How to Read “Gilgamesh” The heart of the world’s oldest long poem is found in its gaps and mysteries. By Joan Acocella

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    The mid-nineteenth century was a time when very many Western people began to doubt the historical truth of the Bible. Was it really the case that we were all descended from Adam and Eve, whom God created in his own image and placed in a beautiful garden and then, by reason of their sins, banished from there? Did their descendants compound their wickedness, to the point where God decided to drown them all, in a huge flood? And did he, afterward, seeing the destruction he had wrought, make a covenant with the one surviving family, that of Noah, promising that he would never again raise his hand against his creation? “While the earth remaineth,” he decided, according to the King James Bible, “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” For many centuries, this story comforted people. Though we might sin, we could hope for God’s mercy, because that’s what he had promised to Noah.

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