Is Genesis a Rehash of The Epic of Gilgamesh?

I often see atheists say that Genesis is a rehash of The Epic of Gilgamesh, and thus our belief in God should crumble from there. Some of the reasons they cite:
*]Gilgamesh was 2/3 Divine, 1/3 Man - they equate this to the Trinity and Jesus’ human nature.
*]Gilgamesh and Enkidu decide to steal trees from a distant cedar forest forbidden to mortals - similar to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
*]There is an evil snake in both.
*]The flood in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the many similarities in the flood stories.
*]Landing of the boats on a mountain and the use of birds to determine when the flood subsided
Is there any truth to the statement that Genesis is just a rehash? And if so, how should we go about this issue and still keep our faith? I would be grateful for any response on this matter.

Similarities in creation/flood myths do not tell us that they were “borrowed” or are a “rehash” of anything. What they tell us is that these events happened and are part of the memory of humanity. Such stories are a form of mythology, which is merely a literary device for relating such events, making them easy to remember. Mythology says nothing about whether or not a story is fiction or non-fiction, any more than poetry does. There are many fictional and non-fictional events related to us via poetry but no one says, “We can’t believe in that because it’s poetry.” See what I mean?

J. R. R. Tolkien had a life-changing discussion with C. S. Lewis about this very topic, which opened the then atheist Lewis’ eyes to the reality that Christ is who he said he is and that myths about dying gods were actually about Jesus.

The implication by atheists is, of course, that none of these events can really have happened since they are related via myth. But, myths tell us truths wrapped up in stories–a very specific form of story-telling. And all tend to tell us the same sorts of things–that we owe our existence to God, that he has plans for humanity, and that he saves humanity through his mercy and love. That story is a true one, in Christ Jesus, who fulfills all the myths and prophecies ancient peoples knew were coming because of the promises made to Adam and Eve and to Noah and the prophets after them. So, instead of harming our faith such similarities confirm our faith for they are the memory of mankind passed down through cultures and the many ages of the world.

This should help:


While the Gilgamesh Epic is older in terms of when it was recorded, it is more likely that the Biblical account was the original. I’ll explain.

Gilgamesh is widely accepted as the historical 5th king of Uruk, a major city of Mesopotamia from about 4500 BC to around 300 AD. It was part of the kingdom of Babylon, and was a few miles north of Ur, the port town that Abraham came from. It is likely that the stories found in the Bible were brought over by Abraham, and that they were part of an ancient oral tradition.

Something kings did in those days was, when they conquered an area, they would usurp the local lores and rewrite them, making themselves the central character in the tales. It is likely that Gilgamesh rewrote the oral traditions that were later written down in the Bible, replacing himself as the central character in these tales.

In other words, the atheists have it backward. They think the Gilgamesh Epic is the primal story, and the Biblical accounts “plegiarized” it. But actually, it’s more likely the other way around.

Della, do happen to know where I can find that discussipon between Tolkien and Lewis you mention? Was it correspondence between them?

Thank you (and everyone else) for your reply! I didn’t know about the part I have put in bold, very interesting! So, the oral version of Genesis was around, Abraham brought it over and Gilgamesh edited it to make himself the central character? :thumbsup:

It was a talk they had between them and another Christian friend one evening as they walked along the river. Lewis wrote about the encounter, as did Tolkien. It’s been made into a video with actors playing Lewis and Tolkien: What atheists are saying is that mythology is actomatically false because it’s not materialistic. That’s what they really want to convey by mudding the waters over ancient mythologies and their similarities to biblical stories and the life of Christ.

Even if the Epic of Gilgamesh came first and Genesis is an adaptation of it, I don’t think it’s problematic. We know the first eleven chapters of Genesis are true (though the Church doesn’t require we believe them to be literal). Why couldn’t an adaptation of the Gilgamesh story, inspired by the Holy Spirit, be truth? An existing legend may have been used as the mode to divulge divine truth.

I’m not saying that Gilgamesh was written first or is the original version of the story. I’m only saying that it wouldn’t be proof against Abrahamic religion if that is the case.

Also, while the Church recognizes the Trinity in the creation story (God as the Father, his Spirit over the water, and his Word through which all things were created), the Trinity is a truth that wasn’t fully revealed until the Incarnation. I think the 2/3 divine and 1/3 man part, at least, of your friend’s objection has no bearing on Genesis.

Biblical interpretation has defined rules. But back to Genesis:

"Real History

"The argument is that all of this is real history, it is simply ordered topically rather than chronologically, and the ancient audience of Genesis, it is argued, would have understood it as such.

"Even if Genesis 1 records God’s work in a topical fashion, it still records God’s work—things God really did.

"The Catechism explains that “Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work,’ concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day” (CCC 337), but “nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God’s word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history is rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun” (CCC 338).

"It is impossible to dismiss the events of Genesis 1 as a mere legend. They are accounts of real history, even if they are told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use.

"Adam and Eve: Real People

“It is equally impermissible to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and the fall (Gen. 2–3) as a fiction.”


Oh hey, thanks a million!

Thank you, Della.:slight_smile: I found a link to that whole film, which I’m going to watch.

Agreed. I did not mean to imply otherwise, and I think my post is still consistent with this. Thank you for the clarification.

Archaeology says otherwise. A global flood never happened. So having multiple flood myths shows the passing along/borrowing/rehashing of such stories are the only logical explanations, since there is no such thing as this “collective memory” to an event that never happened.

You are contradicting your own chronology here. Kings usurped and rewrote lore afterwards, you say. Well, the Genesis story came after the Epic of Gilgamesh, yet you are saying they ripped us off even though Abraham brought those stories over from the Epic of Gilgamesh. :confused:

The written version came second, but not necessarily the oral version. Keep in mind that early Jewish culture, along with most cultures, maintained their histories orally until the invention and adoption of writing. As a result, it is almost impossible to determine which of the two stories actually came into being first. As Christians, we hold that Genesis teaches real history, even if it does so through allegory, and therefore believe that the Genesis account would predate Gilgamesh. Even if this is not the case, two stories recounting similar ideas does not necessarily mean that one story borrowed from the other, regardless of the degree of similarity. That’s a false assumption people who make arguments like this tend to make. Similarly, If the Genesis account came first, there’s nothing requiring that Gilgamesh borrowed from it.

Actually these things don’t bother me at all.

From an early age I’ve come to appreciate the symbolic importance of Genesis and do not consider it an accurate account of our origins. I turn to science for that – big bang, evolution, etc. However, I do consider Genesis (and other myths to the extent they parallel Genesis, either thru independent invention or diffusion) as being divinely inspired or even instructed by God.

What I sort of imagine is that God in his compassion and understanding of our limited, finite mentality and the state of our knowledge way back then told us about creation in a way that the people back then would understand it, making sure the moral and important symbolic messages got thru.

Or, maybe God told it like it was (more according to our scientific understanding of today but even more accurate than that), and the ancient people receiving the narrative thought, “Say what??!!!” Then they pass it on as best they could, which would have been in their own terms and limited understanding.


Another thing is the world is sort of another Bible written by God, there for us to study and understand, with our scientists as the exegetes…still doing the best they can with our limited, finite mentality and the state of knowledge of our day.

And this may help us get a slight glimpse of God’s methods, His patterns of operation…

Big bang - from an infinitesimally tiny almost nothing to a huge universe beyond our ability to measure

Evolution - from a tiny, microscopic thread of molecules that reproduced, to tiny cells, to large and complex organisms…and we are all related with stardust cruising our veins and stems, composed of elements created in belly of the stars.

God manifest - from a tiny babe in a stable rude to the Great Savior and Redeemer of our immortal souls.

I really feel sorry for the atheists and the bereft and limited world they have confined themselves to. Hook on to Jesus and the infinite wonders of God and His miraculous creation.

When Pompeii erupted, it was mentioned in texts over half-way around the world. Similarly, there was a volcano that erupted in New Zealand (I think) which was recorded in early Greek texts.

Even a localized flood would have had a profound impact on neighboring areas, and the news of the event would have traveled far and wide, and could easily have made its way into the mythos of other cultures.

Along with this, Noah’s family is said to have spread over the Earth with time. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the history of the flood would have been passed on from generation to generation. In this way, as Noah’s descendants spread over the Earth, the history of the Great Flood would likewise have spread with them.

Keep in mind, histories like this were far more important to older cultures than they are to modern ones. Where a lot of people nowadays see history as something interesting to study, in ancient times it was a major way that a group of people identified themselves, through their shared ancestry and history.

Mankind subsisted in the Middle Eastern area long before humans moved out into the rest of the world. The flood was not a world-wide event that overtook Europe and China, but a local event that the poeple affected wrote about. Many peoples around the world have flood accounts because their ancestors carried the story with them as they migrated to inhabit the whole planet.


Also, Della, congrats on 16,000 posts. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Thanks! Wow! I spend way too much time here, don’t I? :stuck_out_tongue:

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