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Friday, June 6, 2014

The Real Noah, Part 4, Why the Ark Story, and a Short Bio of Robert MacAndrew Best

Having looked at the Genesis account and compared it to the Ziusudra Epic, what are we to do with it who live by the Bible and acknowledge its inspiration? I suggest we try to walk in the shoes of the earthly author and try to understand what his motivations may have been. He lived in the era of the kings of Israel. No, Moses did not write the book of Genesis. The phrase, …such and such happened when there were no kings in Israel is oft repeated. That is a clue that the book was written when there were kings in Israel.

He lived in a polytheistic world with goddesses, ghosts, snakes, sacred gardens, and sacred trees [beneath which blasphemy and unholy arts were practiced]. Our author knew beyond all shadow of a doubt that participating in those customs brought spiritual death to the worshiper. Many of his own people followed those very gods. The Canaanites legends of Baal and the monstrous world of Mesopotamian deities were well-known all throughout the Ancient Near East. The story of Ziusudra and Gilgamesh probably kept little children fearful of every thunder storm, wondering if another flood would wipe out their world.

The Genesis story is about monotheism. Only Yahweh/Elohim decides. He alone is Lord of the weather. He doesn’t make capricious decisions pertaining to mankind. We are not a half-baked experiment. We walk in sacred Covenant with the Creator and we are important to Him.

In the Mesopotamian stories, the gods don’t give a good reason for the destruction of the human race. In Genesis human life is precious because it reflects the Creator, but wickedness brings death and judgment. Violence, corruption, and consorting with fallen angels defiles the very planet. But it’s also about redemption. God hears, forgives, cleanses, renews, promises. The author wanted us to see an echo of divine mercy and hope whenever we see a rainbow. He wanted his people to see Yahweh, not Baal or Marduck.

The author was a man who lived the Law of Moses. He revered the sacrifices, but he wanted to point out that Yahweh did not smell the sacrifice as something to eat, something he needed to sustain his strength like the gods in the former stories. They buzzed around the sacrifice on the ziggurat like flies. Yahweh was never compared to a fly. The author removed all reminders that the former stories took place in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Perhaps he put the ark in the mountains of Ararat/Urartu on purpose. Perhaps he didn’t want any association with the ziggurats of Sumer.

The Genesis Noah story upgraded the world view of his day. He put Yahweh in the center of all of it. He connected the story to the Garden of Eden. He celebrates the renewal of agriculture, the cycles of the seasons, the extreme importance of virtue, righteous, and right worship. I believe the story is inspired. It is full of divine truth. I do not believe that it is inerrant history.

A brief biography of Robert MacAndrew Best

He was born in 1937 and is still alive. He asked me to not put his contact info out. He states that he particularly does not want to hear from bloggers. I tried not to remind him that I am a blogger. You didn’t hear this from me, but if you scour the internet, you might find a contact address for him. Below are some facts he graciously offered about his life, for which I am very grateful because I was curious.

I received a BS degree from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. When I was working for a living, I was a computer analyst and programmer for King County government in Seattle, department of finance. I don't have the time to respond to bloggers, so do not put my email address in your blog. But if a blogger says something very interesting, please let me know. I am especially interested in any published articles in Bible journals that mention my book or theories.

I am also an inventor and was granted 22 U.S. patents, mostly for security devices and video game systems. If you have ever used an ATM, you have used one of my inventions called a "secure cryptoprocessor". See the Wikipedia article "secure cryptoprocessor". Each ATM has this security chip in it to prevent people who service ATMs (and have access to its internals) from altering its programs or intercepting its data. A consultant, who worked for the company I sold my patents to, said these processors are used in ATMs all over the world. They are also used in TV set-top boxes, police radios, and probably in military systems.

How long did it take you to write the Noah book?

After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon U. in Pittsburgh in 1959, I started gathering material in the 60's, but just for my own curiosity. I had no intention of writing a book. After I retired in 1993, I wrote a short article (which became Chapter 7) analyzing Genesis 5 for publication in a Biblical journal, but it was rejected by several editors who did not say why. One editor said that it had too many pages. And that did not even include the material I had not yet drafted. I had too much to say for a journal article, so I started to think of a book-size monograph.

I was quite amazed that a man with a BS in physics and whose career was in computer science could write a self-designed and self-published book with such a credible bibliography, advanced linguistic information, a correctly formatted bibliography, and good editing. He sounded like a semi-conservative Old Testament scholar. Unlike many self-published books, I only one noticed one typo in the whole book, which was in the bibliography. So I asked him what libraries did he used to access so many scholarly articles?

After I retired, I and my family traveled a lot and I visited several libraries in several countries and states. In Hawaii, for example, the library on Oahu has massive amounts of publications on volcanoes and tsunamis, including material on Thera (Santorini) in the Mediterranean. I wrote Chapter 1 in Hawaii after finding a library book on the Santa Claus myth. [Those comments reflect an interest in the Exodus and in myth making itself.] Another book I found in the Oahu library was "King Arthur" by Norma Goodrich, who takes a third point of view on the Arthurian legends and points to Gaul/France as the source of the Arthur legend (but are ignored by scholars because the king is not named Arthur. She has been criticized for having a third point of view.

I noted French and German articles as well. Did you do your own translating?

No. The only foreign language in which I have formal training is German, aber Ich kann nicht Deutsch sprecken.

When I needed Hebrew expertise, I contacted a Hebrew professor and sometimes paid him for his time. Some were hostile to my efforts and I never went back to them. Most gave me their time for free. One professor was happy to accept $100 in cash. I focused on certain words and phrases and did not attempt to master the language. One professor said "you haven't paid your dues" by which I think he meant "you have not mastered or even studied the language." One page of my analysis of a Hebrew phrase is on page 281. I sent a Hebrew professor a rough draft and he responded with critical comments, teaching me a little Hebrew in the process. I incorporated his comments in my draft and resubmitted it to him. After 3 rounds of this, he replied "Yes, I would accept that from one of my students."

I did most of the illustrations in my book using Photoshop on my computer. I hired a professional artist who did parts of the front cover: the bricks, the wool skirt, the priestess, the fire pit and cow, and the background buildings and river. I created Noah's body from digital pictures of my body. I added the words. The right arm of the priestess holding the blue amulet is from a picture of my wife holding a bar of soap which I carved into the fly shape which I computer painted blue.

All in all, I think this book should be on every fundamentalist scholar’s shelf. Chapters 2, 8, and 14 are worth the price of the book. The academic world will react with ire, admiration, or “meh,” but the above chapters need to be faced and addressed in one way or another. The evangelical churches need to pull their heads out of the sand. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Real Noah, Part 3, The Mountain

In two recent posts I discussed Robert Best’s self-published book Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic, 1999, distributed by Eisenbrauns. This post follows on those and it is recommended that the reader refer to them before reading this one. For this post I also referred to Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.

In the original Sumerian epic, Ziusudra is a king in Mesopotamia (ANET, 42; Best, 256), but most of the narrative has been destroyed. According to one of the Sumerian King Lists, (ANET, 265) the king in Sumer at the time of the Flood was Ubar-Tutu, King of Shuruppak. In another, it’s Ziusudra (Best, 125). He probably lived sometime in the third millennium BCE (Best offers a flood near Shuruppak in 2900 BCE.) In the assembly of the gods, Anu and Enlil commanded that the kingship and rule of mankind should come to an end. Other deities lament, and Enki warns Ziusudra to build a boat to save himself and the seed of animals and mankind. The flood waters raged for seven days and nights, inundating the cult centers of ancient Sumer: Eridu, Badtibira, Larak, Sippar, and Shuruppak (the same cities named in the King List). So little of the tale remains today that we don’t know where the boat grounded, how long he was on it, who else may have been with him, or where he offered his sacrifice to the sun god Utu when it was over. Thus the scholar looks to the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh account to fill in the gaps.

In the Sumerian version, it would be logical that the boat or barge would float in the flat valley land and ground somewhere near Eridu, which in those days was near the shore of the Persian Gulf. The difficulty in tying Genesis in with that theory is that the biblical account and other accounts report that the ark/boat grounded on a mountain.

Best answers this problem by studying the linguistic difficulties on transferring the tale from Sumerian to Akkadian. “Gilgamesh XI,141a reads ‘KUR-úKURni-ṣir.” Best goes to great lengths to demonstrate linguistically how this can indicate a country or region. I need to way oversimplify his explanation here, which ends with the confusion of the meaning of KUR as it is translated into Akkadian where it can mean ‘hill,’ ‘mound,’ or ‘mountain.’ In line 156, Utnapishtim offers his sacrifice on a ziggurat, which would be found in Eridu, in the river valley. Early scholars took the ziggurat to be a metaphor for a mountain, but more current scholars accept that it means ziggurat, a mud brick pyramid-like structure with an altar at the top (278).

In addition, in the other narratives there is a Shem story that involves a mountain in Armenia and another about a priest in Eridu where the ziggurat would be. Best feels that these stories caused more confusion for ancient translators as to where the ark grounded. He dedicates a chapter as to how the epic may have moved from account to account.

In a personal correspondence, Best wrote:
Most of the attention given to the Noah's ark story focuses on the flood, boat, and animals. Hardly anybody mentions the sacrifice scene in Genesis 8:20-21:
"Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, ..." But I believed the sacrifice scene to be so important, that I put it on my front cover and on page 63. Years ago I was talking to a Hebrew professor and mentioned that the Hebrew word hare (plural harim) is ambiguous and can mean hill or mountain. He responded "Yes, and it is the same in Akkadian."

Hence, when you read English translations of Gilgamesh from Akkadian, as in Parpola's "Epic of Gilgamesh", and find the word shadu (Akkadian) or KUR (Sumerian), it could mean either hill or mountain or country. The 3-triangle sign for hill/mountain/country was the same in Egyptian.

Since the sign is ambiguous, how can anybody be certain of its meaning? There is no certainty and those who expect certainty are only kidding themselves and relying on older experts who were also expressing certainty in spite of uncertainty. Even the word Ararat is ambiguous because Aratta was a god of Shuruppak, Noah's city, and there was another country called Aratta. (my page 75). It is the responsibility of a translator to choose a word that does not result in absurdities or impossibilities, and not repeat the mistranslations of the past. Hence, anybody who says "yes, but it clearly says mountains" should be taught about mistranslations, uncertainty, ambiguity, and ancient errors.

While I think of it, are you aware that English translations of the Sumerian King List which gives ages of kings in thousands of years, is a modern mistranslation. The cuneiform sign for thousand is very similar to the archaic sign for year. An ancient translator did not understand the archaic sign for year and copied the archaic sign next to the cuneiform sign for year for each king. So for example, in English translation, one entry would be "20 years years", not 20 thousand years. Or maybe the ancient translator did understand and copied both the archaic sign and translation, just as we might write "years (anni)" for English text translated from Latin.

The Epic of Gilgamesh lines 155-167 provides more details:
"I placed an offering on top of a hill-like ziggurat... The gods smelled the sweet savor; the gods gathered about the sacrificer. As soon as the great goddess arrived, she lifted up the large flies [amulet] which Anu had made according to her wish. You gods here, as surely as I shall not forget the lapis lazuli [blue stone] on my neck, I shall remember these days and never forget them. Gods, approach the offering. [But priests of] Enlil shall not come near the offering."

If you look in the Akkadian version (Simo Parpola) "The Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh", page 111, line 157 and page 145, he clearly translates "ziq-qur-rat" as "temple tower, ziggurat". Maureen Kovacs "The Epic of Gilgamesh" translates it as ziggurat (page 102). But the highly respected professor Andrew George, who did a thorough translation "The Epic of Gilgamesh", expurgated the word ziggurat (page 94) from the sentence "Incense I placed on the peak of the mountain".

I wrote a letter to Prof. George asking him why he omitted "ziggurat". He did not reply. What is it with these people that they are still covering for nameless priests who have been dead for four thousand years? The reason I believe this sacrifice ceremony on the ziggurat is important, is it ties together several pieces of the puzzle. It places the ark and Noah near the city of Eridu, near the north end of the Persian Gulf, after the flood. It indicates that other people, priests of Enki, outside the ark survived the flood. It explains why Noah went "down [the river] to the apsu [on the shore of the Gulf] to dwell with my lord [in the temple of] Ea". (Gilgamesh XI line 42)

Genesis 7:18-20 (NIV) reads, “The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire mountains were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet.” However, checking the Hebrew in Owen’s Analytical Key to the Old Testament, I find that it literally reads, “The waters prevailed fifteen feet and the mountains were covered.” Best writes, “The fifteen cubits refers to how much the water rose, not how deep the water was. Depths would be different at different locations. As a modern news reporter might say, the water rose 22 feet above flood stage.” (44)

If the ark/barge/boat floated into the Persian Gulf and floated there for months, it would seem as if all land and all existence had been wiped off the earth. You wouldn’t be able to see the mountains of Iran, Arabia, or Armenia. You might not see land at all.

Beyond all that, the idea of sea water or brackish water covering the entire globe because mankind was corrupt and violent demonstrates that God Himself was violent and madly punitive. It doesn’t fit God’s nature, but it matches well the capricious, silly gods of Mesopotamia. All flora and fauna on the planet would be destroyed for lack of sunlight. The pressure of the sea water, the salt, the absolute destruction of a million varieties of eco-systems, every bug, all culture, even the sea creatures…God would have to completely recreate the earth. Only our utter ignorance of biology and ecology allows us Christians to suffer such a doctrine. In this case ignorance is truly bliss. Our naiveté makes it easy. Too easy.

We think the Creator is saying of us, “Ah, my faithful child, standing firm for my holy Word, my faithful soldier wielding the shield of faith, my witness in the unbelieving world.” But what if the global Flood story was never God’s intention? What if it’s our misunderstanding of where the Flood narrative came from? What if God is up there head slapping Himself wishing we would trade childlike belief for some serious education?

Coming soon, a bio of Robert M. Best and some words about what drove him to write his book.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Real Noah, Part 2, The Parallels

This post is a continuation on the topic of Robert Best’s book, Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic. He has accomplished 3 important tasks in his book. One of them is the study below in which phrases from the six Flood recensions are shown beyond all doubt to be connected to one another. The original story was most likely the Sumerian epic in the Sumerian language, written in cuneiform on clay tablets. As the story moved from there to Assyria and Babylon, written in Akkadian, then to the Hebrew Genesis account, the name of the hero changes to reflect current national names of the day. The gods change, and other details are added and dropped out.

One thing becomes clear…the Genesis author knew of the other stories. He Hebraized the story to convey Israelite monotheistic theology. The Genesis account is not literal inerrant history dictated by God. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fabulous story with a great message. I still consider it Scripture, but to take it literally and interpret it at its face value is absurd and does not bear a credible witness in our modern world.

Another interesting thing that Best does is weave all of the stories together to see if there could be a reasonable legend based on the life of an ancient king. Even if his theories are wrong, or if the original story is simply a myth, the narrative is as interesting as the recent movie about Noah and the ark. It’s more mundane and less theological than the Genesis account. I love the idea that the ark/barge floated into the Persian Gulf and bobbed around in what seemed like a pure water world for many months.

Third, he provides the text for all six stories for the convenience of the reader. There is reasonable speculation on how the story may have been transmitted and research on how the ark/barge may have been built. Best’s degree in physics gives him an engineering bent in his studies.

This understanding should not affect anyone’s faith, but it should cause us to take a second look at our hermeneutic.

The literary comparisons below have been copied with permission from Robert Best’s website: This page can be found at his website His book is also available on 

Parallels Between Flood Myths
Distinctive story elements and phrases that are common to three or more of the six Ancient
Near East flood myths indicate a common origin.  Parallel quotations make it obvious that
these six flood myths did not originate independently:

"Side-wall... pay attention" Ziusudra iv,155
"Wall, listen to me." Atrahasis III,i,20
"Wall, pay attention" Gilgamesh XI,22

"Destroy your house, spurn property, save life" Atrahasis III,i,22
"Tear down house, abandon property, save life" Gilgamesh XI,24-26

"the decision that mankind is to be destroyed" Ziusudra iv,157-158
"The gods commanded total destruction" Atrahasis II,viii,34
"The great gods decided to make a deluge" Gilgamesh XI,14
"God...decided to make an end of all flesh" Genesis 6:13

"Enki...over the capitals the storm will sweep" Ziusudra iv,156
"He [Enki] told him of the coming of the flood" Atrahasis III,i,37
"God said to Noah...I will bring a flood" Genesis 6:13,17
"Kronos...said...mankind would be destroyed by a flood" Berossus

"...the huge boat" Ziusudra v,207
"Build a ship" Atrahasis III,i,22
"Build a ship" Gilgamesh XI,24
"Make yourself an ark" Genesis 6:14
"build a boat" Berossus

"who protected the seed of mankind" Ziusudra vi,259
"Bring into the ship the seed of life of everything" Gilgamesh XI,27
"to keep their seed alive" Genesis 7:3 (KJV)

"Like the apsu you shall roof it" Atrahasis III,i,29
"Like the apsu you shall roof it" Gilgamesh XI,31
"Make a roof for the ark" Genesis 6:16

"coming of the flood on the seventh night" Atrahasis,III,i,37
"after seven days the waters of the flood came" Genesis 7:10

"...and addressed the elders" Atrahasis III,i,41
"I answer the city assembly and the elders" Gilgamesh XI,35

"This is what you shall say to them..." Gilgamesh XI,38
"If asked where he was sailing he was to reply..." Berossus

"I cannot live in [your city]" Atrahasis III,i,47
"I cannot live in your city" Gilgamesh XI,40

"An abundance of birds, a profusion of fishes" Atrahasis III,i,35
"[an abundance of] birds, the rarest fish" Gilgamesh XI,44

"pitch I poured into the inside" Gilgamesh XI,66
"cover it inside and out with pitch" Genesis 6:14
"some people scrape pitch off the boat" Berossus

"your family, your relatives" Atrahasis DT,42(w),8
"he sent his family on board" Atrahasis III,ii,42
"into the ship all my family and relatives" Gilgamesh XI,84
"Go into the ark, you and all your household" Genesis 7:1
"he sent his wife and children and friends on board" Berossus

"animals which emerge from the earth" Ziusudra vi,253
"all the wild creatures of the steppe" Atrahasis DT,42(w),9
"The cattle of the field, the beast of the plain" Gilgamesh XI,85
"clean animals and of animals that are not clean" Genesis 7:8
"and put both birds and animals on board" Berossus

"Enter the boat and close the boat's door" Atrahasis DT,42(w),6
"Pitch was brought for him to close his door" Atrahasis III,ii,51
"I entered the ship and closed the door" Gilgamesh XI,93
"And they that entered...and the Lord shut him in" Genesis 7:16

"Ninurta went forth making the dikes [overflow]" Atrahasis U rev,14
"Ninurta went forth making the dikes overflow" Gilgamesh XI,102

"One person could [not] see another" Atrahasis III,iii,13
"One person could not see another" Gilgamesh XI,111

"the storm had swept...for seven days and seven nights" Ziusudra 203
"For seven days and seven nights came the storm" Atrahasis III,iv,24
"Six days and seven nights the wind and storm flood" Gilgamesh XI,127
"rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights" Genesis 7:12

"consigned the peoples to destruction" Atrahasis III,iii,54
"All mankind was turned to clay" Gilgamesh XI,133
"And all flesh died...and every man" Genesis 7:21

"Ziusudra made an opening in the large boat" Ziusudra vi,207
"I opened the window" Gilgamesh XI,135
"Noah opened the window of the ark" Genesis 8:6
"he pried open a portion of the boat" Berossus

"On Mount Nisir the boat grounded" Gilgamesh XI,140
"the ark came to rest upon the mountains" Genesis 8:4
"the boat had grounded upon a mountain" Berossus
"After Khsisuthros... landed ... a long mountain" Moses of Khoren.

"The dove went out and returned" Gilgamesh XI,147
"sent forth the dove and the dove came back to him" Genesis 8:10b-11
"let out the birds and they again returned to the ship" Berossus.

"When a seventh day arrived" Gilgamesh XI,145
"He waited another seven days" Genesis 8:10a.

"I sent forth a raven" Gilgamesh XI,152
"Noah... sent forth a raven" Genesis 8:7

"The king slaughtered...bulls and sheep" Ziusudra vi,211
"He offered [a sacrifice]" Atrahasis III,v,31
"And offered a sacrifice" Gilgamesh XI,155
"offered burnt offerings on the altar" Genesis 8:20
"built an altar and sacrificed to the gods" Berossus

"[The gods smelled] the savor" Atrahasis III,v,34
"The gods smelled the sweet savor" Gilgamesh XI,160
"And the Lord smelled the sweet savor..." Genesis 8:21

"the lapis around my neck" Atrahasis III,vi,2
"the lapis lazuli on my neck" Gilgamesh XI,164

"That I may remember it [every] day" Atrahasis III,vi,4
"I shall remember these days and never forget" Gilgamesh XI,165
"I shall remember my covenant...I may remember" Genesis 9:15-16

"How did man survive the destruction?" Atrahasis III,vi,10
"No man was to survive the destruction" Gilgamesh XI,173

"[on the criminal] impose your penalty" Atrahasis III,vi,25
"On the criminal impose his crimes" Gilgamesh XI,180
"Who sheds the blood of man, by man his blood be shed" Genesis 9:6

"he touched our foreheads to bless us" Gilgamesh XI,192
"And God blessed Noah" Genesis 9:1

"elevated him to eternal life, like a god" Ziusudra vi,257
"they shall be like gods to us" Gilgamesh XI,194

"I lived in the temple of Ea, my lord" Atrahasis RS 22.421,7
"go down to dwell with my lord Ea" Gilgamesh XI,42
"he had gone to dwell with the gods" Berossus.