Gilgamesh’s Quest


I want to continue pursuing the theme of “journey” for another moment. The Epic of Gilgamesh is over 5,000 years old. It contains some things with which we are already acquainted, such as an earlier version of the Flood of Noah. The hero of the epic is Gilgamesh, who is not afraid of perils, dangers and challenges. He is always ready to vanquish his foes. He is equally at ease facing fierce monsters or negotiating with gods. With the death of his close friend, who is in real terms his other self, Gilgamesh is at a loss. He has been told by the gods that it is the human lot to suffer death. Only the gods are immortal. Gilgamesh does not accept this. His quest for immortality brings him into contact with persons who know where immortality lies and can be obtained. Each one seems to initiate him on an ever-increasing perilous part of the journey to the land where he would discover immortality. The quest takes him through a land of deep darkness, a kind of dark night of the soul, after which he emerges into sunlight and faces the god of the sun. He is told the secret of finding immortality, and he is warned. To achieve immortality he must dive deeply into the sea, retrieve a special plant, and after eating it, would achieve immortality. I have often had to go deep within myself to find something of lasting value that would reveal to me my true self. Gilgamesh is a model for those on a quest for what is most true and noble, but Gilgamesh is not the final answer. Gilgamesh rises from the sea with the transforming plant, but he does not partake of it. Soon, it is stolen from him by a snake. A familiar theme: humanity versus the snake. The quest seems to end in failure, and this is the mark of the tragic hero Gilgamesh. It is the lot of humans not to be immortal: that is the content of his faith and culture. This is in great contrast with the Christian faith. The New Testament does not speak of immortality; it is not a concept that is embraced there. Rather, the Christ faith announces the good news of the resurrection. The promise is given to those who believe that they will share in the resurrection of Christ. This is the foundation of faith.

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