Genesis authenticated in clay

By Sumerian-cuneiform
Fig. 1. An ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablet.

George Smith (1840 –1876) had humble beginnings. He was born into a poor family in Victorian England and, having left school at the age of fourteen, had only a rudimentary education. He had many talents, however, and gained an apprenticeship as a bank note engraver, a demanding job that required strong technical drawing skills and excellent powers of observation. His place of work was near to the British Museum in London, which he visited regularly. He was fascinated by the many ancient clay tablets, with their strange characters composed of wedge-shaped impressions, known as cuneiform (fig. 1), and was later employed by the museum in their Department of Oriental Antiquities. He had remarkable abilities as a linguist, and was soon able to understand and translate the cuneiform scripts.

Smith was a firm believer in the Bible, and was overjoyed when, in 1872, he discovered an ancient Mesopotamian tablet containing an account of a world-wide flood. This was one of a number of similar tablets which together comprise what is now known as the Epic of Gilgamesh (fig. 2). In many details, the account of the flood was very similar to that found in Genesis1 and Smith regarded it as remarkable confirmation of the biblical story of Noah. In December of that year, he read a paper before the Society of Biblical Archaeology titled, The Chaldean Account of the Deluge.2 The meeting was eagerly awaited, and attended by many influential people, including the then British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, himself a committed Christian. Epic-of-Gilgamesh
Fig. 2. Flood tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh

An independent witness to the truth of the Bible, however, was too much for the skeptics. They continued to ridicule the idea of a global flood, and argued that the Genesis account had simply been copied, with embellishments, from the Gilgamesh epic. Another cuneiform tablet, however, found less than thirty years later, was to make such a claim wholly unsupportable.

Another, older tablet

During the last decade of the nineteenth century, the University of Pennsylvania conducted a number of archaeological digs in the ancient Babylonian city of Nippur. Among the remains of the temple library, they found a tiny tablet fragment containing another account of the Flood.3 It was translated by Hermann Hilprecht, an expert Assyriologist, and was found to agree with Genesis remarkably in its details. It speaks of a deluge that would destroy all life, and how God commanded the building of a great ship in which the builder, his family and animals were to be preserved (see box).

The tablet could be dated quite precisely for a number of reasons, foremost of which is that the library in which it was found was known to have been destroyed around 2100 BC, when the Elamites invaded Nippur.4 Hilprecht believed it had been written sometime between 2137 and 2005 BC. In contrast, the Epic of Gilgamesh is understood to be a 7th century BC copy of a document produced no earlier than 2000 BC.5 Moreover its Flood tablet is thought to have been a later addition, produced from the Atrahasis account written, according to its own scribe, around 1800 BC.6,7 How then can the Gilgamesh epic be the original Flood story?

Also of significance is that the language of the Nippur tablet is quite different from that of most of the other tablets recovered alongside it. It is very close to biblical Hebrew,8,9 again indicating that the Genesis account was not derived from Babylonian myths. It also lacks the gross polytheism of the Gilgamesh account.

The account of a global flood, in which God judged the wickedness of man, must be one of the most ridiculed passages of the Bible. At the same time, it is attested to by some of our most ancient historic records,10 numerous documents and legends from all over the world,11,12 the fossil record,13 and many facts of geology.14 We ignore it at our peril.

Fig. 3. The Nippur tablet (c. 2100 BC) with Hilprecht’s translation below. The words in square brackets are not decipherable in the text, but were added by Hilprecht according to the context.

(2)……[the confines of heaven and Earth I] will loosen
(3)……[a deluge will I make, and] it shall sweep away all men together;
(4)……[but seek thou l]ife before the deluge cometh forth;
(5)……[For over all living beings], as many as there are, I will bring overthrow, destruction, annihilation 
(6)……Build a great ship and
(7)……total height shall be it structure.
(8)……it shall be a houseboat carrying what has been saved of life.
(9)……with a strong deck cover (it).
(10)….[The ship] which thou shalt make
(11)….[into it br]ing the beast of the field, the birds of heaven,
(12)….[and the creeping things, two of everything] instead of a number,
(13)….and the family …

In Genesis 6:16, God commanded Noah to make the Ark with a roof and a door. Line 9 states that the vessel was to be covered with a strong deck. In line 8, the word Hilprecht translates as “houseboat” signifies a boat with a door and is closely related to an old Semitic word meaning ‘ark’, a chest or box in which something can be carried safely. An alternative translation of line 8 was given by the assyriologist, Alexander Heidel: “The same [ship] shall be a giant boat, and its name shall be ‘Preserver of Life’”.1 The word translated “Life” is napishtim. In the Atrahasis account of the Flood,2 Noah is given the title Ut-napishtim, meaning “Man of Life”, perhaps referring to his life-preserving role.

  1. Heidel, A., The Gilgamesh Epic and the Old Testament Parallels, University of Chicago, p. 106, 1946.
  2. Cooper, W.R., The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis, Creation Science Movement, UK, pp. 386–389, 2011.

Editor’s note

The Nippur Flood tablet is kept at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and is designated CBS 13532. According to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (, it is assigned to the Early Old Babylonian period and is dated to 2000–1900 BC.1 Its antiquity, however, is subject to some controversy. Although some consider a very early date plausible2,3,4 others would assign the tablet to a later period, possibly 1700 BC,2 fifteenth century BC,5 1300 BC6 or even as late as 1000 BC.7 All these estimates, however, predate the Jewish exile by centuries, confuting the claim that the biblical account of the Flood was derived from Babylonian myths during this period.


  1. Last accessed 2 December 2014.
  2. Rogers, R.W., Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament, 2nd ed., Wipf & Stock, USA, p. 108, 2005, first published 1926.
  3. The Oldest Library in the World and the New Deluge Tablet, Expository Times 21(8):364–369, 1910.
  4. Adamthwaite, M., Gilgamesh and the biblical Flood—part 2, J. Creation 28(3):80–85, 2014.
  5. Ref. 3, p. 368.
  6. Jasrow, M., Hebrew and Babylonian Traditions, Charles Scribner’s Sons, USA, p. 342, 1914.
  7. Barton and Gordon argue for the Middle Babylonian period which ended around 1000 BC. Lambert, W.G. and Millard, A.R., eds.,Atra-hasis:The Babylonian Story of the Flood, Oxford University Press, p. 126, 1969.

References and notes

  1. Sarfati, J., Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic, Creation 28(4):12–17, 2006; Return to text.
  2. Smith, G., The Chaldean account of the deluge, Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 2:213–234, 1873. Return to text.
  3. Hilprecht, H., The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania, Series D; Researches and Treatises, Vol V, Fasciculus I; The Earliest Version of the Babylonian Deluge Story and the Temple Library of Nippur, University of Pennsylvania, 1910; Return to text.
  4. Cooper, W.R., The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis, Creation Science Movement, UK, p. 390, 2011. Return to text.
  5. Tigay, J.H., The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 39, 1982. Return to text.
  6. Ref. 5, p. 216. Return to text.
  7. Ref. 4, pp. 386–389. Return to text.
  8. Ref. 4, p. 394. Return to text.
  9. Ref. 3, pp. 49–65. Return to text.
  10. Ref. 4. Return to text.
  11. Conolly, R. and Grigg, R., Flood, Creation 23(1):26–30, 2000; Return to text.
  12. Ref. 4, pp. 160–366. Return to text.
  13. Fossils Questions and Answers; Return to text.
  14. Geology Questions and Answers; Return to text.

Reader’s comments

Margie G.
Thank you for this information. Awesome! Like the Dead Sea Scrolls, our Father likes to show up the unbelievers and so-called intellectuals with findings like this. His timing is awesome. He lets them go on and on, and then kind of blows them out of the water, as it were, with a finding like that tablet. I can imagine Him smiling. But they never seem to get it. They even miss the mark and add some of their own unintentional evidence that the tablet existed before the Babylonian exile! You have to smile, too.

The Holy Spirit once told me that when I threw away my idols, He'd manifest His power (Isaiah 43:12). He was telling me in that instance not to rely on man's ideas about His Word or reality even tho' they may claim to be believers, but to rely on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit as my Teacher. I have learned He really teaches us and guides us to articles like yours to reinforce our faith. He wants us to use our intellects correctly. I understand Romans 10:17 as "Faith --- EVIDENCE of things not seen ... comes by hearing the RHEMAH ... the NOW spoken words of God our Father via Jesus via the Holy Spirit (simultaneously, as it were). Hebrews 12:22ff clearly tells us we ARE in Their NOW Presence even in our temporary "now" surrounded by angels and all those Who love Them. "When you throw away your idols --- here mere man's interpretations or ideas even of the Scriptures ... I will manifest My Presence! - My power! - the Truth!" The Holy Spirit is our Teacher truly, and He WILL lead us into all the Truth Father intends us individually to have. Thank you again and for allowing me to try to express my thoughts, too. You are a blessing!
Robert P.
I need clarification. You wrote this about the earlier cuneiform writing about the flood:

"All these estimates, however, predate the Jewish exile by centuries, confuting the claim that the biblical account of the Flood was derived from Babylonian myths during this period."

If they all predate Genesis, how are they proof that "the claim that the biblical account of the Flood was derived from Babylonian myths during this period" is false? It seems to me that fuels the argument that Genesis is a copy of them. I don't believe that, but your logic appears flawed.
Please explain.
Dominic Statham
Thanks for your question.

I wrote, "these estimates ... predate the Jewish exile", not that they predate Genesis.

Skeptics claim that Genesis was compiled during the Jewish exile in Babylon during the sixth century BC, rather than by Moses around 1500 BC. They say that the Genesis account of creation and the Flood, for example, are just a rehash of Babylonian myths - stories the Israelites heard while in exile. However, since even the latest date estimates for this tablet predate the exile, this account of the Flood must also predate the exile - in which case it can't be argued that it originated during the sixth cenutry BC.
Jim M.
Very interesting! I never knew about this tablet or at least don't remember reading about it. Anyway, the author says that its ancient date is indisputable because they know when the library in which it was housed was destroyed, but then in the notes following the article, it says the date of the account is contested and gives a few other possible dates. Can you explain this a bit?
Dominic Statham
Hilprecht dated the tablet based on the stratum in which it was found and "the paleographic evidence presented by the tablet itself." Others, however - and especially the skeptics - dispute that the tablet was found where Hilprecht claims. Hence, according to them, only "paleographic evidence" can be used to estimate its age, i.e. analysis of the writing. The different dates then arise from the different opinions as to which period the writing belongs.

The really important point, however, is that even the most skeptical - those that argue for the very latest date - all put it centuries before the exile, confuting the modernists' claim that Genesis was derived from Babylonian myths during this period.
John B.
Fabulous evidence once again for the Genesis worldwide flood. The science news here speaks of Mars, "During its wet Noachian period - 4.1 to 3.7 billion years ago - it is estimated that it had enough water to cover the entire surface in a liquid layer 450 feet (137 metres) deep."
Don't you find it incredible that people will believe that Mars was flooded, even though a single drop of water is no longer on this barren planet, yet they will not believe that Earth was once flooded, even though more than 70% of the Earth is STILL covered with water. Where are the sedimentary layers of rock on Mars? If there was life there, once, surely they would have found at least one fossil by now? The evidence for a worldwide flood on Earth, is truly overwhelming, yet so many refuse to believe of such a deluge that brought about mass extinction of most organisms, despite the evidence in the fossil record. Thank you for an excellent article.
David Christian O.
2 Peter 3:5-6

"But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.

By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed."

What a great job is doing in answering the sceptics!

Article comments are only available for 14 days from publication.