A worldwide cataclysmic Flood sent by God in Noah's day to destroy all living things except for eight people who survived on the Ark. In addition to the Bible, very early historical records also document the Flood.
Two problems about which there are great differences are the date of the Flood, and whether it was local or universal. Critics of the flood narrative consider it either a myth, or an embellished local flood story.
1.2. Biblical Constraints
1.2.1. These are biblical events. Thus the interpretation of the Bible takes precedence.
1.2.2. There are apparent conflicts between the Bible and some areas of science relative to the Great Flood. Some possible solutions to these conflicts will be suggested.
1.2.3. Both biblical and extra-biblical literature, being eyewitness accounts, should control the dating of events and people, with only secondary importance given to scientific opinions, and sophisticated radiometric dating techniques.
2. The Flood in Both Testaments
2.1. Hebrew Words for the Great Flood and Smaller Floods
In Hebrew mabbul is the word used throughout Genesis 6-9. It is a unique word used only for this stupendous event, its origin unknown. BDB lexicon suggests that it may come from Assyrian nabâlu, to destroy, but there is no proof for this. Its only other use in the Old Testament (Tanakh) is Psalm 29:10, "YHVH sits upon the Flood, yes YHVH sits as King forever."
An interesting passage regarding the flood is Isaiah 54:9. The Lord reminds Israel that as He swore never again to send the "waters of Noah" (mey Noach, ) over the earth, so He will not be angry with Israel when they return to Him.
Other Hebrew words used to describe floods are: zerem, an inundation (Isaiah 28:2); ye'or and shibboleth, flood in a stream (Jeremiah 46:7; Psalms 69:2); or and nachal, flood in a brook (Amos 8:8; Jeremiah 47:2); nahar, flood in a river (Joshua 24:2); sheteph, overflowing flood (Nahum 1:8); nazal, to flow (Exodus 15:8). Two other words for "flood" are found in the New Testament: potamos, stream or river flood (Matthew 7:25; Revelation 12:15); and plemmura, overflowing flood (Luke 6:48).
None of these compare with the extent of the Great Flood. One or more of these words could have been used for a local flood. In fact, that is what several of them describe.
2.2. The Flood in the New Testament
The Greek word kataklysmos, occurring both in the Septuagint and in the New Testament is so graphic it hardly needs interpretation. It is a word familiar to all -- CATACLYSM -- which denotes absolute finality by violent destruction. It occurs in Matthew 24:38-39; Luke 17: 26-27; II Peter 2:5 and in a slightly different form (kataklystheis) in II Peter 3:6.
Matthew 24:38-39 and Luke 17:26-27 are similar. Jesus warns of the end of the age using the example of the Flood. People were living ordinary lives, paying no attention to a righteous God. Then, after much warning, the cataclysm bursts forth and destroys all mankind, except for Noah's family and the creatures on the Ark.
I Peter 3:20-21: God patiently waited while Noah built the ark on which a few -- only eight -- were saved. This is compared with baptism, which is a symbol of putting away all filthiness, producing a good conscience toward God.
II Peter 2:5: A cataclysm came upon the ancient world as God spared Noah and his family, and in 3:5-6, we are reminded of that which mankind so easily forgets (or ignores): that God made the heavens and earth with its water, and that by that water the world was cataclysthized, completely destroying it (and all living, breathing creatures).
Hebrews 11:7: Noah was saved by faith in building the Ark, thereby condemning the whole world, but gaining the righteousness of God by faith.
3. Palistrophic Structure of the Flood Narrative
G. J. Wenham, counter to the documentary hypothesis, has shown that the Flood narrative is chiastic in structure, instead of being redundant, as critics maintain. The account is consecutive and well-ordered, not a conflation of two different accounts. Wenham discerns a palistrophic, or recursive, structure within the flood narrative. He argues that the narrative gives evidence for an overall design.
4. Cause/Reason for the Flood: Worldwide Corruption
4.1. "Sons of the gods"
For centuries there have been three interpretations of "the sons
of the gods" in Genesis 6.
Perhaps a combination of the first and third is the best explanation. That is, that the "sons of the gods" may be demon-controlled rulers.
Meredith Kline suggested the "sons of the gods" were tyrannical "divine" kings like those known from historical times in the ancient near east.
"The fact that an historical theme so prominently treated in the Sumero-Babylonian epic tradition finds no counterpart [or connection with] Genesis 3-6 according to standard [traditional] interpretations is itself good reason to suspect that these interpretations have been missing the point." (1962, 199).
"The king is divine, he is god . . . And this is not the result of a long history of evolution, but goes back to the earliest times." (Our emphasis. Engnell 1967, 18.)
Whether the above contributed to the cause or not, certainly human total depravity with violence toward others was universal and warranted punishment.
4.2. Development of City States
Post-Flood patterns may explain pre-Flood conditions. The Sumerian Kinglist and the Gilgamesh Epic both describe pre- and post-Flood situations. Biblically, Cain established a city-state when he deliberately forsook YHVH and "began a condition of wandering." Historic parallels are again discernible in Genesis 10-11, with names of well-known post-Flood city-states listed. A rebellion at Babylon resulted in building the first ziggurat or temple-tower, a (post-Flood) reestablished anti-YHVH religion. At the heart of this reinstituted system are kings claiming to be "son of the gods."
In the account of the Fall, Satan's first temptation was to appeal to man's deepest desire: ". . . ye shall be as gods. . ." (Genesis 3:5). It follows that this desire would not cease to tempt mankind, but would grow into a whole system, a complete worldview, an all-encompassing, tyrannical, violent way of life. Does this describe what brought on the Flood?
5. Preparation for the Flood
Genesis 6:3 and I Peter 3:20 indicate that, in God's patience, 120 years would be allowed for the building of the Ark. Presumably, Noah and his family constantly warned the onlookers to flee from sin, repent, and come with them onto the Ark.
5.1. Was an Ark Really Necessary?
It would seem that all the time, effort, and expense of building this enormous ship was wasted if there was only a local flood. Noah and his family, guiding a host of animals and other creatures, could have migrated to another, higher area and waited for a local flood to flow out into the ocean.
5.2. Building the Ark.
The size of the Ark was 450' x 75' x 45' with three decks (the size, of course, depends on the cubit length -- 21 inches vs. 17.5). Was it large enough? Although there are approximately 1,000,000 species today, only 17,500 are found on dry land. Space on the Ark equalled over 500 railroad box cars. But experts say only one-third of that number of box cars would have been needed.
The technology used in building the Ark must have been incredible. It was a huge wooden ship with a seaworthy shape. The Designer was God. Noah did not need to know shipbuilding. "15 cubits (22.5 feet) above the mountains" probably indicates the ship's draft when loaded.
6. During the Flood
Where did the water come from to sustain 40 days of rain? It has been suggested that a water vapor canopy surrounded the earth and that this collapsed, making it rain for 40 days (Dillow 1983, see below). There are other possibilities, one being that extreme volcanism with dense clouds, could have precipitated all the water in the "firmament."
6.1. Chronology of the Flood
6.2. In the Ark: Animals and Noah's Family (only 8)
How did Noah gather animals into the Ark? Apparently they came to the Ark by instinct. Seven pairs of clean animals and two pairs each of unclean animals. As the animals, etc. came to the Ark by instinct, so they may also have hibernated for the whole time, minimizing the feeding and cleaning problems.
Could all the animals fit? It has been estimated that one hundred and twenty-five thousand sheep could easily reside on the three floors of the Ark. There were relatively few large animals, and Noah only needed rooms for the largest mammals. But most were smaller than a sheep. Thus, they could all fit. Small creatures, birds, insects, etc., occupied empty spaces. A million species of insects as well as birds could easily fit in the open spaces.
The door was closed by God. And, after seven days, the deluge began, while at the same time the reservoirs of water under the surface of the earth gushed forth.
7. End of the Flood
7.1. The Covenant with Noah.
Although this is not the first covenant YHVH makes with man, it is the first time Hebrew berit (covenant) is used in the Bible. Unconditionally, God promised never again to destroy the earth and every living creature by sending a flood. The sign of this covenant is a rainbow.
7.2. All Families and Nations Descend from Noah and His Sons.
Considering the Flood as universal, all mankind have since descended from the sons of Noah. After the Flood, God told Noah the same as He told Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful, and multiply! Fill up the earth (with people)." God seems to have no concern about over-population of the planet.
The names of men who fathered the families of mankind are, for the most part, readily found in historical records. For instance, the Ionians (Greeks, Daniel 10:20) trace their ancestry to Javan (transliterated from Hebrew , yavan), the son of Japheth. Mizraim, son of Ham, to this very day, is the Hebrew name for Egypt. And the sons of Shem, the third son of Noah, are the modern Semites. Thus, all mankind today could, if they knew their lineage, trace it back to Noah's sons.
8. The Search for Noah's Ark.
Two suggested locations of the grounded Ark are: Agri Dagh (Mt. Ararat) and Cudi Dagh (pronounced "Judi Dagh") (Jebel Judi). The former is in eastern Turkey northeast of Lake Van, and close to the borders of Armenia and Iran. The latter is south of Lake Van, near the Tigris River and the borders of Syria and Iraq. About 200 miles apart, both mountains are within the borders of ancient "Urartu", from which we get "Ararat".
The earliest traditional location was Mt. Cudi (Judi). It is also called the "Gordyene Mountains." Around it are many archaeological ruins like those of Assyrian emperor, Sennacherib, who had rock reliefs carved on the mountain. On September 14, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others, gather to commemorate Noah's sacrifice on the mountain. There is reason to believe this could be the correct location.
Even so, since about AD 1400, the preferred location has shifted from Mt. Cudi (Judi) to Agri Dagh (Mt. Ararat). At the present time, most Ark researchers seek to locate any remains of the Ark on this 17,000 foot volcanic peak.
The Ark's value as an archaeological artifact:
If found it would be the only certain antediluvian artifact available. It would indicate a recent Flood since it would not likely survive tens of thousands of years. Further, it would verify a universal Flood -- if found high on a mountain somewhere in eastern Turkey. Its final resting place according to Genesis 8:4 is on the mountains (plural) of ancient Urartu (Ararat). In the Gilgamesh Epic the ark came down on top of Mt. Nisir, south of Ararat. Other accounts say it was Mt. Cudi (Judi), 200 miles south of Agri Dagh.
On August 10, 1883, an article appeared in The New York Times and several other newspapers titled, "Noah's Ark Discovered." Turkish commissioners sent to eastern Turkey to investigate some avalanches on Mount Ararat "came upon a gigantic structure made of very dark wood protruding from a glacier. . . The Ark was in a good state of preservation. . . Effecting an entrance into the structure which was painted brown, they found that the Admiralty requirements for the conveyance of horses had been carried out and the interior had been divided into partitions 15 feet high. Into three of these only could they get, the others being filled with ice, and how far the ark extended into the glacier they could not tell. . . ."
Farther down the mountain, at the 6,000 level, there is a geological feature which the late Ron Wyatt and others surmised was the Ark. However, others investigating the formation have concluded that it is a natural feature, even though its size is similar to Noah's Ark.
9. Artifacts from Pre-Flood Times?
There is an average depth of 5000 feet of sedimentary strata on the continents. Pre-Flood civilizations would be destroyed and deeply covered by a universal flood. Occasionally anomalous finds, which appear to have human connections, are made deep in the earth by oil and well drillers, and in coal mines. Many of these finds have been published. However, they have not yet been studied carefully and utilized to form a picture of pre-Flood human activity.
10. Extent of the Flood: Universal vs. Local
10.1. An Analogy for the Final Destruction of the Earth, even the whole universe!
Peter prophesied in II Peter 3:3-6 that scoffers will deny the world was destroyed by a flood. He said these willfully ignore this stupendous event. In verses 10-11, a prophecy of the destruction of the entire universe is described, with Noah's Flood used as an analogy. How could a local flood be the analogy for this awful event?
10.2. The Geographical Significance.
The Sumerian Kinglist names several pre-Flood cities (the numbers are very few if man had been around for a million years), but all would be buried in a cataclysm. If only one recent volcano can obliterate the surrounding landscape and completely cover cities, what would hundreds or thousands of volcanoes erupting at the same time do? And, along with that, how much more devastating would be a universal Flood covering the whole earth for over one year?
10.3. The Geological Effects.
In this article, we cannot reconcile the many complicated geological issues related to the Flood. Considering the biblical narrative as the basis, we can only suggest some possible solutions to these problems. But certainly, a cataclysmic, worldwide flood should have had an enormous effect on the surface of the planet.
10.3.1. Oceans deepen, mountains are uplifted. The cause of the Flood is described in tectonics, "All the waters of the great deep were broken up" (Genesis 7:11). The Hebrew word -- baqa, "burst or rent open" -- used other places to refer to the geological phenomena of faulting. Psalms 104:8 says, "The mountains rose up; the valleys sank down." Oceans deepened due to the weight of water running off the land surfaces into them. With the stupendous weight of new runoff water on the earth's mantle, mountains were uplifted. And, with land masses still unconsolidated, continents may have split off and drifted rather rapidly on the earth's mantle to new locations. The area where the Ark purportedly rests is definitely a tectonically active region. It seems unfortunate that most students of geology do not take the Great Flood into consideration as they attempt to interpret the geological data.
Job seems to have lived shortly after the Great Flood. Such descriptions as those in Job 9:5-6, and 28:9-11 can hardly be describing anything but the contortions of the earth's surface after the Flood.
10.3.2. Continents and highest mountains covered with sea fossils. Sediments on the continents average about one mile in depth and are five times the depth of sediments on the floor of the oceans. Yet half of the continental sediments are of oceanic origin. What are these doing on the continents? Geologists say this is because, at times, the continents have been under the sea, further suggesting that a worldwide Flood is what caused the phenomenon.
Since mountains have waterborne fossils at their highest elevations (including Mt. Everest), it is evident that they were all under water at some time. However, this does not mean the waters had to be deep enough to cover modern Mt. Everest and other high mountains. Mountains appeared late in the Flood year as they were being uplifted. Or, as Keil and Delitzsch point out (1975, 146-47), although it was a universal flood and the tallest mountains remained above the flood waters, nothing could have survived on them. Yet how could waterborne fossils have gotten to the tops of the highest mountains unless they actually were covered?
10.3.3. Concentrations of fossils are indicative of massive flooding. Another possible result of a cataclysmic flood are massive beds of fossils. When a creature dies, flora or fauna, depending on the circumstances, it shrivels up, rots, is eaten, or otherwise disappears after a few days. To have fossils preserved, the creature to be preserved, must be enveloped in soft sediment which soon hardens. Thus, a cast is made and, although the original vegetable or animal matter disappears, the cast will fill in with other material. In other cases, bones or solid substances are preserved intact. Having said this, huge deposits of fossils, found worldwide, indicate a universal and sudden deluge which rapidly enveloped and solidified enormous quantities of fossils: fish, animals, insects, trees and leaves, etc.
10.4. Local Flood.
Many scholars, if they believe in a flood at all, hold to the conviction that it was a local event and happened as long as 100 millennia ago. They base this view on scientific data which seemingly presents insurmountable problems for a universal flood. In general, they hold to the following principles:
10.5. Universal Flood.
10.5.1. Considering the biblical narrative which says that the Flood was universal, the words "all" and "every" are used 16 times in Genesis 6-9 to describe the totality of the Flood. Does "all"; really mean all? In Mark 1:5 and Luke 2:1 "all" obviously does not mean all. However, even though "all" has a limited application in those verses, that does not mean it always has a limited use. Context defines words, and in these passages, truly "all" means all and "every" means every. In the New Testament, Jesus said, ". . . the Flood came, and took them all away. . ." (Matthew 24:39) And, ". . . the Flood came, and destroyed them all . . ." (Luke 17: 27)
10.5.2. Another word describing the total destruction of mankind (not simply what is local) is machah (; Genesis 6:7; 7:4; 7:23). It means "wipe clean." Jerusalem was wiped clean and turned over as one does to a dish (II Kings 21:13). In English we say "wipe out" - that is, totally destroy. What more could the writer have done or said to assure the reader that "all" means all?
10.5.3. If the flood waters "mounded up," or were gathered somewhere in the middle east, it defies laws of physics. Water seeks its own level (around the globe). Furthermore, would God perform a miracle to contain the Flood in a small area when he wanted to destroy all living creatures? If the "flood" occurred in a river channel, however catastrophic, the water would flow into the ocean, and the ark with it. It would never get to land, let alone rest on a mountain. Actually, an Ark was not needed. Mankind and other living creatures could easily go to higher ground to escape the Flood. On the other hand, a full year's flood certainly implies universality.
10.5.4. "Flood traditions" (Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, etc.), even though not as accurate as the Bible, say the ark came to rest on a mountain, impossible with a local flood. It is interesting that the peak where the Ark is purported to rest, Mt. Agri Dagh, in eastern Turkey, is a volcanic cone with exposed rock being pillow lava, formed only under water. This cone could have been erupting during the Flood, building its cone, and finally rising above water late in the Flood year.
10.5.5. Where did all the water come from for such a catastrophic flood? It has been postulated that an icy stellar body passed close enough to the earth that it was captured by gravity and broke up, providing a deluge of ice and water. Or possibly, a global water vapor canopy -- the "firmament"-- encircled the earth (Genesis 1:6-8). A canopy would shield humans and animals from harmful sun rays; it also would create higher atmospheric pressure, both of which made for better health (and longer lives). With a vapor canopy gone, radioactive dating methods would be changed radically.
The world before the Flood was quite different from the world today. Since it did not rain before the Flood (Genesis 2:5), yet rivers flowed (v.10), there must have been great subterranean reservoirs of water. At the appointed time, the "fountains of the great deep" (Genesis 7:11) spewed out their aquatic and volcanic contents while the "windows of heaven were opened" as some form of water was precipitated. Coupling these mechanisms with the fact that 70% of the earth is covered with water in sufficient quantity to cover the entire (flattened out) earth to a depth of about 7,500 feet, we can conclude that the biblical story is, indeed, quite reasonable. The topography was much less pronounced before the Flood. Present mountain ranges are mostly sedimentary rocks or volcanoes attributable to a flood. They could have been formed during the Flood, or finished rising just after it.
New lakes, seas, and oceans were established, most of them filled with salty water. These have gradually evaporated over the millennia until, like the Dead Sea, the Caspian Sea, Great Salt Lake, etc., the salt became more and more concentrated. On cliffs above the present sea level researchers have found old beaches up to the highest levels, indicating that from time to time after the Flood evaporation slowed and a beach was formed at that level.
10.5.6. Spectacular geologic features on Mars look like dried up river beds. NASA has theorized that Mars was covered by a flood at sometime in the past. But, there are no water concentrations visible now on Mars. How can one theorize that a flood there covered the whole planet, but it did not on our planet? The earth still has oceans covering 70% of the earth's surface. But there is barely a trace of water vapor on Mars.
10.5.7. If it is maintained that mankind has been around for over a million years during the "stone ages," surely the entire globe was inhabited with humans by the time of Noah's Flood (even if it occurred 100,000 years ago). For comparison, consider the mass of humanity that has been produced in only 5000 years. Beginning with eight people, mankind has grown to the present six billion souls. Therefore, if the globe was filled with humans (whatever the land mass was at that time) it was imperative, to accomplish God's purpose, that the Flood be universal in the truest sense of that word.
10.5.8. Prehistoric man has been described as living in the lithic or "stone ages." However, stone age people are a relative phenomenon. In every generation since the beginning of time, some groups have lived in a "stone age" and used stone implements, while contemporaneous people lived with the highest of civilizations. There are groups in many places even today who live in the "stone age." The point is that a culture cannot be dated based on their use of stone implements. They may not be ancient at all. As seen below, radioactive dating methods are not usable before 3000 BC, thus cannot date stone age cultures which usually are claimed to be older than that.
10.5.9. Of course, the climate would be altered by catastrophes accompanying the Flood. Whereas rain had not fallen before the Flood, afterward it became a regular event. Rainbows can be seen in the falling water vapor, God's sign that He would never destroy the earth by water again. If only a local flood is meant, God's promise is broken every time a severe local flood occurs.
10.5.10. What relationship did the Flood have with any ice age(s)? It is important to note that what are deserts today, were lush pasture lands and even jungles shortly after the Flood. This is true all across north Africa and deep into the Sahara desert. Melting ice sheets across Europe and Russia, after the Flood, contributed to a much higher moisture level over northern Africa and the Middle East, for several hundred years, making for heavy vegetation. The Jordan River valley in Israel was a dense jungle after the Flood. And, early Egyptians, instead of living in the Nile River valley as they do now, lived on the grassy steppes above the river valley, while down in valley, as in Israel, there was a dense, uninhabitable jungle. An "ice age" is not mentioned in any of the Epics, indicating that the writers were concerned only with local events, and the ice-covered areas would be far north of them.
(For many more features of a universal flood, see H. M. Morris 1976, or J. C. Whitcomb and H. M. Morris 1961).
10.6. Conclusion to the Extent of the Flood and Introduction to the Literature
Although we examine a few items of geology, one principle should rule over all. When literary documents like those below are available to date an event, they take precedence over and control scientific observations and dates which may conflict with the literary evidence. This is so, in that ancient documents are considered eyewitness (scientific) observations of the events recorded.
11. Literary Parallels to the Biblical Account
Which came first: the biblical narrative of the Flood, or the Mesopotamian epics? There are three basic choices:
Most scholars conclude that the writer of Genesis used elements from local epics, but this is difficult to substantiate, if not impossible. On the other hand, the third choice is based on little or no evidence and is simply an opinion of those who hold to it. Since a good number of epic tales have been found from several cultures, it would appear that a "primitive original" does not exist. Although difficult to prove also, the preferred choice is that the biblical record came first.
Josephus, who had access to documents no longer available today said, "The time of this event was 2262 years after the birth of Adam, the first man; the date is recorded in the sacred books . . ." (Antiquities, Loeb, 39). Whiston in a footnote says, "Josephus here takes notice that these ancient genealogies were first set down by those that then lived, and from them were transmitted down to posterity; which I suppose to be the true account of that matter, for there is no reason to imagine that men [i.e., Adam and Eve] were not taught to read and write soon after they were taught to speak . . ." (Whiston 1.3.2, fn. 3, no Loeb, writer's brackets). Furthermore, if the sources of Genesis are taken into account (i.e., the toledot) it becomes quite certain that Moses used eyewitness testimonies for his final compilation of Genesis, including the Flood narrative.
11.2. Sumerian Deluge Story
First published by Arno Poebel in 1914. The text is very fragmentary with only the lower third preserved. One of the oldest extrabiblical versions of the Flood story, this early story featured the survivor of the Flood, Ziusudra (called "king"). It was found in the Nippur excavations early in the twentieth century, and dates to the late Akkadian period (ca. 1600 BC). There was also a Semitic version in Akkadian found at Nippur. What remains of the latter is obviously describing the great Flood, but it is so fragmentary nothing new from can be learned from it.
11.3. Gilgamesh Epic-Tablet XI
A well-known tale, found in Sumerian and Babylonian literature. The Assyrians likewise used it, the Hittites also (tablets found at Boghazkoi), and the Hurrians. Even in the Holy Land, a clay tablet (date ca. 1200 BC) was found with this man's name on it. He was the most popular hero in the Ancient Near East. The first tablets naming him were found among the ruins of the temple library of the god Nabu (biblical Nebo) and the palace library of Ashurbanipal in Ninevah.
Using the version from Ashurbanipal's library, in 1872, George Smith published the eleventh tablet of the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic as "The Chaldean Account of the Deluge." Closely paralleling the Genesis account, it created a sensation. The flood story was not in the Old Babylonian account although, according to it, Gilgamesh traveled to see a survivor of the Flood, Utnapishtim in this account, to learn how to gain immortality. Gilgamesh's name appears among the kings in the Sumerian Kinglist (below).
"The date of the composition of the Gilgamesh Epic can therefore be fixed at about 2000 BC. But the material contained on these tablets is undoubtedly much older, as we can infer from the mere fact that the epic consists of numerous originally independent episodes, which, of course, did not spring into existence at the time of the composition of our poem but must have been current long before they were compiled and woven together to form our epic." (Heidel, 1963, 15)
Gilgamesh was of the first dynasty of Uruk (Erech), the earliest period of Mesopotamian history. The Gilgamesh Epic indicates a close link with events immediately following the Flood. Someone who had survived the Flood still lived. Possibly this was Ham. Gilgamesh visited this person seeking to find immortality.
One of Gilgamesh's chief concern was the destruction of the monster, "Huwawa" or "Humbaba," who caused the Flood. It would be most interesting if it could be shown that this awesome individual is actually YHWH (YHVH) and that the names Gilgamesh called Him were derisive terms. We should recall that this account was written by priests who were bent on putting their gods and heroes above all other gods.
The flood story in the epic has some similarities to the Bible, but there are also large differences. The blame for the Flood is not laid on mankind's wickedness (as the biblical account maintains), but on the caprice of the gods. The gods are despicable creatures in the Epic as compared to the majestic person of God in the Bible. Noah was given warning and time to build the Ark. In the Epic there was little warning. Noah's Ark was very seaworthy; the ark in the Epic was a cube, 120 cubits on a side. In the biblical Flood it rained 40 days and nights; in the Epic it rained only six days and nights. In both stories all the mountains were covered (in neither was it simply a local flood). The landing took place on the mountains of Ararat; the Epic said the boat landed on Mt. Nisir. The "captain" in both stories released a dove which came back. They both sent out still other birds. Both Noah and the Epic hero made sacrifices after exiting the boat. Despite differences, they obviously relate the same event.
These differences are not insignificant in deciding which tale was written first. The odd shape of the Ark in the Epic -- being a cube and entirely unseaworthy -- compared with the sturdy, storm defying shape of Noah's Ark, surely indicates that the writer of Genesis was not "borrowing" from the Epic.
11.4. Atrahasis Epic
Until 1965 only one-fifth of this very early Babylonian deluge account was known. Alan Millard then discovered more of it in the British Museum, making up four-fifths of the original. A colophon (notation of title, scribe, contents, etc.) on it says it originally was three large tablets. It has astonishing parallels with the biblical account. But there are also great differences. In it, the creation of man is fraught with problems. 1200 years had not passed before mankind became too noisy, disturbing the gods. After much trouble with man and considerable over population, the gods decided to send a flood and destroy all mankind. Utnapishtim is the name of the flood hero in the Atrahasis Epic.
Apparently, based on remarks on fragment IV, it was used as a birth incantation to facilitate delivery of a baby.
11.5. Ras-Shamra (Ugaritic) Flood Story
First published in 1968, it was written on a single tablet. Only the beginning and end have been preserved, however. It dates to the Middle Babylonian period, but may be a copy of a much earlier Akkadian original. The hero is Atrahasis and what is available of the tablet seems to be like the Atrahasis Epic.
11.6. Sumerian Kinglists and the Establishment of City-States
The Sumerian Kinglists are very old documents. The first fragments were published in 1906. Since 1923 the Weld-Blundell prism (a square clay stela-like tablet impressed with Sumerian cuneiform signs) has become the standard text. It and other kinglist sources were published by Thorkild Jacobsen in 1939.
The kinglists refer to the establishment of cities and kingship before the Flood. There are actually several kinglists, each concerned with a particular period and one area. Babylonian and Assyrian Kinglists (later in time) have also been uncovered and name some of the same kings as are on the earlier Sumerian Kinglists. High ages given for the kings are either deliberately inflationary, or we have not discovered the correct interpretation of their numbering systems. Sumerian, in general, is still not well understood.
11.6.1. Sumerian Kinglist Part I (Pre-Flood)
"When kingship was lowered from heaven, kingship was (first) in Eridu. In Eridu, Alulim became king and ruled 28,800 years. Alalgar ruled 36,000 years. Two kings thus ruled it for 64,800 years. I drop the topic Eridu because its kingship was brought to Bad-tibira. In Bad-tibira En-men-lu-Anna ruled 43,200 years; En-men-gal-Anna ruled 28,800 years; the god Dumuzi, a shepherd, ruled 36,000 years. Three kings thus ruled it for 108,000 years. I drop the topic Bad-tibira because its kingship was brought to Larak. In Larak En-sipa-zi-Anna ruled 28,800 years. One king thus ruled it for 28,800 years. I drop the topic Larak because its kingship was brought to Sippar. In Sippar En-men-dur-Anna became king and ruled 21,000 years. One king thus ruled it for 21,000 years. I drop Sippar because its kingship was brought to Shurruppak. In Shurruppak, Ubar-Tutu became king and ruled 18,600 years. One king thus ruled it for 18,600 years. These are five cities, eight kings ruled them for 241,000 years. Then the Flood swept over the earth."
11.6.2. The Flood that swept over the earth. "The Flood sweeping over the earth" is described in Sumerian (2500 BC and before), as well as later texts. Mention of a flood covering the (whole) earth identifies it as Noah's Flood. It is the Flood in which every human died except those on the Ark. Since the outworkings of divine kingship was at least one of the reasons which brought on the Flood and kingship was thus terminated, (divine) kingship had to be "lowered from heaven" again after the Flood (see below).
11.6.3. Sumerian Kinglist Part II (Post-Flood)
"After the Flood had swept over the earth and when kingship was lowered again from heaven, kingship was first in Kish. In Kish, Ga(...)ur became king and ruled 1200 years. . . . Etana, a shepherd, he who ascended to heaven and who consolidated all countries, became king and ruled 1560 years . . . etc. . . . Twenty-three kings thus ruled it for 24,510 years, 3 months and 3 1/2 days. Kish was defeated in battle, its kingship was removed to Eanna (sacred precinct of Uruk). In Eanna, Mes-kiag-gash-er, the son of the sun god Utu, became high priest as well as king, and ruled 324 years. Mes-kiag-gash-er went daily in the Western Sea and came forth again toward the Sunrise Mountains; En-me-kar, son of Mes-kiag-gash-er, he who built Uruk, became king and ruled 420 years; the god Lugal-banda, a shepherd, ruled 1200 years; the divine Gilgamesh, his father was a "lillu," a high priest of Kullab, ruled 126 years; Ur-nun-gal, son of Gilgamesh, ruled 30 years; Utul-kalamma, son of Ur-nun-gal, ruled 15 years; Laba (h...)r ruled 9 years; En-nun-dar-Anna ruled 8 years; Mes-he, a smith ruled 36 years; Melam-Anna ruled 6 years; Lugal-ki-tun ruled 36 years. Twelve kings thus ruled it for 2,310 years. Uruk was defeated in battle, its kingship was removed to Ur (The peak of its glory.) 2050-1950." [Author's note: Gilgamesh visited a flood survivor, so these figures cannot possibly represent actual years.]
Kish was the first city established after the Flood. Excavations there indicate it was founded about 3000 BC. "Divine" Gilgamesh listed above, actually visited a survivor of the Flood Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh Epic). Therefore, he must have reigned shortly after the Flood regardless what the kinglist says.
12. Worldwide Records of Flood Story
12.1. Samaritan Pentateuch.
The Samaritans (which today live on Mt. Gerizim) use only the five books of Moses. They are of mixed blood dating to the time when the Assyrians took most of the Jews from the northern kingdom to Assyria, and colonized the area with Assyrians which intermarried with local Jews. Their short Bible updated many geographical sites in the fifth century BC, and tried to harmonize difficult passages. So it differs from the Hebrew Bible. In their Pentateuch, the landing place of the Ark was in the Kurdish mountains north of Assyria -- Mt. Cudi (Judi).
These are Aramaic renditions of the Hebrew Bible since Hebrew had largely been forgotten by the captives in Babylon. Nehemiah struggled with this problem. At first only oral, these paraphrased portions of the Bible were eventually written down. Three of the Targums (Onkelos, Neofiti, and Pseudo-Jonathan) give the landing place of the Ark in the Qardu (Gordian) mountains. This mountain was not far from where Jews were held captives.
A priest of Marduk, or Bel in Babylon, he had at his disposal hundreds of tablets written in Sumerian and Akkadian. He later left there to become a member of the Seleucid court of Antiochus I. His account of the Deluge, dedicated to King Antiochus, was the latest published (about 281 BC), and was written in poor Greek. None of it has survived except for quotations of his writings quoted by Cornelius Alexander Polyhistor (first century BC). Although Polyhistor's work was also lost in its original form, he had abridged Berossus' work, and Josephus used some of his abridgment near the end of the first century AD. It was also used by Eusebius in the fourth century AD.
In Book two, Berossus' flood hero was Xisuthrus. The chief emphasis was the survival of man and the preservation of important books containing the principles of civilization so that after the Flood man could begin again. The remainder of book two deals with the gradual re-establishment of civilization by Babylonians during the first ten generations after the Flood. It seems that he used the Sippar version of the Flood story for writing book two.
In Book 2, section 2 Cronus tells Xisuthrus that all mankind would be destroyed by a flood, and that he is to bury all his writings in Sippar (the "City of the Sun"). He was ordered to build a boat, which he did, then took his wife, children, and some friends aboard. After the Flood he sent out birds several times until they did not come back. He then opened the boat and saw it was on top of a mountain (later learning it was in Armenia in the Gordian mountains). Xisuthrus was taken to heaven and his wife and the boat's pilot were sent to Sippar to dig up the buried writings and give them to mankind.
After sacrificing to the gods, they went to Babylon on foot. When they arrived they dug up the writings and founded many cities including "New" Babylon, and rebuilt temples.
Berossus tells that a portion of the boat was still to be found in Armenia in his day and people were scraping off pieces of bitumen to use for good luck charms. Josephus also supports this.
This interesting account is considerably different from the Genesis story, the emphasis being the saving of the books of civilization in order to regain them after the Flood, thus reviving pre-Flood corruption (from the biblical viewpoint). We note also that writing was apparently well-known before and after the Flood. Perhaps that is the greatest contribution to us in that it substantiates the fact that the Flood was a funnel for all literature and customs from pre-Flood times.
"Then the ark settled on a mountaintop in Armenia. . . then Noah let the animals out of the ark, went forth himself with his family, sacrificed to God and feasted with his household. The Armenians call that spot 'the landing-place,' for it was there that the ark came safe to land, and they show the relics of it to this day to this day. . . . This flood and the ark are mentioned by all who have written histories of the barbarians. Among these is Berossus the Chaldean, who in his description of the events of the flood writes somewhere as follows: 'It is said, moreover, that a portion of the vessel still survives in Armenia on the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that persons carry off pieces of the bitumen which they use as talismans'. . . Hieronymous the Egyptian, author of the ancient history of Phoenicia, by Mnaseas and by many others. . . Nicolaus of Damascus in his ninety-sixth book relates the story as follows: 'There is above the country of Minyas a great mountain called Baris where, as the story goes, many refugees found safety at the time of the flood. And one man, transported upon an ark, grounded upon the summit, and relics of the timber were for long preserved.' . . ." (Whiston, Antiquities,1.3.5-6, Loeb, 43-47)
12.5. Sibylline Oracles
The work consists of an original Jewish oracle with extensive Christian renditions. Its date is difficult to ascertain and opinions vary from the first to the third century AD.
The Flood story is somewhat embellished and amplified in the Oracle. Noah is bidden to prepare an Ark for his family while warning the wicked around him to repent. After his family has entered the Ark he is told, "Call as many as I bid you to address, species of four-footed animals, and serpents and birds. I will subsequently put in the breasts of as many as I apportion life to go willingly" (Collins, 1983, 339, lines 206-09). This indicates that wild beasts were given a "homing" instinct to come to the Ark from wherever they were.
The Flood itself was accompanied by hurricane winds, great springs were released, cataracts fell from heaven, "measureless waters appeared and the entire immense earth was covered" (lines 220-24).
Finally, the Ark came down on a "tall, lofty mountain on the dark mainland of Phrygia. It is called Ararat" (lines 261-62). Noah's family came down out of the Ark with all the living creatures, but Noah came out last. Thus ends the account of the "fifth generation" described in the Oracles: Book 1: lines 147-282.
In the chapter on Noah, the latter urges sinful men to repent, but they will not. So they are finally destroyed. Although it is a short theological treatise, it mentions that the Ark came to rest on Mt. Cudi (Judi).
12.7. Other Later Accounts
See Filby, 1970, 48-58 for many other "worldwide records," and Montgomery, 1972, 30 for a chart of 40 more non-biblical accounts of the Flood.
Flood stories in Genesis and the other flood accounts of the ancient near east are difficult to compare because they were written for different reasons and from different perspectives. For instance, the Gilgamesh Epic is concerned with the hero's quest for immortality. The Sumerian flood account is very fragmentary, necessitating a reconstruction from other accounts. The Babylonian Atrahasis tale is better to use in making a comparison. Even so, in it the Flood was sent because of over population and the fact that mankind was too noisy and disturbed the gods.
In Genesis, overpopulation was not the problem -- violent sin was the problem. God is not concerned with over population anywhere in the Bible. In fact, he told the patriarchs the opposite -- "Be fruitful, multiply, fill up the earth!" However, there are similarities between the Bible and other early accounts (and both are obviously relating the same event).
The Flood was like a funnel as far as any literature or oral tradition is concerned. We have little more than the Sumerian Kinglist and the biblical text to rely on for pre-Flood times. Thus, any pre-Flood literary relics would, of necessity, be passed on by Noah's family. If they carried any written records onto the Ark, they would not likely have taken any anti-YHVH literature. If so, post-flood extrabiblical literature must be an adaptation of the true story unless there were two arks, one for the followers of YHVH and one for others! (Josephus says the ancients kept meticulous records. See Whiston 1.3.3. fn. 3, Loeb, 37-39.)
The Flood lasted slightly over one year. Who passed on pre-flood literature and revived traditions? How did anyone after the Flood know the names of kings who ruled before the Flood and the names of their cities? (See article on biblical Geography.)
13. Date of the Flood
13.1. Genesis Genealogies
William Henry Green, a nineteenth century Princeton theologian, has influenced many to accept large gaps in the genealogical records. In his opinion, ". . . we conclude that the Scriptures furnish no data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either of the Flood or of the creation of the world" (1890, 303). He has allowed for great genealogical gaps in order to accommodate scientific information which many believe indicates a very old earth (1890, 286)
13.2. "Flood Levels" in Mesopotamian Cities
Early in the archaeological excavations of Mesopotamian river valley sites, deep flood-deposited layers were discovered near the foundations of the city. At first these were interpreted as evidence of Noah's Flood. However, as excavations continued, it became clear that they were only severe local floods, not the cataclysm of Noah's day.
"There is, it is true, considerable vagueness and contradiction in cuneiform literature about the antediluvian traditions. This is not unexpected, even in the light of the latest discoveries. These now make it seem possible that a specific historic flood provided the original inspiration for the Mesopotamian versions of the deluge, and that this particular flood occurred about 2900 BC. At the same time, the beginnings of Sumerian literature (and thus of all literature) can now be traced back as far as the finds from Fara and Abu Salabikh, which I am inclined to date no later than 2600 or 2500 BC . . . . Thus the gap between the antediluvian period and its first reflexes in cuneiform literature has been narrowed down to three or four hundred years. This is no small achievement if we recall the three or four millennia that separated earlier estimates of the date of the Flood from the first intimations traditions about it" (Hallo 1970: 61-62).
Hallo does not believe this flood was universal. He suggests that it was a local, but very severe flood. On the other hand, ancient literature on the subject, including the Bible, can be interpreted to show that somewhat earlier than the local floods there was a universal Flood. Most important to note is that the beginning of civilization at even the earliest sites was ca. 3000 BC. (For some that appear to be earlier, see below.)
The Sumerian King List begins with Kish immediately after the Flood. Both the List and the Bible speak of several cities with the same names (Babylon, Erech (Uruk), Akkad, Calah, Nineveh) as having come from "Kish" (King List) and "Cush" (Bible) respectively. George Roux says the kingdom of Kish began in approximately 2700 BC (1966: 120). H. W. F. Saggs points out that when the city of Kish was excavated, the earliest level was from the Jemdet Nasr period (1962: 51, 60, ca 2800-2400 BC).
The epic hero Gilgamesh was king of Uruk at about 2700 BC and, as the legend goes, was actually able to speak with a survivor of the Flood. (This would be impossible with a much earlier 10,000 BC date for the Flood.) The experiences of Gilgamesh, coupled with the Sumerian King List (in which he is mentioned), suggest a Flood date close to 3000 BC.
There are problems with this date, however. At several sites there was occupation, apparently, which preceded 3000 BC. Several so-called "flood levels" (at Ur, Jemdet Nasr, Fara, el-Obeid and other sites) were earlier thought to be the evidence for Noah's Flood. However, they can hardly be related to that great Flood.
As so often has been done, much too high dates for early civilizations were assigned in the first place. George Roux describes the situation:
"Proto-history has been divided Into five great periods, each of them characterized by a distinctive cultural assemblage and named after the site where this assemblage was first identified. They are in order: The Hassuna-Samarra period; The Halaf period; The Ubaid period; The Uruk period; and The Jemdat-Nasr period. As we shall presently see, these divisions do not actually apply to the whole country under study. The first two cultures are restricted to the north, the last two are predominant in the south. Moreover, the reader should be warned that all is not as clear in practice as it is on paper, and that scholars are still divided on the question of the exact limit between the Uruk and the Proto-literate periods and even on the name which should be given to the latter (1966: 61). The chronology of early periods rests upon more fragile foundations. In theory, it should be possible to work it out from king lists and dynastic lists, but these have often proved to be misleading. Not only do they show significant differences, but they contain a number of gaps or scribal errors, or they give as successive dynasties which, in fact, partly overlapped or were contemporaneous. One should not therefore be surprised to find different figures in different textbooks and occasional changes of opinion" (1966, 40).
Charles Burney adds to this with, "Radiocarbon determinations add weight to the new evidence, which makes it almost certain that there were three cultural provinces largely contemporary -- Early Halaf, Hassuna, and Samarra -- rather than in sequence" (Burney 1977:46).
In light of Roux's analysis of the uncertainties in post-Flood history, this opinion of Braidwood's, held by many prehistorians, seems quite speculative, "Prehistory means the time before written history began. Actually, more than 99 percent of man's story is prehistory. Man is probably well over a million years old, but he did not begin to write history (or to write anything) until about 5,000 years ago" (1967, 1). If man could not, and did not write during prehistory, there is no way to be sure of his age (of one million years), sophisticated dating methods notwithstanding. This is maintained because radioactive dating methods cannot be calibrated with known dates before 5,000 years ago.
13.3. Radioactive Dating Methods
Although the equipment used to date radioactive materials has become more sophisticated through time, basic problems originally discovered by Willard Libby, inventor of the C14 dating method, still pertain. Using known dates of Egyptian artifacts has proven accurate back to only about 2000 BC, according to the discoverer (Libby, 1965, ix; for an application to Mesopotamia, see Mallowan 1968, 7-8). This has created problems for radiocarbon dating older than 4000 BP (Before Present). Dates earlier than that cannot be calibrated since there is no historical material older than 5000 BP. W. Libby himself said: "The first shock Dr. Arnold and I had was that our advisors informed us that history extended back only 5000 years. We had initially thought that we would be able to get samples along the curve back to 30,000 years, put the points in, and then our work would be finished . . . We learned rather abruptly that these numbers, these ancient ages are not known; in fact, it is about the time of the first dynasty in Egypt that the last [earliest] historical date of any real certainty has been established" (Libby 1958, 531). Furthermore, as Libby makes clear in his publication, all "dates" higher than 5000 BP are not absolute dates, but are only measurements of residual unstable C14. "The larger group of scientists which question specific dates, or sections of sequences of them, are probably closer to the actual fact. That is, some radiocarbon dates do not indicate the age of the phenomena described for the samples, even though such dates represent true determinations of the quantities of radiocarbon in the samples" (Libby 1965, 144).
Weaknesses with all radioisotope dating methods include:
13.4. Egyptian Evidence
There is no Egyptian flood tradition in their literature. However, there is important evidence from other literary indications and archaeology. It is important to realize that recorded Egyptian history begins about 3000 BC. Egyptian prehistory was probably very short, indicating that little time had passed after the great Flood. Although Egyptian historians consider the prehistorical period(s) to be quite long, there is little hard evidence for this and, as seen above, C14 dates are not useful before 3000 BC.
The First Dynasty of pharaohs, after 3000 BC, corresponds to a group of people from Mesopotamia who, in a short time, established a complete civilization. Arts, crafts, architecture, etc. of a high level suddenly appeared (possibly in less than a hundred years) all over Egypt. Was this from Mesopotamia? Many scholars think so (Edwards 1964, 35-40; Emery 1961, 30-33; Kantor 1952, 239-50; Roux 1966, 80; Wilson 1956, 36-42).
More important, much of lower Egypt, at the founding of the First Dynasty was marshland, and today's deserts were pasturelands. This was true as late as the 5th and 6th Dynasties (Frankfort 1948, 16; Kees 1961, 17-24). None of the land north of Lake Moeris was above water (Herodotus 1954, 104). This includes the Nile delta, meaning the sea was 150 miles inland (near Cairo) instead of its present shoreline.
The first Pharaoh, Min or Menes, is famous for making embankments, draining swamps and establishing Memphis, which became, for millennia, the capital of Egypt. As founder, he was its "Creator" and was deified as the god "Ptah." The account of this is found in the Memphite Theology (Frankfort 1948, 17-20, 24f.; Wilson 1956, 58-60). Indications of Lower (northern) Egypt as marsh is taken from tombs. This may have been during the period after the Flood while the waters were drying up and Europe was still in its Ice Age.
13.5. River Deltas Begin Forming Worldwide about 3000 BC
There was only one event in the history of man which was such a stupendous catastrophe as to make it possible for rivers worldwide to begin flowing at about the same time -- ca. 3000 BC. That event was the worldwide Flood in the time of Noah.
As the Flood waters dried, filling up new lake and ocean basins, rivers began to flow in channels cut into unconsolidated, recently deposited sediments. As water on the landmass subsided into deepened oceans, rain fell, and rivers began depositing sediments at their mouths to form deltas. Investigations of these have revealed that, worldwide, river deltas are only a few thousand years old.
The Tigris and Euphrates delta is formed in the Persian Gulf. Many maps of the earliest periods of history show the shoreline as far north as Ur. That means the delta has filled in at least 150 miles during recorded times. Herodotus, the Greek historian, reported that Egyptian priests told him none of the land north of Lake Moeris (upriver, south from Cairo) was above water at the beginning of the First Dynasty (p. 104). The depth of the Mississippi River delta was investigated as long ago as 1850 and found to be only 40 feet deep. It has not been flowing very long. One other time-measuring feature -- Niagara Falls -- began falling and receding from Lake Ontario toward Lake Erie less than 10,000 years ago. The point is that none of these rivers could have been flowing for even 10,000 years; rather, they have flowed for probably less. The usual answer to this is that, until recently, the water was locked for tens of thousands of years in vast ice sheets. However, this cannot be the case for the Nile and the Tigris and Euphrates.
13.6. Problems with an Early Date (100,000 - 10,000 BC)
13.6.1. If the Flood occurred as early as 100,000, or as late as 10,000 BC, one cannot find a 7000 year gap in Scripture, or in any of the literature of the Ancient Near East, for that matter, between the Flood and the beginning of historical records. Nor can an explanation be found for the origin of families (nations) mentioned in Genesis 10-11. Historical records after 3000 BC can be used to trace families back to Noah. But there is nothing available before that time.
13.6.2. Cush was the grandson of Noah. The descendants of "Cush" built cities whose foundations date no higher than 3000 BC in almost all cases (Genesis 10). Cities that claim to be older: Jericho (7000 BC), Jarmo (6000 BC, etc.) were dated by C14 which cannot be calibrated by absolute dates 5000 years before the present. Thus much caution should be used when considering these early dates.
13.6.3. Ziggurats as well as the pyramids are later than 3000 BC. If there were earlier civilizations, there is no trace of anything like them. A little time obviously elapsed between the Flood and their construction. But 7000 years? That is longer than the entire history of man since the Flood. What of the accomplishments of man and the population growth in only 5000 years?
13.6.4. Genealogies in Genesis 5 and 10 may be stretched slightly, but they cease to be genealogies if large gaps exist. 7000 years makes them meaningless for genealogical purposes.
13.7. Problem With a Late Date
The date of the Great Flood in relation to local floods in the Mesopotamian river basin is, at the present, impossible to determine since a universal Flood completely altered the surface of the earth.
Summary and Conclusions
There are discrepancies in standard dating methods:
Several evidences indicate a Great Flood about 3000 BC:
The biblical account did not derive from other literature. It is eyewitness testimony. The structure of the narrative disallows for multiple authors. It seems clear from the biblical story that there was a universal flood about 3000 BC. Language describing it is all-inclusive with superlatives used, and the New Testament confirms this. Extrabiblical literary accounts confirm the biblical account.
All information considered, the evidence seems greatest for a universal flood.
The article above was written at the request of Inter Varsity Press in 1999. The author wrote the editors twice to make sure they would use the article after it was finished, inasmuch as he is a theological conservative. He pointed out to the IVP editors that this would be the emphasis taken by the writer.
After finishing and presenting the article for inclusion in the volume Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, it was refused by the editors, apparently because it was not well balanced, although no reason was given. Then John Walton, professor at Wheaton College (which is the writer's alma mater), was given the opportunity to write the article on the Flood. Supposedly, in the editors' opinions, his article is well-balanced.
Editor David Baker said in his September 28, 1999 email letter to this writer that the editors "are trying here to walk a middle road, not wanting to be obscurantist by refusing to acknowledge the variety of opinions, but also not being wishy-washy/post-modern, inferring that truth is completely relative."
We examine a few passages in John Walton's treatise on the Flood to see whether it is down the middle of the road -- truly fair and balanced:
Page 320 -- "How should we assess the extent of the biblical flood? We must first understand that we have to deal with a text . . . that is not only nonscientific but that communicates within a prescientific worldview. . . Some feel that they are protecting the reputation of the Bible by devising scientific theories that account for the details of the traditional interpretation of the text."
In our opinion the above is patently one-sided in that it caters to a viewpoint which opposes finding scientific data in the text related to the Flood. We predict that he will set the extent of the Flood, based on his presuppositions, as a relatively local -- and not a universal event.
Walton suggests four possibilities for describing the extent of the Flood. (Page 321)
They are: Global, Known World, Regional, Local. Of the first he says, "This position is the most extreme. It represents the belief that the floodwaters covered the entire globe to a height that was higher than the highest mountains." We will not consider the other three since they fail to satisfy the biblical data. The first description, which Walton rejects, accurately portrays the biblical event.
To this end, he emphasizes that "all" (Hebrew ql ) which is used 19 or more times to describe the extent of the Flood does not mean ALL. It is a relative term, sometimes meaning "all" and other times meaning "not all." And, in this case, his opinion is that it most definitely does NOT mean "all" even when Scripture declares "all."
Walton next downplays the "scientific evidence" by contending that the Flood waters could not have covered the tallest mountains, including Mt. Everest. Furthermore, he suggests that Noah could never have gotten all the creatures now in the world on the ark. And even if he did, he could not take care of them adequately.
We fail to see how this can be considered a balanced approach to the extent of the Flood. One almost wonders from reading this whether Walton believes the Flood even occurred. As for the waters covering Mt. Everest, Walton obviously (along with the "science" professors at Wheaton) believes that the earth is very, very old, and Mt. Everest was as tall as it is today even before the Flood. He does not consider that these high mountains could have been much lower before and during the Flood and heaved upward as the earth's mantle adjusted late in the Flood period.
Archaeology and the Flood. (Page 324) "There is presently no convincing archaeological evidence of the biblical flood." "The city of Jericho. . . continuously occupied from 7000 BC into the OT period, had no flood deposits whatsoever." (This only indicates that Jericho was founded AFTER the Flood. C14, used to arrive at the 7000 BC date, is not accurate earlier than 3000 BC according to Willard Libby, discoverer of the C14 dating method.)
Having said the above, Walton then mentions that the search for the Ark on Agri Dagh, or Mt. Ararat, has been unsuccessful to this date. He may be unaware that another mountain, Cudi Dagh (the Turkish pronunciation is "Judi Dagh"), was known as the resting place of the ark until the 1400's. It is ca. 200 miles south of Agri Dagh, and only 7000 feet high. The ark's landing in those mountains is still being celebrated locally on the anniversary of the landing.
(Page 325) Walton then presents two possibilities that describe the Flood. One is a flooding of the Mediterranean Sea, and the other is the flooding of the Black Sea, the former not occurring until about 5.5 million years ago. He says, "If the reader finds it difficult to put the flood 5.5 million years ago, the Black Sea theory may be more palatable." (It occurred "5500 BC.")
Walton's true position becomes plain when he says, "Both these theories would fit into the 'Regional' category. They are examples of theories that attempt to identify some geologically known natural catastrophe with the biblical flood instead of trying to come up with possible scientific explanations of how a global flood could have theoretically occurred (as Whitcomb and Morris do)."
In all this it becomes clear that Walton accepts high ages for (creation? and) the flood. This is the Wheaton College position and is most unfortunate. They want to be considered "scientific" by their peers. What is the average layman to accept and believe?
His closing remarks. (Page 325.) "The NT refers to the flood a few times in passing but does not offer any unequivocal statements about the extent of the flood." (Matthew 24:38, 39 not mentioned) Luke 17:27, II Peter 2:5, II Peter 3:5,6. "One can find support here for the anthropological universality of the flood, but little that can be conclusively inferred about the geographical extent of the flood."
The Great Flood is called a in the Greek NT, from which we get "cataclysm." This word apparently does not describe much in the way of the Great Flood according to Walton. But if "cataclysm" fails to describe a major event, we wonder what would be the Greek for a major catastrophe like the Great Flood?
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Libby, W. F.,
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Morris, H. M.,
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Saggs, H. W. F.,
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