What does it take to build an ark? The ark had to be cut with enough precision that it could carry an immense load and withstand the pressures of a lengthy flood. Coating with tar would have done little good if the timber had not been hewn with care. We can assume Noah had assistance, but regardless of the amount of help, constructing a huge water-tight vessel would have been virtually impossible without metal saws, axes, hammers, and such.
The necessity of semi-modern tools to accomplish such a feat oFf construction places a limit as to how far back into history the flood could have taken place. The deluge had to have happened in relatively recent times when copper or bronze was in use.
It matters little whether the flood was of short duration, or whether it was a protracted year long odyssey. The task for which the boat was constructed requires an ability to produce it, which puts the flood event somewhere into fairly recent history, if we can call around 5,000 years ago "recent."Since modern man was already racially divided and had covered the globe sparsely by this late date, the flood must have been narrowly confined.
In A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Archer condenses Ramm's conclusions concerning the inherent weaknesses in the global flood argument. In Archer's words, "Formidable scientific problems are raised by a universal flood according to Ramm's summary:" [i]
(1) According to the best estimates, to cover the highest Himalayas would require eight times more water than our planet now possesses.
(2) The withdrawal of so great a quantity of water constitutes an almost insuperable problem, for there would be no place to which it could drain off. The mechanics of this abatement of water would certainly be difficult, for the atmosphere could not possibly hold that much water in evaporated form, and it is doubtful if any underground cavities in the earth could receive more than a small fraction of this additional volume of water.
(3) Scarcely any plant life could have survived submersion under salt water for over a year, and the mingling of ocean water with the rain must have resulted in a lethal saline concentration, even though the mixture would have been considerably diluted. Practically all marine life would have perished, except those comparatively few organisms which can withstand tremendous pressure, for 90 percent of present marine life is found in the first fifty fathoms, and many of these species cannot survive distant migration from their native feeding grounds. Presumably the fresh water fish would have died, even though the salinity might have been high enough to support saltwater fish.
(4) Certain areas of the earth's surface show definite evidence of no submersion. For example, in Auvergne, France, there are reportedly cones of loose scoria and ashes from volcanoes thousands of years older than the flood, and yet they show no signs of having been washed or disturbed by flood waters. [ii]
A World Flood?
Strickling tackled the problem of Noah's flood, and compiled sixty-one legends of flooding catastrophes from all over the world, and found interesting similarities as well as striking differences. A favored family saved in a boat has a basis in mythology from various parts of the world. A remnant population of an unspecified number, using other means of survival, also has a basis in mythology. Through statistical techniques, he concluded:
Either catastrophic flooding of global or near-global dimensions occurred more than once, or there were more survivors of the Great Deluge than one crew, or both. [iii]
Strickling reasoned that a one-time universal event with a family of eight as sole survivors was not feasible. If Noah's flood was a universal event, there were numerous survivors in many locales; or perhaps, flooding occurred many times during man's history, and survivors used various means of escape, or both.
Taking the counter argument, Montgomery observed:
The destruction of well nigh the whole human race, in an early age of the world's history, by a great deluge, appears to have so impressed the minds of the few survivors, and seems to have been handed down to their children, in consequence, with such terror-struck impressiveness, that their remote descendants of the present day have not even yet forgotten it. It appears in almost every mythology, and lives in the most distant countries, and among the most barbarous tribes. [iv]
Montgomery included a schematic summary taken from Byron C. Nelson's Deluge Story in Stone that plots out the existing mythological accounts on a graph showing both similarities and discrepancies. Montgomery, who had access to similar data as Strickling, reached the opposite conclusion. He endorsed a universal, one-time only event with eight survivors versus Strickling's conclusion that such could not have been the case. So, what is amiss?
What about the flood stories that permeate the mythology of remote populations? Interestingly, the differences more than offset the similarities. Nelson's schematic of 41 flood myths shows that just nine of them mention saving animals. However tempting it might be to attribute all those ancient stories to a one-time global catastrophe to conform with the traditional interpretation of the Genesis flood, a literal reading of Genesis does not require it, and the unyielding revelations of nature and history disavow it.
It should not surprise us that floods punctuate the distant past of many present-day civilizations. A look at a map of the United States, paying particular attention to its cities, shows that early European settlers located their population centers usually on rivers or at river junctions. Concerns for drinking water, bathing, washing clothes, irrigation, and transportation overpowered concerns about flooding.
Why should primitive men think differently? It would have been only natural for early tribes to camp along rivers, and to be swept away upon occasion. Indeed, besides tribal warfare, what other kinds of catastrophes could there have been in ancient days? It is to be expected that survivors would be most vocal in recounting a devastating flood to following generations. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible deflates the idea that flood stories from different parts of the world might be related to the biblical account.
At one time this widespread distribution of a flood tradition was considered proof of the historicity of the biblical account, which with some expected modification had spread throughout the world as people migrated from their original homeland in the Near East. This notion has necessarily been given up. We know, e.g., that numerous peoples have no flood legends in their literature. Flood stories are almost entirely lacking in Africa, occur only occasionally in Europe, and are absent in many parts of Asia. They are widespread in America, Australia, and the islands of the Pacific. In addition, many of the known flood legends differ radically from the biblical story and stand independently of it and of one another. Many do not know a world-wide flood at all, but only a local inundation.... Often the heroes save themselves in boats or by scaling mountains, without intervention by the gods. Further, only a few of the flood stories give the wickedness of man as the cause for the Flood.... The duration of the Flood, if given, varies from a few days to many years. Facts of this kind disprove the claim that the biblical account is the parent of all flood stories. [v]
Also, we need to consider the impact early missionaries had on the mythology of primitive peoples. The biblical account of the great flood, related by missionaries, may have become interwoven with ancient tribal stories to produce hybrid myths that would parallel the Genesis narrative more closely. According to Gaster no flood story can be traced in Sanskrit until after elements of the Aryan civilization began to arrive in India. The Nestorian Christian missionary attempts in China stand out as the source of the flood story among the Lolos people. [vi] Archer admits:
The list of descendants in the respective lines of Ham, Shem, and Japheth as recorded in Genesis 10 does not permit any easy identification with the remoter races who lived in the lower reaches of Africa, Far East Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Particularly in the case of Australia, with its peculiar fauna indicating a long period of separation from the Eurasian continent, the difficulty of assigning either the humans or the subhuman population with the passengers in the ark has been felt to be acute. [vii]
In other words, the Bible is silent on any possible relationship between the descendants of Noah and the Black Africans, or the Mongoloid race, or the native Americans who descended from the Asiatics, or the Aborigines who populated Australia, or even the blond-haired Scandinavians, not to exclude any racial group. [viii] That squares exactly with what we know about the antiquity of those races of peoples who were far distant from the Mesopotamian valley by 5,000 years ago. From C. S. Coon:
Since the beginning of agriculture no new subspecies (of man) have arisen; the principal changes that have taken place have been vast increases in the numbers of some populations and decreases to the threshold of extinction in others. All this points to one conclusion: the living subspecies of man are ancient. The origins of races of subspecific rank go back into geological antiquity, and at least one of them is as old by definition, as our species. [ix]
The Issue of Race
A caution flag should be raised at this juncture lest anyone make unwarranted racist conclusions. Adam's niche in history is tens of thousands of years after the advent of modern Homo sapiens and the branching out of the great races. With no ancestral ties, Adam could not have been from any particular race. No one can say Adam was Caucasian, for example, even though present-day peoples with possible blood ties to Noah's three sons have Caucasoid features.
The wives of Noah and the wives of his three sons are the key. Considering the likelihood these women had blood ties to the distant past, then this almost assuredly mandates Caucasian ancestry for them. At that point in history, the resident populations in the Mesopotamian valley, the Sumerians, were dark-haired, light-skinned Caucasians. [x] And, possibly through intermarriage, this is the same racial type of modern-day Semites.
Although the human genome mapping project is still incomplete at this writing, researchers have produced a detailed physical map of the human Y chromosome. [xi] When fathers pass the X chromosome they have daughters; the Y produces sons. It is now possible to construct male family trees using the Y chromosome as has been done using mtDNA leading back to ancient "Eve." Soon mitochondrial Eve may have a companion in "Y chromosome Adam." Hopefully, they both will date to the same time period so they will have a chance to know each other a little.
It is problematic whether one could verify Adamic ancestry by analyzing the Y chromosome trees of Jews, Arabs, Armenians, and others, who would be obvious candidates as descendants of Adam. The reason is that Noah's male descendants were few in number compared to the large numbers of surrounding indigenous populations. Each time one of Noah's male descendants went childless or had only daughters, that line became a Y chromosome dead end.
We know the Sumerians and Semites became a mixed population early on. The Sumerians even acquired the sacrificial system, offering lambs and unblemished oxen and goats to their deities. [xii] But regardless of the ultimate origins of these two ethnically distinct peoples, we may find that no present-day males can be traced to Noah and Adam. Obviously, if we found men today whose Y chromosome trees extended back to only 7,000 years or so, then the explanation in this book would become instant fact. Still, discovering any males with such a marker seems rather unlikely.
The island of Madagascar, to cite one example, with its populations of lemurs found no place else on earth, [xiii] puts a damper on any notion of a massive worldwide flood after the advent of hominids. Madagascar drifted away from the mainland of Africa about 165 million years ago, even before monkeys and apes had come into existence. [xiv]
Today, Madagascar is inhabited by 28 species and 40 subspecies of lemurs that are totally unique to that island. [xv] The present day lemur populations, dramatically different from other animal populations found elsewhere in the world, denies the possibility of a global flood with the termination of all animal populations during the last 100 million years.
A survey of other island populations, each with its own unique animal life, weighs against any global catastrophe taking place during the time of human history. The existence of kiwis in New Zealand, kangaroos and koala bears native to the continent of Australia, to point out just a few examples, precludes a global destruction after the advent of hominids whenever and however they arrived, not to mention Noah who was a veritable "Johnny-come-lately."
The following excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Each Yucca moth species is adapted to a particular species of yucca (plant). The moths emerge when the yucca flowers open. The female gathers pollen from one flower, rolls it into a ball, flies to another flower, lays four or five eggs, and inserts the pollen mass in the opening thus formed. The larvae eat about half the 200 seeds produced by the plant. The yucca can be fertilized by no other insect, and the moth can utilize no other plant. [xvi]
The idea of a Yucca moth hopscotching the globe with its yucca plant partner in tow did not sit well with Strickling, who made the following comment:
Given a universal destruction by the Flood, the relationship must have come into existence afterward; it would be absurd to claim that the two partners migrated in unison from the Ark in its Old World resting place to their home in the New, surviving only in the latter. The alternative is something less than universal destruction. [xvii]
The Flood in Perspective
How does the notion of "something less" than a global flood square with the Genesis account? Halley addressed that issue:
"All the high mountains that were under the whole heavens, were covered. And all flesh died that moved upon the earth" (Gen 7:19, 21). This, doubtless, is the very language in which Shem related, or wrote, the story of the Flood to his children and grandchildren. He told it as he saw it. Are we to interpret his language according to his own geography, or present day geography? The whole race, except Noah and his family, were destroyed. To destroy the race it was necessary for the Flood to cover only so much of the earth as was inhabited. Accepting the Bible account as it is, there had been only TEN generations from Adam, the first man. How could ONE family, in TEN generations, with primitive modes of travel, populate the whole earth? Most likely the race had not spread far outside the Euphrates basin. [xviii]
Halley does not seem to be aware of extra-Noahic populations, but he does opt for a non-global flood. The following comes from Archer:
In explanation of this assertion (that the flood was not necessarily universal) it needs to be pointed out that the Hebrew 'eres, translated consistently as `earth' in our English Bibles, is also the word for `land' (e.g. the land of Israel, the land of Egypt). There is another term, tebel, which means the whole expanse of the earth, or the earth as a whole. Nowhere does tebel occur in this account, but only 'eres, in all the statements which sound quite universal in the English Bible (e.g., Gen. 7:4, 10, 17, 18, 19). Thus, Genesis 6:17c can be rendered: `Everything that is in the land shall die' - that is, in whatever geographical region is involved in the context and situation. [xix]
To reiterate: an unenlightened Bible translation has made victims of us all. The word "earth," synonymous with "globe" or "planet," is a permissible translation of the Hebrew word "`erets," from Genesis 1:1 to 2:4, even though this last verse is transitional, and shifts focus to the immediate area where Adam was created, where the flood took place, and where the tower of Babel was built.
From Genesis 2:5 to 12, words such as "land," "region" or "territory" fit the context better than the word "earth," with the possible exception of Genesis 8:22 and 9:13. Cain was not driven off "the face of the earth" (Gen. 4:14), just out of the vicinity of Eden. Clouds never cover the globe completely (Gen. 9:14), only a segment of land. The planet was not divided in Peleg's days (Gen. 10:25), simply the immediate region.
Undoubtedly, the Old Testament writers had no concept of the earth as a round globe with a circumference of 25,000 miles. What we can visualize as the earth today is entirely different from what they could have pictured as a definition of the word. Could the Hebrews or Egyptians or any other Near Eastern cultures have envisioned the world then as we know it exists today, with polar ice caps and oceans covering three-fourths of the surface, massive land continents, and numerous oceanic islands burgeoning with unique faunal populations?
The notion of a global flood, based solely on the Genesis narrative, fails on two counts: (1) the word translated "earth" in Genesis can mean "land," and (2) any word which might have defined "earth" would not mean then what it means today.
Revelations in Clay
When the British first began excavations in 1849 in what used to be called Assyria, diggers filled crates with some 25,000 clay tablets they shipped off to the British Museum, thinking they were just decorated pottery. They exercised little care loading them into baskets with the inevitable result:
... the voyage was more disastrous for those documents than had been the taking of Ninevah by the Medes. [xx]
What ended up in London in a pile of dust were the broken fragments of the most valuable history of Mesopotamia. This had been the library of King Ashurbanipal who collected meticulously and stored his treasure trove in 668-626 BC. It was the Assyrian king himself who decided, or helped decide, which historical documents were important enough to copy for posterity. Candidate literature included writings from before the flood. We might have found them fascinating, but the king was unimpressed:
I study stone inscriptions from before the flood, which are obtuse, obscure and confused. [xxi]
Considering pre-flood inscriptions to be of little value, the king did not allot precious time and material to making copies. What has been preserved and recovered are somewhat ragged legends pieced together with words inserted sometimes where they look like they belong. Still, the preponderance of material collected over the years is more than sufficient to document a flood episode closely paralleling the Genesis account.
Kingship was "lowered from heaven" and established at Eridu. The Sumerian king list continues:
In Eridu Alulim became king
and reigned 28,800 years. [xxii]
Obviously, the length of rule is suspect. The reign of all the pre-flood kings, recorded in Sumerian measure, runs into the thousands of years. Using a sexagesimal system, the years recorded for the ten kings ending with Ziusudra are in multiples of 60 or 60 squared. [xxiii] Probably there is something we do not understand about their recording of years, but suffice it to say the Sumerians believed these kings ruled for long periods, and therefore, must have lived many years.
In succeeding verses, the kingship was transferred, through warfare most likely, from Eridu to Badtabira, Larak, and Sippar, ending in Shuruppak with the reign of Ubartutu, the eighth king. Suruppak was the son of Ubartutu, and Suruppak's son was Ziusudra. [xxiv] There is some disagreement in lists discovered. Some name eight kings, some list ten, some lists end with Ziusudra. (This is discussed further in chapter 15.) In Jacobsen's Sumerian King List, this narrative follows the list of pre-flood kings:
The Flood swept thereover,
After the Flood had swept thereover,
When the kingship was lowered from heaven
The kingship was in Kish. [xxv]
A tablet recovered from Nippur contained about 300 lines with the first 37 missing. Following is a part of the flood account originally written in Sumerian cuneiform:
The gods of heaven and earth [called upon] the names of
Anu and Enlil.
Then did Ziusudra, the king ... build a mighty ...
Obeying in humility and reverence, [he] ...
... the gods, a wall ...
Ziusudra, beside it, stood and hearkened.
`Stand on my left by the wall ...
By the wall will I speak a word to thee, [hearken to
[Give] ear to my commandment:
By our ... a flood [shall invade] the places of worship,
To destroy the seed of mankind ...
This is the decision, the decree of the assembly [of the gods].
By the command of Anu (and) of Enlil ...
Their kingship, their dominion [shall be abolished].'
(Break of about forty lines.)
The hurricanes, in monstrous fury, attacked as one;
At the same time the deluge swept over the places of worship.
Then, for seven days (and) seven nights,
The flood was poured out over the land,
(And) the great ship was tossed by the hurricanes
upon the mighty waters.
Utu came forth, he who sheds light over heaven and earth.
Ziusudra opened a window in the great ship;
Utu, the hero, cast his beams into the interior of the giant boat.
Ziusudra, the king, fell on his face before Utu.
The king kills an ox, slaughters a sheep. [xxvi]
The Sumerian version concludes with eternal life being granted to Ziusudra from on high. As the "preserver of the seed of mankind," he was given a place to dwell. The end of Ziusudra's reign at Shuruppak concludes the Pre-dynastic Period in Mesopotamian history. The Early Dynastic Period (E.D. I) began at Kish after the flood. The start of E.D.I is dated at 2900 BC, and this date is confirmed by the flood layer found at Shuruppak during archaeological excavations, dated independently at 2900 BC.
The Atrahasis version has been pieced together from Babylonian and Assyrian recensions. Out of an original of approximately 1245 words inscribed, only a scant 170 remain. Atrahasis means "Exceeding Wise" and is a title used also for Adapa. [xxvii] Thus a link exists between Atrahasis, who survived the flood, and Adapa, who missed out on eternal life, that mirrors the biblical link between Adam and Noah. (See Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 9:9-10.)
Following is a portion of Atrahasis:
The land became wide, the peop[le became nu]merous,
The land bellowed like wild oxen.
The god was disturbed by their uproar.
[Enlil] heard their clamor
(And) said to the great gods:
`Oppressive has become the clamor of mankind.
By their uproar they prevent sleep.'
(Some lines are skipped here.)
`Wall hearken to me,
Reed hut, guard well all my words!
Destroy the house, build a ship,
Renounce (worldly) goods,
Keep the soul alive!
The ship thou shalt build.'
(The following is condensed.)
That [ship] shall be an ark, and its name
Shall be `Preserver of life.'
[...] ceil (it) with a mighty cover.
[Into the ship which] thou shalt make,
[Thou shalt take] the beasts of the field,
The fowl of the heavens.
Atra[hasis] opened his mouth to speak,
[Say]ing to Ea [his] Lord:
"I have never built a ship [...]
Draw a design [of it on the gr]ound.
That, seeing the [des] ign, I may [build] the ship. [xxviii]
The remainder of the account speaks of drought and pestilence that falls upon the land and lasts for years. The flood ensues finally, destroying those not seeking refuge on the ship. [xxix]
After the flood, kingship was restored at Kish. When Kish was "smitten with weapons," the monarchy moved around a bit, and kings were installed in other cities.
Legends of kings and heroes of ancient times were popular stories worth repeating. One such was Gilgamesh, and tablets of the Gilgamesh epic have been found all over the region. The legendary Gilgamesh, fifth post-flood king of Uruk (the biblical Erech), [xxx] was a folk hero to the Sumerians in much the same manner as the mythical "King Arthur" is to the English. Folk telling obviously inflated Gilgamesh's deeds and travels; nevertheless, he is frequently referenced, leading historians to believe he was an historical personality as well.
Inscribed in Accadian, a semitic language predecessor to Hebrew, this story tells how Gilgamesh was grief stricken at the death of his good friend Enkidu. This caused him to reflect upon his own mortality, and to realize that everyone's days were numbered; well, almost everyone. There lived a man in recluse who had survived a devastating flood, was reputed to have lived an exceedingly long life, and was even thought to possess eternal life - a gift from the gods. He was called Utnapishtim, literally "Long-lived."
Dalley in her book Myths from Mesopotamia goes further:
... it is just possible that an abbreviation of (Uta)-na'ish(tim) was pronounced 'Noah' in Palestine from very early times. [xxxi]
The eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh epic contains the encounter of the renowned Gilgamesh with the legendary Utnapishtim. Following is a condensation:
Gilgamesh said to him to Utnapishtim the Faraway: "As I look upon thee, Utnapishtim, Thy features are not strange at all; even as I art thou My heart had regarded thee as resolved to do battle, [Yet] thou liest indolent upon thy back! [Tell me,] how joinst thou the Assembly of the gods, In thy quest of life?" Utnapishtim said to him, to Gilgamesh: "I will reveal to thee, Gilgamesh, a hidden matter And a secret of the gods will I tell thee: Shuruppak-a city which thou knowest, (And) which on Euphrates' [banks] is situate-That city was ancient, (as were) the gods within it, When their heart led the great gods to produce the flood. [There] were Anu, their father, Valiant Enlil, their counselor, Ninurta, their assistant, Ennuge, their irrigator. Ninigiku-Ea was also present with them;Their words he repeats to the reed-hut: `Reed-hut, reed-hut! Wall, reflect! Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-tutu, Tear down this house, build a ship! Give up possessions, seek thou life. Forswear (worldly) goods and keep the soul alive! Aboard the ship that thou shalt build, Her dimensions shall be to measure. (Skipping and condensing a little.) The little ones [carr]ied bitumen, While the grown ones brought [all else] that was needful. One (whole) acre was her floor space, Ten dozen cubits the height of each of her walls, I laid out the contours (and) joined her together. I provided her with six decks, Six `sar' (measures) of bitumen I poured into the furnace, Three sar of asphalt [I also] poured inside. Whatever I had of all the living beings I [laded] upon her. All my family and kin I made go aboard the ship. The beasts of the field, the wild creatures of the field,... He who orders unease at night, showers down a rain of blight.' I watched the appearance of the weather. The weather was awesome to behold. I boarded the ship and battened up the entrance.To batten down the (whole) ship, to Puzur-Amurri, the boatman, I handed over the structure together with its contents. With the first glow of dawn, A black cloud rose up from the horizon. Inside it Adad thunders, While Shullat and Hanish go in front, Moving as heralds over hill and plain. Erragal tears out the posts; Forth comes Ninurta and causes the dikes to follow. For one day the south-storm [blew], Gathering speed as it blew, [submerging the mountains], Overtaking the people like a battle. The gods were frightened by the deluge, And shrinking back, they ascended to the heaven of Anu. Six days and [six] nights Blows the flood wind, as the south-storm sweeps the land. When the seventh day arrived, The flood (-carrying) south-storm subsided in the battle, ... I looked about for coast lines in the expanse of the sea: In each of fourteen (regions) There emerged a region (-mountain). On Mount Nisir the ship came to a halt. Mount Nisir held the ship fast, When the seventh day arrived, I sent forth and set free a dove. The dove went forth, but came back; Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round. Then I sent forth and set free a swallow. The swallow went forth, but came back; Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round. Then I sent forth and set free a raven.The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, He eats, circles, caws, and turns not round. Then I let out (all) to the four winds And offered a sacrifice. I poured out a libation on the top of the mountain." [xxxii]
Without question, similarities stand out between this account and the Genesis record. To point out two that may not be quite so obvious, note that Noah was found lying in his tent in a drunken state (Gen 9:21-23), and Utnapishtim was in similar repose. "Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:9), and Gilgamesh inquires how Utnapishtim attained "the assembly of the gods."
Berossus, a Babylonian priest in the third century BC, compiled a history he titled in Greek, Babyloniaka. [xxxiii] Although no copies have survived, the Jewish historian, Josephus, and other Greek writers have referred to it or included quotations. In the Berossus version, Xisouthros was directed in a dream to set down a pre-flood history, bury it, and build a boat. He was to stock the boat with animals, relatives, and friends, and ride out the impending flood. The boat landed in Armenia, whereupon birds were released to test the terrain.
Xisouthros, along with his wife, daughter and boatman, disappear into immortality while the survivors travel to Babylon to rebuild the destroyed city. This account written in Greek is thought to have derived from the legend of Ziusudra written in ancient Sumerian.
Comparison and Parallels
It cannot be ignored that the extra-biblical versions parallel the biblical version to varying degrees. Details differ, but a common thread can be seen that suggests a common source. God is (or the gods are) displeased with the state of humanity. A man and his family are singled out. That man is warned of an impending flood, builds a boat and loads it with animals and birds. They ride out the storm, coming to rest in a hilly or mountainous region. Birds are released and a sacrifice or libation is offered. In the end, God (or the gods) "smell the sweet savor."
Differences are also noticeable. When I was a college student taking American History, the Civil War was considered an important event worthy of study. My class was assigned a number of books by several authors, and our exam consisted of comparing the different versions.
Even though the Civil War had begun less than a hundred years earlier, the rationale for it, the importance of the various events, the political climate, etc., all varied widely according to each author's philosophical point of view. It cannot be denied that the Civil War took place, but when seen through different eyes, the accounts were dissimilar. Likewise, attempts to write off these flood stories as erroneous mythology, or merely pagan lore, are unjustified.
For one thing, we have the flood layers themselves. Many of the cities named in stories about the flood have been excavated to reveal the actual clay layers between remnants of ancient populations. Furthermore, the layers at Kish, Shuruppak, Uruk, Lagash, and the higher layer at Ur, all date to roughly the same period, 2900 BC. From the evidence we can infer that all of the flood stories, both biblical and extra-biblical, were predicated on an event.
The event, a flood, was talked about and written about, and the accounts were passed down through many generations. Whether Gilgamesh ever encountered Utnapishtim is as problematic as Godzilla meeting King Kong. Who knows? In all likelihood an imaginative scribe concocted it. But what is conspicuous is that he drew upon established traditions. Elements of the story were in circulation.
The biblical narrative was predicated on the same event, but corresponding accounts were passed along separate channels. The history of Noah's flood comes to us thanks to Moses, we believe, who used source materials at hand. Moses, a discerning servant of God, was the filter through which any polytheism was screened out.
Many historians believe the Hebrew version in the Bible was derived from pagan mythology. This belief is unfounded. What should be seen is that the Mosaic account of the flood, as well as the epic myths, are all based upon a like event in history, a sort of "shared common ancestry" as it were.
After comparing the Babylonian epic with the biblical account, Wiseman concluded:
Any similarities with the Genesis record have to be overlaying extraneous matter which forms the bulk of the poem; such can best be explained as due to both versions going back to a common primary fact. [xxxiv]
And this is the point precisely. The ultimate source of all the accounts is the event itself, a massive flood, that impacted the entire region so heavily it remained a staple both of folk lore and of Genesis.