Historic reading of the flood myth shows us how the ancient Israelites understood their place in the universe, their relationship to God, their relationship to other nations, and God’s feelings toward and desires for them.
A historical reading of the story of Noah can tell us many things about the ancient Israelites. McDermott explains how comparing the Biblical account of the flood to a similar and undoubtedly related story in the epic of Gilgamesh helps demonstrate the worldview of the ancient Israelites. First of all, the prevalence of such tales across a diversity of cultures suggests to modern readers “that there must have been some wide event behind them” (McDermott 31-2). However, as tantalizing as this information is, it is not specific to the Pentateuch. More interesting are the differences between the two views of God and intention. In particular, the Gilgamesh account portrays a world with many gods, who do not always agree, and who do not entirely control the universe. There is an element of chaos and lack of control in the Gilgamesh account, with a renegade god and an unplanned survivor. The Genesis account, on the other hand, naturally speaks of one, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all merciful god who set out to create the exact flood and the exact result delineated in the story of Noah. This represents a huge shift in religious thought.
In Gilgamesh, the flood “is simply an arbitrary act” (McDermott 33) while in Genesis it is done for the purpose of giving “creation a second chance to live righteously” (McDermott 33). In Gilgamesh, the survivor is an accident, while Noah is part of God’s plan. In Gilgamesh, the flood “was so terrifying that even the gods were frightened and retreated to the high heaven” (McDermott 32); in Genesis, God “remembered Noah and all the wild animals and domestic animals that were with him