Friday 24 September 2021

A historic object returns to Iraq. What does this have to do with Noah's Ark?


A 3,600 year old clay tablet telling part of the Epic of Gilgamesh is being returned to Iraq after being looted from a museum during the Gulf War in 1991.

The epic is a fascinating tale, written perhaps a millennium before the Book of Genesis. It recounts how human beings had become so numerous the noise they made was unbearable, and the gods could no longer sleep.  So they decided to ‘exterminate mankind.’ 

To achieve this, they ‘turned daylight to darkness’, and summoned up a storm and a half. ‘For six days and six nights the winds blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed the world.’ Then on the seventh day, the storm subsided, and the sea ‘stretched as flat as a roof-top.’ And mankind was ‘turned to clay’.

But not quite. One of the gods had a soft spot for a man named Utnapishtim and had tipped him off about the impending catastrophe. So he and his family had commissioned a boat and escaped. With them they took samples of ‘the beast of the field, both wild and tame’, as well as the ‘craftsmen’ who had built their vessel.

For anyone who knows the story of Noah’s Ark from the Bible, much of this will sound rather familiar. For the full story, see my book Storm: Nature and Culture (Reaktion Books).