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Human destinies: Hell

Wildfire 1 400pxThe Bible teaches more about hell than it teaches about heaven. An understanding of hell can give us an appreciation of God’s mercy and God’s love. It can also help us to understand how dangerous it is to be without faith in Christ. Not to be covered by the grace of God, heading towards a destiny the Bible calls hell.

Johnathan Edwards preached a sermon titled “Sinners in the hand of the angry God”. He spoke about hell and human beings outside the covering of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, heading towards hell, which is a dangerous thing. Recently I saw a similar title, “God in the hand of angry sinners”. Postmodernity is witnessing the fact that God is thrown into the hands of angry sinners who are tearing apart everything that is noble, everything that is eternal, and everything that is miraculous. We are living in a world in which people do not want to talk about death or life after death or cemeteries or graveyards or corruptibility or decay or disintegration. These are things which aren’t favorable, positive or good. But we must talk about hell because the Bible talks about hell.

What do we mean by “hell”? It’s not life without the presence of God because He is there as the God of justice, righteousness, holiness and judgment. But there is no fellowship with God in hell. It’s a place of fire. It’s circumstances that aren’t normal or acceptable, or favorable or comforting, but are disturbing, or challenging or distracting. It’s eternal. A place of pain, thirst, and solitude. A place for Satan and his followers (demons and unbelievers).

There are some false ideas about life after death, such as the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory where people are purified after death so they can go to heaven. And the theory of annihilationism, which is the destruction of the wicked after death. These are all extrabiblical.

The Old Testament word for hell is “sheol”. It is used for the unseen state of life; or a grave or pit; or torment. It’s meaning in a particular passage is determined by the context. In the New Testament the word “Gehenna” means a place of torment or a place of perpetual burning with fire. It implies agony, infliction and suffering. This conveys the eternal nature of hell and the experience within hell. The Biblical passages we will look at about Gehenna are horrifying. Much of this language uses figures of speech like parables, similes, metaphors, and symbols to describe things that are indescribable (like something spiritual or divine). Most of the passages about hell were spoken by Jesus. They are true because they were spoken by the Son of God and included in the Word of God (the Bible).

The Bible says the following about hell.

It’s real

Words represent what they describe. They symbolize what they describe. They are symbols that represent what is real. Hell is a word that represents a real spiritual place. The concept is real.

A passage about the eternal state says, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Rev. 21:8NIV). The fire and burning is a symbol of something in eternity. This “fire” can hurt the spiritual bodies of unbelievers.

The Bible mentions three kinds of death:
physical death is the separation of the soul and spirit from the human body.
spiritual death is the temporary separation of the soul, spirit and body from God. They are still able to be reconciled with God and obtain eternal life.
– the second death is the eternal separation of the soul, spirit and body from God in hell. Jesus said, “be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28).

The Bible describes the judgement of unbelievers, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life [an unbeliever] was thrown into the lake of fire [the second death]” (Rev. 20:15). Going to church doesn’t make us a believer. Being baptized doesn’t make us a believer. Having Christian parents doesn’t make us a believer. The Bible doesn’t teach that. Instead, the Bible teaches that those who believe that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered for their sins are saved from this punishment. It’s a personal commitment to Christ that makes the difference.

So, hell is real whether we believe it or not. And whether we like it or not. Our beliefs are not going to change the truth. Hell is real. But those who want to comfort others don’t believe that hell is real.

It’s eternal

When Jesus returns to establish His kingdom, He will separate those living at that time into believers and unbelievers. This is what Jesus will say to the unbelievers, “Then He [Jesus Christ] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal [endless or everlasting] fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). This says that hell was not originally intended for people. It was meant for Satan and demons. Unfortunately, it’s also the destiny of unbelievers.

Hell is eternal and the punishment there is everlasting. It’s not going to end. There is no mitigation. The Bible says, “then they will go away to eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46). Not temporary purification (like purgatory). Not temporary sanctification. Not temporary considerations of suffering. Not annihilation. It’s continual. Forever and ever.

A place of fire

Jesus used a hyperbole to emphasize the need for drastic action to deal with our sinfulness, “It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out” (Mk. 9:43). Can you imagine a place full of fire? An “eternal fire” (Mt. 18:8). This is figurative language from Isaiah 66:24. We can’t image how horrible it will be. But that is what the Bible says.

In August 2018 a national disaster was declared in Northern California due to massive wildfires burning there. And in September 2018, a wildfire forced more than 700 people from their homes in Croatia and Italy. It’s horrifying to be trapped in a wildfire.

A place of worms

Jesus used another hyperbole to emphasize the need for drastic action to deal with our sinfulness, “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched’” (Mk. 9:47-48). This is more figurative language from Isaiah 66:24. It relates to the garbage dump in the valley of Hinnom (Gehenna in Greek) near Jerusalem where fires and maggots were prevalent. The second (eternal) death is likened to being devoured by worms that never die. It could be a figurative way to refer to a guilty conscience and the memory of shameful things done in this life. It shows that the misery of unbelievers will never end. Hell is characterized by unending suffering.

A place of torment

The Bible says that those who oppose God will be “tormented with burning sulfur” (Rev. 14:9-10). And Satan “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” in the lake of burning sulfur (Rev. 20:10). Torment means mental agony. No celebration. No peace of mind. What a terrible situation to be in forever.

A place for Satan

We have already looked at, “the eternal [endless or everlasting] fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Hell wasn’t originally meant for human beings. It was prepared for the angel who rebelled against God. God doesn’t like human beings to be confined in hell. God is gracious. He died for all the people of the world. And He loves each one of us. And He wanted everyone to be with Him in heaven. But unfortunately, if someone rejects the gift of salvation, this is their final destiny.

The Bible says that the great political and religious leaders who rebel against God in a coming day will be “thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (Rev. 19:20). So, Hell is a place where Satan and his followers, whether they be demons or human beings, end up being tormented forever. There’s no escape. It’s permanent confinement.

Lessons for us

If you are a believer, confirm your personal commitment to Christ by displaying godliness and the fruit of the Spirit (2 Pt. 1:10). Strengthen yourself. We are not heading to hell. Hell is not a fearsome thing for a believer. But we are heading to heaven where the joys of heaven will carry us through eternity. And “Preach the word [the good news about Jesus]; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Remember many people are heading towards hell. Make use of every opportunity to witness for Christ. We don’t want anyone to perish in hell.

If you an unbeliever, or if you are unsure, Paul says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Trusting Jesus as the One who took our punishment when He died and is now the Lord of our lives is the only way to escape the horrors of hell.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.

Written, October 2018

Also see:  Heaven and hell” What is hell like?
Where’s hell?

Human destinies: Heaven

Heaven 5 400pxChristianity provides the most comforting and comprehensive way of life which addresses the fundamental aspects of human life. Some of the major questions we ask are: Where do we come from? It’s a question of human origin. The Bible says that God created humanity in the beginning. Who are we? It’s a question of human identity.  Christians are children of God. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here and what is the purpose of human existence on earth? It’s a question of human purpose. Where are we heading? And where are we going? It’s a question of human destiny. Christianity doesn’t only provide a reasonable answer to these questions for believers alone, but it addresses every human being. Is this post we look at the last topic: Where are we going? What is our destiny? This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on this topic by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan.

Heaven and hell

It’s very important for us to understand that the question of human destiny is based upon the question of the Jesus’ identity. Who Jesus is and what He is doing for us is determining human destinies. If someone believes in Jesus and His sacrificial death for human sin, then their destiny is fixed with Him. But if someone doesn’t believe in Jesus and His death for human sin and for the destiny of the world, then that person’s destiny is fixed without Christ for the whole of eternity. So Jesus is the decisive person here and now. The choice we make here in relation to Jesus and in relation to the good news (gospel message) in Scripture is going to decide our future destiny.

What does the Bible generally say about the destiny of human life? In this post, we will not look at what happens immediately after death or future events such as the tribulation or the millennial reign of Christ. But we are going to focus on the final destiny of human life. The Bible says that people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27NIV). So death is certain. It’s like we all have a terminal disease. Some will die early and some will die later, but we will all die. This is a consequence of Adam’s rebellion against God. And after death there is judgement. There are various kinds of judgements described in the Bible. But God’s final judgement is going to divide everyone who ever lived from Adam down to the end of time into two groups. “Then they [unbelievers] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [believers] to eternal life” (Mt. 25:46). The first group is unbelievers (who don’t trust in Jesus Christ) who face eternal punishment (hell). And the other group are believers saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who face eternal life (heaven). This post describes heaven, and the next one describes hell.

The Bible addresses human need, but not human curiosity. For example, it doesn’t tell us what Lazarus experienced after death. The Bible is like a love letter from a Father to His children saying that I am in control, trust me as we pass from death to eternity. We are excited about heaven. But heaven isn’t a surprise. Instead it is an outcome of all the decisions and the choices we make today. A small, simple, clear decision and encounter with Jesus we make is going to decide that destiny.

What is heaven?

According to the Bible, heaven is where Jesus is. It’s a place that God promised to prepare for us where there is no sin, no disease and no death. But is heaven going to be a place? It can be a spiritual place. We understand things through comparison, and analysis, and verification, and through examples. We don’t have realities in this world to compare with the heavenly. But we have symbols to express these realities like parables, similes and metaphors, which are the language we use to speak about the eternal and the heavenly and things that we do not know but are revealed in the Bible.

The word “heaven” is used in the Bible for three main purposes. It’s meaning in a particular passage is determined by the context. It’s “shamayim” in the Old Testament Hebrew language and “ouranos” in the New Testament Greek language. It is used for the atmosphere (sky), the universe (stars and galaxies) and the abode of God (the third heaven). In this post we are looking at the third meaning of heaven. The Bible says that this heaven is:

God’s home

It’s a spiritual home. A place of God’s being. When Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray, He said “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven …’” (Mt. 6:9). So, heaven is a place where God is. It’s God’s home. And in the Bible the word heaven is synonymous with God Himself. And Jesus told them, “My Father’s house has many rooms” (Jn. 14:2). So, heaven is our Father’s home.

The believer’s promised home

Jesus told His disciples “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:2-3). So heaven is also a place for believers. Jesus promised to return and take believers to be with Him in heaven. What a great promise to encourage us when we face the pain, struggles, tears, weakness, and challenges of life.

The believer’s citizenship

Paul told the Christians in Philippi, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). We are travelers and sojourners here. Our life is very short. It’s temporary. The brevity of life is going to give way to the permanent citizenship of heaven. Are we happy to be a permanent citizen of heaven? Mortality will be swallowed up in immortality. Corruptibility will be swallowed up in incorruptibility. And the temporal will be swallowed up in the eternal. Are we waiting for these joys of heaven?

The believer’s eternal home

After Paul described the rapture of the dead, he said “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them [resurrected believers] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we [all believers] will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). At the rapture all believers will leave the earth to live with the Lord. It will be an endless life in heaven. It’s a great destiny which is described in the Bible as follows.

A place of inheritance

An inheritance is kept in heaven for those who trust in Jesus. Peter writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us [believers] new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you [believers], who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time “ (1 Pt. 1:3-5). Its been said that “he is not a fool who gives away what he cannot keep for the sake of what he cannot lose”. Believers are not fools. They give up the perishable things of this world to secure, gain and keep forever the imperishable things to come. It’s an eternal inheritance. In heaven, God will deliver all believers from the presence of evil and sin.

A place of hope

Paul often thanks God for the faithfulness of His people, “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:4-5). This hope is not a virtue or an attribute. Jesus Christ is our hope: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It’s the assurance of eternal life in heaven (Tit. 1:2). Jesus Christ is returning to take His followers to be with Him. Are we ready to meet Him with confidence?

A place of God’s presence

A passage about the eternal state says, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them” (Rev. 21:3).

A place of perfection

John wrote, “now we [believers] are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). They will not become gods or semi-gods. But they will be like Jesus in His risen body. In His resurrected glory. Christlikeness is their destiny.

A place of joy

A passage about the eternal state says, “‘He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Everything will be new. No more suffering or physical ailments.

A place of glory

A passage about the eternal state says, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23). God provided light so that the Israelites could travel by night (Ex. 13:21-22). But this eternal light will be more glorious than that. We can’t imagine what it will be like. There will be no time, space or mass.

A place of resting

Believers are promised eternal rest. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:9-11). What a great prospect for those who live in a restless world.

A place of worshipping and serving

But what are believers going to do in heaven? There will be plenty to do. There is worship. In this passage three groups of people are worshipping God 24/7. They are the multitude of believers, the 24 elders and the four living creatures. And the elders, “lay their crowns before the throne”, showing that God alone is worthy of praise and worship (Rev. 4:10).

In a coming time when God defeats those who persecute His people, there will be praise and worship in heaven. “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah [Praise the Lord]! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!” Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you His servants, you who fear Him, both great and small!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb [Jesus] has come, and His bride [believers] has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:1-7).

A place of fellowship and celebration

In contrast to the law of Moses [the old covenant], the new covenant is described as, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). Believers are not alone in heaven. They are with a crowd of angels and human beings who are resurrected, restored, and enjoying the presence of God in celebration. Heaven is a place of celebration and joy and fellowship with God. Are you excited? Live up to that. Then one day Jesus will call, “Come on! I’m ready. Come out of your graves! Come out of your bodies, and pain and tears and suffering. Servants of God, who have put their trust in Jesus. Come home. Enjoy your rest”. May God keep us focused on the fellowship and celebration of eternal glory. May we cherish the eternal heaven of God which is our home, promised for us forever and ever.

Summary

Heaven is our destiny if we trust in the death of Christ on the cross to forgive our sins. It’s God’s home, the believer’s promised eternal home, and the believer’s citizenship. It’s a place of eternal inheritance, hope, God’s presence, perfection, joy, glory, resting, worshipping and serving, and fellowship and celebration.

Let’s not forget our faith or our journey with Jesus. And never lose the enjoyment of God in our life because that’s what’s going to keep us going until we reach our heavenly home.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.

Written, October 2018

Also see: Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?
What are the new heaven and new earth like?

Making a difference

Making a difference 2 400pxLast week I assisted with “Made to make a difference”, a Holiday Camp for children with difficult family situations. The children were encouraged to reach beyond their situation to help others. To change the world! They were taught that they were to make a difference and that they have unique gifts and abilities that can be used to help others. That’s what God created them for. And they were encouraged to be all that God created them to be. Is this post we look at the vision and culture that set the tone of this Holiday Camp.

The vision

God says, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for” (Eph. 1:11Message). Our vision is to see people eternally saved, free in Christ, and inspired and empowered to be all that God has created them to be. We want children to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and to realize that they are loved, believed in and created for a purpose. God has given them gifts, talents and abilities to change the world.

We want children to be able to declare: I am a nation changer! I have been designed and created to change the world. God is my wisdom, courage and strength. He has given me gifts, talents and abilities to use to glorify Him. I am loved. I am saved. I have a purpose. It’s in Jesus Christ that I find out who I am and what I am living for. I am a child of the most High King and it’s in Him that I find my worth. Because of this, I will aim to make good choices in life.

The culture

Those caring for the children at the Holiday Camp were encouraged to behave according to the following culture.

Can do attitude. I will be a part of the solution, never the problem. “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13NLT).

This is not a job, it’s a calling. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).

Serving the Lord with gladness. Not being ruled by our minimum, think answers not problems. “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18).

Empowerment starts with me. Being uncomplicated, avoiding I don’t knows, pulling people up, not down. “And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!’” (Neh. 8:10).

Gossip is ugly. Keep it light. “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (Jas. 3:17-28).

Bringing people around you on the journey. Bad reflections bite you in the butt, be careful where you dump. If you want to be honored, be honoring. “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences” (Prov. 18:21).

I am the culture. I am the atmosphere. We all affect the spiritual culture at Camp. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Col. 3:23).

My tone of voice is not whiny. Not playing emotional games of silence, speaking words of life and encouragement. “Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing” (Ps. 100:2NASB).

I delegate but I don’t dump. Being aware of the real worlds that people work in. “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Gal. 6:7-9NLT).

My spirituality is attractive. Loving Jesus, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, forming a deliberate family. “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

I demonstrate Christ’s love in every situation. I love like Jesus. “Christ’s love controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 Jn. 3:18).

I welcome children. I affirm their worth, dignity and significance. “One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so He could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering Him. When Jesus saw what was happening, He was angry with His disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then He took the children in His arms and placed His hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mk. 10:13-16).

Summary

Although this vision and culture applied to a children’s Holiday Camp, it can apply elsewhere as well. We were all made to make a difference. So let’s practice our purpose by developing a relationship with Jesus Christ, realizing that we are loved, helping the needy, and encouraging others to do the same.

Acknowledgement: The content of this blogpost was sourced from Inspiring Hope, a humanitarian organization which exists to inspire the hope of Jesus to a hurting world.

Written, October 2018

Old age and dementia

Aged care 5 400pxThe Australian Government has announced a Royal Commission into the aged care sector. It will primarily look at the quality of care provided to senior Australians in residential-care (nursing homes) and in home-care (aging in own home). The Royal Commission was announced just before Four Corners aired a two-part investigation on TV into the treatment of the elderly in aged-care homes. This included disturbing accounts of overworked staff and neglected residents.

But what does the Bible say about old age and dementia?

Aging is a part of life 

The Bible treats aging as a normal process. Solomon said there is “a time to be born and a time to die” (Eccl. 3:2NIV). In Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 he poetically describes old age (v.1-5) and death (v.6-7). This is a stage in life when we become more dependent on others. If we live long enough, we all grow old and die. Life fades away.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 is one long sentence in Hebrew. It’s introduced by saying that old age is characterized by “trouble” (or difficult days) and lack of pleasure (v.1). Then it says that the arms and hands begin to tremble. The legs and knees begin to sag. Teeth are lost, and chewing is more difficult. The eyes are dimmed. Hearing diminishes. Sleep becomes more difficult and one is easily wakened. Singing and music are less appreciated. One becomes more fearful. The hair becomes white. The once active become weak. And the passions and desires of life weaken and wane.

It describes physical deterioration and loss of self-confidence (v.5a). Every part of the body is slowing down and declining—including the brain and the mind—until finally “the silver cord is severed”, “the golden bow is broken”, “the pitcher is shattered at the spring”, and “the wheel broken at the well” (v.6-7).

The elderly and those with dementia are valuable

Because they are made in the image of God, all people are important to God and should be important to us as well. This gives everyone, including  the elderly and those with dementia, dignity which demands our respect. The Bible says that because people are in the image of God, murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6). This implies that because people are in the image of God, euthanasia is also wrong.

All Christians are a child of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This applies to the elderly and those with dementia. God is still with them. Nothing can separate them from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39).

So the elderly and those with dementia should be valuable to us as well.

God is always good

The Bible says that God is good. No matter our circumstances, God’s character does not change.

When God described how He sustained the Jews He said, “Even to your old age and grey hairs
I [God] am He, I am He who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isa. 46:4).

So in old age and dementia, God is present and sustains people.

Ultimate healing

Old age and dementia are symptoms of our sinful world, that is characterized by decay. Nothing that is physical lasts for ever. The hope of all Christians is to live eternally in the presence of God where there will be no old age or dementia. No more difficult days. Instead, one day suffering and sickness will be no more (Rom. 8:18-25). God was with us in the past, he is with us in the present, and he will be with us in the future.

So we don’t need to freeze our body after we die in the hope it can be revived and reanimated in future. The only reliable hope for immortality is via the God who designed our bodies and who controls our destinies.

What should be our response to the aged and those with dementia?

Aged care 4 400pxCare and respect

The elderly and those with dementia deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The Israelites were to respect the elderly like they respected God:
“Stand up in the presence of the aged,
show respect for the elderly
and revere your God. I am the Lord”
(Lev. 19:32). And Jesus showed love and respect to all people. The early church supported orphans and widows (Acts 6:1-6; Jas. 1:26). And the church at Ephesus supported widows without descendants (Eph. 5:3-10).

But what can we do for the elderly and those with dementia? We can show respect by providing for their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs even though it may be difficult to understand what they are. Christians are urged, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:9-10). And Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine [who needed food, drink, hospitality and clothes] you did for me” (Mt. 25:40). This means always being kind and loving.

When supporting the elderly, we can focus on God’s comfort, forgiveness, and promises of love and eternal presence. Early memories are usually retained long into the dementia. If the person has a Christian background, reading the Bible, prayer and gospel songs can give them a sense of comfort and peace and help them feel loved. If we assist them to use all their senses—sight, sound, touch, and smell—spiritual memories will often be awakened. When we help a person feel God’s presence, even for only a moment, we have made a difference in their quality of life. Caregivers need support and respite as well.

What about us?

This reminds us that life is short and uncertain. We need to make the most of opportunities while we can. The time to receive Christ and serve the Lord is while we are still alive, in our right minds and can make a choice. Solomon says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come … “ (Eccl. 12:1). We will not have the ability to enjoy the blessing of a godly old age and a life of service to God if earlier in life we do not trust in the historical fact that God sent Jesus to remove our barrier to heaven by dying for our sin.

What can we do to prepare for old age? We can ask what spiritual disciplines are regular enough for us that they will “stick” even during dementia? Are we reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture; praying to God; singing gospel songs; and serving others? Such practices train us in godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). If we do these regularly, then they will bring motivation and comfort when we are reminded of them in our old age.

Summary

Aging is a part of life. The elderly are valuable. God is always good. And all the ailments of old age and dementia will disappear in heaven.

Meanwhile, our time on earth is limited. Let’s use our abilities and opportunities while we can to respect and care of the elderly and those with dementia.

Written, September 2018

Leadership that lasts

September-18_LeadershipThatLasts_JPG 400pxOver ten years, Australia has had seven prime ministers. ‘Madness’ said Malcolm Turnbull, the last prime minister to ‘get rolled’. Meanwhile, the media in other countries are describing us as the ‘coup capital of the world’. Here in Australia, voters are wondering exactly who and what they voted for.

The problem with changing leaders so often is that it’s hard for Prime Ministers and governments to implement a long-term vision. It takes time to build trust and relationships. It takes time to develop big ideas and work through obstacles to achieve them. But if leaders are being ‘rolled’ on a regular basis then the general public are entitled to think none of those good things are happening.

Although we Australians feel a little embarrassed about our leadership changes, it’s worth noting that political instability is commonplace in every country. And it’s always for the same reasons. We have a revolving door of Prime Ministers because political parties and the wider general public can’t agree about what the future should look like. Add jealous, personal rivalries and prejudice and you get instability.

But the Bible speaks about a leader whose vision stretches beyond the borders of this country into all of eternity. It speaks about a government where everyone who belongs will be happy and united – including people from all races and tribes.

That leader is Jesus. Here is how two prophets writing thousands of years ago described His rule. The great prophet Isaiah said,
“… The government will rest on his shoulders … his government and its peace
    will never end” (Is. 9:6-7)

While the prophet Daniel spoke not just of an endless rule, but of a safe place open to every tribe and people group,
He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).

If you’re cynical and jaded about leaders then Jesus is a reason to start believing again. If politics have burned you badly then know that Jesus won’t let you down. He’s the true King, the real messiah, a leader you can be genuinely excited about!

Bible verse: Daniel 7:14, “… His kingdom will never be destroyed”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you that Jesus is a leader we can trust and who will lead us home to heaven.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Posted, September 2018

Flood stories: Fact or fiction?

Michael Jordan 4 400pxDid Michael Jordan walk away from Nike? No. This rumor was debunked by FactCheck.org. This story was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. And snops.com also investigates American urban legends. While, Fact Check determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in the public debate in Australia. Bruce Masse, an environmental archaeologist says “Myths are largely event-based, in that they are triggered to a large part by an event, or combination of events, that catastrophically impact society”.

In this post we look at ancient legendary flood stories. Are they entirely imaginary, fictional and mythical or is there some factual reality or truth behind them? And could the Biblical account of the flood be based on ancient mythology like the Gilgamesh flood myth?

Hebrew account of the flood

The book of Genesis was edited by Moses in about 1450BC and the earliest copies available today are from the 2nd century BC found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It begins with the creation of the world and the universe (Gen. 1-2). Then there is the fall into sin (Gen. 3-5) and the flood (Gen. 6-9). The sources of Genesis are 12 family documents. The account of the flood is in the record of the descendants of Noah (Gen. 6:9-9:29). According to the Bible, the Flood occurred about 2350BC and Noah died about 2000BC (these are rounded numbers). So the original account (which was edited by Moses) would have been dated to before 2000BC.

God created a universe that was good and free from sin. God created humanity to have a personal relationship with Him. Adam and Eve sinned and thereby brought evil and death into the world. Evil increased steadily in the world until there was only one family in which God found anything good. God sent the flood to wipe out evil, but delivered Noah and his family along with the animals in the Ark. After the flood, humanity began again to multiply and spread throughout the world.

The biblical account of the flood is summarized below.
God commanded Noah to build an ark (boat) about 135m long, 23m wide and 14m high. It had three decks, a roof and a door. Noah and his three sons and their wives entered the ark. God made a male and female of very kind of bird and animal go into the ark. Then God shut the door and after seven days subterranean water gushed out of the earth and rain fell for 40 days. The flood waters rose to a depth of at least 7m above the mountains that existed at that time (which were lower than today’s mountains). There was much erosion and sedimentation, followed by more erosion, associated with the global flood. The earth was flooded for another 150 days before the waters receded until the ark rested on the Ararat mountains. All the other birds and animals on earth were drowned in the catastrophe. Tectonic forces raised mountains and there was much erosion as massive amounts of  flood water flowed to lower levels (Ps. 104:6-9). After another 74 days the tops of the mountains became visible. After another 40 days Noah sent out a raven, and then 7 days later he sent out a dove, but it returned to the ark. Seven days later he sent out the dove again and it returned with an olive leaf. Seven days later he sent out the dove again, but it didn’t return. After about 370 days in the ark, God commanded Noah to come out of the ark with his family and all the animals. Noah then built and altar to sacrifice an offering to God for protecting them. God made a covenant with Noah and promised that those who were on the ark will repopulate the earth. And never again will there be such a flood that destroys the earth. And the rainbow in the sky will be the sign (symbol) of this covenant.

Gilgamesh flood tablet 11 - 3 400pxBabylonian account of the flood

The Gilgamesh flood myth is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written on 12 clay tablets. A copy of Tablet 11 was found in Nineveh and is dated in the 7th century BC. This was the Babylonian account of the Flood, which was inscribed in cuneiform text on a baked clay tablet. Many scholars believe that the flood myth was added to Tablet 11 in the “standard version” of the Gilgamesh Epic by an editor who utilized the flood story from the Epic of Atrahasis (Appendix E). Tablet 11 has the following clue, “It was not I who revealed the secret of the Great Gods, I only made a dream appear to Atrahasis, and thus he heard our secret”. The oldest copy of the Epic of Atrahasis is dated 1650BC and scholars reckon the time of its first compilation in the Akkadian language is around 2,000 B.C. But some editorial changes were made to the text in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s believed that the Epic of Atrahasis utilized the flood story from The Eridu Genesis, which contains a Sumerian flood story (Appendix F).

The Babylonian flood account has been summarized as follows.
Gilgamesh 3 400pxThe Sumerian hero Gilgamesh traveled the world in search of a way to cheat death. On one of his journeys, he came across an old man, Utnapishtim, who told Gilgamesh a story from centuries past. The gods brought a flood that swallowed the earth. The gods were angry at humanity so they sent a flood to destroy them. The god Ea, warned Utnapishtim and instructed him to build an enormous boat to save himself, his family, and “the seed of all living things.” He does so, and the gods brought rain which caused the water to rise for many days. When the rains subsided, the boat landed on a mountain, and Utnapishtim set loose first a dove, then a swallow, and finally a raven, which found land. The god Ishtar created the rainbow and placed it in the sky, as a reminder to the gods and a pledge to mankind that there would be no more floods.

Comparison

The text of the flood from Genesis is given in Appendix A and the text from Gilgamesh is given in Appendix B. Can we tell if one was influenced by the other? Or are they separate accounts of the same event? There are similarities and differences between these accounts.

Similarities

In both Genesis and Gilgamesh, the flood is global in extent and after the flood is announced Noah and Utnapishtim are both instructed to build a boat coated in pitch, with many compartments, one door and at least one window. After the flood they both released birds to test for dry land. The boats both landed on mountains. Noah and Utnapishtim both offered sacrifices after the flood and they were both promised blessings.

Many of the similarities between the Genesis and Gilgamesh would be expected to be found in any ancient flood account. The landing of the boats on a mountain and the use of birds to determine when the flood subsided are probably the most unusual similarities.

Differences

There are also significant differences between Genesis and Gilgamesh. The theme of the Gilgamesh Epic is the quest for immortality. This isn’t mentioned in the Genesis flood story. Genesis is occupied with relating early history in the overarching plan of redemption of the true and living God.

The Bible says that the reason for the flood was that the earth was corrupt and full of violence; there was great wickedness and “the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5, 11-13). Whereas in Gilgamesh there is no clear reason for the flood: He says is was because Ištar said “evil things in the Assembly of the Gods” and mentioned “Charge the violation to the violator, charge the offense to the offender”. And the Sumerian flood story says that the gods were irritated by the noise of mankind (Appendix F). Noah was saved from the flood because he “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Gen. 6:9). But no reason is given in Gilgamesh for Utnapishtim being saved from the flood.

Noah urged the people to repent (maybe for 120 years; Gen. 6:3) to avoid God’s judgment, whereas Utnapishtim escaped death by deception (Gen. 6:3; 1 Pt. 3:19-20; 2 Pt. 3:9).

Noah is instructed directly by God, whereas Utnapishtim is instructed indirectly via dream. In Genesis the boat is rectangular, which is stable, whereas in Gilgamesh it is square, which is unstable. The Gilgamesh boat was an unseaworthy cube which would immediately flip over or roll around in the water. In contrast, the ark had dimensions that were ideal for a seaworthy ship. Noah’s boat had 3 decks, but Utnapishtim’s boat had 6 decks. In Genesis the passengers were all family members, whereas in Gilgamesh it was family members and the craftsmen. In Genesis the animals came to Noah and entered the ark, whereas in Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim loaded the animals into the boat. In Genesis God shut the door, whereas in Gilgamesh Utnapishtim shut the door. In Genesis the water is subterranean plus rainfall, whereas in Gilgamesh it is only rainfall. In Genesis the storm lasted 40 days, whereas in Gilgamesh it lasted 6 days. When Utanapishtim looked out, “all the human beings had turned to clay”, but no such statement is attributed to Noah. Noah was on the boat for over a year, whereas Utnapishtim was on the boat for only a few weeks. Noah released a raven first and then a dove was released three times, whereas Utnapishtim released a dove first, then a swallow and a raven last. Noah’s boat landed on Mt Ararat, whereas Utnapishtim’s boat landed on Mt Nisir. When Noah sacrificed he burnt clean animals and clean birds. Whereas Utnapishtim burned incense from the oil of reeds, cedar, and myrtle.

Noah’s blessing was that he would have many descendants who would repopulate the earth, people would now be able to eat animals for food (as well as plants) and God promised to never destroy the earth again with a flood. Whereas Utnapishtim and his wife were turned into gods that lived for ever.

The God in Genesis is monotheistic, while Gilgamesh has many gods – it’s polytheistic. Enlil, who mainly decreed the flood, is not omnipotent or omniscient because a fellow god Ea thwarted him. Ea tells Utnapishtim to deceive the rest of the people so they would not realize a flood was coming even when the huge ship was being built. The polytheistic gods are fallible and not ethical or moral. They are constantly fighting amongst each other, plotting and deceiving each other.

These differences illustrate the differences between the Hebrew and Babylonian worldviews. They are completely different worldviews. The Mesopotamian story reflects the world-view of continuity whereby the worlds of humanity, nature, and the divine have no definite borders and so interact with each other. The world-view of the Bible, by contrast, is that of transcendence; where humanity and nature is not God, but instead, God is other than, and not bound by, the world and humanity.

Monotheism and polytheism in the Bible

The Bible (the most reliable source on ancient history for the God who is sovereign over human history) teaches that humanity was originally monotheistic and monotheism preceded polytheism. It says that the one true God created the earth and the universe. The first couple, Adam and Eve communicated with the one true God, who banished them from the garden of Eden. So the world was monotheistic at the beginning. In the next generation, Cain and Abel, offered sacrifices to the one true God. God communicated with Cain and Cain was banished for murdering Abel. We are not told when polytheism began, but it is said that in Seth’s generation “people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). The implication seems to be that the descendants of Cain weren’t following God. For example, Lamech practiced polygamy and was violent (Gen. 4:19-24). Presumably he also followed another god(s).

The fact that Enoch “walked faithfully with God”, probably means that there were others who were not following God. (Gen. 5:21-24). Presumably they also followed other gods. Before the flood, Noah “walked faithfully with God” and he “did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:9, 22). The rest of humanity “had corrupted their ways” and “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5, 12). This probably means that the other people were not following God. Presumably they followed other gods. All those who worshipped other gods drowned in the flood and the earth was repopulated by Noah’s family. So the world was monotheistic again immediately after the flood.

Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The nations that descended from them are given in Genesis 10. Shem, Ham, and Japheth were monotheistic because they followed the one true God. But their descendants forgot the true God and followed false gods. In the following paragraphs we see how the Bible says that the following Hamites were polytheistic: Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and the Canaanite clans (Gen. 10:6-20).

The first specific mention of a person that practiced polytheism in the Bible relates to Terah, the father of Abraham, who lived about 2000BC. God told Joshua, “Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods” (Josh. 24:2). So after the flood and the dispersion from Babel, those who lived in Mesopotamia were polytheistic. After God revealed himself to Abram, Abram forsook the gods of his ancestors and followed the God who created the world. He obeyed God and travelled to Canaan where he offered sacrifices to the one true God. So he is an example of someone who converted from polytheism to monotheism. In about 1900BC his nephew Lot lived near Sodom. The Bible says, “the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). God destroyed Sodom because there were less than ten righteous people in the city (Gen. 18:32 – 19:29). This probably means that they were not following God. Presumably they followed other gods.

The first specific mention of a person that practiced polytheism in the Bible is when “Rachel stole her father’s household gods” at Harran in Paddan Aram in about 1750BC (Gen. 31:19). Later Jacob buried all the foreign gods (idols) in his household at Shechem because he was monotheistic and not polytheistic (Gen. 35:2-4).

The ten plagues in about 1450BC were God’s “judgment on all the gods [idols] of Egypt” (Ex. 12:12). The Egyptians were polytheistic; they worshipped many idols. The land of Egypt is mentioned first in the Bible when Abram visited during a famine in about 1900BC (Gen. 12:12-20). Presumably the Egyptians were also polytheistic then as they were 450 years later.

In about 1450BC God warned the Israelites not to worship the gods of “the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites” (Ex. 23:23-24, 33) because that would draw them away from the true God. When God made a covenant with Abram in about 1900BC, He said “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16). This probably means that they were not following God. Presumably they followed other gods as they were 450 years later.

When Abraham was living in Canaan in about 1900BC, “the Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land” (Gen. 13:7). Presumably they also followed other gods as they were 450 years later. In about 1875BC, God promised Abram to give his descendants “the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites” (Gen. 15:19-21). Presumably they also followed other gods as they were 425 years later.

As we can see, polytheism was prevalent in the ancient world. But it began as a rebellion against the one true God. So monotheism originated earlier than polytheism.

Evidence for the global flood

A global flood would leave geological, geomorphic, and cultural evidence. Sarfati (2015) summarized the physical evidence for the global flood in terms of two stages: inundation, followed by recession. Evidence of the flood inundation is:
– The huge horizontal extent of many rock layers. For example, the Great Artesian Basin in Australia.
– The rapid formation of the main rock layers. This includes: rapidly buried fossils (which we discover today in their sequence of burial); thick sandstones formed under water (like the 96 meter thick Coconino sandstone at the Grand Canyon); rapidly formed landscsapes and their rapid repopulation in the present (like the island of Surtsey near Iceland, and the Mt St Helens eruption); and rapid rock layering (many layers were formed quickly at Mt St Helens).
– Very little time between the rock layers. This includes: lack of erosion above and below; preservation of animal tracks, raindrop marks and ripple marks; and fossil tree trunks penetrating multiple layers.

Evidence of the flood recession is:
– Massive erosion (like around the 275 meter high Devils Tower in Wyoming).
– Planation surfaces – huge flat areas (by a giant sheet of water eroding freshly deposited rock layers). For example, the plateau of the Blue Mountains in Australia.
– Water gaps where rivers flow through mountains rather than around them (by channelized water flow). For example, the Heavitree Gap in the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in Australia.
– Rapidly formed canyons by channelized water flow (like at Mt St Helens).

Sarfati (2015) also claimed that all people groups across the world remember a global flood in their flood legends. These stories often have a common root that relates to a real event, not just a myth. The best explanation is that they have a common memory of the real event that’s described in Genesis. But the account became distorted over time.

Discussion

Many assume that Gilgamesh is the older of the two flood stories. But they assume that Genesis was edited during the Jewish exile in the 6th century BC. And the assumed date for the compilation of the Epic of Atrahasis is about 2000BC. That’s a difference of about 1,500 years! As mentioned above, the Bible says that Genesis was edited by Moses in about 1450BC. And the material he edited was from the record of the descendants of Noah, which dates to before 2000BC. For example, the directions in Genesis 10:19 include “toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim”. These were the cities of the plain God destroyed for their extreme wickedness 500 years before the time of Moses. When this is taken into account, it’s clear that both of the flood accounts are ancient and it’s not clear which is the oldest.

At the time of the flood, Noah’s family was monotheistic. Therefore, the record of the flood by his family should be more accurate that other polytheistic records. The Genesis account of the flood is written as a historical event and contains better explanations for what happened. It also makes more sense. For example, in the Gilgamesh epic, the ark is a cube, a terrible design for rough waters. Whereas Noah’s Ark was built to be tremendously stable. Gilgamesh’ flood account starts with an apparently arbitrary destruction of life and ends with an equally arbitrary extension of life into eternity. And Gilgamesh is clearly mythological, but Genesis is not mythological. It is common to make legends out of historical events, but not history from legends.

Evidently, the Genesis account came first, and the human writers of the Gilgamesh Epic rewrote the true account, and made their gods in their own image. This means that if one borrowed from the other, it was the Babylonian account that was influenced by the Genesis account. And it’s highly unlikely that Moses would have borrowed flood history from a foreign polytheistic civilization.

A clear flood tradition existed in ancient Mesopotamia from very early times and the fact that such ancient flood stories are common across the world indicate that it’s based on a real event. But with time this was corrupted and garbled by polytheistic and mythological superstition as seen in the accounts copied in this post.

Many scholars assume that Gilgamesh is the older of the two flood stories and that the Biblical account has been derived from the Gilgamesh account. We have shown that this is incorrect. We need to be aware of the bias and poor exegesis demonstrated by many scholars who just follow current trends and don’t realize that their presuppositions are wrong.

God’s message to polytheists

Many people who lived in the Roman Empire during the first century AD were polytheistic. Although they were religious, they followed many false gods (idols); they didn’t know about the true God. So Paul told them about “the God who made the world and everything in it” (Appendix G). The one true God sustains the world, “He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else”. And this God controls history, “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands”.

Then Paul told them about the true God and “the good news about Jesus and the resurrection”. He would have explained how humanity’s sin separated them from God and that Jesus was going to return to judge them. And He said, “He [God] commands all people everywhere to repent”. They were to turn around from following false gods and confess their sinfulness to the true God, and acknowledge that Jesus paid for their sins when He died and rose again.

Conclusion

Ancient flood stories can have elements of fact and fiction. Both the Biblical flood and the Gilgamesh flood are accounts of the global flood that occurred in the 3rd millennium BC. The Genesis flood account is an accurate historical record of the flood event, whereas the Gilgamesh flood account lost historical accuracy and was distorted over time. Other accounts of an ancient flood would have also been derived from this global flood. So ancient flood stories are not entirely imaginary, fictional and mythical because there some factual reality or truth behind them. But see Genesis in the Bible for the best account of this event.

According to this evidence, the biblical version of the flood isn’t based on ancient mythology like the Gilgamesh flood. Let’s be sceptical of those who assume that the Bible’s account was derived from Mesopotamian flood accounts.

Also, let’s remember that the good news about Jesus is for all those who don’t follow the one true God, whether they are polytheists or monotheists, or atheists.

Reference

Jona Lendering, Dutch historian, website on ancient history: http://www.livius.org

Sarfati J D (2015) The Genesis account. Creation Book Publishers. p. 509-510, 525-550.

Appendix A: Genesis 6:9-9:17 (NIV)
Jewish account of the flood

Chapter 6

This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

Chapter 7

1The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

Chapter 8

1But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

Chapter 9

1Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.

As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Appendix B: Tablet 11 of the Epic of Gilgamesh
Sumerian Flood Story

A translation from Jona Lendering of Tablet 11 of this epic is given below.

[1] Gilgameš spoke to Ut-napištim, the Faraway:
“I have been looking at you,
but your appearance is not strange – you are like me!
You yourself are not different – you are like me!
My mind was resolved to fight with you,
but instead my arm lies useless over you.
Tell me,
how is it that you stand in the Assembly of the Gods, and have found life?”

[8] Ut-napištim spoke to Gilgameš, saying:
“I will reveal to you, Gilgameš, a thing that is hidden,
a secret of the gods I will tell you!
Šuruppak, a city that you surely know,
situated on the banks of the Euphrates,
that city was very old, and there were gods inside it.

[14] The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood.
Their Father Anu uttered the oath,
Valiant Enlil was their Adviser,
Ninurta was their Chamberlain,
Ennugi was their Minister of Canals.

[19] Ea, the Prince, was under oath with them
so he repeated their talk to the reed house:
‘Reed house, reed house! Wall, wall!
O man of Šuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu [Ut-napištim]
Tear down the house and build a boat!
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make [the seed of] all living beings go up into the boat.
The boat which you are to build,
its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
its length must correspond to its width.
Roof it over like the Apsu.’ [the firmament in the primordial waters]

[32] I understood and spoke to my lord, Ea:
‘My lord, thus is the command which you have uttered
I will heed and will do it.
But what shall I answer the city, the populace, and the Elders?’

[36] Ea spoke, commanding me, his servant:
‘You, well then, this is what you must say to them:
“It appears that Enlil is rejecting me
so I cannot reside in your city,
nor set foot on Enlil’s earth.
I will go down to the Apsu to live with my lord, Ea,
and upon you he will rain down abundance,
a profusion of fowl, myriad fishes
He will bring to you a harvest of wealth,
in the morning he will let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat!”‘

[48] Just as dawn began to glow
the people assembled around me.
The carpenter carried his hatchet,
the reedworker carried his flattening stone,

[two lines destroyed]

[54] The child carried the pitch,
the weak brought whatever else was needed.
On the fifth day I had laid out her exterior.
It was a field in area,
its walls were each 10 times 12 cubits in height,
the sides of its top were of equal length, 10 times 12 cubits each [the boat was cubic].

[58] Then I designed its interior structure as follows:
I provided it with six decks,
thus dividing it into seven levels.
The inside of it I divided into nine compartments.
I drove plugs to keep out water in its middle part.
I saw to the punting poles and laid in what was necessary.

[65] Three times 3,600 units of raw bitumen I poured into the bitumen kiln,
three times 3,600 units of pitch […] into it,
there were three times 3,600 porters of casks who carried vegetable oil.
Apart from the 3,600 units of oil for the dedication,
the boatsman stored away two times 3,600 units of oil.

[70] I butchered oxen for the carpenters,
and day upon day I slaughtered sheep.
I gave the workmen beer, ale, oil, and wine,
as if it were river water,
and they made a party like the New Year’s Festival!

[75] I set my hand to the finishing of the ship.
The boat was finished by sunset.
The launching was very difficult:
They had to keep carrying a runway of poles front to back,
until two-thirds of it had gone under water.

[80] Whatever I had I loaded on it:
whatever silver I had I loaded on it,
whatever gold I had I loaded on it.
All the living beings that I had I loaded on it,
I had all my kith and kin go up into the boat,
all the beasts and animals of the field and the craftsmen I had go up.

[87] [The sun god] Šamaš had set a stated time:
‘In the morning I will let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat!
Go inside the boat, seal the entry!’

[89] That stated time had arrived.
In the morning he let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat.
I watched the appearance of the weather:
the weather was frightful to behold!

[93] I went into the boat and sealed the entry.
For the caulking of the boat, to Puzur-Amurri, the boatman,
I gave the palace together with its contents [A cynical joke. Puzur-Amurri must have though he had concluded a good deal].

[96] Just as dawn began to glow
there arose from the horizon a black cloud.
[the storm god] Adad rumbled inside of it,
before him went Šhullat and Haniš [Sack and Suppression],
heralds going over mountain and land.

[101] [The god of destruction] Erragal pulled out the mooring poles,
forth went [the war god] Ninurta and made the dikes overflow.

[103] The gods lifted up the torches,
setting the land ablaze with their flare.

[105] Stunned shock over Adad’s deeds overtook the heavens,
and turned to blackness all that had been light.
He shattered the land like a raging bull, broke it into pieces like a pot.

[108] All day long the South Wind blew,
blowing fast – and then the Flood came,
overwhelming the people like an attack.

[111] No one could see his fellow,
they could not recognize each other in the torrent.

[113] Even the gods were frightened by the Flood,
and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.
The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall.

[116] Ištar shrieked like a woman in childbirth,
the sweet-voiced Mistress of the Gods wailed:
‘The olden days have alas turned to clay,
because I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods!
How could I say evil things in the Assembly of the Gods,
ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people?
No sooner have I given birth to my dear people
than they fill the sea like so many fish!’

[124] The gods -those of the Anunnaki- were weeping with her,
the gods humbly sat weeping, sobbing with grief,
their lips burning, parched with thirst.
Six days and seven nights
came the wind and flood,
the storm flattening the land.

[129] When the seventh day arrived,
the storm was pounding.
She who had been struggling with itself like a woman writhing in labor,
the sea, calmed; the whirlwind fell still; the flood stopped.

[133] I looked around all day long – quiet had set in
and all the human beings had turned to clay!
The terrain was as flat as a roof.

[136] I opened a vent and daylight fell upon my cheek.
I fell to my knees and sat weeping,
tears streaming down my cheeks.
I looked around for coastlines in the expanse of the sea,
and at twelve leagues there emerged a region of land.

[141] On Mount Nimuš the boat lodged firm,
Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
One day and a second Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
A third day, a fourth, Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
A fifth day, a sixth, Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.

[146] When a seventh day arrived
I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.

[150] I sent forth a swallow and released it.
The swallow went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.

[153] I sent forth a raven and released it.
The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.
It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.

[156] I sacrificed: I offered a libation to the four corners of the world,
I burned incense in front of the rising mountain.
Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place,
and into the bowls I poured [the oil of] reeds, cedar, and myrtle.

[160] The gods smelled the savor,
the gods smelled the sweet savor,
and collected like flies over a sacrifice [An almost insulting comparison].

Just then the Mistress of the Gods arrived.
She lifted up the large fly-shaped beads which Anu had made for their engagement:

You gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli around my neck,
may I be mindful of these days, and never forget them!
The gods may come to the incense offering,
but Enlil may not come to the incense offering,
because without considering he brought about the Flood
and consigned my people to annihilation.’

[171] Just then Enlil arrived.
He saw the boat and became furious,
he was filled with rage at the Igigi gods:
‘Where did a living being escape?
No man was to survive the annihilation!’

[176] Ninurta spoke to Valiant Enlil, saying:
‘Who else but Ea could devise such a thing?
It is Ea who knows every machination!’

[180] Ea spoke to Valiant Enlil, saying:
‘It is yours, O Valiant One, who is the Sage of the Gods.
How, how could you bring about a Flood without consideration
Charge the violation to the violator,
charge the offense to the offender,
but be compassionate lest (mankind) be cut off,
be patient lest they be killed.

[187] Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that a lion had appeared to diminish the people!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that a wolf had appeared to diminish the people!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that famine had occurred to slay the land!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that Pestilent Erra had appeared to ravage the land!

[196] It was not I who revealed the secret of the Great Gods,
I only made a dream appear to Atrahasis, and thus he heard our secret [This is a strange line: the hero is not called Atrahasis, but Ut-napištim, and Ea had used another trick].
Now then! The deliberation should be about him!’

[198] 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:

[202] ‘Previously Ut-napištim was a human being.
But now let Ut-napištim and his wife become like us, the gods!
Let Ut-napištim reside far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers.’

[205] They took us far away and settled us at the Mouth of the Rivers.

[To Gilgameš] Now then, who will convene the gods on your behalf,
that you may find the life that you are seeking!
Wait! You must not lie down for six days and seven nights.”

[209] Soon as Gilgameš sat down (with his head) between his legs
sleep, like a fog, blew upon him.
Ut-napištim said to his wife:
“Look there! The man, the youth who wanted (eternal) life!
Sleep, like a fog, blew over him.”

Appendix C: Summary of the Babylonian Flood Story

Because Gilgamesh fears death, he determines to find immortality. During this search that he meets Utnapishtim, the character most like the Biblical Noah. Utnapishtim had become immortal after building a ship to weather the Great Deluge that destroyed mankind. He brought all of his relatives and all species of creatures aboard the vessel. Utnapishtim released birds to find land, and the ship landed upon a mountain after the flood.

Here is a summary of the poem according to Wikipedia.

Ea leaks the secret plan

  1. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh a secret story that begins in the old city of Shuruppak on the banks of the Euphrates River.
  2. The “great gods” Anu, Enlil, Ninurta, Ennugi, and Ea were sworn to secrecy about their plan to cause the flood.
  3. But the god Ea (Sumerian god Enki) repeated the plan to Utnapishtim through a reed wall in a reed house.
  4. Ea commanded Utnapishtim to demolish his house and build a boat, regardless of the cost, to keep living beings alive.
  5. The boat must have equal dimensions with corresponding width and length and be covered over like Apsu boats.
  6. Utnapishtim promised to do what Ea commanded.
  7. He asked Ea what he should say to the city elders and the population.
  8. Ea tells him to say that Enlil has rejected him and he can no longer reside in the city or set foot in Enlil’s territory.
  9. He should also say that he will go down to the Apsu “to live with my lord Ea”.
  10. Note: ‘Apsu’ can refer to a fresh water marsh near the temple of Ea/Enki at the city of Eridu.
  11. Ea will provide abundant rain, a profusion of fowl and fish, and a wealthy harvest of wheat and bread.

Building and launching the boat

  1. Carpenters, reed workers, and other people assembled one morning.
  2. [missing lines]
  3. Five days later, Utnapishtim laid out the exterior walls of the boat of 120 cubits.
  4. The sides of the superstructure had equal lengths of 120 cubits. He also made a drawing of the interior structure.
  5. The boat had six decks [?] divided into seven and nine compartments.
  6. Water plugs were driven into the middle part.
  7. Punting poles and other necessary things were laid in.
  8. Three times 3,600 units of raw bitumen were melted in a kiln and three times 3,600 units of oil were used in addition to two times 3,600 units of oil that were stored in the boat.
  9. Oxen and sheep were slaughtered and ale, beer, oil, and wine were distributed to the workmen, like at a new year’s festival.
  10. When the boat was finished, the launching was very difficult. A runway of poles was used to slide the boat into the water.
  11. Two-thirds of the boat was in the water.
  12. Utnapishtim loaded his silver and gold into the boat.
  13. He loaded “all the living beings that I had.”
  14. His relatives and craftsmen, and “all the beasts and animals of the field” boarded the boat.
  15. The time arrived, as stated by the god Shamash, to seal the entry door.

The storm

  1. Early in the morning at dawn a black cloud arose from the horizon.
  2. The weather was frightful.
  3. Utnapishtim boarded the boat and entrusted the boat and its contents to his boatmaster Puzurammurri who sealed the entry.
  4. The thunder god Adad rumbled in the cloud and storm gods Shullar and Hanish went over mountains and land.
  5. Erragal pulled out the mooring poles and the dikes overflowed.
  6. The Annunnaki gods lit up the land with their lightning.
  7. There was stunned shock at Adad’s deeds which turned everything to blackness. The land was shattered like a pot.
  8. All day long the south wind blew rapidly and the water overwhelmed the people like an attack.
  9. No one could see his fellows. They could not recognize each other in the torrent.
  10. The gods were frightened by the flood, and retreated up to the Anu heaven. They cowered like dogs lying by the outer wall.
  11. Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth.
  12. The Mistress of the gods wailed that the old days had turned to clay because “I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people who fill the sea like fish.”
  13. The other gods were weeping with her and sat sobbing with grief, their lips burning, parched with thirst.
  14. The flood and wind lasted six days and six nights, flattening the land.
  15. On the seventh day, the storm was pounding [intermittently?] like a woman in labor.

Calm after the storm

  1. The sea calmed and the whirlwind and flood stopped. All day long there was quiet. All humans had turned to clay.
  2. The terrain was as flat as a roof top. Utnapishtim opened a window and felt fresh air on his face.
  3. He fell to his knees and sat weeping, tears streaming down his face. He looked for coastlines at the horizon and saw a region of land.
  4. The boat lodged firmly on mount Nimush which held the boat for several days, allowing no swaying.
  5. On the seventh day he released a dove which flew away, but came back to him. He released a swallow, but it also came back to him.
  6. He released a raven which was able to eat and scratch, and did not circle back to the boat.
  7. He then sent his livestock out in various directions.

The sacrifice

  1. He sacrificed a sheep and offered incense at a mountainous ziggurat where he placed 14 sacrificial vessels and poured reeds, cedar, and myrtle into the fire.
  2. The gods smelled the sweet odor of the sacrificial animal and gathered like flies over the sacrifice.
  3. Then the great goddess arrived, lifted up her flies (beads), and said
  4. “Ye gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli [amulet] around my neck, I shall be mindful of these days and never forget them! The gods may come to the sacrificial offering. But Enlil may not come, because he brought about the flood and annihilated my people without considering [the consequences].”
  5. When Enlil arrived, he saw the boat and became furious at the Igigi gods. He said “Where did a living being escape? No man was to survive the annihilation!”
  6. Ninurta spoke to Enlil saying “Who else but Ea could do such a thing? It is Ea who knew all of our plans.”
  7. Ea spoke to Enlil saying “It was you, the Sage of the Gods. How could you bring about a flood without consideration?”
  8. Ea then accuses Enlil of sending a disproportionate punishment, and reminds him of the need for compassion.
  9. Ea denies leaking the god’s secret plan to Atrahasis (= Utnapishtim), admitting only sending him a dream and deflecting Enlil’s attention to the flood hero.

The flood hero and his wife are granted immortality and transported far away

  1. He then boards a boat and grasping Utnapishtim’s hand, helps him and his wife aboard where they kneel. Standing between Utnapishtim and his wife, he touches their foreheads and blesses them. “Formerly Utnapishtim was a human being, but now he and his wife have become gods like us. Let Utnapishtim reside far away, at the mouth of the rivers.”
  2. Utnapishtim and his wife are transported and settled at the “mouth of the rivers”.

Appendix D: Summary of Tablet 11

According to Wikipedia, the first half of the Epic of Gilagamesh discusses Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. After Enkidu becomes civilized through sexual initiation with a prostitute, he travels to Uruk, where he challenges Gilgamesh to a test of strength. Gilgamesh wins and the two become friends. Together, they make a six-day journey to the legendary Cedar Forest, where they plan to slay the Guardian, Humbaba the Terrible, and cut down the sacred Cedar. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven, which the goddess Ishtar sends to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. As a punishment for these actions, the gods sentence Enkidu to death.

In the second half of the epic, distress over Enkidu’s death causes Gilgamesh to undertake a long and perilous journey to discover the secret of eternal life. He eventually learns that “Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands”. However, because of his great building projects, his account of Siduri’s advice, and what the immortal man Utnapishtim told him about the Great Flood, Gilgamesh’s fame survived his death.

Here’s a summary of Tablet 11 of the Epic of Gilgamesh according to Wikipedia.

Gilgamesh observes that Utnapishtim seems no different from himself, and asks him how he obtained his immortality. Utnapishtim explains that the gods decided to send a great flood. To save Utnapishtim the god Ea told him to build a boat. He gave him precise dimensions, and it was sealed with pitch and bitumen. His entire family went aboard together with his craftsmen and “all the animals of the field”. A violent storm then arose which caused the terrified gods to retreat to the heavens. Ishtar lamented the wholesale destruction of humanity, and the other gods wept beside her. The storm lasted six days and nights, after which “all the human beings turned to clay”. Utnapishtim weeps when he sees the destruction. His boat lodges on a mountain, and he releases a dove, a swallow, and a raven. When the raven fails to return, he opens the ark and frees its inhabitants. Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods, who smell the sweet savor and gather around. Ishtar vows that just as she will never forget the brilliant necklace that hangs around her neck, she will always remember this time. When Enlil arrives, angry that there are survivors, she condemns him for instigating the flood. Ea also castigates him for sending a disproportionate punishment. Enlil blesses Utnapishtim and his wife, and rewards them with eternal life. This account matches the flood story that concludes the Epic of Atra-Hasis (see also Gilgamesh flood myth).

The main point seems to be that when Enlil granted eternal life it was a unique gift. As if to demonstrate this point, Utnapishtim challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh falls asleep, and Utnapishtim instructs his wife to bake a loaf of bread on each of the days he is asleep, so that he cannot deny his failure to keep awake. Gilgamesh, who is seeking to overcome death, cannot even conquer sleep. After instructing Urshanabi the ferryman to wash Gilgamesh, and clothe him in royal robes, they depart for Uruk.

As they are leaving, Utnapishtim’s wife asks her husband to offer a parting gift. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that at the bottom of the sea there lives a boxthorn-like plant that will make him young again. Gilgamesh, by binding stones to his feet so he can walk on the bottom, manages to obtain the plant. Gilgamesh proposes to investigate if the plant has the hypothesized rejuvenation ability by testing it on an old man once he returns to Uruk.

There is a plant that looks like a box-thorn, it has prickles like a dogrose, and will prick one who plucks it. But if you can possess this plant, you’ll be again as you were in your youth

This plant, Ur-shanabi, is the “Plant of Heartbeat”, with it a man can regain his vigor. To Uruk-the-sheepfold I will take it, to an ancient I will feed some and put the plant to the test!

Unfortunately, when Gilgamesh stops to bathe, it is stolen by a serpent, who sheds its skin as it departs. Gilgamesh weeps at the futility of his efforts, because he has now lost all chance of immortality. He returns to Uruk, where the sight of its massive walls prompts him to praise this enduring work to Urshanabi.

Appendix E: Epic of Atrahasis flood story

Epic of Atrahasis 2 400pxTablet III of the Atrahasis Epic contains the flood story. It tells how the god Enki warns the hero Atrahasis (“Extremely Wise”) of Shuruppak, speaking through a reed wall (suggestive of an oracle) to dismantle his house (perhaps to provide a construction site) and build a boat to escape the flood planned by the god Enlil to destroy humankind. The boat is to have a roof “like Apsu” (a subterranean, fresh water realm presided over by the god Enki), upper and lower decks, and to be sealed with bitumen. Atrahasis boards the boat with his family and animals and seals the door. The storm and flood begin. Even the gods are afraid. After seven days the flood ends and Atrahasis offers sacrifices to the gods. Enlil is furious with Enki for violating his oath. But Enki denies violating his oath and argues: “I made sure life was preserved.” Enki and Enlil agree on other means for controlling the human population.

A translation from Jona Lendering of the flood portion of this epic is given below.

[After the creation of humanity, the human population increases and their noise disturbs the gods, who decide to wipe out mankind. The god Enki, however, sends a dream to Atrahasis. When the text resumes, Enki is still speaking.]

Enki explains Atraḥasis’ dream

[i.b35] “Enlil committed an evil deed against the people.”

[i.c11] Atraḥasis made ready to speak,
and said to his lord:
“Make me know the meaning of the dream.
let me know, that I may look out for its consequence.”

[i.c15] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to his servant:
“You might say, ‘Am I to be looking out while in the bedroom?’
Do you pay attention to message that I speak for your:

[i.c20] ‘Wall, listen to me!
Reed wall, pay attention to all my words!
Flee the house, build a boat,
forsake possessions, and save life.

[i.c25] The boat which you build
… be equal …


Roof her over like the depth,

[i.c30] so that the sun shall not see inside her.
Let her be roofed over fore and aft.
The gear should be very strong,
the pitch should be firm, and so give the boat strength.
I will shower down upon you later

[i.c35] a windfall of birds, a spate of fishes.'”
He opened the water clock and filled it,
he told it of the coming of the seven-day deluge.

Atraḥasis and the Elders

Atraḥasis received the command.
He assembled the Elders at his gate.

[i.c40] Atraḥasis made ready to speak,
and said to the Elders:
“My god does not agree with your god,
Enki and Enlil are constantly angry with each other.
They have expelled me from the land.

[i.c45] Since I have always reverenced Enki,
he told me this.
I can not live in …
Nor can I set my feet on the earth of Enlil.
I will dwell with my god in the depths.

[i.c50] This he told me: …”

Construction of the Ark

[ii.10] The Elders …
The carpenter carried his axe,
the reedworker carried his stone,
the rich man carried the pitch,
the poor man brought the materials needed.

[About fifteen lines missing; the word Atraḥasis can be discerned.]

Boarding of the Ark

[ii.29] Bringing …

[ii.30] whatever he had …
Whatever he had …
Pure animals he slaughtered, cattle …
Fat animals he killed. Sheep …
he choose and and brought on board.

[ii.35] The birds flying in the heavens,
the cattle and the … of the cattle god,
the creatures of the steppe,
… he brought on board

[ii.40] he invited his people
… to a feast
… his family was brought on board.
While one was eating an another was drinking,

[ii.45] he went in and out; he could not sit, could not kneel,
for his heart was broken, he was retching gall.

Departure

The outlook of the weather changed.
Adad [The storm god] began to roar in the clouds.

[ii.50] The god they heard, his clamor.
He brought pitch to seal his door.
By the time he had bolted his door,
Adad was roaring in the clouds.
The winds were furious as he set forth,

[ii.55] He cut the mooring rope and released the boat.

[Lines missing]

The Great Flood

[iii.5] … the storm
… were yoked
Anzu rent the sky with his talons,
He … the land

[iii.10] and broke its clamor like a pot.
… the flood came forth.
Its power came upon the peoples like a battle,
one person did not see another,
they could not recognize each other in the catastrophe.

[iii.15] The deluge bellowed like a bull,
The wind resounded like a screaming eagle.
The darkness was dense, the sun was gone,
… like flies.

[iii.20] the clamor of the deluge.

[Lines missing. The gods find themselves hungry because there are no farmers left and sacrifices are no longer brought. When they discover that Atrahasis has survived, they make a plan to make sure that the noise will remain within limits: they invent childbirth, infant mortality, and celibacy]

Mankind Punished

[iii.45] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to Nintu the birth goddess:
“You, birth goddess, creatress of destinies,
establish death for all peoples!

[iii.d1] “Now then, let there be a third woman among the people,
among the people are the woman who has borne
and the woman who has not borne.
Let there be also among the people the pasittu (she-demon):

[iii.d5] Let her snatch the baby from the lap who bore it.
And establish high priestesses and priestesses,
let them be taboo, [celibate]and so cut down childbirth.”

The Eridu GenesisAppendix F: Sumerian flood story

The earliest record of a Sumerian creation myth, called The Eridu Genesis was written in the Sumerian language and dated to around 1600 BC. After a missing section in the tablet, we learn that the gods have decided not to save mankind from an impending flood. Zi-ud-sura, the king and gudug priest, learns of this. A section is missing that probably has instructions for the ark. When the tablet resumes, it is describing the flood. A terrible storm rocks the huge boat for seven days and seven nights, then Utu (the Sun god) appears and Zi-ud-sura creates an opening in the boat, prostrates himself, and sacrifices oxen and sheep. After another break, the text resumes: the flood is apparently over, the animals disembark and Zi-ud-sura prostrates himself before An (sky-god) and Enlil (chief of the gods), who give him eternal life and take him to dwell in Dilmun for “preserving the animals and the seed of mankind”. The remainder of the poem is lost.

The Eridu Genesis is written on a Sumerian cuneiform tablet of which about two thirds are now lost. It us claimed that the missing parts can be reconstructed from texts like the Sumerian King List and “Babylonian History” by Berossus. A translation from Jona Lendering is given below.

The Creator Goddess thinks about humankind

[1′-9′] Nintur [The creator goddess.] was paying attention:
“Let me bethink myself of my humankind, all forgotten as they are;
and mindful of mine, Nintur’s, creatures let me bring them back,
let me lead the people back from their trails.
Let they come and build cities and cult places,
that I may cool myself in their shade;
may they lay the bricks for the cult cities in pure spots,
and may they found places for divination in pure spots!”

She gave directions for purification, and cries for clemency,
the things that cool divine wrath,

[10’ff] perfected the divine service and the august offices,
said to the surrounding regions: “Let me institute peace there!”

When An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursaga
fashioned the dark-headed people,
they had made the small animals that came up from out of the earth
come from the earth in abundance and had let there be, as befits it,
gazelles, wild donkeys, and four-footed beasts in the desert.

[large part lost; perhaps a story of a failed attempt to build a city]

Creation of kingship

[32′-40′] … “and let me have him advise;
let me have him oversee their labor,
and let him teach the nation to follow like unerringly like cattle!”

When the royal scepter was coming down from heaven,
the august crown and the royal throne being already down from heaven,
the king regularly performed to perfection
the august divine services and offices,
and laid the bricks of those cities in pure spots.
They were named by name and allotted half-bushel baskets.

The first cities

[41’ff] The firstling of the cities, Eridu, she gave to the leader Nudimmud,
the second, Bad-Tibira, she gave to the Prince and the Sacred One,
the third, Larak, she gave to Pahilsag,
the fourth, Sippar, she gave to the gallant Utu,
the fifth, Šuruppak, she gave to Ansud.

These cities, which had been named by names,
and had been alloted half-bushel baskets,
dredged the canals, which were blocked with purplish
wind-borne clay, and they carried water,
Their cleaning of the canals established abundant growth

[Large part lost, in which the antediluvian kings must have been mentioned. Working in the canals and on the fields, they produced so much noise, that the supreme god Enlil persuaded the other gods to destroy humankind.]

[81′-89′] That day, Nintur wept over her creatures
and holy Inanna was fill of grief over her people;
but Enki took counsel with his own heart.
An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursaga
had the gods of heaven and earth swear by the names of An and Enlil.

Ziusudra’s Vision

At that time Ziusudra was king and lustration priest.
He fashioned, being a seer, the god of giddiness [A statue is meant.]
and stood in awe beside it, wording his wishes humbly.
As he stood there regularly day after day

[90′-99′] something that was not a dream was appearing: conversation,
a swearing of oaths by heaven and earth, a touching of throats, [Ziusudra witnesses in a vision how the gods are discussing the fate of humanity. The touching of throats is a gesture to indicate that if someone breaks his oath, he allows himself to be beheaded. The Kiur mentioned in the next line was a part of the temple of Enlil in Nippur.]
and the gods bringing their thwarts up to Kiur.

Enki’s advice

And as Ziusudra stood there beside it, he went on hearing:
“Step up to the wall to my left and listen!
Let me speak a word to you at the wall and may you grasp what I say,
may you heed my advice! By our hand a flood will sweep over
the cities of the half-bushel baskets, and the country;
the decision, that mankind is to be destroyed, has been made.
A verdict, a command of the assembly, can not be revoked,

[100’ff] no order of An and Enlil is known  to have been countermanded,
their kingship, their term, has been uprooted; they must bethink themselves …
Now …
What I have to say to you …”

[Lines missing; Enki orders Ziusudra to build the ark and load it with pairs of animals.]

The Flood

[132’f] All the evil winds, all stormy winds gathered into
one and with them, them, the Flood was sweeping over the cities of the half-bushel baskets,
for seven days and seven nights.
After the flood had swept over the country,
after the evil wind had tossed the big boat about on the great waters,
the sun came out spreading light over heaven and earth.

Ziusudra’s sacrifice

[138′-139′] Ziusudra then drilled an opening in the big boat
and the gallant Utu sent his light into the interior of the big boat.

[140′] Ziusudra, being the king,
stepped up before Utu kissing the ground before him.
The king was butchering oxen, was being lavish with the sheep,
barley cakes, crescents together with …
… he was crumbling for him

juniper, the pure plant of the mountains he filled on the fire
and with a … clasped to
the breast he …

[Lines missing; Enlil is angry at finding survivors, but Enki explains himself]

End of Enki’s speech

[175′-178′] “You here have sworn by the life’s breath of heaven, the life’s breath of earth that he verily is allied with you yourself;
you there, An and Enlil, have sworn by the life’s breath of heaven, the life’s breath of earth, that he is allies with all of you.
He will disembark the small animals that come up from the earth!”

Reward of Ziusudra

[179′] Ziusudra, being king, stepped up before An and Enlil, kissing the ground,
and An and Enlil after honoring him

[180’ff] were granting life like a god’s,
were making lasting breath of life, like a god’s, descend into him.
That day they made Ziusudra, preserver, as king,
of the small animals and the seed of mankind,
live toward the east over the mountains of Dilmun. [Dilmun was a legendary place, far away on the edges of the earth. It was later identified with present Bahrain]

Appendix G Paul preaching to polytheists

The Bible gives the following summary of Paul preaching to polytheists in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).

16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols [they were polytheistic]. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed [Jesus]. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him [Jesus]from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Written, September 2018

Also see: Noah: Fact or fiction?
Evidence of Noah’s flood
Visiting Noah’s ark
Why was Noah’s family saved while the rest died in the flood?

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