More like this
Deluge of Noah
1. The Biblical Account
2. "Noah’s Log Book"
4. The Indian Tradition
5. The Chinese Tradition
6. The Greek Tradition
7. The British Tradition
8. The American Indian Traditions
9. The Babylonian Tradition
10. Cuneiform Tablets
11. Was the Flood Universal?
1. The Biblical Account:
2. "Noah’s Log Book":
The following are the leading points in the story which has been appropriately styled by Sir William Dawson "Noah’s log book" (see Southeast Bishop’s article in Biblical Sac. (1906), 510-17, and Joseph B. Davidson in the author’s Scientific Confirmations ofHistory, 180-184).
It will thus be seen that there is no need of supposing any duplication and overlapping of accounts in the Biblical story. There is continual progress in the account from beginning to end, with only such repetitions for literary effect as we are familiar with in oriental writings. In
Compared with other traditions of the Deluge, the Biblical account appears in a most favorable light, while the general prevalence of such traditions strongly confirms the reality of the Biblical story.
3. The Egyptian Tradition:
An Egyptian legend of the Deluge is referred to in Plato’s Timaeus, where the gods are said to have purified the earth by a great flood of water from which only a few shepherds escaped by climbing to the summit of a high mountain. In the Egyptian documents themselves, however, we find only that Ra’ the creator, on account of the insolence of man, proceeded to exterminate him by a deluge of blood which flowed up to Heliopolis, the home of the gods; but the heinousness of the deed so affected him that he repented and swore never more to destroy mankind.
4. The Indian Tradition:
In Indian mythology there is no reference to the Flood in the Rig Veda, but in the laws of Manu we are told that a fish said to Manu, "A deluge will sweep all creatures away ..... Build a vessel and worship me. When the waters rise enter the vessel and I will save thee ..... When the Deluge came, he had entered the vessel. .... Manu fastened the cable of the ship to the horn of the fish, by which means the latter made it pass over the mountains of the North. The fish said: `I have saved thee; fasten the vessel to a tree that the water may not sweep it away while thou art in the mountain; and in proportion as the waters decrease, thou shalt descend.’ Manu descended with the waters, and this is what is called the Descent of Manu on the mountains of the North. The Deluge had carried away all creatures, and Manu remained alone" (translated by Max Muller).
5. The Chinese Tradition:
The Chinese tradition is embodied in sublime language in their book of Li-Ki: "And now the pillars of heaven were broken, the earth shook to its very foundation; the sun and the stars changed their motions; the earth fell to pieces, and the waters enclosed within its bosom burst forth with violence, and overflowed. Man having rebelled against heaven, the system of the universe was totally disordered, and the grand harmony of nature destroyed. All these evils arose from man’s despising the supreme power of the universe. He fixed his looks upon terrestrial objects and loved them to excess, until gradually he became transformed into the objects which he loved, and celestial reason entirely abandoned him."
6. The Greek Tradition:
The Greeks, according to Plutarch, had five different traditions of the Deluge, that of Deucalion being the most important. According to this, Prometheus warned his son Deucalion of the flood which Zeus had resolved to bring upon the earth by reason of its wickedness. Accordingly, Deucalion constructed an ark and took refuge in it, but with his vessel was stranded on Mount Parnassus in Thessaly, whereupon they disembarked and repopulated the earth by the fantastic process revealed to them by the goddess Themis of throwing stones about them, those which Deucalion threw becoming men and those which Pyrrha threw becoming women. Lucian’s form of the legend, however, is less fantastic and more nearly in line with Semitic tradition. In the Greek legend as in the Semitic, a dove is sent forth which returns both a first and a second time, its feet being tinged with mud the second time, intimating the abatement of the flood. But neither Homer nor Hesiod have this tradition. Probably it was borrowed from the Semites or the Hindus.
7. The British Tradition:
In Britain there is a Druid legend that on account of the profligacy of mankind, the Supreme Being sent a flood upon the earth when "the waves of the sea lifted themselves on high round the border of Britain. The rain poured down from heaven and the waters covered the earth." But the patriarch, distinguished for his integrity, had been shut up with a select company in a strong ship which bore them safely upon the summit of the waters (Editor Davies in his Mythology and Rites of British Druids). From these the world was again repopulated. There are various forms of this legend but they all agree in substance.
8. The American Indian Traditions:
Among thetraditions of the Deluge were found by travelers to be widely disseminated. Mr. Catlin says, "Among the 120 different tribes which I visited in North, South, and Central America, not a tribe exists that has not related to me distinct or vague traditions of such a calamity, in which one, or three, or eight persons were saved above the waters upon the top of a high mountain" (quoted by Wm. Restelle in Biblical Sac. (January, 1907), 157). While many, perhaps most, of these traditions bear the stamp of Christian influence through the early missionaries, the Mexican legend bears evident marks of originality. According to it the 4th age was one of water, when all men were turned into fishes except Tezpi and his wife Hochiquetzal and their children, who with many animals took refuge in a ship which sailed safely over the tumultuous waters which overwhelmed the earth. When the flood subsided the ship stranded on Mount Cohuacan, whereupon he sent forth a vulture which did not return, and then a humming bird which returned with some leaves in its beak. The Peruvian story differs from this in many particulars. According to it a single man and woman took refuge in a box and floated hundreds of miles from Cuzco to an unknown land where they made clay images of all races, and animated them.
The Moravian missionary Cranz, in his History of Greenland, says that "the first missionaries among the Greenlanders found a tolerably distinct tradition of the Deluge" to the effect that "the earth was once tilted over and all men were drowned" except one "who smote afterward upon the ground with a stick and thence came out a woman with whom he peopled the earth again." Moreover, the Greenlanders point to the remains of fishes and bones of a whale on high mountains where men never could have dwelt, as proof that the earth was once flooded. Among the North American Indians generally legends of the Deluge are so embellished that they become extremely fantastic, but in many of them there are peculiarities which point unquestionably to a common origin of extreme antiquity.
The unprejudiced reader cannot rise from the study of the subject without agreeing in general with Francois Lenormant, who writes: "As the case now stands, we do not hesitate to declare that, far from being a myth, the Biblical Deluge is a real and historical fact, having, to say the least, left its impress on the ancestors of three races--Aryan, or Indo-European, Semitic, or Syrio-Arabian, Chamitic, or Kushite--that is to say on the three great civilized races of the ancient world, those which constitute the higher humanity--before the ancestors of these races had as yet separated, and in the part of Asia together inhabited" (Contemporary Review, November, 1879).
9. The Babylonian Tradition:
The most instructive of these traditions are those which have come down to us from Babylonia, which until recently were known to us only through the Greek historian Berosus of the 4th century BC, who narrates that a great deluge happened at some indefinite time in the past during the reign of Xisuthrus, son of Ardates. Xisuthrus was warned beforehand by the deity Cronos, and told to build a ship and take with him his friends and relations and all the different animals with all necessary food and trust himself fearlessly to the deep, whereupon he built "a vessel 5 stadia (3,000 ft.) long and 2 stadia (1,200 ft.) broad." After the flood subsided Xisuthrus, like Noah, sent out birds which returned to him again. After waiting some days and sending them out a second time, they returned with their feet tinged with mud. Upon the third trial they returned no more, whereupon they disembarked and Xisuthrus with his wife, daughter and pilot offered sacrifice to the gods and were translated to live with the gods. It was found that the place where they were was "the land of Armenia," but they were told to return to Babylon. Berosus concluded his account by saying that "the vessel being thus stranded in Armenia, some part of it yet remains in the Corcyrean mountains."
10. Cuneiform Tablets:
An earlier and far more important tradition was found inscribed on cuneiform tablets in Babylonia dating from 3000 BC. These were discovered by George Smith in 1870 and filled as many as 180 lines. The human hero of the account, corresponding to Noah of the Bible and Xisuthrus of Berosus, is Gilgamesh, who lived is Shurippak, a city full of violence, on the banks of the Euphrates. He was warned of an approaching flood and exhorted to pull down his house and build a ship and cause "seed of life of every sort to go up into it." The ship, he says, was to be "exact in its dimensions, equal in its breadth and its length. .... Its sides were 140 cubits high, the border of its top equaled 140 cubits. .... I constructed it in 6 stories, dividing it into 7 compartments. Its floors I divided into 9 chambers. .... I chose a mast (or rudder pole), and supplied what was necessary. Six sars of bitumen I poured over the outside; three sars of bitumen over the inside." After embarking, the storm broke with fearful violence and the steering of the ship was handed over to Bezur-Bel, the ship man. But amidst the roll of thunder and the march of mountain waves the helm was wrenched from the pilot’s hands and the pouring rain and the lightning flashes dismayed all hearts. "Like a battle charge upon mankind" the water rushed so that the gods even were dismayed at the flood and cowered like dogs, taking refuge in the heaven of Anu while Ishtar screamed like a woman in travail, and repenting of her anger, resolved to save a few and "to give birth to my people" till like "the fry of fishes they fill the sea." The ship was therefore turned to the country of Nizir (Armenia).
It is worthy of notice that the cuneiform tablet exhibits as much variety of style as does the Biblical account. Plain narrative and rhetorical prose are intermingled in both accounts, a fact which effectually disposes of the critical theory which regards the Biblical account as a clumsy combination made in later times by piecing together two or more independent traditions. Evidently the piecing together, if there was any, had been accomplished early in Babylonian history. See BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA.
On comparing the Biblical account with that of the cuneiform tablets, the following similarities and contrasts are brought to light:
(1) That the cuneiform inscription is from start to finish polytheistic (II. 3-17), whereas the narrative in Ge is monotheistic.
(2) The cuneiform agrees with the Biblical narrative in making the Deluge a Divine punishment for the wickedness of the world (II. 5, 6).
(3) The names differ to a degree that is irreconcilable with our present knowledge.
(4) The dimensions of the ark as given in Ge (6:15) are reasonable, while those of Berosus and the cuneiform tablets are unreasonable. According to Gen, the ark was 300 cubits (562 1/2 ft.) long, 50 cubits (93 2/3 ft.) wide, and 30 cubits (56 1/4 ft.) deep, which are the natural proportions for a ship of that size, being in fact very close to those of the great steamers which are now constructed to cross the Atlantic. The "Celtic" of the White Star line, built in 1901, is 700 ft. long, 75 ft. wide and 49 1/3 ft. deep. The dimensions of the "Great Eastern," built in 1858 (692 ft. long, 83 ft. broad, and 58 ft. deep), are still closer to those of the ark. The cuneiform tablets represent the length, width and depth each as 140 cubits (262 ft.) (II. 22, 23, 38-41), the dimensions of an entirely unseaworthy structure. According to Berosus, it was 5 stadia (3,000 ft.) and 2 stadia (1,200 ft.) broad; while Origen (Against Celsus, 4,41), represented it to be 135,000 ft. (25 miles) long, and 3,750 ft. (3/4 mile) wide.
(5) In the Biblical account, nothing is introduced conflicting with the sublime conception of holiness and the peculiar combination of justice and mercy ascribed to God throughout the Bible, and illustrated in the general scheme of providential government manifest in the order of Nature and in history; while, in the cuneiform tablets, the Deluge is occasioned by a quarrel among the gods, and the few survivors escape, not by reason of a merciful plan, but by a mistake which aroused the anger of Bel (II. 146-50).
(6) In all the accounts, the ark is represented as floating up stream. According to Gen, it was not, as is usually translated, on "Mount Ararat" (8:4), but in the "mountains of Ararat," designating an indefinite region in Armenia upon which the ark rested; according to the inscriptions, it was in Nizir (II. 115-20), a region which is watered by the Zab and the Tornadus; while, according to Berosus, it was on the Corcyrean Mountains, included in the same indefinite area. In all three cases, its resting-place is in the direction of the headwaters of the Euphrates valley, while the scene of the building is clearly laid in the lower part of the valley.
(7) Again, in the Biblical narrative, the spread of the water floating the ark is represented to have been occasioned, not so much by the rain which fell, as by the breaking-up of "all the fountains of the great deep" (
(8) The cuneiform tablets agree in general with the two other accounts respecting the collecting of the animals for preservation, but differ from Ge in not mentioning the sevens of clean animals and in including others beside the family of the builder (II. 66-69).
(9) The cuneiform inscription is peculiar in providing the structure with a mast, and putting it in charge of a pilot (II. 45, 70, 71).
(10) The accounts differ decidedly in the duration of the Flood. According to the ordinary interpretation of the Biblical account, the Deluge continued a year and 17 days; whereas, according to the cuneiform tablets, it lasted only 14 days (II. 103-7, 117-22).
(11) All accounts agree in sending out birds; but, according to Ge (8:8) a raven was first sent out, and then in succession two doves (8:8-12); while the cuneiform inscription mentions the dove and the raven in reverse order from Gen, and adds a swallow (II. 121-30).
(12) All accounts agree in the building of an altar and offering a sacrifice after leaving the ark. But the cuneiform inscription is overlaid with a polytheistic coloring: "The gods like flies swarmed about the sacrifices" (II. 132-43).
(13) According to the Biblical account, Noah survived the Flood for a long time; whereas Nuhnapishtim and his wife were at once deified and taken to heaven (II. 177-80).
(14) Both accounts agree in saying that the human race is not again to be destroyed by a flood (
Close inspection of these peculiarities makes it evident that the narrative in Genesis carries upon its face an appearance of reality not found in the other accounts. It is scarcely possible that the reasonable dimensions of the ark, its floating up stream, and the references to the breaking-up of the fountains of the great deep should have been hit upon by accident. It is in the highest degree improbable that correct statements of such unobvious facts should be due to the accident of legendary guesswork. At the same time, the duration of the Deluge, according to Genesis, affords opportunity for a gradual progress of events which best accords with scientific conceptions of geological movements. If, as the most probable interpretation would imply, the water began to recede after 150 days from the beginning of the Flood and fell 15 cubits in 74 days, that would only be 3 2/3 inches per day--a rate which would be imperceptible to an ordinary observer. Nor is it necessary to suppose that the entire flooded area was uncovered when Noah disembarked. The emergence of the land may have continued for an indefinite period, permitting the prevailing water to modify the climate of all western and central Asia for many centuries. Evidence that this was the case will be found in a later paragraph.
11. Was the Flood Universal?:
In considering the credibility of the Biblical story we encounter at the outset the question whether the narrative compels us to believe the Flood to have been universal. In answer, it is sufficient to suggest that since the purpose of the judgment was the destruction of the human race, all the universality which it is necessary to infer from the language would be only such as was sufficient to accomplish that object. If man was at that time limited to the Euphrates valley, the submergence of that area would meet all the necessary conditions. Such a limitation is more easily accepted from the fact that general phrases like "Everybody knows," "The whole country was aroused," are never in literature literally interpreted. When it is said (
As to the extent to which the human race was spread over the earth at the time of the Flood, two suppositions are possible. First, that of Hugh Miller (Testimony of the Rocks) that, owing to the shortness of the antediluvian chronology, and the violence and moral corruption of the people, population had not spread beyond the boundary of western Asia. An insuperable objection to this theory is that the later discoveries have brought to light remains of prehistoric man from all over the northern hemisphere, showing that long before the time of the Flood he had become widely scattered.
Another theory, supported by much evidence, is that, in connection with the enormous physical changes in the earth’s surface during the closing scenes of the Glacial epoch, man had perished from off the face of the earth except in the valley of the Euphrates, and that the Noachian Deluge is the final catastrophe in that series of destructive events (see Antediluvians). The facts concerning the Glacial epoch naturally lead up to this conclusion. For during the entire epoch, and especially at its close, the conditions affecting the level of the land surfaces of the northern hemisphere were extremely abnormal, and continued so until some time after man had appeared on the earth.
The Glacial epoch followed upon, and probably was a consequence of, an extensive elevation of all the land surfaces of the northern hemisphere at the close of the Tertiary period. This elevation was certainly as much as 2,000 ft. over the northern part of the United States, and over Canada and Northern Europe. Snow accumulated over this high land until the ice formed by it was certainly a mile thick, and some of the best authorities say 2, or even 3 miles. The surface over which this was spread amounted to 2,000,000 square miles in Europe and 4,000,000 in North America. The total amount of the accumulation would therefore be 6,000,000 cubic miles at the lowest calculation, or twice or three times that amount if the largest estimates are accepted. (For detailed evidence see Wright, Ice Age in North America, 5th edition) But in either case the transference of so much weight from the ocean beds to the land surfaces of the northern hemisphere brings into the problem a physical force sufficient to produce incalculable effects. The weight of 6,000,000 cubic miles of ice would be twenty-four thousand million million (24,000,000,000,000,000) tons, which is equal to that of the entire North American continent above sea level. Furthermore this weight was first removed from the ocean beds, thus disturbing still more the balance of forces which secure the stability of the land. The geological evidence is abundant that in connection with the overloading of the land surfaces in the Northern Hemisphere, and probably by reason of it, the glaciated area and a considerable margin outside of it sank down until it was depressed far below the present level. The post-Glacial depression in North America was certainly 600 ft. below sea level at Montreal, and several hundred feet lower further north. In Sweden the post-Glacial sea beaches show a depression of the land 1,000 ft. below the sea.
The evidences of a long-continued post-Glacial subsidence of the Aral-Caspian basin and much of the surrounding area is equally conclusive. At Trebizond, on the Black Sea, there is an extensive recent sea beach clinging to the precipitous volcanic mountain back of the city 750 ft. above the present water level. The gravel in this beach is so fresh as to compel a belief in its recent origin, while it certainly has been deposited by a body of water standing at that elevation after the rock erosion of the region had been almost entirely effected. The deposit is about 100 ft. thick, and extends along the precipitous face of the mountain for a half-mile or more. So extensive is it that it furnishes an attractive building place for a monastery. When the water was high enough to build up this shore line, it would cover all the plains of southern Russia, of Western Siberia and of the Aral-Caspian depression in Turkestan. Similar terraces of corresponding height are reported by competent authorities on the south shore of the Crimea and at Baku, on the Caspian Sea.
Further and most interesting evidence of this post-Glacial land depression is found in the existence of Arctic seal 2,000 miles from the Arctic Ocean in bodies of water as widely separated as the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea and Lake Baikal. Lake Baikal is now 1,500 ft. above sea level. It is evident, therefore, that there must have been a recent depression of the whole area to admit the migration of this species to that distant locality. There are also clear indications of a smaller depression around the eastern shores of the, where there are abandoned sea beaches from 200 to 300 ft. above tide, which abound in species of shells identical with those now living nearby.
These are found in Egypt, in the valley of the Red Sea, and in the vicinity of Joppa and Beirut. During their formation Asia and Africa must have been separated by a wide stretch of water connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. The effect of such lingering wide expanses of water upon the climate of Western Asia must have been profound, and would naturally provide those conditions which would favor the early development of the human race in Armenia (where even now at an elevation of 5,000 ft. the vine is indigenous), from which the second distribution of mankind is said to have taken place.
Furthermore there is indubitable evidence that the rainfall in central Asia was, at a comparatively recent time, immensely greater than it has been in the historic period, indicating that gradual passage from the conditions connected with the Deluge to those of the present time, at which we have hinted above. At the present time the evaporation over the Aral Sea is so great that two rivers (the ancient Oxus and the Jaxartes), coming down from the heights of central Asia, each with a volume as great as that of Niagara, do not suffice to cause an overflow into the Caspian Sea. But the existence of such an overflow during the prehistoric period is so plain that it has been proposed to utilize its channel (which is a mile wide and as distinctly marked as that of any living stream) for a canal.
Owing to the comparatively brief duration of the Noachian Deluge proper, we cannot expect to find many positive indications of its occurrence. Nevertheless, Professor Prestwich (than whom there has been no higher geological authority in England during the last century) adduces an array of facts relating to Western Europe and the Mediterranean basin which cannot be ignored (see Phil. Trans. of the Royal Soc. of London, CXXIV (1893), 903-84; Wright, Scientific Confirmation of the Old Testament History, 238-82). Among these evidences one of the most convincing is to be found in the cave of San Ciro at the base of the mountains surrounding the plain of Palermo in Sicily. In this cave there was found an immense mass of the bones of hippopotami of all ages down to the fetus, mingled with a few of the deer, ox and elephant. These were so fresh when discovered that they were cut into ornaments and polished and still retained a considerable amount of their nitrogenous matter. Twenty tons of these bones were shipped for commercial purposes in the first six months after their discovery. Evidently the animals furnishing these bones had taken refuge in this cave to escape the rising water which had driven them in from the surrounding plains and cooped them up in the amphitheater of mountains during a gradual depression of the land. Similar collections of bones are found in various ossiferous fissures, in England and Western Europe, notably in the Rock of Gibraltar and at Santenay, a few miles South of Chalons in central France, where there is an accumulation of bones in fissures 1,000 ft. above the sea, similar in many respects to that in the cave described at San Ciro, though the bones of hippopotami did not appear in these places; but the bones of wolves, bears, horses and oxen, none of which had been gnawed by carnivora, were indiscriminately commingled as though swept in by all-pervading currents of water. Still further evidence is adduced in the deposits connected with what is called the rubble drift on both sides of the English Channel and on the Jersey Islands. Here in various localities, notably at Brighton, England, and near Calais, France, elephant bones and human implements occur beneath deep deposits of unassorted drift, which is not glacial nor the product of limited and local streams of water, but can be accounted for only by general waves of translation produced when the land was being reelevated from beneath the water by a series of such sudden earthquake shocks as cause the tidal waves which are often so destructive.
Thus, while we cannot appeal to geology for direct proof of the Noachian Deluge, recent geological discoveries do show that such a catastrophe is perfectly credible from a scientific point of view; and the supposition that there was a universal destruction of the human race, in the northern hemisphere at least, in connection with the floods accompanying the melting off of the glacial ice is supported by a great amount of evidence. There was certainly an extensive destruction of animal species associated with man during that period. In Europe the great Irish elk, the machairodus, the cave lion, the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus and the elephant disappeared with prehistoric man, amid the floods at the close of the Glacial epoch. In North America equally large felines, together with horses, tapirs, llamas, great mastodons and elephants and the huge megalonyx went to destruction in connection with the same floods that destroyed so large a part of the human race during the dramatic closing scenes of the period. It is, therefore, by no means difficult for an all-round geologist to believe in a final catastrophe such as is described in Gen. If we disbelieve in the Biblical Deluge it is not because we know too much geology, but too little.