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Ziusudra (also Zi-ud-sura and Zin-Suddu; Hellenized Xisuthros: "found long life" or "life of long days") of Shuruppak is listed in the WB-62 Sumerian king list[1] recension as the last king of Sumer prior to the deluge. He is subsequently recorded as the hero of the Sumerian flood epic. He is also mentioned in other ancient literature, including The Death of Gilgamesh[2] and The Poem of Early Rulers,[3] and a late version of The Instructions of Shuruppak[4] refers to Ziusudra.[5] Akkadian Atrahasis ("extremely wise") and Utnapishtim ("he found life"), as well as biblical Noah ("rest") are similar heroes of flood legends of the ancient Near East.

Although each version of the flood myth has distinctive story elements, there are numerous story elements that are common to two, three, or four versions. The earliest version of the flood myth is preserved fragmentarily in the Eridu Genesis, written in Sumerian cuneiform and dating to the 17th century BC, during the 1st Dynasty of Babylon when the language of writing and administration was still Sumerian. Strong parallels are notable with other Near Eastern flood legends, such as the biblical account of Noah.


Sumerian king list

In the WB-62 Sumerian king list recension, Ziusudra, or Zin-Suddu of Shuruppak is recorded as having reigned as both king and gudug priest for 10 sars, or periods of 3,600,[6] although this was probably a copy error for 10 years.[7] In this version, Ziusudra inherited rulership from his father Šuruppak (written SU.KUR.LAM) who ruled for 10 sars.[8] The line following Ziusudra in WB-62 reads: Then the flood swept over. The next line reads: After the flood swept over, kingship descended from heaven; the kingship was in Kish. The city of Kish flourished in the Early Dynastic period soon after an archaeologically attested river flood in Shuruppak (modern Tell Fara, Iraq) and various other Sumerian cities. This flood has been radiocarbon dated to ca. 2900 BC.[9] Polychrome pottery from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3000–2900 BC) was discovered immediately below the Shuruppak flood stratum,[10] and the Jemdet Nasr period immediately preceded the Early Dynastic I period.[11]

The significance of Ziusudra's name appearing on the WB-62 king list is that it links the flood mentioned in the three surviving Babylonian deluge epics of Ziusudra (Eridu Genesis), Utnapishtim (Epic of Gilgamesh), and Atrahasis (Epic of Atrahasis) to river flood sediments in Shuruppak, Uruk, Kish et al. that have been radiocarbon dated to ca. 2900 BC. This has led some scholars to conclude that the flood hero was king of Shuruppak at the end of the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3000–2900) which ended with the river flood of 2900 BC.[12]

Ziusudra being a king from Shuruppak is supported by the Gilgamesh XI tablet (see below) making reference to Utnapishtim (Akkadian translation of the Sumerian name Ziusudra) with the epithet "man of Shuruppak" at line 23.

Sumerian flood myth

The tale of Ziusudra is known from a single fragmentary tablet written in Sumerian, datable by its script to the 17th century BC (Old Babylonian Empire), and published in 1914 by Arno Poebel.[13] The first part deals with the creation of man and the animals and the founding of the first cities Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larsa, Sippar, and Shuruppak. After a missing section in the tablet, we learn that the gods have decided to send a flood to destroy mankind. The god Enki (lord of the underworld sea of fresh water and Sumerian equivalent of Babylonian god Ea) warns Ziusudra, the ruler of Shuruppak, to build a large boat; the passage describing the directions for the boat is also lost. When the tablet resumes, it is describing the flood. A terrible storm raged for seven days, "the huge boat had been tossed about on the great waters," then Utu (Sun) appears and Ziusudra opens a window, prostrates himself, and sacrifices an ox and a sheep. After another break, the text resumes, the flood is apparently over, and Ziusudra is prostrating himself before An (Sky) and Enlil (Lordbreath), who give him "breath eternal" and take him to dwell in Dilmun. The remainder of the poem is lost. (text of Ziusudra epic)

The Epic of Ziusudra adds an element at lines 258–261 not found in other versions, that after the river flood[14] "king Ziusudra ... they caused to dwell in the land of the country of Dilmun, the place where the sun rises". Dilmun is usually identified as Bahrain, an island in the Persian Gulf on the east side of the Arabian peninsula. In this version of the story, Ziusudra's boat floats down the Euphrates river into the Persian Gulf (rather than up onto a mountain, or up-stream to Kish).[15] The Sumerian word KUR in line 140 of the Gilgamesh flood myth was interpreted to mean "mountain" in Akkadian, although in Sumerian, KUR did not mean "mountain" but rather "land", especially a foreign country.

A Sumerian document known as The Instructions of Shuruppak dated by Kramer to about 2500 BC, refers in a later version to Ziusudra. Kramer concluded that "Ziusudra had become a venerable figure in literary tradition by the middle of the third millennium B.C."[16]


Xisuthros (Ξισουθρος) is a Hellenization of Sumerian Ziusudra, known from the writings of Berossus, a priest of Marduk in Babylon, on whom Alexander relied heavily for information on Mesopotamia. Among the interesting features of this version of the flood myth, are the identification, through interpretatio graeca, of the Sumerian god Enki with the Greek god Cronus, the father of Zeus; and the assertion that the reed boat constructed by Xisuthros survived, at least until Berossus' day, in the "Corcyrean Mountains" of Armenia. Xisuthros was listed as a king, the son of one Ardates, and to have reigned 18 sari. One saros (shar in Akkadian) stands for 3600 and hence 18 sari was translated as 64,800 years. R. M. Best argued this was a mistranslation; the archaic U4 sign meaning year was confused with the sar sign which both have a 4-sided diamond shape and that Xisuthros actually reigned 18 years.[17]


The Akkadian Atrahasis Epic tells how the god Enki warns the hero Atrahasis ("Extremely Wise") to build a boat to escape a flood. The Epic of Ziusudra does not make it absolutely clear whether the flood was a river flood or something else, although it does state that mankind, along with all of the antediluvian cities, will be destroyed. According to one scholar, the Epic of Atrahasis tablet III iv, lines 6–9 identifies the flood as a local river flood: "Like dragonflies they [dead bodies] have filled the river. Like a raft they have moved in to the edge [of the river]. Like a raft they have moved in to the riverbank."[18]

It should be noted, however, that most other authorities interpret the Atrahasis flood as universal. A. R. George, and Lambert and Millard make it clear that the gods' intention in Atrahasis is to "wipe out mankind".[19] The flood destroys "all of the earth".[20] In the context of the larger story, it is difficult to see how a local river flood could accomplish these purposes. The use of a comparable metaphor in the Gilgamesh epic suggests that the reference to "dragonflies [filling] the river" is simply an evocative image of death rather than a literal description of the flood[21] Moreover, the very preceding line in Atrahasis mentions "the sea", which in the context of "the river" could mean the Euphrates River and the Persian Gulf.[22]

The Epic of Atrahasis provides additional information on the flood and flood hero that is omitted in Gilgamesh XI and other versions of the Ancient Near East flood myth. Likewise, the Gilgamesh XI flood text provides additional information that is missing in damaged portions of the Atrahasis tablets.

At lines 6 and 7 of tablet RS 22.421 we are told "I am Atrahasis. I lived in the temple of Ea [Enki], my Lord." Prior to the Early Dynastic period, kings were subordinate to priests, and often lived in the same temple complex where the priests lived.

Tablet III,ii lines 55–56 of the Atrahasis Epic state that "He severed the mooring line and set the boat adrift." This is consistent with a river flood, specifically the Euphrates River. If Atrahasis severed the mooring line at Shuruppak when the rain storm began, the runaway boat could float down the Euphrates River into the Persian Gulf.

The Sumerian word kur for hill could also mean mountain or country or land, depending on context. The kur sign (shadu in Akkadian) also meant hill or mountain, and therefore the information in Gilgamesh that the craft came to rest upon a mountain, could alternatively mean it came to rest on a hill at the west end of the Persian Gulf. This hill or mound may have been underwater at high tide when the ark grounded there.[23]


In the eleventh tablet of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim "the faraway" is the wise king of the Sumerian city state of Shuruppak who, along with his unnamed wife, survived a flood sent by Enlil to drown every living thing on Earth. Utnapishtim was secretly warned by the water god Ea of Enlil's plan and constructed a great boat or ark to save himself, his family and representatives of each species of animal. When the flood waters subsided, the boat was grounded on the mountain of Nisir. When Utnapishtim's ark had been becalmed for seven days, he released a dove, who found no resting place and returned. A swallow was then released who found no perch and also returned, but the raven which was released third did not return. Utnapishtim then made a sacrifice and poured out a libation to Ea on the top of mount Nisir. Utnapishtim and his wife were granted immortality after the flood. Afterwards, he is taken by the gods to live forever at "the mouth of the rivers" and given the epithet "faraway".

The Babylonian myth of Utnapishtim (meaning "He found life", presumably in reference to the gift of immortality given him by the gods) is matched by the earlier Epic of Atrahasis, and by the Sumerian version, the Epic of Ziusudra. In fact, we now know that Utnapishtim and Atrahasis are one and the same. Atrahasis' name was simply changed to Utnapishtim after he was granted immortality. This explains why the name Atrahasis occurs in the Gilgamesh flood story even though the character is introduced as Utnapishtim.


The similarities between the story of Noah's Ark, the Sumerian story of Ziusudra, and the Babylonian stories of Atrahasis and Utnapishtim are shown by corresponding lines in various versions:

"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" — Gilgamesh XI, 127 "rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights" — Genesis 7:12

"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.

"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 Hebrew flood story of Genesis 6–9 dates to at least the 5th century BC. According to the documentary hypothesis, it is a composite of two literary sources J and P that were combined by a post-exilic editor, 539–400 BC.

Swiss scholar Hans Heinrich Schmid believes both the J material and the P material were products of the Babylonian exile period (6th century BC) and were directly derived from Babylonian sources (see also Panbabylonism).[24]

See also


  1. Thorkild Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List (Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1939, pp. 69-77)
  2. Translation of versions of The Death of Gilgamesh
  3. Translation of The Poem of Early Rulers
  4. Translation of The Instructions of Shuruppak
  5. Speculated by Samuel Noah Kramer as deriving from sources from as early as 2500 BC, Kramer concluded that "Ziusudra had become a venerable figure in literary tradition by the middle of the third millennium B.C." , (Samuel Noah Kramer "Reflections on the Mesopotamian Flood," Expedition, 9, 4, (summer 1967), pp 12-18.)
  6. S. Langdon, "The Chaldean Kings Before the Flood," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1923), pp 251-259
  7. R. M. Best, pages 118-119
  8. Langdon, p. 258, note 5.
  9. Harriet Crawford, Sumer and the Sumerians, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991), p. 19.
  10. Crawford, Harriet (1991). Sumer and the Sumerians. Cambridge University Press. pp. 19. 
  11. Erik Schmidt, Excavations at Fara (1931), University of Pennsylvania's Museum Journal, 2:193–217.
  12. M.E.L. Mallowan, "Noah's Flood Reconsidered", Iraq (1964), 26:62–82.
  13. "The Sumerian Flood Story" in Atrahasis, by Lambert and Millard, page 138
  14. Lambert & Millard, page 97
  15. R. M. Best, pages 30–31
  16. Samuel Noah Kramer, "Reflections on the Mesopotamian Flood," Expedition, 9, 4, (summer 1967), pp 12–18.
  17. R. M. Best, page 118
  18. Tigay, Jeffrey H. (1982), The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, pages 220, 225
  19. Andrew George, p. xliv.; Lambert and Millard p. 12
  20. Frymer-Kensky, Tikva Simone (2006), Studies in Bible and feminist criticism, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. p. 354
  21. George, Andrew (2003), The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic: introduction, critical edition and cuneiform texts, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 506, 875-876. Apparently, the appearance of large numbers of drowned dragonflies—or mayflies according to George—was a common phenomenon associated with Mesopotamian river floods.
  22. R M Best, "Noah's Ark and the Ziusudra Epic", p 51-55.
  23. R M Best pages 55-57.
  24. Hans Heinrich Schmid, The So-Called Yahwist (1976) discussed in Antony F. Campbell and Mark A. O'Brien, Sources of the Pentateuch (1993) pp 2–11, note 24.


External links

Preceded by
Ubara-Tutu or Shuruppak
King of Sumer
c. legendary or 2900 BC
Succeeded by
Jushur of Kish
Ensi of Shuruppak
c. legendary or 2900 BC
City flooded according to legend

Template:Notable Rulers of Sumer

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