In view of man’s wickedness and evil (Genesis 6:5; cf. 11), God vowed to destroy the earth yet preserve Noah’s household (for he was righteous; 6:7-7:5). An ark was built at God’s command, to house those whom God would preserve through the flood. At His appointed time, “the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened,” (v.11) and Noah’s household took shelter inside the ark (vv.7, 13). God’s flood destroyed the horde of sinners (vv.17-24), and when the waters subsided (8:1-19), He made a covenant with Noah (8:20-9:17). God would never again curse the ground because of man (8:21; cf. 9:8-17). Like Adam in the garden, Noah was commanded to be fruitful and multiply (vv.1, 7) and to exercise dominion over creation (v.2). Whereas Adam was given plants to eat (1:29-30; 2:16), Noah was given plants and animals (9:3). God also reiterates the Imago Dei (something not lost in the Fall [3:1-24]) by emphasizing the severity of murder (vv.4-6; cf. 4:1-16).
This is the Genesis flood account, called the Deluge. Four chapters are devoted to this judgment narrative, making it both textually and historically important. This account is a favorite chew-toy of atheists, who claim the concepts of a worldwide flood and such a large wooden vessel are preposterous. Some Christians, embarrassed by the jeering, have decided a naturalistic reading of Genesis 6-9 is in order. The trick is to take inclusive references such as “the earth” and “every living thing” and make them exclusive. The Deluge was “worldwide” in that it covered the known world (perhaps the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, and Near East). Noah preserved “every living thing” in that every known creature was spared.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
As to the embarrassed Christians, we should be pointing at their embarrassment and asking, “Whose side are you on anyway?” Christians by definition believe in the supernatural, most significantly that God created the heavens and the earth (1:1). If I believe God brought the universe into existence from nothing, is it not odd to doubt His ability to flood the world? As to the atheist, a more fundamental tactic is typically used. While some enjoy wrestling with Ken Ham about science and how exactly an elephant could survive the whole thing, most academics who deny the Genesis flood account opt for a simpler battlefront. Noah’s Deluge, we are told, was developed from earlier flood narratives.
The Gilgamesh flood is part of the larger epic, written on Tablet XI (see beside). In the story, a man named Utnapishtim discovers a plot of the gods to destroy evil men by flooding the earth. Utnapishtim, with the help of carpenters, builds a boat in eleven days to escape the coming waters. A great storm comes at dawn and floods the world within seven days, after which Utnapishtim’s vessel rests on the mountain of Nisir. The god Enlil, though angry that a few men survived the deluge, compassionately gives Utnapishtim immortality.
The Epic of Gilgamesh was written before the Pentateuch (ca. 2500-1500 B.C.). Therefore, some argue, (insert comma) the Jews took the flood account in this epic and made it their own. Is this what happened? Given the age of Gilgamesh, are the similarities between the narratives proof enough to falsify the Genesis flood story? By no means, and in fact my faith is heartily encouraged after reading the Gilgamesh flood account.
The Bigger Picture
Claiming the Genesis account developed from the Epic of Gilgamesh is certainly conjecture, but it is much more. What is the best explanation for multiple, similar flood accounts? By “multiple” I mean dozens – the two mentioned above are by no means rare. On every continent and in every corner of the world, you can find cultures with flood narratives. The total number of flood accounts extends above two hundred. The logical question to ask in light of such evidence is not, “How could you believe in the Genesis flood?” Rather, we should be asking, “Who in their right mind is denying something happened?”
Christians should never opt for explaining away the Bible, either in laziness or embarrassment. The Word of God is authoritative and true (2 Timothy 3:16). Further, we should keep in mind man is not the one who judges God’s Word – God’s Word judges man: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Man does not give meaning to Gods’ Word – God’s Word illumines and vivifies our lives: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
 The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume A (second edition), 35-38.