Sumerian King List

The Bible account of history should be confirmed by ancient historical documents.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.

Mythical Documents

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.

Non-Mythical History

What we should expect to find and what would be valuable in support of the Bible is a non-mythical historical document which attests to creation and the flood, and therefore supports the Bible narrative.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.

Corroboration

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.

Creation

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.

The Flood

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.

Mythical Life-spans

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.

Observations

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

Expanding Record

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.

Mathematics Mixed

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.

Genesis Supported

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.

Myths and Gods

Suggestion that the Bible book of Genesis is simply a reworking of pre-existing Assyrian myths is latched onto by those who wish to reject the claims of the true and living God. Babylonian mythology creates an effective smoke-screen for those who wish to hide from reality.

So it is valuable to review the ideas presented in the ancient Assyrian stories which supposedly led to the Bible history.

Rejecting God and Embracing Myths

It should be noted at the outset that once a person has rejected the revelation of our creator God they have no alternative but to discredit all historical evidence for His existence. The physical creation has to be explained in naturalistic terms, as science asserts it has done through evolution. And the historical accounts of God’s actions in the earth, such as creation and judgement (including the global flood), must be explained away as mere man-made stories.

When people reject God they must retreat into the woodlands of mythology. They have to create a mythology about how the world came to be. And they must turn historical evidence into mythological writings. When people reject God they become enmeshed in mythology.

A popular academic and philosophical myth is that religion has evolved, in the same way people believe biology and society have evolved. Thus we can find such statements as the following assertion. “Man’s earliest prereligious fear of the forces of nature gradually became religious as nature became personalized, spiritized, and eventually deified in human consciousness. Religion of a primitive type was therefore a natural biologic consequence of the psychologic inertia of evolving animal minds after such minds had once entertained concepts of the supernatural.”

Where such ideas fall apart is that the religious evolutionary path is nowhere to be found. Polytheistic ideas have existed alongside monotheism from earliest records. Rather than religion evolving it is divided. The true revelation of the Living God on one hand, and deception on the other, lead to different streams of religious thought.

Polytheism

Polytheism is evident in the ancient Assyrian culture. The myths which are supposed to have informed the Bible writers are riddled with inglorious deities fighting, taking revenge, competing and killing each other.

The Gilgamesh Epic, Epic of Atrahasis and Enuma Elish are stories about capricious and evil gods who kill their own family members, indulge in gratuitous violence, display intolerance, know nothing of forgiveness, gain prominence by domination and despise humanity.

Yet, for all the Assyrians apparent reverence for the gods, they treated those gods with contempt. Different cities repackaged their versions of these stories, identifying their own favourite deity as the hero. For example, Babylon changed the hero to Marduk, since he was the deity who supposedly established their city. By so doing, the Babylonians reveal that the previously honoured deity had no real worth, since he or she could be so easily displaced.

The stories, then, become nothing more than PR material, with nothing more than human value, to validate one people over another. This is a very shallow form of pantheism, where gods are multiplied and their reality is demeaned by the whim of man.

Note that Greek mythology displays this same callow polytheism, where temples are multiplied to multiple deities, but no-one expects the gods to have any real part in the affairs of men. Those gods are blighted with human foibles and demeaned as having no moral superiority to man.

Hindu polytheism similarly allows devotees to accommodate a multiplicity of values, since there is a deity for just about all the good and evil of the human heart.

There is no moral substance to the gods in such cases. There is no divine imperative. There is no fear of God.

Morality

The Assyrian gods of their creation and flood myths have no moral standard. Hatred, murder, violence, revenge, despisement, dominance and the like are their displayed characteristics.

A striking contrast between the ancient Assyrian concept of deity and the Bible’s revelation of the one true God is the issue of morality. Almighty God is an exquisitely moral being. He is described as being “holy”, which carries with it the idea of being so perfect that He will never veer off course by the slightest degree. Thus, in four thousand years of Biblical history and two thousand subsequent years of the Church Age our Creator God has not changed, nor violated His character. He is supremely and uniquely consistent.

God not only displays personal morality, but He holds all of humanity accountable against His own moral being.

The Assyrians were led to see themselves as a despised and menial creation, subject to the vagaries of unstable heavens, where deities may make war on one another and have modelled the most shameless evils. There is no moral accountability in such a world. There is no reason for any human to act above the basest instincts which were demonstrated by the gods.

The Place of Man

Another striking contrast between the Assyrian polytheistic myths and the revelation of creation given to us in the Bible is the place of mankind. According to the ancient creation myths mankind was made to serve the gods. The gods wanted worship and food. Mankind was to have the menial task of placating the appetite of the gods.

Various notions of how man was created are seen, involving the blood of a murdered god, or, alternatively, the spittle of many gods, mixed with clay.

We also find that the gods objected to the noise made by the human population, and so it was decided to wipe them all out. This capricious act was foiled when one of the gods warned someone to make a boat and escape destruction.

The Bible account not only gives noble place to God, but grants high and holy place to mankind as well. Man is made in God’s image, to receive blessings from God. God makes multiple gifts to mankind, to give him every advantage.

The decline of humankind is not in any way brought upon them by God, but by their own failure to be moral beings. The global flood of judgement is precipitated by the fact that mankind had become excessively evil in deed and in their imaginations.

Here again the distinctions between the Book of Genesis and the Assyrian myths is startling.

Expert Opinions

Dr Clifford Wilson quotes from experts who have reviewed the ideas of links between Genesis and the Assyrian myths. I take the following from Dr Wilson’s notes.

English Professor Alan Millard was one of two scholars who re-discovered the Babylonian Epic of Atrahasis.  He stated in his survey in The Tyndale Biblical Archaeology Lecture for 1966: “All who suspect or suggest borrowing by the Hebrews are compelled to admit large-scale revision, alteration, and re-interpretation in a fashion which cannot be substantiated for any other composition from the ancient Near East or in any other Hebrew writing … Careful comparison of ancient texts and literary methods is the only way to the understanding of the early chapters of Genesis ….. so the Epic of Atrahasis adds to knowledge of parallel Babylonian traditions, and of their literary form.  All speculation apart, it underlines the uniqueness of the Hebrew primeval history in the form in which it now exists.”

Professor Kenneth Kitchen is also quoted by Dr Wilson: “The common assumption that the Hebrew account is simply a purged and simplified version of the Babylonian legend (applied also to the Flood stories) is fallacious on methodological grounds.  In the Ancient Near East, the rule is that simple accounts or traditions may give rise (by accretion and embellishment) to elaborate legends, but not vice versa.”

No Need For Myths

Those who reject the Almighty Creator God of the Bible must engage in mythology, by making up their own ideas and by turning truth into myth in their own opinion. Those who believe in the one true God do not need myths or multiple gods.

In these modern times we have some of the world’s finest minds making up stories about punctuated equilibrium, life from outer space, naturalistic miracles and many other mythological notions. So mythology is not an ancient process which we have evolved past, but a necessary mindset when one has rejected the one true God.

I am thankful to Dr Clifford Wilson and his wife Dr Barbara Wilson for their inspiration and guidance in my own exploration of Biblical archaeology. As friend, academic supervisor and mentor, Dr Clifford has keenly encouraged my interest in archaeology, as he has for many others in decades past.
In honour of his on-going work and his world-wide impact I am compiling various posts on archaeology, based on the excellent work of Drs Clifford and Barbara, while adding my own personal style and insights. Drs Clifford and Barbara Wilson are building a website to present their work. You can visit the website at http://www.drcliffordwilson.com

Enuma Elish Creation Story

In 1876, just four years after publication of the Epic of Gilgamesh, George Smith completed and published his translation of Enuma Elish. This ancient Assyrian document was immediately acclaimed as an equivalent creation story to that given in the Bible.

Part of the Barrage

This new document came as yet another wave of challenge to the authenticity of the Book of Genesis. Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”, published in 1859 compounded the growing scientific assault on Genesis, propelled forward by Charles Lyell’s geological uniformity concepts.

The 1872 publication of the Gilgamesh Epic brought criticism of Genesis from a new quarter. Archaeology seemed to bring solid evidence that the supposedly divine revelations in Genesis were mere re-workings of ancient stories. The pile of discarded clay tablets, with their “bird track” markings proved to be more valuable than the initial treasure hunters expected. While the ruins of ancient Assyrian palaces from the Nineveh site were scoured for gold and priceless artefacts, the tens of thousands of small clay tablets were simply shovelled out of the way. But when George Smith put his unique self-taught talents to work on deciphering the cuneiform script new evidence against Genesis seemed to leap from the rubble.

Evidence of the exaltation of Enuma Elish as a direct challenge to the authority of Genesis is testified by George Smith’s title for publication of his translation, under the auspices of the British Museum, “The Chaldean Genesis“.

The Link Asserted

In 1895 German author Herrmann Gunkel HeHerrr

published an influential book, proclaiming that the Genesis account is merely an expansion of the pre-existing Enuma Elish story. Since that book scholars have taken it for granted that the two accounts are directly linked.

Gunkel contended that the ancient Near Eastern myth of creation, especially as formulated in the Enuma Elish, was the underlying document upon which the Genesis account was formulated. He claimed that the myth was modified by Bible writers to bring it into agreement with the Israelite religion.

Seven Clay Tablets

Enuma Elish is an ancient story about warfare and barbarism among a group of gods. Seven clay tablets from the ancient library of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal told the story as it existed in Babylon. Variations of the story have been found, reducing the status of Enuma Elish as a “creation” narrative, since the battle story is presented in some cases, without any reference to creation.

King Ashurbanipal ordered his servants to collect written works from around the realm, from Egypt to India. 100,000 clay tablets filled his famous library, which housed the first such collection in history. From the excavations of his library some 26,000 tablets survived, with many being destroyed or damaged in the hunt for more valuable antiquities.

The seven clay tablets were not without damage and some parts of the story have been untranslatable. George Smith translated what was still readable. The fifth tablet speaks of creation of the earth and sky from the carcase of a murdered god. The sixth of seven tablets mentions the plan by the victorious warring gods to create mankind. Note, then, that creation is a small part of the overall story, and is not recorded in other telling of the same war among the gods.

Rebellion in Heaven

Enuma Elish is a grotesque and barbaric story about bloodshed among the gods. These gods, rather than being divine in nature, are very human in their relationships and actions. They marry, give birth to other gods, are able to be killed and so on.

When the family of gods makes too much disturbance for the principal male god, Apsu, from whom the others sprang in several generations, he decides to destroy them all. One of the younger gods, Ea, great-grandson to Apsu, kills the patriarch god. The widow and great-grandmother, Tiamat, is enraged and seeks vengeance against Ea. She creates eleven monsters, marries Kingu, and goes to war.

Tiamat’s vengeful rampage at first seems unstoppable. However, a great-great grandson god, Marduk, who is supposed to have founded Babylon, successfully destroys Tiamat, by bludgeoning her to death and cutting her body in pieces from which various creations are made. Marduk then appoints the various gods their own places, which researchers have noted correspond to Babylonian astrology.

Marduk decides to create mankind to serve the gods by maintaining temples for their worship, and to perform menial tasks for the gods. Marduk murders Kingu, using his blood and bones as the substance to form humanity.

The Creation Account

Since Enuma Elish is cited today as proof that the Genesis creation record is somehow taken from earlier creation accounts, it is important to see the account from which Moses is supposed to have gained his inspiration.

There are approx 1,160 lines of text in the whole Enuma Elish story. Of that complete text the account of earth’s creation occupies no more than 30 lines and the account of the man’s creation occupies 8 lines. Here I quote text related the creation, from LW Kings 1902 translation, published as The Seven Tablets of Creation.

“He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
He passed through the heavens, he surveyed the regions thereof,
And over against the Deep he set the dwelling of Nudimmud.
And the lord measured the structure of the Deep,
And he founded E-sara, a mansion like unto it.
The mansion E-sara which he created as heaven,
He caused Anu, Bel, and Ea in their districts to inhabit.”

Another 24 lines speak of the moon and sun in their orbits, as dividing the year into twelve months.

Thus less than four percent of the whole document relates to creation, and that account, as you can see by what is quoted here, has no meaningful relationship with the account of Genesis 1.

The Creation of Man

Of the more than one thousand lines on seven tablets there are but a few scant words about the creation of man. Here I again quote from LW Kings The Seven Tablets of Creation.

“My blood will I take and bone will I fashion
I will make man, that man may ….
I will create man who shall inhabit the earth,
That the service of the gods may be established, and that their shrines may be built.”

A more complete translation of the Enuma Elish document, compiled from other sources as well, adds to these four lines just a few more.

“Out of his blood they fashioned mankind.
He imposed on him the service and let free the gods.
After Ea, the wise, had created mankind,
Had imposed upon them the service of the gods-”

What Comparison?

Enuma Elish has nothing to do with the Genesis account. The fact that the reality of creation is reflected in an ancient myth only goes to prove the human consciousness of that event, not the creation of a lie which Moses inherited.

The one true God, acting in a fashion consistent with His actions through the whole of recorded history, created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, as described in the Book of Genesis. He acted as a holy, loving creator, who made man in His own image, to enjoy the delight of inclusion into His eternal existence. God does not need man, nor does God act with the vain impulses we see in man.

God created out of nothing (ex nihilo) not from the remains of some other deity whom He butchered. God created life as a gift to those He made. He did not create as a self-serving exercise to indulge His needs or have menials at His disposal.

There is next to nothing that links the Enuma Elish to the Genesis record, except that it speaks of creation. Yet thousands of ignorant people were beguiled into believing that the authority of scripture had been decimated by the sunburnt clay tablets.

I am thankful to Dr Clifford Wilson and his wife Dr Barbara Wilson for their inspiration and guidance in my own exploration of Biblical archaeology. As friend, academic supervisor and mentor, Dr Clifford has keenly encouraged my interest in archaeology, as he has for many others in decades past.
In honour of his on-going work and his world-wide impact I am compiling various posts on archaeology, based on the excellent work of Drs Clifford and Barbara, while adding my own personal style and insights. Drs Clifford and Barbara Wilson are building a website to present their work. You can visit the website at http://www.drcliffordwilson.com