It predates the Bible's Version of the Great Flood by thousands of years.
The First City and the Sumerian King List
The Great Flood, a story familiar to many, predates its Biblical appearance by thousands of years. Journey with us into history as we uncover the origins of this ancient tale. Eridu, present-day Anbu Shahrein in Iraq, is believed to be the first city on Earth, created by the ‘Gods’ around 5,400 BC and governed by the Sumerian god, Enki.
To delve deeper, we turn to the Sumerian King List, an ancient stone tablet detailing the kings of Sumer and nearby dynasties, their reigns, and the locations of their rule. Kingship, considered a divine gift, could shift between cities, reflecting regional power dynamics. As the home of the first kings, Eridu is where “the kingship descended from heaven,” according to the list.
Unearthing the Great Flood in the Eridu Genesis
The earliest account of the great deluge is found in the Eridu Genesis, or Sumerian Creation Myth, discovered on a fragmented tablet from the ancient city of Nippur. Written in Sumerian and dating back to around 1600 BC, the surviving text narrates how gods An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursanga fashioned the Sumerians and a hospitable environment for all creatures.
Following this, kingship descended from heaven, and the inaugural cities of Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larak, Sippar, and Shuruppak were established. A damaged section of the tablet then reveals the gods’ decision to abandon humanity during a forthcoming global flood.
Zi-ud-sura, the King, and the Great Deluge
Zi-ud-sura, a king and gudug priest, learns of the gods’ intentions. In the later Akkadian Atra-Hasis Epic, the water god Ea (Enki in Sumerian) warns the hero, Atrahasis, and instructs him to build an ark. While absent from the Sumerian fragment, Enki’s counsel implies a similar role in the original version.
The tablet resumes with a harrowing account of the flood, a storm that raged for seven days and nights. Amid the chaos, the colossal boat was “tossed about on the great waters…”
Here’s the translated story of the flood, as found on the Nippur tablet:
After Anu, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursag had fashioned the black-headed people, Vegetation sprang from the Earth, Animals, four-legged creatures of the plain, Were brought artfully into existence [37 lines are unreadable]
After the….of kingship had been lowered from heaven After the exalted crown and the throne of kingship Had been lowered from heaven, He perfected the rites and exalted the divine ordinances… He founded the five cities in pure places,… Then did Nintu weep like a…. The pure Inanna set up a lament for its people; Enki took council with himself, Anu, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursag…. The gods of heaven and Earth uttered the name of Anu and Enlil Then did Ziusudra, the king, the priest of…, Build, a giant…; Humbly obedient, reverently he… Attending daily, constantly he…, Bringing forth all kinds of dreams, he…, Uttering the name of heaven and Earth, he…[…] the gods a wall…, Ziusudra, standing at its side, listened. “Stand by the wall at my left side…, By the wall I will say a word to you, Take my word, Give ear to my instructions: By our…a flood will sweep over the cult- enters; To destroy the seed of mankind…, Is the decision, the word of the assembly of the gods. By the word commanded by Anu and Enlil…, Its kingship, its rule will be put to an end.
[about 40 lines missing] All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, Attacked as one, At the same time, the flood sweeps over the cult-centers. After, for seven days, the flood sweeps over the cult centers. After for seven days and seven nights, The flood had swept over the land, And the huge boat had been tossed About by the windstorms on the great waters, Utu came forth, who sheds light on heaven and Earth, Ziusudra opened a window of the huge boat, The hero Utu brought his rays into the giant boat. Ziusudra, the king, Prostrated himself before Utu.
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