Since the time of enlightenment and biblical criticism, it has widespread the idea that the ‘authors’ of the Torah took on different Mesopotamian legends and adapted them into post captivity Judaism, by changing names of pagan deities for their God’s and other details.
That is how they ascribe the creation narrative, the universal flood, Babel tower, the decalogue, and many more biblical stories, to the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hammurabi’s Code, and other Mesopotamian tales (1). And in time, these ideas have been wining conviction among modern Christian theological colleges and churches.
BIRTH OF THE JEWISH RELIGION
It is true that our modern copies of the Old Testament followed a post Babylonian version, the same as the Judaism we know today is post exilic, after the destruction of Judea in the 70 CE.
However, we hold that religion cannot appear overnight, especially not among millions of followers. The sophistications and convictions the Jews had to reconstruct their temple, with a set version of books and specific priesthood rules, and their pre-existence as a ‘Jewish’ nation, are not something anyone ‘created’ over the 70 years that lasted their captivity. When King Nebuchadnezzar took over Judea, there was a temple, a priesthood, a Torah, and a theocratic state already existent, hardly the casual invention of Hebrew captives from after the captivity.
If then we consider that these stories were copied from other lose books and sources that guarded the previous captivity religion, we arrive to a now disappeared written source that kept alive their religion, too meticulous as to rely on contradictory oral narratives. Judaism, from whenever it started, started as a religion of the book, according to a set of sacred laws, more highly guarded and revered than any other sacred book in human history. And always, it got attributed to their Hebrew-Egyptian founder, Moses, who appeared to rescue 2 million Hebrew slaves from captivity (2), which seems to indicate that the Hebrew nation did not born casually, but that they had a determined binding elements that identified them as such. Their books said they were blood related. They were family.
By the time of Moses (Around 1500 BC), then these stories were first written, already away from Sumerian and Mesopotamian influence, and referred to the beginning of human history as they saw it.
The whole Hebrew nation proclaim a common ancestry in the character they call Abraham, who lived around 1800 BC., but who hardly left any laws or form of religion, except the idea of a single deity and a sacrificial system of worship and circumcision as only rituals. The whole of Jewish Law was born at the time of Moses, after the liberation, which preceded all Eastern contact. If any influence may have happened, it would have been Egyptian and not Babylonian or otherwise.
WHY THE SIMILITUD
Moses wrote the story of Genesis from different sources he had at hand, written and oral, but overall, from guided revelation and divine guidance. In fact, all details told in Genesis about creation, the Nephilim, the Flood, Babel and others, as well as the rituals and details of biographies, must have come from a different source to the well-known eastern legends, because even when they are similar in certain aspects, details vary greatly and almost differ from them all.
The events narrated in Genesis come from the beginning of humanity, from the time when human life was common and isolated to a small land space. After humanity expanded over the globe and became estranged from God, these early stories were mutated according to their families, and adapted into legends with extra additions.
That these all have a common ancestry, it is the base for which Gilgamesh story has also similitude with Wiracocha of the pre-Inca America, Pirrha in Greece, Gun-Yu in pre-Imperial China, and Bergermil among the Nordics in Europe.
The truth is, that the Genesis account is not based on these later human legends, but that these legends evolved from a common story known to all humanity, as it is written in Genesis, and that later were reflected in their own mythology in lands distant from each other, and who did not know one another.
(1) Gilgamesh among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic, Thedore Ziolkowski, (2012).
"The Epic of Gilgamesh", F. James Rybka, (2011).
The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic – Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts (in English and Akkadian). vol. 1 and 2, Andrew R. George, (2010).
(2) The Old Testament of the Old Testament (Overtures to Biblical Theology), R W L Moberly, (1992).
The Moses Legacy: The evidence of history, Graham Phillips, Pan (2003).
Israel and the nations: The history of Israel from the Exodus to the fall of the second Temple, F. F. Bruce, (1998).