There are other Amorite words in the late text which. are discussed in the foot notes of the transliteration and translation. The study of the late redaction also shows that it goes back to a Hebrew or Amorite original. In no other way can the Hebrew words found in its composition be explained. The legend had been Akkadianized before the early text was written, in 1966 B. C. In the long period which. preceded it had suffered many changes when redactors had made the original Amorite text conform to the dialect in current use in Babylonia; fortunately, as we have seen, all the words peculiar to the West had not been eliminated. We see how this process went on in the writing of personal names of those coming fresh from the West in the Uammurabi period;...Even the position of the verbs in the sentence had suffered changes; for while they are frequently found at the beginning, as in Hebrew, they are also found placed at the end, or indifferently in the sentence, as is the case in Akkadian" (Clay 22).

Clay goes on to cite many other evidences in his work which space does not allow to be fully analyzed here, but a complete copy can be found here. Of course there is an anachronism here: there was no Hebrew language in the 20th century BC, and so the Akkadian account could have been imported only from the Amorite and not Hebrew. Yet such evidence demonstrates that the Genesis account is not a late steal from Babylonian sources as many critics have claimed, but is a very ancient account that can be traced back to the origins of the deluge story, even if extant manuscripts of Genesis are only late copies.

Dating the Inscriptions

Dalley observed:

Clay tablets inscribed with the Old Babylonian version of the epic can be dated around 1700 BC. Each tablet is divided into eight columns, four on the obverse and four on the reverse. Some passages in the Late Assyrian versions, discovered in the palace library of the great King Assurbanipal, appear to follow the Old Babylonian version fairly closely, but with additions and considerable alteration and phrases and vocabulary, as far as can be ascertained from the small quantity of text that survives. (Dalley 3).

Flood Stories Around the World

Dalley summarizes several flood stories told by other classical writers and then states:

All these the stories may be explained as deriving from one Mesopotamian original, used in travelers' tales for over 2000 years, along the great caravan routes of western Asia: translated, embroidered, and adapted according to local tastes to give in. Of divergent versions, a few of which have come down to us. However, the possibility of several independent origins cannot be dismissed...[The flood story] may be a late comer into Greek mythology, Ford is not mentioned by Homer or Hesiod... where Flood stories are found in other parts of the world, missionaries and early Christian travelers may have disseminated them; there is no reason to suppose that they are indigenous." (Dalley 7-8).
Here Dalley abandons the careful reasoning and evidence-based conclusions of a scholar, instead arguing from ignorance and relying upon Darwin assumptions. She has previously acknowledged the belief of some scholars that the name of Latin Ulysses or Greek Odysseus, hero of the Odessey, may be derived from the the Mesopotamian flood hero's logogram UD.ZI. In Homer's Odessey we have a greatly embellished and crafted story of a man who survives upon the sea while all of his his companions perish. While these are not the compelling parallel of other flood legends, but certainly prominent motifs are present reminiscent of the Noah story, and it is an argument from ignorance to assume that the Greeks had no knowledge of a flood in the Bronze Age merely because it is not explicity mentioned in Homer's brief works.

Other question must be addressed if it is assumed that the flood story disseminated worldwide from late Mesopotamian versions - a claim already falsified by Dalley's provision of evidence that the Genesis account must date back to a pre-Sumerian source. Why out of the rich Mesopotamian mythology, the flood legend alone would be so attractive to other cultures as to be ubiquitous? The pervasiveness of this legend in more than 200 cultures worldwide, while little else of Mesopotamian relgion has survived, is not readily explained by trade routes alone. Nor for that matter can flood legends among various indigenous peoples of the Americas, attested as authentic and ancient by the sages of these people from the earliest times of contact with the Europeans, be explained away as disseminations of Christian missionaries. Here Dalley is speaking far beyond the limitations of her knowledge, as qualified independent scholars who specialized in Native American Studies have almost uniformly come to the conclusion that the flood legends of these native peoples are ancient and indigenous. There is no rational way in which these flood legends can be explained by slow diffusion from Mesopotamia alone. Only great mental gymnastics and arguments from ignorance can avoid the simplest and most consistent explanation: that the Genesis flood did occur, and that the descendents of the survivors retained in memory of it, which has been recorded and handed down until the latest days.

Regression Analysis of the Biblical Deluge and Cultural Flood Legends

When different data sets share varying degrees of commonality, a technique called regression analysis allows us to determine which account is most original or most correct with a high degree of confidence. A similar technique is used in linguistic paleontology to determine from daughter languages what was most likely the original word in the parent language of a language family which has been lost to us. Such methods add a degree of objectivity such that conclusions are grounded in evidence and reason rather than reflecting mere opinion or speculation.

We can apply this logic to the story of the great deluge. Not all cultural legends of a great deluge should be taken at equal weight. Illiterate culture, are more likely to introduce distortions and to lose original elements. Accounts from cultures with a long history of literacy, like China, India, and Babylon, are more likely to retain original elements and should be given more weight. As we would expect, the accounts of illiterate cultures have less in common with other flood legends, and with the scriptural account, than accounts from more literate cultures, although the detail contained even in accounts from illiterate cultures is nonetheless often remarkable. Versions which contain elements corroborated by other accounts should be given more weight than versions with isolated elements.

James Perloff noted:

In 95 percent of the more than two hundred flood legends, the flood was worldwide; in 88 percent, a certain family was favored; in 70 percent, survival was by means of a boat; in 67 percent, animals were also saved; in 66 percent, the flood was due to the wickedness of man; in 66 percent, the survivors had been forewarned; in 57 percent, they ended up on a mountain; in 35 percent, birds were sent out from the boat; and in 9 percent, exactly eight people were spared (Perloff 168).
Regression analysis leads us back to the Hebrew flood story as having the greatest commonality and highest number of salient shared elements with other accounts. Thus we see that the Biblical deluge is not merely one of a number of flood legends, but the original from which all other accounts are derived.

The atheists' argument that the Biblical flood legend is derived from stories of other cultures is therefore an inversion of fact and logic: it is the other flood stories that derive from the events most accurately described in the Bible. Even if one were to overlook strong evidence from regression analysis, claims that the Hebrew flood story was merely synthesized from the legends of surrounding nations invokes and impossible logic. The Hebrew flood story, for instance, contains various elements like the divinely mandated destruction, salvation of a favored family, and the thanksgiving of survivors not found in the legends of neighboring cultures like Syria, Egypt, and Persia, but found as far afield as Peru, Hawaii, and the Leeward islands -- all cultures presumed to have had no contact with the ancient Hebrews. It defies reason to believe that ancient Hebrew scribes could have arrived at the account of the flood which shares the most commonality not merely with neighboring cultures, but with the legends of some four hundred cultures from around the world, merely by synthesizing Near Eastern traditions available to them. Mr. Lloyd unwittingly came close to the truth when he noted that the Biblical deluge is the "epitome of some four hundred flood accounts." How does one arrive at an epitome, when the ancient Hebrews presumably had no contact with cultures as far afield as China and Hawaii whose legends share significant common elements? The only rational conclusion is that the Genesis flood represents the original and most accurate description of an actual event.

Parallels in Deluge Accounts

Clay observed:

The phrase in the Sumerian version "when for seven days and nights the flood overwhelms the land" (D, V: 3, 4) is paralleled in the Semitic by "six days and nights the wind drives; the deluge-tempest overwhelms the land, when the seventh day arrives, the tempest subsides in the onslaught" (E, 128-130). The reference also to "the wall," when the hero was apprised of the impending deluge, is in both. (Clay 12).
Coogan observed:
The use of numbers in parallelism may also be confusing. The synonym for any number (x) is the next higher unit (x+1)...Extended use of this technique is found in Proverbs 30:18-31 and Amos 1:3 to 2:8, and individual examples in both Ugaritic and biblica poetry are too numerous to catalog here. (Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. Phildaelphia: Westminster Press, 1978. p. 16).
Just as Proverbs 30 uses three and four as literary equivalents for the higher of the two numbers ("For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear: ...There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going," etc.), we need suppose no contradiction between the flood overwhelming the land for seven days in the Sumerian account, but for six days in the Akkadian account and subsiding on the seventh.

Cuneiform Source Documents

The below documents are reproduced from the appendix of Albert Clay's book (1922) which is copyright-expired, and can therefore be reproduced here without special permissions with titles below each image.


Early Atrahasis version Cuneiform Original - Obverse


Early Atrahasis version Transcription - Obverse


Early Atrahasis Cuneiform Original - Reverse
Adapa Version - Obverse (Reverse is destroyed)


Early Atrahasis version Transcription - Reverse


Adapa Legend Transcription - Obverse


Etana Version Cuneiform Original


Etana Version Transcription


Sumerian Ziusudra Flood Epic [Need reference]


Sumerian Ziusudra Flood Epic [Need reference]

The original Sumerian Ziusudra tablet was discovered by Arno Poebel. Only one copy known to exist. Unlike many other Sumerian texts of which multiple copies have been found, no other copies of the Ziusudra flood epic have yet been identified. This is unfortunate as the tablet is missing large pieces, and only a portion is legible.