A 4,000 year old clay tablet from ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) was discovered and is on display at the British Museum in London. The tablet contains the story of an ark and a flood, and it supposedly predates the Biblical narrative.
Irving Finkel, the curator in charge of cuneiform clay tablets at the museum, claimed that this was “one of the most important human documents ever discovered.” And David Owen, professor of ancient Near Eastern studies at Cornell University, called it an “extraordinary discovery.”
The story on the tablet, like the Biblical narrative, describes detailed instructions for building an ark that would save the animals as they entered two-by-two. But this story is different in that it describes a round boat instead of the rectangular ark we commonly think of. “It was really a heart-stopping moment — the discovery that the boat was to be a round boat,” Finkel said. “That was a real surprise.” Elizabeth Stone, an expert on the antiquities of ancient Mesopotamia said, “Coracles are not unusual things to have had in Mesopotamia.”
A few years ago Finkel says he obtained the damaged tablet (which is the size of a cell phone) from a man whose father- an amateur historian- acquired it after World War II in the Middle East.
Instead of this being a confirmation of the Biblical flood, Finkel says he doesn’t think the ark existed: “I’m sure the story of the flood and a boat to rescue life is a Babylonian invention.” He believes the story about a flood was the result of a real, devastating flood that ended up becoming folklore, and that it was picked up by the Jews during their exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C.
The ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh also contains a flood story, and it’s arguably the oldest written work of literature. It’s not surprising that Biblical skeptics claim that the flood reported in the book of Genesis was probably derived from one of these older stories that predate the earliest books of the Bible, and therefore they proclaim Genesis to be a myth.
The problem with these claims is that there’s plenty of evidence demonstrating that Noah’s Flood was a real, global event that wiped out all life on earth. The scientific and geologic evidence is apparent when we consider the thick sedimentary rock formations spanning thousands of miles, and huge coal seams stacked in sequences. Additional evidence are fossils of shellfish and other sea creatures high above sea level and on the highest mountains, the rapid burial of plants and animals, sediment transported long distances, rapid or no erosion between strata, and many strata laid down in rapid succession.
In addition, it’s well known that there are flood legends from all different cultures around the world. Some of these accounts include Native American tribes, such as the Ojibwe and Delaware Indians, and the Inca in South America. There are flood legends across Europe, in Africa, China and Russia.
All the scientific evidence and flood legends strongly point to a real, global flood. It’s not that the Biblical writers derived the flood story from the Babylonians, it’s that the Babylonians and every other culture have flood stories because we’re all descended from Noah and his three sons who were on board the ark and eventually repopulated the earth- along with all the animals that walked off the ark.
Even though the ancient tablets may have been written prior to Moses writing Genesis, it’s an incorrect assumption to suggest that the Babylonian literature inspired the Biblical writers to pass along a myth. Noah is also mentioned in Isaiah and Ezekiel, both of which were written prior to Israel’s exile in Babylon. Noah’s Flood was a real event that has been recorded by many sources. I’d also argue that the Biblical account would be the most accurate version simply because it was inspired by God as direct revelation.
Finally, I think the best evidence comes from Jesus, who believed in Noah and the flood when he said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:36-39).