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The 18th century BC Akkadian Atra-Hasis epic, named after its human hero, contains both a creation and a flood account, and is one of three surviving Babylonian flood stories. The oldest known copy of the epic of Atrahasis can be dated by colophon (scribal identification) to the reign of Hammurabi's great-grandson, Ammi-Saduqa (1646–1626 BC), but various Old Babylonian fragments exist; it continued to be copied into the first millennium. The Atrahasis story also exists in a later fragmentary Assyrian version, one in the library of Ashurbanipal, but because of fragmentary condition of the tablets and ambiguious words, translations are uncertain.
The surviving Atrahasis epic is written on three tablets in Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylon.<ref>Lambert and Millard, pages 8-15</ref> Tablet I contains a creation myth about the Sumerian gods Anu, Enlil, and Enki, gods of sky, wind and water, "when gods were in the ways of men" according to its incipit. Following the casting of lots, heaven is ruled by Anu, earth by Enlil, and the freshwater sea by Enki. Enlil assigned junior gods to do farm labor and maintain the rivers and canals, but after forty years they rebelled and refused to do hard labor. Instead of punishing the rebels, Enki, who is also the kind, wise counselor to the gods, suggested that humans be created to do the work. The mother goddess Mami is assigned the task of creating humans by shaping clay figurines mixed with the flesh and blood of a slain god. The under-god Weila or Aw-ilu, was slain for this purpose. After ten months, a specially made womb breaks open and humans are born. Tablet I continues with legends about overpopulation and plagues. Atrahasis is mentioned at the end of Tablet I.
Tablet II begins with more overpopulation of humans and the god Enlil sending first famine and drought at formulaic intervals of 1200 years to reduce the population. In this epic Enlil is depicted as a nasty capricious god while Enki is depicted as a kind helpful god, perhaps because priests of Enki were writing and copying the myth. Tablet II is mostly damaged, but ends with Enlil's decision to destroy mankind with a flood and Enki bound by an oath to keep the plan secret.
Tablet III of the Atrahasis Epic contains the flood story. This is the part that was adapted in the Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet XI. Tablet III of Atrahasis 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 mankind. The boat is to have a roof "like Apsu" (a fresh water marsh next to the temple of Enki), upper and lower decks, and sealed with bitumen. Atrahasis boards the boat with his family and animals and seals the door. The storm and flood begin. Even the gods [priests?] 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 denys breaking his oath, but argues: "I made sure life was preserved." Enki and Enlil agree on other means for controlling the human population.
The Epic of Atrahasis provides additional information on the flood and flood hero that is omitted in Gilgamesh XI and other versions of the Ancient Near East flood myth. According to Atrahasis III ii, lines 40-47 the flood hero was at a banquet when the storm and flood began: "He invited his people...to a banquet... He sent his family on board. They ate and they drank. But he (Atrahasis) was in and out. He could not sit, could not crouch, for his heart was broken and he was vomiting gall."
Atrahasis tablet III iv, lines 6-9 clearly identify the flood as a local river flood: "Like dragonflies they [dead bodies] have filled the river. Like a raft they have moved in to the edge [of the boat]. Like a raft they have moved in to the riverbank."
The flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Chapter XI was paraphrased or copied verbatim from the Epic of Atrahasis. But editorial changes were made, some of which had long-term consequences. The sentence quoted above from Atrahasis III iv, lines 6-7: "Like dragonflies they have filled the river." was changed in Gilgamesh XI line 123 to: "Like the spawn of fishes, they fill the sea." We can see the mythmaker's hand at work here, changing a local river flood into an ocean deluge.
Other editorial changes were made to the Atrahasis text in Gilgamesh that removed any suggestion that the "gods" may have been people with human feelings and needs. For example, Atrahasis OB III, 30-31 "The Anunnaki (the senior gods) [were sitt]ing in thirst and hunger." was changed in Gilgamesh XI, 113 to "The gods feared the deluge." Sentences in Atrahasis III iv were omitted in Gilgamesh, e.g. "She was surfeited with grief and thirsted for beer" and "From hunger they were suffering cramp."<ref> These and other editorial changes to the Atrahasis text in Gilgamesh are documented and described in the book by Prof. Tigay (see below), Assoc. Prof. of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literature in the Univ. of Pennsylvania. Tigay comments: "The dropping of individual lines between others which are preserved, but are not synonymous with them, appears to be a more deliberate editorial act. These lines share a common theme, the hunger and thirst of the gods during the flood."</ref>
The Akkadian determinative dingir which is usually translated as "god" or "goddess" can also mean "priest" or "priestess"<ref>Margaret Whitney Green, Eridu in Sumerian Literature, PhD dissertation, University of Chicago (1975), p. 224.</ref> although there are other Akkadian words (e.g. ēnu and ēntu) that are also translated priest and priestess. The English noun "divine" would preserve the ambiguity in dingir.
 See also
- W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atrahasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood, Eisenbrauns, 1999, ISBN 1-57506-039-6.
- Jeffrey H. Tigay, The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1982, ISBN 0-8122-7805-4.fr:Atrahasis