Stories of creation exist in every religion and have been passed down for generations in their respective cultures. Striking similarities are readily seen between the Book of Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh of the Hebrews and Sumerians respectively. Both sources include a tale of a great flood that was to clear the earth of its inhabitants. Although the Epic of Gilgamesh predates the Book of Genesis by hundreds of years, the Sumerian text probably had a profound influence over the latter.
In both stories of the great deluge the flood is created by the gods or God to punish men for their sins, and is intended to wipe out all living creatures as well. Both Utnapishtim in Gilgamesh and Noah in Genesis are previously notified of the event and are told to build a boat of grand proportions, bringing along the seed of all living things to repopulate the earth when all is done.
A few other parallel details are seen between the tales. Noah releases a raven and three doves to search for land. In Gilgamesh Utnapishtim releases a raven, a dove, and a swallow to achieve the same. Both stories reveal as well that the vessels land on top of a mountain. Even though the stories name different mountains, the general locations of each are relatively in the same proximity.
Apart from the similarities, there are crucial differences that should be examined. The most obvious discrepancy is the duration of the flood. The Sumerian account states that the Earth was flooded for six days and nights, contrary to the much longer Hebrew version of it being forty days and nights. Following the flood Noah is given the task to proliferate life back onto the Earth, however Utnapishtim is granted eternal life.
Obviously, there is a striking relation between the two accounts of the flood. If the Hebrews did indeed borrow the ideas of the flood from the Sumerians, some may ask why there are still differences. The number forty is seen a lot in Hebrew writing to describe an extended time period, which may or may not have been the actual duration.