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The Genesis Flood (1/4)

Introduction

The Genesis flood record is not an embarrassing mess of unlikely circumstances and implausible descriptions like the other Mesopotamian flood stories. It is an accurate account of a genuine historical event. It is superior to the records of the 3rd millennium flood left by other Mesopotamian cultures, showing a direct knowledge of the events and careful attention to detail.

The information in the Genesis flood record is reliable, and is proved so by archaeological findings. There was a real Noah, a real ark, and a real flood. There was a real judgment, sent by a real God.

In this first article (of four), the following questions are addressed:

* Was the flood local or global?
* Is there any physical evidence for the flood?
* Are there any other ancient records of the flood?
* Was the Genesis flood story copied from the older flood stories?

Was the flood local or global?

The language used to describe the flood does appear to refer to a global event, but can apply locally, as these examples show:

• ‘all flesh’: Psalm 145:21, Isaiah 40:5; 66:23, Jeremiah 45:5, Ezekiel 20:48; 21:4, Joel 2:28
• ‘under heaven’: Mark 16:15, Colossians 1:23
• ‘the face of the earth’: Genesis 4:14; 41:56, Exodus 10:5, Numbers 11:31; 22:5, 11, Isaiah 23:17, Jeremiah 25:26, Ezekiel 34:5; 38:20
• ‘The fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the wild beasts, all the things that creep on the ground’: Ezekiel 38:20

Equivalent phrases also used in a non-literal sense include:

• Deuteronomy 2:25, ‘all people under heaven’
• 1 Kings 18:10, ‘every nation and kingdom’
• Ezekiel 38:20, ‘The fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the wild beasts, all the things that creep on the ground, and all people who live on the face of the earth’
• Daniel 4:1; 5:19; 6:24, ‘all peoples, nations, and language groups’
• Mark 16:15, Colossians 1:23, ‘all creation’

This article provides evidence that the flood was an event local to Mesopotamia.

Is there any physical evidence for the flood?

Physical evidence such as flood deposits indicate that the areas of Babylonia, Akkad, and Sumer were all affected by the flood. Flood layers have been found from Ur to Kish, a distance of over 200 kilometres:

‘The search for flood deposits within the settlement hills was triggered by Sir C. Leonard Woolley’s excavations at Ur south of Uruk in the 1920’s. WOOLLEY (1931) ascribed a more than 2.5 m thick homogeneous loam void of artifacts to Noah’s Flood. Below this layer are traces of an early civilization which had been buried by a great flood. The hanging layers were those of the pure Sumerian civilizations. Systematic search has shown that other tells [archaeological sites] in middle and southern Mesopotamia, e.g. Kish (Tell al-Uhaimir) and Shuruppak (Tell Fara), also have layers which may be interpreted as deposits of a great flood.

It seems that Mesopotamia was subject to a mega-flood around 2900 BC. A unique rise in the water table of the Euphrates and Tigris, e.g. caused by extraordinary and long-lasting rains in their source area, plus a southern wind blocking the drainage into the Persian Gulf, may have drowned the extremely flat central and southern Mesopotamia completely.’

Dr. Helmut Brückner, Department of Geography, University of Marburg, ‘Are there evidences for Noah’s Flood?’

The physical evidence is consistent with the Biblical account of flood waters lying on the earth for an extended duration:

‘When Kish was systematically excavated between 1923 and 1933, the Anglo-American team discovered a flood stratum upon which the remains of the Early Dynastic I period, [commenced 2,900 BC] i.e. the first period dominated by priest kings, was found. [33]

Meanwhile, excavations have ‘shown that the Archaic Sumerian or Early Dynastic civilization of the early third millennium follows notable flood levels at several important sites: Shuruppak, Kish, and Uruk among them. […] The great recorded depth of the deposits at Ur, over 3 m, and at Shurrupak, probably about 60 cm, are significant as they would require lagoon-like conditions for a fairly long time‘. [58]

[33] M. Gibson, ‘Kis. B. Archaologisch’, in Realexicon der Assyriologie, vol. 5, Berlin, Walter de Gruyter 1976-80, p. 618.

[58] R. L. Raikes, ‘The physical evidence of Noah’s Flood’, Iraq XXVIII (1966),p. 53.

Gunnar Heinsohn, ‘The Rise Of Blood Sacrifice And Priest-Kingship In Mesopotamia: A ‘Cosmic Decree’?’, 2001

‘At Shuruppak, and also at Uruk, the last Jemdet Nasr remains are separated from the subsequent Early Dynastic I Period by clean, water-lain clay deposited by a flood. This clay is nearly five feet thick at Uruk [60] and two feet thick at Shuruppak. [61] Since the Sumerian King List mentions that Noah (Ziusudra) lived in Shuruppak (today the archaeological mound of Fara), and since Noah is believed to have lived during the Jemdet Nasr Period, [62] then these sediments date from the right time and place and may be deposits left by Noah’s Flood.

[60] P. Carleton, Buried Empires: The Earliest Civilizations of the Middle East (London: Edward Arnold, 1939), 64.

[61] M. E. Mallowan, “Noah’s Flood Reconsidered,” 80.

[62] C. A. Hill, “A Time and Place for Noah,” 26.’

Carol A Hill, ‘Qualitative Hydrology Of Noah’s Flood’, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, volume 58, number 2, page 126, June 2006

For more on the physical details of the flood, see:

* Carol A Hill: The Noachian Flood: Universal Or Local?
* Carol A Hill: Qualitative Hydrology Of Noah’s Flood
* Alan E Hill: Quantitative Hydrology of Noah’s Flood

Are there any other ancient records of the flood?

The flood was recorded in a number of other literary accounts outside the Bible, which is strong evidence that it was a genuine historical event.

• Sumerian ‘Eridu Genesis’ (around 1,600 BC): contains a record of a massive Mesopotamian flood from which animals and people were saved in a large ship built by Ziusudra king of Shurrupak

• Akkadian ‘Atrahasis Epic’ (around 1,600 BC): contains a similar account to the flood story in the Eridu Genesis, most likely borrowing from it, adding a few extra details

• Assyrian ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ (around 2,000 BC): contains a flood story which was added in the 7th century BC, copied from the Atrahasis Epic (not contained in the original 2,000 BC text), with additional details.

Of these three flood stories, the account in the Epic of Gilgamesh is the most detailed and the closest to the Genesis record, but is also the latest (written long after the book of Genesis had been completed).

Was the Genesis flood story copied from the older flood stories?

Although many non-professional people believe this (and it seems logical, since there are flood stories older than the record of Genesis), there are more problems with this argument than can be solved, which is why this view is not commonly accepted by professionals in the relevant fields. Recognized authorities on the subject of literary ‘borrowing’ between cultures (including a number who specialize specifically in Mesopotamian literature, and who have studied the question of whether the Genesis account ‘borrows’ from the earlier records), have concluded that no such ‘borrowing’ took place.

The following list of quotes is taken from Glenn Miller’s paper ‘Is Genesis merely a rip-off of other ANE lit?’, 2005:

Quote 1: Interpretations of the Flood. Martinez and Luttikhuizen (eds). Brill:1999.

‘The derivative nature of the Biblical Flood narrative or rather the existence of an antecedent Mesopotamian tradition for the early forms of the Biblical story is undeniable. However, the extent to which the later narrative is derived from the earlier tradition remains uncertain. A direct form of literary influence cannot be asserted, as the distinctive features of the respective narratives are too plentiful to allow such an affirmation. All one can say is that the Biblical accounts must have been influenced by the Mesopotamian oral tradition or by a pre-existing series of such orally transmitted traditions.’

Quote 2: Atra-Hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood. W.G. Lambert and A.R. Millard. Eisenbrauns:1999 reprint of 1969 OUP

‘…it is obvious that the differences are too great to encourage belief in direct connection between Atra-hasis and Genesis, but just as obviously there is some kind of involvement in the historical traditions generally of the two peoples.’

Quote 3: Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, John H. Walton, Zondervan: 1989

This suggests that we are not dealing with a literary dependence or even a tradition dependence as much as we are dealing with two literary perspectives on a single actual event. To illustrate from another genre, we expect that the Hittite and Egyptian accounts of the battle of Qadesh will exhibit similarities, for they report about the same battle. Their differing perspectives will also produce some differences in how the battle is reported. The similarities do not lead us to suggest literary or tradition dependence. We accept the fact that they are each reporting in their own ways an experience they have in common.’

Quote 4: “I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood”: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11, Richard Hess and David Tsumura (eds.), Eisenbrauns: 1994, p.52

‘Thorough comparisons have been made between the Flood stories of Genesis and the “Gilgamesh Epic,’ tablet XI, and their interrelationship and priority have been discussed.

Heidel discusses the problem of dependence and summarizes three main possibilities that have been suggested:
1. The Babylonians borrowed from the Hebrew account,
2. The Hebrew account is dependent on the Babylonian,
3. Both are descended from a common original.

The first explanation, according to him, finds “little favor among scholars today,” while “the arguments which have been advanced in support of [the second view] are quite indecisive.”

As for the third way of explanation, Heidel thinks that “for the present, at least, this explanation can be proved as little as the rest.’

Quote 5: “A New Babylonian ‘Genesis’ Story”, “I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood”: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11, Richard Hess and David Tsumura (eds.), Eisenbrauns: 1994, p.126f

However, it has yet to be shown that there was borrowing, even indirectly. Differences between the Babylonian and the Hebrew traditions can be found in factual details of the Flood narrative (form of the Ark; duration of the Flood, the identity of the birds and their dispatch) and are most obvious in the ethical and religious concepts of the whole of each composition.

All who suspect or suggest borrowing by the Hebrews are compelled to admit large-scale revision, alteration, and reinterpretation in a fashion that cannot be substantiated for any other composition from the ancient Near East or in any other Hebrew writing.

If there was borrowing then it can have extended only as far as the “historical” framework, and not included intention or interpretation.’

Part two.

14 comments

  1. You make the claim that the flood was local. That is reasonable enough, there is a lot of evidence for many local floods(which you have presented). These descriptions of the flood cannot be fit into a literal interpertation of the bible though.

    “and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered” Regardless of how you interper the meaning of “under the heavens” you still have to deal with the fact that the mountains around where Noah was floating had to have been coverd. This means Mt. Ararat; after all “the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.”

    The problem is that you just can’t have a local kilometers high. As a flood gets deeper and deeper the flow of the water out to see becomes faster and faster. The amount of rain that would be reqired to sustain a flood that deep is beyond imagining.

    You also have the problem of the ark ending up on land in the mountains of Ararat. After 40 days of flooding the currents would have moved the ark out to sea.


  2. I think you need to read all four articles, as well as the three PDF files I have attached to the fourth article. The ‘high mountains’ here are no more than ‘high hills’, which does not need to include the ‘mountains of Ararat’. Not only that, but the Ark did not come to rest ‘on the mountains of Ararat’, but ‘among the mountains of Ararat’.

    If you read the PDFs in the fourth article, you’ll find the explanation for the Ark moving upstream rather than downstream. I’ll even save you the trouble (I may add this to the series later). The answer to this question is a certain weather cycle which occurs at intervals, creating a massive high pressure system at the end of the Mesopotamian flood basin, where it empties into the gulf. This high pressure system actually prevents water from emptying out of the flood basin, damming it up.

    Despite being normatively dry, the Mesopotamian region is subject to certain weather conditions which cause extraordinary precipitation. These conditions do not appear often, but when they do they cause effects significant to the issue at hand. The particular condition in this case is a stalled frontal system, which causes massive precipitation over a long duration. In 1969 such a system caused the Jordan basin to flood, dumping 300mm of rain in a mere 80 hours (the most in 150 years), with rain and snow falling for *two solid months*.

    In addition, the Tigris floods annually in any case (with the largest flooding occurring in spring), due to snow melting from the Zagros mountains. Unusually large scale Mesopotamian floods due to snowmelt and Tigris flooding were recorded in 1170 AD and 1954, with the 1954 snowmelt flood extending for *hundreds of miles*. When such conditions are added to a long term stalled frontal system, there is the potential for months of rain and absolutely massive flooding.

    The stalled frontal system is part of a cyclonic event which brings winds which, in the winter and spring months, move from the southwest (the ‘suhaili’ winds), and the southeast (the ‘sharqt’ winds). These winds can prevent the flood basin emptying via the gulf (magnifying flood conditions), and cause the flood water to move in a northerly direction. The spring winds coincide with the snowmelt flooding of the Tigris, which also takes place in the spring.

    The result of a large stalled frontal system over an extended duration, combined with snowmelt flooding of the Tigris (itself capable of generating hundrds of miles of flooding), would be a Mesopotamian mega-flood, with winds blowing from the south, causing floodwaters to flow towards the north. The result? A small detail in the Genesis flood narrative which appears completely counter-intuitive (the Ark landing among the mountains of Ararat, the Mesopotamian *north*, instead of moving down through the gulf to the *south*), suddenly becomes not only realistic, but downright expected. Under such conditions as these, there is *no way* the Ark would have moved south, and most definitely would have moved north.

    The direction which the Ark took has troubled Christian apologists for centuries, because they were unaware of this unique hydrological phenomenon. How could the Ark have traveled upstream and uphill? The Mesopotamian hydrological phenomenon is the answer to this. No one making this story up would have had Noah’s Ark moving upstream and uphill towards Turkey. Everyone knew that the Mesopotamian flood basin emptied into the gulf. No one would have had the Ark traveling upstream unless they knew of this hydrological effect, but it very rarely occurs on this scale, and it is undetectable unless personally experienced.


  3. Ok, I read one PDF file, The model he uses requires an amount of wind that is unreasonable to sustain for a full 150 days.

    You also claim that the power of the wind kept the water inland for a period of 150 days. This may work with shallow floods but not very deep ones.

    The flood would have had to have been quite deep along the order of 500 meters if Noah were not to see land during his entire float to the mountains of Ararat. That part of the world is very mountainous after all.


  4. Can I request a correction in my above post?
    “This may work with shallow floods but very deep ones.”
    should be changed to
    “This may work with shallow floods but not very deep ones.”


  5. The model he uses doesn’t actually require the wind to last 150 days. He specifically notes it would take less than 40 days for the wind to blow the Ark to its landing site (‘the dynamics allow for the ark to have reached its assumed landing area near Cizre within 40 days from launch’, page 8). Nor do I claim that the power of the wind kept the water inland for a period of 150 days. The Genesis account is very clear that the waters had gone down by the end of the 150 days (Genesis 8:3), which means they started receding long before.

    The Bible says nothing about Noah being unable to see land ‘during his entire float to the mountains of Ararat’. I made the edit you requested in your comment.


  6. Genesis 8: “…there was water over all the surface of the earth”

    If there was water all over the surface of the earth then Noah must have been able to see land. Make sense?


  7. Do you mean ‘If there was water all over the surface of the earth, then Noah must *not* have been able to see land’? That makes more sense than what you wrote. The verse you quote doesn’t mean the entire earth was still underwater (verse 5 earlier says that the tops of the mountains or hills were already visible).


  8. Hello,

    The PDFs you link to have a reading of “fountains of the great deep” which takes these to be springs from subterranean waters. I can’t find biblical support for “great deep” to be subterranean; rather “great deep” appears to be the local sea and in this case the Gulf. Given the presence of the Arabian Plate edge alongside the east coast of the Gulf, these “undersea” springs could be the explanation for volcanic induced tidal waves. I don’t exclude subterranean springs as a source of water in the mix but don’t see the proof that “great deep” is subterranean.


  9. I don’t undertake to defend everything in the PDFs I’ve attached. They’re simply for further reading and reference. If they’re wrong, they’re wrong. I have been thinking of adding to this series with a set of additional posts on specific issues concerning the Ark and flood.


  10. […] would like to refer you to here as a starting point for the local flood viewpoint.  These series of articles give some excellent […]


  11. Christian Greetings,

    SELF-REASONING QUESTIONS REFUTING A [LOCAL] FLOOD

    Here are some questions to answer for those who maintain that the Genesis Flood was merely a ‘local’ event:

    How could a ‘local’ flood cause Noah to build an ark when all he had to do was move to a new location?

    How could a ‘local’ flood cause Noah to take the other creatures into the Ark when all they had to do was flee from the oncoming threat to a place of safety?

    How could a ‘local’ flood cause the waters above the expanse (Genesis 1:7) to disappear?

    How could a ‘local’ flood cause the waters of the original sea basins (Genesis 1:9, 22) to cover the tops of the mountains (Genesis 7:19) without an addition of ocean waters which now cover two thirds of the planet?

    How could a ‘local’ flood account for the vast ocean waters which today cover two thirds of the planet, when during the antediluvian period only a few sea basins existed?

    How could a ‘local’ flood produce a wind (Genesis 8:1) when no wind existed before the Genesis Flood due to the fact that it takes sun- power to produce wind, therefore only when the naked sun appeared was it possible for a wind to clear the waters?

    How could a ‘local’ flood introduce rain and a rainbow (Genesis 1:5; 9:13) which had never been experienced on the earth prior to this?

    How could a ‘local’ flood change the seasons from ‘two’ to ‘four’ introducing cold and heat, summer and winter and day and night [darkness] (Genesis 8:22) never before experienced?

    How could a ‘local’ flood suddenly bring about the necessity for man to eat meat (Genesis 9:3) when originally he did not do so (Genesis 3:18, 19) before the Deluge?

    How could a ‘local’ flood cause wine to ferment causing Noah’s intoxication (Genesis 9:21) after the Deluge?

    How could a ‘local’ flood increase man’s ape-like appearance which began with the birth of Enosh (The Hebrew Aggadah records that during the time of Enosh [weak mankind] man’s features began to take on an ape-like appearance) without a global environmental change?

    How could a ‘local’ flood reduce the average age of mankind from 930 years; in Genesis 6:3 God foretells the drop in life-span to 120 years and confirms in Psalm 90:10 that man’s average age from then on would be 70 years, except where some might reach eighty?

    For all this to occur, requires a complete change of the ‘global’ environment; God would certainly not need to inform Noah nor any of the rest of us of these matters if the Global environmental status had remained unchanged!

    Alexander Winslow


    • Most of your questions are answered in my articles, and the two PDF files to which I link. As for the others:

      1. There is no evidence that ‘during the antediluvian period only a few sea basins existed’; on the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence that they have existed for millions of years.
      2. There is no evidence that ‘no wind existed before the Genesis Flood’; on the contrary, the sun already existed and the earth’s wind cycles were already in operation.
      3. There is no evidence that the flood introduced seasons which had never been experienced before; certainly Genesis 8:22 says no such thing.
      4. There is no evidence that man started to take on an ‘ape-like appearance’ after the flood.
      5. There is no evidence that man’s lifespan declined dramatically after the flood.

      The archaeological and palaeo-anthropological evidence contradicts these claims.


  12. Hello there, I’m interested in this local flood theory, but how could a local flood make God say and make his covenant with Noah in Gen. 9? Wouldn’t every flood after this local flood be a contradiction to God’s promises if everyone did not perish during the flood. Thank you.


    • This issue is addressed in the articles to which I linked in the fourth post in the series.



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