The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Sumerian tale regarding a heroic protagonist that goes on a tremendous journey. Along the way, he meets a person who was divinely chosen to survive a massive flood on a boat which he had built himself. Sound familiar? Of course it does, this portion of the Sumerian story is remarkably similar to the story of Noah. In fact, there are a great number of similarities between stories found on Sumerian tablets and Genesis. This is commonly used to discredit the Bible itself, with the claim being that Genesis is simply a plagiarized version of older creation stories. The question I want to ask is, should we really be surprised by this?
The typical Christian response to claims of previously existing creation narratives, or flood narratives for that matter, is that upon further scrutiny they are not at all similar to the creation or flood narrative that the Bible provides. I believe that this is a mistake. Consider for a moment that Genesis may be true. Do you think that the people who lived the events outlined in the book may have told their children and grandchildren what they had experienced? I certainly believe that they would have. I also believe that these stories would have been passed from on generation to the next. The origin of the world, the wrath of God, and the division of humanity are all answers to very common questions, so I have no doubt that these stories would have been passed along to subsequent generations. Isn’t it also reasonable to believe that as families separated, people passed on prematurely, and perhaps, as future generations began to view these stories as myths, that the stories themselves were changed, molded to fit the belief system of people that did not bear witness to the events themselves? Some of these adaptations may have been written in cuneiform, while the Hebrew oral tradition was still maintained.
Of course, this leads us to an interesting debate. A debate that I believe cannot be logically resolved. There are many creation stories in existence that have been written on tablets which are older than the even the Dead Sea scrolls. This does not mean that the stories themselves are older, merely that we have not yet discovered an older copy of Genesis. There are claims that Genesis has been dated further back than any other creation story based on literary style, but frankly, that does not concern me in the slightest. No one from the Garden of Eden wrote down those events, and even if they somehow did, any copy of such writings would likely have been destroyed in the flood, lost at the Tower of Babel, lost while the Jews were in bondage in Egypt, or during any of the other catastrophes that Judaism faced.
What we must ask is whether or not an older creation narrative should dispel our acceptance of a later written one. If we believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, and therefore true, then we must expect that there would be stories written before Genesis was compiled that are different from Genesis, but with some similarities. If humanity had managed to keep the story accurate on our own, would there have been a need for a divinely inspired book? But on the other hand, if we do not believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and therefore false, it certainly appears that the book is a plagiarism of earlier stories. In that case, one could make an argument against the Bible regardless of what history reveals to us. If there are prebiblical stories that are similar to Genesis, then Genesis must be counterfeit. If there are prebiblical stories that differ entirely from Genesis, then one could ask how humanity could have completely forgotten the events of Genesis if it is truly accurate. Additionally, the same cases could be used to support the Bible. If there are prebiblical stories that are similar to Genesis, then Genesis must be accurate. If there are prebiblical stories that differ entirely from Genesis, then we can understand that the purpose of Genesis was to correct our understanding of creation. There is seemingly no escape from this logical circle.
I believe that we have no choice but to draw our conclusions on the authenticity of the book of Genesis based on the evidence available to us in the surrounding world. We will eventually find archeological and cosmological evidence which supports the book if we continue searching. In many cases, we have already found evidence, if we are willing to accept it.