Great Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology: The Atra-Hasis Epic

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Excerpt The Bible is not the only ancient record of Creation and the Flood. Well-known in antiquity is the Atra-Hasis Epic. Atra-Hasis, meaning “exceeding wise,” is the name of the story’s principal character. Dating from the 17th century BC... Continue reading

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This article was first published in the Winter 2004 issue of Bible and Spade.


The Bible is not the only ancient record of Creation and the Flood. Well-known in antiquity is the Atra-Hasis Epic. Atra-Hasis, meaning “exceeding wise,” is the name of the story’s principal character. Dating from the 17th century BC, fragmentary copies of the Epic have been excavated from numerous Mesopotamian sites. Originally about 1,245 cuneiform lines on three clay tablets, we have only pieces today. The Epic offers many details similar to the Bible’s Creation and Flood accounts. It speaks of the gods ruling the heavens and earth, making man from the clay (mixed with blood) to tend the land, and men multiplying on the earth. When they became too noisy, a flood was sent to destroy mankind. Atra-Hasis, given advanced warning, built a boat and loaded it with food, animals and birds. They were saved while the rest of the world perished.



The Atra Hasis Epic

Similarities with the Biblical account of Creation and the Flood are obvious. The Bible and the Atra-Hasis Epic are recorded from different cultures of the same even. But the Biblical account is not just the Hebrews’ account of events—it is also God’s!

For additional information on the Atra-Hasis Epic:

The Atrahasis Epic, the Genesis Flood and Capital Punishment, Bible and Spade 8 [1979]: 17-28

Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern Stories of Creation and Flood: An Introduction, Parts 3 and 4, Bible and Spade 9 [1996]: 68-76, 103-10.


Recommended Resources for Further Study

   
The Genesis Record NIV Archaeological
Study Bible

 

Comments Comment RSS

9/23/2008 11:11 AM #

    which was written first genesis or the atrahasis epic ? i really do want to know is the bible just a re hash of Sumerian tales or inspired by god or both

patrick verrico - 9/23/2008 11:11:14 AM

9/25/2008 6:16 AM #

Dear Patrick (re: 9/22/08 post),

Thanks for your good question about the authorship of Genesis and the Atra Hasis Epic.

The issue of the authorship of Genesis has been the subject of dispute for at least 200 years. Although we cannot be exhaustive here, i will outline some basic thoughts for your consideration.

1. We reject the widely accepted notion that Genesis was written by multiple authors during the Babylonian exile, 6th century B.C. There are many reasons to reject this outdated and erroneous thesis. Events contained in Genesis refer to many specific practices and customs that are unique to that time period. No one in the 6th century B.C. could possibly have known about them and put them in their proper historical context. A good article on this subject was published in Bible and Spade , "The Wealth and Power of the Biblical Patriarchs", published in the Winter 2006 issue, and available in our bookstore here: www.biblearchaeology.org/.../product.aspx?id=3

2. Our theory is that Moses was the editor and compiler of Genesis, as the events contained therein obviously predate his life. This means, that while Moses lived long after the Flood and after the Atra Hasis epic was written, Genesis actually PREDATES the Atra Hasis Epic. Current scholarship accepts the notion that the Biblical Flood story was borrowed from other Mesopotamian Flood stories, such as Atra Hasis or the Gilgamesh Epic. We reject this thesis. After the Flood, the story was passed down through Noah's descendants, and obviously many elements were changed over time. The Atra Hasis epic is one such version of the original, correct and God-breathed version recorded in Genesis. We published a series of 4 more technical articles about this subject, found here:  www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...uction-Part-I.aspx

3. ABR Founder, David Livingston published an article about the authorship of Genesis, which can be found here on our website:
www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...mpose-Genesis.aspx

4. We want to encourage you that the Bible is not a rehash of Sumerian tales, but inspired by God Himself, and the vehicle of His Revelation to all mankind. I have found the following statements helpful, taken from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:

a. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God's witness to Himself.

b. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.

c. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.

d. WE AFFIRM  that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.

I hope you find this answer helpful in your study and understanding of God's Holy Word.

Blessings---Henry Smith, ABR

hsmith - 9/25/2008 6:16:07 AM

9/25/2008 10:27 AM #

   thank you i really appreciate you help,i have been a believer in the bible all my life,so when i read that the atrahasis epic pre dated the book of genesis which as you say was written by moses ,it worried me .i will archive your letter so that i have it on hand to study
thank you once again .
    Patric verrico

patrick verrico - 9/25/2008 10:27:59 AM

11/23/2008 1:13 PM #

I have recently heard that not only biblical history but secular history as well was being "realigned" concerning ancient history, and that this "re-alignment" was bringing biblical dates and timelines into almost exact correspondence with the dates of these written narratives.
My question, then, would be if you have any information about this at all, and if so, would you have any links to provide me with? I am most interested in this matter. Thank you for your time and patience.

Jonathan R - 11/23/2008 1:13:06 PM

2/25/2010 7:24 PM #

I have a few theories on all this religious malarkey.  I believe that the sumerian literature is the first written texts and they tell all the stories of gods, plagues and floods. I also believe that in the 18th dynasty when Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) was pharoah and decided to take away the powers of the priests by saying that Aten was the only god and not Amun or Ra. Aten, Amun and Ra are all basically the same sun god. Akhenaten decided to build a new capital Amarna to the god Aten. Around that time there was a plague that was probably caused through bad hygene and this affected Amarna. Akhenaten and his new "cult" fell out of favour partly because of this and the priest wrested power back and the previous order was restored. Akhenaten's loyal followers were exiled and Moses (a follower) led them out and wrote the Torah which became the Jewish bible. Many gods were worshipped at this time and Akhenaten was the first to have a monotheistic belief.
  I understand that religious people will belittle my theories but at the end of the day it is all about power and greed, which is what humans ( and most other animals (pecking order)) are.
I utterly detest religion in any form because of this, in fact I believe that religion is only good for culling the numbers of humans as nearly all wars are about " my god is, your's isnt" Get rid of God and you get rid of the Devil as you can't have one without the other.
  Humans are incredibly conceited creatures who want to deify themselves to elevate their position further. I cannot believe in this day and age of scientific knowledge of cells, amino acids, atoms etc that people still believe in gods.
  What was the big bang? What went bang? Where did it come from? No one today knows the answer definitely but to think that there was some supreme being that made the whole lot just to populate one tiny little planet out of the whole lot is ludicrous.
  Sorry, just my opinion. We are humans all together and should live by one ethos. The ten commandments, which have nothing to do with religion, are the only rules we should follow and they can all be narrowed down to one...do not steal. Do not steal; life, possessions, well being etc. This is just commen sense and even tribes in south America etc who only worship the seasons etc live by this edict.
There's the rub though. It is because we are human; greedy and lusting power, that we have all this rubbish, just another excuse to steal from and kill each other. For all our intelligence, we are so incredibly stupid.

David B - 2/25/2010 7:24:52 PM

2/25/2010 10:56 PM #

Dear David B (re: 2/25/10 post),

Thanks for your comments on our website. I would like to provide a response, although it will be somewhat brief and I cannot deal thoroughly with all of your erroneous arguments.

1. The theory that Israelite monotheism began with Akhenaten is old-hat. There is no proof of this whatsoever. The Patriarchs worshipped Yahweh long before the time of Moses, for whom there is ample evidence:

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...al-Patriarchs.aspx

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...-of-the-Camel.aspx

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...-Egypt-Part-I.aspx

2. You wrote: "What was the big bang? What went bang? Where did it come from? No one today knows the answer definitely but to think that there was some supreme being that made the whole lot just to populate one tiny little planet out of the whole lot is ludicrous. Sorry, just my opinion."

Let's examine the incoherence of your argument: you claim that no one knows where the so-called 'big bang' came from. No one knows...except YOU know it CANNOT be God. Do you see the contradiction in your argument. You are in effect saying: we don't know much, but we KNOW you Christians CANNOT be right. Then, you say at the end its just your opinion. Ok, its your opinion, but why is your opinion more valid than anyone else's? Besides, our claims on this website are not our opinions, they are proclamations about what God has revealed in the Bible and in His Son, Jesus.

The size of the universe vs. man's domain on earth does not disprove God. His purpose in creating a universe of such great size is, in part, to display his majesty and glory to man. It is a reflection of His immensity and eternality. The argument is erroneous. See here: creation.com/did-god-create-life-on-other-planets

3. YOU WROTE: "We are humans all together and should live by one ethos. The ten commandments, which have nothing to do with religion, are the only rules we should follow and they can all be narrowed down to one...do not steal. Do not steal; life, possessions, well being etc. This is just commen sense and even tribes in south America etc who only worship the seasons etc live by this edict."

You cannot justify your claims in the context of your own atheistic philosophy. If the universe is only a random collection of atoms, how can an impersonal structure create obligation? What is common sense in your atheistic universe? Why should we abide by common sense and how do we know we should abide by it? I quote my own work from another article:

"As an atheist prior to his conversion, C.S. Lewis' biggest gripe against the idea of God was that the universe seemed so unjust to him. Lewis, along with many other atheists, reacted violently against the state of affairs in the universe. Indeed, he was making a moral judgment about the condition of the world around him. But if God did not exist, and Lewis was just another collection of random particles in the long chain of mindless cause and effect, "…why did I…find myself in such violent reaction against it?"

If Naturalism/evolution were indeed true, then the condition of the world would be perfectly normal. Lewis would simply be one minute link in a long chain of causes and effects, and therefore he should accept the universe as it is. In fact, it would be the only choice possible.

G.K. Chesterton's anecdote is a blistering indictment on atheistic evolution:

"A cosmos one day being rebuked by a pessimist replied, 'How can you who revile me consent to speak by my machinery? Permit me to reduce you to nothingness and then we will discuss the matter.' Moral. You should not look a gift universe in the mouth."

Moral assertions by those who reject God are inconsistent with their unbelieving philosophy."

There is no philosophical justification for your moral argument. An impersonal universe cannot create moral obligation. You are borrowing from the Christian system of belief and importing it into your unbelieving framework. Solution: give up your atheistic system. It is incoherent.

4. If we are all "so stupid", what makes you smart enough to know that atheism is fact? And why is: "being greedy and lusting for power" a bad thing if the universe is an accidental explosion of matter? Again, HOW DOES AN IMPERSONAL STRUCTURE CREATE OBLIGATION?

5. I agree with your general assertion that mankind is a mess, but for entirely different reasons. The reason man is a mess is because he has rebelled against God, and is in a sinful state from which he desperately needs rescue. And only the Son of God can rescue him. I encourage you to accept Jesus Christ by faith, that he was raised from the dead to deliver men from sin, and to repent of your sins and trust Him for eternal life.

I know that this requires a complete and utter turning from your present place, but it will be well worth the pain. The alternative of remaining in unbelief is eternally worse. Do not wait...for tomorrow may never come at all.

Sincerely,

Henry Smith

ABR - 2/25/2010 10:56:14 PM

3/10/2010 10:46 AM #

Thank you for the insightful pointers. I am studying the Atrahasis at Uni at the momment and the lecturer is completely running along the lines that the ancient Jews plagiarised the story from the Babylonians. I was actually curious myself as to what the religious had to say about the matter, I'm actually a Muslim myself but the story of Noah and Moses and the flood is also present and very similarly told in the Qur'an. I found your points quite interesting and logical, so thank you.

s.s - 3/10/2010 10:46:12 AM

3/13/2010 11:35 PM #

  Thankyou for the response Henry.
  I shall not get into a tit for tat on our differing beliefs. I like the the zen and tao bhuddist philosophy of life, that is life is what you make it and to fit in with life. I know bhuddism is not a religion, just a way of life but I like that aspect.
  As for obligation, many ( all?) animals feel ( think). Some animals we can prove are sentient and even self aware, many fit into heirarchal structures and many know when the cross the line of acceptable group structure. I think it is rather pompous to presume that we are better or more important than these beings. One of the sumerian myths is that the three gods created the black headed people to look after the animals and the land for the gods, so in that case I would think that we are less important than them. Evolution is proven and humaoids have been walking on this planet for over 2 million years and in that time different strains have evolved into different species, some that have died out and some that have evolved,  apes and men included.
  Animals, as far as we know, do not deify things but does that make them any less. Is intelligence (?) a pre-requisite for having a soul? Ah, the soul, wishful thinking or an energy that is released after we die to either, a; go to heaven or whatever, or b; to become part of the whole energy that is whatever it is. Magnetism seems to be a good energy form in that case as virtually everything works on the exchange of charged particles but that is too impersonal for some ( most ) people. Heave sounds much more comforting and eternal, rather than just dead. One of the reasons, and a big one for most people I would think, that religion has such a hold over people. You can just imagine it in the old days........ unless you come and worship and bow down to the house of god you will be dead ( burn in hell forever sounds even better, so come on in and live forever..... Only £15 a month, credit card accepted. Maybe not the last bit as they didn't have credit cards then!! My wife's grandmother came fro catholic southern ireland and the catholic priests would call weekly for alms ( money and food) yet she didn't have any shoes until she married. Yet the wealth of the church makes me think of abuse of power through fear.
  I am sorry but I will never believe in mumbo jumbo. You are right, I have no idea what went bang but then neither do you, you are just blindly following some dressed up myth and restricting your brain from expanding to a different level.
  Yes I do think greed and lust for power is a bad thing and so should you.
  Ah, context you say. Exactly!!! Just like horoscopes and chinese whispers, the story can be adapted ( abused) for what ever purpose the teller wants to convey.
  I have nothing against people who need religion as a comfort, whatever the religion is but then I come back to bhuddism again and think they would be just as happy if they learnt to accept life as it is and to be happy with that life or to change their life to make it fit and become happy on that path. Bhuddists call it enlightenment. There is no need for fear and brimstone and gods and devils and scary things like that.
  There is only ONE definite known fact that we all know and that is we die and we are no longer me and you as we are now. You would like to think that you live on in some form forever in heaven whatever that is. I hope to live on through my son and then hopefully his children by gene descendancy but I as me will be long gone.
  There is another theory that life is the universe and our planet is actually living as in the gaia theory. Interesting and no more improbable than any other creation myth. In that case we are nothing more than a bad virus or cancer to our planet, humans that is.
  No, no one knows. I can no more prove god doesn't exist than you can that e does. All we can do is to live courteously with our fellow planet dwellers and enjoy it. Be good!!

David B - 3/13/2010 11:35:17 PM

7/12/2010 10:56 AM #

Quoting David B. "No, no one knows. I can no more prove god doesn't exist than you can that e does. All we can do is to live courteously with our fellow planet dwellers and enjoy it. Be good!!"

Van Til destroys this erroneous and philosophically incoherent claim: "Agnosticism is epistemologically self-contradictory on its own assumptions because its claim to make no assertion about ultimate reality rests upon a most comprehensive assertion about ultimate reality."

ABR - 7/12/2010 10:56:02 AM

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