The Bible account of history should be confirmed by ancient historical documents. Corroboration of Bible history is found to some degree in the ancient Assyrian texts excavated from Nineveh, which hark back to ancient Sumerian myths and historical records.
Those ancient Assyrian texts, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish and Epic of Atrahasis do relate aspects of human history reflective of Biblical history. Those reflections are tainted, however, by the polytheistic mythology interpolated into the historical record, such that the documents are considered mythical, rather than historical. Nonetheless, spontaneous creation and a global flood are significant aspects of Biblical history which are clearly celebrated in the ancient Sumerian legends.
It is worth noting that the ancient Assyrian writings do not involve myths about evolution, millions of years, ice-ages, missing links, spontaneous generation, punctuated equilibrium, a big bang or life from outer space. Yet those myths do speak of divine creation, mankind under divine accountability and a global flood. It is logical that these myths involved such events because they were part of the true history within human consciousness.
What we should expect to find and what would be valuable in support of the Bible is a non-mythical historical document which attests to creation and the flood, and therefore supports the Bible narrative. We should expect to find a document which is not tainted with mythology, but which reflects from ancient times an independent affirmation of what the Bible declares is to be our human history.
The Sumerian King List is such a text.
The King List
An historical record of kings has survived from the Sumerian age, speaking from antiquity and tracing human history from the very beginning though to the time of Hammurabi of Babylon. This record offers a window into the ancient past which lends historical support to the Bible record.
The list appears to have developed through history, with successive kingdoms taking charge of continuing the record from earliest times. Sixteen copies of the list have been identified, but not all are in good condition. Some later versions display the process of later kingdoms adding themselves and their kings to the continuing genealogy.
As one kingdom conquered the dominant kingdom of the day it then added its lineage of kings as an extension of the historical record. Then when that kingdom was overthrown the conquerors maintained the record and added their own names in succession, until they, in turn, were overthrown.
There is no reason to doubt the validity of the list, except for some omissions and disparity among the records. Many of the names and places have been confirmed by archaeology. The list attests to its own accuracy by giving specific detail, such as one king whose reign was detailed down to include the three months and three and a half days, as well as the total of years. Another person is detailed as having ruled for forty days. Yet another person is identified as the older brother of his predecessor and also son of the predecessor’s father, Sargon.
The Sumerian King List is an independent corroboration of the Biblical record of divine creation followed by a global flood just a handful of generations after the original creation.
Yet it stands independent from the Biblical record. Where the Bible record follows one of the family lineages from Noah’s three sons, the King List follows a different line. Where the Bible record focuses on a family lineage the King List records successive kings, who are from various families.
The King List, then, cannot be argued as some kind of religious source for the Bible record. The two stand independent from each other, yet they support each other in several significant facts.
The King List is a secular document. It is not maintained as part of religious worship, nor does it set out to deify the Kings or invoke particular religious sentiment, as the Epic of Gilgamesh was made to do. This is significant, because it stands as a secular, non-mythical, historical account of ancient times, yet with remarkable corroboration of the Biblical historical record included in its content.
The Sumerian King List totally ignores any notion of evolution through vast ages, and speaks from a divinely initiated beginning, as does the Bible. Its opening words are, “After kingship had descended from heaven, Eridu became the seat of kingship.”
Just as the Sumerian and Assyrian mythologies and epics speak of a divinely motivated creation, albeit with grotesque, polytheistic artefacts included, this ancient Sumerian historical record attests to the same reality. Spontaneous creation was not only a fact in the distorted mythical legends, but also in the historical records, just as it is a fact of the Bible record.
This King List also attests to a unique flood event very early in the earth’s history. The Bible describes a flood which occurred in Noah’s day. Noah was the tenth person in the historical lineage from the creation of Adam.
The King List speaks of a unique flood event after the eighth generation from the beginning.
“Total: Five Cities, eight kings, reigned 241,200 years. The FLOOD then swept over.”
No other natural or astrological event is referred to in the entire list. The only such event is this reference to “the flood”. All other floods were ignored. No other natural or astrological event was worth reference, but this one flood event was enshrined in the record. Such significance given to the flood attests to it fitting the Bible account of Noah’s global flood.
In the light of this historical record, the mythological references to a global flood which destroyed almost all of mankind, as in the Epic of Gilgamesh, give even more resoundingly credibility to the Bible account.
Kings in Mind
The King List is exactly that: a list of kings. The King List identifies eight kings before the global flood. The Bible records ten generations before the global flood. It is logical that both the King List and the Bible account came from the same information carried on Noah’s Ark. So, why the discrepancy?
The Bible record identifies ten family generations, but only eight patriarchs. Neither Enoch nor Lamech outlived their father, so there were only eight “kings”, or heads of the family line, before the Flood. Thus, even in this detail, the King List corroborates the Bible account.
Scholars refer to the Sumerian King List as a “mixture of fact and fantasy“. One of the principal reasons for the ‘fantasy’ charge is the unbelievable life spans attributed to the earlier members of the list. The earliest kings were recorded as living for tens of thousands of years.
This problem has been successfully tackled, at least in part, by John Walton, writing in the Fall 1991 issue of Biblical Archaeologist. Walton attributes the problem to an error made along the way, probably when one kingdom took new possession of the list by overthrowing the previously dominant kingdom. The error would have related to the Sumerian numerical use of base 60 in its calculations. In simplified terms this would mean that the numbers were blown out by a factor of 60 times.
Walton was able to rework the ages of the eight persons listed prior to the flood and found that they came very close to the ages ascribed to the eight people between Adam and Noah in the Bible.
Walton’s work brings the King List into greater correlation with the Bible record, but also reveals that the Sumerian document supports the Biblical history of people who lived for close to 1,000 years. He also removes the mythical quality from the list and brings it back into the realm of factual history.
The Sumerian King List brings the following relevant observations to our understanding of ancient times.
Genealogical records were kept from the earliest of time. Moses was able to provide acurate and detailed information about events which occurred thousands of years before he was born, in the same way successive generations of kings were able to refer back to the Sumerian list.
Genealogical records summarised history around significant personalities, in the same way the Bible accounts for history along one principal family lineage. The Sumerian King List records those who were “king” or head of the family or clan at the relevant time. On that basis we discover that Noah was the eighth in lineage from Adam, even though he was the tenth generation by birth order. Thus Peter records Noah as the “eighth person” in 2Peter 2:5
“And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” 2Peter 2:5
These Sumerian records were passed down from generation to generation. Conquering kings took over the records in their own court, adding themselves to the grand list. The record grew in stages over time.
The King List record is therefore a true account of people that did live and victories that did occur. The record traces the kings of each dominant kingdom in a succession of kingdoms. We see that several kingdoms enjoy repeated dynasties as the dominant kingdom.
Those who perpetuated the ongoing genealogy understood the record to be fact and worthy of adding their inclusion.
As discussed earlier, the earliest age accounts were misunderstood at some point in the passing of the records, causing a blow-out of the figures, as per John Walton’s 1991 calculations.
John Walton’s assumptions result in the record of the ante-diluvium kings matching the Genesis record. The error most likely occurred when a new conquering kingdom updated the records, but without understanding the original Sumerian mathematical base.
The Sumerian King List is a sound attestation to several elements of the Genesis record.
It accounts for a divine element in the creation.
It accounts for a time of creation, with a beginning that did not need a preceding extended evolutionary history.
It accounts for the limited number of generations before the global flood.
It concurs with the long lives of the ante-diluvium generations.
It confirms the unique global flood incident, worthy of being recorded apart from all other flood or natural events, and thus matching the flood of Noah’s day.
It attests to the process of passing down historical records and “generations” as was done from Adam to Moses, in the compilation of the Genesis historical record.
It allows for misunderstanding in the passing down of the record, as conquering kings took possession of the record but may not have fully understood the basis on which it was maintained. This is different to the lineage record passed down to Moses, as that record was kept in the family, along with a supporting oral tradition. The Biblical detail is therefore factual and reliable.
It allows for the interpolation of spurious divinity into the record, as a conquering king made his self-appointed assertions of the basis of his authority, without denigrating the actual record itself. When King Meskiaggasher of Eanna conquered Kish he had his scribes add him to the list, but as a “son of Utu” (the sun god). This deistic insertion would have been an attempt to aggrandize and elevate himself, as was done in the deification of Egyptian Pharaohs and others.
The list confirms the real existence of Gilgamesh, and thus reveals the encroaching religious mythology which developed in some kingdoms over time. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a real person, presents a perverted mythological tale involving polytheistic deities who were imagined and interposed into human consciousness somewhere during the time of the Sumerian kings.
The emergence of polytheistic concepts represents a degeneration of human consciousness, rather than the forward movement of the evolution of religious thought.
The King List starts with reference to heaven, as per the Bible account, but degenerates into mythology as the centuries pass. The Bible account has maintained its integrity, being preserved by God from the deception and delusion which shrouded the minds of those influenced by the serpent ‘Satan’ character described in Genesis 2.
A Valuable Find
In light of the points mentioned above, the Sumerian King List proves to be a valuable document in support of several aspects of the Biblical record. I commend it for inclusion in discussions on the historicity of the Book of Genesis.