UNIT 1: Activities for Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible

Dr. Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI

Select the Activity you wish to respond to. Make a copy of the question to begin your Activity. Post your Activity to the Blackboard Activity 2: Gilgamesh and Hebrew Bible Forum. Please title your entry "Activity 2." I will comment on your work on the Forum, and send your grade to you privately, by email. If you choose to submit a double credit Activity, indicate that on your essay. It will have to be very well developed to earn double credit.

Compare the Biblical story of the flood with the version of the flood told by Utnapishtim in Gilgamesh. Now, identify several important ways in which the two floods are similar and several important ways in which they are different. What do you think is the most striking difference between them and so what? Explain, using specific examples from both stories to support your ideas.
Job is a story of a man who suffers terribly because God allows him to be tested by Satan. Job passes every test, but in the process he loses everything dear to him, including his family. God rewards him in the end by giving him new property and a new family. Compare this conception of divine power with that of the gods in Gilgamesh, who are irritated with human beings and decide to destroy them all. What kind of "progress," if any, can you see in the idea of the divine as "caring" for human beings? You might look at the nature of Utnapishtim's reward in the end, and of Job's. Be sure to support your argument with reference to specific examples from both stories.
Read the story of Abraham in any Hebrew Bible. Abraham left Sumeria to begin the trek that eventually ended in Israel. He became accepted as the ancestor of the Hebrews, the Christians and the Muslims. Can you see any connections between the world described in Gilgamesh and the world described in the story of Abraham or any other selection of your choice from the Hebrew Bible? Give specific examples to support your ideas.
Job's God is incomprehensible total power; there is no society of other gods to compete with him for control of the universe. Compare this to the quarreling family of gods in Gilgamesh. Are there any similarities? What are the most interesting differences? Use specific examples to support your ideas.
What was the purpose of the flood in Gilgamesh? What was the purpose of the flood in the Hebrew Bible? What do these different purposes tell you about the relationship of human beings to divinity in each? Use specific examples from both stories to support your ideas.
Compare the story of The Fall in the Hebrew Bible with the episode of how Enkidu becomes fully human (by means of the harlot) in Gilgamesh. In both stories a woman is instrumental in causing a man to become fully human, and eventually to die, the fate of human beings. Discuss the similarities and the differences between the two stories, using specific examples from both to support your ideas.
Human suffering is a major theme in the Hebrew Bible and in Gilgamesh. Through suffering, human beings can learn about the nature of reality and their place in it. Compare Job and Gilgamesh as suffering heroes, as they search for understanding, and come to accept the limits of their human condition. Use specific examples from both stories to support your ideas.
Look at the dreams in Gilgamesh and in The Story of Joseph. Both stories present dreams as bringing true knowledge, if a person knows how to correctly interpret them. Compare the way Gilgamesh's mother interprets his dreams to the way Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dreams. Do you see any interesting similarities or differences? Discuss and support your ideas with examples from both stories.
Compare Joseph in the Hebrew Bible and Gilgamesh. Both are culture heroes, ancestors of a people, who go through difficult, painful adventures as they gain understanding and mastery of their lives. Find some interesting points of similarity, and some interesting points of difference between the two men and discuss these in some detail, using specific examples from both texts to support your ideas.
Double credit. The story of the creation of Adam and his expulsion from the garden of Eden has interesting parallels in the creation of Enkidu and his expulsion from the fellowship of the animals. A contemporary author, Daniel Quinn, has written an amazingly thoughtful short novel, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, which has very different interpretations of these ancient stories of human creation and the expulsion from the "garden" of innocence. Read Ishmael (A Bantam/Turner Book; 1992; paperback edition, 1995). Then write an essay comparing the three versions of human creation and expulsion from the "garden." This Activity is worth up to 100 points if very well done.
Double credit. Anita Diamant has written a fascinating, feminist novel, The Red Tent, that retells the story of Joseph's family from the point of view of his sister Dinah. She has an affair with a non-Hebrew living in town, who wants to marry her. The men of Joseph's family demand that all the men of the town must be circumcised before the marriage; they agree. While the men are recovering from their circumcisions, the men of Dinah's family go into town and murder them. This much is in the Bible, more or less. Diamant's story goes on from there to follow Dinah into another life in Egypt, where she lives for many years and eventually meets her brother Joseph. The "red tent" itself is where the women go during their menses, for childbirth, etc. If you select this option, read the book  and write a comparison/contrast of the two versions of the story of Joseph, the one in The Red Tent and the one in the Hebrew Bible. This Activity is worth up to 100 points if very well done.
Double credit. Read Shlomo DuNour's novel Adiel (trans. Philip Simpson, The Toby Press, 2002), which is an angel's eye view of Genesis, focusing mostly on the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah's flood. DuNour's large extended family was killed in the Holocaust, and he is using the story of the flood as an analog of the Holocaust. The narrating angel, Adiel, asks constant questions about how God both creates and destroys. Adiel finds no satisfactory answer except that God does so. Write a review of this fascinating book, considering the question of creation/destruction as presented by Adiel and compare/contrast it to either the Hebrew Bible and/or the Gilgamesh version of the flood. This Activity is worth up to 100 points if very well done.
Both Gilgamesh (after the death of Enkidu) and the narrator of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible express profound despair at the meaninglessness of human life that ends inevitably in death, but they come to very different solutions to this basic human situation. Explore how each of them despairs and how each comes to his "solution," as well as what each solution is.   


(c) Diane Thompson:7/20/1998; updated: 01/27/2011