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Deucalion 1628 BC

Deucalion 1628 BC

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Published by Tom Slattery

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Published by: Tom Slattery on Mar 18, 2010
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Mesopotamian Deluges and the Thera Catastrophe of 1628 BCBy Tom SlatteryWhat would it be like if the Exodus had never happened? What would have happened toMoses and monotheism?Would the first books of the Bible, the Torah, said to have been written by Moses, have been written? Would the story of Noah, the Ark, and the great flood have been written?Well, who knows? We'll get back to that.The Noah flood story is widely known. But that's not the whole story of ancient giganticearth-drowning flood stories.We all know about average mundane floods so we can identify with them. Humans and proto-humans since before the invention of writing have understood floods from rain andsnow.But those kinds of floods only give a feel for floods and are not what the Noah floodstory is about. The Noah flood story is first of all a story. So this is about stories of floods. More to the point, this is about the Big Bad Floods in ancient written stories. Not surprisingly, the initial written Big Bad Flood story comes at the dawn of writing.The story of the flood of Zeusudra probably stems from a real event in ancient Sumer andsouthern Mesopotamia in about 2900 BC.A king in an ancient king list named Zeusudra reigned at about that date, and radiocarbondating of a remarkable thick layer of flood debris in southern Mesopotamia also gives thedate 2900 BC.What's the story? Well, you could call it "Zeusudra and the Ark." Going way back to2900 BC, the story has overwhelming similarity to the later "Noah and the Ark" story.Whatever caused that terrible flood of 2900 BC -- that is to say it may have resulted froma tsunami, an ice dam or natural dam failure, or a remarkable weather pattern -- it wasapparently appreciated by the newly literate ancient Sumerians of Zeusudra's time asdifferent from a normal-but-bad flood.And perhaps a few generations after the real flood dried up and no real memoriesremained, it was the stuff of fiction, even, one might say, science fiction. They put itdown in writing as perhaps the very first story in a five-thousand-year-long line of aliterary genre that we might now call apocalyptic science fiction. As poignant stories do,it gained its own following and was told and retold, written and rewritten, read andreread, and never seems to have gone away.A thousand years after the 2900 BC story of "Zeusudra and the Ark," in the timeframe of 1900 BC, the same story was recast a short distance north in Mesopotamia. This version
was written in Akkadian language. The chief character in the story underwent a namechange from Zeusudra to Atrahasis.The Akkadian story of the Atrahasis flood is not greatly different from the earlier Zeusudra flood story. You could call it "Atrahasis and the Ark."We humans are constantly rewriting old stories to make them understandable in the manychanging contexts of new times. I have done it with a couple stories myself. There is nolarcenous heart of plagiarism here. They simply updated the story.And to that point, almost another thousand years later the Atrahasis flood story was recastin Babylonian language and written down. This time the Big Bad Flood story became achapter in the Gilgamesh novel, probably the first novel ever written.In the Gilgamesh novel, in Babylonian language, a literary character named Utnapishtim builds an ark and survives a worldwide deluge. This flood-and-ark story incorporatedwithin the main story of the Gilgamesh novel could be called "Utnapishtim and the Ark."Utnapishtim is the guy who builds the ark.This Babylonian-language story of a great flood is not the final chapter in the ongoingwriting and rewriting of storied floods. The all-devastating deluge story is a good storyand it will go on and on. They liked it back then. We like it now. In our time the storyinvolves building spaceships to escape our environmental catastrophes, possibly ignoringthe fact that we are all here on an endangered ark called Spaceship Earth with all of theother life forms.By the time of the Utnapishtim version, the story had evolved a subtext of humansaspiring to be something more than animal flesh in human shape amid the plethora of animal natures pulling at their frail humanity.So far, the writing and rewriting of that story of a deluge and an ark had been evolvingand adapting to changing society, technology, and values for 1700 years, from 2900 BCto maybe 1200 BC.But in the seventeenth century BC, toward the end of those 1700 years, came a new realmassive flood event. It was a flood to beat all known floods. To those who survived andmay have heard of the Mesopotamian story of a great flood and ark, it must have seemedclose enough to the story to make them wonder.This seventeenth century BC flood was an unusual, remarkable flood, a flood like noneother experienced by civilized humanity. It happened in the eastern Mediterranean andAegean, and it was caused by a massive tsunami to beat all tsunamis resulting from acolossal volcanic explosion of an island. (I use a plural "s" with "tsunami" to makeEnglish-language reading easier.)
At the time that the volcanic island exploded, the Utnapishtim flood story probably hadnot yet been set down in final form. The final form of the Utnapishtim flood-and-ark story in
was found by archaeologists in the ruins of the Assyrian library of King Ashurbanipal who reigned between about 668 and 627 BC, nine hundred years after the volcanic island explosion.In the final Utnapishtim story found in
in the Assyrian library there is a hint of knowledge of the distantly historic tsunami-caused flood. In this version, humans are"turned to stone," not impossibly from being covered by volcanic ash and appearing likestone. Or possibly "turned to stone" was ancient idiomatic for "stopped dead in their tracks," as when a person perishes suddenly and is caught in a final movement of life.Could this be a variation on Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt? Anyway,something different from your usual everyday Big Bad Flood happened.The final version of the Mesopotamian flood-and-ark story in Ashurbanipal's Assyrianlibrary appears to archaeologists to have been copied from earlier versions, possiblygoing back to the Old Babylonian period that ended roughly 1600 BC.The Old Babylonian period ended, coincidentally, at roughly the time of the volcanicexplosion and tsunami catastrophe far off in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. In other words, at any time in the thousand years between the explosion of the volcanic island andresulting tsunamis and the writing of the final edition found in the Assyrian library,changes could have been made.Ancient writers in Assyria and Babylonia were far from the core of the catastrophe andtherefore probably had no grasp of the dimensions of the disaster. But commercial,military, and diplomatic outposts on the far-western fringes of these empires may haveexperienced it directly. News would have traveled back to Mesopotamia.Like any writer, an ancient clay-tablet writer of apocalyptic flood stories would havewanted to keep current with the latest events affecting the genre. A good writer wouldhave incorporated them into the story.But before we go to that new and catastrophic flood, let's look at what is arguably yet onemore version of the original Mesopotamian flood-and-ark story.This would appear to be a fourth version. As noted, the story continues to evolve inmodern science fiction, but the long line of ancient Mesopotamian flood-and-ark literature going back to circa 2900 BC seems to come to an end with this last version.This apparent fourth modification translated into yet a fourth language should be familiar to most of us. It is the beloved biblical story commonly called "Noah and the Ark."The Mesopotamian origins of the Book of Genesis in which the story of Noah and theArk is found are clear. Take Abraham and Sarah.

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