Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bereishit, Noach: Gilgamesh, UtanPishtim and Gan Eden

Many people refer to Gilgamesh for its parallels to the story of Noach, but there is far more there. Here is one such gem, from tablet 11 of the Gilgamesh epic. Gilgamesh is seeking eternal life, and asked Utanpishtim how he attained his eternal life. Utanpishtim tells him the flood story, and how he and his wife survived the flood.

At the end of this episode, after surviving the flood, Enlil, the deity primarily responsible for the flood deals with them.
Enlil went up inside the boat
and, grasping my hand, made me go up.
He had my wife go up and kneel by my side.
He touched our forehead and, standing between us, he
blessed us:
'Previously Utanapishtim was a human being.
But now let Utanapishtim and his wife become like us,
the gods!
Let Utanapishtim reside far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers.'
They took us far away and settled us at the Mouth of the Rivers."
"Now then, who will convene the gods on your behalf,
that you may find the life that you are seeking!
This blessing of Utanpishtim and his wife accords with what happens to Noach, in Bereishit 9:
א וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-נֹחַ וְאֶת-בָּנָיו; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ, וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ. 1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.
but also importantly to the blessing of man and his wife by Adam and Chava, in Bereishit 1:
כח וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, אֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְכִבְשֻׁהָ; וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם, וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבְכָל-חַיָּה, הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל-הָאָרֶץ. 28 And God blessed them; and God said unto them: 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.'
A parallel to Adam and Chava is apt. After all, initially it seems that they were supposed to live forever in Gan Eden, but eating from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil brought death to humanity.

The opposite happens to Utanpishtim. They used to be like humans but now they are to be like gods:
'Previously Utanapishtim was a human being.
But now let Utanapishtim and his wife become like us,
the gods!
Compare to Adam and Chava. In Bereishit 3, Hashem tried to prevent them from becoming like the gods.
ד וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה: לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman: 'Ye shall not surely die;
ה כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע. 5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.'
This knowledge will make them like the gods, or like God, at least if we are to trust the snake on this point.

And another way Hashem tries to prevent this is by subsequently ensuring they do not get eternal life. In the same perek:
כב וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ, לָדַעַת, טוֹב וָרָע; וְעַתָּה פֶּן-יִשְׁלַח יָדוֹ, וְלָקַח גַּם מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים, וְאָכַל, וָחַי לְעֹלָם. 22 And the LORD God said: 'Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.'
כג וַיְשַׁלְּחֵהוּ יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִגַּן-עֵדֶן--לַעֲבֹד, אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח, מִשָּׁם. 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
Yet what Enlil wants to do here is grant Utanpishtim eternal life.

There is this dynamic though, in that while Hashem does not intend for man, or mankind to be like a god, He does wish to make man God-like, in His own image, and with aspects of rulership:

In Bereishit 1:
כו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ; וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל-הָאָרֶץ, וּבְכָל-הָרֶמֶשׂ, הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ. 26 And God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.'

More along the lines of contrast between Utanpishtim and Adam, the way Enlil accomplishes granting Utanpishtim eternal life is by sending Utanpishtim into Gan Eden, rather than casting him out of it. Thus,
Let Utanapishtim reside far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers.'
They took us far away and settled us at the Mouth of the Rivers."
The Mouth of the Rivers, of course, is Gan Eden. We see this explicitly in Bereishit 2, where Gan Eden is the mouth of the four rivers:

ח וַיִּטַּע יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, גַּן-בְּעֵדֶן--מִקֶּדֶם; וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם, אֶת-הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר יָצָר. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed.
ט וַיַּצְמַח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, כָּל-עֵץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה, וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָל--וְעֵץ הַחַיִּים, בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן, וְעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע. 9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
י וְנָהָר יֹצֵא מֵעֵדֶן, לְהַשְׁקוֹת אֶת-הַגָּן; וּמִשָּׁם, יִפָּרֵד, וְהָיָה, לְאַרְבָּעָה רָאשִׁים. 10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four heads.
יא שֵׁם הָאֶחָד, פִּישׁוֹן--הוּא הַסֹּבֵב, אֵת כָּל-אֶרֶץ הַחֲוִילָה, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁם, הַזָּהָב. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
יב וּזְהַב הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא, טוֹב; שָׁם הַבְּדֹלַח, וְאֶבֶן הַשֹּׁהַם. 12 and the gold of that land is good; there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
יג וְשֵׁם-הַנָּהָר הַשֵּׁנִי, גִּיחוֹן--הוּא הַסּוֹבֵב, אֵת כָּל-אֶרֶץ כּוּשׁ. 13 And the name of the second river is Gihon; the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Cush.
יד וְשֵׁם הַנָּהָר הַשְּׁלִישִׁי חִדֶּקֶל, הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ קִדְמַת אַשּׁוּר; וְהַנָּהָר הָרְבִיעִי, הוּא פְרָת. 14 And the name of the third river is Tigris; that is it which goeth toward the east of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

In fact, midrash later follows this partial apotheosis, granting various Biblical characters and post-Biblical characters eternal life by having them enter Gan Eden alive. For example, Serach bat Asher.

The contrast is of course that Utanpishtim and his wife are just two people, while Adam and Eve are prototypes for all humanity, which is intended to be mortal.

In the epic of Gilgamesh, we also have a parallel to the snake and to the tree of Life. To cite the same tablet:

Gilgamesh spoke to Urshanabi, the ferryman, saying:
"Urshanabi, this plant is a plant against decay(!)
by which a man can attain his survival(!).
I will bring it to Uruk-Haven,
and have an old man eat the plant to test it.
The plant's name is 'The Old Man Becomes a Young Man.'"
Then I will eat it and return to the condition of my youth."
At twenty leagues they broke for some food,
at thirty leagues they stopped for the night.
Seeing a spring and how cool its waters were,
Gilgamesh went down and was bathing in the water.
A snake smelled the fragrance of the plant,
silently came up and carried off the plant.
While going back it sloughed off its casing.'
Thus, the plant is a plant of eternal life, because it returns the old to young. By continuously eating of this plant, one can live forever. He gets the plant but a snake takes it away from him. Just as in Bereishit the snake brings death to mankind. And as the snake is associated with a plant, though a different plant.

Note also the physical fulfillment of eternal life, in the snake in Gilgamesh. "While going back it sloughed off its casing." That it, a snake shedding its skin is a fulfillment of returning old to new. In Bereishit, we also have physical repercussions for the snake.

We also have a parallel to the sleep that overtakes Adam, and a mention of a wife in this regard. From the same tablet:

Utanapishtim said to his wife:
"Mankind is deceptive, and will deceive you.
Come, bake leaves for him and keep setting them by his head
and draw on the wall each day that he lay down."
She baked his leaves and placed them by his head
and marked on the wall the day that he lay down.
The first loaf was dessicated,
the second stale, the third moist(?), the fourth turned white,
its ...,
the fifth sprouted gray (mold), the sixth is still fresh.
the seventh--suddenly he touched him and the man awoke.
Gilgamesh said to Utanapishtim:
"The very moment sleep was pouring over me
you touched me and alerted me!"
Utanapishtim spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:
"Look over here, Gilgamesh, count your loaves!
You should be aware of what is marked on the wall!
Your first loaf is dessicated,
the second stale, the third moist, your fourth turned white,
its ...
the fifth sprouted gray (mold), the sixth is still fresh.
The seventh--suddenly he touched him and the man awoke.
Gilgamesh said to Utanapishtim:
"The very moment sleep was pouring over me
you touched me and alerted me!"
Utanapishtim spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:
"Look over here, Gilgamesh, count your leaves!
You should be aware of what is marked on the wall!
Your first loaf is dessicated,
the second stale, the third moist, your fourth turned white,
its ...
the fifth sprouted gray (mold), the sixth is still fresh.
The seventh--at that instant you awoke!"
Thus, he slept, and lost out of eternal life that would possibly had been granted had he stayed awake and convened with the gods.

The idea of old rotting bread as evidence of passage of time, by the way, is also found in sefer Yehoshua, perek 9, in interactions with the Gibeonites.

ג וְיֹשְׁבֵי גִבְעוֹן שָׁמְעוּ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוֹשֻׁעַ לִירִיחוֹ--וְלָעָי. 3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,
ד וַיַּעֲשׂוּ גַם-הֵמָּה בְּעָרְמָה, וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיִּצְטַיָּרוּ; וַיִּקְחוּ שַׂקִּים בָּלִים, לַחֲמוֹרֵיהֶם, וְנֹאדוֹת יַיִן בָּלִים, וּמְבֻקָּעִים וּמְצֹרָרִים. 4 they also did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine skins, worn and rent and patched up;
ה וּנְעָלוֹת בָּלוֹת וּמְטֻלָּאוֹת בְּרַגְלֵיהֶם, וּשְׂלָמוֹת בָּלוֹת עֲלֵיהֶם; וְכֹל לֶחֶם צֵידָם, יָבֵשׁ הָיָה נִקֻּדִים. 5 and worn shoes and clouted upon their feet, and worn garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and was become crumbs.
ו וַיֵּלְכוּ אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה, הַגִּלְגָּל; וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו וְאֶל-אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ רְחוֹקָה בָּאנוּ, וְעַתָּה, כִּרְתוּ-לָנוּ בְרִית. 6 And they went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him, and to the men of Israel: 'We are come from a far country; now therefore make ye a covenant with us.'
ז ויאמרו (וַיֹּאמֶר) אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶל-הַחִוִּי: אוּלַי, בְּקִרְבִּי אַתָּה יוֹשֵׁב, וְאֵיךְ, אכרות- (אֶכְרָת-) לְךָ בְרִית. 7 And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites: 'Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a covenant with you?'
ח וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, עֲבָדֶיךָ אֲנָחְנוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם יְהוֹשֻׁעַ מִי אַתֶּם, וּמֵאַיִן תָּבֹאוּ. 8 And they said unto Joshua: 'We are thy servants.' And Joshua said unto them: 'Who are ye? and from whence come ye?'
ט וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו, מֵאֶרֶץ רְחוֹקָה מְאֹד בָּאוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ, לְשֵׁם, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: כִּי-שָׁמַעְנוּ שָׁמְעוֹ, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה בְּמִצְרָיִם. 9 And they said unto him: 'From a very far country thy servants are come because of the name of the LORD thy God; for we have heard the fame of Him, and all that He did in Egypt,
י וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, לִשְׁנֵי מַלְכֵי הָאֱמֹרִי, אֲשֶׁר, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן--לְסִיחוֹן מֶלֶךְ חֶשְׁבּוֹן, וּלְעוֹג מֶלֶךְ-הַבָּשָׁן אֲשֶׁר בְּעַשְׁתָּרוֹת. 10 and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who was at Ashtaroth.
יא וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֵינוּ זְקֵינֵינוּ וְכָל-יֹשְׁבֵי אַרְצֵנוּ לֵאמֹר, קְחוּ בְיֶדְכֶם צֵידָה לַדֶּרֶךְ, וּלְכוּ, לִקְרָאתָם; וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֲלֵיהֶם עַבְדֵיכֶם אֲנַחְנוּ, וְעַתָּה כִּרְתוּ-לָנוּ בְרִית. 11 And our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying: Take provision in your hand for the journey, and go to meet them, and say unto them: We are your servants; and now make ye a covenant with us.
יב זֶה לַחְמֵנוּ, חָם הִצְטַיַּדְנוּ אֹתוֹ מִבָּתֵּינוּ, בְּיוֹם צֵאתֵנוּ, לָלֶכֶת אֲלֵיכֶם; וְעַתָּה הִנֵּה יָבֵשׁ, וְהָיָה נִקֻּדִים. 12 This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came forth to go unto you; but now, behold, it is dry, and is become crumbs.

Some translations have nikudim to mean moldy rather than crumbs.

One final point in terms of parshat Bereishit, but it is somewhat rated. As such, you might wish to skip the end of this post.

One reading of the sin of the eating the forbidden fruit was that they engaged in sexual intercourse. I think this is all likelihood an incorrect reading. For example, the fact that they were naked is to show that they were simple, without cunning, as opposed to the cunning snake. Thus the ערום/ערום play on words. But some do read it that way.

We might find support for this reading from the epic of Gilgamesh is that primitive man was originally a brute, and only became an intelligent being as a result of repeated sexual intercourse with Shamhat:
Then he, Enkidu, offspring of the mountains,
who eats grasses with the gazelles,
came to drink at the watering hole with the animals,
with the wild beasts he slaked his thirst with water.
Then Shamhat saw him--a primitive,
a savage fellow from the depths of the wilderness!
"That is he, Shamhat! Release your clenched arms,
expose your sex so he can take in your voluptuousness.
Do not be restrained--take his energy!
When he sees you he will draw near to you.
Spread out your robe so he can lie upon you,
and perform for this primitive the task of womankind!
His animals, who grew up in his wilderness, will become alien to him,
and his lust will groan over you."
Shamhat unclutched her bosom, exposed her sex, and he took in her voluptuousness.
She was not restrained, but took his energy.
She spread out her robe and he lay upon her,
she performed for the primitive the task of womankind.
His lust groaned over her;
for six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused,
and had intercourse with the harlot
until he was sated with her charms.
But when he turned his attention to his animals,
the gazelles saw Enkidu and darted off,
the wild animals distanced themselves from his body.
Enkidu ... his utterly depleted(?) body,
his knees that wanted to go off with his animals went rigid;
Enkidu was diminished, his running was not as before.
But then he drew himself up, for his understanding had broadened.
Thus his body was utterly depleted, but his understanding had broadened.

This increased knowledge made him God-like, just as in the beginning of Bereishit:
The harlot said to Enkidu:
"You are beautiful," Enkidu, you are become like a god.
Why do you gallop around the wilderness with the wild beasts?
Come, let me bring you into Uruk-Haven,
to the Holy Temple, the residence of Anu and Ishtar,
the place of Gilgamesh, who is wise to perfection,
but who struts his power over the people like a wild bull."
There is so much more, but this will have to suffice for now.


smoo said...

I have already referred you to my post on Eden (see: http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2006/06/eden-revisited.html )

Once you read it, it will be evident why having relations with Shamhat would suddenly make the animals adverse to Enkidu. Certainly animals have relations and have witnessed other species doing the same, so why would their witnessing Enkidu having relations suddenly make him person non grata in their world? In short, the attainment of sexual knowledge represents a concurrent advancement in the level of human cognitive development that raises humans above their baser more animalistic instincts. Enkidu has grown up.

Check out my post on Rabbi Slifkin’s ideas regarding the mythology in Genesis at http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2006/09/zoo-torah.html

I find your post very much in line with the idea that Genesis serves the purpose of combating the non-Jewish myths. I enjoyed how you contrasted Gilgamesh with Torah, their similarities and more importantly their divergences.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

great post... i remember learning Gilgamesh in college.

although my favorite similarity/contrast between our premordial narratives and the narratives of our neighbors is between the creation of humanity in the Torah vs the Enuma Elish.

In the Torah, God says נעשה אדם "let US make humanity", in an unexpected plural that everyone scrambles to explain.

In the Enuma Elish, after kicking Tiamat's butt and becoming the leader of the gods, Marduk says "*I* will now make humanity".

So in the monotheistic story, we have The One God saying speaking in plural, but in the polytheistic story, they have one of many gods speaking in singular.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea if "mouth of the rivers" has been translated accurately, but if so it's the opposite of Eden. The Garden was placed at the point where the Ur-river split, near the head of the river; the "mouth" of a river is the end of it, where it enters the sea.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin