Scientists think this 3,000-year-old story might be the ‘earliest example of fake news’

Thursday 28 November 2019 13:15

“Fake news” may be a relatively new term, but it turns out the concept may have been around for 3,000 years.

While Noah’s ark is probably the only “great flood” story that comes to mind for many of us, it turns out it wasn’t actually the first of its kind. A Babylonian story engraved on 3,000-year-old clay tablets forming part of the Epic of Gilgamesh tells a similar tale of a flood sent to destroy civilisation.

Dr Martin Worthington of the University of Cambridge has written a book on the topic entitled Duplicity in the Gilgamesh Flood where he claims that the Babylonian people were tricked into building the ark by the god Ea in what he's dubbed a “fake news” story.

In a statement Worthington explains further:

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,“ said Worthington in a statement.

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’.

While Ea’s message seems to promise a rain of food, its hidden meaning warns of the Flood," he continued. "Once the ark is built, Uta–napishti and his family clamber aboard and survive with a menagerie of animals. Everyone else drowns. 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 misleading part according to Worthington comes in two partiuclar parts that can both be interpreted differently.

Specifically the lines:​ "ina šēr(-)kukkī" and "ina lilâti ušaznanakkunūši šamūt kibāti"

There are both positive and negative ways in which much of the text can be translated, explains Worthington. One promises food, the other promises a flood.

”Ea is clearly a master wordsmith who is able to compress multiple simultaneous meanings into one duplicitous utterance,” said Worthington.

In this instance one of the meanings you could be lead to is that "at dawn there will be kukku-cakes, in the evening he will rain down upon you a shower of wheat."

The other, somewhat less appealing option according to Dr Worthington is:

By means of incantations, by means of wind-demons, he will rain down upon you rain as thick as (grains of) wheat," and "at dawn, he will rain down upon you darkness (then) in (this) pre-nocturnal twilight he will rain down upon you rain as thick as (grains of) wheat.

Which according to the Babylonian and Christian versions of the story is exactly what happens, a flood is sent by God and only the animals aboard the ark and the Uta–napishti (or Noah's) family survive

H/T: James Felton for IFL Science

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