In the biblical account of the global flood narrative, outlined in the Book of Genesis, Noah builds an ark after failing to convince humanity of its impending doom. In the Babylonian account outlined in the Gilgamesh flood story, the people help Noah, or Uta–napishti, to build the boat after being tricked into doing so by God.
New research by Cambridge Professor Dr Martin Worthington found the duplicitous language illustrating the earlier example of “fake news” in the words of a “trickster” god called Ea, cited in the 3,000-year-old Babylonian story of the Great Flood, according to the university’s website.
In the biblical account of Noah’s Ark, narrated in the Book of Genesis, the Old Testament figure builds a giant boat to save his family and pairs of all living creatures from a giant flood. However, the Epic of Gilgamesh poem, which predates the biblical account and is known from clay tablets, depicts the story a little bit differently, saying that all the people helped Noah – or Uta-napishti in the story – to build the ark.
Dr Worthington, who specializes in Assyriology of Babylonian, Assyrian and Sumerian grammar, analysed the word play in the Gilgamesh flood story to come to the conclusion that the Babylonian god Ea tricked humanity into helping Uta-napishti by dubiously threatening them with a “food” raining from the sky, which could be also understood as a warning of doom.
“Ea tricks humanity by spreading fake news. He tells the Babylonian Noah, known as Uta–napishti, to promise his people that food will rain from the sky if they help him build the ark. What the people don’t realise is that Ea’s nine-line message is a trick: it is a sequence of sounds that can be understood in radically different ways, like English ‘ice cream’ and ‘I scream’”, Dr Worthington explained.
“埃亚通过散布假新闻哄骗人类，他告诉巴比伦的诺亚，也就是乌特—那庇什提向民众许诺，如果人们帮助他建造方舟，天上就会降下食物。人们没明白的是，埃亚那九行的信息是个圈套：它是个可以用完全不同的方式理解的声音序列，就像英语里的‘冰淇淋’（ice cream）和‘我尖叫’（I scream）（两者谐音，但意思不同）。”沃辛顿博士解释道。
© AP Photo / Sang Tan
© AP 图片 / Sang Tan摄
Babylonian speaking professor, Dr Martin Worthington poses in the library of School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010
The researcher believes that Ea’s message actually warned humanity of an upcoming catastrophe, although inexplicitly, with only Uta–napishti and his family boarding the boat and surviving the flood in the end.
“With this early episode, set in mythological time, the manipulation of information and language has begun. It may be the earliest ever example of fake news”, the Cambridge professor concluded.
Worthington’s research is presented in his book Ea’s Duplicity in the Gilgamesh Flood Story, which was published last week. The study is based on a new reading of several lines in the 3,100-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh, which is considered to be the earliest surviving work of literature. Part of it is narrated on the clay tablet kept in the British Museum in London, as its significance was first discovered by Assyriologist George Smith in 1872.