Bible Review 8:2, April 1992

Bible Books

Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others

Stephanie Dalley The World’s Classics Series (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) 368 pp., $7.95, paper

In the 1850s, the great library of the Assyrian King Assurbanipal was discovered in Nineveh by a team led by the British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard. Among these tablets were Mesopotamian stories of the creation or the universe, the flood, the adventures of Gilgamesh and others. When deciphered and published in the following decades, these texts caused a sensation. Even the British prime minister attended the meeting of the Society of Biblical Archaeology in 1872, when George Smith, a young Assyriologist working at the British Museum, first read to the public the newly translated passages from the Babylonian flood story.

In the last century, many more excavations have uncovered thousands of additional tablets and fragments, including many mythological and religious texts. The only attempt to translate all the major myths from Mesopotamia into English in modern times was the classic 1950 work, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James Pritchard (Princeton Univ. Press). Although there were two subsequent editions of this work, It has long been outdated. Many newly discovered tablets and fragments have filled in gaps in these texts, and our understanding of linguistic problems has also vastly increased.

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