Sabbath Origins and The Epic of Gilgamesh

By Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld
Original draft: 20 April 1999 Revised and Expanded: 27 July 2000

It will be argued in this article that Genesis' Garden of Eden and its concept of a resting God setting aside a seventh day as a Sabbath rest day is derived from the Epic of Gilgamesh (and to a degree, The Atrahasis story).

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story about a man's unsuccessful search for immortality. It exists in various recensions from between the 21st to 6th centuries BCE. A fragment has been found at Megiddo in Palestine.

The key to unlocking the mystery of the Sabbath has been provided by W.G. Lambert who made the following observation:

"The authors of ancient cosmologies were essentially compilers. Their originality was expressed in new combinations of old themes, and in new twists to old ideas." (p.107, W.G. Lambert, "A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis," [1965], in Richard S. Hess & David T. Tsumra, Editors, I Studied Inscriptions From Before the Flood. Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1994)

I understand that Genesis' Garden of Eden and the Sabbath itself are "new twists to old ideas," to paraphrase Lambert's acute observation. Both themes are found in the Epic of Gilagmesh but in a different format and with a different sequence of events. First, the Garden of Eden:

In the Gilgamesh story a paradise on earth is set aside for the hero and his wife of the flood myth, called Utnapishtim. Many scholars have noted that Noah appears to be drawn from Utnapishtim with some modifications. I understand that Utnaspishtim and his wife are also the source for the characters Adam and Eve. Utnapishtim and wife are placed in an earthly paradise by the Gods, just as Adam and Eve are in an earthly paradise. Neither couple have to do any back-breaking toil. In both stories, Utnapishtim and Adam are associated with a theme of man's having some kind of knowledge of how to go about obtaining immortality. Adam looses out in his bid, while Utnapishtim's immortality has been assured because of his faithfulness.

Utnapishtim is famous for his wisdom for only he knows the secret of how to attain immortality, a similar theme exists about Adam's involment with attaining wisdom. Gilgamesh seeks out Utnapishtim because his wisdom will lead, he hopes, to an acquisition of immortality.

The various names given to the Sumerian or Babylonian "Noah" suggest to me, themes related to Adam who lived faraway in the East in a Garden of Eden and who sought a long life and immortality which were granted the Babylonian character, who also lived faraway in the East, at Dilmun, a paradise of sorts. The Babylonian Noah's name appears in the following historical sequence from the ancient texts, first as Ziusudra (Sumerian), then Atra-hasis, Ut-napishtim, and finally Xisuthros (the Greek rendering of Ziusudra).

Dr. Robert Whiting has noted that Zi-u-sud-ra means "Life of Distant Days," alluding to his obtaining immortality. Atrahasis means "Very Intelligent," he being famed for his wisdom. Utnapishtim appears to be a form of Ziusudra "He Found Life ?" (napishtim = life ?), alluding to his obtaining immortality. Xisuthros is the Greek rendering of Ziusudra by the Babylonian historian, Berossos (My thanks to Dr. Robert Whiting for his observations on these names).

There are, of course, modifications and transformations at work in the later Hebrew retelling of this story. Paradise was set aside for man after the flood in the Gilgamesh scenario, whereas it was set aside before the flood in Genesis. I attribute this rearrangement to putting "a new twist on an old story." Both stories then, have a man and wife placed in an earthly paradise by a god, and they are associated with possessing wisdom about how to obtain immortality.

A serpent, responsible for depriving Gilgamesh of an herb that will restore him to youthful vigor, has a "new twist," a serpent associated with a fruit who deprives Adam of immortality.

Now, The Sabbath:

The Sabbath and its paradise motif in the Genesis story appear before the flood. In the Gilgamesh scenario, the earthly paradise and accompanying Sabbath or resting day of the gods, occurs only after all mankind has been destroyed (with the exception of those on Utnapishtim's boat) with the flood. We are told that the flood in its fury fought mankind like an army at war, the raging waves and pouring rains and lightning all ended on the seventh day of the flood; we are told that on the seventh day the waters became calm, the sun came out, the earth was in stillness, peace and quiet reigned over the earth, for man had been swept from off the face of the earth and drowned in the flood, because his "noise" had disturbed the god's rest ! The gods could not rest by day nor sleep by night because of man's noise, according to the myths (Gilgamesh and Atrahasis).

"Six days and nights the wind blew, and the deluge and flood overwhelmed the land. THE SEVENTH DAY, when it came, the storm ceased, the raging flood, which had contended like a whirlwind, quieted, the sea shrank back, and the evil wind and deluge ended. I noticed the sea making a noise, and all man had turned to corruption. Like palings the marsh reeds appeared I opened my window, and light fell upon my face, I fell back dazzled, I sat down, I wept, over my face flowed my tears." (p.105, Theophilus G. Pinches, The Old Testament In the Light of the Historical Records and Legend of Assyria and Babylonia. London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1908)

I would argue that the seventh day of the flood which saw the demise of mankind, the calming of the flood waters, and the easing of the rage in the gods' hearts (Sumerian: "Sa-bat), was given a "new twist" and transformed into a gracious God who wants only man's well-being, and who is desirous of faithful worship.

Please note, the Sumerian story has the Babylonian Noah tearing down his house made of "marsh reeds" to make his boat from and he is a king of Shuruppak. Excavations at that city determined that all its flood deposits were freshwater laid (microscopic analysis being undertaken), causing the excavators to understand that the Flood/s was/were caused by the Euphrates river. Succeeding generations embellished the story till it was a flood destroying the whole world.

Exodus 35:2 ordered the execution of any who violated the Sabbath day- now we know the origin of the death penalty, it was because of man's fear of vengeful gods. Fear that the gods' who had destroyed mankind for violating their rest, would do so again with another flood. The Hebrew "new twist", had God assuring Noah that never again would he bring a flood to destroy man. Hebrew Shabbath is sought in a cognate meaning "to cease or desist". On the seventh day the flood ceased. On the seventh day man ceased, on the seventh day the gods' desisted in their murderous rage and now achieved their rest.

I note that the word for 'seven' in Akkadian, i.e., Babylonian, is sebittu (p.162, "Seven," Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary, British Museum Press, University of Texas, Austin, 1992, ISBN: 0-292-70794-0 ). The flood calmed down on the "sebittu day", i.e., the seventh day, man was no more, and at long last with the arrival of the sebittu day, the Gods rested. Sumerian Sa-bat refers to "heart-rest" in the sense that the god's angry hearts, are assuaged. Perhaps like the anger in the gods' heart was assuaged when mankind's noise ceased on the seventh day and thereby achieved their rest (see p.527, sibitu, meaning seventh, and Sa-bat meaning heart rest, in Theophilus G. Pinches, The Old Testament, in Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia, London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1908, 3rd edition).

Pinches on Sumerian Sa-bat (the diacritical over the "s" rendering "Sha-bat"):

"...Sumerian sa-bat, "heart-rest" which Pinches and Delitzsch rendered in its Akkadian (Babylonian) form as "um nuh libbi, day of the rest of the heart" (p.526-7, Pinches)

I would argue that the Hebrews by use of a word punning, transformed either the Akkadian Sebittu or the Sumerian Sa-bat (Sha-bat) into Hebrew Shabbath (English: Sabbath), noting, that man "ceased" to exist and the flood ended and the gods rested, their 'heart-rest" (Sha-bat, the anger in their hearts being assuaged)was achieved.

I thus propose that God's 7th day of rest, is then derived from the 7th day when the gods rested after destroying mankind with a flood.

The idea that a god needs to rest seems to be a rather odd notion according to the views held by some modern interpreters. God is generally understood to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and he never sleeps, and is always awake and aware of everything taking place in his created Universe.

The ancient Hebrews were not hatching up out of thin air, the notion that God needs to rest, they were merely following along in well-established Mesopotamian traditions that allowed succeeding generations to creatively re-interpret the ancient myths into new religious ideas.

Lambert has pointed out that his studies have indicated that the Mesopotamians were of a mind to re-interpret and transform older myths into newer religious concepts. It would appear that the Hebrews, Jews and Christians weren't doing anything new in their transformation of the earlier ancient myths:

"The authors of ancient cosmologies were essentially compilers. Their originality was expressed in new combinations of old themes, and in new twists to old ideas. Sheer invention was not part of their craft." (p. 107, W.G. Lambert, "A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis,: [1965], in Richard S. Hess and David T. Tsumura, Eds., I Studied Inscriptions From Before the Flood, Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1994)

Lambert's article (cf. above) was an attempt to account for the origins of motifs found in Genesis by his study of Ancient Near Eastern concepts. He noted that while the search for the origins of the Hebrew Sabbath is a still elusive "will of the wisp," traditions about gods needing to rest were verifiable:

"The sabbath has, of course, been the subject of much study, both in the institution and the name. My own position, briefly, is that the Hebrew term shabbat, meaning the completion of the week, and the Babylonian term shapattu, meaning the completion of the moon's waxing, that is the fifteenth day of a lunar month, are the same word...There is, however, another approach to the question. The Hebrews left two explanations of the Sabbath. The first is that of Genesis 1-2 and Exodus 20, that it repeats cyclically what God did in the original week of creation. The second, in Deuteronomy 5, regards it as a repeated memorial of the Hebrews' deliverance from Egypt. This divergence suggests that historically the institution is older than the explanations. On this assumption the use of the week as the framework of a creation account is understandable as providing divine sanction for the institution, but unexpected in that God's resting hardly expresses the unlimited might and power that are his usual attributes: "See, Israel's guardian neither slumbers nor sleeps." It is generally assumed that the use of the week as the framework of the account simply required that God rest on the seventh day. But there was no compulsion to have a week of creation at all. Furthermore, this implies that the development of the doctrine of God's rest came from, pure, deductive reasoning, which I doubt very much. The authors of ancient cosmologies were essentially compilers. Their originality was expressed in new combinations of old themes, and in new twists to old ideas. Sheer invention was not part of their craft. Thus when the author tells us that God rested, I believe he drew on a tradition to this effect. Therefore in seeking parallels to the seventh day, one must look not only for comparable institutions, but also for the idea of deities resting.

Here Mesopotamia does not fail us. The standard Babylonian accounts of man's creation is not found in Enuma Elish, but in the Atra-hasis epic. An earlier form of this myth occurs in the Sumerian Enki and Ninmah. The essentials of the story are that the gods had to toil for their daily bread, and in response to urgent complaints man was created to serve the gods by providing them with food and drink. On the last point all the Mesopotamian accounts agree: man existed solely to serve the gods, and this was expressed practically in that all major deities at least had two meals set up before their statues each day. Accordingly, man's creation resulted in the god's resting, and the myths reach a climax at this point. Even in the Enuma Elish this is clear, despite much conflation. At the beginning of tablet VI Ea and Marduk confer on what is called "the resting of the gods," and thereupon man is created and the gods are declared free from toil. This common Mesopotamian tradition thus provides a close parallel to the sixth and seventh days of creation. Since the particular concept of the destiny of man goes back to the Sumerians, but is unparalleled in other parts of the ancient Near East, ultimate borrowing by the Hebrews seems very probable." (pp.106-107, W.G. Lambert, "A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis)

Regarding studies into Sabbath origins and the meaning of the word, Hasel makes the following observations:

"The relationship between the noun shabbat and the Hebrew verb shabat, to stop, cease, keep (sabbath) in the Qal, "to disappear, be brought to a stop," in the Nip`al "to put to an end, bring to a stop," in the Hip`il, remains disputed. Scholars have argued that the noun derives from the verb or that the verb derives from the noun. While there is no conclusive answer, it seems certain that the noun shabbat cannot be derived from the Akkadian term shab/pattu(m). A possible connection of shabbat with the number "seven," has been left open. In this case the Akkadian feminine form sibbitim, "seventh," may be considered as an ancestor of the Hebrew noun shabbat, "sabbath," also a feminine form, which, if the relationship holds, may have originally meant "the seventh [day]." On this supposition "the seventh day" in Genesis 2:2-3 would receive further light." (p. 849, Vol 5, Gerhard F. Hasel, "Sabbath," David Noel Freedman, et al, Editors, The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York, Doubleday, 1992)

After reviewing various scholarly proposals, Hasel concludes: "In spite of extensive efforts of more than a century of study into extra-Israelite Sabbath origins, it is still shrouded in mystery. No hypothesis whether astrological, menological, sociological, etymological, or cultic commands the respect of a scholarly consensus. Each hypothesis or combination of hypotheses has insurmountable problems. The quest for the origin of the Sabbath outside of the Old Testament cannot be pronounced to have been successful. It is, therefore, not surprising that this quest has been pushed into the background of studies on the Sabbath in recent years." (ABD 5.851) As has been noted by other scholars, the motifs appearing in Genesis 1-11 are paralleled in Ancient Near Eastern myths in a somewhat different format. The Babylonian Enuma Elish mentions the creation of the heavens and earth by Marduk, and after their completion, the making of mankind, similar notions that exist in the same sequence of events in Genesis (Ge 1:1-27). Marduk made man to till the earth to provide food for the gods, Adam's job is to take care of the garden on God's behalf, both are then portrayed as engaged in agricultural pursuits of some sort. Adam's experiences in Eden parallel themes in the Mesopotamian myth of Adapa and the South Wind, who loses a chance at immortality for failing to eat the food which would confer it on him. Utnapishtim and wife, placed in an earthly garden, at Dilmun, are immortal, one assumes the fruits in that garden sustains them, just as the gods must be sustained by food grown on the earth (according to the Mesopotamian myths).

The Bible notes that the purposes of the sacrifices and burnt offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem are for the purpose of feeding God (Ezekiel 44:7, "..when you offer me my food, the fat and the blood." RSV), quite in agreement with the Mesopotamian notions that man was created to feed and serve the gods, so they don't have to work and can enjoy their "rest."

Carpenter was of the conviction that whatever the true origins of the Sabbath were, they were not as portrayed in the biblical account. He argued that there was no need to set aside a 7th day as a day of rest created by a god for mankind's refreshment, he was sure the real origin lay in the fact that it was originally a "Taboo Day" which, overtime, was transformed into the biblical explanation:

"At some early period, in Babylonia or Assyria, a very stringent taboo on the Sabbath arose...It is quite likely that this taboo in its beginning was due not to any need of a weekly rest-day...but to some superstitious fear...It is probable, however that as time went on and society became more complex, the advantages of a weekly rest-day...became more obvious and the priests and legislators deliberately turned the taboo to a social use." (p.194, Edward Carpenter, The Origins of Pagan and Christian Beliefs [first published as Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning, 1920], London, Senate [an imprint of Random House UK], 1996, ISBN 1-85958-196X, paperback)

Pinches noted that in Babylonia, the 7th day was a "Taboo Day," or "Lucky-Unlucky Day" :

"The nearest approach to the Sabbath, in the Jewish sense, among the Babylonians, is the u-khulgala or umu limmu, "the evil day," which, as we know from the Hemerologies, was the 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th, and 19th day of each month, the last so called because it was a week of weeks from the the 1st day of the foregoing month. It is this, therefore, which contains the germ of the idea of the Jewish Sabbath, but it was not that Sabbath in the true sense of the term, for if the months had 30 days, the week following the 28th had 9 days instead of 7, and weeks of 8 and 9 days therefore probably occurred tweleve times each year. The nature of this original Sabbath is shown by the Hemerologies, which describe how it was to be kept in the following words:

(The Duties of the 7th Day) The 7th day is a fast of Merodach and Zer-panitum, a FORTUNATE DAY, an EVIL DAY. The Shepherd of the great peoples shall not eat flesh cooked by fire, salted (savory) food, he shall not change the dress of his body, he shall not put on white, he shall not make an offering. The king shall not ride in his chariot, he shall not talk as a ruler; a seer shall not do a thing in a secret place; a physician shall not lay his hand on a sick man; (the day) is unsuitable for making a wish. The king shall set his oblation in the night before Merodach and Ishtar, he shall make an offering, (and) his prayer is acceptable with god. For the 14th, 21st, 28th and 19th, the names of the deities differ, and on the last-named the Shepherd of the great peoples is forbidden to eat "anything which the fire has touched." Otherwise the directions are the same, and though generally described as a lucky or happy day, it was certainly an evil day for work, or for doing the things referred to. It is to be noted, however, that there is no direction that the day was to be observed by the common people." (p.528, "The Sabbath," Theophilus G. Pinches, The Old Testament In the Light of the Historical Records and Legend of Assyria and Babylonia. London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1908)

Modern scholarship is divided about the Sabbath's origins. While noting the above Taboos concerning the 7th day, the reason for making it "a god's rest-day " had yet to be explained. I believe my research has identified "the resting of the gods on the 7th day" after the Flood as being the source for the later Hebrew re-working of Babylonian myths. Probably the 7th day taboos, above noted, came to be absorbed into the Sabbath as well. In other words, both were almagamated and transformed into "a joyful day of rest" for Man (Perhaps "expanding upon" the Babylonian notion that the day was not only an evil day, but also a "FORTUNATE DAY" ? ).

I note some interesting variations with "new twists" on themes contained within the Babylonian 7th day taboos, as appeared later in Jewish observance of the Sabbath, which suggest a possible relationship. Jews did not light fires on the Sabbath, it being considered work (Meals prepared by contact with "fire" is mentioned as Taboo in Babylon). Jews did not travel great distances on the Sabbath (the king shall not "ride" in his chariot); Jewish Sabbath service begins at Sunset (the king shall not place an offering before the god during the day, but "at night"); Jewish physicians did not heal on the Sabbath, Christ being accused of healing on the Sabbath (A physician shall not lay his hand on the sick).

Gilgamesh in seeking out Utnapishtim, sought not only the secret of immortality, but also by what means he could enter into "the rest" from toil enjoyed by the gods and Utnapishtim (I am indebted to Randall Larsen [17 July 2000] for this observation).

Randall Larsen (of the University of Hawaii) :

"Another item of interest, Gilgamesh's visit to Utnapishtim was to learn the secret of how to enter into his rest [to be exalted to "recline with the gods"]."

Heidel's translation of Gilgamesh's observation of Utnapishtim's freedom from toil, lying about on his back (implying his entering into "the rest" from toil enjoyed by the gods):

"Gilgamesh said to him, to Utnapishtim the Distant: "I look upon thee, Utnapishtim, thine appearance is not different; thou art like me. Yea, thou art not different; thou art like unto me. My heart pictured thee as one perfect for the doing of battle; [but] thou liest (idly) on (thy) side, (or) on thy back. [Tell me], how didst thou enter into the company of the gods and obtain life (everlasting) ?" (cf. p.80, Alexander Heidel, The Epic of Gilgamesh and Old Testament Parallels. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, [1946], 1993, ISBN 0-226-32398-6)

The Mespotamian myths explained that the Flood which destroyed all mankind had been brought about because man's "noise or clamor" was disturbing the god's rest by day and sleep by night, year after year without let-up. These myths also noted that in the beginning the 7 great Anunna Gods of Heaven had imposed back-breaking labor making and clearing irrigation ditches, by day and by night, without rest, on the Igigi gods confined to the earth. These gods are described as muttering, complaining and constantly creating "a clamor," which at first is ignored by the Anunna gods. The threatened rebellion by the Igigi gods is forstalled by making man from the ringleader of the Igigi, slaughtering him and mixing his flesh and blood with the clay. The myths at this point stress that with the making of man, not only do the Igigi gods get to enter into "the rest from toil," enjoyed by the Anunna gods, but that "their clamor," their noisey complaining about hardwork is transferred to man. In otherwords, man's "noise" is because he is overworked and not allowed to have "rest" from his god-imposed toil (cf. pp.52-62, "The Story of the Flood," [The Atrahasis version], Benjamin R. Foster, From Distant Days, Myths Tales and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia. Bethesda, Maryland, CDL Press, 1995, ISBN 1-883053-09-9, paperback)


"When the gods were man, they did forced labor, they bore drudgery. Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods, the forced labor was heavy, the misery too much: The seven (?) great Anunna-gods were burdening the Igigi gods with forced labor...[The gods] were digging watercourses, canals they opened, the life of the land...They heaped all the mountains. [ years] of drudgery, [ ] the vast marsh. They counted years of drudgery, [ and] forty years too much ! [ ] forced labor they bore night and day. They were complaining, denouncing, muttering down in the ditch, "Let us face up to our foreman the prefect, He must take off this our heavy burden upon us ! (pp.52-3, Foster) The Anunna gods acknowledge the burden of the Igigi and their "clamor": "Ea made ready to speak, and said to the gods [his brethren], what calumny do we lay to their charge ? Their forced labor was heavy. [their misery too much] ! Every day [ ] the outcry [was loud, we could hear the clamor]. There is [ ] [Belet-ti, the mid-wife], is present. Let her create, then a human, a man, let him bear the yoke...[let man assume the drud]gery of god...She summoned the Anunna, the great gods...Mami made ready to speak, and said to the great gods, "You ordered me the task and I have completed (it) ! You have slaughtered the god, along with his inspiration. I have done away with your heavy forced labor, I have imposed your drudgery on man. You bestowed (?) clamor upon mankind..." (pp.58-59, Foster) The Igigi gods in gratitude fall at her feet, kissing them, she having freed them from toil, and declare a new name for her "Mistress of All the gods" (Belet-kala-ili). Now the gods complain that man's "clamor" disturbs them, resulting in a decision to send a Flood to destroy man and obtain peace and quiet and their longed-for "rest." : "Twelve hundred years had not gone by, the land had grown wide, the peoples had increased, the land bellowed like a bull. The god was disturbed with their uproar, Enlil heard their clamor, he said to the great gods, The clamor of mankind has become burdensome to me..." (p.62) "I am disturbed at their clamor, at their uproar sleep cannot overcome me..." (p.65)

The gods try various ways to reduce mankind's clamor by decimating mankind's numbers, and in the end they resolve upon a Flood to destroy them all. However, one god stands apart as man's friend, he is Enki. An enraged Enlil accuses Enki of thwarting the agreed-upon plan of the gods, that man should toil ceasely, he accuses him of lightening man's burden, allowing him to enjoy the fruits of his labor, the fruits to be harvested for the god's food, and providing shade for him as he toils in the hot sun :

"All we great Anunna-gods resolved together on a rule. Anu and Adad watched over the upper regions, I watched over the lower earth. You went, you released the yoke, you made restoration. You let loose produce for the peoples. You put shade in the glare (?) of the sun." (pp.69-70)

Enlil, not trusting Enki, tries to get him to swear an oath not to betray the god's plan to destroy man with a flood. Enki agrees, but slyly lets Atrahasis (Utnapsihtim) know by addressing "the wall" of the house he lives in, thus not directly revealing the flood decision to a man, "face to face." (p.71, Foster)

The notion of God's advising Noah of a Flood is being drawn evidently from this myth. Enki has become in the Hebrew re-telling, Elohim (El or Yahweh).

Conservative scholarship has provided, I suspect, the correct insights as to the reason for God's portrayal and his Sabbath, the Hebrews wanted to transform the capricious, fickle gods into a Loving, Caring God, who wanted only the best for Man, his pinnacle of creation. So Genesis is a polemic against the Babylonian concepts of the gods and their despising man and destroying him because he violated their rest with their noise. They made man to serve them in toil and fear, to obtain their rest from labor. Genesis sees God in a completely different light, as noted by Wenham:

"Viewed with respect to its negatives, Gen 1:1-2:3 is a polemic against the mythico-religious concepts of the ancient Orient...The concept of man here is markedly different from standard Near Eastern mythology: man was not created as the lackey of the gods to keep them supplied with food; he was God's representative and ruler on earth, endowed by his creator with an abundant supply of food and expected to rest every seventh day from his labors. Finally, the seventh day is not a day of ill omen as in Mesopotamia, but a day of blessing and sanctity on which normal work is laid aside. In contradicting the usual ideas of its time, Gen 1 is also setting out a positive alternative. It offers a picture of God, the world, and's true nature. He is the apex of the created order: the whole narrative moves toward the creation of man. Everything is made for man's benefit..." (p.37, Vol. 1, "Explanation," Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 [Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols.], Word Books, Waco, Texas 1987, ISBN 0-8499-0200-2)

In the original version (the Gilgamesh myth) we are given to understand that in 6 days and nights a world was destroyed by vengeful gods bent on man's annihilation. The Hebrew author deliberately re-interpreted this hatred into a "reversal" of a loving God who cared about man, so he took the 6 days of destruction and transformed them into 6 days of creation. The gods who sought man's harm with this dreadful event were transformed into a loving caring God who created the world for man's benefit. God was one to be loved by man, not held in "terror, dread and horror of," by man.

The Atrahasis myth portrayed Enki as "caring" for man's welfare, he "suffered" the anger, rage and abuse of the other gods who wanted man to toil ceasely, they even begrudged man any of the fruits of his labor (or food he was cultivating for them) and he risked the displeasure of his fellow gods in warning Utnapishtim of the Flood. I suspect that these themes, of a god who cared about man and who wanted his workload reduced, inspired the Hebrew author to envision a God as wanting to provide man with a rest day. The notion of God's (Elohim's) "suffering" because man (Adam) "turns on him," (by not obeying him) and not appreciating all he has done for him, "grieveing his heart," is being drawn from Enki who "suffers on man's behalf." So, I understand Enki and God (Elohim) to be suffering gods, and caring gods, both of whom wanted to alleviate the toil of mankind, and seeking his welfare. God provided abundant food for Adam in the Garden of Eden, Enki risked the displeasure the gods by letting man enjoy some the fruits of his toil. God doesn't have Adam toil for food in Eden, as man had to in the Atrahasis myth (I would characterize this "a new twist"to an old theme).

We see now, that Genesis has preserved several "key concepts" albeit, in a transformed and somewhat re-interpreted manner, from the ancient Mesopotamian myths about man's creation; the theme of gods needing to rest; the importance of attaining rest for mankind who now "clamors" and desires "a rest" from his god-imposed toil, and how a Flood was resorted to, to end man's "clamor for a rest," because the gods could not themselves attain their rest by day nor sleep by night.

Christianity, still later, picks up on this ancient theme of man entering into a "God's rest," (Hebrews 3:11,18; 4:1-11) a type of "Sabbath" if you will, where the righteous will, after death, no more have to toil, they will wander the banks of the river of life flowing from under God's throne in Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, and feed off the trees of life lining the river's banks, rather like Adam did in the Garden of Eden (cf. Revelation 22:1-2). They will, according to this myth, at long last, enter into "the rest" enjoyed by the gods as portrayed in the ancient Mesopotamian myths, a rest which according to those myths, had originally been "denied to man." And so, the myth of a "Sabbath and a Rest" for God and his creation, mankind, has come "full-circle," with the Christian re-interpretation of the ancient Mesopotamian myths, giving hope to millions over the ages.

End-Note: The Garden of Eden story possesses a theme of a serpent telling Eve, she will acquire knowledge and be like a god, then God intervenes to prevent Adam and Eve from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life. These motifs are being drawn from a combination of other ancient Mesopotamian myths. But that is another paper, another subject.

Important correction: Dr. Whiting has informed me that Pinches (1908) was in error, there is no such word as Sa-bat/Sha-bat in Sumerian. So, the Sebittu (seventh) may be a punning into Hebrew Shabbat/Sabbath ?

Reccomended further readings :

Articles in Biblical Dictionaries or Encyclopedias. The following two I reccomend especially :

David Noel Freedman, et al, Editors, The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 Vols., New York, Doubleday, 1992.

G.A. Buttrick, et al, Editors, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 4 vols plus supplement, Abingdon, Nashville,1962, 1976.

Richard S. Hess and David T. Tsumura, Eds., I Studied Inscriptions From Before the Flood, Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1994, ISBN 0-931464-88-9. (An anthology of collected scholarly articles from scattered journals bearing on Genesis' backgrounds)

Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis. Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, [1942], 1994, ISBN 0-226-32399-4.

Alexander Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels. Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, [1946], 1993, ISBN 0-226-32398-6.

W.G. Lambert & A.R. Millard, Atra-Hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood. Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, [1969], 1999. Edward Carpenter, The Origins of Pagan and Christian Beliefs [first published as Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning, 1920], London, Senate [an imprint of Random House UK], 1996, ISBN 1-85958-196X, paperback.

Benjamin R. Foster, From Distant Days, Myths, Tales and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia. Bethesda, Maryland, CDL Press, 1995, ISBN 1-883053-09-9.

Fred Gladstone Bratton, Myths and Legends of the Ancient Near East. New York, Barnes & Noble, [1970], 1993, ISBN 1-56619-439-3.

Robert Graves & Raphael Patai, Hebrew Myths, The Book of Genesis. New York, Greenwich House, [1963], 1983, ISBN 0-517-413663.

Theophilus G. Pinches, The Old Testament In the Light of the Historical Records and Legend of Assyria and Babylonia. London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1908 Richard J. Clifford, Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible.Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series #26, 1994, Washington DC, ISBN 0-915170-25-6.

E.O. James, The Cult of the Mother Goddess. New York, Barnes & Noble, [1959], 1994, ISBN 1-56619-600-0.

Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, A History of Mesopotamian Religion. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-300-01844-4.

Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 [Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols.], Word Books, Waco, Texas 1987, ISBN 0-8499-0200-2)

Stephen H. Langdon, The Mythology of All Races, Semitic. Vol.5, Boston, Marshall Jones Company, 1931.

Jeremy Black & Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1992, ISBN 0-292-70794-0.

Gwendolyn Leick, A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. London, Routledge Ltd., [1991], 1998, ISBN 0-415-19811-9.

Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford, Oxford University Press, [1989], 1991, ISBN 0-19-281789-2.