Fact and Fiction in Babylon
The Babylonian story of a global Flood is no fable, as it corresponds to the Bible in many of its details, and with the geological record. In that case, why should the Babylonians want to embellish their history with an impossible account of written records being buried before the Flood and then dug up again? The answer lies in the common cause that is found in all embellishments of history. They are written for purposes of flattery, to extol the virtues of the king, the country, the home town of the author, and most importantly to bring the benefits of flattery to the author himself.
In my article All Eyes on Iraq I gave a summary of the importance of Babylon in ancient history, it's sudden downfall at the time of Daniel, and it's place in New Testament prophecy as a code word for Rome. I also discussed the Babylonian Flood story, which is similar to the Biblical story, but it differs in matters of detail.
In my article Was There A Pre-Flood Babylon?, I discussed the similarities and differences between the two Flood stories in more detail, affirming that the Babylonian Flood was definitely global, but drawing attention to a detail that doesn't make sense. Xisuthrus, the Babylonian Noah, is supposed to have written down a history of the world, up to his own time, and buried it securely in the City of the Sun at Sippara (otherwise known as Sepharvaim or Pantibiblon). Then when the waters of the Flood subsided, the survivors went to Sippara and recovered the history. Xisuthrus himself was translated "to the gods" after he came out of the ark and offered sacrifices.
The recovery of the buried histories is clearly an impossible event, considering the geology of the post-Flood world as we know it today. During the Flood, large amounts of sediment were deposited all over the world, changing the landscape completely. These sediments were stratified and subsequently hardened into layers of sedimentary rock, made up of sandstone, limestone and shale, and they contain the fossilised remains of large numbers of dead plants and animals. Evolutionary geologists, who deny that there was ever a global Flood, refer to these rock layers as the "geological column", on the basis that they were formed over a long period of time.
Setting aside the arguments of evolution, we have the Biblical and Babylonian Flood stories, both in agreement that the Flood was global, but the Babylonian story suggests that the pre-Flood geography survived into the post-Flood world. Not only does Berosus mention a pre-Flood Sippara, but also Babylon, Chaldea, Arabia, and the Erythrean Sea (Persian Gulf), as if the landscape had hardly changed at all.
If the burial of written histories and their subsequent recovery was pure fabrication, why was it introduced into the Babylonian history? The most plausible explanation is that the Babylonian priests wanted to enhance the importance of the City of the Sun at Sippara. In that case, we would have something similar to the story of Annius of Viterbo, who is described in my book, Forgotten History of the Western People, in a chapter called Dubious Histories.
Annius of Viterbo
Annius was a Dominican priest who lived in the town of Viterbo, a short distance to the north of Rome. In 1498 he published a set of fragments, which he claimed to be from Berosus and Manetho, containing histories which were previously unknown. He gave an elaborate story of the period from Noah to Dardanus, including great acts of valour which were flattering to his home country of Italy and other parts of Europe. At first his history was received with enthusiasm, but it was subsequently denounced as fake, so that his fragments became known as pseudo-Berosus and pseudo-Manetho. He was also accused of creating forged artefacts. He dug up some stones, in his home town of Viterbo, bearing inscriptions which supposedly proved that Osiris and Isis had founded the town, long before the foundation of Rome. He took his sensational artefacts to the local magistrates, but was accused of carving the inscriptions himself and burying the stones. His motive, obviously, was to enhance the status of Viterbo as a place of antiquity, greater than that of Rome, but his countrymen preferred truth rather than vanity.
Story-Telling at Babylon
Now, it is entirely possible that a similar situation might have occurred at the City of the Sun at Sippara. Some of the priests might have made up the story of the burial and recovery of histories, but instead of being denounced as a forgery, the story was accepted. It is unlikely that Berosus himself was involved, because he was an exile in Western Asia Minor, after the conquest of Alexander the Great, and if he wanted to be a patriotic Babylonian in a foreign country, he would have extolled the virtue of Babylonia as a whole, just as a modern-day English football fan abroad would cheer for England. In any case, he was in a unique position as a Greek-speaking Babylonian priest, able to tell the Greeks about the Babylonian history and culture, and did not have to invent fables. It is more likely that the story of burial and recovery of histories was invented long before the time of Berosus, and the consequences of the story played themselves out through the whole region of Babylonia. If it was possible for Sippara to be a pre-Flood city, then all the other cities would have to be given the same status, resulting in a complete pre-Flood geography with a virtually unchanged landscape. Every city must have had it's pre-Flood history, but Sippara excelled them all as the place where the account of the pre-Flood world was discovered and preserved.
Of course, to make the story plausible, and to enhance the value of the buried histories, it would be convenient to have Xisuthrus (Noah) out of the way, because he was the ancient patriarch with the knowledge of the pre-Flood world. So they invented the story of Xisuthrus being translated to the gods, on account of his piety, after he emerged from the ark and offered sacrifices. This part of the story must have been introduced into Babylonian history long before the time of Berosus, because in the Gilgamesh epic we find the hero of the Flood story, under the name of Utnapishtim, relaxing in a place called Dilmun, a heavenly garden beyond the Ocean, rather like a garden of the gods.
When attempting to separate fact from fiction, we have to consider who will be flattered by the embellishment of history. The Babylonian history certainly contains some elements of flattery, on the points where it disagrees with the Bible. In contrast, the Bible does not flatter anyone. It shows their faults as well as their virtues, so that even Noah, the hero of the Flood story, is shown to be fallible when he is found drunk and naked in his tent, to the amusement of one of his sons.
History that comes from pagan, non-Biblical sources should not be discarded just because it has gone wrong on a few points. There are many other points where it gives a very feasible story, and we should be encouraged that on these points it agrees with the Bible.