Another Theory by Iris Einstein
There is scarcely a culture around the world that lacks a Flood Myth. And is it a wonder when the sea levels have been rising by leaps and creeps since the end of the Ice Age. Hunter-gatherers around the world must have found ample inspiration for their stories in the ‘outburst flood’ that followed the collapse of the ice-dam that had previously held back a vast body of water beneath the North American Laurentide Ice Sheet
The flooding of the Black Sea basin (ca.7,600 years ago) has been attributed to this natural-made catastrophe—and Noah’s Flood relocated there.
I have a problem with that.
But first this:
Despite the Bible looks to Mesopotamia for the origins of the Israelite tribes—to Ur in particular, whence the patriarch Abraham—archaeology now has revealed the eastern Mediterranean seaboard to be their homeland, with the Judaic tribes drawn out of the Canaanite mother-lode (thus the Old Testament’s insistence on purity and avoidance of the ‘old religion’ which featured both a mother goddess, and a lustful female deity—tut-tut).
So, now I ask, how does a story about a flood in the Black Sea get to be recorded as a Bible story in the Israelite’s Levantine homeland? This fails to account for the not-so-small matter of the geography.
As you can see, there’s a whopping great mountainous barrier twixt the Black Sea and the Levant. Today it’s called Turkey. It once was known as Anatolia. There, on its western fringe, was the long-lived wide-famed city of Troy. There, in its central and eastern range, was the home of the Hittites with their short-lived but great Bronze Age empire. And before that, in its southern quarter, overlooking the Konya Plain, was Çatalhöyük, the earliest ever built town, dating to those very same years of the Laurentide collapse.
At least the previous suggestion, that the Biblical Flood was a memory of the marine transgressions in the Persian Gulf, made a little more sense. There’s only a desert between the Levant and Mesopotamia; by no means an insurmountable barrier (they kiss on the Aleppo plateau) as the Israelites discovered when they were taken into Babylonian captivity.
It was while in that captivity that the Biblical Flood story was composed and committed to written form. A similar story—so alike it smacks of plagiarism—is found in the Babylonian libraries, inscribed in cuneiform on tiny clay tablets.
This example of cuneiform is a letter
written in Akkadian, a Semitic language.
(Sourced at Wikipedia Commons)
But if the story was copied, who borrowed from whom?
That seems easily answered since the earliest known written form of the Flood Story is the Sumerian Epic of Ziusudra, which dates to 17th century BCE. While the Biblical story dates only to 4th century BCE.
Unfortunately huge chunks of the story are missing, so we can’t say exactly how alike the two versions are. Certainly there’s no match in the opening stanzas, even though the Sumerian poem does begin with the creation of the animals and of Man.
But it then says of the founding of the five antediluvian (Sumerian) cities: Eridu, Badtibira, Larak, Sippar, and Shuruppak.
There follows a missing passage during which, it seems, the decision is taken to wipe out humankind. Another version gives the reason: ‘Man is too noisy in his prayers.’ By which is meant in his praises of the gods, not in his pleas for self-gratifications—times have changed.
One—or more—of the gods (probably the water god Enki) regrets the gods’ decision (perhaps he likes to be praised and would willingly stand the noise; after all, water itself can be noisy). So the god (Enki) sets out to save at least one human specimen. Ziusudra, a pious and god-fearing king, the Sumerian counterpart of Noah. This part, at least, runs similar in outline.
The god (Enki) gives instructions to build a boat. Unfortunately the boat-building instructions are missing—though I understand tablets have recently come to light (they’re at the British Museum) that contain fragments of those same instructions:—take reeds and twist to a rope; coil the rope and stitch in place; liberally coat with pitch; thus is made one waterproof coracle, a type of boat still used on the Tigris toady, though not as huge as the dimensions the Sumerian poet gave for it.
The text resumes:
All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, attacked as one,
The deluge raged over the surface of the earth.
After, for seven days and seven nights,
The deluge had raged in the land,
And the huge boat had been tossed about on the great waters,
Utu came forth, who sheds light on heaven and earth.
Ziusudra opened a window of the huge boat,
Ziusudra, the king,
Before Utu prostrated himself,
The king kills an ox, slaughters a sheep.
See Sumerian Mythology on sacred-texts.com for the above translation.
So, that’s it, we might say. The Israelites, in their captivity, borrowed a Sumerian story. So what’s this Ms Einstein is wittering about, of the Israelite homeland. How is that relevant?
First, there’s the matter of language. Hebrew, the language of the Bible, is a Semitic language. The Israelites were a Semitic people. So too were the Babylonians, they spoke and wrote in Akkadian, a Semitic language. The more southerly Sumerians, however, spoke a completely different lingo, unrelated to the Semitic. But, no ill-feelings between them—at least, not after the initial conquest; in Mesopotamia the two peoples mixed freely.
Akkadian, the language, was named for the city of Akkad, the Semitic centre during the Akkadian Empire (c.2334-2154 BCE).
So, what am I saying: That the Akkadian language was the lingua franca in the 17th century when the Epic of Ziusudra was written in Sumerian?
Correct. In fact, Akkadian names appear in Sumerian texts predating that by a thousand years (actually by 1,200 years, the earliest known are in the 29th century ).
And, I ask, might a Semitic story be recorded in the Sumerian language?
Oh, undoubtedly so. The Sumerians were the first to develop the art of writing, and for many centuries had the monopoly on it. They were the teachers, they ran the schools, they were the civil service. So yes, it’s fully conceivable that a Sumerian scribe might translate and record a Semitic myth.
Yet . . . C17th, that predates the Israelites captivity by . . . some (You do the math).
But the Israelites and Babylonians—and the Assyrians, if we care to get picky—shared a cultural heritage. If one had this myth, depending upon its age of origin, they probably all had it.
So, now, second: This . . .
The map needs no caption, it is self-explanatory. What may not be obvious are the abbreviations used.
PPN = Pre-Pottery Neolithic:
8,800-6,400 BCE or 10,800-8,400 years ago
PN = Pottery Neolithic:
6,400-4,500 BCE or 8,400-6500 years ago
So, that’s about the same time as all that water was letting loose from beneath the Laurentide Ice Sheet.
Ah, but an Italian study has suggested a volcanic collapse of the Eastern flank of Mount Etna caused a 40 meter high tsunami which engulfed the Levantine coastal cities within a matter of hours.
But all those marked on the map are submerged settlements.
Precisely. Submerged. Not merely wrecked as a result of a tsunami, traumatic though that would have been.
These submerged settlements are strung along that very same coastline as gave rise to the Israelite tribes—as well as the Canaanites and the Assyrians and the Babylonians, (allowing for a few more centuries of cultural growth and development, blah-de-blah-de-blah).
At Atlit Yam, the oldest of the sites, and the most thoroughly excavated, a stone circle was found. That’s what first alerted me to it, the headline ‘9000 Year Old Underground Megalithic Settlement’, way back in April 2012—though the site had been discovered in 1984. It reminded me of the ruins at Göbekli Tepe. (See ‘Fingers of Apur’ on Feast Fables posted 23/02/13)
Remains of the stone setting at Atlit Yam (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
And an artist’s reconstruction of the same. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
In British archaeology, a setting like this would be termed ‘a cove’. There are several ‘coves’ dotted about the British and Breton landscape. (Not that I’m suggesting a connection; the dates are way out).
The finds from Atlit Yam have been pretty amazing, but you can read that yourself on Wikipedia.
This autumn another of the submerged sites was (partially) excavated—several tonnes of sand shifted and core samples taken. These initial results were reported at the beginning of December 2014, on Flinders News (Flinders University).
The focus is a 7,500-year-old well which once supplied the settlement of Kfar Samir with fresh water but was abandoned as the water became brackish. It was then used as a rubbish dump. Though the prime reason for research is to discover the minutiae of Neolithic life, the final results should also show when the site was abandoned, and under what conditions. It might even answer ‘Submergence-due-to-flood’ or ‘Submergence-due-to-tsunami’.
I’m not suggesting that the Levant was the site of a cataclysmic flood, the equal of that in the Bible. But I do believe that Semitic fishermen in their boats off this shore caught suggestive artefacts in their nets, just as the North Sea fisherman trawl up spear- and arrow-heads from the submerged Doggerland—which, incidentally, dates to the same period. And seeing their catch, knew that beneath them was a flooded land. I believe the story of Noah originates here.