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Gilgamesh & Jews
“The Hebrew Creation Story: Genesis”, Global Experience. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002.
“The Epic of Gilgamesh”, Global Experience. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002.
When comparing the history of the Near East and that of the Hebrews one might assume that there are more differences than there are commonalities. Although there certainly are many differences, in many ways there are, quite a bit, more similarities. One good way of finding these similarities is by comparing the literary works of these to cultures and two great literary works to compare are “The Hebrew Creation Story: Genesis” and “The Epic of Gilgamesh”.
“The Hebrew Creation Story: Genesis” tell the story of how the Hebrew god created the Heaven and the Earth as well as man and woman. First the Hebrew god created the Heaven and the Earth, then he created light. (4) After the Hebrew god had finished with the Earthly matters he decided to create man and woman. (5) So “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (6) Man was lonely so God created woman from man’s rib and set man and woman free to enjoy paradise as long as they did not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. (6) A serpent convinced the woman to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and she, sure enough, passed the fruit on to man. God, being angry with man and woman for defying his one command, banished them from the paradise to live hard lives working the earth. (7)
The obvious idea that one can draw from this piece of literature is that the Hebrews were a religious people who valued the will of God over the will of man. After all, if man defies the will of God then there are harsh consequences. Furthermore there is something to be said about the fact that it was woman who passed the forbidden fruit to man and not man taking it himself. Perhaps this could signify that in Hebrew eyes it takes a woman in order for a man to be truly knowledgeable.
“The Epic of Gilgamesh” tells the story of a powerful king named Gilgamesh who strongly ruled his people. Many of his subjects complained to the gods about Gilgamesh’s power so the gods decided to make an equal to Gilgamesh in order to counteract Gilgamesh. To solve this problem the gods created Enkidu from clay and set him loose with the beasts. (35) Enkidu was scaring a trapper and preventing him from catching game so the trapper brought a prostitute to lay with Enkidu and make forget about his home with the beasts. Furthermore, the woman thought Enkidu what it was like to be a man. (35) To the dismay of the gods, when Enkidu finally met Gilgamesh the two of them became good friends so eventually the gods killed Enkidu.
Just as with the Hebrews, in this case it is obvious to see that the writers of “The Epic of Gilgamesh” were religious people as well. This story is filled with gods who mingle with human existence and indeed force their will upon the people that the dominate. In addition, it seems as though the Sumerians had a high value for the abilities of man. Although Gilgamesh was not able to beat the gods in the long run he was still able to accomplish amazing fetes.
When comparing these two literary works, the similarities are striking. First of all, there is something that must be said about the way that both of these pieces depict women; as the givers of knowledge. The Hebrews said that woman gave man the forbidden fruit and the Sumerians said that a woman taught Enkidu what it was to be a man. Second, it is interesting that both Adam, the Hebrew man, and Enkidu were both created from earth. It sure seems that these similarities as well as other can not simply be coincidence. Perhaps they exist because both the Sumerians and the Hebrews lived relatively close to each other and there must have been some cultural swiping. No matter what way on looks at it though, these two cultures defiantly have something in common, even if it is nothing more than their writings from the past.
© All words and music written and owned by Shawn Nelsen.