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Cain, Noah, & Babel

Cain, Noah, & Babel


Previously, I looked at the mythological roots of Genesis 2–3. Let’s look at what comes next.


After ‘Adam’ and Eve are exiled from the garden paradise, they have two children, named Cain and Abel. At this point, the narrative abruptly turns away from the first man and woman to follow a story about their two sons. Later parts of the biblical narrative have no problem diving into the events of characters’ lives, but all we learn about ‘Adam’ and Eve is how they were the first man and woman, and how they brought mortality to humanity.

The world of Cain and Abel is remarkably different from what should be the case, given they are only the third and fourth humans to exist yet in Genesis’ narrative. After Cain kills Abel, Cain is afraid of people out in the world who will kill him, and he later has a wife. Despite the popular interpretation, these people are never identified as Cain’s own siblings. Instead, Cain is introduced alongside a world that already has existing professions, religious rituals, and a full population outside of his own family. These details betray that Genesis has taken two independent stories — one with just two people in all the earth, another with developed society and culture — and invented the parents-children relationship to weld them together.

Cain is identified as a ‘tiller of the earth’, and Abel as a ‘keeper of sheep’. They each bring an offering to Yhwh, who accepts Abel’s but rejects Cain’s. In his anger, Cain lures Abel out to a field, where he kills him. Later interpreters sought to explain Yhwh’s preference for Abel by suggesting he offered his best sheep, while Cain offered mediocre crops. Beyond this simple interpretation, which is not unambiguously presented by the text, why should the shepherd’s offering be received and the farmer’s offering rejected?

This same theme is found in a few myths from the ancient Near East. In the Sumerian Dumuzi and Enkimdu, the shepherd-god and the farmer-god debate which of them is superior. After a goddess apparently declares the shepherd-god Dumuzi the better of the two, he seeks to fight his rival, the farmer-god Enkimdu, in a field to display his supremacy, but Enkimdu yields. In another Sumerian story, The Debate Between Sheep and Grain, the supreme god An creates his pantheon, the Anuna, and together they create Sheep and Grain and give them to the earth to help feed humanity. When everything seems to be going well, Sheep and Grain get drunk and begin to fight about the fields. They debate back and forth, until finally the god Enki determines that Grain is superior.

The story of Cain and Abel is the Israelite version of this traditional myth: we have a rivalry between sheep/shepherd and grain/farmer, a fight in a field, and a god displaying his preference for one profession over the other.

While one pervasive biblical tradition indicates Yhwh was originally a god from Edom before being adopted by the Israelites, and another had Yhwh identify himself to Moses after the Hebrew man married the daughter of Jethro the Midianite priest (Exo 3.1, Midian being the southern neighbor to Edom), yet another tradition has Moses instead married to the daughter of Hobab the Kenite (Judges 1.16; 4.11).

Cain’s name in Hebrew is identical to the root word of the ‘Kenite’ tribe.1 Num 24.21–22 testifies to the strength of the Kenite tribe, but mentions how they were exiled by Assyria. Recent years have seen some scholars advocating for a revised ‘Kenite Hypothesis’, which was popular more than a century ago. In this view, Cain’s exile to a land east of Eden is a deliberate reference to the Kenite tribe’s nomadism and their exile into Assyria,2 making this myth fill a second etiological function: the Kenite tribe’s historical fate.3

The First City

In the course of tying his sources together, the author of Genesis sometimes redacts or interpolates details to cover the seams. One example is identifying the first man and woman as Cain’s parents. Another is the revision of ‘the man’, hā-ʾadam, into the proper noun ‘Adam’ in Gen 4.25 and 5.1–5.

Another possible redaction is to be found in the building of the first city. Cain’s story continues with his exile to the east, this time completely out of Eden into the land of Wandering, Nod. There, he and his wife have a son, Enoch, and Cain builds a city, which he also names Enoch. In Gen 4.19–22, the narrator follows a format of introducing a son who is born, then identifying an achievement that son is responsible for. This is a classic etiology, explaining the origin of cultural milestones.

Yet, this format isn’t followed in Gen 4.17–18, if Cain is the one who builds the city after his son is introduced. While the second half of the verse says ‘he named it Enoch after his son Enoch’, the first half of the verse is actually ambiguous as to who did the building: ‘Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city’. The natural antecedent of ‘he built’ would be Enoch, especially when taken in light of the format followed later in the same paragraph.

In various Mesopotamian mythologies, the first city to be built in the age before a world-ending flood was Sumerian Eridu or Akkadian Irîtu.

He founded the five cities in […] pure places, called their names, apporitoned them as cult-centers. The first of these cities, Eridu, he gave to Nudimmud the leader4
When kingship was lowered from heaven, kingship was [first] in Eridu.5
A holy house, a house of the gods, its dwelling, had not been made. All the lands were sea, the spring which is in the sea was a water pipe. Then Eridu was made, Esagila was built6

Enoch’s son’s name, ‘Irad’, is suspiciously similar to this Mesopotamian city. This point, along with the genealogical format mentioned above, and the mention of several other Mesopotamian cities in the early chapters of Genesis,7 has led some scholars to suggest the latter two uses of ‘Enoch’ in Gen 4.17 (‘he named it Enoch after his son Enoch’) are interpolations from Genesis’ author.8 If we follow this idea, the text may be emended to read:

Genesis 4

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city and named it after his son; to Enoch was born Irad.

This appears to be the Israelite equivalent to the Mesopotamian myth of the first city, Eridu or Irîtu.


Most readers will notice the sharp change in writing style between Cain’s genealogy in Gen 4 and Seth’s genealogy in Gen 5. This is because the genealogy in Gen 5 is, in fact, a complete revision of Cain’s genealogy. Just as Gen 4.1–2a was written to bridge the myth of Eden with the myth of Cain, so also was Gen 4.25–26 written to bridge the myth of Cain with this revised genealogy.

The author of this later source — typically called P, while the earlier source is designated J; I will follow this naming convention below — drops the article ‘the’, , from ‘the man’, hā-ʾadam, turning it into his name, ‘Adam’. He also invents a replacement for Abel, ‘Seth’, and his son, ‘Enosh’. Next, he alters a few spellings slightly, and rearranges a couple of names.

Genesis 4

Genesis 5

Adam (ʾDM)

Adam (ʾDM)



Cain (QYN)

Cainan (QYNN)

Enoch (ḤNWK)

Mahalalel (MHLLʾL)

Irad (ʿYRD)

Yared (YRD)

Mehuyael (MḤWYʾL)

Enoch (ḤNWK)

Methushael (MTWŠʾL)

Methushelah (MTWŠLḤ)

Lamech (LMK)

Lamech (LMK)

Yabal, Yubal, Tubalcain, Naamah


The implication of Gen 4.25–26 is that Seth’s lineage is righteous. They ‘invoke the name of Yhwh’, the seventh descendant ‘walked with God’, and the tenth generation is Noah, ‘blameless in his generation’. However, the simple fact of this revision of Cain’s genealogy is seen in how Gen 5 sets up and follows a specific format for each generation, beginning with Adam.

Genesis 5

When [Patriarch] had lived for [some] years, he became the father of [Son]. [Patriarch] lived after the birth of [Son] for [many] years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of [Patriarch] were [total] years; and he died.

Enoch also follows this format, though with the twist that he — being the seventh, a symbolically significant number9 — is exceptionally righteous, and appears to undergo some kind of apotheosis. The format continues as usual, until we get to Lamech’s fathering of Noah, which suddenly reverts to the writing style of the previous chapter.

J follows a theme concerned for humanity’s relationship with the earth: Yhwh molds man from earth (2.7), Yhwh curses the man’s work of the earth (3.17–19), and Yhwh curses Cain’s work of the earth even further (4.3,10–12). Now, Noah is the one who will lift Yhwh’s curse on the earth (5.29). The obvious conclusion is that Noah’s birth in Gen 5 has been removed from its proper place in Gen 4. A possible reconstruction might look like this:

Genesis 4

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and named it after his son; to Enoch was born Irad. And Irad was the father of Mehuyael, and Mehuyael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech. Lamech took two wives; the name of one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubalcain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.

Lamech said to his wives: ‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’

Lamech became the father of a son, and he named him Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that Yhwh has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.’

Yhwh lifts the curse on the earth (8.21), and Noah becomes ‘a man of the earth’ (Gen 9.20). This manifests with Noah planting the first vineyard. Just as Lamech’s son Jabal became the father of nomadic herders, and Lamech’s son Jubal became the father of musicians, and Lamech’s son Tubalcain became the father of blacksmiths, so also Lamech’s son Noah became the father of vintners.

The Flood

The curse’s imminent end is introduced with Noah’s birth, and finds fulfillment in his planting a vineyard. Between these two bookends we have the world-ending flood. After P’s revised genealogy in Gen 5, the next chapter begins with the arrival of ‘sons of God’ on the earth; they take human women as their wives, and their children are the Nephilim (interpreted as ‘Giants’ within the Hebrew Bible and its earliest Greek translation). The Nephilim are called ‘heroes’ and ‘warriors’, and soon after Yhwh laments the immense wickedness that has spread throughout humanity. Yhwh sends a flood to destroy all life on the earth, but he rescues Noah’s family and representatives of all animals with a huge boat.

The ‘sons of God’ were the Canaanite ‘sons of El’, the pantheon of gods which originally included Yhwh, though he was later identified as its ruler. The Nephilim, then, would be demigods, children of the gods. The story in Gen 6.1–4 is often regarded as truncated in its current form, but appears to be used here to explain the emergence of the evil which warranted Yhwh’s decision to send a flood.

It has been recognized for more than a century that Gen 6–9 contains two different versions of the flood myth — J and P again — which are weaved together. A careful reader can easily distinguish them by their preferred vocabulary and themes. The seams can be found between roughly every paragraph, though sometimes they are intermixed between or within individual sentences.

In J, Noah takes seven pairs of clean animals on his boat. The flood comes seven days after his family enters the boat, and continues for forty days. After these forty days, Noah opens a window in the boat to send out a dove, which returns to him. He waits seven days, then sends the dove again, which returns with an olive branch. Another seven days and he sends it a third time, this time with the dove not returning. Noah leaves the boat and sacrifices some of the surplus clean animals, and Yhwh accepts the sacrifice, declaring the earth’s curse lifted. Noah plants the first vineyard. In this earlier version, ‘Yhwh’ is heavily anthropomorphized, the symbolic numbers seven and forty recur throughout, and Noah’s role as a priest is stressed. This flood myth comes from the same source that combined the Eden myth with the Cain myth, and continues the motif of the earth’s curse.

P instead identifies the supreme deity as simply ‘God’ (the name ‘Yhwh’ is absent), the specific dimensions of the boat are described, precise dates are mentioned, and the amount of time which passes is different.10 Only one pair of every animal is taken on the boat, but this author remembers their need for food. Noah sends out a raven just once, which continues to fly around until the ground is dry. God instructs Noah to leave the boat, then creates the rainbow as the symbol of his promise never to flood the whole earth again. This author picks up themes found in Gen 1.27–28 and 5.1–2, implying common authorship.

The Sumerian Gilgamesh epic was a sort of ancestor to the Eden myth: a snake robs the protagonist of his chance to consume a plant which grants immortality. A later part of the Gilgamesh epic (along with its predecessor, the nearly identical Akkadian myth Atrahasis) also stands distantly in the background of Gen 6–9. Gilgamesh seeks out that secret of immortality after his friend Enkidu dies. Gilgamesh’s quest leads him to Utnapishtim, a survivor of the world before the flood.

The story of Utnapishtim (and Atrahasis) is very different from either J or P in Gen 6–9, but it has many details undeniably similar to the two biblical accounts, especially J: the boat of salvation, the protagonist rescues his family and pairs of animals, the boat comes to rest on a mountain, the protagonist opens a window in the boat to send out birds, and the protagonist makes a sacrifice to the gods once he is safe.

In Eridu Genesis, the priest-king Ziusudra is chosen by one of the gods to build a boat to preserve life through the flood. The text is heavily fragmented here, but the commission is probably the same as found in Gilgamesh and Atrahasis. The flood comes after seven days, and when it abates the protagonist opens a window to see the sunlight, and makes a sacrifice after he is safe.

Much like Noah’s name means ‘rest’ (from the curse on the earth), these other three flood heroes have symbolic names: Utnapishtim means ‘he found life’, Atrahasis ‘exceedingly wise’, and Ziusudra ‘life of long days’.

The story of Noah planting the first vineyard, which concludes J’s flood myth, ends in tragedy. Noah becomes drunk from the wine he makes and passes out naked in his tent. His second son Ham discovers the scene and tells Noah’s other two sons, Shem and Japheth. When Noah wakes up, he pronounces a curse over Canaan, Ham’s son. Interpreters have puzzled over why Noah should curse Ham’s son rather than Ham himself. A common view is that Ham seeing the ‘nakedness’ of his father is a euphemism meaning Ham had sex either with Noah or with Noah’s wife (cf. Lev 18.7–8). This explanation completely ignores that the narration directly says Noah ‘lay uncovered in his tent’ and that Shem and Japheth ‘took a garment […] and covered the nakedness of their father’. The simpler explanation is that Ham literally saw Noah naked and told his siblings.11

In the space of five sentences, Genesis informs the reader twice that ‘Ham was the father of Canaan’ (Gen 9.18,22). The author’s introduction of Canaan into the narrative is sudden; the insistence that Ham was his father is awkward. Meanwhile, Noah’s curse on Canaan doesn’t mention Ham at all, but it does identify Shem and Japheth as Canaan’s ‘brothers’ (9.25). These details show that the story has suffered redaction. It could be that Noah originally cursed Ham, and Canaan has been inserted into the story. Or, it could be that Canaan was originally Noah’s son in one tradition, which has been almost entirely replaced by an alternate tradition containing Ham.

Whatever the case, the text as it now stands is foreshadowing of the post-exodus conquest of the land of Canaan by the Hebrews. Just as Cain’s exile was an etiology for the fate of the Kenite tribe, so also Canaan’s curse here is an etiology justifying the Israelite tradition of Joshua invading the promised land and killing the native inhabitants.12


The ‘table of nations’ in Gen 10, like the flood story, is constructed from two separate sources. One of them, possibly inserted by P, comes later. The earlier ‘table’ resembles the writing style of J. It is in J’s table of nations that we read about a man named Nimrod.

Genesis 10

Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior. He was a mighty hunter before Yhwh; therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before Yhwh.’ The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Akkad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

In this tantalizingly scant reference to Nimrod (he is mentioned just twice more, in Mic 5.6 and 1 Chr 1.10), he is attached to an apparently well-known idiom for being a ‘mighty hunter’,13 and he is responsible for establishing a kingdom consisting of famous Mesopotamian cities: Babylon (Babel), Uruk (Erech), Akkad, Nineveh, and Kalḫu (Calah). The attachment of importance to Babylon, Nineveh, and Kalḫu suggest the story originated after all three achieved such a status.14 The primacy of Babylon is taken by some to suggest the story was written when Babylon was the dominant political power.15

It should be noted that Nimrod is not credited with building Babylon or the other cities of Shinar16 (10.10), unlike the statement that he does build Nineveh and the cities of Assyria (10.11). Babylon exists before Nimrod comes along.17

The ancient Greek translation of Genesis identified Nimrod as a ‘Giant’, γίγᾱς, the same word used to translate both ‘Nephilim’ and ‘warriors’ in Gen 6.4. This implies Nimrod was to be identified as one of the Giants, an interpretation found in On the Giants by Philo of Alexandria. (The Nephilim are later seen in Numbers, and are connected to Goliath and other Philistine warriors. How the Nephilim survived the flood is left unexplained in the Hebrew Bible. The flood narrative, even doubled as it is, appears to be a later addition to Genesis than the surrounding text. An earlier version of Noah’s folktale was likely focused on his role in more directly lifting the curse on the ground.)

Some scholars identify Nimrod as an adaptation of the story of Ninus, found in Persica, written about 400 BCE. Fewer still argue the author of J lifted Nimrod from the Babyloniaca of Berossus, written 290–278 BCE. This would mean J was written in the middle of the third century BCE, and Genesis near the end of the century at the earliest.18 Given that the Septuagint — the Greek translation of the Torah — was written at the beginning of the third century BCE, this theory seems very doubtful to me.

An additional layer to Nimrod’s identity is that Gen 10.8 says he was a son of Cush, which (as mentioned in the earlier article on Eden) referred to a land south in Africa, not Mesopotamia. Van der Toorn cites Bustenay Oded to suggest that Nimrod’s simultaneous connection to Cush and Mesopotamia was because they ‘represented “the settled and organized branch of civilization, in contrast to the nomads and their tribal confederations”’.19 Others propose Nimrod’s identity as a son of ‘Cush’ resulted from the corruption of a Mesopotamian region or city with a similar name, such as Kish, the first city settled after the world-ending flood in the Sumerian King List.20

There were early efforts to connect Nimrod to the Babylonian god Marduk (rendered as ‘Merodach’ in the Hebrew Bible), since the Babylonian creation myth Enûma Eliš shows Marduk slay the monster-goddess Tiamat, become established as king of the pantheon, and construct Babylon.

Now, it is considered much more likely that Nimrod is a late derivation of Ninurta, a Sumerian god of (among other things) hunting. Van der Toorn lays out the qualifications for this theory: ancient texts describe the trophies Ninurta won in his hunts, and Assyrian kings of the tenth century BCE compared their own hunting prowess to Ninurta. He is credited with founding Mesopotamian civilization, thanks to his establishment of agriculture in the region, and the other gods grant him the authority to be their king.

Van der Toorn also sees the progression of Nimrod’s rule from Shinar in the southeast over to Assyria in the northwest as reflecting ‘the political history of Mesopotamia’; religious devotion to Ninurta followed this geographical shift in power.21 By the time this mythology reached J, Ninurta had been ‘mortalized’ as Nimrod, now a man, albeit one responsible for the foundation of Mesopotamian civilization.


The word translated ‘Babel’ in Gen 10–11 is the exact same word translated more familiarly as ‘Babylon’ in every other part of the Hebrew Bible. The name ‘Babylon’ comes from the Greek translation of Akkadian Bābilim. The biblical account in Gen 11.1–9 explains the name of the city as meaning ‘confusion’, a play on the verb bālal, used when Yhwh ‘confused all the languages’. This is a late folk etymology, common in J. The Babylonians had their own explanation for the city’s name.

The first reference to the city of Babylon comes from chronographic and omen literature, which attribute the name of the city to Sargon of Akkad. He allegedly dug up a mound of dust from Babylon and set it up near his own city of Akkad in a symbolic act stressing his role as conqueror. It as at this time that he named the place “Babylon.” […] Once the city of Babylon rose to political preeminence under Hammurapi […] its naming is no longer a royal achievement but is elevated to a divine pronouncement. In the opening paragraphs of the Code of Hammurapi, the naming of the city is attributed to the gods Anu and Enlil […] Similarly, in the Babylonian Creation Epic (the so-called Enûma Eliš), Marduk himself announces that he has built and named the city as residence for his divine fathers: “I shall call [its] name [Babylon], (meaning) “House of the Great Gods.”22

The ‘tower of Babel’ is made from fired mud bricks, which are laid in bitumen, with ‘its top in the heavens’. Many scholars are convinced this story portrays the construction of a ziggurat, which were step-pyramid temples found throughout Mesopotamia.23 Many ziggurats had names identifying their purposes. One of the most famous, and the probable inspiration for this story, is the huge Babylonian ziggurat named Etemenanki, whose name means ‘Temple of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth’. The Babylonian king Nabopolassar, when he restored the crumbling ziggurat, describes the result: it was made from mud bricks, which were laid in bitumen, and ‘its top vie[d] with the heavens’.24

While Gen 11.1–9 doesn’t reference the ziggurat’s function as a religious site, the story is nevertheless a polemic against Babylon. Saying Babylon owes its name to ‘confusion’ shows the story was meant to delegitimize Babylonian rule. Etiologies intended to shame Israel’s enemies with degrading origins are common throughout Genesis, and this one is no exception: Babylon got on God’s bad side. After the people in the yet-unnamed city begin building their tower, Yhwh surveys their efforts, then speaks to others in heaven (11.7). The ‘us’ are never identified in the text, but given Israel’s thoroughly polytheistic past, this is likely a remnant of ‘the divine council’, the pantheon the biblical authors believed Yhwh presides over.25

The function of the myth (aside from maligning Babylon as an enemy of God from its very beginning) is to explain the diversity of languages. Gen 11 has all people living in one place, speaking a single language. Mentioned above, Gen 10 contains two ‘table of nations’ intermixed, one from J and one from P. When they are separated, it becomes evident that J’s table of nations followed after Gen 11.1–9, in order to show the aftermath of Yhwh confusing the languages and scattering the people. (This explains why Babylon already exists when Nimrod comes on the scene.) Hence, J contradicts P’s table of nations, the latter portraying Noah’s descendants as spreading across the earth by their own volition, with their own languages developing as a natural consequence (10.5, 20, 31).

Notably, in the Sumerian myth Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, Enmerkar seeks to build a ziggurat in Eridu and implores the god Enki to unify the languages of all the earth. We can’t be certain this earlier legend had any influence on the biblical myth, but the parallels are striking anyway.


The mythology of Eden had most of its parallels in Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian texts. The location of Eden is even situated just west of Mesopotamia. Following this trend, most of the stories in J’s contribution to Gen 4–11 find their closest analogues in Mesopotamian myths and legends. The broad strokes point to J’s origins during the seventh century BCE at the earliest, though the polemic against Babylon in Gen 11.1–9 requires a later authorship.

This is reflected by Abram’s exit from ‘Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan’ in Gen 11.31. Outside of just three references in Genesis, the term ‘Chaldea’ is only found in biblical literature written after the rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire in the late seventh century. Abram’s journey to Canaan from Chaldea is probably meant to mirror the end of the Babylonian exile, when the Judeans returned to Israel.

While Genesis is meant to explain Israel’s past, it is not a history, as it has traditionally been read. It is a collection of myths, legends, and folklore, collected and edited together at various stages, until it reached a shape close to the canonical book in the late sixth century BCE at the earliest.


1 John Day, From Creation to Babel: Studies in Genesis 1–11, 51–52.

2 If Eden is to be identified with the region of northern Lebanon and western Assyria, as biblical texts indicate, then Cain’s exile east of Eden (4.16) would place him in Assyria’s center.

3 Day, Creation, 53–54.

4 Eridu Genesis: adapted from S.N. Kramer, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James Pritchard), 43.

5 Sumerian King List: Pritchard, 265.

6 Enuma Elish: Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, 62.

7 Babylon, Uruk, Akkad, Nineveh, and Calah are mentioned in Gen 10.10–12. Abram’s father Terah also comes from Ur in Gen 11.28.

8 Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic, 248–249. Contrast John Day From Creation to Babel, 57; Day sees the first city as built by Cain, in reference to ‘the cities of the Kenites’ of 1 Sam 30.29.

9 The material in Gen 5 and 11 form a single genealogy. Together, they show humans living unfathomably long lives before the flood, while human lifespans rapidly decrease to normal lengths after the flood. This parallels an idea conveyed in the Sumerian King List, suggesting the author of Gen 5 and 11 has been influenced by it. Enoch’s lifespan is comparatively shorter, a ‘mere’ 365 years. This is met with widespread recognition that he is connected to a solar calendar. In the Sumerian King List, the kingship relocates to the city Sippar when the seventh king, Emmeduranki, takes the throne. Sippar had a sect dedicated to the solar god Utu/Shamash. Enoch’s connection to the sun seems to be a remnant of Emmeduranki.

10 The boat is 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits tall. Mountains are buried 15 cubits underwater. The flood increases for 150 days, then decreases for 150 days. These measurements show the author used a sexagesimal numeral system, which was known throughout Mesopotamia.

11 Cf. Exo 20.26, via Arie Versluis, The Command to Exterminate the Canaanites: Deuteronomy 7, 273.

12 Nahum Sarna, ‘The Anticipatory Use of Information as a Literary Feature of the Genesis Narratives’, The Creation of Sacred Literature: Composition and Redaction of the Biblical Text (ed. Richard Friedman), 76ff. Sarna agrees Gen 9.20–27 has undergone redaction, but he suggests it is not as haphazard as usually thought. Sarna highlights the identification of Ham with Egypt in parts of the Hebrew Bible, as well as comparisons made of Egypt and Canaan, especially in the Torah. He agrees with the common use of Lev 18 and 20 in interpreting Canaan’s curse, and sees Gen 9.20–27 as a condemnation of both Egypt and Canaan for sexual immorality, justifying both Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their conquest of Canaan.

13 In an episode of the Looney Tunes cartoon, Bugs Bunny sarcastically refers to Elmer Fudd as ‘Nimrod’, mocking his poor hunting skills. Viewers misinterpreted the insult as Bugs calling Elmer stupid, and the misinterpretation stuck.

14 Karel van der Toorn, ‘Nimrod Before and After the Bible’, HTR 83.1, 4–5. The other two cities mentioned in Gen 10.8–12, Rehoboth-ir and Resen, do not correspond to any known cities of the ancient world, and may not even be cities. No explanations of their names have received widespread acceptance, but Van der Toorn offers Jack Sasson’s solution that ‘Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir’ should be read as ‘Nineveh, a most vast city’.

15 Russell Gmirkin, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus, 114.

16 ‘Shinar’ is mentioned just eight times in the Hebrew Bible: one reference can be found in each Joshua, Isaiah, Zechariah, and Daniel, and the other four in Genesis. It appears to be a rare term for the region of Babylon, as opposed to the city itself. This is corroborated by other ancient texts, which refer to the region as Sngr (Egyptian) or Šanḫar (Hittite).

17 Day, Creation, 178–179.

18 Gmirkin, Berossus, 117.

19 Van der Toorn, ‘Nimrod’, 6–7.

20 Terry Fenton, ‘Nimrod's Cities: An Item from the Rolling Corpus’, Genesis, Isaiah, and Psalms (ed. Katharine Dell, Graham Davies, Yee Von Koh), 30.

21 Van der Toorn points out that the biblically obscure Kalḫu was ‘the principal center of the Assyrian cult of Ninurta’. Additionally, ‘Resen’ is understood by some as a corruption of Dur-Sharrukin, the Assyrian capital city built in the late eighth century BCE, which contained a temple to Ninurta (Van der Toorn, ‘Nimrod’, 13–14; Fenton, ‘Nimrod's Cities’, 28).

22 Bill Arnold, Who Were the Babylonians?, 32 (bracketed text original).

23 Day, Creation, 171–172.

24 Ibid., 172.

25 Mark Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, 90.


  1. Anonymous25.11.23

    When it comes to Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, do you know if it’s generally accepted that the story is a clear parallel to the Tower of Babel story (and also that it influenced it)? I’ve heard it said that Samuel Kramer’s translation of the text is outdated and that newer translations actually have almost no parallels to the Babel story at all. Do you know if this is accurate?

    1. My comment in the article addresses the question of influence.

    2. Anonymous25.11.23

      Thanks for the reply, Mark.

      I actually read the part in your article about it, but it was only brief, so I thought you might be able to provide more information. I actually read through John Day’s book again and found out that he had already addressed it anyway. But thanks again for the reply!