Skip to comments.Believers In The Lost Ark (Noah's)
Posted on 08/08/2003 6:56:40 PM PDT by blam
Believers in the lost Ark
Treating myth as fact misunderstands the meaning of religion
Saturday August 9, 2003
The Guardian (UK)
The explorer who discovered the Titanic beneath the Atlantic in 1985 is setting out on another underwater expedition to document Noah's flood. The Black Sea was originally a freshwater lake that in ancient times became inundated by the salty Mediterranean. Robert Ballard believes that this was a cataclysmic event that occurred about 7,500 years ago, and was possibly the deluge described in the Bible. Ballard's critics are sceptical: they argue that the infiltration of the Black Sea was a gradual process that occurred much earlier and over a long period of time. They accuse Ballard of using Noah to sex up his material for maximum publicity.
Christian fundamentalists will expect great things of Ballard's expedition. American creationists, who believe that the book of Genesis gives a scientifically accurate account of the origins of life, have long discussed Noah's flood. Some have even led archaeological expeditions to Mount Ararat in Turkey, in the hope of unearthing the Ark, and proving the literal truth of scripture once and for all.
Other creationists are more cautious, pointing out that the Ark is unlikely to have survived the ravages of time. But all Christian fundamentalists are passionately convinced that the Bible describes a historical deluge that destroyed all life on earth. Noah's flood was not a local event, as some suggest; it was universal, and even covered the US, creating the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls.
The creationists claim to study the physical effects of Noah's flood in order to disprove the theory of evolution, using carbon dating methods and modern geological data, and insist on their constitutional right to teach "creation science" in the public schools.
Most importantly, the creationists argue that fossils are simply relics of the flood. After the waters had subsided, exposing millions of rotting carcasses, God caused a powerful wind to blow, which buried them under a mound of trees and earth that later solidified and became rocks, oil and coal. The flood had killed the smallest creatures before the larger animals, which had congregated on hilltops and were buried at a later stage of the storm, so the fossil record does not reveal a truly temporal evolution. Noah saved a pair of each species, just as the Bible records, even though to accommodate them all, the Ark must have been as large as eight goods trains with 65 livestock trucks apiece.
Needless to say, Ballard does not subscribe to these ideas. Yet by mentioning Noah in the context of a serious scientific expedition, he is unwittingly helping to perpetuate a widespread but erroneous understanding of the nature of religious truth. The search for Noah's flood is as irrelevant as an attempt to find the "real" Middlemarch or Cranford. Like George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell, the authors of Genesis are not writing history, but are engaged in an imaginative investigation of the human predicament.
Flooding was a frequent and destructive occurrence in ancient Mesopotamia and a common metaphor for political and social dissolution. In Babylonia, the poems Atrahasis and The Epic of Gilgamesh (around 1300 BC) were part of a long-established epic tradition, which saw a massive deluge as marking the transition from the primordial age, when the gods had intimate relationships with human beings, to the present day, when the divine had become a distant, shadowy reality. Noah's flood cannot be understood outside this literary genre.
Genesis has preserved two accounts of the flood, which were combined by a later redactor to form the extant text: the so-called Yahwist epic (around the ninth century) and the sixth century priestly source. Neither of our authors is interested in giving an accurate description of a historical flood. Both use an old story to explore the same theological problems as the Babylonians, though they arrive at slightly different conclusions.
Thus in the Babylonian epics the deluge was caused by the irresponsible behaviour of the gods, who were appalled when they saw the extent of the devastation, and decided that henceforth they would withdraw from human affairs. Genesis, however, exonerates God and put the blame squarely on human wickedness.
But even so, unlike some Christians today, the Yahwist has no easy answers and like the Babylonians his story shows a new separation from the sacred. In the old days, God had been a frequent, friendly visitor to the Garden of Eden, but now the divine can seem cruel, arbitrary and incomprehensible.
The priestly author was writing for Jews who had lost their homeland and had been taken into exile. He makes the flood story foreshadow his story of the Israelites' 40 years in the wilderness in Exodus and Numbers. He is not interested in giving us information about the time of either Noah or Moses, but is addressing a problem of his own time. Like the flood and the wilderness years, the exile of the Jews is a period of transition. It is true that the old world has been destroyed, but there is still hope. A new order, a new world will emerge.
Both authors, in their different ways, are looking into the heart of darkness. Religious truth does not stand or fall by the historicity of its scriptural narratives. It will survive only if it enables people to find meaning and value when they are overwhelmed by the despair that is an inescapable part of the human condition. When we are discussing the meaning of life and the death of meaning, the historicity of the flood becomes an irrelevant distraction from the main issue. We are dealing not with history or science but with myth.
Today in popular parlance, a myth is something that did not happen, so to claim that a biblical story is mythical is to deny its truth. But before the advent of our scientific modernity, myth recounted an event that had - in some sense - happened once, but which also happened all the time. It was never possible to interpret a myth in terms of objective reason.
There were two ways of arriving at truth, which Plato called mythos and logos (reason). They complemented each other and were of equal stature; both were essential. Unlike myth, logos had to relate accurately to the external world: from the very earliest days, we used it to create effective weapons and to run our societies efficiently.
But humans are also meaning-seeking creatures, who fall very easily into despair. When faced with tragedy, reason is silent and has nothing to say. It was mythology and its accompanying rituals that showed people how to acquire the strength to go on.
As a result of our scientific revolution, however, logos achieved such spectacular results in the west that myth was discredited. By the 19th century, believers and sceptics alike began to read the biblical myths as though they were logoi.
But the biblical writers would have been astonished to hear about a scientific expedition to find the "real" flood. In the premodern perspective, mythos and logos each had its own sphere of competence. If you confused them, you had bad science - like that of the creationists. You also had bad religion. Until we recover a sense of the mythical, our scriptures will remain opaque, and our faith - as well as our unbelief - will be misplaced.
This idea has been pretty well de-bunked in Ryan & Pittman's book, Noah's Flood
If it had been a slow process, there would be numerous 'shore lines' as the water slowly rose. Instead, there is only one about 500 feet underwater.
Sister Benidict that taught me 9th grade biology said it is not a myth but it might be a parable, just as how Christ taught.
Noah = sexy? Uhhh...right.
I visited Ararat. The only thing found near the summit was a sliver of wood. It was inscribed in an an ancient language. It was later translated to read..42...it was signed...Slartibartfast.
In other words, without a shred of proof or any evidence, this writer draws on the pseudo-scholarship of the Graf-Welhausen school of biblical interpretation, and decides for us that there is no truth in the historical narratives of the Old Testament. Like the Episcopalians, she looks for a story behind (or above) the story.
What makes her so smart? She goes so far as attributing motive to the writers, motive which is pure speculation.
I don't buy it. There is too much evidence to the contrary.
Well, after all, Noah, his wife, and his sons and daughters, and their wives and husbands did repopulate the earth.
A piece of wood was found, but was dated to mid-AD. Long after the Biblical stories went to press.
Well, in one little article she assembles more historical facts than a gaggle of fundies could scrape together in 20 centuries.
These "stories" were written in two languages well before there was such a thing as a printing press. I already know that you are extremely hostile to my faith, but still. . .
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