Historicity of The Flood

Yaroslav V. Vassilkov yavass at YV1041.SPB.EDU
Sat Jun 12 12:10:42 UTC 1999

Many thanks to Paolo Magnone for his rational and helpful critique of my
"list of similiarities" (in the message of 11 June 1999). Here are my answers
to some of his remarks:

>> 1. Both INDIA and MESOPOTAMIA: a pious man is warned about the flood. A
>> god/fish gives him advice to build an ark/ship. The difference between two
>> forms of a benefactor is diminished by the fact that Sumerian/Mesopotamian
>> god Ea/Enki sometimes appears in the form of a fish.

Paolo Magnone:
>You overlook the paramount difference here: ....One of the most prominent
>features in the Mesopotamian myth is the ethical context and the structure:
>crime - punishment - reconciliation, which is conspicuous for its absence
>in all Indian versions which I know about (except for a faint shade in
>a couple of quite late developments).

 The difference which you stress is the difference in religious ideology.
Even one and the same archaic myth can be filled in different historical
period with different ideological contents. But the structure of the plot
remains often the same. In the common protoform of both Mesopotamian and Indian
myth the hero was, I believe,  no *pious* and no *innocent* man, but rather
*a man who helped a mysterious animal/fish/god-in-disguise* (a "grateful
animal" motif).
        The Indian myth by its archaic plot-structure is much closer to the
Mesopotamian myth, than, e.g., to the Austro-Asiatic versions where brother
and sister escape in a hollow pumpkin, and to numerous other flood myths all
over the world.

>> 2. MESOPOTAMIA: the
>> pious man takes on board "the seed of souls of every kind"; INDIA: Manu
>> takes on board "seeds of all kinds" (Mbh).

Paolo Magnone:
>What version are you referring to? As far as I know, near-eastern
>versions do not typically mention "seeds", but couples, or in any
>case "complete" beings. In Uta-napiStim's account, seeds are
>mentioned together with gold, silver, kinsmen, servants, craftsmen,
>beasts and cattle. On the other hand, there are no seeds nor any
>survivors apart from Manu in the most ancient Indian version, that of
>ZBr, which should accordingly be closer to the near-eastern
>prototype. The reason is plain to see: Manu has got to procreate all
>alone, by dint of zrama and sacrifice according to the usual
>brahmanical pattern. Likewise, when seeds do appear, in later
>versions, there is no need to conjure up far-reaching connections
>with Sumer-Akkad: they can be much better explained with the
>Indian notion of zeSa which plays an all-important role in pratisarga
>myths (under which heading the deluge myth belongs).

    In the Sumerian Flood story (line 70 [259 - in Lambert & Millard,
Atra-Hasis, Oxford, 1969]) - it is said that Ziusudra "saved the seed of
mankind"; in the Akkadian poem of Gilgamesh (XI.27) the god orders
Ut(ta)-napizti "to take the seed of all souls into the ship" (the late
Igor M.Diakonoff in his poetic Russian translation wrote "take aboard
everything living", but gave this literal translastion in his commentary).
    As for the appearance of the "seeds" in the late Indian versions of the
Flood myth, mythic narratives sometimes revive or reveal somehow the motifs
of hoary antiquity which seem to have been present in them during the
centuries in some latent form. I am sure you are well acquainted with this

>> 4. Both INDIA
>> and MESOPOTAMIA: landing at the top of a mountain.

> What else is left, when the low lands are flooded?

        It could be. e.g., a great tree, like in the Markandeya myth or in some
South-East Asian Flood stories; or the water could sink at all, by itself or
by the will of god - and so on.

>> 5. Both: the final
>> sacrifice. MIDDLE EAST: the God "sensed the smell of Noah's sacrifice"
>> (Bible), gods like flies sense the smell and come together to Utnapishti's
>> sacrifice; INDIA: Manu poured into the water clarified butter, milk etc.:
>> out of it arose IDA (ILA), soon after that "Mitra and VaruNa met her",
>> i.e. the sacrificial offering (as in Mesopotamian accounts too) reached
>> the gods.

>This is an example in point, showing to what extent "material"
>similarities can be misleading. The import of near-eastern sacrifice
>fluctuates between thanksgiving and propitiation. In the Uta-
>napiStim account it brings out the dependence of the gods on
>human sacrifice and thus effectively seals the reconciliation
>between gods and men. The sacrifice plays no part in the
>propagation of creatures: obviously, the surviving couples will take
>care of it in the usual way.
>On the other hand, in the ZBr version it is Manu's procreative
>concern that prompts the sacrifice. When the flood is over, there is
>no need to appease the gods, because there was no fault to
>expiate, and the flood itself was no vengeance, but a due event in
>the course of things (although in the ZBr an explicit cyclic context
>is still missing). The outcome of the sacrifice, i. e. IDA, the
>quintessence of sacrifice, is not "offered" to the gods. Mitra-VaruNa
>do not even know who she is, and hearing the she is Manu's
>daughter, try to appropriate her: "say you are ours!" but she
>refuses, and goes to Manu. Here it is the self-sufficient power of
>sacrifice as man's inalienable property that is extolled, pursuant to
>the brahmanical ideology of the preeminence of sacrifice. In
>subsequent versions, the sacrifice no longer fulfilled any essential
>task in the matsyAvatAra myth, and was accordingly dropped.

        In spite of your brilliant "ritual" interpretation of the IDA
episode, it still seems to me to be rather obscure and unnatural as a
narrative sequence. In any such case it is normal to suggest that we deal
with some archaic motif, misunderstood and misinterpreted. I still think
that the archaic narrative sequence "the sacrifice of the Flood-survivor
reached the gods" (the heritage of the "substratum" myth^ probably) could
very well be reinterpreted by the authors of the ZatBr in the light of their
contemporary "theory" of ritual.

>>... birds appear in some
>> tribal Indian flood myths: e.g., God sends two birds to see are there any
>> survivors after the flood, the birds perch on the "ark" (hollow log) and
>> hear the voices of children (survivors) inside (Kamars).

> I would like to have references on this.

           See the relevant chapter in the "Folklore in the Old Testament"
by good old J.G.Frazer.

       Many thanks again. I shall duly think over all your other suggestions.
I am sorry that my answer took too many screens. I can only save on my other
postings this month.

        Best regards,
                                        Yaroslav Vassilkov

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