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Ziusudra (also Zi-ud-sura, Zin-Suddu, Hellenized Xisuthros: "found long life" or "life of long days") of Shuruppak is listed on some versions of the Sumerian king list as the last king of Sumer before the Flood. He then becomes the hero of the Sumerian flood myth. Akkadian Atrahasis ("extremely wise") and Utnapishtim ("he found life") as well as biblical Noah ("Rest") are similar heroes of Ancient Near Eastern flood stories.

Although each version of the flood myth has distinctive story elements, there are numerous story elements that are common to two, or three, or four versions. The earliest version of the flood myth is preserved fragmentarily in the Eridu Genesis, written in the Sumerian language and dating to the 17th century BC (during the First Dynasty of Babylon, where the language of writing and administration was still Sumerian). Strong parallels have been drawn with other stories, such as the Biblical story of Noah.



Sumerian king list

Ziusudra, or Zin-Suddu, appears in the WB-62 version of the Sumerian king list as a king/chief of Shuruppak who reigned for 10 (shar) years.[1] Ziusudra was preceded in this king list by his father Su-Kur-Lam who was also king of Shuruppak and ruled 8 (shar) years.[2] On the next line after Ziusudra in the King List are the sentences "The flood swept thereover. After the flood swept thereover, ... the kingship was in Kish." The city of Kish flourished in the Early Dynastic period soon after an archaeologically attested river flood in Shuruppak that has been radio-carbon dated about 2900 BC.[3] Polychrome pottery from below the flood deposit have be dated to the Jemdet Nasr period that immediately preceded the Early Dynastic I period.[4]

The importance of Ziusudra's name on the king list is that it links the flood mentioned in the Epics of Ziusudra, Atrahasis, Utnapishtim, etc. to river flood sediments in Shuruppak, Uruk, and Kish that have been radio carbon dated as 2900 BC. So scholars conclude that the flood hero was king of Shuruppak at the end of the Jemdet Nasr period (3000-2900) which ended with the river flood of 2900 BC.[5]

Ziusudra being king of Shuruppak is supported in the Gilgamesh XI tablet (see below) by the reference to Utnapishtim (Akkadian translation of Ziusudra) as "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.[6] 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 ocean of fresh water and Sumerian equivalent of the 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 (the 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-god) and Enlil (chief of the gods), 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[7] "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-river to Kish).[8] 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 "country", 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."[9]


Xisuthros (Ξισουθρος) is a Hellenization of Sumerian Ziusudra, known from the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea, an attendee at the First Council of Nicaea and early historian of the Christian Church. Eusebius was quoting Alexander Polyhistor, a Pontic historian living in Rome. Alexander was himself translating 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 Xisuthrus 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 years. The word for 3600 was sari (shar in Akkadian) and hence 18 sari years was mistranslated as 64,800 years. This resulted from confusing the archaic U4 sign meaning year and the shar sign (3600) which both have a 4-sided diamond shape.[10] Xisuthros reigned 18 years. The reigns of other kings were also mistranslated in the surviving king list of Berossus.


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 clear whether the flood was a river flood or something else. But the Epic of Atrahasis tablet III iv, lines 6-9 clearly 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 boat]. Like a raft they have moved in to the riverbank."

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. If Atrahasis severed the mooring lines, the runaway boat would go down the river into the Persian Gulf.


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 great 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.


The similarities between the story of Noah's Ark, the Sumerian story of Ziusudra, and the Babylonian stories of Atrahasis and Utnapishtim are clearly 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

"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. Hans 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).[11]

See also


  1. ^ S. Langdon, "The Chaldean Kings Before the Flood," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1923), pp 251-259.
  2. ^ Langdon, p. 258, note 5.
  3. ^ Harriet Crawford, Sumer and the Sumerians, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991), p. 19.
  4. ^ Erik Schmidt, Excavations at Fara, 1931, University of Pennsylvania's Museum Journal, 2 (1931), pp 193-217.
  5. ^ M.E.L. Mallowan, "Noah's Flood Reconsidered", Iraq, vol 26 (1964), pages 62-82.
  6. ^ "The Sumerian Flood Story" in Atrahasis, by Lambert and Millard, page 138
  7. ^ Lambert & Millard, page 97
  8. ^ Best, pages 30-31
  9. ^ Samuel Noah Kramer, "Reflections on the Mesopotamian Flood," Expedition, 9, 4, (summer 1967), pp 12-18.
  10. ^ Best, page 118
  11. ^ 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.


  • W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atrahasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood, Eisenbrauns, 1999, ISBN 1-57506-039-6.
  • R. M. Best, Noah's Ark and the Ziusudra Epic, Eisenbrauns, 1999, ISBN 0-9667840-1-4.

External links

Preceded by
Ubara-Tutu or Su-Kur-Lam
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

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