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Noah and Family: A Voyage to Remember


In 1928-29, Leonard Woolley excavated the ancient city of Ur in Southern Mesopotamia.  It had once been a thriving Sumerian port city situated on the Persian Gulf.  The build-up of silt over centuries moved the coastline south, and now the long-abandoned ancient ruins lie many miles inland.  In the hot desert sun and swirling dust, Woolley's grimy work crews stabbed their spades time and again, digging deeper and deeper, filling their buckets with loose desert sand.  

We Have Found the Flood  

"The graves of the kings of Ur," Woolley called them, yielded their treasures of precious trinkets one by one.  Cups and goblets, vases and jugs, lyres and harps, gold, bronze, and silver pieces of adornment were excised from rooms lined by walls of stone.  Grisly skeletons were wrested from their dark resting places and brought to searing sunlight.  

In the summer of 1929, toward the end of their season, Woolley's native digging crews made one last probe, a little deeper than the last plundered grave, to see what was in store for the following year.  They found more pieces of artifacts, much to their pleasure, beneath the foundations of the lowest tomb.  

Encouraged by these finds, Woolley next wanted to know how far down they had to go before the treasure trove would end.  Shafts were sunk carefully.  Sand and debris were brought up for close examination.  Woolley had dated the lowest tomb to 2800 BC.  Now, inch by inch and bucket by bucket he was traveling back in time.  

Clay tablets started appearing among the loose debris.  The inscriptions bore characters deemed to be even older than his previous finds.  He had reached 3000 BC by his reckoning, and with appetites whetted afresh, still there was more to come.  Shafts were sent down deeper still.  

At last the floor was reached, the journey had ended, they stood at the bottom, or so they thought.  Then Woolley noticed the soil had changed from sand to clay.  Upon close examination, Woolley determined that the clay had once been dissolved.  What was water-laid clay doing in the middle of a desert beneath these tombs?  

His first thoughts were that the clay layer must have been set down when the Euphrates river overflowed its banks sometime long before civilization had begun.  Yet, the elevation seemed too high for that.  His next step was to measure the depth of the layer of clay.  To his amazement, nearly 10 feet of clay was discovered before reaching another level of civilization beneath the clay layer.  

Once again artifacts were brought to the surface for scrutiny.  Another discovery was made; the bits and pieces of pottery were uneven, a sign that they were made by human hands alone, unaided by the potter's wheel.  These painted potsherds were from a civilization even more primitive than the ones he had already uncovered, and later were identified as "Ubaid." [i][i]  

  Woolley reasoned that two dissimilar civilizations separated by 10 feet of water-laid clay could mean only one thing.  An ecstatic Woolley reached a conclusion and sent a telegram that electrified the world of 1929, though to a lesser degree than did the stock market crash of that same year.  "We have found the Flood," announced an ebullient Woolley.  

Elated by his find, Woolley encouraged excavators at other sites to look for flood layers.  Sure enough, flood layers or more cautiously "sterile stratum" of various thicknesses were found.  At last, thought Woolley, archeology had established firm evidence for what had long been a controversial Bible story - the great flood.  But that euphoric feeling was not to last.  

Dating archeological digs in the absence of deposits of volcanic ash lacks the kind of precision archaeologists prefer, but nevertheless, the thick flood stratum Woolley found at Ur was placed at the early fourth millennium, about 3800 BC.  Notwithstanding, a higher flood level also was uncovered dated to about 2700 BC, but it had been discounted as too little and too late. [ii][ii]  

Langdon and Watelin excavated Kish in 1928-29.  They dated the bottom layer which amounted to about one foot in thickness to 3300 BC.  This seemed to lend support to Woolley's claim, even though the dates were 500 years apart.  The thickest layer at Kish was at a higher level, however, and assigned a similar date to the thinner layer found at Ur.  

Mallowan, who excavated the more northern city of Ninevah, uncovered several strata of mud and riverine sand totaling six feet in depth.  Diplomatically, he called this not a flood, but a "pluvial interval," and placed it at the fourth millennium, similarly dated to Woolley's layer.  But then, flood deposits at Kish, Shuruppak, Uruk, and Lagash were considered and a consensus put all of these layers at nearly a thousand years later than Woolley's renowned find, averaging around 2900 BC. [iii][iii]

This prompted a debate turning on who had uncovered the biblical flood - the most important flood in human history - and it left Woolley in a bit of a quandary.  After all, he had wasted a lot of time and energy if his trumpeted flood deposit was from the wrong flood.  

As it turned out, the flood layer Woolley thought was from Noah's flood was dated far too early in relation to the other sites, while the higher layer he had discounted, that was dated closer to the flood layers from the other sites, seemed puny by comparison.  Ironically, the lower, earlier, and thicker layer Woolley thought was from the flood resulted apparently from merely a flood.  And conversely, the higher, later, and thinner layer he thought was from only a flood, may have been left by the flood.  Such is the life of an archaeologist who goes public a smidgen too early.  

Sorting Out the Floods 

The importance of the dating and the distribution of the flood deposits at the six sites cannot be overlooked.  Ninevah is located farthest north, and according to the Bible, was not settled by Semites until Asshur led his expedition in the post-flood era (Gen. 10:11).  

At the time of 3800 BC, Ur was still a Ubaidan city on the Persian Gulf, which became a Sumerian city later on.  The local floods at these two sites, Ur and Ninevah, would have had devastating effects on the local populations, but neither city is likely to have experienced any Adamite migrations at those early dates.  

The cities that bore the brunt of a massive flood all at the same time, around 2900 BC, were the middle cities of Southern Mesopotamia which would have contained Adamite populations.  What may seem odd at first is that no flood layer was found in the excavation at Eridu.  Eridu may have experienced flooding, or it may have been spared.

First of all, Eridu was the southern-most city, located on the Persian Gulf at that period, roughly 20 miles from the Euphrates.  So, Eridu may have remained high and dry. Also, Adamite populations may have migrated north by then, settling at Erech and elsewhere as indicated by the Adapa fragment (discussed in chapter 11).  As retribution for the sins of the Adamites, the flood may have involved no more territory than that containing Adamite populations.  Probably, Ninevah, Ur, and maybe even Eridu, were outside the boundaries of Adamite settlements at the time of the flood.  

Of equal importance to the finding and dating of the flood deposits connected with Kish, Shuruppak, Uruk, Lagash, and possibly Ur, is the total absence of flood layers found anywhere else in the Near East.  What has been hard for many to accept is that the flood of Noah's day was entirely local to Southern Mesopotamia.  According to Bright:  

A number of sites in Mesopotamia, of equal or greater antiquity, have been excavated down to virgin soil, and no evidence of flooding came to light at them.  Perhaps the most important of these is Eridu, located only seven miles away from Ur.  Equally serious is the fact that no site in Syria or Palestine, where archaeologists were equally active during the early part of the present century, has yielded a "flood layer."  In these two countries some of the oldest towns in the world have been excavated ...(and) show no evidence of a flood ... [iv][iv]  

Parallel Accounts Confirm the Genesis Flood

The present-day distribution of animals around the globe, along with the fossilized remains of their early ancestors in the same locales, precludes a global flood at such a late date in earth history.  Furthermore, the Genesis flood harmonizes with the local legends.  By comparing the Genesis flood narrative with its counterparts we will see just how closely they follow suit.  

Hard Hearts  

Genesis 6:5: "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."  

Utnapishtim"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." [v][v]  

Although the Atrahasis account lists "clamor," "uproar," and maybe, overpopulation as the reason for bringing the flood, the Gilgamesh tablet agrees with Genesis.  It was hardened "hearts" that brought on the flood.  

Man Destroyed  

Genesis 6:7: "And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth;..."  

Ziusudra"By our ... a flood [will sweep] over the cult centers; to destroy the seed of mankind ..." [vi][vi]  

Those who occupied the land are to be destroyed from the land.  Although the Sumerians were first to set down their version of the flood, they also were first to know how to write.  Probably they learned the flood story from the Semites, although they must have had some firsthand knowledge. Sumer flourished centuries before the flood.  

A Favored Servant  

Genesis 6:8: "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord."  

Atrahasis"[Ea] opened his mouth, [say]ing to his servant: Thou sayest `let me seek ...'  The task which I am about to tell thee guard thou well: Wall hearken to me, reed hut, guard well all my words!  Destroy this house, build a ship, renounce worldly goods, keep the soul alive." [vii][vii]  

The subterfuge, apparently, was that Ea was in the inner counsel of the gods, and was not supposed to reveal the decision to bring the flood and destroy man to any mere mortal.  Ea speaks to the wall so that Atrahasis may overhear the words, and escape death.  

Pitching the Ark  

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."  

Utnapishtim"I laid out the contours (and) joined her together.  I provided her with six decks, dividing her (thus) into seven parts.  Her floor plan I divided into nine parts.  I hammered water-plugs in her.  I saw to the punting-poles and laid in supplies.  Six `sar' (measures) of bitumen I poured into the furnace, three sar of asphalt [I also] poured inside." [viii][viii]  

Pitching boats on the inside was unusual from what we know about early ship building.  Yet both accounts confirm this was done.  

Designing the Ship  

Genesis 6:15: "And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits."  

Atrahasis[Say]ing to Ea [his] Lord: “I have never built a ship [...].  Draw a design [of it on the gr]ound that, seeing the [de]sign, I may [build] the ship." [ix][ix]  

Utnapishtim"The ship that thou shalt build, her dimensions shall be to measure.  Equal shall be her width and her length.  (Skipping some lines.)  Ten dozen cubits the height of each of her walls, ten dozen cubits each edge of the square deck." [x][x]  

The dimensions differ, as do the proportions.  But remember, the Sumerians used a sexagesimal system that affects measures of time and measures of length.  What is important is that both accounts describe a huge ship requiring a lot of work to build.  

Saving Family and Animals  

Genesis 6:18-20: "But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee.  And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.  Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive."

Atrahasis"[Into the ship which] thou shalt make, thou shalt take the beasts of the field, the fowl of the heavens.  (Skipping a few lines.)  Aboard her [bring] thy grain, thy possessions, thy goods, thy wife, thy family, thy relations, and thy craftsmen.  Beasts of the field, creatures of the field, as many as eat herbs, I will send to thee and they shall guard thy door." [xi][xi]  

The epic accounts appear to save more than eight people unless Noah's family, "thy relations," were also "craftsmen."  In the eleventh tablet of Gilgamesh, the boatman plays a part, aiding Gilgamesh in finding the plant of eternal life.  Still, nothing precludes Noah's sons from being boatmen or craftsmen.  And certainly, we have no reason to regard the epic accounts as "true" even if based upon an actual occurrence.  

Fountains of the Deep  

Genesis 7:10,11,12: "And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth.  In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.  And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights."  

Utnapishtim"A black cloud came up from out the horizon.  Adad thunders within it, while Shullat and Hanish go before, coming as heralds over hill and plain; Erragal tears out the masts, Ninurta comes along (and) causes the dikes to give way; ..."  (Skipping some lines.)  "Six days and six nights the wind blew, the downpour, the tempest, (and) the flo[od] overwhelmed the land.  When the seventh day arrived, the tempest, the flood, which had fought like an army subsided in (its) onslaught." [xii][xii]  

The phrase "fountains of the deep" (Gen. 7:11; 8:2) has been a major contributor to the global flood concept.  Visions of great, oceanic, water-spewing volcanoes have been conjured up to rationalize this phrase, and to account for the massive amount of water needed for a universal deluge.  

Analyses of the flood layers at the excavated city sites found only those elements that could be expected from the waters of the Euphrates.  No remains of any salt water creatures were present which indicates none of the floods involved sea water. [xiii][xiii]  

In chapter 11, we examined the Septuagint version where the word "fountain" appears rather than "mist" in Genesis 2:6.  We saw this referred to an irrigation system in all likelihood.  Here "fountains of the deep" again points to irrigation.  The Hebrew word for "deep" can mean the sea, it can refer to subterranean waters, or it can mean the depths of a river.  In the Atrahasis epic, the phrases "fountains of the deep" or "fountain of the deep" appear four times.  In all instances, fountain(s) pertain to "fields," as in this example:  

Be[low] the fountain of the deep was stopped, [that the flood rose not at the source].

The field diminished [its fertility]. [xiv][xiv]  

From the consistency in usage, we can see these were canals or levies used for irrigation.  In the Gilgamesh account, Ninurta was the "lord of the wells and irrigation works." [xv][xv]  So, we now know precisely what the phrase "fountains of the deep" means.  The expression is defined by usage, and was employed by Semites long before Moses used it in the flood narrative.  It was the overflowing rivers that caused the dams, dikes, and irrigation canals to burst open, flooding the land.  We can now properly interpret "fountains of the deep" as a reference to irrigation, which clearly mandates a local flood.  

Duration of the Flood  

One of the differences between Genesis and the epic accounts is the length of time that it rained upon the earth, forty days versus seven days.  In chapter 8 of this book, the Hebrew use of perfect or prophetic numbers was addressed.  Here are two "perfect" examples; 7 and 40 are just good numbers.  Genesis 1-11 is full of them.  All the accounts, both inspired and uninspired, use these perfect, prophetic, or magical numbers.  

It has been suggested that the god Ea might correspond to "Yahweh" in Hebrew, but it's also possible that Ea was a primitive form of another name found in Matthew 1:23 - "Emmanuel."  The Accadians sometimes denoted Ea by his sacred number, "forty." [xvi][xvi]  The number forty has special significance in the life of Christ.  He spent forty days fasting in the wilderness (Mark 1:13), and His ascension into heaven was forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3).  

Did the original Hebrew text use the number forty in Genesis in a similar sense that a subsequent scribe took to mean the number of days?  Alas, we do not know.  Suffice it to say that it rained upon the earth for a perfectly long enough period of time to accomplish God's plan.  

Scope of the Flood  

Genesis 7:19,20: "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."  

Some Genesis commentators have seized on these passages to assert that the high mountains of the whole earth were covered to a depth of fifteen cubits (about 22 feet).  Where the water would have come from is problematical, as well as what became of it.  

Measuring any depth at all raises a question.  How would the passengers from inside the ark have any idea what the depths were?  The Gilgamesh epic speaks of "punting" and a boatman.  Long poles would afford a means of measurement.  Some means of directing the boat could have been helpful as it may have traveled against the flow.  Since the slope of the land is from north to south, had the ark been like a floating log, it should have been swept downstream, and ended up in or near the Persian Gulf.  There had to have been enough water to get the ark to hill country where it came to rest, and some rudimentary means of navigation may have been employed, though conceivably, a raging south wind might have done the work.  

Again, the word for "mountains" and "hills" is the same in Hebrew.  If the flooding was restricted to the region of the Mesopotamian valley, then the "mountains" submerged by the flood could have been the lower mountains of the region surrounding the valley, or it may signify the lower foothills at the beginning of a mountain range.  

As to the language used to describe the flood, it would make no difference whether the flood, in fact, was global or local.  From the standpoint of the passengers on the ark, the description is entirely true and accurate in either case.  These verses do not oblige us to ponder whether the Rockies, or the Andes, or the Urals, or the Himalayas were under water.  

Considering that mountains were not inundated by the flood, as the evidence indicates, in no way should that impugn the accuracy or inerrancy of Scripture.  From Noah's and Shem's viewpoint, the text describes their situation and surroundings in terms we might have used had we been passengers on the ark ourselves.

For example, say we heard an emotional outpouring from someone who had just fled from a burning building.  If that person exclaimed, "There was fire and smoke everywhere," would anyone rebuke him for speaking inaccurately?  Who would chide a shaken survivor with, "Now, you don't mean `everywhere,' do you?  You meant only inside the building."  In this hypothetical situation, who would not know instantly what was intended by the word, "everywhere"?  We make interpretations from context every day.  Are we to be any less sensible when Scripture is the case in point?  

Why should Scripture, yes "inspired" Scripture, be interpreted differently?  Humbly, obediently, reverently, judiciously, and studiously - yes, but we need not abandon our common sense.  A regional flood confined to the Mesopotamian valley fits all the requirements of accuracy and inerrancy that anyone should expect.  

Death of Man 

Genesis 7:21,22: "And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died."  

Utnapishtim"And all of mankind had returned to clay." [xvii][xvii]  

In the Gilgamesh narrative, the goddess Ishtar "cried out like a woman in travail, `Like the spawn of fishes they fill the sea!'" [xviii][xviii]  "The Anunnaki gods (`his followers,' [xix][xix] angels perhaps) weep with her.  The gods, all humbled, sit and weep."  

Although rampant polytheism may have been a chief reason for the judgment of the flood, Van Amringe credited "the children of Adam intermarrying with the daughters of men," [xx][xx] as the fatal sin; by reason of which "all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth" (Gen. 6:12).  

There were then residents of Asia, probably near or about the Euphrates; consequently, it was not necessary that the punishment of the Deluge should be more extensive than the prevalence of the wicked beings who had become corrupt.  If, therefore, there were other men in the world besides Adam and his descendants,--and if the Deluge did not prevail over all parts of the Earth at the same time,--it follows, that, although all the descendants of Adam, except Noah and family, were destroyed, there may have been others, in other parts of the earth, who escaped. [xxi][xxi]  

The only reason under the sun for considering the flood to be a global catastrophe, obliterating all the world's humanity and all the world's air-breathing land animals, is the biblical narrative itself.  One cannot help but get the impression that the flood encompassed more than just the Mesopotamian valley.  But the last phrase, "of all that was in the dry land, died" should help us keep our perspective.  Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, is a desert, and a desert is a "dry land."  

Long Flood or Short Flood?  

As to how long the occupants of the ark had to endure their adventure, the epic narratives offer no time whatsoever between the seven day flood and the boat coming to rest in a mountainous region.  Genesis is more explicit.  

Genesis 7:24: "And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days."  

The great flood of 1993 that inundated parts of Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and adjacent areas in the Midwest can give us a measure of how a local flood can last over an extended period of time.  Some fields and farms were underwater for weeks.  Yet Noah was afloat for five months according to the Genesis text.  Could a local or regional flood last that long?  

It has been a long-held presumption that the rain must have fallen nonstop for the first forty days and nights causing the flood, which then stayed on the earth for an additional 110 days, for a total of 150.  An alternate view is that out of a total of 150 days there were forty days of rain, which could have been stretched out over two or more floods.  A sequence of floods may have required Noah and his family to stay aboard the ark until all the flooding ceased.  

Yet, this is an answer only necessary for those having a mind set like that of most Greek, German, and English-speaking peoples.  We are precision thinkers, and our language reflects it.  We can take 150 days, and with the help of a pocket calculator, we can dissect that time period into hours, minutes, seconds, or even nanoseconds, if we like.  And we like that kind of thing.  But if we have a problem with exactness, it is our problem.  It is not a Hebrew problem.  

In the mind set of the ancient Hebrews, there is a beauty in perfect or prophetic numbers that overcompasses precision.  In chapter 7, we looked at this verse, "These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him" (Prov. 7:16).  We like to know whether it is six or seven. To the Hebrews, seven includes six.  

In Genesis 8:13, the "waters were dried up from off the face of the earth" on the first day of the first month.  Noah looked, and "behold, the face of the ground was dry."  In the next verse, the earth was dried on the 27th day of the second month.  

The face of the earth was dry; then 57 days later, it was dry too.  This not a problem in ancient Hebrew; it is people like us who make it a problem.  We will never know whether there was a series of floods, or if standing water covered the entire region continually for five months, or whether 150 is simply the sum of perfect numbers, two 40's and ten 7's.

The Ship Comes to Rest 

Genesis 8:4,5: "And the ark rested in the seventh month on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.  And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month: in the tenth month, on the first day of the month were the tops of the mountains seen."  

Utnapishtim"Upon Mount Nisir, the ship grounded.  Mount Nisir held the ship that it moved not." [xxii][xxii]  

As a further step toward reconciliation, let us dispel the myth that the ark came to rest high on the 17,000 foot Mount Ararat.  The Genesis text, using the plural "mountains" (or hills), identifies no particular mountain, but points toward Armenia, "Ararat" being identical with the Assyrian "Urartu" which broadly embraces that region. [xxiii][xxiii]  Mount Nisir from the Gilgamesh epic is also recorded in the annals of King Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria.  This is a low-lying mountain at the beginning of the Zagros range situated south of where the Little Zab joins the Tigris, near the 9,000 foot Pir Omar Gudrun. [xxiv][xxiv]  Berossus names the mountains of the "Gordyaeans," or the Kurds, as the landing site.  These mountains correspond with "Jebel Judi" in agreement with Syriac and Arabic traditions and lie in the southwestern part of Armenia. [xxv][xxv]  

Opening the Hatch  

Genesis 8:6: "And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made."

Utnapishtim"I opened the hatch, and the light fell upon my countenance.  I was horrified, and I sat down and wept.  Over my countenance ran my tears." [xxvi][xxvi]  

In the Gilgamesh legend, Utnapishtim waits for a "perfect" seven days after coming to rest, whereupon he is saddened at the sight.  In the Genesis account, Noah waits a "perfect" forty days.  No discrepancy here, both accounts use perfectly good numbers.  

Sending Out the Birds  

Genesis 8:7-12: "And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.  

Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground;  

But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark.  

And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark;  

And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.  

And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; which returned not again unto him any more."  

Utnapishtim"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 ..." [xxvii][xxvii]  

Xisuthros"Xisuthros let go some birds....  But as they found no food nor a place to alight, they returned to the ship.  After certain days Xisuthros again let the birds to; these again returned to the ship, but with their feet muddy.  But when they were let go for the third time, they did not again return to the ship." [xxviii][xxviii]  

One thing is certain about human beings.  Two people can read these accounts, and reach totally different conclusions.  One person will observe that the striking similarities deny any possibility that these flood stories could have arisen from independent sources.  Another may declare the Gilgamesh epic has the wrong birds in the wrong order, and makes no mention of an olive leaf.  That is the nature of people, we are just that way.  

In my pre-Christian, madcap days as a daring young aviator, I once attended a party in London and was afforded the opportunity to make a spectacle of myself.  Two years later I was standing around telling "war stories" with my flying buddies, when one of them proceeded to tell a tale he had heard from some F-4 pilot.  

Halfway through the story I realized who it was about.  It actually sounded better the way it was being told, so that is one of the reasons I offered no corrections.  And if that story is still making the rounds, it may sound even better today.  

You see, I knew the story.  Yes, it had been altered, rearranged, and embellished, but it was clearly recognizable.  The same thing is true with these ancient legends compared to Genesis.  

The narrative attributed to Utnapishtim cited above could be read in almost any church service, and unless members of the congregation were reading along in their Bibles, few would notice the difference.  And those who would detect a dissimilarity might think it was being read from the Bible in another version.  

The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible agrees on this point:  

There is, however, one flood tradition which bears such striking resemblance to the biblical story that it must be directly related to it.  This is the cuneiform (Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian) tradition. [xxix][xxix]  

The Sumerian, Accadian, and Assyrian accounts, as well as the inspired version in the Bible, are conspicuously related.  Probably, they arose from one source initially, and went separate ways to end up in different books.  The uninspired versions do not detract from Genesis, they corroborate Genesis.  Young holds the same view:  

Man would have handed that truth down to his descendants, and after the flood that truth would have been passed on to those who were not in the line of promise as well as to those who were in the line of promise.  Among unbelievers we can well understand that the truth would become corrupted with superstition. [xxx][xxx]  

Leonard Cottrell adds:


The fact remains that there was a great flood.  And it happened in lower Mesopotamia, in the "Land of Shinar." [xxxi][xxxi]


Reflection on an Olive Leaf  

Traditionalists who argue for a world-wide flood not only have disregarded geological evidence, they have ignored the Bible's evidence.  Had the entire earth been submerged in salt water for over nine months, plant life would have perished.  Noah sent the raven and dove to test the terrain, but the dove returned to the ark, "for the waters were on the face of the whole earth ..." (Gen. 8:9).  

Seven days later, "he sent forth the dove out of the ark," and when it returned, "in her mouth was an olive leaf ..." (Gen. 8:10-11).  Could an olive tree survive over nine months underwater?  If one did, could it sprout leaves in a week?  Or is it more sensible to believe that most of the world, including much of Armenia from where the leaf probably was taken, was spared the flood?  

Alters, Offerings and Signs  

Genesis 8:20: "And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar."  

Utnapishtim"I poured out a libation on the top of the mountain.  Seven and seven cult-vessels I set up, upon the pot-stands I heaped cane cedarwood, and myrtle." [xxxii][xxxii]  

Ziusudra"The king kills an ox (and) offers an abundant sacrifice of sheep." [xxxiii][xxxiii]  

An offering made at the end of the voyage is a conspicuous commonality in three of the five accounts.  

Genesis 8:21: "And the Lord smelled a sweet savor ..."  

Utnapishtim: "The gods smelled the savor, the gods smelled the sweet savor." [xxxiv][xxxiv]  

In the end it is impossible to skirt the conspicuous similarities in both the inspired and uninspired versions, testifying to one memorable, local, event.

The Token of a Covenant  

Genesis 9:13: "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and earth."  

The rainbow is a sign.  It is unlikely God waited over 4 billion years before devising rainbows.  Pilate did not invent the cross for the crucifixion of Christ.  The Romans used the cross for executions before and after Christ died upon it.  This does not diminish the cross as a sign for Christians, just as God used the rainbow as a sign for Noah.  


Writing in 1683, over 150 years before the Sumerian and Accadian flood stories were unearthed, Matthew Poole had this to say in A Commentary on the Holy Bible:  

And whereas our modern heathens, that miscall themselves Christians, laugh at the history of this flood upon this and the like occasions, as if it were an idle romance; they may please to note, that their predecessors, the ancient and wiser heathens, have divers of them acknowledged the truth of it, though they also mixed it with their fables, which was neither strange nor unusual for them to do. [xxxv][xxxv]  

Extra-biblical accounts help substantiate the flood as a documented event, an incident of record.  The legends of Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and Ziusudra not only establish the flood, they dictate the location, the extent, and the approximate date.  

Adamite populations were the target of the flood.  They resided in the heart of Southern Mesopotamia at that time, the focus point of the flood.  The scope of the flood was entirely confined to this locale.  Most of the world's human populations were unaffected.  The time of the flood was around 2900 BC when Ziusudra was king.  

If any credible evidence from nature of a world-wide flood catastrophe could be documented, could pass the scrutiny of peer review, and become published in any respected scientific journal, that discoverer would be an instant Noble Prize candidate.  What has been offered up as evidence of a global cataclysm has been paltry, dubious, and unconvincing.  

It has been pointed out that God's general revelation should match up with His special revelation.  There are times when ignoring the clear messages from the Bible has caused some to rely too heavily on naturalistic revelation to the detriment of their conclusions.  Likewise, God's messages from nature must be heeded to restrain us from making preposterous interpretations of Scripture.  It serves no useful purpose to declare the Bible inerrant, and then interpret so erroneously that it causes disbelief.  





[i][i]. M. E. L. Mallowan, "Noah's Flood Reconsidered," Iraq, n. s., 26 Part 2 (Autumn 1964), 70.

[ii][ii]. Ibid., 72.

[iii][iii]. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 208.

[iv][iv]. Lloyd R. Bailey, Noah: The Person and the Story in History and Tradition (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989), 32.

[v][v]. James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), 93.

[vi][vi]. Ibid., 44.

[vii][vii]. Ibid., 105.

[viii][viii]. Ibid., 93.

[ix][ix]. Ibid., 105.

[x][x]. Ibid., 93.

[xi][xi]. Ibid., 105.

[xii][xii]. Alexander Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1963), 84.

[xiii][xiii]. Mallowan, "Noah's Flood Reconsidered," 72-75.

[xiv][xiv]. Albert T. Clay, A Hebrew Deluge Story in Cuneiform (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922), 63.

[xv][xv]. Knut Tallquist, Addadische Gotterepitheta (Helsinki: 1938), 424-426.

[xvi][xvi]. Stephen Langdon, Sumerian Liturgical Texts (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1917), 85.

[xvii][xvii]. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 94.

[xviii][xviii]. Ibid., 94.

[xix][xix]. Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), 39.

[xx][xx]. W. F. Van Amringe, An Outline of a New Natural History of Man (New York: Baker & Scribner, 1848), 62.

[xxi][xxi]. Ibid., 62.

[xxii][xxii]. Clay, A Hebrew Deluge Story in Cuneiform, 79.

[xxiii][xxiii]. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, 250.

[xxiv][xxiv]. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 94.

[xxv][xxv]. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, 250.

[xxvi][xxvi]. Clay, A Hebrew Deluge Story in Cuneiform, 78-79.

[xxvii][xxvii]. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 94-95.

[xxviii][xxviii]. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, 251.

[xxix][xxix]. Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), Vol. II, 280.

[xxx][xxx]. E. J. Young, In The Beginning (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust Publishers, 1976), 38.

[xxxi][xxxi]. Leonard Cottrell, The Land of Shinar (London: Souvenir Press, 1965), 133.

[xxxii][xxxii]. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 95.

[xxxiii][xxxiii]. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, 105.

[xxxiv][xxxiv]. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 95.

[xxxv][xxxv]. Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 1 (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962) (orig. pub. 1683), 21.