The Atrahasis Deciphered

An Atrahasis Retell as Understood, Retold and Questioned by Steven Q




Many are familiar with the Biblical story of Noah’s ark, but few are aware of the similarities between the Genesis version and the much older accounts of a great flood.  The Atrahasis Epic is one of these accounts.  Written on stone tablets in ancient cuneiform text, this story details how and why humans were created, with the addition of a giant flood at the end that was used to destroy them.  The copies found of the Atrahasis Epic are believed to have been written around 1,700 BCE (3,700 years ago) and even these tablets seemed to have been copied from an even older version.  While the cuneiform tablets of the Atrahasis Epic are mainly fragmented and damaged, there were fortunately a few copies of it discovered, written in both Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform script.  The most complete version of this is on display in the London Museum where the whole Atrahasis story is told over 3 clay tablets.

Not only do parts of the Noah story seemed to have been taken from the Atrahasis Epic, but so does much of the pre-Biblical Babylonian story called the “Enuma Elish” (also known as the “7 tablets of creation”).  The Biblical Genesis telling of the flood story dates back to around 540 BCE (around 2,500 years ago) and was said to have been written after Moses led the Israelites out of Babylon, where they’d been captive for 70 years.  Logically, we can assume that living amongst the Babylonians for 70 years, the Israelites picked up some of the Babylonian Enuma Elish religion at that time.  This influence (or aspects of) may have been incorporated into Moses’ written account of creation.  The Babylonian, Enuma Elish had its own version of creation and is said to have been written around 1,100 BCE (around 3,100 years ago) nearly 600 years before the Genesis account.  It can therefore be assumed that this story was probably modified and partly used in Moses’ Genesis.

There is an even older version of an ancient flood known as the “Eridu Genesis” which pre-dates even the Atrahasis.  This account is written on a single fragmented tablet and at this stage is the oldest version known, this is also thought to have been copied from yet an even older version.  This story is said to be dated at around 2,300-3,000 BCE (around 5,000 years ago) and is believed to focus on a localised flood that did actually occur in the Southern Babylonian region around 2,800 BCE, when the Tigris and Euphrates rivers both flooded.  While the Eridu Genesis may be the oldest version of the flood story, I’ve decided to base my rewrite on the Atrahasis Epic (I may tackle the Eridu Genesis and the Enuma Elish at a later date).

Figure 1 – An estimation of the age of the various documented creation and flood stories. Note that these dates don’t necessarily relate to the happenings of the events at the time written as these writings were more likely to have been re-writes or copies of even older documents.

Atrahasis, which literally means “Wise One” or “exceedingly wise” was the king of Shuruppak before the time of the flood and it was said that he walked with the gods.  It’s not entirely clear if Atrahasis himself originally wrote the creation story as dictated by the gods of the time, or he employed a scribe to write it for him based on information he’d received from them.  Atrahasis also included his own experiences with the gods and of the flood in his epic.  As noted above, the original Atrahasis story of creation was said to have been written before the occurrence of the flood and the complete epic was constantly re-written until around 500 BCE.

What follows in my interpretation of the Atrahasis Epic is what I believe to be a more probable account of creation and the great flood.  My version of the story suggests that the gods were merely technologically advanced humanoid beings, probably not much more advanced than we humans are today.  My understanding is that advanced, possibly, alien modifications were performed on primitive Earth primates in the distant past.  These ancient gods not only created the human race, but also influenced everything that the human race has done since then.  There’s no denying that a catastrophic global flood struck our planet, or parts of it, 12,000 or so years ago as we left the ice age.  The question is, did it occur as told in the Biblical Genesis?  The concept of the animals of the world taking a trip to the ark, marching two by two, in loving couples to patiently wait out the storm and the “flood of floods” in a little sealed boat with Noah and his family for 40 days and 40 nights, seems ludicrous with what we know today.

Did the whole world really succumb to a deluge that covered the highest peaks of the highest mountains as told in Genesis?  Keep in mind that the Mount Everest summit is slightly less than 9km above sea level.  For the peak of this mountain to be covered with water you’d need a phenomenal amount of rain.  It’s estimated that the amount of water in the oceans, seas, glaziers, lakes and rivers around the world is slightly less than 1.5 Billion Cubic Kilometres.  If all mountains were to be covered, the global water level would need to rise enough to cover Mount Everest (a 9km rise).  For this to happen, it’s estimated that an “additional” 5 Billion Cubic Kilometres of water at least, would be needed!  So, if the Noah story is believed to be correct, where did all this extra water come from?  If this could be answered, the next question would be, if it took 40 days to drain this abundance of water, where did it all go?  Another question is, how did all the animals get to the ark in time?  The kangaroos and koalas would have had quite a swim from Australia.  It’s also obvious that the unicorns and dragons didn’t make it to the safety of the floating zoo before its departure.  The whole story is nice to read to kids, but logic dictates it couldn’t have happened.

Figure 2 – The Biblical depiction of Noah herding the animals of the world into the ark.

Okay, so as much as the Genesis account probably isn’t to be taken literally, the question still stands, how can there still be evidence and flood residue all over the world indicating that there was a global deluge?  Many ancient writings all over the world mention floods, some of a global catastrophe, some of a more localized event.  Regardless of this, something calamitous must have occurred to have been documented by the past civilizations of the world; this was by them, deemed important enough to record for future generations so not to be forgotten.  There are plenty of theories about what happened, if it was indeed a global event.  It may have been caused by the slip of an ice sheet into the sea at Antarctica which created a 1 to 2km high tsunami over the surface of the Earth from the South Pole, a pole shift or global flip, or even a giant meteorite hitting the Pacific Ocean.  We aren’t really sure, but it’s possible that one or even all of these events happened at different times in the past.

As previously mentioned, I’ve rewritten the story with an understanding that the gods were probably a visiting alien humanoid race, with an agenda.  Questions are:  Were they here to exploit the mineral wealth of the planet? Were they possibly marooned, or were they hiding from other alien pursuers and using Earth as their base?  Regardless of these questions, the way the original story was written, suggests that the humans of this time were not technologically advanced enough to understand the motives and doings of these “gods” and the texts were simplistically written as such.  It could also possibly be that the story was deliberately written in a basic way to ensure an understanding by all different language cultures of the time.  There’s also the possibility that mistakes were made in the rewrites and the story gradually changed over the years as it was retold and rewritten onto fresh tablets.

Whichever way you look at it, someone more advanced than us was once living on Earth thousands of years ago.  Whether you think it was an advanced human race or aliens, we’re still confronted with questions like, who built the Baalbek Platform, and for what?  Some of the ancient monolithic stones in this platform weigh between 1,200 and 2,000 tons each and they were carted up from a quarry nearly a kilometre away!  We know this, as the constructors of the platform left a few of these giant stones at the quarry and they’re still there!  With all the technological wonders we have today, we still have no means to transport stones of that size, and have even extreme difficulty moving a 50 ton stone.  So, how and why was the platform constructed and by who?  It was obviously not built by the Romans as history books tell us, though was honoured and seen by them to be important as they built their “Temple of Jupiter” on top of the deserted platform nearly 2,000 years ago.  With the platform recently estimated to be possibly 12,000 or even 20,000 years old it’s not surprising that after visiting the Baalbek Platform you walk away thinking that somehow or another, historians have obviously got it all wrong.


Figure 3 – Ruins of the Temple of Jupiter showing the large monolithic stones forming the Baalbek Platform.

Figure 4 – The lone, unused megalith stone left in the quarry a kilometre away from the platform. The pillars from the Temple of Jupiter can be clearly seen in the background.


Special Thanks to the Original Translators

My version of the Atrahasis story that follows has been formulated after reading many translations of the original cuneiform text.  By taking the commonalities from all of these versions, I managed to form the basic story as I understand it (taking the standpoint that the Atrahasis story was real and not a mythical work of fiction).  Due to this, you’ll find that this story version does not favour any particular translation and is more of a mixture of them all.  Where parts of the original Atrahasis Epic were missing or damaged on the tablets, some translators used sections of stories (from other tablets) that shared commonalities or had over-lapping story areas to help fill in the gaps, which I have also used.  While none of Zecharia Sitchin’s material has been used in my version, I still have great admiration for much of his work and it’s thanks to him, that an interest in the ancient cuneiform stories was stirred up.

None of this would have been possible without the efforts of the many brilliant and dedicated people, who spent mind numbing amounts of time working out what was written on the original cuneiform tablets and then translating them into verse English.  I feel it’s only right to acknowledge and give special thanks to George Smith, Heinrich Zimmern, Wilfred Lambert, Alan Millard, Benjamin Foster, Stephanie Dalley and the many, many others who translated the cuneiform text.  Due to the technology of today, a big thank you for the work of the many scholars who freely offered their own translations and insights on the Internet for all to read.  These Internet translations are partly due to the fantastic offerings of people like John Halloran with his online “Sumerian Lexicon” dictionary.

My Recommended Method on How to Read this Version

I’ve tried to keep as much of the original translated dialogue in my story as possible, which was difficult.  While the spoken dialogue in quotes may seem to be lengthy in some places, this (or an approximation of) was what was apparently said, or what I felt was meant.  The story at some stages, may also seem to have a combination of old style English mixed with modern language, this is deliberate and was necessary to keep the context of what I understand happened and the story intact.  After each section I’ve added footnotes in numerical order.  These are important and will either add extra information, an elaboration, or my thoughts and observations.  The large numbers in brackets are deliberately made this big for easy access and matching to the footnotes after reading the section.

The best method to read this story is to first read each section of the tablet translations in their entirety, skipping over the bracketed numbers.  After the section of the story has been understood, the footnotes should then be read, thus allowing the reader to revisit the bracketed footnote number in the story section for better understanding of the context, if needed.  In doing this, understanding the points made after following the continuity of the story section will hopefully allow it to make more sense by elaboration.


Figure 5 – The most complete copy of the Atrahasis tablets on display in the London Museum.




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