The calendrical framework of the priestly flood story in light of a new Akkadian text from Ugarit (RS 94.2953).

Author:Darshan, Guy
Position:Critical essay


The calendrical details that appear within the Priestly version of the biblical Flood story have attracted much attention from various perspectives. (1) P refers to the precise day and month of the event on five occasions. The flood commenced "... in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on this day all the fountains of the abyss were broken up, and the flood-gates of heaven were opened" (Gen. 7:11). The Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat "in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month" (Gen. 8:4). In "the tenth month, on the first day of the month" the waters decreased and the tops of the mountain were seen (Gen. 8:5). After the waters dried up "in the first month, the first day of the month" (Gen. 8:13), the earth finally became dry "in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month" (Gen. 8:14). (2)

Although this chronological tendency would appear to be a typical feature of the P source in the Pentateuch, no other story in the Pentateuch displays such a nature. Moreover, the remainder of the Priestly description of Israelite history up until the Exodus contains no temporal notations at all, and their presence in the pre-Exodus story in the Priestly narrative appears anachronistic. Only at the Exodus does God specify that the month in which he will set the people free "shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you" (Exod. 12:2). Having established the Exodus from Egypt as the chronological ab quo, the Priestly author subsequently dates each event that occurs in relation to this event--including the wandering in the wilderness (Exod. 16:1; 19:1; 40:2, 17; Num. 1:18; 9:3, 5; 10:11; 20:1; 33:3, 38; Deut. 1:3) and the days on which particular commandments are to be observed (Exod. 12:3, 6, 18; Lev. 16:28; 23:5, 6, 24, 27, 32, 34, 39; 25:9; Num. 9:3, 11; 28:16, 17; 29:1, 7, 12). As William Propp notes, "in the Priestly calendar all dates implicitly commemorate the Exodus." (3)

Despite the Priestly author's evident interest in dates, periods, and life spans, he conspicuously refrains from giving dates to any of the events that occurred prior to the Israelites' liberation from Egypt--such as that on which God revealed himself to the Patriarchs, the day on which Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah--or mentioning which day of which month the Israelites went down to Egypt, etc. He thus appears to have believed that, prior to the Exodus, there was no need of a fixed calendar. It was only when Israel became a nation that God set a date from which the counting started.

This attitude corresponds to the Priestly view that the Israelites' central religious institutions and tenets were formed after the Exodus. Thus, for example, God became known by the name YHWH only after he revealed himself to Moses in Egypt (Exod. 6:3), and the system of the cult developed only following the erection of the Tabernacle (Lev. 17:8-9). According to P, this fact explains why Noah did not take seven pairs from the clean beasts in the ark, from which he offered burnt offerings following the Flood--as J portrays the protagonist of the Flood hero as doing (cf. Gen. 7:2; 8:20).

The only Priestly pre-Exodus narrative to be framed in explicitly chronological terms being the Flood account, we must inquire as to why this is so and why this method is adopted only in this story. Claus Westermann has argued that the precise dates given to the different stages of the Flood "must be a contribution of P himself and that it could not have been in the tradition he received." (4) As indicated above, however, this method is inconsistent with the P source. Others have suggested that P is based here on a text similar to Jubilees, the biblical text thus reflecting the calendar controversy among the Jewish intellectual leadership during the Second Temple period. (5) However, this proposal not only fails to explain why only the Flood story was influenced by such texts or controversies, but radically changes the common dating of sources similar in nature to Jubilees. (6) The theory that this calendrical system must be understood in light of the Babylonian calendar similarly ignores the fact that the principal extant accounts of the Flood story in Mesopotamia--such as the Sumerian Flood story, Atrahasis, or the Epic of Gilgamesh--contain no calendrical or precise temporal framework. (7)

In this article, I suggest that a recently republished Akkadian text from Ugarit--RS 94.2953--and Berossus' account in the Babyloniaca may provide proof that P takes its model of the Flood account from earlier ancient Near Eastern versions that employed a precise dating system.


The small text from Ugarit known as RS 94.2953--first discovered in 1994--was published in 2007 by Daniel Arnaud. Its fourteen lines constitute a first-person account of how Ea appeared to the story's protagonist and commanded him to use tools to make a window (aptu) at the top of the construction he was building, and how he implemented this directive. (8)

Not finding any link between this fragment and other extant Akkadian literary texts and noting the strongly peripheral local character of its script and style, Arnaud suggested that it comprises a singular Akkadian version of the installation of a window (hln) in Baal's temple known from the Ugaritic Baal Epic (KTU 1.4 VII 14-28). He therefore named it "La construction du temple de Bacal." Despite the fact that--to the best of our knowledge--no other examples of Akkadian translations of Ugaritic literary texts exist and despite the absence in this text of any reference to Baal, a temple, or any involvement in the building project itself on the part of the craft-god Kothar/Ea, scholars have tended to accept this suggestion, either fully or partially. (9)

Rather surprisingly, Antoine Cavigneaux's corrections to Arnaud's reading of this fragment appear to have largely escaped scholarly notice. (10) These emendations reveal a text that is considerably more consistent with our knowledge about the literary corpus of the Akkadian schools of scribes in Western Asia during the second millennium B.C.E. (11) Cavigneaux's reading, accompanied by my English translation, runs as follows:

  1. ina pi bibli ina res arhi At the start of the time (12) of the...

To continue reading