When I majored in Old Testament Theology and then began fighting bulls, I thought those two areas would remain parallel. Two roads separated by the ages of time and physical geography (Cheyenne is 6,801 miles from Jerusalem). The two fields don’t overlap much. Other than the thought “O Hell!” that has ran through my mind a time or two, when looking down and seeing a horn on either side of my hip, there has never been a time when my Hebrew parsing ability helped in the arena (“O Hell” being the phonetic spelling of the hebrew word “tent”).
Today was the day that I was able to live the bizzaro poem of Robert Frost: “Two Roads Converged”.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest stories on earth, dated to 2700 B.C.E. and one of the most well known stories in antiquity. A racy, deceitful, and vulgar story about the bonds of friendship, the price of obsession, and what unbridled lust can do to a people. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a weird tale of one man’s journey to be immortal.
The old-Babylonian/Akkadian Epic begins with Gilgamesh treating his people poorly (tablet 1). In order to deal with his injustices, the gods create an equal too him named Enkindu. Enkindu is raised amongst the wild animals, is taught to become human, and sent to fight Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh wins the fight, but spares Enkidu’s life and they become friends (tablet 2). Gilgamesh wants to gain honor and notoriety with an adventure. He and Enkidu fight off an ogre. Enkidu wants Gilgamesh to kill it, but Gilgamesh feels empathy for the ogre and refuses. Gilgamesh and Enkidu get into an argument and the vanquished ogre curses them both. Gilgamesh shuts him up with a judo chop to its neck, killing the ogre (seriously on tablet 5). Gilgamesh’s victory and handsomness caught the eye of the godess Ishtar. She tried to seduce him, but he turned her down. Ishtar had never been turned down. She was incensed and went to her father, the god Anu, and asked for him to send a bull to Uruk to kill Gilgamesh and Enkidu. When he wouldn’t let her take the bull, she threatened a zombie army uprising (seriously). Under that threat Anu let her use the bull instead.
The epic isn’t clear on the actual bullfight. It does say that Enkidu dodged aside to avoid the bull. Probably a step through of some kind, and then jumped on the horns of the bull. While reading the graphic novel of this story, this scene was illustrated like this:
Immediately my mind went to a photo taken a few weeks ago by Philip Kitts of Avid Visual Imagery, that is eerily similar. Daniel Unruh was doing his best Enkidu impression.
I was not wielding a sword and I wasn’t able to cut the bulls head off so I guess I don’t fit the mold of Gilgamesh very well. Nor did we cut off the bulls legs and throw them at people behind the chutes. I guess here is where the similarities cease.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is important to Biblical studies because Tablet 9 contains the story of Utnaphistim and his survival of a great flood by building a boat. Because of this story it is known as the Sumarian flood account. It is just on of numerous stories of flood survival by one family found throughout the world. Rehwhinkel in his book, The Flood, documents 27 flood stories from around the world and different peoples. As Hugh Miller writes in his book, The Testimony of the Rocks:
“There is, however, one special tradition which seems to be more deeply impressed and more widely spread than any of the others. The destruction of well-nigh the whole human race, in an early age of the world’s history, by a great deluge, appears to have so impressed the minds of the few survivors, and seems to have been handed down to their children, in consequence, with such terror-struck impressiveness that their remote descendants of the present day have not even yet forgotten it. It appears in almost every mythology, and lives in the most distant countries, and among the most barbarous tribes.”
James Frazer, in his book Folklore in the Old Testament, documents 76 different flood stories from around the world, thereby giving testimony to Hugh Miller’s statement.
The flood, the Biblical Flood, is one of the most testified to events in history. Cultures from across the world have recollections of it. The story transcends cultures and societies and its meaning speaks to everyone. God’s grace, His favor, is shown to men who accept it.
Frazer, James. Folklore in the Old Testament (Hart Publishing: 1975)
Rehwinkel, Alfred. The Flood (Concordia Publishing, 1957)