The Ancient Babylonian Flood Story May Feature Oldest Example of Fake News

According to an Assyriologist, a "trickster god" used fake news in the Babylonian "Noah" story.

An early example of fake news has been found in the Babylonian story of the Gilgamesh Flood myth, a 3,000-year-old cuneiform inscription that is believed to have inspired the biblical story of Noah’s ark which appears in the Bible.

As recently revealed by a Cambridge academic, nine lines engraved on ancient clay tablets that tell the story of the Gilgamesh Flood can now be understood in very different ways. Dr. Martin Worthington’s new research, which analyzes the pun on the story, has discovered the duplicate language of a Babylonian god named Ea, who was motivated by self-interest.

Professor Worthington, a member of St. John’s College at the University of Cambridge, and an expert Assyriologist who specializes in Babylonian, Assyrian and Sumerian grammar, literature and medicine said: “Ea deceives humanity by spreading fake news. He tells the Babylonian Noah, known as Uta–napishti, to promise his people that food will rain from the sky if they help him build the ark. What the people don’t understand is that Ea’s nine-line message is a trick: it is a series of sounds that can be interpreted in completely distinct ways, like English ‘ice cream’ and ‘I scream’.”

Neo-Assyrian clay tablet. Epic of Gilgamesh. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Neo-Assyrian clay tablet. Epic of Gilgamesh. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

“While Ea’s message seems to promise a rain of food, its hidden meaning warns of the Flood.  Once the ark is built, Uta–napishti and his family clamber aboard and survive with a menagerie of animals. Everyone else drowns.  With this early episode, set in mythological time, the manipulation of information and language has begun. It may be the earliest ever example of fake news,” explained Dr. Worthington in a statement by Cambridge University.

The so-called Flood Tablet is housed at the British Museum and bears parts of the Gilgamesh Flood story. It was discovered in 1872 by Assyriologist George Smith.

The importance of the clay tablet resides in its resemblance to the story from Noah and the Ark. Although in the 3,000-year-old clay tablet various gods were involved in the Flood, the story itself is very similar.

Furthermore. the Babylonian story has a character who bears a different name than Noah but key elements of the story remain the same: animals were taken aboard an “ark” before the flood swept across the land.

As revealed by scholars, the ancient story of Gilgamesh’s Flood is known for clay tablets dating back more than 3,000 years.

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According to the Cambridge academic, the duplicity of Ea is, in fact, a story that can be interpreted in different ways. His discoveries were published in a new book titled Ea’s Duplicity in the Gilgamesh Flood story.

In the book, Dr. Worthington explores the trickery of Ea who is known as the craft god and the trickster god.

The new search focuses on nine specific lines of the 3,000-year-old story, which, according to Dr. Worthington, can be interpreted in various contradictory ways.

Ea’s lines are a verbal trick that can be understood in different ways which are phonetically identical. Besides the obvious positive reading of promising food, I found multiple negative ones that warn of the impending catastrophe. Ea is clearly a master wordsmith who is able to compress multiple simultaneous meanings into one duplicitous utterance,” Dr. Worthington explained.