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Ziusudra (Sumerian: 𒍣𒌓𒋤𒁺 ZI.UD.SUD.RA2 Ziudsuřa(k) "life of long days"; Greek: Ξίσουθρος, translit. Xisuthros) or Zin-Suddu (Sumerian: 𒍣𒅔𒋤𒁺 ZI.IN.SUD.DU) of Shuruppak (c. 2900 BC) is listed in the WB-62 Sumerian king list recension as the last king of Sumer prior to the great flood. He is subsequently recorded as the hero of the Sumerian creation myth, and is also known as the Hellenized 'Xisuthros' from the later writings of Berossus.
Ziusudra is one of several mythic characters that are protagonists of near-eastern Flood myths, including Atrahasis, Utnapishtim and the biblical Noah - although each story has distinctive elements, many key story elements are common to two, three, or four versions.
Literary and archaeological evidence
King Ziusudra of Shuruppak
In the WB-62 Sumerian king list recension, Ziusudra, or Zin-Suddu of Shuruppak is listed as the last king of Sumer before a great flood. He is recorded as having reigned as both king and gudug priest for 10 sars, or periods of 3,600 years, although this was probably a copy error for 10 years. In this version, Ziusudra inherited rulership from his father Šuruppak (written SU.KUR.LAM) who ruled for 10 sars.
The line following Ziusudra in WB-62 reads: Then the flood swept over. The next line reads: After the flood swept over, kingship descended from heaven; the kingship was in Kish. The city of Kish flourished in the Early Dynastic period soon after an archaeologically attested river flood in Shuruppak (modern Tell Fara, Iraq) and various other Sumerian cities. This flood has been radiocarbon dated to ca. 2900 BC. Polychrome pottery from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 30th century BC) was discovered immediately below the Shuruppak flood stratum, and the Jemdet Nasr period immediately preceded the Early Dynastic I period.
The significance of Ziusudra's name appearing on the WB-62 king list is that it links the flood mentioned in the three surviving Babylonian deluge epics of Ziusudra (Eridu Genesis), Utnapishtim (Epic of Gilgamesh), and Atrahasis (Epic of Atra-Hasis) to river flood sediments in Shuruppak, Uruk, Kish et al. that have been radiocarbon dated to ca. 2900 BC. This has led some scholars to conclude that the flood hero was king of Shuruppak at the end of the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3100–2900) which ended with the river flood of 2900 BC.
Ziusudra being a king from Shuruppak is supported by the Gilgamesh XI tablet making reference to Utnapishtim (Akkadian translation of the Sumerian name Ziusudra) with the epithet "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. The first part deals with the creation of man and the animals and the founding of the first cities Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larak, 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 sea of fresh water and Sumerian equivalent of 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 (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) and Enlil (Lordbreath), who give him "breath eternal" and take him to dwell in Dilmun. The remainder of the poem is lost.[not in citation given]
The Epic of Ziusudra adds an element at lines 258–261 not found in other versions, that after the river flood "king Ziusudra ... they caused to dwell in the land of the country of Dilmun, the place where the sun rises". 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-stream to Kish). 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 "land", especially a foreign country.
A Sumerian document known as the Instructions of Shuruppak dated by Kramer to about 2600 BC, refers in a later version to Ziusudra. Kramer stated "Ziusudra had become a venerable figure in literary tradition by the middle of the third millennium B.C.".
Xisuthros (Ξισουθρος) is a Hellenization of the Sumerian Ziusudra, known from the writings of Berossus, a priest of Bel in Babylon, on whom Alexander Polyhistor 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 Xisuthros 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. One saros (shar in Akkadian) stands for 3600 and hence 18 sari was translated as 64,800 years. R. M. Best argued this was a mistranslation; the archaic U4 sign meaning year was confused with the sar sign which both have a 4-sided diamond shape and that Xisuthros actually reigned 18 years.
Other ancient near-eastern flood myths
Atrahasis (recorded in a 18th C. BC Akkadian myth) and Utnapishtim (recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh, dating to the Neo-Sumerian 21st C. BC), as well as the biblical Noah are similar heroes of deluge myths of the ancient Near East.
With specific reference to Atrahasis - depending on source Atrahasis and Ziusudra are listed as son or grandson of the king Ubara-Tutu, and though the genealogies differ, brings the possibility to conflate the two.
Although each version of the flood myth has distinctive story elements, there are numerous story elements that are common to two, three, or four versions. The earliest version of the flood myth is preserved fragmentarily in the Eridu Genesis, written in Sumerian cuneiform and dating to the 17th century BC, during the 1st Dynasty of Babylon when the language of writing and administration was still Sumerian. Strong parallels are notable with other Near Eastern flood legends, such as the biblical account of Noah.
- Jacobsen, Thorkild (1939), The Sumerian King List, University of Chicago Press, pp. 69–77
- Langdon 1923, pp. 251-259.
- Best 1999, pp. 118-119.
- Langdon 1923, p.258, note 5..
- Crawford 1991, p. 19.
- Schmidt, Erik (1931), "Excavations at Fara", The Museum Journal, University of Pennsylvania's, 22 (2): 193–217
- Mallowan, M.E.L. (1964), "Noah's Flood Reconsidered", Iraq, 26 (2): 62–82, doi:10.2307/4199766, JSTOR 4199766
- Lambert & Millard 1999, p. 138.
- text of Ziusudra epic)
- Lambert & Millard 1999, p. 97.
- Best 1999, pp. 30–31.
- Kramer 1967, p.16, col.2.
- Best 1999, p. 118.
- "ETCSLtranslation : t.188.8.131.52 The death of Gilgameš", ETCSL
- "ETCSLtranslation : t.5.2.5 The poem of early rulers", ETCSL
- "ETCSLtranslation : t.5.6.1 The instructions of Šuruppag", ETCSL
- Lambert, W. G.; Millard, A. R. (1999), Atrahasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood, Eisenbrauns, ISBN 1-57506-039-6
- Best, R. M. (1999), Noah's Ark and the Ziusudra Epic, Eisenbrauns, ISBN 0-9667840-1-4
- Langdon, S. (1923), "The Chaldean Kings Before the Flood", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
- Crawford, Harriet (1991), Sumer and the Sumerians, Cambridge University Press
- Kramer, Samuel Noah (1967), "Reflections on the Mesopotamian Flood" (PDF), Expedition Magazine, Penn Museum, 9 (4), p.16, col.2
- A comparison of equivalent lines in six ancient versions of the flood story
- Ancient Near East flood myths All texts: (Ziusudra, Atrahasis, Gilgamesh, Genesis, *Berossus), commentary, and a table with parallels
- ETCSL - Text and translation of the Sumerian flood story (alternate site)
Ubara-Tutu or Shuruppak
| King of Sumer
c. legendary or 2900 BC
Jushur of Kish
| Ensi of Shuruppak
c. legendary or 2900 BC
|City flooded according to legend|