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Babylonian Myths

Part One: Written Records and Early Evidence

Now that we have read about the kinds of archeological and historical records that tell us about past societies, let's engage with messages from the past that are thousands of years old. In this document there are three passages from found documents. They have been translated into English. Considering what you know about interpreting historical records, read these poems and legal documents carefully. I have given you a little background for each passage, followed by some questions. Answer those questions by looking at the phrasing and ideas in the quotes. When you are finished, save your work and submit it through the Module One Drop box. If you have any questions, or want some hints on where to start, please bring it up in the Cybercafé so we can talk about it and help each other out!
The Epic of Gilgamesh, ca. 2700 BCE

One significant story was written down on stone tablets in Mesopotamia: the Epic of Gilgamesh. As you read this description, consider what this story tells us about history and the people who heard and retold the story to each other.

Six days and seven nights

Came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land.

When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding,

The flood was a war struggling with itself like a woman writhing [in labor].

The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped up.

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.

I opened a vent and fresh air (daylight!) fell upon the side of my nose.

I fell to my knees and sat weeping,

Tears streaming down the side of my nose.

I looked around for coastlines in the expanse of the sea,

And at twelve leagues there emerged a region (of land).

On Mt. Nimush the boat lodged firm,

Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.

One day and a second Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.

A third day, a fourth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.

A fifth day, a sixth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.

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.

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.

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.

Then I sent out everything in all directions and sacrificed a sheep.

I offered incense in front of the mountain-ziggurat.

Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place,

And into the fire (or: into their bowls) underneath I poured reeds, cedar, and myrtle.

The gods smelled the savor,

And collected like flies over a sacrifice.

Just then Beletili arrived.

She lifted up the large beads which Anu had made for his enjoyment.

'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.'

The Epic of Gilgamesh. (n.d.). The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet XI, The Story of the Flood.
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In this text, we learn about the relationship between mankind and gods. We see references to women and childbirth. We see the fear of Mother Nature in a time when storms and floods were sudden and unexpected. Weather was a complete unknown. We also read about the complete despair of a man caught in a flooded sea. In his desperation, he sacrifices a goat to appease the gods. Then the gods act like children in a candy shop, or animals who find treats: they gather around the sacrificial sheep "like flies." That is striking behavior considering our modern idea of powerful gods and goddesses.

This story may or may not have happened; it could be the story of a real flood, or it could be a lesson or fable to teach obedience to the gods. We have little way of knowing how true the story is. What we can know is what it tells us about the people who heard it, accepted it, and told it to others around them.

What can we guess about the gods in this religion, based on this story? How do believers in this religion take control of events around them? Write at least 150 words considering this poem and what we can try to figure out about the historical society that produced it.

2. This week, we learned about the role of faith in wars of conquest. Why are religions - particularly religions of peace like Islam and Christianity - so often tied to violence? What historical events help us understand the connection between religious belief and violence? Remember to use specifics from the reading to inform your answer here and explain how these events led you to your conclusion.

While we could talk about many religions, let's stay on topic by discussing the Crusades, the spread of Islam through Empire, and the struggle over Iberia. 90-150 words,

Solution Summary

This solution deals with the nature of Babylonian Gods and their violence. These gods are far more like superheroes than Gods in the contemporary sense. They are not all powerful, they are chaotic, they behave badly, and can often be defied. These are ancestors that have been fetishized into poetic symbols, not literal beings. They were never meant to be seen that way.