Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Flooded Out

Secular historians advance the argument that the spate of flood myths found everywhere around the globe is the natural result of local peoples preserving stories about local floods. These do not, the experts say, provide evidence for the truthfulness of the Genesis flood account.

That line of reasoning makes a certain sort of superficial sense: there are lots of local floods, and some of the flood stories out there are surely a product of those. But some are not. When you actually examine the content of these flood stories more closely, you find that a non-trivial number of them have features in common with the book of Genesis, and therefore with each other, that no local experience and lore can explain.

As an addendum to our study on the Epic of Gilgamesh and its similarity to the Genesis flood account, I wanted to include a small selection of flood myths from around the globe, sourced as far back in time as I am able.

These, of course, do not match the Genesis account in every respect. Given their age and sources, one could hardly expect them to do so. All the same, each has features in common with the Genesis flood narrative that are so distinctive they could not possibly have come from anything but either a common source … or a close relative of the biblical Noah.

Somehow I think the secular historians would like that latter theory even less.

I have bolded the portions that echo the Genesis accounts.

De Dea Syria

In Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, vol. 1 (1919), pp. 153-154, Sir James Frazer summarizes one of several Greek flood narratives, this one from Lucian’s De dea Syria [“Concerning the Syrian Goddess”], 2nd century A.D.:
“The present race of men, [Lucian] says, are not the first of human kind; there was another race which perished wholly. We are of the second breed, which multiplied after the time of Deucalion. As for the folk before the flood, it is said that they were exceedingly wicked and lawless; for they neither kept their oaths, nor gave hospitality to strangers, nor respected suppliants, wherefore the great calamity befell them. So the fountains of the deep were opened, and the rain descended in torrents, the rivers swelled, and the sea spread far over the land, till there was nothing but water, water everywhere, and all men perished. But Deucalion was the only man who, by reason of his prudence and piety, survived and formed the link between the first and the second race of men; and the way in which he was saved was this. He had a great ark, and into it he entered with his wives and children; and as he was entering there came to him pigs, and horses, and lions, and serpents, and all other land animals, all of them in pairs. He received them all, and they did him no harm; nay, by God’s help there was a great friendship between them, and they all sailed in one ark so long as the flood prevailed on the earth.”
Among the many similarities in this account is the mysterious phrase “fountains of the deep”. Note that Deucalion’s flood claims to be global too.

Nama’s Three Sons

In The Mythology of All Races, v. IV (1927), p. 364, Uno Holmberg tells this story from central Eurasia/Siberia. Holmberg calls it “[n]earer the Bible story than any other ancient flood tale known to us”:
“Up to the time when the flood (jaik) hid all the earth, Tengys (Sea) was lord over the earth. During his rule there lived a man called Nama, a good man, whom √úlgen commanded to build an ark (kerep). Nama, who had three sons, Sozun-uul, Sar-uul, and Balyks, was already failing of sight and therefore left the building of the ark to his sons. When the ark, which was built on a mountain, was completed … Nama entered the ark, taking with him his family and the various animals and birds which, threatened by the rising waters, gathered around him. Seven days later … the water had already risen eighty fathoms … At last the ark stopped on eight closely situated mountains. Then Nama himself opened the window and set free the raven, which, however, did not return … On the fourth day he sent out the dove, which returned with a twig of birch in its beak.”
Holmberg comments: “Original and unaffected as these tales appear to be, especially in the frequently flooded Yenisei district, where the hated north wind often causes trouble, we cannot even here, in this primitive state, assume the story to have originated in North Siberia.”

No kidding.

The American North-West Weighs In

From The American Antiquarian, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1878), an account of a legend among the Native Americans of the Cascade Mountains:
“A long time ago there was a flood, and all the country was overflowed. There was an old man and his family on a boat or raft, and he floated about, and the wind blew him to that mountain [one of the higher Cascade peaks], where he touched bottom. He stayed there some time, and then sent a crow to hunt for land, but it came back without finding any. After some time he sent the crow again, and this time it brought a leaf from [a nearby] grove, and the old man was glad, for he knew that the water was going away.”
I’m not sure what to say about stories like this one, since they are less well-substantiated than some of the others, and have more generic story elements.

Nuu’s Ark in Hawaii

From David Kalakaua’s Legends and Myths of Hawaii:
“The Hawaiian Noah is called Nuu. At the command of the gods he constructed an ark, and entered it with his wife and three sons, and a male and female of every breathing thing. The waters came and covered the earth. When they subsided, the gods entered the ark, which was resting on a mountain overlooking a beautiful valley, and commanded Nuu to go forth with all of life that the ark contained. In gratitude for his deliverance, Nuu offered a sacrifice to the moon, mistaking it for Kane [the originator, or Hawaiian equivalent of God the Father]. Descending on a rainbow, that deity reproved his thoughtlessness, but left the bow as a perpetual token of his forgiveness.”
The many similarities to the biblical account are not lost on Kalakaua, who speculates about how on earth such a story could have made it all the way to Hawaii: “One theory is that the story was acquired through Israelitish contact with the ancestors of the Polynesians while the latter were drifting eastward from the land of their nativity. But the more reasonable assumption seems to be that the Hawaiian theogony, so strangely perpetuated, is an independent and perhaps original version of a series of creation legends common in the remote past to the Cushite, Semite and Aryan tribes, and was handed down quite as accurately as the Jewish version before it became fixed in written characters.”

Semites in East Africa?

In 1910, a captain in the German Protectorate Troops named M. Merker wrote a book about the Masai people of East Africa in which he compared Masai myths and traditions with those of the Bible and with traditions from Babylonia.

Sir James Frazer gives an English summary of Merker’s account of a Masai flood tale in Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, vol. 1:
“Tumbainot was a righteous man whom God loved. He married a wife Naipande, who bore him three sons, Oshomo, Bartimaro, and Barmao … In those days the world was thickly peopled, but men were not good. On the contrary they were sinful and did not obey God’s commands. [God] resolved to destroy the whole race of mankind. Only the pious Tumbainot found grace in the eyes of God, who commanded him to build an ark of wood, and go into it, with his two wives, his six sons, and their wives, taking with him some animals of every sort. When they were all safely aboard, and Tumbainot had laid in a great stock of provisions, God caused it to rain so heavily and so long that a great flood took place, and all men and beasts were drowned, except those which were in the ark; for the ark floated on the face of the waters. Tumbainot longed for the end of the rain, for the provisions in the ark began to run short. At last the rain stopped. Anxious to ascertain the state of the flood, Tumbainot let a dove fly out of the ark. In the evening she came back tired, so Tumbainot knew that the flood must still be high, and that the dove could have found no place to rest … When the water had all run away, the ark grounded on the steppe, and men and animals disembarked. As he stepped out of the ark, Tumbainot saw no less than four rainbows, one in each of the four quarters of the sky, and he took them as a sign that the wrath of God was over.”
Merker cited the remarkable similarity between these accounts and others as proof of the common origin of the ancient Israelite people and the Masai.

In Summary

There are lots and lots of local flood stories out there. There are also more than a few that bear strong resemblances to the Genesis account. You can read summaries of almost all the world’s flood stories, from the sublime to the ridiculous, here. Accounts like these have made their way to every corner of the earth, from Siberia to Hawaii to East Africa to the Americas. To go much further in the last 4,500 years, they’d have had to make their way to the moon. These may not provide definitive evidence of anything, but they strongly suggest not all flood stories are merely local.

Browsing through them from one end to another also brings to light one very important detail: no flood story other than the Genesis flood is presented as history.

Not a one.


  1. I think you have it wrong. Concerning the biblical flood story this article provides much more reasonable and very extensive and realistic ecxplanations of the actual meaning of the biblical story then you are proposing.


    "Interpreting the Flood story
    The Genesis Flood story contains many literary clues that its writers (and original audience) were not intended to narrate an actual series of events. The story employs the literary device known as “hyperbole” throughout, describing a massive ark which holds representatives of “every living creature on Earth”, and a flood which flows over the tops of the highest mountains in the world. These are not meant to challenge readers to figure out the practicality of such descriptions, but rather they are important clues that we are dealing with a theological story rather than ancient journalism.

    There are other clues that the writers are not intending to relate a literal series of events. One is the command given to Noah to treat “clean” animals differently than “unclean” animals, even though those categories were not given to the Hebrew people until the time of Moses, much later in the biblical story. Another clue about how to interpret the Flood story comes from its place in the book of Genesis and specifically in the “primeval narratives” of Genesis 1-11.
    Biblical scholars almost universally see these chapters as having a different purpose than the rest of the book of Genesis. The primeval narratives cover a huge swath of cosmic history and are highly figurative in their language. They serve as the grand and poetic “introduction” to the story of God’s people which commences with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. While they speak of real events (such as the creation of the universe and the special calling of humankind), they do so in rhetorical and theological ways that have more to do with the purposes of the story than a plain narration of facts. This is completely typical of how ancient people (including the Israelites) wrote historical accounts, especially concerning “primeval” events near the beginning of history."

    And the article explains so much more in an intelligent and well researched manner.

    1. I understand your position, Q. I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

      With regard to the number of animals Noah had to preserve, he was told to take two of every kind [miyn], not two of every modern species or subspecies. "Kind" is a much broader category, probably approximating the family level in current taxonomy; that is, basically anything that can breed together. So, two dogs, two cats, and so on. Further, Noah needed to take only land animals and birds (Gen. 7:15), nothing aquatic at all, and few or none of the insects and invertebrates.

      By that standard, we are looking at roughly 1,500 living and extinct "kinds" of animals. Add in the seven pairs of each kind of clean animal, that puts the total number of living beings on the ark at around 7,000. To get a picture of that, consider that least four of our world's modern zoos currently house 15,000 or more critters.

      At to the classification of animals being mentioned prior to the giving of the Law, bear in mind that numerous things, practices and categories of thought to which the law of Moses makes reference existed long before their formalization at Sinai, including animal sacrifice, slavery and circumcision. It should not surprise us to find the categories of "clean" and "unclean" were also known before the Law.

      Genesis 6-9 indeed describes events on a scale so huge that anyone who comes to them in predisposed to disbelieve they really occurred has no choice but to consider them hyperbolic. But it is the events themselves that are huge, not the storyteller's manner of telling them. There is no exaggeration in the Genesis delivery. It is about as dry and realistic an account of a supernatural event as is possible to write. In contrast, The Gilgamesh Epic is absolutely hyperbolic. Its writer is not even trying to be believed. You have to put the two accounts side by side to see the differences, and the differences are absolutely stark.

      You can do this with every other account of the flood extant. Again, I challenge you to read the other flood accounts that exist, and then go back and read your Bible. The way the flood story is told in the scriptures has nothing in common with the way it is recounted elsewhere except that it is concerned with the same events.

    2. Yes, we'll have to disagree. I get your point, which I think is close to - since Christ definitely existed and is who he said he is, then, him mentioning Noah and the flood must be proof of the authenticity of that story.

      I share that concern. However, just from Wikipedia there is so much concrete material that suggests more of a mythological basis for the flood, e.g.,

      "While some scholars have tried to offer possible explanations for the origins of the flood myth including a legendary retelling of a possible Black Sea deluge, the general mythological exaggeration and implausibility of the story are widely recognized by relevant academic fields. The acknowledgement of this follows closely the development of understanding of the natural history and especially the geology and paleontology of the planet."

      I think that those points are highly relevant and they are points that obviously could not have been introduced by Christ at that time period. We therefore have to allow for leeway here which Christ followed and that we do not understand but can assume must have existed given his circumstances. Consequently, that therefore does not negate the fact that God has intended for us to go through a historical progression leading into current modern times (and more to follow). In other words I do not see a contradiction between current knowledge with its understanding of historical events being based on solid naturalistic interpretations that we nowadays have proof for. Obviouslyly that must, of course, differ from what the ancients thought they understood or without that accommodation by Christ there would have been total confusion.

    3. Fair enough. I simply do not have your confidence in modern secular scholarship, Q. Their current "consensus" theories (historical or scientific) will eventually be debunked, just as so many of their previous theories have been. When that happens, they will find new and different reasons to dismiss the text of Genesis.

    4. Just came across this additional example of how we measure Earth and Human history.

      "As Microsoft points out, some DNA has held up for tens of thousands of years in mammoth tusks and the bones of early humans. That's why Microsoft and other tech companies are eying DNA as a way to solve looming data storage problems."


    5. Interesting article. They don't mention how the specific method used to measure the "tens of thousands of years". Radiometric dating with a mass spectrometer is the current favorite, but like all dating methods, it is built on a number of assumptions which may or may not turn out to be the case.