Joe Barber (Oxford)
Walk about the city and see its walls: an echo of the Epic of Gilgameš in Psalm 48?
The opening of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgameš invites its audience to climb the wall of Uruk, to walk about the city, and to view its great monuments (SBV I, 13-28). This city, built by the antediluvian sages and rebuilt by the Epic’s namesake king, has been interpreted in this passage as representing the great everlasting fame of Gilgameš, the enduring feats of innumerable generations of humanity, or indeed as standing for the monumental Epic itself. This paper examines a case of cultural contact in the form of an apparent echo of these lines in Psalm 48, which praises God in part by inviting its audience to walk around and examine the city of Zion (Ps. 48, 13-14). I approach the question of intertextuality with a set of strict criteria for determining whether the psalmist could be referring, deliberately or otherwise, to the Epic of Gilgameš. On the basis of discussions of Mesopotamian and Biblical allusion by Zevit and Wisnom, I focus on cases of shared and cognate phraseology which might suggest direct allusion, as well as questioning how prominent and pervasive the echo is, how well it fits in the recipient text, and how additional meaning is generated by it. From this I conclude that this echo likely represents not only a conscious allusion, but also a case of literary competition, wherein the psalmist shows the superiority of his God over Gilgameš, his city over Uruk, and his Psalm over the Epic.