The Flood Before the Flood

Three Floods narratives and the similarities with Noah’s story


Let’s start this journey with Ziusudra (“Life of Distant Days”), king of Šuruppak. The story of this Great Flood has its origins in Sumer, the southern part of ancient Babylonia.

“… Be conjured by heaven and underworld, let… An (and) Enlil, be conjured by heaven and underworld…

He/they made come up the animals which emerge from earth.

The king Ziusudra

Prostrated himself before An (and) Enlil

(Who) gave him life, like a god,

Elevated him to eternal life, like a god.

At that time, the king Ziusudra

Who protected the seed of mankind at the time (?) of destruction,

They settled in an overseas country, in the orient, in Dilmun…”


Our second flood narrative evolves during the Old Babylonian period and the hero of the story is named Atra-hasis, a name that translates as “exceedingly wise”.


The third version of the flood narrative can be found in the 11th Tablet of the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic. The hero is named Uta-napishtim, son of Ubara-tutu.

How do these stories compare to the Noah flood story?

  • The floods are brought about by divine intervention.
  • The floods were for the express purpose to destroy mankind.
  • The heroes built an ark to survive the flood.
  • The heroes saved pairs of animals as well.
  • The heroes concluded the journey with sacrifice being offered.

Where can Noah be positioned in the narrative of the diverse flood stories?

  • Ziusudra, Sumer, ~ 2,150 B.C.
  • Atrahasis, Akkad, ~ 1,650 B.C.
  • Uta-Napishti, Babylon, ~ 1,300 B.C.
  • Noah, Israel, ~ 1,000 B.C.

Citations, sources and further reading:

  • Foster, Benjamin R., trans. and ed. The Epic of Gilgamesh. New York: Norton, 2001.
  • George, Andrew, trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian. London: Allen Lane, 1999.
  • Frymer-Kensky, Tikva “The Atrahasis Epic and Its Significance for Our Understanding of Genesis 189.”
  • Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness
  • Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character.
  • Allan R. Millard, Atra-Hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood, with the Sumerian Flood Story.

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