It has been proved that Gilgamesh is older than Genesis. How can you say that we are not sure which came earlier?

Question:

I was trying to get some quality, unbiased information regarding the evidence for Christianity when I stumbled across your piece on Genesis possibly being written by four different groups. http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/index.php?option=com_custom_content&task=view&id=4962 I have to say, if your objective is to prove your side of the story than surely you will need to provide some evidence instead of making rediculous (sic) claims like the one cited below. You state, "Is the epic of Gilgamesh older? Bottom line is that we do not know". On what basis can you make such a claim, given the stack of evidence of varying sorts that shows as a matter of fact that the Epic of Gilgamesh was significantly older than the Old Testament? Aside from all of the scientific evidence from "biased scholars" as you would put it, the Epic of Gilgamesh was written on a much older medium of writing (clay tablets), as opposed to the Hebrew version in the Old Testament which was passed on orally and then written on paper. Am I to understand that you are throwing off a mountain of evidence which proves the Epic to be older than the Old Testament on the basis that the scientists are inherently biased? Please, I would like to find a website that lays out the case for Christianity based on, well, actual evidence and not on things like "Believe what I am saying because I have no bias, believe nothing they have proof for because their proof is biased." If you have any actual evidence that the Old Testament is older, please share it with me. As it stands right now however, 100% of all evidence available places the Epic WAY before the Old Testament and it appears quite clearly that the Old Testament plagiarized the Epic of Gilgamesh at least in regards to the flood story. The section in question appears below: "Parts of the Old Testament were composed at the time of the exodus and Genesis has evidence of oral material from even earlier. Which is older? The Gilgamesh Epic or the original version of the Bible’s flood story? Bottom line, we simply do not know."

Response:

First of all, I did not say that the Old Testament was written down before the Gilgamesh Epic. Here is what I said in the article:

Can I say for sure that the biblical flood account goes back to Abrahamic times? No I cannot. But at least I am willing to admit that I am not sure. Neither can these writers prove that it was written in the seventh century BC. In the end it comes down to the quality of the biblical account versus that of the Babylonians. I believe that the biblical version is superior.

I am being quite careful here to not overstate my case. I believe that Genesis was not put into its final form until somewhere after 1000 BC. It is not possible to put a solid date on its final composition. I believe it is quite likely that there was some sort of early written version of Genesis as early as 1400 BC and cannot rule out the possibility that there was some written material even earlier. However, this would be speculation. We do know that there was a proto-Hebrew sort of script from about this time (1400 BC) from evidence already uncovered on the Sinai Peninsula, and it makes sense that the earliest writing of the descendants of Abraham would include parts of what is now called Genesis. Let me add that obviously, most of the Old Testament was written much later than 1400 BC. Only Job and Genesis show evidence of being older that 1400 BC.

Now, clearly all of this is quite speculative. I will freely admit this. However, there is good evidence of at least oral material in the Genesis account from as early as 2000 BC. For example, Genesis records Laban going after his daughter, not to get her back, but to get back the household gods. We have evidence from Mesopotamia of a law which stated that he who possessed the household gods received the inheritance. We have evidence from the Ebla Tablets that the names Terah, Abram, Nahor and Serug were common names in approximately 2100 BC. These names are found in the Genesis account. These names were not used at a later date, such as 1400 or 1000 BC. There is significant evidence that the oral tradition contained in parts of Genesis go back to approximately 2000 BC. Genesis mentions a city called Haran. This city was abandoned in about 1800 BC and not occupied again. The fact that Haran is mentioned in Genesis is evidence that the tradition of Abraham leaving Ur goes back to at least 1800 BC. Genesis mentions five cities in the Dead Sea area. Archaeologists have found evidence of five cities (not four, not six… five) in wadis along the former shore of the Dead Sea, all of which were burned and abandoned somewhere around 2100 to 2000 BC. This being true it is not some sort of "ridiculous" idea that Genesis contains a written version of oral tradition from even earlier than 2000 BC. There is good evidence from the cultural and linguistic content of Genesis which suggests that Abraham, Isaac, Terah and Lot were real people and that oral knowledge of them was passed to the early Israelites who wrote it down at a later date. We do not know this date, but it seems quite reasonable to believe it was already written down by 1400 BC.

Then there is the quality of the actual accounts which I address in the little article you found. I believe that the more matter-of-fact and less mythical style of the Genesis account of the flood argues for it to perhaps (and please not that I am saying perhaps) be an earlier and superior version of the flood story. I will admit that this argument is not a strong one, but I believe it is not unreasonable to make the argument.

Now, let me return this argument to you. The evidence is that the Gilgamesh epic comes from at least 2000 BC. The oldest actual copy is a Babylonian version from the 18th century BC, but there is some evidence that this came from a Sumerian version as early as 2000 BC and perhaps even older. What is your evidence that the Genesis account did NOT come from before this date? Do you have positive evidence to prove that the Genesis account is definitely younger? Where is this "proof" you mention that Gilgamesh is older? I have not seen any yet, but I am open to seeing it. I believe that there is a lot (perhaps not a mountain, but…) of evidence that Gilgamesh comes from about this date (2000+ BC). How does this evidence disprove my theory? I believe that it does not. I did not say that the Genesis account definitely is older. I said it is possible that it is older. I will stand by this statement. It is not mere speculation, as demonstrated by the evidence I present above.

We already have plenty of evidence that the Jewish people had an uncanny ability to pass information and stories along for a very long time. Clearly they were and still are good at this. What other culture has passed its stories along so complete from at least 3400 years ago? To extend this another 600 years is not some sort of gross unwarranted speculation, but I will admit that my evidence (cultural info, personal names, place names, etc. which show evidence of Mesopotamia from about 2000 BC in Genesis) is solid but does not rise to the level of "proof."

I do not deny the possibility that the Genesis flood story is influenced by Gilgamesh, but I also do not deny the possibility that the Gilgamesh Epic was influenced by an earlier tradition which Abraham and his descendants brought with them to Canaan when he left Ur in about 2000 BC. I also propose that perhaps both accounts are influenced by an actual great flood which occurred many hundreds of years before either account was written down.

You say that Gilgamesh was written on clay tablets and that the Old Testament was written on paper, therefore Gilgamesh is older. First of all, the Old Testament definitely was not written on paper in its earliest forms. Paper was not invented for over 2000 years after Genesis was produced. We do not know the earliest material the Old Testament was written on. It may have been vellum (animal hides). It might even have been clay tablets, for all we know. Second, the fact that we have clay tablets of Gilgamesh does not prove that the oral tradition in Genesis does not precede the 18th century clay tablets that we have. This is a weak argument, I would say.

I look forward to hearing your proof that the oral tradition in Genesis cannot come from as early as 2000 BC.

John Oakes

Shopping Cart

Your shopping cart is empty
Visit the shop

EFC Newsletter

Fill in your information below to be subscribed to the monthly newsletter:
driven by RightTurn