Selz: No Connection Between the Biblical Patriarchs and the Babylonian Antediluvian Kings
by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez
“After an increasing wealth of Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets was excavated and translated in the middle of the nineteenth century, critical evaluation of the biblical traditions gained great momentum.
In 1872 George Smith delivered a paper to the Society of Biblical Archaeology in London, announcing the discovery of a Babylonian version of the biblical flood story, hereby renewing the interest in the extra-biblical traditions of Antiquity and eventually supporting the account of Berossos’ Babyloniaca.
A few years later, in 1876, Smith published his book The Chaldean Account of Genesis, in which he included translations of excerpts from fragments of Atrahasīs, a text which, together with the so-called “Creation Epic Enūma Elīsh,” soon became a corner stone for all comparisons between the biblical and Mesopotamian accounts of the “history” of primeval times.
(See W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard, Atrahasīs: The Babylonian Story of the Flood (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 3.)
(The comparison of the Mesopotamian flood story with its Noah-related figure of Ziusudra/Utnapishtim and the Babylonian Epic of Creation in conjunction with Berossos’ account of Babylonian History fostered many hypotheses and any originality of the biblical stories became disputed.
In 1902 H. Zimmern published his influential article “Urkönige und Uroffenbarung,” in E. Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament (ed. H. Zimmern and H. Winckler; 3rd ed.; 2 vols.; Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1902-1903), 2:530-543, in which he attempted to parallel the names of the biblical primeval patriarchs and similar figures from extra-biblical traditions.
Great influence gained F. Delitzsch who with his lectures on “Babel und Bibel” (1902-1905) provoked the so-called “Babel-Bibel Streit”; see F. Delitzsch, Babel und Bibel (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1921).
Later he took an even more open hostile stand against the traditional theologians in his work Die große Täuschung: Kritische Betrachtungen zu den alttestamentlichen Berichten über Israels Eindringen in Kanaan, die Gottesoffenbarung vom Sinai und die Wirksamkeit der Propheten (2 vols.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1920-1921.)
To cut a long story short, when S. Langdon published the Weld-Blundell (WB) copy of the Sumerian King List in 1923, a thorough revision of earlier opinions became necessary.
(A. Deimel, “Die babylonische und biblische Überlieferung bezüglich der vorsintflutlichen Urväter,” Orientalia (Rome) 17 (1925): pp. 33-47; cf. further H. Zimmern, “Die altbabylonischen vor-(und nach-) sintflutlichen Könige nach neuen Quellen,” ZDMG 78 (1924): pp. 19-35.
W.G. Lambert, “A New Fragment from a List of Antediluvian Kings and Marduk’s Chariot,” in Symbolae Biblicae et Mesopotamicae: Francisco Mario Theodoro de Liagre Böhl dedicatae (ed. M.A. Beek et al.; Studia Francisci Scholten memoriae dicata 4; Leiden, Brill, 1973), pp. 271-80, 271, pointed out that the connection of the patriarchs to the tradition of the Sumerian King List was first established by Josephus who again depended on Berossos.)
It became clear, in particular, that the names of (most) of Berossos’ early Babylonian rulers were of Sumerian origin. Zimmern himself revised his earlier theories and Pater Anton Deimel even disputed any connection of the cuneiform tradition to the biblical patriarchs.”
(A. Deimel, “Urväter,” p. 43 states: “(Es) dürfte besser ehrlich einzugestehen sein, dass bis jetzt kein Zusammenhang irgendwelcher Art zwischen der babylonischen und der biblischen Überlieferung bezüglich der vorsintflutlichen Urväter erwiesen ist.”
(“It is likely better to honestly admit that so far no connection whatsoever between the Babylonian and the biblical tradition is established with respect to the antediluvian patriarchs.”)
Gebhard J. Selz, “Of Heroes and Sages–Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions,” in Armin Lange, et al, The Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, v. 2, Brill, 2011, pp. 789-90.