Source:Nibley:CW06:Ch24:1:Book of Ether has parallels to Ugaritic flood text elements not found in the Bible

Book of Ether has parallels to Ugaritic flood text elements not found in the Bible

Book of Ether has parallels to Ugaritic flood text elements not found in the Bible

What we wish to point out here is that there are various versions of the Flood story floating about, all of which tell some of the story, none of which tell all of it. The most ancient of these versions substantiates the Bible account to a remarkable degree. Let us place these side by side with Ether's description of the Jaredite ships, matching some twelve peculiarities of the latter with the same peculiarities of the magur-boat which was the ark of Utnapishtim, that being the Babylonian name for Noah. First the Jaredite vessels:
    1. They were built "after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built" (Ether 2:16). That is, except in some particulars, these boats were not a new design but followed an established and familiar pattern—there really were such boats.
    2. They were built "according to the instructions of the Lord" (Ether 2:16).
    3. "They were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish" (Ether 2:17).
    4. "And the ends thereof were peaked" (Ether 2:17).
    5. "And the top thereof was tight like unto a dish" (Ether 2:17).
    6. "And the length thereof was the length of a tree" (Ether 2:17). "And they were small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of fowl upon the water" (Ether 2:16).
    7. "And the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish" (Ether 2:17).
    8. "And the Lord said . . . thou shalt make a hole in the top thereof, and also in the bottom thereof; and when thou shalt suffer for air, thou shalt unstop the hole thereof, and receive air. And if it so be that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole thereof, that ye may not perish in the flood" (p. 542, Book of Mormon, 1st ed.) An exacting editor by removing those very significant thereof's has made it appear that when Jared wanted air he was to open the top window of the boat and admit fresh air from the outside. But that is not what the original edition of the Book of Mormon says. For one thing, the ships had no windows communicating with the outside—"ye cannot have windows" (Ether 2:23); each ship had an airtight door ({{s||Ether|2|17), and that was all. Air was received not by opening and closing doors and windows, but by unplugging air holes ("thou shalt unstop the hole thereof, and receive air"), this being done only when the ship was not on the surface—"when thou shalt suffer for air," i.e., when they were not able to open the hatches, the ships being submerged (Ether 2:20).
This can refer only to a reserve supply of air, and indeed the brother of Jared recognizes that the people cannot possibly survive on the air contained within the ships at normal pressure: "We shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish" (Ether 2:19). So the Lord recommended a device for trapping (compressing) air, with a "hole in the top thereof and also in the bottom thereof," not referring to the ship but to the air chamber itself. Note the peculiar language: "unstop" does not mean to open a door or window but to unplug a vent, here called a "hole" in contrast to the door mentioned in verse 17; it is specifically an air hole—"when thou shalt suffer for air, thou shalt unstop the hole thereof, and receive air" (1st ed.) When the crew find it impossible to remain on the surface—"and if it so be that the water come in upon thee" (Ether 2:20), they are to plug up the air chamber: "Ye shall stop the hole thereof, that ye may not perish in the flood." This, I believe, refers to replenishing the air supply on the surface, lest the party suffocate when submerged—"that ye may not perish in the flood."
    1. "Ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you" (Ether 2:24).
    2. "Their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with them . . . got aboard of their vessels or barges" (Ether 6:4).
    3. "The Lord . . . caused that there should be a furious wind" (Ether 6:5). "They were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind" (Ether 6:5). "The wind did never cease to blow . . . and thus they were driven . . . before the wind" (Ether 6:8).
    4. "They were many times buried in the depths of the sea" (Ether 6:6). "When they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah" (Ether 6:7). "And no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them" (Ether 6:10).

Now let us match each of these twelve points with a corresponding feature of the magur-boat that Utnapishtim built to survive the flood, not trusting our own interpretation but quoting from Hilprecht throughout:

    1. "This class of boats [writes Hilprecht], according to the Nippur version [the oldest], [were] in use before the Deluge." In historic times the type still survived but only in archaic vessels used in ritual, the gods "in their boats . . . visiting each other in their temples during certain festivals . . . the Babylonian canals, serving as means of communication for the magur-boats. . . . [Billerbeck and Delitzsch] show that a certain class of boats really had such a shape." All the main features of the prehistoric ritual divine magur-boat seem to have survived even to the present time in some of the huge river craft still found on the streams of southeast Asia—veritable arks built in the shape of Jared's barges.11
    2. "In all three versions of the Deluge story Utnapishtim receives special instructions concerning the construction of the roof or deck of the boat." Oddly enough he received instructions by conversing with Anu, the Lord of Heaven, through a screen or partition of matting, a kikkisu, such as was ritually used in the temple. In the Sumerian version God announces the Flood thus: "By the wall at my left side stand, by the wall a word will I speak to thee. . . . My pure one, my wise one, by our hand a deluge [shall be caused], the seed of mankind to destroy."
    3. There was in the ship "of course a solid lower part, strong enough to carry a heavy freight and to resist the force of the waves and the storm."
    4. "Jensen explains MA-TU as a 'deluge boat,' . . . adding, that when seen from the side it probably resembled the crescent moon. . . . Moreover, the representations of the sea-going vessels of the Tyrians and the Sidonians . . . show that a certain class of boats really had such a shape."
    5. "The principal distinguishing feature of a magur-boat [was] . . . the roof or deck of the boat. . . . We notice that in the Biblical as in the Babylonian Version great stress is laid on the preparation of a proper 'roof' or 'cover.' . . . 'Cover it with a strong deck' [Nippur Version, line 9] ' . . . with a deck as strong as the earth,' or 'let its deck be strong like the vault of heaven above' " (Second Nineveh Version, lines 2—3). It is quite plain from the emphasis on tightness in Ether that the ordinary vessel was not nearly so closely or firmly constructed.
    6. The lines containing "a brief statement concerning the measures of the ark" have been effaced in the Nippur version. The first Nineveh text says simply: "Its measures be in proportion, its width and length shall correspond." Since only one ark was built, as against eight Jaredite vessels, one would hardly expect the dimensions to be the same.
    7. "Furthermore in the First Nineveh Version the boat . . . has a door to be shut during the storm flood." The various names for the boat "designate 'a boat which can be closed by a door,' i.e., practically a 'house boat,' expressed in the Hebrew story by an Egyptian loanword, Tevah, 'ark' originally meaning 'box, chest, coffin,' an essential part of which is its 'cover' or 'lid.' "12
    8. "The boat has . . . a door to be shut during the storm flood and at least one 'air-hole' or 'window' (nappashu, line 136)." The word nappashu, meaning "breather" or "ventilator," designates no ordinary window.
    9. "The vessel built by Utnapishtim being such a 'house boat' or magur, this word could subsequently also be rendered ideographically by MA-TU, a 'deluge boat.' . . . A magur-boat, then is a 'house boat' in which gods, men and beasts can live comfortably, fully protected against the waves washing overboard, the drenching rain from above and against the inclemencies of wind and weather." The fact that the magur-boat was built to be completely submerged gives strong support to our preceding point.
    10. In a magur-boat "men and beasts live comfortably." In the second Nineveh version Utnapishtim is to take "domestic animals of the field, with wild beasts of the field, as many as eat grass." The Nippur version mentions "the beasts of the field, the birds of heaven." C. S. Coon, writing of the earliest water transportation known, says, "Dogs howled, pigs grunted, and cocks crowed on these sea-going barnyards." The idea that the oldest sailing vessels might have been built for the specific purpose of transporting men and animals together, often for vast distances, may strike the reader as strange at first, yet there is ample evidence to show that such was the case. The Asiatic river boats mentioned in point no. 1 above keep whole households afloat for months with their animals and poultry—an idea which, like the riding of buffaloes, seems utterly incomprehensible to the Western mind.
    11. "The Storm-winds with exceeding terror, all of them together raced along the deluge, the mighty tempest raged with them . . . and the mighty ship over the great waters the storm-wind had tossed." Thus the Sumerian version. "Jensen explains MA-TU as a 'deluge-boat,' seeing in it 'a boat driven by the wind,' 'A sailing vessel' . . . [But] a magur-boat was written ideographically MA-TU, literally 'a deluge boat,' not because it was a sailing boat driven by the wind or rather hurricane (abubu, shubtu), but because it possessed certain qualities which rendered its use especially effective during the deluge, when its exclusive purpose was to carry the remains of life and to protect men and beasts against the waters from below and the pouring rain from above." Though driven by the storm it had "nothing in common with a boat in full sail, (and) nowhere . . . is a sail mentioned, nor would it have been of much use in such a hurricane as described. . . . Besides, we observe that the pictures of the Tyrian boats referred to have no sails." A magur-boat was driven by the wind, but not with sails.
    12. "It shall be a house-boat carrying what is saved of life," says the Nippur version, its purpose being to preserve life and offer full protection "against the waves washing overboard."[1]


  1. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), Chapter 24, references silently removed—consult original for citations.