While many people are unaware of this, the Great Flood has its origins in Ancient Sumer. According to the ancient Sumerians, ‘Eridu’ –modern day Abu Shahrein, Iraq– was believed to have been the first city ever created, and was the home city of the great God Enki. The city is believed to have been founded circa 5400 BC.
Eridu is considered as the city of the gods in ancient Mesopotamia, much like Teotihuacan located in Mesoamerica, which is considered as the city of the Gods.
The Sumerian King List states that Eridu was the “city of the first kings,” stating: “After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu”.
The Eridu Genesis is an ancient Sumerian Text which describes the creation of the world, the invention of all ancient cities and the Great Flood that swept across the land. The Eridu Genesis, which is believed to have been composed circa 2,300 BCE, is the earliest known account fo the Great Flood, predating the more popular Great Flood described in the biblical book of the Genesis.
The Eridu Genesis is the tale where Utnapishtim was instructed by the gods to build a great vessel and gathers inside ‘the seed of life.’
In the book written by Thorkild Jacobsen, a renowned historian specializing in Assyriology and Sumerian literature, the creation of man is attributed to four Gods –the Anunnaki’:
“The ‘Eridu Genesis’…described the creation of man by the four great gods [the Anunnaki]: An [‘Sky’, the source of rain and most powerful of the gods], Enlil [‘Lord Wind’, the power in ‘Growing Weather’, creator of the hoe], Ninhursaga [‘Lady of the Stony Ground’, mother of wildlife], and Enki [rival of Ninhursaga]. After Nintur [Ninhursaga] had decided to turn man from his primitive nomadic camping grounds toward city life, the period began when animals flourished on earth and kingship came down from heaven. The earliest cities were built, were named, had the measuring cups, emblems of a redistributional economic system, allotted to them, and were divided between the gods. Irrigation agriculture was developed, and man thrived and multiplied. However, 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.” – Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness
If we look back at Sumerian texts and their well recorded ‘mythology’, we will find that in the beginning, human-like gods lived and ruled on Earth. When they ‘arrived’ to our planet, much work was needed to be done as they toiled the soil, digging to make it habitable and extracted the precious minerals from the Earth.
Ancient Sumerian Tablets mention that just before the Great Flood swept across Earth, the ‘Gods’ left our planet to be safe in the heavens returning only after the end of the Great Deluge. But… why is that some parts of the stories are plausible while other parts of it—like when ‘Gods’ flew to the heavens—are considered improbable?
Interestingly, the story of Noah—the most popular story of the flood probably—illustrates similar stories as those seen in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which predates the Bible.
“Tear down the house, build a ship!
Give up possessions, seek thou life!
Forswear belongings, keep soul alive!
Aboard ship take thou the seed of all living things.
That ship thou shalt build;
Her dimensions shall be to measure.”
– Sumerian Text
Other flood stories found among different cultures around the globe display similarities to the Sumerian story: ie. The story of the Dravidian king Manu in the Matsya Purana, Utnapishtim episode in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Genesis flood narrative found in the Bible. Interestingly, the ancient Greeks have two similar myths from a later date: The Deucalion and Zeus’ flooding of the world in Book I of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Researchers speculate that the Eridu Genesis could have been the first ever written record of a long oral tradition of a period in history dating back to 2800 BC, a time when the Euphrates river was believed to have risen above her banks causing massive flooding in the region.(Source)
Interestingly, according to excavations at Ur in 1922, revealed an eight-foot layer of salt and clay, supporting claims that a catastrophic flood did, in fact, exist in the area around 2800 BC. (Source)
Reference and additional reading material:
Thorkild Jacobsen (1994). Hess, Richard S.; Tsumuro, David Toshio, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern Literary and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis