I am a prolific blogger, who has used your material in several posts. Today I put something on my blog and on Facebook discussing the points you raise on page 74 of How to Read the Bible regarding the literary tradition that influenced the author of Noah’s use of the phrase about God “smelling the sweet aroma” Here is what I said:
“The same expression appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a much older, though theologically different, account of a global flood. Why does this matter? Because it strongly suggests that the author of Noah based his story on an existing literary tradition, that is a tradition about how the flood story should be told. No author could have observed God smelling the sacrifices, so the fact that both versions of the story assert that he did smell the sacrifice, using the same phrase, tells us that one version is based on the other.
“Now, this literary borrowing would pose no problem if the Torah had been revealed before the Epic of Gilgamesh was written. Under those circumstances we could argue that the Torah tells us what actually happened, while the author of Gilgamesh borrowed those divinely authored details. Unfortunately, the dating of Gilgamesh does not support this. We have fragments that date to early in the second millennium BCE, which is earlier than the traditional dating of [the giving of] the Torah. Sorry.”
One of my commentators replied:
“I don’t know as many particulars about the ancient record of the Gilgamesh story, but is it possible that the line was added to the story after the Torah was written?”
He also seeks assurance that the phrase in question, in fact, appears on the fragments in question.
Your presentation of the case is quite accurate (it actually sounds a lot like what I wrote…), but truthfully, if I were writing that part of my book today, I probably would have chosen another example of apparently direct, literary borrowings (of which there are quite a few). The reason I would is that “smelling the sweet aroma” of a sacrifice is a rather widespread topos in biblical references to such sacrifices: they are said to be offered up as a “reah nihoah,” a “pleasing odor” before God (Exod 29 18, Lev 1:9, 13, 17 and dozens more).
The Gilgamesh story, along with other Mesopotamian texts, did indeed undergo changes over time, but not, apparently, in imitation of material that first appeared in the Torah. One scholar who has studied this text’s evolution—and proposed it as a model of how biblical texts might likewise have evolved—is Jeffrey Tigay of Pennsylvania University; you might consult his The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic (1982) and Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism (1985).