When British explorers discovered the ancient library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in 1852–1853, among its precious clay tablets was the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. First translated in 1872, its contents shocked the scholarly world because it seemed to closely parallel parts of Genesis, especially the Flood account. Indeed, many scholars accused the Bible of merely retelling the epic. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a long poem that describes a divine warning about a coming flood. A man is chosen to build a boat, animals are gathered, a single door opens into the boat, heavy rains fall, the man sends out a dove and a raven, the boat lands on a mountain, and the man offers sacrifices in thanksgiving. Is there any merit to the claim that the Genesis Flood is just another myth, perhaps even plagiarized from this Babylonian account?
The best way to answer this question is to get down to specifics. What does the Bible actually teach about the Flood, and how does it compare to the manmade myth? Was Moses describing real events or simply teaching a moral lesson or parable? If the Bible is God's Word (2 Timothy 3:16–17), truth (John 17:17), and a light to guide us (Psalm 119:105), then Christians ought to be able -- with careful study and the aid of the Holy Spirit -- to understand what the writer's original intent was.
The book of Genesis was written in the style of historical narrative and is vastly superior to any myth. By simply knowing the Flood account well, you can show people how it outshines every manmade flood myth -- including the Babylonian version most similar to the Bible.
Manmade Legend or Divinely Inspired History?
The Epic of Gilgamesh, a 12-tablet Mesopotamian epic poem, was written in the eighteenth century BC (around two centuries before Moses’s birth, during the Hebrew captivity in Egypt), although the flood account is believed to be a later addition to the poem. The warrior-king Gilgamesh has a series of adventures on his quest to find eternal life. At the end of tablet 10 and all of tablet 11, he goes to a faraway land to meet with Utnapishtim and his wife, who had long before built a boat to survive a global flood that had killed all of humanity except for the small remnant on the vessel. (Much of this information is also recorded in an earlier Akkadian poem, The Epic of Atrahasis, with a few additional details, which will be discussed later.)
This poem is just what the title says: an epic. The poet weaves a fictional tale to entertain his audience. The text employs lofty poetic techniques expected of such recited fiction, such as easy-to-memorize couplets and stock phrases. No hearer expected that it was to be taken as word-for-word history.