Epic Of Gilgamesh And The Bible, Wisdom And Suffering Essay, Research Paper
When children ask for privileges, adults try to impress upon them the responsibilities that come along with these privileges and the associated freedoms. This is a difficult lesson to learn, and is often learned through trial and error. This relationship of privileges and responsibility is much like that of wisdom and suffering; although privileges and wisdom are great tools, they carry with them many responsibilities, and the possibility of suffering. Such relations are extremely clear in both The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Bible. This paper will discuss the general theme of these books as well as related philosophical questions to help the reader acquire an understanding of the relationship between wisdom and suffering
In The Bible, God creates Adam and Eve to till and watch over the beautiful land that he has created. In return for their obedience, he grants them everlasting life, fruit, and companionship. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Aruru creates a wild creature named Enkidu to rival the great king Gilgamesh. In both cases, the people are created innocent, with no knowledge of complicated questions and issues, such as sexuality, that plague humanity. Their loss of innocence comes in tandem with a gain in knowledge.
Although the fall of Adam and Eve is different from that of Enkidu, there are distinct similarities between the two. The problem in The Bible begins with God s lack of explanation of his prohibitions and laws. (The Bible, Genesis 2:16-17) Adam and Eve do not obey God because they choose to or because they understand his will, but rather because doing so provides rewards, as previously mentioned. When the snakes tempts them to eat of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge (The Bible, Genesis 3:1-6), they cannot resist temptation because they do not understand the logic behind the prohibition.
The loss of Enkidu’s innocence, on the other hand, is not due to any disobedience, but simply the fact that a harlot seduces him. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 64-65) Enkidu does not realize that his alliance with the harlot will change his position in the world of the beasts, and is shocked when they reject him. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 65) The beasts know that Enkidu has become a man before he fully realizes and accepts it himself.
What does a loss of innocence entail for Enkidu, Adam, and Eve? The aspects of their lives that change are remarkably similar in both cases. Adam and Eve become aware of good, evil, and their sexuality, as shown by conflicting passages before and after the fall. Before the fall, they stated, “And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed.” (The Bible, Genesis 2:25) After the fall, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” (The Bible, Genesis 3:7) They also learn shame and fear, as detailed by the following passage:
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord . . .. And he [Adam] said, ‘I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’” (The Bible, Genesis 3:8-10)
They also begin civilized behaviors, such as sewing themselves aprons. Summarized simply, Adam and Eve develop free will, independence, rational insight, and knowledge of actions. They grow divided from God and must stand on their own, although they still pray to God and see him as a powerful figure. (The Bible, Genesis 4:3)
The life of Enkidu, too, is changed remarkably. He becomes aware of his sexuality during his fall, as the harlot seduces him. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 64-65) Consequently, he develops the attributes of a human. He longs for a female comrade (specifically the harlot), to talk to. He leaves his animal inhibitions behind, and learns human ways. (The best example of this is when he loses his nakedness and becomes clothed.) He develops a desire to challenge and change the world, specifically the king Gilgamesh. Most remarkably, he hunts animals instead of living among them. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 65-68) All of these changes result in the development of independence and insight into actions and consequences.
Enkidu, Adam, and Eve have learned about the world and themselves through a fall. The fall itself is the first punishment. Enkidu is rejected from the animal world in which he lived (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 65); Adam and Eve are rejected from the grace of God and their Paradise, Eden. (The Bible, Genesis 3:23-24) What other punishments are caused by this fall?
The more tangible aspect of Adam and Eve’s punishment is inflicted from the moment God learns of their acquisition of wisdom. He condemns them to human existence and suffering, to a life of sowing their own food from the field, of childbirth for women and of death for everyone at the end of their lives. (The Bible, Genesis 14-21) Although the burden of humanity is inflicted upon them immediately, the extent to which they will suffer is probably not realized until they are immersed into this life.
Enkidu’s punishment is not apparent until much later. Upon his initial fall, the harlot comforts and flatters him to make his new life seem more suited to his talents and abilities. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 65) When Enkidu falls ill as punishment for killing the Bull of Heaven and Humbaba, he wonders if the life of humans was indeed better for him. Upon his deathbed, he curses the people who helped make him a man: the trapper who discovered and reported him to Gilgamesh, the harlot who seduced him, and even his “brother” Gilgamesh. The god Shamash becomes angry with Enkidu for cursing the harlot, who gave him life. Enkidu renounces his curse, but his sarcastic tone leaves the impression that he still believes it was not her place to decide whether his life with the beasts was appropriate for him or whether he deserved a civilized life. The question remains if the harlot brought Enkidu benefits, or if he could have fulfilled his destiny of rivaling Gilgamesh while living in the wilderness. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 89-91)
As soon as they are created, God tells Adam and Eve that if they eat of the Tree of Knowledge they will die. (The Bible, Genesis 2:17) Does his prohibition actually induce Adam and Eve to eat of the tree? Using the analogy of a child and his parents again will put this into perspective. When the parent tells a child not to play in the road, for example, the child will contradict the rules to see what will happen. The child is testing the limits of an authoritative figure. Adam and Eve have tried the same approach to the laws of God.
Prohibition and disobedience are not factors in The Epic of Gilgamesh, but Fate and the will of the gods definitely are. The goddess Aruru created him to rival Gilgamesh, but placed him in the wilderness. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 62-63) A drastic event, such as a fall, was needed for such a radical shift. However, was a fall part of the plan? Perhaps Enkidu was intended to fall to help him understand the perspective and challenges of Gilgamesh.
The theme of wisdom causing suffering recurs many times in both books. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu teaches Gilgamesh the greater things in life, (such as how to love). Because of these teachings and the wisdom Enkidu bestowed on him, Gilgamesh suffers greatly when Enkidu dies. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 93-96) At the end of the story, Urshanabi, the ferryman for Utnapishtim, is banned from Utnapishtim’s island when he reveals his knowledge to Gilgamesh. (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 115) In The Bible, the story of Job is entirely about wisdom and suffering.
A relationship of wisdom resulting in suffering has been clearly established throughout the course of these two books. With each occurrence of a gain of wisdom, an incidence of suffering occurs. This gives the distinct viewpoint that literacy and sexuality are evil and result in suffering, a viewpoint that has shaped society and the world.