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The Genesis Flood (2/4)

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 second article (of four), the following questions are addressed:

* Isn’t the Genesis record just another wildly exaggerated story like the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian flood stories?

* I’ve heard that wood is too weak to support a ship the size of Noah’s Ark, and that the largest wooden ships ever built were no larger than 350 feet long, the physical limit for wooden ships


Isn’t the Genesis record just another wildly exaggerated story like the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian flood stories?

Although it records the same event, the Genesis flood narrative is very different to the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian stories, for a number of reasons. A comparison of the four accounts of the flood shows that the only one which is historically plausible and reflects accurate nautical knowledge, is the Genesis account.

Source

Sumerian

Akkadian

Assyrian

Genesis

Time to build

7 days

7 days

2 days

100-120 years

Duration of rain

7 days, 7 nights

7 days, 7 nights

6 days, 7 nights

40 days, 40 nights

Flood conditions

Heavy storms

Heavy storms

Heavy storms

Heavy rains

Ship details

Enclosed

Enclosed, tension trusses, made from reeds, sealed with pitch

Enclosed timber or reed cube, sealed with pitch, internal rooms, punting poles, 7 decks

Enclosed timber barge, trussed, sealed with pitch, internal rooms, window, 3 decks

Dimensions

Not given

Not given

55 metres cubed

125 x 22 x 13 metres

The Genesis account is superior to the other accounts in terms of:

• The feasibility of building the boat (dimensions, shape, materials and time to build)
• Weather conditions (no catastrophic storms to survive)
• Cargo (no thousands of gallons of oil, and tremendous hoards of gold and silver)
• Navigational techniques (the Ark is designed correctly for navigation, and the pilot is familiar with standard nautical navigational techniques)

It does not read like an exaggerated legend, but as an accurate record of a real event written by someone who knew what they were talking about.

The flood stories of other Mesopotamian cultures read like myths. They contain a reference to a historical event (the flood), to which has been added wildly exaggerated details which could not possibly have been true. A comparison of these stories with the Genesis record demonstrates that only the Biblical account sounds realistic, an accurate description of the event.

Sumerian: There are 7 days to build a completely enclosed ship of unspecified material and dimensions (but which contains people, sheep, and oxen at least), presumably with standard construction techniques such as tension trusses and longitudinal strength beams, which must survive heavy storms for 7 days, and a flood which has to cover Mesopotamia using only 7 days of rain.

There isn’t enough time to build the ship, it lacks an opening for ventilation and light, or for the rain to flood Mesopotamia, and the ship wouldn’t have the strength to survive heavy storms described in the Eridu Genesis (‘all stormy winds gathered into one’, and ‘the evil wind had tossed the big boat about on the great waters’).

Akkadian: There are 7 days to build a completely enclosed ship of reeds not wood, presumably using standard construction techniques and equipped with some kind of tension trusses, which must survive heavy storms for 7 days, and a flood which has to cover Mesopotamia using only 7 days of rain.
There isn’t enough time to build the ship or for the rain to flood Mesopotamia, it lacks an opening for ventilation and light, and the ship wouldn’t have the strength to survive the heavy storms (even timber wouldn’t be strong enough, certainly not reeds).

Assyrian: There are only 2 days to build a completely enclosed cube of wood or reeds, full of animals, people, silver and gold, as well as thousands of measures of oil, without tension trusses, with 9 rooms in seven decks, which must survive heavy storms for 6 days (which has to cover Mesopotamia using only 6 days of rain), equipped with punting poles for propulsion and steering (which cannot be used), handled by a man who cannot see where he is going while the ship is under way and who sends out the wrong birds to sight for land.

This is the most implausible of all the flood accounts. There isn’t enough time to build the ship, or for the rain to flood Mesopotamia. The ship’s shape and dimensions are nothing like ships of this era, are totally unseaworthy, and the ship wouldn’t have the strength to survive heavy storms (‘the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land… the storm was pounding, the flood was a war’). The punting poles could not have been used in a ship which is completely enclosed, the navigator can’t see anything while the ship is under way, only opens a hatch after the ship has run aground, and is completely unqualified for the task, showing an ignorance of standard nautical procedures.

Genesis: There are 100-120 years to build a large timber barge similar in size and shape to an Egyptian obelisk barge, with standard construction techniques for timber vessels such as tension trusses and longitudinal strength beams, together with numerous internal compartments which may have acted as primitive bulkheads.

It has three decks (making four levels), and only has to ride out 40 days of rain (more than enough to flood Mesopotamia, together with the underground water), without battling storms, heavy waves, and the open sea. It has a large skylight the length of the ship for ventilation and light, a closable porthole with limited visibility for navigation, and is handled by a navigator who knows how to use birds to check for the proximity of land and its suitability for disembarkation.

The fact that the Genesis account is the most historically plausible is strong evidence that it was written by someone personally informed about the event, whereas the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian stories sound like mythologized descriptions written long afterwards by people with no personal knowledge of what happened, or even the knowledge to reconstruct accurately what really took place:

‘Since both Noah and Utnaphistim are scouting for land–albeit not to navigate–the bird that nautical customer dictates sending first is the raven.’

‘On the other hand, the Akkadian Deluge stories all betray ignorance of proper nautical terminology, and in one version of Atrahasis, the poet makes the reason quite clear when he has Atrahasis exclaim: ‘I never built a boat…Draw a picture of it on the ground…let me see a picture so I can build a boat’ (DT 42:13-15, in Lambert, 128). Thus, an Assyrian writing about something he was ignorant of has changed the customary order of the birds used as navigational aids.’

R. David Freedman, “The Dispatch of the Reconnaissance Birds in Gilgamesh XI”, JANES, vol 5:127, as quoted in Glenn Miller’s paper ‘Is Genesis merely a rip-off of other ANE lit?’, 2005

The accuracy with which birds are described in the historical literature is striking. The book of Genesis says that Noah used first the raven and then the dove to determine whether the water had subsided (Gen. 8:6-13).

Whereas the raven continued flying to and fro from the ark until the water subsided, the dove returned quickly to the ark the first time she was let go, returned with a newly plucked olive leaf in her beak the second time, and did not return the third time.

A. Heidel noted the superiority of the biblical account to the parallel account in the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic where Utnapishtim, called “the exceedingly wise,” first sent a dove, then a swallow, and finally a raven (A. Heidel, Gilgamesh Epic and OT Parallels [1963], pp. 252f). Noah, whose wisdom is nowhere mentioned, showed much more knowledge about birds.’

International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, article ‘BIRDS’, 1976, as quoted in Glenn Miller’s paper ‘Is Genesis merely a rip-off of other ANE lit?’, 2005


I’ve heard that wood is too weak to support a ship the size of Noah’s Ark, and that the largest wooden ships ever built were no larger than 350 feet long, the physical limit for wooden ships

Western shipbuilders eventually reached a limit of around 200 feet for timber warships.  Both the weight and firing of the ship’s cannon produced stresses which caused decks to split and hull boards to separate. However, this was not due to the weakness of wood, but due to the ship designs being used. Western ships beyond this ‘limit’ were built when ship design was improved with diagonal bracing (the design was the problem, not the wood).

The inventor of this new technique, an Englishman called Robert Seppings (‘On the great strength given to Ships of War by the application of Diagonal Braces’, 1818), combined diagonal bracing with hogging trusses such as those used in Mesopotamia and Egypt. This enabled the construction of timber vessels of great size (ships were built approaching 300 feet in length, which became the new limit), and to be fitted with a previously impractical number of cannon.

The following is an extract from a paper written by the inventor of diagonal bracing, showing how well the new design technology withstood a cannon firing test:

‘I shall only further state, that after the memorable battle of Algiers, I requested the Navy Board to call upon Captain Coode, of His Majesty’s ship the Albion, to report on the state of that ship, she being built on the new principle; and the following is an extract of his letter to them:

“I beg to inform you, that it is the opinion of myself and the officers of the Albion, that it was impossible any ship could have stood the concussion from firing, and the recoil of the guns, better than she did; and on a very minute inspection of the ship after the action, there was not the least difference to be observed, except what had been made by the enemy, between the side of the ship that all the firing was from, and the side that not a single gun was fired from during the action; and every bolt and knee was as perfect and secure as before the action commenced, which was also the case of the lower and main gun decks, but the quarterdeck was staved in several places; which in my opinion would not have been the case, had it been on the same construction as the decks that stood so well.”

Robert Seppings. ‘On the great strength given to Ships of War by the application of Diagonal Braces’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, pages 1-8, 1818

With this technology (and other design changes), timber ships over 300 feet were built, though as these ships became larger they became weaker and increasingly prone to hull breach and leaking. Ships over 350 feet typically required iron strapping to hold their hulls together. This is still well short of Noah’s Ark, which will be considered in more detail in the next article.

It must be noted that these late 19th century European ships were weakened by stresses caused by features the Ark lacked. Multiple masts and heavy rigging caused huge stresses on the ship, as the force of the wind was transferred to the superstructure. Rows of iron cannons not only contributed stress through weight, but also massive stresses when fired (as mentioned in Seppings’ article above). Steam engines used for bilge pumps caused heavy vibrations through the hull which weakened joints and seams. These were all forces to which a barge of similar dimensions (but far simpler in design), would not be subject.

Part three.

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4 comments

  1. How wonderful it is to find a site like this…Thank you for your hard work and great reading..God bless you


  2. You’re very welcome, and thanks for the encouragement.


  3. I think perhaps you should update the site to reflect latest research /discoveries. The Ark Tablet (British Museum) written during the Old Babylonian period (1900-1700 BC) describes the ark as circular with a base area of 1 acre [within 4% of the size of Noah’s Ark], gives detailed and accurate instructions for its construction [wood, reeds and bitumen]. Some scholars believe that the Gilgamesh Epic has been misunderstood and that it too is based on a circular (not cubic) ark.
    Whilst I fully accept that the Biblical account is the only inspired and true account of the flood I don’t think it does us any favours to minimise the credibility of other accounts. In some ways the fact that other accounts adapt to the local boat types to make them more credible, that the ‘hero’ is given local status, that apart from one late example the resting place of the ark is similar, and that only one account gives a reason for the flood (man was making too much noise so the gods couldn’t get any sleep!!! [which incidentally is totally in keeping with the fact that Akkadian/Sumerian sources do not really have the concept of sin]) only serve to demonstrate that there is an underlying truth of the flood narrative which survives.


    • This article aims to reflect the scholarly consensus, not fringe theories and not commentary which hasn’t passed peer review. This is nothing to do with trying to minimize the credibility of other accounts, it has simply to do with reflecting the scholarly consensus accurately.



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