The Epic of Gilgamesh, the first-ever record of literature in history, is considered “the greatest literary composition of ancient Mesopotamia” (Damrosch et al. 88). Written before Greeks or Hebrews could comprehend the art of writing, Gilgamesh is a tale of adventure, emotions, brotherhood, and self-development. Around 2000 B.C.E., a symphony of songs loosely associated with Gilgamesh’s life and experiences was written in Sumerian (Damrosch et al. 88). Circulating the Near East and Asia Minor during the eighth and sixth B.C.E when Genesis and the Homeric epics were developed, the songs and tales of Gilgamesh contained both the story of the seductive garden of Eden and the conspicuous flood sent upon the earth as punishment from the divine (Damrosch et al. 91). Throughout The Epic of Gilgamesh, readers are introduced to several gods and divine interactions fundamental to the epic, a true reflection of Mesopotamia’s polytheistic culture. Initially, a series of Sumerian legends and poems, The Epic of Gilgamesh, was later absorbed into the Akkadian culture, where it merged into the one epic adventure offered to scholars today (Damrosch et al. 89). Controversially, non-religious individuals argue that The Epic of Gilgamesh is evidence of falsehoods within the scriptures to discredit the Bible, while religious folks say that the parallels are exaggerated. Either way, there is evidence to show The Epic of Gilgamesh exhibits links to Mesopotamian religion connected to Sumerian and Akkadian culture as a precursor to the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Psalms.
It’s important to lay some foundations and understanding of Mesopotamia before examining the religious links between the cultures and religious writings. The name “Mesopotamia,” is derived from the Greek words “Meso” and “potamos,” literally meaning between two rivers. Dating back to roughly 5000 B.C.E., it is commonly known as the birthplace of civilization (Mark). This ancient, but beautiful vast stretch of fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Western Asia, modern-day Iraq, is the setting of the text. Stimulated by the maturity of settled communities and urban revolution, the demand for more sparked the innovation of architecture, astronomy, mathematics, governance, technology, language, and the earliest form of writing – Cuneiform (Mark). Such unity, prosperity, growth, cultivation, and development validate Mesopotamia as the conception of the modern world and is the reason why this landmark is essential to the text, and to the evolution of religious culture.
Prosperity and growth are only achievable through diversity, which is how many ethnic groups within Mesopotamia achieved cultural unification, a lifestyle of intellectual thoughts, customs, beliefs, and worship. This multiplicity sparked the development of several “city-states,” each independently ruled by a king and thought to be protected by a god (Jacobsen). Religion, polytheistic in nature, was central to Mesopotamia’s complex belief system. Religion was, “the only available intellectual framework that could provide a comprehensive understanding of the forces governing [the] existence and also guidance for right conduct in life, religion ineluctably conditioned all aspects of ancient Mesopotamian civilization” (Jacobsen). This religious framework is what bestowed kingship upon humankind; as a gift from the gods, kings were acknowledged as divinely chosen. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is considered divinely chosen, as his mother Ninsun is a goddess. It is important to remember this when considering that The Epic of Gilgamesh is not necessarily a religious tale, but rather a mythical tale with religious aids to support the story.
Gilgamesh’s divine heritage and exaggerated adventures are why he is considered a myth. His character is perceived as fictional but, the discovery of a clay cube known commonly today as the Sumerian King List (officially known as the Blundell Prism, named after the British archaeologist who discovered it) proves otherwise. It contains records of past Mesopotamian kings who were in power (Langdon 2). Evidentially it lists a king, Gilgamesh, as the ruler of Uruk (Langdon 12). As previously mentioned, Uruk is one of the twelve Sumerian city-states and, where our text begins, “He carved on stone stela all of his toils, / and built the wall of Uruk-Haven,” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 1, lines 8-9). As a nonfictional character, Gilgamesh’s existence means that, in some form, his profound influence, legendary deeds, and epic adventures must have culminated in today’s tale, making him appear extraordinary, almost God-like. Since there are records of his existence, one must consider that there are hints of truth within the epic tale. And like all tales, there is a purpose, a message, a structure to unite individuals through curiosity and desire. This structure makes Gilgamesh interesting and why it is possible that his tale has extended beyond his myth into other works of literature, such as the Hebrew Bible.
For a tale to extend beyond its bounds it must dilute itself within a variety of societies, that is why Mesopotamia is an essential part of the process. To recognize how this is possible, we need to understand how the cultural exchange took place. Mesopotamia was initially divided into Southern Mesopotamia and Northern Mesopotamia; both were culturally rich in their own right. The south contained Sumerian culture (our epic hero, Gilgamesh was Sumerian), while the north contained Akkadian culture (Albright). Akkadians were predominantly Semitic, meaning their Akkadian language is closely related to today’s Arabic and Hebrew languages (“Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations”). These two cultures and various other city-states merged under one dynasty after King Sargon of Akkad’s Semitic conqueror took control between 2334 B.C.E and 2154 B.C.E (Albright). These coalesced regions remained united until the collapse of the Sargon empire (after an invasion of the Gutians), whereby Mesopotamia split back into individual parts (“Mesopotamia”). Northern Mesopotamia then fell under the influence of the Assyrian culture, with Ashur as their primary god. According to “the biblical Book of Genesis, Ashur was founded by a man named Ashur son of Shem, son of Noah, after the Great Flood who then established other Assyrian cities” (Mark). Southern and central Mesopotamia united under the influence of the Babylonian culture after King Hammurabi an ardent Babylonian warrior seized control but honored Akkad and Sumer traditions (Kiger). Although the Mesopotamian regions were initially separated, united, and then separated again, a fusion of cultures produced an exchange of information, knowledge, lessons, and stories – such as The Epic of Gilgamesh.
The interchange of knowledge and combined teachings of polytheistic practices, allowed for the unification of a religion, known today as the Canaanite religion. Although at the time, Mesopotamians probably did not understand the concept of religion (as we do today). The Canaanite topic is considered highly controversial in religious communities; some individuals believe the Canaanite religion to be the foundation of Judaism. Professor K.L. Noll does not argue that Judaism is a Canaanite religion but merely suggests that at its core, similarities exist between the polytheistic and monotheistic natures of the religions. Such as the reverence for objects, places, and times considered sacred, conformance to divine stipulations, and communication with the supernatural through prayer and other activities (Noll 65). Counterarguments would dispute the relevance, leaving many to argue that these similarities are nothing more than the generic foundation or definition of religion. This is true, but one must consider that these foundations or guidelines must have originated somewhere. If polytheistic religion came first, then one might assume that the foundations of religion originate from no other than the birthplace of civilization (Mesopotamia) and its blended culture of polytheism. Since both religion and our epic hero originate from the same geographical location, it is possible that the two unified with the development of a new monotheistic religion and the texts related to it.
Many biblical stories are directly or indirectly linked to Mesopotamia; the city of Babylon is referenced 280 times in the Bible (Zavada), including our epic hero’s hometown of Uruk (translated from Erech), and Akkad (translated from Accad), (Gen. 10.10). The most significant and of utmost importance is the story of Abraham. Abraham, born into Mesopotamian culture, was instructed at a later age by God to leave the “land of his father,” the city of Ur (in Mesopotamia), and to start a new Hebrew nation, consisting of a monotheistic culture in a new land. “And when Abraham was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abraham and said unto him, I am the Almighty God, walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen. 17.1). The texts within the Bible acknowledge Abraham’s existence in Mesopotamia; therefore, he must have been raised in a polytheistic household and aware of its existing practices. This is relevant because if he had been aware of their practices, he would have been aware of their poems and hymns. Furthermore, his life started in the city of Ur, which can lead those to believe that the creation or the initiation of Judaism begins in Mesopotamia, the same place where Gilgamesh and his epic adventures begin. Considering that The Epic of Gilgamesh came first, it is likely through folklore that Abraham’s character (and his author/s) were aware of the mythical tale, or at least parts of it, and could account for why Mesopotamian cities are included in the tales of Abraham and other Biblical books.
Correlations between The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible have been the focus of many scholarly journals, and the most frequent and prominent are the connections relating to the Great Flood. Njozi examined the descriptive accounts of the flood discussed in The Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet 9) against those mentioned in Genesis 6-9 and the Islamic Qur’an (Sura 11 and Sura 71). She notes that the Hebrew Bible and The Epic of Gilgamesh both describe the catastrophic flood as a global disaster and the slayer of all humanity; however, the Qur’an accounts for the flood differently. According to the Islamic Qur’an, the flood was localized and not global, and therefore not the slayer of all humanity but rather a localized disaster restricted to the area of Mesopotamia (Njozi 305). This appears to be a more credible account of the flood and coincides with petrologist Collins’s findings. Collins examined sediments in and around the rivers of Euphrates, Tigris, and the surrounding land. It revealed that the flood had taken place but appeared to be more localized due to the disbursement of the sediments and the elevation of the land (Collins 39). Collins suggests that a catastrophic event and excess water from the Taurus Mountains (which feed the Euphrates and Tigris rivers) contributed to the historic flood. Additionally, poor drainage meant that survivors of lower levees (where the floodwaters would have covered the villages) and any neighboring flood plains would have been submerged underwater for between 160 and 320 kilometers. This is indicative that their “whole world” would have appeared as if it was consumed by water because no land would have been visible (Collins 40). This discrepancy in the two scriptures is essential. It alludes to a degree of disconnection from the truth, implying that much like The Epic of Gilgamesh, so may the story of the flood become nothing more than an exaggerated tale or myth. Either way, these versions seem to depend on a common source, which one can assume has been translated differently through various times to accommodate one’s beliefs or cultures. If this is the case, the same could be considered of Gilgamesh. His original tale may be fragmented from religious scriptures, implying an alternative version of him may have been adapted to fit the requirements of the Hebrew scriptures and, therefore, the Book of Psalms.
There are more comparisons than just the flood. Many scholars argue that further correlations exist between The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible, especially when considering the creation of Adam and Enkidu. The Bible’s description of Adam’s creation is remarkably like that of Gilgamesh’s Enkidu. Adam was created by the Hebrew God from dust, “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being,” (Gen. 2.7). Enkidu was created by Aruru (Akkadian’s goddess of creation) from clay, “Aruru washed her hands, she pinched off some clay, and threw it into the wilderness. / In the wilderness she created valiant Enkidu” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 1, lines 75-76). Both are uniquely created from a divine entity, implying a familiarity within their foundations.
In Judaism, Adam is enticed by his female counterpart, Eve, to take a bite of the forbidden fruit (an indulgence of pleasure, and later considered a sexual connotation), only to lose his innocence and become sinful:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one
wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband
with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were
opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed
fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. (Gen. 3.6-7)
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu is perceived to be intimidating but is indeed peaceful, free from humanity’s sins or troubled nature. He is free to roam the wilderness, living as one with the animal kingdom (much like Adam living with his animals). Although no “evil snake” is interpreted in Gilgamesh’s tale, the word snake could also imply a worthless or treacherous fellow. Considering this interpretation, then one could see how the trapper (who was intimidated by Enkidu) may be seen as a “snake.” After all, it was the trapper who wanted to purge Enkidu from the watering hole and stop him from destroying the traps. After seeking counsel, the trapper is advised by both his father and Gilgamesh to take the harlot (Shamhat) to the watering hole and to offer her as a sinful temptation to Enkidu. The harlot is required to offer her “forbidden fruit” (her naked body) to Enkidu, which drains him of his powers and innocence:
For six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused,
And had intercourse with the harlot
Until he was sated with her charms.
But when he turned his attention to his animals,
The gazelles saw Enkidu and darted off,
The wild animals distanced themselves from his body.
Enkidu’s body was utterly depleted,
His knees that wanted to go off with his animals went rigid;
Enkidu was diminished, his running was not as before.
But then he drew himself up, for his understanding had broadened. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 1, Lines 167-176)
Further affirmation of Enkidu’s loss of innocence and freedom from human nature can be seen when, “He splashed his shaggy body with water, / and rubbed himself with oil, and turned into a human” (Gilgamesh, Tablet 2, Lines 10-11). There is a movement from nature to culture and civilization (Dolansky). In both tales, a woman is responsible for the loss of innocence and the transition of sin. If even considered loosely, these preestablished connections confirm that relations exist between The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible.
Hamori’s correlation between The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible, lies in her association of Gilgamesh and Jacob. As unlikely as they may appear, her theory makes sense when viewing the evidence from her perspective. Her approach is that of the Israelis composition of Jacob’s story. She proposes that the Israelis author must have familiarized himself with aspects of Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s wrestling scene and then loosely used it as a backbone to establish the wrestling scene of Jacob and God. It is important to note that she does not imply that the Israelis author copied Gilgamesh. However, she believes they may have “utilized-and-skillfully subverted-the framework familiar from Gilgamesh in composing the story of Jacob’s wrestling match” (Hamori 626), allowing him to have the same mannerism intent and result. Keen observation reveals that both heroes are confronted in the evening by their opponents, who initiate the fights against the heroes. She also points out that both antagonists are “divine or divinely created for this purpose” (Hamori 627), and are unknown to the heroes; however, the aggressors know of their opponents. Enkidu’s sole purpose of creation was inspired by the pleas of the people of Uruk to rival and tame Gilgamesh. The Biblical story of Jacob accounts for his opponent being an angel (some Biblical versions protest that God was indeed the aggressor).
Further connections can be seen when acknowledging that in both cases of the wrestling scenes, the fights were not a match to the death but served as a rite of passage and that both heroes ceased to fight and let their aggressors be. There is a lack of deadly intent, and as Hamori points out, “it is highly unusual that both sets of partners engage in unarmed combat” (629); even for that time frame, it is uncommon that the battles take place without weapons. Their theory has valid considerations if we reflect that the sequence of events in both stories is similar. Both heroes consulted their mothers, who “have divine knowledge of the relationship between the pairs” (Hamori 625-636). Clearly there exists a degree of similarity between the key characters, and although the stories are different, the portrayals and relationships are parallel. This validates the concept that an existing character, such as Gilgamesh, can be adapted or altered to accommodate the cultural need, and why echoes of him may be seen in the Book of Psalms.
Numerous correlations have been shown between Gilgamesh and the Book of Genesis; however, one book is of particular focus; the Book of Psalms. For years, scholars have attempted to cement connections between the two. One such connection is the “Prayer to the Gods of the Night,” one of many Mesopotamian polytheistic religious hymns, used in practice to request a god’s blessing, is compared to those hymns within the Book of Psalms. The hymns traditionally finish with the worshiper’s request for god’s assistance and their declaration of faith:
O great gods of the night –
of Fire and the Netherworld;
O Constellations and Stars
watch over me as I offer
Harken to my prayer. (Qtd in Bertman 172)
Equally, a hymn in Psalms is traditionally finished with a request for God’s blessing:
Arise, O Lord;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies
on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Your blessings is upon Your people. (Ps. 3.7-8)
The layout, pattern, responsiveness, and imagery show how Mesopotamian hymns and prayers resonate with those seen in the Book of Psalms. Bertman believes that “Psalms vividly reflect the [historical] influence of Mesopotamian spirituality and expression on Hebraic thought and influence that transcended the difference between the number of gods each people worshiped” (174). He further hypothesizes that these ancient hymns were probably composed by ancient priests of the time, and once inscribed, they could easily be duplicated and recited by others. Although there is not enough evidence to firmly claim that the hymns from Psalms could be extended versions and interpretations of old Mesopotamian hymns, it does theoretically account for further similarities between Gilgamesh and the Book of Psalms.
These similarities exist because of the familiarities within both texts. John P. Peters suggests that, at its very core, the Book of Psalms is nothing more than songs composed for ritual practices and hint toward sacrificial purposes. By examining hymns that were part of the Near Eastern temple rituals and an integral part of the sacrifice. Peters suggests that these hymns’ traditions and musical directions became obsolete with time, “but with a faithfulness familiar in liturgical history, they were persevered as a part of the Psalms to which they were attached” (144). His theory is that with time, as with everything in life, the hymns evolved, growing, and adapting to new environments and conditions. Which is Peters logic as to how similarities exist between ancient ritual hymns of India, Egypt, Persia, and Babylon, and why they are closely attracted to that of the Hebrew Psalter. Although, due to a lack of direct word-for-word comparisons this cannot be assertively argued. Despite this, his theory still supports the concept that the Book of Psalms has roots established within Mesopotamian hymns, and therefore The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Some will dispute these preexisting connections over a visible lack of confidence, and because scholars have taken years to establish these connections. However, there is a valid reason behind this. A 2011 study conducted on trace developments in comparative studies on ancient Near Eastern texts and the Hebrew Bible in the past twenty years, revealed that many researchers had “taken an ‘inventorial’ approach to comparisons, listing various parallel phenomena without realizing their significance” (Chavalas 150). Furthermore, Chavalas speculated that much of the research was evaluated with a biased eye. Similarly, Delbert R. Hillers based his entire thesis on the concept that much of the research already analyzed on ancient Near Eastern texts was done so by Jewish and Christian scholars, who would have found the religion within it “inferior, puerile, barbarous, retarded, or shocking” (254). Hillers argument is that bias obscured the contributions and insight of Canaanite religion because a scholars’ training would have originated from Bible studies. They would have referred to the Bible as their principal source of reference, and therefore discredit any findings that would contradict their religious beliefs, which would account for why scholars are hesitant and too cautious to assertively state connections.
Despite the controversial bias, the study on trace developments found some insightful theories and thesis, one of which belonged to Ferris who “studied about 40 biblical psalms” and concluded, “that communal laments were based upon Sumerian and Akkadian precursors.” In another, Lambert had “studied unpublished Sumerian wisdom poems which are additions from a collection of unpublished fragments from the British Museum originating at Nippur (and later at Ugarit and Emar), arguing that they are similar to passages in Ecclesiastes.” The study also revealed that Wright revisited the controversial “traditional interpretations of an indirect correlation between the Mesopotamian and Covenant Codes,” he argued that the Hebrew legal tradition was “directly dependent upon the Mesopotamian codes” (Qtd in Chavalas 151) – proving that despite the controversy, some brave scholars still felt obliged to admit colorations existed. This validates that despite modern religious beliefs, there are religious individuals that acknowledge connections exist without jeopardizing their faith. This is evidence, that these connections are not completely one sided, and that there exists relevancy within them.
Like Wright, some argue that the Judaist Covenant Codes (in other words, the ten commandments) relate to the Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi (The Babylonian ruler discussed earlier) maintained order in his kingdom by establishing 282 laws known simply as the Code of Hammurabi (many of which are based on previous Sumerian, Akkadian, and Assyrian cultural laws) (Rattini). These laws predate Moses’s ten commandments. However, prominent similarities exist between the two laws, such as an eye for an eye, the apposition of adultery, murder, and false accusations. This is further validation as to how a familiarity exists between the text predating the Hebrew Bible and the Bible itself.
With all these correlations in mind, we can confidently consider that Judaism and Christianity geographically originate from Mesopotamian roots. Despite much debate and controversy, there are similarities (be they loosely connected) between polytheistic and monotheistic religious practices. We can also agree that these religious connections seem to be intertwined with tales of Gilgamesh, and therefore Gilgamesh appears to have a connection to the Hebrew Bible.
The New King James Version of the Bible is most widely known and used today, and the text considered for comparison. The Book of Psalms focuses on a collection of hymns, poems, and prayers that convey the religious beliefs of both Jews and Christians. Psalms comprise 150 hymns divided into five separate books and are believed by many to have reflected the five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). To show possible correlations between the Book of Psalms and those relating to the adventures or characteristics of Gilgamesh, sections of texts will be broken down for comparison. The first being:
Many bulls have surrounded Me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me,
They gape at Me with their mouths,
Like a raging and roaring lion.
…You have brought Me to dust of death. (Ps. 22.12-15)
Examination of these lines alludes to the pattern, and battle Gilgamesh and Enkidu faced after Ishtar (offended by Gilgamesh) sent a bull from the heavens to battle them both. This battle ultimately resulted in the death of Enkidu. The above Psalm also relates closely to Enkidu’s dream about his death, hence why the last line of the Psalm is just as important. Below for comparison purposes, is the battle scene as described in The Epic of Gilgamesh:
Enkidu stalked and hunted down the Bull of Heaven.
He grasped it by the thick of its tail
and held onto it with both hands,
while Gilgamesh, like and expert butcher,
boldy and surely approached the Bull of heaven.
Between the nape, the horns, …he thrust his sword. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 6,
The mention of Gilgamesh thrusting his sword between the horns of the bull echoes with a later verse of the same Psalms when mention is made of a sword and the horns of the wild oxen:
Deliver Me from the sword,
My precious life from the power of the dog.
Save Me from the lion’s mouth
And from the horns of the wild oxen. (Ps. 22.20-21)
Enkidu’s description of his dream also seems to resonate with Psalms 22, when considering a bull is described encircling Enkidu:
And then he struck me and capsized me like a raft,
and trampled on me like a wild bull.
He encircled my whole body in a clamp. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 7,
Enkidu, still describing his death, strangely makes mentions of dust when referring to the underworld:
In the House of Dust that I entered
There sat the high priest and acolyte,
There sat the purification priest and ecstatic,
There sat the anointed priest of the Great Gods. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 7,
This resonates with “All those who go down to the dust,” (Ps. 22.29). One can see the correlations between the two texts and understand the suggestion that the Psalm author knew some familiarities with the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Another uncanny resemblance between Gilgamesh and his journey into darkness (beyond the gates of the scorpion beings), can be seen to that of the valley of death as described in Psalms 23:
Yeah, though I walk through the
Valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Ps. 23.4)
The above lines seem to reverberate a section of Gilgamesh’s journey depicted in Tablet 9; whereby he walked twelve leagues through dense darkness, where no light shone:
“Go on, Gilgamesh, fear not!
The Mashu mountains I give to you freely,
the mountains, the ranges, you may traverse.
In safety may your feet carry you…”
As soon as Gilgamesh heard this
He heeded the utterances of the scorpion-being.
Along the Road of the Sun he journeyed-
One league he traveled…, dense was the darkness, light there was none.
Neither what lies ahead nor behind does it allow him to see. (The Epic of Gilgamesh,
Tablet 9, lines 48-56)
The above “fear not” is the encouragement given to Gilgamesh before he enters the gates guarded by the scorpion beings. Some scholars argue that the gates guarded by the scorpion beings are considered the entrance to the underworld (where evil resides) because no mortal has ever been able to pass, but this is speculation. However, because of the scenario, the “fear not” seems to resonate with Psalms 23’s “fear no evil.” The other obvious similarity is that Gilgamesh is required to walk through the darkness as part of his journey (though I walk through the valley of shadow).
Another comparison in this Psalm, which could easily be overlooked, is the mention of the “rod” and the “staff.” Gilgamesh carries an ax and dagger on him, “He raised the axe in his hand, / Drew the dagger from his belt” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 10, lines 84-85). These similarities may seem farfetched, but if we were to consider the sizes of these objects, there is a possibility of a correlation. According to Abbott, a “rod” is a relatively short and heavy club-like device (sounds much like a weapon). A dagger is a relatively short weapon. A “staff” is longer and thinner, with a hook or crook at one end; this sounds remarkably like an ax. There is no definitive evidence to back this correlation, but one can see how these similarities could tie into the other similarities. Considering all these comparisons in the Psalms 23, we find that poem ends with:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. (Psalms 23:6)
The conclusion to Psalm 23 describes living in the house of the Lord forever; this implies immortality, which is precisely the goal of Gilgamesh’s journey and why he is walking in the dark. It’s not to say that this Psalm is about Gilgamesh and his journey, but it is easy to identify how this could be a super-condensed version of his journey (A thinned-out version adapted with time and culture).
In Psalm 49, the author speaks of the confidence in man and their foolishness and how the wealthy feel their name will last forever. This resonates in a relatable way with Gilgamesh:
Their inner thought is that their
Houses will last forever,
Their dwelling places to all generations;
They call their lands after their own names.
Nevertheless man, though in
Honor, does not remain,
He is like the beasts that perish. (Ps. 49.11-12)
Gilgamesh initially felt invincible, he was powerful and wealthy, and the land was his for the picking. After the death of his friend Enkidu (a beast), Gilgamesh was gutted and made the city honor him in multiple ways; however, the end of Enkidu also made him realize he was not immortal. The above Psalm seems to resonate with Gilgamesh’s emotions, in the sense that he was initially a fool, and only after the death of his friend (a beast) did he set out to find the true meaning of life.
Similarities with explanations behind the connections have been shown, and a visible correlation can be considered; however, it would be difficult for any scholar to prove that an author of a specific Psalm copied or had The Epic of Gilgamesh in mind when composing these poems (hymns). Although many scholars have used this association as an attempt to discredit the Bible, one can see how polytheism is considered to have sparked monotheistic practices used by most world religions today. Something not approached is the highly controversial theory of syncretism, which maintains that some religious leaders consciously borrow ideas, practices, prayers, vestments, rituals, and so on from different religions to concoct a completely new religion out of various older parts (Nathaniel 427). This could be something explored further to test a theory that all religion dates to Mesopotamian practices and that the stories within the modern-day religion are nothing more than extensions of the original polytheism tales, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh. This is not that far-fetched if we consider that Christianity and the Islamic religion initially branched off from their original Judaism roots. For sure, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a historical piece of literature that has stood the test of time and proven that humanity continues to evolve in forms of culture, humility, technology, and religion.