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Monday, August 26, 2013

"Gilgamesh" As A Benchmark

The Gilgamesh Epic is considered to be one of the first hero stories of antiquity. Any studious reader will find the story connected to one of the earliest documented world civilizations in early Mesopotamia, the kingdom of Sumer namely. Copies of the story have been found all over the Middle East written on clay tablets, which may indicate the story has a longer oral tradition. The epic as we have it today is the result of translation work from various pieces, some of which are still missing. Scholars admit the story’s development is traceable, so the form in which we have today represents the work of collected fragments. One curious note is that some ancient recorders seem to favor some stories over others, giving greater attention to details others completely ignore. Perhaps the greatest “claim to fame” of the Gilgamesh epic is the story of a great flood that seems to parallel that of the great flood recorded in the Bible. Some suggest in an attempt to discredit the Bible that the Gilgamesh Epic existed long before Moses was inspired to record the event. We should comment on this in another entry.

The epic recounts the exploits of a Sumerian King with a bad reputation. The Sumerian gods respond to complaining people by creating from clay Enkidu, who matches Gilgamesh in every way with the purpose of punishing or perhaps replacing Gilgamesh. The difficulty is that Enkidu is more animal than man. Truly the wild, he is found with the beasts of the field and one shepherd notices this magnificent person is out of place so he searches out a way to make a man out of Enkidu. The solution: enter “harlot,” stage left. In short, she bares herself to Enkidu and after significant time together, the animals want nothing to do with Enkidu, who finds himself to be a man.

I want to stop right here and reflect on a few things that stand out to me. First, the Gilgamesh Epic is often touted a the source of the Bible; that is, the Bible borrows material. This means that the epic should be known for more than the Flood narrative. For example: Adam was made from clay, as was Enkidu. Adam found himself among the animals as did Enkidu. One may may the argument of borrowing here. One problem is that other people were in existence before Enkidu, enough for their to be kingdoms and kings. No person preexisted Adam.

Second, the Bible is often accused of being against women. The Gilgamesh epic presents women in a particular way that will receive comment later, but suffice this comparison and contrast: Adam found himself among animals only to discover there was no mate for him and one was provided. Don’t read that too fast: Adam is man, not animal, so he does not need to be transformed into man from an animal. He finds no companion for himself with animals.

Also, consider the treatment of the woman so far: a woman of ill-repute is brought to the animal in order to make him a man. What does the Epic say of women so far? They are disgusting and can be used, without dignity. Furthermore, she is expected to have sex with an animal, which is deeper degradation of the woman. The Bible give a higher place to the woman, speaking of her creation after man (not an animal) and from the man. She is presented to her husband by her Creator, not a shepherd.

So far, Gilgamesh is more of a piece of ancient literature, but a commentary of society. It can also be a benchmark to see which direction is favored when one attempts to discredit scripture.

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