Are some of the Bible’s best-known stories—the Flood, for example—borrowed from the literatures of Mesopotamia or Egypt? As the accompanying book review indicates, that is a matter for continuing scholarly debate. On one passage, however, there is little disagreement. Scholars now widely believe that Ecclesiastes 9:7–9—which recommends enjoying life while one can—was inspired by the section in the Old Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh epic in which the hero (Gilgamesh) is advised to stop seeking immortality and, instead, to live it up while he lives. A comparison of the passages follows:
When the gods created mankind, Death for mankind they set aside, Life in their own hands retaining.
As for you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full, Make merry day and night. Of each day make a feast of rejoicing
Go, eat your bread in gladness And drink your wine in joy; For your action was long ago approved by God.
Day and night dance and play! Let your garments be sparkling fresh, Your head be washed.
Let your clothes always be freshly washed, And your head never lack ointment.
Bathe in water. Pay heed to a little one that holds on to your hand. Let a spouse delight in your bosom,
See life with a woman you love,
All the fleeting days of life that you have been granted under the sun—all your fleeting days.
For this is the task of [woman(?)].
For this alone is what you can get out of life and out of the means you acquire under the sun.