Skip to comments.The Evidence for Noah's Flood
Posted on 05/12/2018 4:35:00 PM PDT by pcottraux
By Philip Cottraux
First, some background info.
A friend of mine posted a recent chat on her YouTube channel with an orthodox professor of Biblical studies who doesn't believe the first 11 chapters of Genesis should be taken literally. While he still maintains to be a Christian, he believes that the Garden of Eden, the flood, and the tower of Babel are myths that God used as symbols of his relationship with man.
I thought I would present historical evidence for Noahs flood to contribute to their discussion (I've linked the following blog to them on Twitter to read and react to). As most of my readers know, this is a topic Ive heavily researched, written, and spoken about in the past (in fact, I admit some of this is directly taken from previous blogs).
Ive read that there are at least 250 flood legends from the ancient world. Skeptics are usually quick to point out that this disproves the flood altogether, since the Genesis account isnt the oldest one.
Strikingly, most tell the same basic story: the god(s) becoming angry with humanity and deciding to wipe it out with a deluge. One righteous man is chosen to save our species, so he builds a giant ark and loads it with his family and animals to save from extinction (that his family is composed of 8 is also a recurrent pattern). The waters drown humanity but the ship is swept up to the side of a mountain where the flood hero worships and begins to repopulate the earth.
An interesting detail that often gets overlooked is that in many of these accounts, the hero also becomes the inventor (and in some instances the deity) of wine. In Genesis, Noah becomes the first to disgrace himself with alcohol. According to Richard Barnett:
The fame of Urartian wine (it seems) had even reached the distant Hebrews in ancient Palestine, where its invention in Armenia was projected back to dimmest antiquity, as witnessed by their story of Noah disgraced by drunkenness on Mount Ararat. Indeed the wine grape, vitis vinifera, from which the cultured vine is derived, is believed to have originated nearby in the Caucasus region near the Caspian.
The flood legends are almost universal to ancient cultures around the world. Obviously, the Hebrew and Christian version is the story of Noah. Sumeria produced the Ziusudra Epic. The Deucalion Legend comes from Greek mythology. From India comes the Manu Legend. Flood tales are found in China and even from the ancient Mayans, on the other side of the world. The most famous one after Noah is the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, which also most closely resembles Genesis, with the flood hero sending out a dove to see if the waters have receded. In all likelihood, the name Noah is borrowed from the Gilgamesh hero (a hypocoristicon of Ut-Nua-Pish-Tim). The oldest flood legend is probably the Atrahasis Epic, from Lower Mesopotamia. And heres our first clue to get us closer to the actual flood around which these stories are based.
Granted, Im biased as a Christian, but I find the traditional archaeological explanation for these coincidences lacking. The general narrative is that the flood stories are all borrowed from one another, while at the same time being based on different local floods. For example, a deluge striking Babylon inspired the Gilgamesh epic, while the details of the story are borrowed from other cultures. Its often assumed that the Shurupak flood inspired the Atrahasis epic, which is the first example of the tale emerging from the ancient world.
I think this is wrong because it violates the principle that the simplest explanation is almost always the right explanation. Taken at face value, its kind of discombobulated and gives a more complicated solution than is necessary. Theres also a fatal flaw in the Shurupak claim: its a bit detailed for me to get into here without going off topic, but in chapter 5 of Legend: The Genesis of Civilization, David Rohl explains that the Atrahasis Epic actually predates the Shurupak flood.
However, while the Atrahasis version is the oldest flood legend, its not the oldest historical reference to the flood itself. As far as we have found, that prize goes to the Sumerian King List, which is on display at Oxfords Ashmolean Museum. Translated by Thorkild Jacobson in 1939 and dating to around the early eighteenth century BC (end of the Isin Dynasty), this clay prism lists two of the first kings of Mesopotamia (Alulim and Alalgar), then casually states Then the flood swept thereover. So this is a sign that very far back in Middle Eastern history, the great deluge was considered a historical event.
The simplest explanation is that a real catastrophe of epic proportions nearly wiped out early Mesopotamian civilization, which serves as the historical basis for the flood legends. The next question is whether we can find evidence of such a disaster.
In 1929, legendary British archaeologist Charles Leonard Woolly made an amazing discovery in the ruins of Ur (the city of Abraham): a massive alluvian silt deposit. The strata ranges in depth from 8 to 11 feet (even a really bad flood will only leave a silt deposit of a few inches at the most). No other deposits from the ancient world have come as close in size and scope to this monstrosity; it is likely the worst flood that the human race ever encountered. The broken remnants of the earliest primitive Ubaid period settlements were found buried underneath it. Woolly (who was known for being somewhat theatrical) proudly proclaimed that he had found Noahs flood, and dated the cataclysmic event at about 3100 BC.
His colleagues later disputed his claim, citing that it didnt coincide with traditional Biblical dating (which would place the flood about a thousand years later, in the early 2000s BC). Woolly himself conceded as much, and the matter has rarely been brought back up since. However, according to Rohl, this flood needs to be re-examined as a candidate for the Biblical deluge. For one, unlike the Shurupak flood, this one is older than any flood legends. For another, this one was so gigantic that it would have easily been large enough to submerge all of at least Mesopotamia, with a water level deep enough to cover mountains, and bring early man to near destruction.
With the help of geologic history, we can even determine its cause. A massive volcanic eruption from the Aleutian Islands, possibly larger than any in modern recorded history, shattered the earth in 3119 BC, spewing billions of tons of ash into the air and blotting out the sun, triggering a mini-ice age. The Atrahasis Epic describes 6 years of severe cold that destroyed crops and brought famine that led people to resort to cannibalism: When the second year arrived, they had depleted the storehouse. When the third year arrived, the peoples looks were changed by starvation. When the third year arrived, they served up a daughter for a meal, then served up a son for food.
When the sun finally penetrated the dark clouds, the global temperature skyrocketed again and started a disastrous chain of events. Melting glaciers caused the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to swell and charged rapidly south. At the same time, the sudden heating of the atmosphere triggered an apocalyptic storm as frozen sulfuric crystals dissolved and fell to Earth. The Bible tells us that the fountains of the deep opened up, and its entirely possible that a giant underwater earthquake in the ocean could have triggered a tsunami from the South (this will explain the direction the ark was carried in). A perfect combination of elements had conspired to bring a flood the likes of which the world has never seen, wiping out everything in its path: towns, villages, farms and livestock. And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered (Genesis 7:19-20). All that was left behind were the broken remnants of a failed civilization buried underneath a silt deposit that would not be seen again until 1928.
By the way, you may have heard that Robert Ballard (the same guy who discovered the Titanic) has proposed an alternate explanation for the flood legends. In 1999, he came forward with the claim that the creation of the Black Sea was the inspiration for the tale of Noah. According to his theory, this vast body of water was a small freshwater lake in a large fertile basin about 8,000 years ago, when suddenly a natural disaster caused a sudden inflow of salt water. Early humans who fled the incoming deluge concocted the story of the ark.
The problem with this it that the geologic event is far too early to line up with the Biblical timeline. It was also a slow-moving influx of water that probably took place over four decades. So with the Woolly flood in mind, I dont think we have anything of any relevance in the Black Sea theory.
Since Im satisfied that weve established the flood as a real historical event, the only question now is, was the flood hero and the ark real?
In most minds, the ark is synonymous with Mount Ararat, based on this scripture: And the ark rested in the seventh month, and the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 7:4). The quest has become as bizarre and fantastical as the tale of Noah itself. Two Russian pilots during World War I claimed to have discovered it and in the 70s, Jimmys Carters presidential staff allegedly spotted it while flying over Ararat in Air Force One. Governments have released satellite images and maps of the mountain, mostly showing nothing. Even a former Baywatch actress has nearly died in her attempts to locate it.
Our first problem, however, may be the location. Pay careful attention to the wording of verse 4: mountains (plural) of Ararat. Mount Ararat (real name Agri Dagh) does consist of two peaks; however, it wasnt given that name until the thirteenth century by European explorers. Ever since, Agri Dagh has become an enduring pop culture icon as the Biblical site of Genesis 7:4. It is also the biggest obstacle to locating the real ruins of Noahs ark.
In the Bible, Ararat is actually a translation of Urartu, a large area of land that includes the Zagros Mountain range. Its unlikely that Genesis is specifically referring to Agri Dagh, which is why obsessive hunts for the ark have amounted to little more than wild goose chases.
But we do have clues from other ancient texts to help narrow our search. For thousands of years, Christians, Jews, and Muslims identified a different slope as the Mountain of Descent. Seventeen miles southwest of Ararat is a slightly smaller peak known as Judi Dagh. Mount Judi had been recognized as the mountain of the ark dating back almost to the flood itself until the unfortunate Mount Ararat misconception of the thirteenth century. Here are some of the many ancient historical references that site the decaying ruins of a giant shipwreck on the slopes of the mountain:
Babylonian historian Berossus (3rd century BC): A portion of the ship, which came to rest in Armenia, still remains in the mountains of the Korduaians of Armenia, and some of the people, scraping off pieces of bitumen from the ship, bring them back and use them as talismans (this is very significant, because it coincides with Genesis 6:14: Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. Bitumen was often used in fashioning boats in the ancient world to prevent leaking, but is only produced in swampy lowlands. If bitumen was located on mount Judi as Berossus claimed, it would be hundreds of miles from any nearby sources).
From Louis Ginzbergs Legend of the Jews: On his return to Assyria, Sennacherib found a plank, which he worshipped as an idol, because it was part of the ark which had saved Noah from the deluge. He vowed that he would sacrifice his sons to this idol if he prospered in his next ventures. But his sons heard his vows, and they killed their father, and fled to Kardu, where they released the Jewish captives confined therein great numbers.
Ibn Haukal, 10th century Muslim geographer: Judi is on a mountain near Nisibis. It is said that the ark of Noah (peace be upon him) rested on the summit of the mountain. (Nesibin is north-west of Mosul).
Eutychus of Alexandria, 9th century Christian bishop: The ark rested on the mountains of Ararat, that is Gebel Judi, near Mosul.
The Nestorian Christians built the cloister of the ark monastery on Judi Dagh.
The Quran labels Judi Dagh as the mountain of the ark in Sura 11:44: And the word was spoken: O earth! swallow up thy waters! And, O sky, cease [thy rain]! And the water sank into the earth, and the will [of God] was done, and the ark came to rest on Al-Judi. And the word was spoken: Away with these evil doing folk!
A tribe near the mountain called the Yezidis may have even been a living link to the antediluvian period. In 1846, Sir Austen Henry Layard described their annual pilgrimages to the sight of the ark where he learned of their ancient legends that eerily match the stories of Genesis. They claimed to be descendants of Noah, and worshiped a vulture-like god they described as a fallen being with many names, including Lasifarus (Lucifer) and Shaitan (Satan). Ancient Yezidi tales even described fallen heavenly beings who mated with humans and gave birth to giants!
If were to believe the Atrahasis Epic is reliable, being the oldest legend, then the flood hero constructed the ark near the city of Eridu (coastal at the time; today, its ruins are far inland due to changing sea levels). This means that as the tidal wave came, the raging torrent swept the ark upward at a journey of about 500 miles before depositing it on the slopes of Judi Dagh. Putting the puzzle pieces together, the Woolly flood is the only one in history large enough to carry the ship that far.
Remember when I mentioned earlier that the ancient Mayans had a flood legend of their own? If you look at the date they gave it according to their calendar, you can place it around 3100 BC, near the exact time as the Woolly flood!
I think the evidence is sufficient to call the Great Flood a fact of human history. I am also satisfied that the evidence is sufficient to support at least the basics of the Genesis story, that a real person built large wooden ship to save himself, his family, and animals from certain annihilation. If I didnt believe in God, however, I would still be at a loss to explain how he knew the deluge was coming. Fortunately, I feel we have a great explanation in the Word of God: But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8).
But what of the symbolism? That is, the world was covered with water in Genesis 1, the land emerged from the sea, then drowned back into the water to purify it from sinful humanity. Its almost like a death and rebirth cycle that plays out in the early Biblical narrative. The only question is what the exact relationship between history and symbolic events is. By exploring the natural causes and archaeological evidence, I dont intend to diminish from the meaning of the flood tale with regards to the Bible. Fortunately, we serve a God who is so great and mighty that He can structure real historical events and then present them in a way that has powerful symbolism that resonates with us forever!
-Rohl, David. From Eden to Exile: The 5,000-Year History of the People of the Bible. Lebanon, TN: Greenleaf Press, 2002, page 49-55.
-Tenny, Merrill C., ed. Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Nashville: The Southwestern Company, 1968, Page 285.
-Rohl, David. Mountain of the Ark. March 24, 2012. Davidrohl.blogspot.com, accessed March 17, 2017.
- Feiler, Bruce. Walking the Bible: A Journey By Land Through the Five Books of Moses. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2002, page 25.
-Rohl, David. Legend: The Genesis of Civiliziation. London, Random House Group, 1998, pages 141, 148, 155, 157
I know a lot of my evangelical friends will probably chastise me for posting what seems to be support for the "local flood" theory (that the Biblical deluge only struck the ancient Middle East) but that isn't my intention at all...in fact, in the past I've also written about the possibility of a global flood.
I just wanted to present evidence for how the flood affected Mesopotamia (the setting of Biblical story) specifically. If anyone disagrees with this approach, well...that's what the comments are for!
This should be fun!
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Thanks, I realize this one was a bit long (almost twice the length of my usual blogs!).
Absolutely. I look forward to reading it. I usually bookmark a lot of threads for later reading. So anything longer than a few sentences gets bookmarked. Also bookmark to keep and eye on others comments—always fun or enriching or both :D. Have a great day!!
Evidence indicates that there is more water under the earth’s mantle than in all the oceans on the surface of the earth:
That’s a LOT of water. A whole lot more than a mere tsunami.
Scripture talks about how water first burst forth from “the deep,” and only after that point did the water from the heavens (a relatively thin layer of water) collapse onto the earth and flood it. Once the water burst forth, the tectonic plates certainly shifted in dramatic fashion, causing deep valleys and great mountains to form.
I have no problem believing that the flood was global. To me, that’s what Scripture points toward.
Ten million square miles of coastal lands disappeared nearly overnight, and ancient texts bear witness to the event around the world. The oldest such account was preserved on clay tablets by the ancient Sumerians, six thousand years ago. It's eerily similar to Noah's flood story.
“And the ark rested in the seventh month, and the seventeenth day of the month”
As Grant Jeffrey has pointed out, this is also the date of the Resurrection, when mankind is saved (again). Surely not a coincidence.
The common Y chromosome ancestor lived 250,000 years ago, not 4,000.
Thanks for posting - this is always a fascinating subject.
True. Mitochondrial DNA evidence proves that Homo Sapiens did not exist before that date, but paleontologists don't want to talk about it. Must preserve Darwinism at all costs.
Indeed. The fossil record is used to confirm the archeological which is used to confirm the fossil record, rinse, repeat until everyone forgets the cyclical manner of it all.
“The common Y chromosome ancestor lived 250,000 years ago, not 4,000.”
Measuring time is a peculiar thing. If you take a spaceship and go at nearly the speed of light to the edge of the galaxy, and return, it would take you about 40 years. But in that period, about 100,000 years would have passed on earth.
Yet you would only be 40 years older.
I think we can’t measure yet with any accuracy how “old” the earth is, or how much time has passed between events.
No it doesn't. The common female and male ancestors don't need to exist at the same time. They just both have to be common to everyone alive today.
I am not sure if you are familiar with Dr. Walter Brown's work, but he has a bunch of interesting videos on Youtube regarding his Flood model (Hydroplate Model) of the Great Flood being initiated by 'the Fountains of the Deep' bursting open.
Walter Brown's Hydroplate Model - 10 minutes
I referenced two of these sources in a paper I wrote for my OT Seminary class on Evidence for the Flood.
Very interesting. Thx for the info.
It seems that many areas on the planet have been flooded and it’s been written about. It’s been theorized Noah’s flood was a Caspian Sea flood.
A great book on Geology and the planet is by Bill Bryson.
He discusses climate change prior to humans. What a hoot!!
Our planet once was almost totally frozen (Thank God for global warming!) and later you could walk to Alaska from Russia, Japan from China, and the U.K from “the continent”.
The Sahara desert has river beds.
YUK. Too much science in the opposite direction. Fake news.
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