Most people know that much of the events of the bible took place in Iraq. Before the time of Abraham, the ancient Israelites, a nomadic people was not yet known as the Hebrew nation. God spoke to Abram and promised he would be the father of nations, and that is when the Hebrew people came onto its own
I take that to mean the father of the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. The three religions today are called the Abrahamic faiths. Abram who became Abraham and Sarai his wife who became Sarah, lived in Ur, which is in Modern day Iraq. We Know that the ancient Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt and exiled in Babylon, so much of the culture and religion of the ancient Babylonians had its influence upon the ancient Hebrews.
We need only to look into the Bible stories of the 40 years traveling in the wilderness after the departure from Egypt to read about God’s wrath and how the Jews made the golden calf and worshipped it, instead of the God – Exodus 32:1-34:35 23. These people were not perfect. They were human and they did what humans to.
One of the things that humans do is to become acculturated into the society around them. Baal was an ancient fertility symbol. However Baal was also a title, meaning lord or master, and was very much a part of the Canaanite pantheon of early pre Hebrew civilizations. Baal, the false god found in the bible, was very prominent in the Semitic religions of the time. Since the ancient Israelites were influenced by the people around them, namely, the Babylonians who were the descendents of the earlier Sumerian culture found in Mesopotamia. They were even influenced by the Egyptian culture and religion due to their enslavement in that country as well. The ancient Israelites were knowledgeable about Baal and other pagan deities.
All these ancient peoples including the Israelites were influenced by each other’s culture and religions. In the earliest of times the Middle Eastern cultures entertained a pantheon of Gods, not just the one God. The ancient Israelites worshipped El the creator of the earth, also known as Hadad to the ancient Babylonian people. This God El was the supreme god in a host of deities. With the Story of Abraham the ancient Israelite people of Canaan, or Levant as it was also called became a monotheist religion, forsaking all other gods for the one true God.
How similar are our Bible stories with Ancient Babylonian stories?
Let’s start with the birth story of Moses. The Moses story is very similar to the birth story of Sargon of Akkad, also known as Sargon the great. Sargon is accredited with founding of Babylon. The story of Sargon was written in cuneiform long before the existence of Moses. Sargon started from the north in Elam and stretched his empire throughout Mesopotamia as far as Iran. Incidentally his reign was way before Hammurabi. Sargon lived from ca. 2270 BC – 2215 BC. Sargon was the first King of Babylon while Hammurabi was the sixth.
We know with the Moses story. Moses’ mother feared for the life of her infant son so she hid him under bulrushes in a basket and put the basket along to riverbank to sail down the Nile River. At the other end, the Pharaoh’s daughter found the infant when she went to bathe. She immediately recognized the child was Hebrew and decided to raise him as her own. She looked for a Hebrew woman to be the infant’s wet nurse and hired Moses’ own mother to care of the child. The name Moses is a combination of Egyptian words that mean child of the water.
Sargon’s mother was a high priestess. She hid the birth of her child too. She also put him in a basket and sent him down the river. The river she sent him down was the Euphrates in Mesopotamia. Directly from the poetic text of the Epic of Gilgamesh, we have from Sargon tale…She abandoned me to the river from which I could not escape. The river carried me along: to Aqqi, the water drawer, it brought me. Aqqi, the water drawer, when immersing his bucket lifted me up. Aqqi, the water drawer, raised me as his adopted son. Aqqi, the water drawer, set me to his garden work. During my garden work, Istar loved me (so that) 55 years I ruled king…
In both stories the baby is put in a basket to sail down the river. The birth of that very child had to remain secret. Moses would have been killed otherwise. The Pharaoh issued a decree that all Hebrew baby boys of that era were to be killed. It was intended to weaken the Hebrew nation and it was also an act of genocide, no less. In the case of Sargon, in order for his mother to retain office, she could not bare a child.
Both babies were put in baskets and abandoned to the river. Sargon’s mother wanted the get rid of the baby, however Moses’ mother wanted him to be found and taken care of by a good Egyptian family.
In both cases the infants were found and adopted, a practice that was very common in the ancient world.
Each story ends with the infant being found, raised and becoming a hero in adult life. Sargon’s story is that of a mighty warrior. He rules over a people. Moses’ story is a faithful servant of God who leads his people out of bondage.
Another Moses story that is similar to Babylonian legend again goes back to Hammurabi. Hammurabi’s God Shamash, gave him the tablets, which was the code of law. Hammurabi was chosen to give the code law to his people just like Moses was chosen by God to give the 10 commandments, the Hebrew law, to the Israelites. http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b1hammurabi.htm
Which came first?
It appears the Hebrew 10 commandments could have been first. Some scholars argue that they both appeared in the same time frame. Hammurabi built his code of law from that starting point, However he went on to extend the Hammurabi code to include 682 laws.
Another interesting point is that some scholars believe that Hammurabi could have been the grandson of Noah. Noah’s son name was Ham. Hammurabi was known as Ham the Great. Nimrod who mentioned in the Bible could also have been Hammurabi, since their military actions were alike.
The Gilgamesh and the Great Flood
The Epic of Gilgamesh is probably the oldest written document discovered to date. It is written in poetic form in ancient cuneiform.
According to Babylonian legend in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the God Enlil was displeased with the noise of the world and he sent a great flood to destroy it. The Goddess Istar took pity on one family and decided to save them.
The theme of saving one family from the Great Flood parallels the Bible story of The Great Flood. God destroyed mankind from all its wickedness with the exception of Noah and his Family.
Both Utnapishtim and his family, and Noah and his build a great ark. Each family brought on animals and survived many days and nights on the ark. In both stories it was a bird that first discovered the presence of land. In each of the stories the ark found a resting on a Mountaintop. Mount Nasir in the Babylonian story was the final resting place for the ark. Mount Ararat was the final resting place for Noah’s ark in the Biblical story.
However the stories are not completely the same. Utnapishtim’s family received immortality and lived in paradise (Dilmun) while Noah’s family was given the sign, the ark of the rainbow, and God’s promise that there would never be any more great floods to destroy the earth and its inhabitants.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is not the only place where great flood stories were found. They were a part of myths and folklore of many ancient civilizations.
The Gilgamesh stories and the Story of Samson and Delilah demonstrate the hero and the harlot theme. In Samson and Delilah, Samson the strong man falls in love with the harlot Delilah. She is working for the enemy and gets him to reveal the secret of his great strength, which happened to be his long hair. She betrays his confidence to the roman soldiers who cut his hair. Without his hair, Samson is greatly weakened. In the Babylonian epic, Gilgamesh actively enlists the help of a harlot, Shamhat, to reveal her naked charms to his enemy, Enkidu. Enkidu loses something as well; he loses his innocence.
Adam and Eve fall from paradise and immortality because the serpent tempted Eve and she ate from the apple from the tree of knowledge. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is resting. He had a magic flower that gave him immortality. The serpent steals the flower and Gilgamesh also looses his immortality because of it.
The legend of Adapa employs the same theme of robbing humans of their immortality. In the Garden of Eden the serpent tricks Eve into believing that God has lied to her about the tree of knowledge.
In the legend of Adapa, “Adapa, son the god of Wisdom, Ea, broke the wing of the Storm bird who attacked him in the Persian Gulf. Ea summoned Adapa to question his violence and warned him that, having displeased Anu, King of Heaven, the gods would offer him the food and drink of death, which he must refuse. Anu, however, learning of this indiscreet disclosure, tried to foil Ea by offering Adapa the bread of life and the water of life instead. When Adapa refused, Anu sent him back to earth as a mortal.” http://www.usbible.com/Creation/creation_myths.htm
All in all there are many similarities between the bible stories and Babylonian text. Just as there are ancient virgin birth stories similar to the birth of Christ.