Genesis 1: Fact or fiction?
In social media it’s often hard to tell what’s real and what’s scripted. Storytellers often exaggerate the truth, embellish to make a point, and lie to make an imprint on people’s minds. The lines between fact and fiction are fuzzier today than ever before. Our information sources have multiplied and our stories arrive faster and with considerable urgency. And with all the noise, there is a greater opportunity for embellishment. While stories do not need to be real to be effective, they can be more effective if the truth (or the fiction), is disclosed upfront.
The most popular scientific explanation of the universe is that it has developed over billions of years. This is called the big bang model. But the first chapter of the Bible says that the universe was created in six days! In order to resolve this difference some say that Genesis 1 is mythical. A mytho-historical genre (literature style) is one where a grain of truth (the historical part) is embellished to convey some spiritual truth (the mythical part). In this case it’s assumed that the text is not to be read as literal history. It conveys a sense of truth about origins, but not a literal description of actual events. For example, the days of creation may represent long geological periods in deep time. And the biblical creation week is taken to be a figurative expression for gradual changes which occurred on the earth, perhaps millions or billions of years ago. But who decides what part is historical and what part is myth? And who decides what the myth means? This is a very subjective method of interpreting the Bible. (more…)
Flood stories: Fact or fiction?
Did Michael Jordan walk away from Nike? No. This rumor was debunked by FactCheck.org. This story was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. And snops.com also investigates American urban legends. While, Fact Check determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in the public debate in Australia. Bruce Masse, an environmental archaeologist says “Myths are largely event-based, in that they are triggered to a large part by an event, or combination of events, that catastrophically impact society”.
In this post we look at ancient legendary flood stories. Are they entirely imaginary, fictional and mythical or is there some factual reality or truth behind them? And could the Biblical account of the flood be based on ancient mythology like the Gilgamesh flood myth?
Hebrew account of the flood
The book of Genesis was edited by Moses in about 1450BC and the earliest copies available today are from the 2nd century BC found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It begins with the creation of the world and the universe (Gen. 1-2). Then there is the fall into sin (Gen. 3-5) and the flood (Gen. 6-9). The sources of Genesis are 12 family documents. The account of the flood is in the record of the descendants of Noah (Gen. 6:9-9:29). According to the Bible, the Flood occurred about 2350BC and Noah died about 2000BC (these are rounded numbers). So the original account (which was edited by Moses) would have been dated to before 2000BC.
God created a universe that was good and free from sin. God created humanity to have a personal relationship with Him. Adam and Eve sinned and thereby brought evil and death into the world. Evil increased steadily in the world until there was only one family in which God found anything good. God sent the flood to wipe out evil, but delivered Noah and his family along with the animals in the Ark. After the flood, humanity began again to multiply and spread throughout the world.
The biblical account of the flood is summarized below.
God commanded Noah to build an ark (boat) about 135m long, 23m wide and 14m high. It had three decks, a roof and a door. Noah and his three sons and their wives entered the ark. God made a male and female of very kind of bird and animal go into the ark. Then God shut the door and after seven days subterranean water gushed out of the earth and rain fell for 40 days. The flood waters rose to a depth of at least 7m above the mountains that existed at that time (which were lower than today’s mountains). There was much erosion and sedimentation, followed by more erosion, associated with the global flood. The earth was flooded for another 150 days before the waters receded until the ark rested on the Ararat mountains. All the other birds and animals on earth were drowned in the catastrophe. Tectonic forces raised mountains and there was much erosion as massive amounts of flood water flowed to lower levels (Ps. 104:6-9). After another 74 days the tops of the mountains became visible. After another 40 days Noah sent out a raven, and then 7 days later he sent out a dove, but it returned to the ark. Seven days later he sent out the dove again and it returned with an olive leaf. Seven days later he sent out the dove again, but it didn’t return. After about 370 days in the ark, God commanded Noah to come out of the ark with his family and all the animals. Noah then built and altar to sacrifice an offering to God for protecting them. God made a covenant with Noah and promised that those who were on the ark will repopulate the earth. And never again will there be such a flood that destroys the earth. And the rainbow in the sky will be the sign (symbol) of this covenant.
Babylonian account of the flood
The Gilgamesh flood myth is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written on 12 clay tablets. A copy of Tablet 11 was found in Nineveh and is dated in the 7th century BC. This was the Babylonian account of the Flood, which was inscribed in cuneiform text on a baked clay tablet. Many scholars believe that the flood myth was added to Tablet 11 in the “standard version” of the Gilgamesh Epic by an editor who utilized the flood story from the Epic of Atrahasis (Appendix E). Tablet 11 has the following clue, “It was not I who revealed the secret of the Great Gods, I only made a dream appear to Atrahasis, and thus he heard our secret”. The oldest copy of the Epic of Atrahasis is dated 1650BC and scholars reckon the time of its first compilation in the Akkadian language is around 2,000 B.C. But some editorial changes were made to the text in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s believed that the Epic of Atrahasis utilized the flood story from The Eridu Genesis, which contains a Sumerian flood story (Appendix F).
The Babylonian flood account has been summarized as follows.
The Sumerian hero Gilgamesh traveled the world in search of a way to cheat death. On one of his journeys, he came across an old man, Utnapishtim, who told Gilgamesh a story from centuries past. The gods brought a flood that swallowed the earth. The gods were angry at humanity so they sent a flood to destroy them. The god Ea, warned Utnapishtim and instructed him to build an enormous boat to save himself, his family, and “the seed of all living things.” He does so, and the gods brought rain which caused the water to rise for many days. When the rains subsided, the boat landed on a mountain, and Utnapishtim set loose first a dove, then a swallow, and finally a raven, which found land. The god Ishtar created the rainbow and placed it in the sky, as a reminder to the gods and a pledge to mankind that there would be no more floods.
The text of the flood from Genesis is given in Appendix A and the text from Gilgamesh is given in Appendix B. Can we tell if one was influenced by the other? Or are they separate accounts of the same event? There are similarities and differences between these accounts.
In both Genesis and Gilgamesh, the flood is global in extent and after the flood is announced Noah and Utnapishtim are both instructed to build a boat coated in pitch, with many compartments, one door and at least one window. After the flood they both released birds to test for dry land. The boats both landed on mountains. Noah and Utnapishtim both offered sacrifices after the flood and they were both promised blessings.
Many of the similarities between the Genesis and Gilgamesh would be expected to be found in any ancient flood account. The landing of the boats on a mountain and the use of birds to determine when the flood subsided are probably the most unusual similarities.
There are also significant differences between Genesis and Gilgamesh. The theme of the Gilgamesh Epic is the quest for immortality. This isn’t mentioned in the Genesis flood story. Genesis is occupied with relating early history in the overarching plan of redemption of the true and living God.
The Bible says that the reason for the flood was that the earth was corrupt and full of violence; there was great wickedness and “the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5, 11-13). Whereas in Gilgamesh there is no clear reason for the flood: He says is was because Ištar said “evil things in the Assembly of the Gods” and mentioned “Charge the violation to the violator, charge the offense to the offender”. And the Sumerian flood story says that the gods were irritated by the noise of mankind (Appendix F). Noah was saved from the flood because he “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Gen. 6:9). But no reason is given in Gilgamesh for Utnapishtim being saved from the flood.
Noah urged the people to repent (maybe for 120 years; Gen. 6:3) to avoid God’s judgment, whereas Utnapishtim escaped death by deception (Gen. 6:3; 1 Pt. 3:19-20; 2 Pt. 3:9).
Noah is instructed directly by God, whereas Utnapishtim is instructed indirectly via dream. In Genesis the boat is rectangular, which is stable, whereas in Gilgamesh it is square, which is unstable. The Gilgamesh boat was an unseaworthy cube which would immediately flip over or roll around in the water. In contrast, the ark had dimensions that were ideal for a seaworthy ship. Noah’s boat had 3 decks, but Utnapishtim’s boat had 6 decks. In Genesis the passengers were all family members, whereas in Gilgamesh it was family members and the craftsmen. In Genesis the animals came to Noah and entered the ark, whereas in Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim loaded the animals into the boat. In Genesis God shut the door, whereas in Gilgamesh Utnapishtim shut the door. In Genesis the water is subterranean plus rainfall, whereas in Gilgamesh it is only rainfall. In Genesis the storm lasted 40 days, whereas in Gilgamesh it lasted 6 days. When Utanapishtim looked out, “all the human beings had turned to clay”, but no such statement is attributed to Noah. Noah was on the boat for over a year, whereas Utnapishtim was on the boat for only a few weeks. Noah released a raven first and then a dove was released three times, whereas Utnapishtim released a dove first, then a swallow and a raven last. Noah’s boat landed on Mt Ararat, whereas Utnapishtim’s boat landed on Mt Nisir. When Noah sacrificed he burnt clean animals and clean birds. Whereas Utnapishtim burned incense from the oil of reeds, cedar, and myrtle.
Noah’s blessing was that he would have many descendants who would repopulate the earth, people would now be able to eat animals for food (as well as plants) and God promised to never destroy the earth again with a flood. Whereas Utnapishtim and his wife were turned into gods that lived for ever.
The God in Genesis is monotheistic, while Gilgamesh has many gods – it’s polytheistic. Enlil, who mainly decreed the flood, is not omnipotent or omniscient because a fellow god Ea thwarted him. Ea tells Utnapishtim to deceive the rest of the people so they would not realize a flood was coming even when the huge ship was being built. The polytheistic gods are fallible and not ethical or moral. They are constantly fighting amongst each other, plotting and deceiving each other.
These differences illustrate the differences between the Hebrew and Babylonian worldviews. They are completely different worldviews. The Mesopotamian story reflects the world-view of continuity whereby the worlds of humanity, nature, and the divine have no definite borders and so interact with each other. The world-view of the Bible, by contrast, is that of transcendence; where humanity and nature is not God, but instead, God is other than, and not bound by, the world and humanity.
Monotheism and polytheism in the Bible
The Bible (the most reliable source on ancient history for the God who is sovereign over human history) teaches that humanity was originally monotheistic and monotheism preceded polytheism. It says that the one true God created the earth and the universe. The first couple, Adam and Eve communicated with the one true God, who banished them from the garden of Eden. So the world was monotheistic at the beginning. In the next generation, Cain and Abel, offered sacrifices to the one true God. God communicated with Cain and Cain was banished for murdering Abel. We are not told when polytheism began, but it is said that in Seth’s generation “people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). The implication seems to be that the descendants of Cain weren’t following God. For example, Lamech practiced polygamy and was violent (Gen. 4:19-24). Presumably he also followed another god(s).
The fact that Enoch “walked faithfully with God”, probably means that there were others who were not following God. (Gen. 5:21-24). Presumably they also followed other gods. Before the flood, Noah “walked faithfully with God” and he “did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:9, 22). The rest of humanity “had corrupted their ways” and “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5, 12). This probably means that the other people were not following God. Presumably they followed other gods. All those who worshipped other gods drowned in the flood and the earth was repopulated by Noah’s family. So the world was monotheistic again immediately after the flood.
Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The nations that descended from them are given in Genesis 10. Shem, Ham, and Japheth were monotheistic because they followed the one true God. But their descendants forgot the true God and followed false gods. In the following paragraphs we see how the Bible says that the following Hamites were polytheistic: Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and the Canaanite clans (Gen. 10:6-20).
The first specific mention of a person that practiced polytheism in the Bible relates to Terah, the father of Abraham, who lived about 2000BC. God told Joshua, “Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods” (Josh. 24:2). So after the flood and the dispersion from Babel, those who lived in Mesopotamia were polytheistic. After God revealed himself to Abram, Abram forsook the gods of his ancestors and followed the God who created the world. He obeyed God and travelled to Canaan where he offered sacrifices to the one true God. So he is an example of someone who converted from polytheism to monotheism. In about 1900BC his nephew Lot lived near Sodom. The Bible says, “the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). God destroyed Sodom because there were less than ten righteous people in the city (Gen. 18:32 – 19:29). This probably means that they were not following God. Presumably they followed other gods.
The first specific mention of a person that practiced polytheism in the Bible is when “Rachel stole her father’s household gods” at Harran in Paddan Aram in about 1750BC (Gen. 31:19). Later Jacob buried all the foreign gods (idols) in his household at Shechem because he was monotheistic and not polytheistic (Gen. 35:2-4).
The ten plagues in about 1450BC were God’s “judgment on all the gods [idols] of Egypt” (Ex. 12:12). The Egyptians were polytheistic; they worshipped many idols. The land of Egypt is mentioned first in the Bible when Abram visited during a famine in about 1900BC (Gen. 12:12-20). Presumably the Egyptians were also polytheistic then as they were 450 years later.
In about 1450BC God warned the Israelites not to worship the gods of “the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites” (Ex. 23:23-24, 33) because that would draw them away from the true God. When God made a covenant with Abram in about 1900BC, He said “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16). This probably means that they were not following God. Presumably they followed other gods as they were 450 years later.
When Abraham was living in Canaan in about 1900BC, “the Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land” (Gen. 13:7). Presumably they also followed other gods as they were 450 years later. In about 1875BC, God promised Abram to give his descendants “the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites” (Gen. 15:19-21). Presumably they also followed other gods as they were 425 years later.
As we can see, polytheism was prevalent in the ancient world. But it began as a rebellion against the one true God. So monotheism originated earlier than polytheism.
Evidence for the global flood
A global flood would leave geological, geomorphic, and cultural evidence. Sarfati (2015) summarized the physical evidence for the global flood in terms of two stages: inundation, followed by recession. Evidence of the flood inundation is:
– The huge horizontal extent of many rock layers. For example, the Great Artesian Basin in Australia.
– The rapid formation of the main rock layers. This includes: rapidly buried fossils (which we discover today in their sequence of burial); thick sandstones formed under water (like the 96 meter thick Coconino sandstone at the Grand Canyon); rapidly formed landscsapes and their rapid repopulation in the present (like the island of Surtsey near Iceland, and the Mt St Helens eruption); and rapid rock layering (many layers were formed quickly at Mt St Helens).
– Very little time between the rock layers. This includes: lack of erosion above and below; preservation of animal tracks, raindrop marks and ripple marks; and fossil tree trunks penetrating multiple layers.
Evidence of the flood recession is:
– Massive erosion (like around the 275 meter high Devils Tower in Wyoming).
– Planation surfaces – huge flat areas (by a giant sheet of water eroding freshly deposited rock layers). For example, the plateau of the Blue Mountains in Australia.
– Water gaps where rivers flow through mountains rather than around them (by channelized water flow). For example, the Heavitree Gap in the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in Australia.
– Rapidly formed canyons by channelized water flow (like at Mt St Helens).
Sarfati (2015) also claimed that all people groups across the world remember a global flood in their flood legends. These stories often have a common root that relates to a real event, not just a myth. The best explanation is that they have a common memory of the real event that’s described in Genesis. But the account became distorted over time.
Many assume that Gilgamesh is the older of the two flood stories. But they assume that Genesis was edited during the Jewish exile in the 6th century BC. And the assumed date for the compilation of the Epic of Atrahasis is about 2000BC. That’s a difference of about 1,500 years! As mentioned above, the Bible says that Genesis was edited by Moses in about 1450BC. And the material he edited was from the record of the descendants of Noah, which dates to before 2000BC. For example, the directions in Genesis 10:19 include “toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim”. These were the cities of the plain God destroyed for their extreme wickedness 500 years before the time of Moses. When this is taken into account, it’s clear that both of the flood accounts are ancient and it’s not clear which is the oldest.
At the time of the flood, Noah’s family was monotheistic. Therefore, the record of the flood by his family should be more accurate that other polytheistic records. The Genesis account of the flood is written as a historical event and contains better explanations for what happened. It also makes more sense. For example, in the Gilgamesh epic, the ark is a cube, a terrible design for rough waters. Whereas Noah’s Ark was built to be tremendously stable. Gilgamesh’ flood account starts with an apparently arbitrary destruction of life and ends with an equally arbitrary extension of life into eternity. And Gilgamesh is clearly mythological, but Genesis is not mythological. It is common to make legends out of historical events, but not history from legends.
Evidently, the Genesis account came first, and the human writers of the Gilgamesh Epic rewrote the true account, and made their gods in their own image. This means that if one borrowed from the other, it was the Babylonian account that was influenced by the Genesis account. And it’s highly unlikely that Moses would have borrowed flood history from a foreign polytheistic civilization.
A clear flood tradition existed in ancient Mesopotamia from very early times and the fact that such ancient flood stories are common across the world indicate that it’s based on a real event. But with time this was corrupted and garbled by polytheistic and mythological superstition as seen in the accounts copied in this post.
Many scholars assume that Gilgamesh is the older of the two flood stories and that the Biblical account has been derived from the Gilgamesh account. We have shown that this is incorrect. We need to be aware of the bias and poor exegesis demonstrated by many scholars who just follow current trends and don’t realize that their presuppositions are wrong.
God’s message to polytheists
Many people who lived in the Roman Empire during the first century AD were polytheistic. Although they were religious, they followed many false gods (idols); they didn’t know about the true God. So Paul told them about “the God who made the world and everything in it” (Appendix G). The one true God sustains the world, “He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else”. And this God controls history, “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands”.
Then Paul told them about the true God and “the good news about Jesus and the resurrection”. He would have explained how humanity’s sin separated them from God and that Jesus was going to return to judge them. And He said, “He [God] commands all people everywhere to repent”. They were to turn around from following false gods and confess their sinfulness to the true God, and acknowledge that Jesus paid for their sins when He died and rose again.
Ancient flood stories can have elements of fact and fiction. Both the Biblical flood and the Gilgamesh flood are accounts of the global flood that occurred in the 3rd millennium BC. The Genesis flood account is an accurate historical record of the flood event, whereas the Gilgamesh flood account lost historical accuracy and was distorted over time. Other accounts of an ancient flood would have also been derived from this global flood. So ancient flood stories are not entirely imaginary, fictional and mythical because there some factual reality or truth behind them. But see Genesis in the Bible for the best account of this event.
According to this evidence, the biblical version of the flood isn’t based on ancient mythology like the Gilgamesh flood. Let’s be sceptical of those who assume that the Bible’s account was derived from Mesopotamian flood accounts.
Also, let’s remember that the good news about Jesus is for all those who don’t follow the one true God, whether they are polytheists or monotheists, or atheists.
Jona Lendering, Dutch historian, website on ancient history: http://www.livius.org
Sarfati J D (2015) The Genesis account. Creation Book Publishers. p. 509-510, 525-550.
Appendix A: Genesis 6:9-9:17 (NIV)
Jewish account of the flood
9 This is the account of Noah and his family.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
1The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3 and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”
5 And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.
13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.
17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
1But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.
6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.
13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.
15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”
18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
1Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.
7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
Appendix B: Tablet 11 of the Epic of Gilgamesh
Sumerian Flood Story
A translation from Jona Lendering of Tablet 11 of this epic is given below.
 Gilgameš spoke to Ut-napištim, the Faraway:
“I have been looking at you,
but your appearance is not strange – you are like me!
You yourself are not different – you are like me!
My mind was resolved to fight with you,
but instead my arm lies useless over you.
how is it that you stand in the Assembly of the Gods, and have found life?”
 Ut-napištim spoke to Gilgameš, saying:
“I will reveal to you, Gilgameš, a thing that is hidden,
a secret of the gods I will tell you!
Šuruppak, a city that you surely know,
situated on the banks of the Euphrates,
that city was very old, and there were gods inside it.
 The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood.
Their Father Anu uttered the oath,
Valiant Enlil was their Adviser,
Ninurta was their Chamberlain,
Ennugi was their Minister of Canals.
 Ea, the Prince, was under oath with them
so he repeated their talk to the reed house:
‘Reed house, reed house! Wall, wall!
O man of Šuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu [Ut-napištim]
Tear down the house and build a boat!
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make [the seed of] all living beings go up into the boat.
The boat which you are to build,
its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
its length must correspond to its width.
Roof it over like the Apsu.’ [the firmament in the primordial waters]
 I understood and spoke to my lord, Ea:
‘My lord, thus is the command which you have uttered
I will heed and will do it.
But what shall I answer the city, the populace, and the Elders?’
 Ea spoke, commanding me, his servant:
‘You, well then, this is what you must say to them:
“It appears that Enlil is rejecting me
so I cannot reside in your city,
nor set foot on Enlil’s earth.
I will go down to the Apsu to live with my lord, Ea,
and upon you he will rain down abundance,
a profusion of fowl, myriad fishes
He will bring to you a harvest of wealth,
in the morning he will let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat!”‘
 Just as dawn began to glow
the people assembled around me.
The carpenter carried his hatchet,
the reedworker carried his flattening stone,
[two lines destroyed]
 The child carried the pitch,
the weak brought whatever else was needed.
On the fifth day I had laid out her exterior.
It was a field in area,
its walls were each 10 times 12 cubits in height,
the sides of its top were of equal length, 10 times 12 cubits each [the boat was cubic].
 Then I designed its interior structure as follows:
I provided it with six decks,
thus dividing it into seven levels.
The inside of it I divided into nine compartments.
I drove plugs to keep out water in its middle part.
I saw to the punting poles and laid in what was necessary.
 Three times 3,600 units of raw bitumen I poured into the bitumen kiln,
three times 3,600 units of pitch […] into it,
there were three times 3,600 porters of casks who carried vegetable oil.
Apart from the 3,600 units of oil for the dedication,
the boatsman stored away two times 3,600 units of oil.
 I butchered oxen for the carpenters,
and day upon day I slaughtered sheep.
I gave the workmen beer, ale, oil, and wine,
as if it were river water,
and they made a party like the New Year’s Festival!
 I set my hand to the finishing of the ship.
The boat was finished by sunset.
The launching was very difficult:
They had to keep carrying a runway of poles front to back,
until two-thirds of it had gone under water.
 Whatever I had I loaded on it:
whatever silver I had I loaded on it,
whatever gold I had I loaded on it.
All the living beings that I had I loaded on it,
I had all my kith and kin go up into the boat,
all the beasts and animals of the field and the craftsmen I had go up.
 [The sun god] Šamaš had set a stated time:
‘In the morning I will let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat!
Go inside the boat, seal the entry!’
 That stated time had arrived.
In the morning he let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat.
I watched the appearance of the weather:
the weather was frightful to behold!
 I went into the boat and sealed the entry.
For the caulking of the boat, to Puzur-Amurri, the boatman,
I gave the palace together with its contents [A cynical joke. Puzur-Amurri must have though he had concluded a good deal].
 Just as dawn began to glow
there arose from the horizon a black cloud.
[the storm god] Adad rumbled inside of it,
before him went Šhullat and Haniš [Sack and Suppression],
heralds going over mountain and land.
 [The god of destruction] Erragal pulled out the mooring poles,
forth went [the war god] Ninurta and made the dikes overflow.
 The gods lifted up the torches,
setting the land ablaze with their flare.
 Stunned shock over Adad’s deeds overtook the heavens,
and turned to blackness all that had been light.
He shattered the land like a raging bull, broke it into pieces like a pot.
 All day long the South Wind blew,
blowing fast – and then the Flood came,
overwhelming the people like an attack.
 No one could see his fellow,
they could not recognize each other in the torrent.
 Even the gods were frightened by the Flood,
and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.
The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall.
 Ištar shrieked like a woman in childbirth,
the sweet-voiced Mistress of the Gods wailed:
‘The olden days have alas turned to clay,
because I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods!
How could I say evil things in the Assembly of the Gods,
ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people?
No sooner have I given birth to my dear people
than they fill the sea like so many fish!’
 The gods -those of the Anunnaki- were weeping with her,
the gods humbly sat weeping, sobbing with grief,
their lips burning, parched with thirst.
Six days and seven nights
came the wind and flood,
the storm flattening the land.
 When the seventh day arrived,
the storm was pounding.
She who had been struggling with itself like a woman writhing in labor,
the sea, calmed; the whirlwind fell still; the flood stopped.
 I looked around all day long – quiet had set in
and all the human beings had turned to clay!
The terrain was as flat as a roof.
 I opened a vent and daylight fell upon my cheek.
I fell to my knees and sat weeping,
tears streaming down my cheeks.
I looked around for coastlines in the expanse of the sea,
and at twelve leagues there emerged a region of land.
 On Mount Nimuš the boat lodged firm,
Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
One day and a second Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
A third day, a fourth, Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
A fifth day, a sixth, Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
 When a seventh day arrived
I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
 I sent forth a swallow and released it.
The swallow went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
 I sent forth a raven and released it.
The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.
It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.
 I sacrificed: I offered a libation to the four corners of the world,
I burned incense in front of the rising mountain.
Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place,
and into the bowls I poured [the oil of] reeds, cedar, and myrtle.
 The gods smelled the savor,
the gods smelled the sweet savor,
and collected like flies over a sacrifice [An almost insulting comparison].
Just then the Mistress of the Gods arrived.
She lifted up the large fly-shaped beads which Anu had made for their engagement:
You gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli around my neck,
may I be mindful of these days, and never forget them!
The gods may come to the incense offering,
but Enlil may not come to the incense offering,
because without considering he brought about the Flood
and consigned my people to annihilation.’
 Just then Enlil arrived.
He saw the boat and became furious,
he was filled with rage at the Igigi gods:
‘Where did a living being escape?
No man was to survive the annihilation!’
 Ninurta spoke to Valiant Enlil, saying:
‘Who else but Ea could devise such a thing?
It is Ea who knows every machination!’
 Ea spoke to Valiant Enlil, saying:
‘It is yours, O Valiant One, who is the Sage of the Gods.
How, how could you bring about a Flood without consideration
Charge the violation to the violator,
charge the offense to the offender,
but be compassionate lest (mankind) be cut off,
be patient lest they be killed.
 Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that a lion had appeared to diminish the people!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that a wolf had appeared to diminish the people!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that famine had occurred to slay the land!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that Pestilent Erra had appeared to ravage the land!
 It was not I who revealed the secret of the Great Gods,
I only made a dream appear to Atrahasis, and thus he heard our secret [This is a strange line: the hero is not called Atrahasis, but Ut-napištim, and Ea had used another trick].
Now then! The deliberation should be about him!’
 Enlil went up inside the boat
and, grasping my hand, made me go up.
He had my wife go up and kneel by my side.
He touched our forehead and, standing between us, he blessed us:
 ‘Previously Ut-napištim was a human being.
But now let Ut-napištim and his wife become like us, the gods!
Let Ut-napištim reside far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers.’
 They took us far away and settled us at the Mouth of the Rivers.
[To Gilgameš] Now then, who will convene the gods on your behalf,
that you may find the life that you are seeking!
Wait! You must not lie down for six days and seven nights.”
 Soon as Gilgameš sat down (with his head) between his legs
sleep, like a fog, blew upon him.
Ut-napištim said to his wife:
“Look there! The man, the youth who wanted (eternal) life!
Sleep, like a fog, blew over him.”
Appendix C: Summary of the Babylonian Flood Story
Because Gilgamesh fears death, he determines to find immortality. During this search that he meets Utnapishtim, the character most like the Biblical Noah. Utnapishtim had become immortal after building a ship to weather the Great Deluge that destroyed mankind. He brought all of his relatives and all species of creatures aboard the vessel. Utnapishtim released birds to find land, and the ship landed upon a mountain after the flood.
Here is a summary of the poem according to Wikipedia.
Ea leaks the secret plan
- Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh a secret story that begins in the old city of Shuruppak on the banks of the Euphrates River.
- The “great gods” Anu, Enlil, Ninurta, Ennugi, and Ea were sworn to secrecy about their plan to cause the flood.
- But the god Ea (Sumerian god Enki) repeated the plan to Utnapishtim through a reed wall in a reed house.
- Ea commanded Utnapishtim to demolish his house and build a boat, regardless of the cost, to keep living beings alive.
- The boat must have equal dimensions with corresponding width and length and be covered over like Apsu boats.
- Utnapishtim promised to do what Ea commanded.
- He asked Ea what he should say to the city elders and the population.
- Ea tells him to say that Enlil has rejected him and he can no longer reside in the city or set foot in Enlil’s territory.
- He should also say that he will go down to the Apsu “to live with my lord Ea”.
- Note: ‘Apsu’ can refer to a fresh water marsh near the temple of Ea/Enki at the city of Eridu.
- Ea will provide abundant rain, a profusion of fowl and fish, and a wealthy harvest of wheat and bread.
Building and launching the boat
- Carpenters, reed workers, and other people assembled one morning.
- [missing lines]
- Five days later, Utnapishtim laid out the exterior walls of the boat of 120 cubits.
- The sides of the superstructure had equal lengths of 120 cubits. He also made a drawing of the interior structure.
- The boat had six decks [?] divided into seven and nine compartments.
- Water plugs were driven into the middle part.
- Punting poles and other necessary things were laid in.
- Three times 3,600 units of raw bitumen were melted in a kiln and three times 3,600 units of oil were used in addition to two times 3,600 units of oil that were stored in the boat.
- Oxen and sheep were slaughtered and ale, beer, oil, and wine were distributed to the workmen, like at a new year’s festival.
- When the boat was finished, the launching was very difficult. A runway of poles was used to slide the boat into the water.
- Two-thirds of the boat was in the water.
- Utnapishtim loaded his silver and gold into the boat.
- He loaded “all the living beings that I had.”
- His relatives and craftsmen, and “all the beasts and animals of the field” boarded the boat.
- The time arrived, as stated by the god Shamash, to seal the entry door.
- Early in the morning at dawn a black cloud arose from the horizon.
- The weather was frightful.
- Utnapishtim boarded the boat and entrusted the boat and its contents to his boatmaster Puzurammurri who sealed the entry.
- The thunder god Adad rumbled in the cloud and storm gods Shullar and Hanish went over mountains and land.
- Erragal pulled out the mooring poles and the dikes overflowed.
- The Annunnaki gods lit up the land with their lightning.
- There was stunned shock at Adad’s deeds which turned everything to blackness. The land was shattered like a pot.
- All day long the south wind blew rapidly and the water overwhelmed the people like an attack.
- No one could see his fellows. They could not recognize each other in the torrent.
- The gods were frightened by the flood, and retreated up to the Anu heaven. They cowered like dogs lying by the outer wall.
- Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth.
- The Mistress of the gods wailed that the old days had turned to clay because “I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people who fill the sea like fish.”
- The other gods were weeping with her and sat sobbing with grief, their lips burning, parched with thirst.
- The flood and wind lasted six days and six nights, flattening the land.
- On the seventh day, the storm was pounding [intermittently?] like a woman in labor.
Calm after the storm
- The sea calmed and the whirlwind and flood stopped. All day long there was quiet. All humans had turned to clay.
- The terrain was as flat as a roof top. Utnapishtim opened a window and felt fresh air on his face.
- He fell to his knees and sat weeping, tears streaming down his face. He looked for coastlines at the horizon and saw a region of land.
- The boat lodged firmly on mount Nimush which held the boat for several days, allowing no swaying.
- On the seventh day he released a dove which flew away, but came back to him. He released a swallow, but it also came back to him.
- He released a raven which was able to eat and scratch, and did not circle back to the boat.
- He then sent his livestock out in various directions.
- He sacrificed a sheep and offered incense at a mountainous ziggurat where he placed 14 sacrificial vessels and poured reeds, cedar, and myrtle into the fire.
- The gods smelled the sweet odor of the sacrificial animal and gathered like flies over the sacrifice.
- Then the great goddess arrived, lifted up her flies (beads), and said
- “Ye gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli [amulet] around my neck, I shall be mindful of these days and never forget them! The gods may come to the sacrificial offering. But Enlil may not come, because he brought about the flood and annihilated my people without considering [the consequences].”
- When Enlil arrived, he saw the boat and became furious at the Igigi gods. He said “Where did a living being escape? No man was to survive the annihilation!”
- Ninurta spoke to Enlil saying “Who else but Ea could do such a thing? It is Ea who knew all of our plans.”
- Ea spoke to Enlil saying “It was you, the Sage of the Gods. How could you bring about a flood without consideration?”
- Ea then accuses Enlil of sending a disproportionate punishment, and reminds him of the need for compassion.
- Ea denies leaking the god’s secret plan to Atrahasis (= Utnapishtim), admitting only sending him a dream and deflecting Enlil’s attention to the flood hero.
The flood hero and his wife are granted immortality and transported far away
- He then boards a boat and grasping Utnapishtim’s hand, helps him and his wife aboard where they kneel. Standing between Utnapishtim and his wife, he touches their foreheads and blesses them. “Formerly Utnapishtim was a human being, but now he and his wife have become gods like us. Let Utnapishtim reside far away, at the mouth of the rivers.”
- Utnapishtim and his wife are transported and settled at the “mouth of the rivers”.
Appendix D: Summary of Tablet 11
According to Wikipedia, the first half of the Epic of Gilagamesh discusses Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. After Enkidu becomes civilized through sexual initiation with a prostitute, he travels to Uruk, where he challenges Gilgamesh to a test of strength. Gilgamesh wins and the two become friends. Together, they make a six-day journey to the legendary Cedar Forest, where they plan to slay the Guardian, Humbaba the Terrible, and cut down the sacred Cedar. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven, which the goddess Ishtar sends to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. As a punishment for these actions, the gods sentence Enkidu to death.
In the second half of the epic, distress over Enkidu’s death causes Gilgamesh to undertake a long and perilous journey to discover the secret of eternal life. He eventually learns that “Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands”. However, because of his great building projects, his account of Siduri’s advice, and what the immortal man Utnapishtim told him about the Great Flood, Gilgamesh’s fame survived his death.
Here’s a summary of Tablet 11 of the Epic of Gilgamesh according to Wikipedia.
Gilgamesh observes that Utnapishtim seems no different from himself, and asks him how he obtained his immortality. Utnapishtim explains that the gods decided to send a great flood. To save Utnapishtim the god Ea told him to build a boat. He gave him precise dimensions, and it was sealed with pitch and bitumen. His entire family went aboard together with his craftsmen and “all the animals of the field”. A violent storm then arose which caused the terrified gods to retreat to the heavens. Ishtar lamented the wholesale destruction of humanity, and the other gods wept beside her. The storm lasted six days and nights, after which “all the human beings turned to clay”. Utnapishtim weeps when he sees the destruction. His boat lodges on a mountain, and he releases a dove, a swallow, and a raven. When the raven fails to return, he opens the ark and frees its inhabitants. Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods, who smell the sweet savor and gather around. Ishtar vows that just as she will never forget the brilliant necklace that hangs around her neck, she will always remember this time. When Enlil arrives, angry that there are survivors, she condemns him for instigating the flood. Ea also castigates him for sending a disproportionate punishment. Enlil blesses Utnapishtim and his wife, and rewards them with eternal life. This account matches the flood story that concludes the Epic of Atra-Hasis (see also Gilgamesh flood myth).
The main point seems to be that when Enlil granted eternal life it was a unique gift. As if to demonstrate this point, Utnapishtim challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh falls asleep, and Utnapishtim instructs his wife to bake a loaf of bread on each of the days he is asleep, so that he cannot deny his failure to keep awake. Gilgamesh, who is seeking to overcome death, cannot even conquer sleep. After instructing Urshanabi the ferryman to wash Gilgamesh, and clothe him in royal robes, they depart for Uruk.
As they are leaving, Utnapishtim’s wife asks her husband to offer a parting gift. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that at the bottom of the sea there lives a boxthorn-like plant that will make him young again. Gilgamesh, by binding stones to his feet so he can walk on the bottom, manages to obtain the plant. Gilgamesh proposes to investigate if the plant has the hypothesized rejuvenation ability by testing it on an old man once he returns to Uruk.
There is a plant that looks like a box-thorn, it has prickles like a dogrose, and will prick one who plucks it. But if you can possess this plant, you’ll be again as you were in your youth
This plant, Ur-shanabi, is the “Plant of Heartbeat”, with it a man can regain his vigor. To Uruk-the-sheepfold I will take it, to an ancient I will feed some and put the plant to the test!
Unfortunately, when Gilgamesh stops to bathe, it is stolen by a serpent, who sheds its skin as it departs. Gilgamesh weeps at the futility of his efforts, because he has now lost all chance of immortality. He returns to Uruk, where the sight of its massive walls prompts him to praise this enduring work to Urshanabi.
Appendix E: Epic of Atrahasis flood story
Tablet III of the Atrahasis Epic contains the flood story. It tells how the god Enki warns the hero Atrahasis (“Extremely Wise”) of Shuruppak, speaking through a reed wall (suggestive of an oracle) to dismantle his house (perhaps to provide a construction site) and build a boat to escape the flood planned by the god Enlil to destroy humankind. The boat is to have a roof “like Apsu” (a subterranean, fresh water realm presided over by the god Enki), upper and lower decks, and to be sealed with bitumen. Atrahasis boards the boat with his family and animals and seals the door. The storm and flood begin. Even the gods are afraid. After seven days the flood ends and Atrahasis offers sacrifices to the gods. Enlil is furious with Enki for violating his oath. But Enki denies violating his oath and argues: “I made sure life was preserved.” Enki and Enlil agree on other means for controlling the human population.
A translation from Jona Lendering of the flood portion of this epic is given below.
[After the creation of humanity, the human population increases and their noise disturbs the gods, who decide to wipe out mankind. The god Enki, however, sends a dream to Atrahasis. When the text resumes, Enki is still speaking.]
Enki explains Atraḥasis’ dream
[i.b35] “Enlil committed an evil deed against the people.”
[i.c11] Atraḥasis made ready to speak,
and said to his lord:
“Make me know the meaning of the dream.
let me know, that I may look out for its consequence.”
[i.c15] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to his servant:
“You might say, ‘Am I to be looking out while in the bedroom?’
Do you pay attention to message that I speak for your:
[i.c20] ‘Wall, listen to me!
Reed wall, pay attention to all my words!
Flee the house, build a boat,
forsake possessions, and save life.
[i.c25] The boat which you build
… be equal …
Roof her over like the depth,
[i.c30] so that the sun shall not see inside her.
Let her be roofed over fore and aft.
The gear should be very strong,
the pitch should be firm, and so give the boat strength.
I will shower down upon you later
[i.c35] a windfall of birds, a spate of fishes.'”
He opened the water clock and filled it,
he told it of the coming of the seven-day deluge.
Atraḥasis and the Elders
Atraḥasis received the command.
He assembled the Elders at his gate.
[i.c40] Atraḥasis made ready to speak,
and said to the Elders:
“My god does not agree with your god,
Enki and Enlil are constantly angry with each other.
They have expelled me from the land.
[i.c45] Since I have always reverenced Enki,
he told me this.
I can not live in …
Nor can I set my feet on the earth of Enlil.
I will dwell with my god in the depths.
[i.c50] This he told me: …”
Construction of the Ark
[ii.10] The Elders …
The carpenter carried his axe,
the reedworker carried his stone,
the rich man carried the pitch,
the poor man brought the materials needed.
[About fifteen lines missing; the word Atraḥasis can be discerned.]
Boarding of the Ark
[ii.29] Bringing …
[ii.30] whatever he had …
Whatever he had …
Pure animals he slaughtered, cattle …
Fat animals he killed. Sheep …
he choose and and brought on board.
[ii.35] The birds flying in the heavens,
the cattle and the … of the cattle god,
the creatures of the steppe,
… he brought on board
[ii.40] he invited his people
… to a feast
… his family was brought on board.
While one was eating an another was drinking,
[ii.45] he went in and out; he could not sit, could not kneel,
for his heart was broken, he was retching gall.
The outlook of the weather changed.
Adad [The storm god] began to roar in the clouds.
[ii.50] The god they heard, his clamor.
He brought pitch to seal his door.
By the time he had bolted his door,
Adad was roaring in the clouds.
The winds were furious as he set forth,
[ii.55] He cut the mooring rope and released the boat.
The Great Flood
[iii.5] … the storm
… were yoked
Anzu rent the sky with his talons,
He … the land
[iii.10] and broke its clamor like a pot.
… the flood came forth.
Its power came upon the peoples like a battle,
one person did not see another,
they could not recognize each other in the catastrophe.
[iii.15] The deluge bellowed like a bull,
The wind resounded like a screaming eagle.
The darkness was dense, the sun was gone,
… like flies.
[iii.20] the clamor of the deluge.
[Lines missing. The gods find themselves hungry because there are no farmers left and sacrifices are no longer brought. When they discover that Atrahasis has survived, they make a plan to make sure that the noise will remain within limits: they invent childbirth, infant mortality, and celibacy]
[iii.45] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to Nintu the birth goddess:
“You, birth goddess, creatress of destinies,
establish death for all peoples!
[iii.d1] “Now then, let there be a third woman among the people,
among the people are the woman who has borne
and the woman who has not borne.
Let there be also among the people the pasittu (she-demon):
[iii.d5] Let her snatch the baby from the lap who bore it.
And establish high priestesses and priestesses,
let them be taboo, [celibate]and so cut down childbirth.”
Appendix F: Sumerian flood story
The earliest record of a Sumerian creation myth, called The Eridu Genesis was written in the Sumerian language and dated to around 1600 BC. After a missing section in the tablet, we learn that the gods have decided not to save mankind from an impending flood. Zi-ud-sura, the king and gudug priest, learns of this. A section is missing that probably has instructions for the ark. When the tablet resumes, it is describing the flood. A terrible storm rocks the huge boat for seven days and seven nights, then Utu (the Sun god) appears and Zi-ud-sura creates an opening in the boat, prostrates himself, and sacrifices oxen and sheep. After another break, the text resumes: the flood is apparently over, the animals disembark and Zi-ud-sura prostrates himself before An (sky-god) and Enlil (chief of the gods), who give him eternal life and take him to dwell in Dilmun for “preserving the animals and the seed of mankind”. The remainder of the poem is lost.
The Eridu Genesis is written on a Sumerian cuneiform tablet of which about two thirds are now lost. It us claimed that the missing parts can be reconstructed from texts like the Sumerian King List and “Babylonian History” by Berossus. A translation from Jona Lendering is given below.
The Creator Goddess thinks about humankind
[1′-9′] Nintur [The creator goddess.] was paying attention:
“Let me bethink myself of my humankind, all forgotten as they are;
and mindful of mine, Nintur’s, creatures let me bring them back,
let me lead the people back from their trails.
Let they come and build cities and cult places,
that I may cool myself in their shade;
may they lay the bricks for the cult cities in pure spots,
and may they found places for divination in pure spots!”
She gave directions for purification, and cries for clemency,
the things that cool divine wrath,
[10’ff] perfected the divine service and the august offices,
said to the surrounding regions: “Let me institute peace there!”
When An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursaga
fashioned the dark-headed people,
they had made the small animals that came up from out of the earth
come from the earth in abundance and had let there be, as befits it,
gazelles, wild donkeys, and four-footed beasts in the desert.
[large part lost; perhaps a story of a failed attempt to build a city]
Creation of kingship
[32′-40′] … “and let me have him advise;
let me have him oversee their labor,
and let him teach the nation to follow like unerringly like cattle!”
When the royal scepter was coming down from heaven,
the august crown and the royal throne being already down from heaven,
the king regularly performed to perfection
the august divine services and offices,
and laid the bricks of those cities in pure spots.
They were named by name and allotted half-bushel baskets.
The first cities
[41’ff] The firstling of the cities, Eridu, she gave to the leader Nudimmud,
the second, Bad-Tibira, she gave to the Prince and the Sacred One,
the third, Larak, she gave to Pahilsag,
the fourth, Sippar, she gave to the gallant Utu,
the fifth, Šuruppak, she gave to Ansud.
These cities, which had been named by names,
and had been alloted half-bushel baskets,
dredged the canals, which were blocked with purplish
wind-borne clay, and they carried water,
Their cleaning of the canals established abundant growth
[Large part lost, in which the antediluvian kings must have been mentioned. Working in the canals and on the fields, they produced so much noise, that the supreme god Enlil persuaded the other gods to destroy humankind.]
[81′-89′] That day, Nintur wept over her creatures
and holy Inanna was fill of grief over her people;
but Enki took counsel with his own heart.
An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursaga
had the gods of heaven and earth swear by the names of An and Enlil.
At that time Ziusudra was king and lustration priest.
He fashioned, being a seer, the god of giddiness [A statue is meant.]
and stood in awe beside it, wording his wishes humbly.
As he stood there regularly day after day
[90′-99′] something that was not a dream was appearing: conversation,
a swearing of oaths by heaven and earth, a touching of throats, [Ziusudra witnesses in a vision how the gods are discussing the fate of humanity. The touching of throats is a gesture to indicate that if someone breaks his oath, he allows himself to be beheaded. The Kiur mentioned in the next line was a part of the temple of Enlil in Nippur.]
and the gods bringing their thwarts up to Kiur.
And as Ziusudra stood there beside it, he went on hearing:
“Step up to the wall to my left and listen!
Let me speak a word to you at the wall and may you grasp what I say,
may you heed my advice! By our hand a flood will sweep over
the cities of the half-bushel baskets, and the country;
the decision, that mankind is to be destroyed, has been made.
A verdict, a command of the assembly, can not be revoked,
[100’ff] no order of An and Enlil is known to have been countermanded,
their kingship, their term, has been uprooted; they must bethink themselves …
What I have to say to you …”
[Lines missing; Enki orders Ziusudra to build the ark and load it with pairs of animals.]
[132’f] All the evil winds, all stormy winds gathered into
one and with them, them, the Flood was sweeping over the cities of the half-bushel baskets,
for seven days and seven nights.
After the flood had swept over the country,
after the evil wind had tossed the big boat about on the great waters,
the sun came out spreading light over heaven and earth.
[138′-139′] Ziusudra then drilled an opening in the big boat
and the gallant Utu sent his light into the interior of the big boat.
[140′] Ziusudra, being the king,
stepped up before Utu kissing the ground before him.
The king was butchering oxen, was being lavish with the sheep,
barley cakes, crescents together with …
… he was crumbling for him
juniper, the pure plant of the mountains he filled on the fire
and with a … clasped to
the breast he …
[Lines missing; Enlil is angry at finding survivors, but Enki explains himself]
End of Enki’s speech
[175′-178′] “You here have sworn by the life’s breath of heaven, the life’s breath of earth that he verily is allied with you yourself;
you there, An and Enlil, have sworn by the life’s breath of heaven, the life’s breath of earth, that he is allies with all of you.
He will disembark the small animals that come up from the earth!”
Reward of Ziusudra
[179′] Ziusudra, being king, stepped up before An and Enlil, kissing the ground,
and An and Enlil after honoring him
[180’ff] were granting life like a god’s,
were making lasting breath of life, like a god’s, descend into him.
That day they made Ziusudra, preserver, as king,
of the small animals and the seed of mankind,
live toward the east over the mountains of Dilmun. [Dilmun was a legendary place, far away on the edges of the earth. It was later identified with present Bahrain]
Appendix G Paul preaching to polytheists
The Bible gives the following summary of Paul preaching to polytheists in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).
16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols [they were polytheistic]. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed [Jesus]. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him [Jesus]from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
Written, September 2018
Also see: Noah: Fact or fiction?
Evidence of Noah’s flood
Visiting Noah’s ark
Why was Noah’s family saved while the rest died in the flood?
Genesis 1-11: Fact or fiction?
Doublespeak is saying one thing and meaning another, usually its opposite. In 1984 when Big Brother and the Party say “peace” they mean “war”, when they say “love” they mean “hate”, and when they say “freedom” they mean “slavery”. And today “tolerance” can mean “intolerance”. Doublespeak deliberately obscures, distorts, disguises, or reverses the meaning of words to manipulate public opinion. It’s used in advertising and politics. Is the beginning of the Bible a type of doublespeak where words don’t have their usual meaning?
The Bible is a library of 66 books that were written over a period of more than 1,500 years by many different authors. It was written to be understood by ordinary people, so it shouldn’t be difficult to interpret. Fathers were to teach it to their children (Dt. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). Timothy knew it from infancy (2 Tim 3:15). And the Bereans were commended for checking Paul’s teaching against the Old Testament (Acts 17:11).
The original aim of this post was to examine the literary genre of Genesis 1-11. But then I realized that such studies are often a means to say that this portion of the Bible doesn’t mean what it seems to say. But there is no direct correspondence between genre and whether the content is fact or fiction. For example, God’s spectacular victory over the Egyptian army is described in prose (Ex. 14:23-31) and then in song (Ex. 15:1-12, 21). In this case, prose and poetry are both based on historical fact. Likewise, Christian hymns and songs are often based on Scripture. In this case poetry is based on the facts in Scripture. So, although poetry and prose are different genres (styles), the genre doesn’t indicate whether their content is factual or not. Poetry can be factual, and prose can be figurative. Nevertheless, I will look at the genre first.
Just as there are different types of painting (landscape, still life, and portrait), there are different types of literary works. Literature can be divided into poetry, drama, and prose. And prose can be fiction or non-fiction. The Bible is comprised of several types of literature.
Accurate exegesis and interpretation (understanding) takes into consideration the purpose and style of a given book or passage of Scripture. In addition, some verses are meant figuratively, and proper discernment of these is enhanced by an understanding of literary genre (category, type or classification). An inability to identify literary genre can lead to serious misunderstanding of Scripture. The main literary genres found in the Bible are: law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, prophecy and apocalypse, and letters (see Appendix A).
Genesis is the first book in the Bible. As it describes the background to the rest of the Bible, it’s the foundational book of the bible. Some claim that the early chapters of Genesis are more poetic and theological than factual by suggesting it’s an epic myth, exalted prose, semi-poetic, or a defence of monotheism. In this post, we will evaluate this claim.
The purpose of Genesis
The book of Genesis is summarized in Appendix B. The Bible says that this book was produced by Moses (Lk. 24:27, 44). As the events recorded in Genesis occurred before his lifetime, presumably he compiled and edited its content. He did this during the Israelites journey to the Promised Land. So, the book was written for the Israelites and the context is the exodus. The content of Genesis indicates the information they needed to know and the questions that they were asking. These included:
Why are we (Israel) traveling to the promised land?
Why were we (Israel) living in Egypt?
Why do we (Israel) have 12 tribes?
Why do we (Israel) practice male circumcision?
What was our (Israel’s) special relationship with God?
Who were our (Israel’s) ancestors and where did they live?
The history of our nation (Israel).
The origin of our nation (Israel).
The promises given to Abraham.
Where did the patriarchs come from?
The origin of nations and languages.
God protects the godly and judges the ungodly.
Why is humanity now in an alienated relationship with God?
The prevalence of evil.
The origin of evil.
The origin of marriage.
The origin of humanity.
The origin of animal and plant life.
The origin of the earth.
The origin of the universe.
God’s immense power.
Moses was selective in the material that he used. He “spoke from God as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:21NIV). Moses documented enough information to answer their main questions without going into detail. So, Genesis describes the main features of the past, in order to help the Israelites understand their present circumstances.
Looking at the main genres found in the Bible (see Appendix A), it’s clear that the one most suitable for addressing these topics is “history”. To investigate whether Moses used this genre, we will look at the literary genre of Genesis 1-11 in particular.
Is it figurative language?
Figurative language is language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the most literal interpretation. Figurative language uses exaggerations or alterations to make a linguistic point. It is very common in poetry, but is also used in prose and nonfiction writing.
Metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and symbolism are examples of figurative language. But there are many others like alliteration, onomatopoeia, oxymorons, puns, synecdoche, metonymy, irony, and idioms.
There is chiasmus in Genesis 1-11 (Gen. 2:4; 9:6; 6:1 – 9:19; 11:1-9). This is a figure of speech in which two or more phrases are presented, then presented again in reverse order to make a larger point. Chiasmus was particularly popular in the literature of the ancient world, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, where it was used to articulate the balance of order within the text. The chiastic structure makes narrative easy to remember, which is very important for a largely oral culture. Chiasmus presents facts in a particular order, but it doesn’t indicate fiction. Biblical scholars have identified many chiasms throughout the Bible. For example, Genesis 17:1-24 is a chiasmus in the life of Abraham.
Some claim that there is number symbolism in Genesis 1 (see Appendix C). But this is a weak argument for saying that this Bible passage is symbolic rather than factual. And it doesn’t change the meaning of the Hebrew words from their usual meaning. And like chiasmus, this doesn’t make the language figurative. Instead it shows that it was written to be easily remembered and passed on aurally.
In other post, I have shown that the framework hypothesis method of interpreting Genesis 1 is questionable and not robust. This assumes that the days of creation are figurative categories that were chosen for literary or thematic reasons and that many of the words in this chapter don’t mean what they seem to mean. This interpretation is unnecessarily complicated and extrabiblical.
As it’s not figurative language, maybe Genesis 1-11 is poetic?
Is it poetry?
The main characteristic of Hebrew poetry is parallelism where the statements in two or more consecutive lines are related in some way. Scholars have identified various types of Hebrew parallelism, such as: synonymous (repetition of the same thought), contrastive (contrast with an opposite thought), and developmental (building on a thought).
However, parallelism is absent from Genesis 1-11 except for 1:27; 2:23; and 4:23-24. If Genesis is poetic, it would use parallelism throughout like the book of Psalms. But Genesis doesn’t look like Psalms. For a poetic account of creation see Psalm 104.
Some claim that the number symbolism in Genesis 1 means that it is poetic (Appendix C). They infer this from a comparison with ancient non-biblical accounts. But this is poor exegesis. The best exegesis uses the immediate context and so should be based on Genesis and the other books of Moses. We will use this approach. And we will use the views of other biblical characters, rather than the views of current scholars who are separated from these events by thousands of years. This shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred.
There is repetition in Genesis 1-11 (see Appendix D), but it’s not parallelism or poetic. There are many other examples of this in the Old Testament (see Appendix E).
Just because a passage is poetic doesn’t mean that it’s fiction. Poetry is merely a literary form. On its own, it has nothing to do with whether the content is fact or fiction. It may or may not reflect a historical background. Many poetic portions of scripture relate to genuine history (Num. 24; Ps. 148; 1 Tim. 3:16b). And these are acknowledged as being divine in origin and authoritative in force (Ps. 82:6; Jn. 10:34).
As it’s not figurative language or poetry, maybe it’s parables?
Is it allegories or parables?
Parables are usually introduced with a simile or a statement indicating that they are a figure of speech. As neither of these are present in Genesis 1-11, there is no evidence of any parables. The prophet Nathan told a parable to King David (2 Sam. 12:1-7). The historical facts about David, Uriah and Bathsheba are clearly stated, and it is also clear that the parable was fictional. And the intention of Nathan in telling the story is clear, as is the intention of the writer of 2 Samuel in recording this historical event. But there are no indicators in scripture that any of Genesis 1-11 is a parable.
An allegory is a story in which the characters and/or events are symbols representing other events, ideas, or people. Paul interprets the story of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah as an allegory for the Old and New Covenants (Gal. 4:22-26). Here, Paul takes actual, historical people from Genesis (Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah) and uses them as symbols in a lesson for Christians. He explains for the reader, “These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants” (v.24). Likewise, Paul refers to “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). Here he implies similarity between two historical characters. The evidence of scripture shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred. They are not allegories.
As it’s not figurative language, poetry or parables, maybe it’s a historical novel?
Is it a historical novel?
Historical novels are fictional stories that are based on historical characters or historical settings. The beliefs of the authors of the other books of the Bible show that the characters and settings in Genesis 1-11 are fact, not fiction. The evidence of scripture shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred. They are not a historical novel.
As it’s not figurative language, poetry, parables or a historical novel, maybe it’s a myth?
Is it a myth?
A myth is a mixture of fact and fiction that may have a moral lesson. Some believe that the biblical account of the seven days of creation (Genesis 1:1–2:3) was an abbreviated Hebrew version of a more ancient Babylonian tale. The ancient Babylonian creation myth Enūma Eliš is a poem that explains the origin of gods and people. But the gods are mortal, violent and frail, and nothing like the supreme Creator God of Genesis. It’s a song in praise of Marduk, their greatest god. Genesis 1 is about the creation, while Enūma Eliš is more about the creator. Genesis 1 is a tightly structured narrative, while Enūma Eliš, is a dramatic narrative poem.
The main problem with the mythical approach is that it confuses historical issues and literary genre. If we leave aside the question of whether the miracle stories in the Bible (including creation) are fact or fiction, the whole question of whether these stories are myths becomes extremely easy to answer. The biblical narratives are not myths because they do not possess a mythical literary form. They are straightforward and use the language of ordinary events. The biblical stories take for granted the world as we tend to experience it.
Is Genesis 1 merely an argument against pagan myths? A myth is a story blending fact and fiction that serves as a vehicle to convey truth. But if this was the case how does one decide which part is fact and which part is fiction? Does it teach us not to worship the sun but the God who made the sun? Pagans don’t just worship the physical object, but a god behind it (1 Cor. 10:19-20). The Bible does contain arguments against pagan gods (Ps. 74:13-15; Isa. 37:18-20; 45:12-20). They emphasize God’s strength and the weakness of idols. But Genesis 1 is nothing like this. Instead the pagan myths are probably derived from the original account which was passed down to Moses. The early chapters of Genesis were edited from ancient sources that pre-date the pagan ones. Normally borrowing embellishes history into a fanciful legend. In the ancient Near East, simple accounts may lead to elaborate legends, but not vice-versa. So, the simple Hebrew account of creation can lead to the embellished Babylonian creation legend, but not vice-versa.
Some scholars believe that there are three creation stories in the Bible. These are Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and a myth of the primordial battle between God and the forces of chaos known as Leviathan (Ps. 74), Rahab (Ps. 89) or the monster of the sea (Isa. 27). But this is incorrect. The introduction in Genesis 2:4 to the second section of Genesis states that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is an account of the creation of the universe. Recapitulation was widely practiced in ancient Semitic literature. It this case a broad summary is followed by a detailed account of matters of special importance. Genesis 2:5-25 is a more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation (Gen. 1:26-30). So the difference in styles between Genesis 1 and 2 is due to the different subject matter. Leviathan, Rahab and the monster of the sea are symbols of the power of Egypt (Ps. 74:13-14; 89:10; Isa. 27:1). Such scholars interpret this figurative language to be narrative, while they interpret the narrative in early Genesis to be figurative! This demonstrates how presuppositions can influence one’s interpretation of Scripture!
The Bible specifically warns Christians against believing myths. The Apostle Paul says: “As I urged you … stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths … ’ (1 Tim. 1:3–4NIV).
“Have nothing to do with godless myths …” (1 Tim. 4:7).
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of (false) teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).
“Therefore rebuke them (false teachers) sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth” (Titus 1:13-14).
The Apostle Peter says: “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power” (2 Pt. 1:16).
As it’s not figurative language, poetry, parables, a historical novel or a myth, maybe it’s a biography or autobiography?
Is it a biography or autobiography?
Genesis can be divided into sections which begin with the Hebrew word for generations or descendants (see Appendix F). It’s interesting to note the same pattern is evident in Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-36. So there is no evidence of a change of genre within the book of Genesis.
The Bible says that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Ex. 17:14; 4;4; 34:27; Num. 33:2; Dt. 31:9, 24; Mk. 10:3; Lk. 24:27; Jn. 1:17). And Jesus referred to it as “the law of Moses” (Lk. 24:44; 1 Cor. 9:9), “the book of Moses (Mk. 12:26), and simply “Moses” (Lk.16:29).
It is likely that each of the generations from Adam onwards wrote down an account of the events which occurred in their lifetime, and Moses, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, selected and compiled these, along with his own comments, into the book we now know as Genesis. So Moses was the editor of Genesis. The events of Genesis occurred long before his time. The original version of Genesis 10 (which shows where people were scattered to after the incident at Babel) was written before 1870BC because it mentions the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed by God about 360 years before the birth of Moses (Gen. 10:19). Moses included editorial comments (Gen. 26:33; 32:32). And a description of the Jordan valley in Abraham’s time as being “like the land of Egypt”, seems to be an editorial comment by Moses (Gen. 13:10).
So Genesis 1-11 is mainly a biography and an autobiography. If it’s a biography or autobiography, can its facts be confirmed?
Comparison with Genesis 12-50
Genesis 12-50 is a historical description of the lives of four generations of Israelites: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Often, the book of Genesis has been divided into two sections: Primeval History (chs. 1-11) and Patriarchal History (chs. 12-50). But where is the boundary between these two sections? At Genesis 11:27? But the text of Genesis 11 has a similar structure to that of Genesis 12! In fact, there are no significant differences in the structure of the text in Genesis 1-11 compared to Genesis 12-50. As “patriarchal history” is generally regarded as accurate history, then there is no linguistic reason why “primeval history” should not also be accepted as accurate history. And some passages of the Bible cite characters from both sections without indicating that the earlier ones are less historical. It would be better to say that the difference is one of subject matter. Genesis 1-11 deals with the world, whereas Genesis 12-50 deals with the descendants of Abraham.
Genesis 12 would make little sense without the genealogical background in Genesis 11. As Genesis 11 includes the genealogy of Shem, this links to the genealogy in Genesis 10, and to the one found in Genesis 5. Shem is mentioned in each of these three chapters of Genesis.
Genealogies treat people from Genesis 1-11 in the same manner as those from Genesis 12-50 (1 Chr. 1-8; Lk. 3:23-38). The same applies to the list of heroes of the faith from the Old Testament (Heb. 11:4-22).
Evidence from the rest of the Bible
The principal people mentioned in Genesis chapters 1–11 are referred to as real people (historical, not mythical) in the rest of the Bible. For example, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah are referred to in 15 other books of the Bible. And I have demonstrated in other blogposts that Adam and Eve, and Noah were real people.
At least 25 New Testament passages refer directly to the early chapters of Genesis, and they are always treated as real history. Genesis 1 and 2 were cited by Jesus in response to a question about divorce (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9). Paul referenced Genesis 2-3 (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 11:8; 15:20-22, 45-47; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). The death of Abel recorded in Genesis 4 is mentioned by Jesus and John (Lk. 11:51; 1 Jn. 3:12). The flood (Genesis 6-9) is confirmed as historical by Jesus and Peter (Mt. 24:37-39; 2 Pt. 2:4-9; 3:6). And Jesus mentioned the flood in the same context as He did the account of Lot and Sodom (Gen. 19) (Lk. 17:26-29). Finally, in Luke’s genealogy of Christ, he includes 20 names found in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (Lk. 3:34-38). He traced the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (Lk. 3:23-38). So the New Testament treats Genesis 1-11 as real history and not merely literary or theological devices. It’s a record of “actual events” in the history of humanity
Jesus Christ referred to the creation of Adam and Eve as a real historical event, by quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in His teaching about divorce (Mt. 19:3-6; Mk. 10:2-9), and by referring to Noah as a real historical person and the flood as a real historical event, in His teaching about the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ (Mt. 24:37-39; Lk. 17:26-27).
Humanity needs to be redeemed because of the fall into sin (Genesis 3). Unless we know that the entrance of sin to the human race was a true historical fact, we can’t understand God’s purpose in providing a Savior. And the historical truth of Genesis 1–11 shows that all mankind needs salvation from the penalty, power, and presence of sin.
Unless the events of the first chapters of Genesis are true history, the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the Gospel in Romans chapter 5 and of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 have no meaning. Paul writes: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). And, “For since death came through a man (Adam), the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man (Jesus). For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive … So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam (Jesus), a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45). The historical truth of the record concerning the first Adam is a guarantee that what God says in His Word about the last Adam (Jesus) is also true. Likewise, the historical, literal truth of the record concerning Jesus is a guarantee that what God says about the first Adam is also historically and literally true.
So Genesis 1-11 presents as a biography or autobiography whose facts are confirmed by the rest of scripture as being historically accurate. These inspired writers treat the people, and events in Genesis 1-11 as real, not merely literary or theological devices.
The Bible was written to be understood by ordinary people, so it shouldn’t be difficult to interpret. We have seen that Genesis 1-11 is not figurative language, poetry, parables, a historical novel or a myth. But it is a biography and an autobiography that describes real historical people and real historical events. It is prose narrative, with some embedded pieces that are poetic (Gen. 1:27; 2:23; 4:23-24) and some genealogical records (Gen 5, 10, 11:10–26). And it differs from other near eastern cosmologies because they are poetic and polytheistic. The writers of the Bible affirm that Genesis 1-11 is fact not fiction. It is an account of real events. Jesus affirmed it as well. And the gospel is based on the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. So, Genesis 1-11 isn’t a type of doublespeak where words don’t have their usual meaning.
Sarfati J D (2015) “The Genesis Account”, Creation Book Publishers.
Appendix A: Traditional genre (literature style) of the books of the Bible
The dominant genre of each book of the Bible is listed below. Note that figures of speech can occur within each of these genres.
Joshua to Nehemiah
Wisdom (also contains poetry)
Song of Songs
Matthew to John
Prophecy and apocalypse
Ezekiel to Malachi
Romans to Jude
Appendix B: Summary of the book of Genesis
- Creation (Gen. 1-2).
- The fall into sin (Gen. 3-5).
- The flood (Gen. 6-9).
- The dispersion (Gen. 10-11).
- Life of Abraham (Gen. 12-25:8).
- Life of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-35-29).
- Life of Jacob (Gen. 25:21-50:14).
- Life of Joseph (Gen. 30:22-50:26).
God created a universe that was good and free from sin. God created humanity to have a personal relationship with Him. Adam and Eve sinned and thereby brought evil and death into the world. Evil increased steadily in the world until there was only one family in which God found anything good. God sent the Flood to wipe out evil, but delivered Noah and his family along with the animals in the Ark. After the Flood, humanity began again to multiply and spread throughout the world.
God chose Abraham, through whom He would create a chosen people and eventually the promised Messiah. The chosen line was passed on to Abraham’s son Isaac, and then to Isaac’s son Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and his twelve sons became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. In His sovereignty, God had Jacob’s son Joseph sent to Egypt by the despicable actions of Joseph’s brothers. This act, intended for evil by the brothers, was intended for good by God and eventually resulted in Jacob and his family being saved from a devastating famine by Joseph, who had risen to great power in Egypt.
Appendix C: Number symbolism in Genesis 1
Some people quote the following to claim that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is symbolic rather than factual.
- The first sentence of Genesis 1 consists of seven Hebrew words.
- The second sentence of Genesis 1 contains exactly fourteen (a multiple of seven) words.
- The Hebrew words ‘earth’ and ‘heaven’ appear 21 times (a multiple of seven). But this is incorrect, “heaven(s)” (Strongs #8064) appears only 11 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven) and “expanse” (Strongs #7549) appears 9 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven). According to Genesis 1:8 “God called the expanse Heaven (or sky)”. This is a total of 20 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven).
- The Hebrew word ‘God’, is mentioned 35 times (a multiple of seven).
- The Hebrew refrain ‘and it was so’ and the summary statement ‘God saw that it was good’ occur seven times. But this is incorrect, “and it was so” only appears six times (v. 7, 9, 11, 15, 24, 30; which isn’t a multiple of seven)!
- The six days of creation and the day of rest comprise seven days.
But they don’t mention that the Hebrew word “day” appears 15 times. And “water” appears 12 times. And “God said” appears ten times. And “evening” and “morning” both appear six times. None of these are multiples of seven!
So this is a weak argument for saying that this Bible passage is symbolic rather than factual. I expect better scholarship to justify such a claim. Instead, it looks like cherry-picking to me.
Appendix D: The structure of Genesis 1
Genesis 1 has a repetitive structure, which was a common device in ancient literature to aid memorization. But it is not poetic. There are four basic themes on each day of creation.
1. God’s command
“And God said, ‘Let there be …”
“And it was so …”. God spoke things into existence. As God is the creator of time, He needs no time for His creative acts.
“God saw that it was good”.
4. Conclusion/Closure of the day
“And there was evening and there was morning – the Xth day”. As the Hebrew day went from sunset to sunset, it was made up of the night-time hours followed by the daylight hours. Each command was fulfilled within a 24-hour period (see “In six days”).
Why did God take so long to create the universe? He took six days of creation plus one day rest to give us the pattern for a week.
Appendix E: Other Biblical examples of repetitive structure
Repetition is present in many Old Testament passages.
Numbers 7 is also a numbered sequence of days. On 12 consecutive days a representative of each of the 12 tribes of Israel brought an offering for the altar.
“The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah” (v.12)
“On the second day Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar, brought his offering” (v.18).
“On the third day, Eliab son of Helon, the leader of the people of Zebulun, brought his offering” (v.24).
“On the twelfth day Ahira son of Enan, the leader of the people of Naphtali, brought his offering” (v.78).
No one teaches that Numbers 7 is a literary framework for teaching something theological and that is not history. The same should apply to Genesis 1.
Genealogies are repetitive. 1 Chronicles 1:1-9:44 gives genealogies from Adam to King Saul. As these are accepted as being factual, so should those in Genesis 5 and 11 (they overlap).
Nehemiah 3 describes the rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in a repetitive manner. It progressively moves around the wall mentioned each section between each of the ten gates and describing who repaired each section.
Appendix F: Possible sources of the book of Genesis
The sources of Genesis are 12 family documents (see below). Eleven of these are headed by the Hebrew word toledoth (Strongs #8435), which means generations or descendants. The fact that these are referring to what follows rather than what precedes is clear in other instances of this word in the Old Testament (Num. 3:1; Ruth 4:18; 1 Chr. 1:29). So, in Genesis, the toledoths tell us what followed from the named person.
It’s possible that each of these documents was written on a clay tablet. During the exodus Moses probably compiled all these tablets into a long scroll. He may have used vellum to write on as the Israelites had many sheep.
- Creation of the universe (Gen. 1:1 – 2:3). There is no toledoth here, because nothing (in time) preceded creation. Time began at the beginning of this creation.
- “Descendants” of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 2:4-4:26). This is what followed from creation.
- Descendants of Adam (Gen. 5:1-6:8).
- Descendants of Noah (Gen. 6:9-9:29).
- Descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen. 10:1-11:9).
- Descendants of Shem (Gen. 11:10-26).
- Descendants of Terah (Gen. 11:27-25:11).
- Descendants of Ishmael (Gen. 25:12-18).
- Descendants of Isaac (Gen. 25:19-35:29).
- Descendants of Esau, born in Canaan (Gen. 36:1-8).
- Descendants of Esau, born in Edom (Gen. 36:9-37:1).
- Descendants of Jacob (Gen. 37:2-50:26).
Written, June 2018
Also see: In six days?
Genesis 1: Fact or fiction?
Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?
Noah: Fact or fiction?
The chicken or the egg?
Do we have the right Bible?
The Bible is loaded with contradictions and translation errors. It wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy (Eichenwald, 2014). That’s the opinion of Newsweek.
And Humanists reject the claim that the Bible is the word of God (Sommer, 1997). They are convinced the book was written solely by humans in an ignorant, superstitious, and cruel age. They believe that because the writers of the Bible lived in an unenlightened era, the book contains many errors and harmful teachings.
How reliable is the Bible? Is it trustworthy? Can it withstand objective scrutiny? This blogpost is based on a presentation by Tom Murphy titled, “Do we have the right Bible?”.
Has translating the Bible over and over for almost 3,000 years ruined its reliability? Don’t errors accumulate like messages get changed when they are passed along a line of people in the Telephone game (or Chinese whispers)?
Don’t the many translations of the Bible ruin its reliability?
The Telephone game is a very false comparison. The English translations we have are not the product of a long line of translations. Our current English translations are translated directly from the original languages.
If that’s so, then why are there so many different translations then? Surely if translations are made directly from the originals then we would have only one version.
There are three main reasons we have so many different English translations of the Bible. First, translation research advances with time. Ongoing research helps us to more accurately understand and translate the original languages. Second, changes in modern English. The English language changes with time. New translations are made using modern English, so people can easily understand the Bible. Third, there are different approaches to translating. Some translators use one-word for one-word as much as possible, while others try to translate thought-for-thought.
We have so many versions, not because some shady telephone game has corrupted the text but because we are getting better at translating the Bible and we want translations in contemporary English everyone understands.
But weren’t the books of the bible written hundreds of years after the events they describe? Given that time gap, their messages could all be legends!
Could it all be legends?
Showing the biblical books are not legends begins with showing when they were written. They were not written hundreds of years later. The biblical manuscripts contain four kinds of evidence that indicates when they were written.
Independently verifiable historical statements.
Only a writer living at the time could have known these facts, which we can verify using archaeology or extra-biblical documents. For example, statements like names of places, people, geography, and significant events. Historical accounts that are written long after the events they describe don’t include such comments. Verifiable statements like these strongly affirm the early writing of the biblical books. Famous archaeological examples include evidence for the Assyrian King, Sargon II mentioned in Isaiah 20:1 and the Pool of Bethesda mentioned in John 5:2-9. Prior to the archaeological discoveries that confirmed the historical accuracy of Isaiah’s reference to Sargon II (1843) and John’s description of the pool of Bethesda (1964), both biblical passages were considered to be blatant historical errors on the part of the biblical authors.
Historical events that are not mentioned.
Some historical events are not mentioned that definitely would have been mentioned had they already occurred. This evidence gives time frames for the writing of biblical books. For example, Acts 18:2 mentions the expulsion of the Jews from Rome (AD 41-54) but does not mention the destruction of the Temple (AD 70), therefore Acts dates between AD 41 and AD 70.
Direct manuscript evidence.
Having just a tiny surviving fragment of a book that we can date puts a limit on the latest date it could have been written. For example, as Papyrus fragment P52 from the book of John dates to about 120 AD, John must have been written before then.
Who the writer was and when they died.
Knowing the writer and when they died helps date a book. For example, multiple extra-biblical sources tell us Paul died shortly before AD 68, so all of Paul’s letters were written before AD 68.
This evidence tells us the books of the bible were written very early. Look at the dating of the Gospels to see just how small a gap we are talking about. They were all written within decades of the crucifixion. The liberal dating is invariably later than the conservative dating for two main reasons. First, some biblical books make predictive statements (see Appendix A), like the destruction of the Temple in Mathew 24. Liberal scholars assume that such successful predictions are not possible and assume the book must have been written after the event. Second, some books (like John) show a very high view of Jesus’ divinity. Liberal scholars assume this to be a slow evolutionary development and therefore date the book later.
But these reasons rest on assumptions that presuppose Christianity cannot be true; they reject the idea that God exists and/or that He influenced the authors to make successful future predictions. They also reject that Jesus claimed to be God and that His disciples believed Him.
The Jesus legend hypothesis fails because there was simply not enough time between the historical Jesus and the written records for legends to have corrupted the narrative. Secular historian Professor A. N. Sherwin-White points out that at least two full generations are needed for legendary developments to obscure the core details in a historical narrative. For example, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written more than 400 years after his death, yet classical historians still consider them to be trustworthy. The fabulous legends about Alexander did not develop until the centuries after these two biographies. After 400 years, Alexander’s history is less corrupted than the Gospel accounts are alleged to be, though the largest gap between the Gospel accounts and the actual events is only about 70 years, even using the most sceptical dates.
The problems for the legend hypothesis get even worse when two other facts are considered.
The Gospels use older source material.
For example, the Passion Story included in the gospel of Mark was probably not originally written by Mark. Rudolf Pesch, a German expert on Mark, says the Passion source must go back to at least AD 37, just seven years after Jesus’s death.
The Gospels are not the oldest texts in New Testament.
Older New Testament texts affirm the supposedly legendary resurrection of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians (written about AD 55) Paul cites what is apparently an old Christian creed: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:3-5NIV). All grammatical and textual evidence tells us that the creed Paul gives came from Peter and James when Paul visited Jerusalem, reaching back to within the first five years after Jesus’ crucifixion in the very city where the crucifixion occurred.
To conclude, both Christian and non-Christian scholars are at a near-consensus that the entire New Testament was written within the first century AD, within decades of Jesus’ death. The texts are so close to the life of Jesus that legendary evolution simply cannot account for the narratives they contain.
But we don’t have the original manuscripts! How do we know that we have what Moses, David, and the Old Testament prophets really said or wrote?
Can we know what the original Old Testament texts said?
With no photocopiers, the original texts were copied by hand as they wore out or more copies were needed. The Jewish people had scribes who oversaw this. They were such meticulous perfectionists that they would count all paragraphs, words and even letters to check they copied correctly. They even knew the middle letter of every book and would count backwards to check for mistakes.
The Masoretic text is used as the source text for translating the Old Testament because we accept the Old Testament that was accepted by the 1st century Jewish community – Jesus’ community. The Masoretic text is a Hebraic and Aramaic text that circulated amongst Jewish communities between the 7th and 10th centuries AD, the oldest copy we have is from the 9th century AD.
For a long time, critics pointed out that this text is very far removed from the original manuscripts, which were penned between the 15th and 5th centuries BC. They questioned if, after so many centuries of copying, we could really have the original words. That’s where the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was helpful.
Discovered in the Qumran caves in 1947, these well-preserved texts date back to between 200 BC and 100 BC. For example, the Great Isaiah Scroll is a copy of the book of Isaiah. Of approximately 1,000 scrolls found, 225 are Old Testament Books and include every book except Esther. Amazingly, there is a virtual agreement between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic text from 1,100 years later! The meticulous scribal process preserved the textual integrity for over 1,100 years! This means that we can confidently trust the Old Testament we have today. There is no evidence of grand changes through a great historical game of telephone (or Chinese whispers).
But we can go further. We currently we have four major groups of Old Testament manuscripts in three different languages, transmitted independently of each other over a span of over 1,000 years, yet they all show a high degree of agreement. In addition to the Masoretic text and Dead Sea Scrolls we also have:
The Septuagint, a Greek translation that originated between the 3rd century BC and 2nd Century AD.
The Vulgate, a Latin translation produced by the Christian priest Jerome in the 4th century AD, and
The Peshitta, a Syriac (Aramaic) translation produced in the second century AD.
By comparing all the texts available, we can reliably discern the content of the Old Testament. Of all the apparent variants in the surviving Old Testament manuscripts, none introduce wildly divergent readings from the Masoretic text that can’t be readily explained by a copyist error (such as spelling/grammar mistakes) or an easily identifiable change intentionally inserted by the scribe responsible for producing the manuscript. And the footnotes of any good study bible will point out these variants (there’s about 45 of them; of these only in 9 do translators resort to using the Dead Sea Scrolls over the Masoretic and of the 45 only one influences more than one sentence – it’s a paragraph found between 1 Samuel 10 and 11).
Also, critics assume well-used papyri disintegrate within 10 years at best, meaning many hundreds of copies of copies must separate the original text from the oldest surviving manuscripts. However, studies by historian George Houston demonstrate that ancient manuscripts were actively used anywhere from 150 to 500 years, and each copy would have been used to make hundreds more. For example, The Codex Vaticanus was reinked in the 10th century after 600 years of use. So the oldest surviving Old Testament manuscripts we have may only be a few generations of copies from the originals. For the New Testament, we could theoretically have direct copies of the original texts, or at least copies of the very first copies.
All this means that the conditions were very favorable for preserving the contents of the biblical texts. The close agreement observed across the 1,100-year gap between the Dead Sea and Masoretic manuscripts is evidence of this.
Well that covers the Old Testament. But what about the New Testament? How can we be sure we know what Jesus said, or that we know what Paul and the other New Testament authors wrote?
Can we know what the original New Testament texts said?
The New Testament text is even more certain than the Old Testament. Some surviving fragments date back to 120 AD. That’s only 35-100 years after the originals! Another big help is that there are nearly 6,000 partial or complete New Testament manuscripts in the original Greek. Add to this approximately 10,000 manuscripts of Latin translations and another 9,300 manuscripts in some 13 additional languages. All together we have about 25,000 copies of the New Testament. And these numbers are counted from databases that notoriously lag-behind current developments and do not record manuscripts contained in private collections or in the form of scrolls – it is quite likely that we have well above 25,000 copies of the New Testament to work with.
Let’s compare the date of the oldest manuscripts and number of existing manuscripts with a few other pieces of literature that historians consider accurate. For the New Testament, the time gap is hundreds of years smaller and the number of manuscripts higher by thousands compared to other works from antiquity. This shows that the New Testament is the most trustworthy document from antiquity. By comparing all the manuscripts we possess, scholars easily identify copying mistakes. This process is called textual criticism. Through this process, we can ascertain the wording of the New Testament with about 99.9% accuracy. See Appendix B for more information on copying mistakes.
Well, all this only proves that we know what these books originally said. But, how do we know the right books are in the Bible? It was just people who decided wasn’t it?
Do we have the right books?
Usually when critics argue that people decided what books should be in the bible (which is called the canon), they are using a different definition of canon than Christians do. The critic thinks the church decided to declare some books authoritative and not others – that the canon didn’t exist until church leaders conferred authority on a few books when they wrote canonical lists. But the Christian understanding is different. If God exists and He inspired human writers, then the canon began to exist the moment the author put pen to paper and the canon grew as each God-inspired book was written.
The Old Testament Canon has never been in doubt. It is the exact list of books that the Jewish community has used for thousands of years. It is the exact Old Testament that Jesus declared to be inspired and authoritative (Mt. 5:17). The only differences are in the order and grouping of the books. The oldest references we have to the Old Testament canon comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote during AD 95 in his work Against Apion that the Jews recognize 22 books as authoritative; this list of 22 books covers all the Old Testament recognized by Protestants, with the exception of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. However, Josephus commends these books in his AD 93/94 work Antiquity of the Jews (which also mentions Jesus).
Regarding the Old Testament Apocryphal books. The Jewish community rejected all Apocryphal books as authoritative. Early Jews may have privately read the apocryphal books for insightful historical and/or theological observations – Josephus and prominent 1st-century Midrashic rabbis did this – but they opposed any consideration of these books as Scripture.
What about the New Testament? Did Emperor Constantine decide what counted as Scripture at Nicaea in AD 325. Are the books in the Bible just the politically motivated selections of a Roman Emperor 300 years after the fact?
Was the New Testament decided at Nicaea?
As for the New Testament, the books we have in our Bible imposed themselves on the early church; they were recognized as inspired from the beginning. It’s a common myth that the biblical books the church uses were imposed on Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine at the council of Nicaea in AD 325 for political reasons. This is not true. We have ample evidence to show that the New Testament books we use were considered authoritative from their very beginning.
The New Testament writers recognized each other’s words as scripture. Peter wrote, “His (Paul’s) letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pt. 3:16).
We also have very early lists of canonical books produced well before Nicaea that give a nearly identical list of books to our current New Testament today.
- Around AD 180 we have records of the church father Irenaeus listing every book in the NT as cannon, except Philemon and 3 John.
- The Muratorian fragment from AD 180, affirms 22 of the 27 books of the New Testament, in a list remarkably close to Irenaeus’.
- Then in AD 198 Clement of Alexandria had a remarkably similar position, He affirmed the four gospels, 13 epistles of Paul, Hebrews, Acts, 1 Peter, 1&2 John, Jude, and Revelation.
Beyond these lists, we have numerous quotations from early church fathers which quote the books of the New Testament as authoritative scripture. These Church fathers frequently begin their quotation with “It is written”, the same language used before citations of Old Testament scripture. All of this predates the Council of Nicaea by 100-150 years. Therefore, the canon was not “foisted” on the church then. Nicaea could have only ratified the near 200-year consensus the church already held. It is interesting to note that a number of the later church fathers (after AD 150) condemn as heretical some of the Apocryphal texts by name (most notably Acts of Paul and The Gospel of Thomas).
There was never any concern that the cannon the church accepted was wrong. The bigger concern in the early church was that some Christians would be misled into believing that the counterfeit apocryphal books should be regarded as scripture when they really shouldn’t. This was the real reason official lists of canonical books were authorised at various church councils – to combat heretical teachers and apocryphal books masquerading as scripture.
In AD 367 Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, listed all the books that are in the New Testament canon. He also spoke up against books to be rejected because they were “an invention of heretics”. He called these “apocrypha”.
So we have the right Bible because its ancient words have been preserved since it was written.
How does knowing all this help us today?
It’s important to know that we have the right Bible because our entire faith and hope of salvation depend on the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection as documented in the Bible. Paul corrected those who said there is no resurrection of the dead by saying, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ are lost (forever). If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:13-20). If the apostles were “false witnesses”, their message in the Bible would be unreliable. But knowing that the Bible is reliable gives us confidence and assurance in our Christian faith. The New Testament confirms many times that “Christ indeed has been raised from the dead”. It’s fact, not fiction.
Peter said that what the Apostles wrote was based on eyewitness accounts and not on fabricated stories (2 Pt. 2:3). “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16). Knowing that we have an accurate copy of what they wrote means that we have access to eyewitness accounts. This means that the Christian faith is based on real objective historical events and not on subjective human ideas or religious concepts.
And Christians are to defend their faith. In the context of criticism, opposition and persecution, Peter said, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15). We need to know why we believe what we believe. Our “hope” is our confidence about God and eternity. We can have confidence that we will have eternal life if we believe that Jesus died for our sin. And all this is based on the trustworthiness of the Bible.
Sometimes critics just want to undermine our faith or the faith of our fellow believers. We defend our faith as an act of reverence to Jesus and as a support and comfort to our fellow believers who may be struggling with doubt. And sometimes the critical questions come from a seeking heart and by answering them we might be helping clear away the obstacles that may be keeping someone from coming to faith in Jesus.
The Bible is the most reliable document we have from antiquity. It’s good to know that we have the right Bible. It’s an accurate copy of the message that God gave in ancient times.
Appendix A: Predictive statements in Daniel
Daniel is an example of a book of the Bible that makes predictive statements. Even giving the book of Daniel the absolute latest possible dates critics can give (ca 200 BC based on the Dead Sea manuscript found at Qumran), the predictive statements found in the later chapters of this book still precede the actual events described. Prior to the Dead Sea Scroll findings, critics did indeed try to claim that all of Daniel’s predictive statements came after the fact. The Dead Sea discovery proved that some of the book’s predictions definitely precede the events, even if we were to say that the copies found in Qumran are the earliest manuscripts containing them.
Appendix B: How are variants counted?
Some critics, like Bart Ehrman, say that the New Testament contains over 400,000 variants from the standard text, which is more than the total number of words in the New Testament (about 138,000)! So how is this number calculated? Please note that a “variant” is not an error. It’s where texts are not perfectly matched. Most of these variations are insignificant.
These variants were counted by the number of manuscripts they are found in. For example, if a spelling mistake occurs in just one verse and this mistake is found in 2,000 of the 25,000 manuscripts we have, that one spelling mistake was counted as 2,000 variants, even though it’s just one word in just one verse. So saying there are more than 400,000 variants is a misleading statement. Furthermore, 70% of all variants are one particular scribal error called the moveable-nu; it is the Koine Greek equivalent of accidentally using “a” instead of “an” in English. Of all variants, less than 0.1% are worth even mentioning in the footnotes found in good study bibles. Only two variants affect more than two verses, the end of Mark (Mk. 16:9-20) and the story about the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 7:53-8:11). And no variants at all influence any Christian doctrine or practices. This is largely because the doctrine and practices are taught in many passages of the Bible. They don’t rely on a single passage.
It’s interesting to note that the large number of variants is mainly due to the large number of ancient manuscripts. These increase the accuracy in determining the text of the original manuscript. So, it’s actually a strength and not a weakness!
This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr Tom Murphy (a chemist) titled, “Do we have the right Bible?”.
Eichenwald K (2014) “The Bible: So misunderstood it’s a sin”, Newsweek 23 December 2014.
Sommer J C (1997), “Some reasons why Humanists reject the Bible”, American Humanist Association.
Written, May 2018
Also see: Can we trust our Bibles? How the Bible came to us.
Is the New Testament reliable?
Mind the gap
Noah: Fact or fiction?
Plagiarism involves stealing someone else’s work and using it without acknowledgement. Plagiarism checkers are available online. But when plagiarism is detected how can we determine which is the copied version? Or whether both were copied from another original. If we know when they were written, that could indicate that the most recent version is copy. The story of Noah’s flood in the Bible is like other ancient flood stories. People speculate about which was the original account or whether they were both derived from the same event.
Because of the wickedness of humanity in antiquity, God destroyed the earth with a great flood but spared Noah and his family (Gen. 6-9). God told Noah to build a huge boat to carry two of every kind of animal. Then the earth was covered with water, drowning everyone and everything that once roamed the land. Noah, his family and the animals on the boat survived and repopulated the planet. An Israelite named Moses edited these records about Noah when he compiled Genesis about 1450BC (see Appendix A).
Many scholars think that this is a religious legend or myth that came from older Mesopotamian flood stories mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Their explanation is that over time the account of flooding by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may have been embellished. And according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Noah is a “symbolic figure”.
In this post, we will evaluate these claims by looking at what the Bible says about Noah. Was he a real historic person or is he symbolic or mythical? Did he live on earth or did he come from someone’s imagination? Is he literal or literary?
Noah is also mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 54, Isaiah predicts that Judah will be restored after it goes into captivity. “To me (God) this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you (Judah), never to rebuke you again” (Isa. 54:9). He recalls the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood (Gen. 8:21; 9:11). The restoration will be a new beginning with no more judgment, just like the covenant with Noah. This means that a Jewish prophet who lived about 700BC (about 750 years after Moses) believed the story about Noah and the flood. So, he confirmed that the account about Noah in Genesis was factual.
Ezekiel was a Jew taken into exile in Babylon in 597BC. In 591-592BC, he predicted the fall of Jerusalem and Judah (which occurred in 586BC).
“If a country (Judah) sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Or if I send wild beasts through that country (Judah) and they leave it childless and it becomes desolate so that no one can pass through it because of the beasts, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men (Noah, Daniel and Job) were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate.
Or if I bring a sword against that country (Judah) and say, ‘Let the sword pass throughout the land,’ and I kill its people and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men (Noah, Daniel and Job) were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved.
Or if I send a plague into that land (Judah) and pour out my wrath on it through bloodshed, killing its people and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness (Ezek. 14:13-20).
Because of their idolatry, God was going to bring “four dreadful judgments—sword (war) and famine and wild beasts and plague (disease)—to kill its (Judah’s) men and their animals” (Ezek. 14:21). These were the four main causes of death among peoples of the ancient Near East. This judgement would occur even if three righteous men like Noah, Daniel and Job lived in the land. Only the righteous would be saved; people couldn’t rely on another’s righteousness. This means that a Jewish prophet who lived about 590BC (about 860 years after Moses) believed that Noah was a righteous man, which is consistent with the account about Noah in Genesis.
In 1 Chronicles 1, the first 11 generations of humanity are given as, “Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. The sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth” (1 Chron. 1:1-4NIV). This means that the Jews who compiled this book in about 450BC (about 1,000 years after Moses) considered Noah to be in the 10th generation of humanity. So, they confirmed that the account about Noah in Genesis 5:28-32 was factual.
Noah is mentioned in six passages written by Matthew, Luke, and Peter and in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. Luke confirms that Noah was in the 10th generation of humanity, “the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam” (Lk. 3:35-38). This was written about 1,500 years after Moses.
In Matthew 24, Jesus describes the behavior of people when He returns to establish His kingdom. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (Jesus). For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark (boat); and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt. 24:37-39). This is also recorded by Luke, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man (Jesus). People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all” (Lk. 17:26-27). As people were unprepared for the flood (they were outside the ark and they had no time for God), so they will be unprepared for the second coming of Christ (they will have no time for God). Only those trusting in Christ will be delivered when He returns. The rest will ignore God’s warnings and be judged like most of Noah’s generation. So, Jesus obviously believed that Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event.
Noah’s faith is commended in Hebrews. “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith” (Heb. 11:7). When warned about the coming flood, Noah “built an ark to save his family”. Perhaps many of the early Jewish Christians often wondered why they were such a small minority. The story of Noah reminded them of the time when only eight people trusted God while the rest died in the flood. Just as the other heroes of faith lived historically (such as “David, Samuel and the prophets”, v.32), Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event.
1 Peter 3 describes what happened in the days of Moses. “In which (by the Holy Spirit) He (Christ) went and made proclamation (through Noah) to the spirits [now] in prison (the unrighteous people in Noah’s day, who were now in hades waiting for the final judgment) who in the past were disobedient (to Noah’s preaching), when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water” (1 Pt. 3:19-20CSB). The Christians that this passage was written to were suffering. And they were a small minority. In these verses they were encouraged by the prospect of being saved from the coming judgment, just as eight people were in Noah’s day. Peter describes real people that were saved by a real ark.
2 Peter 2 gives examples of God’s judgment of sin including, “He (God) did not spare the ancient world when He brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others” (2 Pt. 2:5). Here we see that Moses warned the people to turn from their wickedness or face God’s judgment. Once again, Peter describes real people that were saved from a real flood.
The method I have used to investigate whether Noah was a real person and the flood was a real event or just a mythical story to convey a message differs from the one used most commonly. I have studied what the Bible says about this topic, whereas others usually rely on scholarship outside the Bible. The problem with scholarship that is based outside the Bible (including literature and non-experimental historic science) is that it can change from year to year. What is claimed to be true now, will probably be discredited by future generations. Such knowledge is transient and changeable. And the interpretation of literary genres is very subjective. I prefer a more objective and robust approach that is based on Scriptural facts (the text of the Bible which is unchanging). The best way to interpret a Biblical passage is to investigate the text, the context, what the author says elsewhere and what other Bible authors say about the topic. This is the approach I have used in this post.
Depending on your worldview, you may not agree with my approach. But I think that a worldview based on revelation by the Creator of the universe is more reliable than one based on naturalistic human scholarship.
We have seen that the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah and Ezekiel) believed the story about Noah and the flood. As they lived over 2,600 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.
And the Old Testament Jews who compiled scripture believed that Noah was a real person (1 Chron. 1:1-4). As they lived over 2,400 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.
And the writers of the New Testament (Matthew, Luke, Peter and the author of Hebrews) believed that Noah was a real person. Jesus also believed that Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event. As they lived over 1,950 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.
Are the Mesopotamian flood stories mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh older than the biblical flood story? Many scholars believe the Mesopotamian stories are older because they assume that Genesis was compiled in the 6th century BC. They ignore the fact that Moses compiled Genesis about 1450BC (see Appendix A). According to the Bible, Noah lived in the 3rd millennium BC. And according to scholars, Gilgamesh lived in the 3rd millennium BC. So they could possibly be describing the same event.
We have seen that the Genesis flood was an historical event which shows that people are habitual sinners who disobey God and deserve judgment. God hates sin and His patience comes to an end when He punishes unrepentant sinners. But God protects those who trust in Him. This shows that sin has consequences, and judgment is coming. If it wasn’t a real event, then its significance is reduced.
Jesus and Peter likened the flood to God’s coming judgment of the ungodly. The reality of the flood should warn us of the reality of the coming judgment by fire (2 Pt. 3-13). The account of Noah and the flood shows the prospect of being saved from God’s judgment. As the example of Noah was a real event, so there is a real prospect of being saved from God’s judgment. Trusting in Jesus is like being on the ark. But if the account of Noah is mythical and not historic, then it would be a weaker example of deliverance.
Noah lived by faith. He trusted in the revelation his generation had received about God. Since that time, we have much more revelation about God (see the remainder of the Bible). Do we live by faith in what Jesus has done in taking the punishment we all deserve for our sinfulness?
The Old Testament Jews believed that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events. Also, Jesus, Matthew, Luke, Peter and the author of Hebrews all believed that that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events.
Therefore, we should also believe that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events. So, Noah was a person who lived on earth, and he wasn’t symbolic or mythical nor did he come from someone’s imagination. He is literal and not literary.
Appendix A: When was Genesis compiled?
There is no mention in the book of Genesis of the name of its complier. But because the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is called “the law of Moses” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, many believe that it was Moses (1 Ki. 2:3; Lk. 2:22). When he was leading Israel, Joshua said that “the book of the law of Moses” was already written (Josh. 1:7-8; 8:30-31).
Jesus referred to the three parts of the Jewish Old Testament as “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Lk. 24:44). This makes Moses the author of the first part of the Old Testament.
First century Jews said that circumcision was a “custom taught by Moses” (Acts15:1) and “Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs)” (Jn. 7:22). This may refer to the introduction of male circumcision for the descendants of Abraham in Genesis 17.
The Bible says that “the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel” was “the 480th year after the Israelites came out of Egypt” (1Ki. 6:1). Since the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel was about 966BC, the date of the exodus was about 1446BC. It’s most likely that Moses wrote most of the Pentatuech during the 40year period (about 1446-1406BC) when Israel travelled from Egypt to Canaan. As it refers to earlier events, it is possible that Genesis was compiled before the exodus.
Who wrote the original account about Noah? Based on the structure of Genesis, it seems that Noah wrote Genesis 5:1b-6:9a, which ends with “This is the account of Noah and his family”. And his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth probably wrote Genesis 6:9b-10:1a, which ends with “This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth”. These may have been written on clay tablets in the 3rd millennium BC .
Written, May 2018
Also see: Flood stories: Fact or fiction?
Evidence of Noah’s flood
Visiting Noah’s ark
Why was Noah’s family saved while the rest died in the flood?
Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?
Genesis 1-11: Fact of fiction?
In six days?
Jesus: history or myth?
I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy. I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny. I don’t believe in Santa Claus. You could say, I’m a skeptic! But what if I don’t believe that Babe Ruth, Mark Twain, and Christopher Columbus were real people? That they were myths as well.
Also, what if I don’t believe that people who lived longer ago like William Shakespeare (AD 1600) and Muhammad (AD 600) were real people? And what if I don’t believe that Jesus (AD 30) existed? That He’s a myth made up by Christians.
According to a survey in 2015, 22% of people in England thought that Jesus was a mythical or fictional character, while another 17% were unsure whether He was real or not. The remaining 61 % said Jesus was a real person who actually lived. It was found that younger people are the most skeptical about Jesus’s existence.
What is a “myth”?
In everyday language, the term “myth” is given to stories, ideas or beliefs that are false and not true. They are unreal or imaginary stories that may be called “legend”, “fiction”, “fairy tale”, “folklore”, or “fable”. But academic scholars use “myth” as a synonym for a story with a symbolic message that used to be believed as true, but now there are no implications on the truthfulness of the story. In this post I’m using the everyday usage of the word “myth”, not the academic one.
Let’s look at two skeptical views about Jesus.
Skeptical views about Jesus
Christ myth theory.
Some people claim that Jesus is a mythical character, and not a historical person. He never existed. He was made up by the early church which wrote the New Testament. They conclude this from the following beliefs:
– Jesus left no writings or other archaeological evidence.
– We don’t have any original manuscripts of the New Testament.
– The genre of the gospels may be legendary fiction instead of ancient biography.
– The Gospels and other early Christian writings cannot be verified as independent sources, and may have all stemmed from a single original fictional account.
– All documents about Jesus came well after the life of the alleged Jesus – so it’s all unreliable hearsay. No eyewitness accounts survive.
Mainstream historical view
Others say that Jesus of Nazareth did exist but He had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and the accounts in the gospels. They believe that Jesus was an extraordinary man, but He didn’t do miracles. The miracles were made up by Christians afterwards and written in the Bible. The life of Jesus was embellished like St Nicholas became Santa Claus.
We will now evaluate these two skeptical views about Jesus. Do they match the evidence or not?
Historical evidence for the existence of Jesus
Most of what is known of the ancient world comes from written accounts by ancient historians. But these only record a sample of human events and only a few of these documents have survived. Few people could write such histories as illiteracy was widespread in ancient times. And the reliability of the surviving accounts needs to be considered. But the existence of someone in history is often easily established on the basis of small textual samples, sometimes even a single name in a list or sentence. For example, my great grandfather Richard Hawke is in a list of people living on the goldfields at Hill End near Bathurst in New South Wales in 1867. This is listed in a book that was published 109 years later in 1976 (“Valleys of gold” by Brian Hodge).
Jesus was a Jew (a minor race) who lived in Galilee, which was a part of Palestine (not the capital, Jerusalem). And Palestine was an outpost of the Roman Empire (a tiny part of a vast empire). He was a long way away from the local center of power and from Rome (the capital of the empire). So the fact that we can find any written record of Jesus outside the New Testament is significant. Based on this, the best place to look for evidence of Jesus that is independent of the Bible is in ancient Roman and Jewish literature.
About 80 years after Christ’s death, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote (“Annals”, 15, 44, AD 115-117): “They (Christians) got their name from Christ, who was executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. That checked the pernicious superstition (Christianity) for a short time, but it broke out afresh not only in Judea, where the plague first arose, but in Rome itself, where all horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home”.
The Annals is a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero (AD 14–68). The context of this passage is the 6-day fire that burned much of Rome in July AD 64. It indicates the manner and time period of Christ’s death. Emperor Nero (AD 37-68) accused the Christians of starting the fire and he persecuted them.
Josephus is the best known Jewish historian. He was born in Jerusalem and went to Rome in AD 71 where he wrote his histories under Roman patronage. Jesus Christ is mentioned twice in his “Antiquities of the Jews” (a history of Israel from Genesis to the first century AD) published around AD 93 (about 60 years after the death of Jesus).
A passage in Book 18, 63-64 of the “Antiquities of the Jews” says:
“Now, there was about this time (a source of further trouble) Jesus, for he was a doer of surprising works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure (men who welcome strange things). He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him (cease to cause trouble). And the tribe of Christians, so named for him are not extinct to this day”.
The context of this passage is the political disturbances that the Roman rulers dealt with during this period.
A passage in Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the “Antiquities of the Jews” says,
“he (Ananus the high priest) assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned”.
This event is dated at AD 62. The Bible also says that James was the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19). This passage assumes you already know about Jesus, which is true because Josephus has already mentioned him two books earlier.
Summary of Roman and Jewish literature
These two non-Christian historians are independent historical sources, one Roman and one Jewish. What do they say about Jesus?
– He was a Jewish man named Jesus and Christ (in Greek) who lived in Judea.
– He had a brother named James.
– He had a reputation for doing unusual works (possibly miracles)
– He won over both Jews and Greeks (but most of this happened after His death).
– He was sentenced by Pilate to be executed by crucifixion during Tiberius’s reign. The Jewish leadership pressured Pilate to condemn Jesus in this way.
– Christianity and Christians came out of Christ’s ministry.
– Both Jewish and Roman leaders were hostile towards Jesus and Christians.
So, hostile Jewish and Roman witnesses show that Jesus is a historical figure, and not a myth. This means that the first skeptical view that Jesus never existed is debunked. It is a myth itself!
In 2013 Time magazine had an article on “the 100 most significant figures in history”. They ranked them like Google ranks web pages. They said that historically significant people leave evidence of their presence behind. The top rank went to Jesus, followed by Napoleon, Muhammad, William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln. So Jesus left an impact in our world. One indication of this is that the years in our calendar are dated from when He was born. Mythical figures don’t leave such an impact. Another indication is the growth of the church despite persecution.
We will now evaluate the second skeptical view that doesn’t believe Jesus did miracles.
Historical evidence for Jesus’ miracles
Now we’ve established that Jesus existed, the question is “did He do miracles?”. Is the only evidence of these in the New Testament that was written by Christians? No! The Christian message was offensive to both the Jews and the Romans. They attacked Christianity by saying that Jesus was a real wonder-worker who made blasphemous claims to divine authority.
Jesus was regarded by the Jews of His day as a person who possessed supernatural powers. According to Justin Martyr, they said that Christ’s miracles “was a display of magic art, for they (Jews) even dared to say that he (Jesus) was a magician and a deceiver of the people” (Justin Martyr, AD 160). They executed Him for sorcery and said His power to do miracles was Satanic.
According to Celsus, an anti-Christian Greek Philosopher, “Jesus performed His miracles by sorcery” (“The true word”, about AD 180). And, “because (Jesus) was poor he hired himself out as a workman in Egypt, and there tried his hand at certain magical powers on which the Egyptians pride themselves; he returned full of conceit because of those powers, and on account of them gave himself the title of God…”.
“These were the actions of one hated by God and a wicked sorcerer…”
Celsus treated Jesus as a person who was a dangerous con-artist like a conjuror or illusionist. He considered Jesus to be a magician who made exorbitant claims.
So both hostile Jews and Greeks acknowledged that Jesus had miraculous powers. And they said that these were magical, Satanic and deceptive.
Were the gospels fabricated?
Some skeptics claim that the gospels were fabricated after Christ’s death and aren’t reliable accounts of what actually happened. But you wouldn’t expect the following in the gospels if they were fabricated:
– Mathew was written by a tax collector and Jews hated these.
– A key event, the resurrection of Christ, was revealed first to women who had low status in society at that time. A woman’s testimony was not accepted in court during those days.
– No Jew would invent a story of a crucified Messiah, and Christians wouldn’t invent such a horrific ending for their leader.
– There are multiple accounts of the life of Jesus in the gospels with variations between them.
– The embarrassing parts would probably have been deleted: Jesus’ baptism by John (Mk. 1:4-11), His family believing He was out of His mind (Mk. 3:21), His ignorance of the time of His own return (Mk. 13:32), His not doing miracles in some places (Mt. 13:58), and Jesus calling Peter Satan (Mt. 16:23).
– Why would two of the leaders in the early church reject Jesus when He was on earth? His brother James was a skeptic (Mk. 3:21; 6:2-4; Jn. 7:5) and Paul persecuted Christians (Acts 7:58, 60).
– Why would the apostles invent so many miracle stories, when most Jews expected a political deliverer as Messiah, not a wonder-worker?
– Why would the writers say that some people doubted that Jesus rose from the dead (Mt. 28:17; Mk. 16:11-13; Lk. 24:11, 38; Jn. 20:24-27)?
– Why would the apostles invent a religion that caused them painful humiliating deaths?
The New Testament was written by the apostles and their associates. The apostles were eyewitnesses to the events they described and the associates would have obtained information from eyewitnesses. Scholars think that the “memory gap” between the events described in the gospels and their documentation is about 30-55 years. There are variations between the gospels. This is because there are multiple witnesses and multiple writers. And like in real life, there are variations between the accounts (each records different aspects and details) but they have the same core message and they are consistent with each other. It’s a bit like children recalling events from their childhood for a parent’s eulogy.
Let’s look at the “copy gap” (between the original document and the oldest manuscript available today) for some historical documents. For the works of Josephus in their original language of Greek, the copy gap was about 800 years and for the Annals of Tacitus it was about 1,000 years. On the other hand, for the New Testament, the copy gap was about 300 years – Codex Vaticanus was copied in AD 300-325 and Codex Sinaiticus in AD 330-360. So the gap is significantly shorter for the New Testament. A longer gap means more copies of copies, which means more potential for copy errors to appear in the text. So the version of the New Testament we have today should be a more accurate copy of the original than is the case for these other Roman and Jewish historical documents. In this way, the evidence for the existence of Jesus is stronger than that for most other people of the ancient world.
Do we have an open mind?
I’ve presented some evidence, but whether you believe it depends whether you have an open mind or not. Our presuppositions can override the evidence in order to inevitably conclude what was presupposed from the start. That’s circular reasoning! In such cases our assumptions and beliefs largely determine our findings and interpretation of these. If we have already made up our minds, no evidence will change them.
Let’s look at some people who investigated Jesus with an open mind.
CS Lewis was Irish and became an atheist in his early teenage years. He graduated from Oxford University with triple First Class Honors in Classics, Philosophy and English. And he wrote many books. His mother died when he was 10 years old, he had been unhappy at school, and he experienced trench warfare during the First World War. But after spending some years with Christian colleagues at Oxford University, at 30 years of age he became a Christian. He realized that atheists don’t have an open mind because they deny the supernatural and therefore the existence of God. They don’t even consider this possibility. But if God exists, then surely the Creator can intervene in His creation. He can alter the natural environment, reverse the progression of disease, or conquer death in ways we consider to be miraculous. He has written many books defending Christianity, including “Mere Christianity”.
Lee Strobel trained at Yale Law School and was an avowed atheist. He was a legal journalist for 14 years. After his wife’s conversion, he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ. After a nearly two-year investigation, he became a Christian at the age of 29 years. He has written many books defending Christianity, including “The case for Christ”.
Jennifer Fulwiler was an atheist blogger. But she came to realize her mind was closed to ideas that didn’t fit into her atheist worldview. At the birth of her first child the only way her atheist mind could explain the love that she had for him was to assume it was the result of nothing more than chemical reactions in her brain. Then she realized that’s not true! She found that the Christian worldview had the best rational explanation for the world in which we live. She writes a blog called “Conversion Diary”.
Warner Wallace was a homicide detective. He was an atheist, but reading the gospels changed his life. After he saw that they were accurate eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, he became a Christian. He stresses that as detectives need to be open minded by avoiding presuppositions, so should we. And the highest standard for prosecution is “beyond a reasonable doubt”, not “beyond every possible doubt”. This is because they are dealing with history, not observational science or mathematics. Wallace writes a blog called “Cold case Christianity”.
This evidence from an author, a journalist, a blogger and a detective shows that when people investigate Jesus with an open mind, they are convinced that He did the things described in the Bible.
Lessons for us
We have seen that Jesus is a historical person and not an imaginary figure. The evidence is overwhelming. And that He wasn’t an ordinary person. He did miracles and founded Christianity that has spread across the world. Also, the gospels are based on eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus and not something fabricated by early Christians. And people with an open mind will agree with this finding.
Do you have an open mind about Jesus? Have you read about Him in the gospels? Do you think He is a great moral teacher, but don’t accept his claim to be God? In that case, Jesus would be a liar. Why would a person willingly die under an accusation they knew wasn’t true? Or do you think He was deluded? That He had a mental illness? Then why would the apostles give up their lives for such a person? The only other option is that He was the person who He claimed to be and who He demonstrated to be by His miracles, the divine Son of God.
And if Jesus existed and did the things that history says He did and He’s alive today as the Son of God, then what must change in our lives today?
Why did Jesus come?
Jesus coming to earth is a bit like us becoming an ant in order to talk to the ants. Or us becoming an amoeba or bacteria to communicate with them. It’s amazing! It’s even more amazing because Jesus made and sustains the world He entered! The Creator and Sustainer became a creature at the same time.
Jesus came to earth so we can have spiritual life. A life connected with God now. A life that is connected with God forever. That’s called eternal life. He did it to solve the problem of our rebellion against God. Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Noah’s generation rebelled against God. The people of Babel rebelled against God. The Israelites rebelled against God. The Jews and Romans killed the Son of God. And we ignore God. He’s not in our calendar! The Bible says that we all rebel against God and that’s what separates us from Him (Rom. 3:23). We’re all guilty of wrong attitudes and wrong behavior. How do we know what’s right and what’s wrong? The Bible gives examples and our conscience can guide us (Rom. 2:15). The consequence of our guilt is to be separated from God.
Jesus solved the problem of our rebellion against God by taking our punishment when He was executed by crucifixion. He substituted for us. No one else could have done this because everyone else is a rebel and is separated from God themselves. Only Jesus could do this because He is the Son of God who is always in contact with God the Father.
Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am” (Mt. 16:15-16NLT). Peter answered, “You are the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of the living God”. Can you say that as well? If we recognize that we can’t get right with God ourselves because of our rebellion, and that as the Son of God, Jesus has done all that is needed for us to get right with God, then the Bible says that the barrier between us and God comes down and we are no longer separated from Him. We come near to God. We become spiritually alive. If you want to get right with God, pray to Him about it and speak about it to a Christian today.
Jesus described eternal life as follows: “as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man (Jesus) must be lifted up (be crucified), so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:14-17NLT).
Here we see that Jesus was on a rescue mission. Just as the Israelites could be healed of snakebite by looking at the bronze snake on a pole, which changed their status from dying to being alive, our separation from God can be removed by accepting Christ’s sacrifice for us. We become spiritually alive and our destiny changes from hell to heaven.
Jesus also said, “I have come that they may have (eternal) life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). Jesus came so we can have spiritual life. And following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one. “Life, be in it!” was a program to encourage us to be more physically active. But Jesus says, “Eternal life, be in it!”. Let’s get spiritually active.
Jesus as Lord
But what if you already follow Jesus? This evidence about Jesus and the Bible supports our faith. We are Christians because of historical events, not because of mythical stories.
Peter told Cornelius that Jesus Christ “is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). “Lord” means a person who has authority over others; a master, boss, chief, or ruler. But most people act like Jesus was a liar or a mental case. They live as though Jesus never came to earth. But if we have trusted Him to bring us close to God, the Bible says that we are to live as though He is Lord of our lives (Rom. 10:9). That means giving Him priority. How can we do that? By obeying God’s commands and principles in the New Testament. A disciple follows their leader.
Paul is also a good example to follow (1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17). He said “You should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Is what we say and what we do consistent with what Paul said and did? Here’s one example from Paul, “dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2). Do we give our bodies to God? Does He influence our calendar? Do we copy the behavior and customs of this world? Or, do we let God transform our lives? Do we let Him change the way we think? Are we different from those that don’t follow Jesus? Is it evident that we are spiritually alive?
We have seen that because Jesus lived on earth almost 2,000 years ago, and did miracles to prove His divinity, and paid the price so we can be reconciled with God, if we turn to follow Him, He turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful spiritual life.
Eternal life, be in it!
Written, February 2017
Also see: Extra-biblical evidence of Jesus
Jesus is better than Santa
Both Jesus Christ and Santa Claus feature in many Christmas celebrations. Everyone likes Santa because he is jolly man who brings gifts to children around the world. But why is Jesus better than Santa?
Fact or myth?
Four separate eyewitness biographies are given of Jesus in the Bible by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Three of these were written about 30 years after most of the events they describe. And the first-century Jewish historian Josephus called James “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ”. These historical records confirm that Jesus was a man who lived in Israel between about 5 BC and AD 30. He was an historical character and not a mythical figure.
Santa Claus is based on Saint Nicholas, a fourth century Christian bishop, who was known for his generosity and kindness. Saint Nicholas lived in Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). There are many legends about him, but we don’t know if any of them are true! He is said to have used his inheritance to help the poor and sick, giving secret gifts to people who needed them. In particular there are stories about helping three poor sisters and saving three men from death. Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a saint and he was a popular saint in Europe until the Reformation in the 1550s. After this time, the Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of St Nicholas on 6th December when children put out their shoes the night before and the next morning they would discover gifts left by St Nicholas. In the 19th century this story was transformed to Santa Claus leaving gifts at Christmas time. He was now described as a jolly, heavy man wearing a red suit with white fur trim who comes down the chimney to leave presents for deserving children and drives a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Santa is only a mythical figure.
So, Jesus Christ is an historical character while Santa Claus is only a legendary character.
The best gift
In the song “Santa Claus is coming to town”, Santa makes a list of those who are naughty and bad (who miss out on presents) and a list of those who are nice and good (who get presents). So Santa only comes for good people. He asks, “Have you been good?”.
On the other hand, Jesus came for sinners, and not for those who thought they were good – He said “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Mt. 9:13; Mk. 2:17; Lk. 5:32NLT). After the conversion of Zacchaeus, a well know sinner, Jesus said that He “came to seek and to save those who are lost” (Lk. 19:10). As the Bible says we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23), this means He came for everyone!
Recently when cleaning out a family home that had been occupied for three generations, we found some things that had been Christmas presents. However, as many of these were no longer useful or significant, they were thrown out as rubbish. Christmas presents eventually finish up in the garbage (trash) dump. Santa’s gifts only have a finite lifetime.
By comparison, Jesus offered the gift of forgiveness and of eternal life, which goes on forever! He asks, “Do you want to be forgiven?”. Also, the gift was Himself, not something that had been made by a person or a machine. Jesus is the best gift! He is God’s greatest gift. Paul called it “indescribable” (2 Cor. 9:15). “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Let’s remember this as we give gifts to each other this Christmas.
Jesus gave the best gift – it lasts longer and is for everyone.
Written, December 2014
Fact or fiction?
According to a recent Australian government inquiry, the story of Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli in Turkey in World War 1 is largely a myth. It was found that the accounts of Simpson’s exceptional bravery were based on false or faulty evidence and fraudulent witnesses. Also, a war correspondent embellished his account of Simpson and his donkey and this was repeated until Simpson became a hero and a legend. So the heroism of Simpson and his donkey is more myth than reality and more fiction than fact. It was found that his deeds were no more exceptional than those of hundreds of other stretcher bearers working at Gallipoli at the time.
The battle of Gallipoli was a disastrous defeat for the Allies which claimed the lives of about 8,700 young Australian men. It was in the context of this bad news that the good news story of Simpson and his donkey was created.
The demise of this hero shows the importance of reliable historical records and eyewitness accounts. When the historical records were examined the facts were established and the story was found to be unreliable. This can also be the case in movies where historical accounts can be embellished until they are more myth than reality and more fiction than fact.
If this can happen for an event that occurred about 100 years ago, what about an event that occurred about 2,000 years ago! What about the story of Jesus Christ in the Bible? Fortunately, the Bible is not a myth – see my post: “How many witnesses does it take to bust a myth”. It is based on multiple eye-witnesses and contains multiple accounts of Christ’s life and His resurrection.
The writers of the Bible were usually eyewitnesses of the events they documented. On the other hand, the legend of Simpson and his donkey was not written by eyewitnesses. That’s one reason why an ancient account can be more accurate than a modern one.
So the Bible is a reliable and robust historical account of events in ancient times.
Written, March 2013
How many witnesses does it take to bust a myth?
The Bible is Not a Myth
MythBusters is a TV show on the Discovery Channel that sorts out myths and facts in an entertaining way. Did you know that the Bible is written in a way to show that it is not a myth?
The Bible teaches that the truth of a matter should be established on the testimony of at least two or three eye-witnesses (Dt. 17:6; 19:15; Mt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Ti. 5:19; Heb. 10:28). This is also the case in law courts.
Paul emphasised that the resurrection was a proven fact and not a myth because afterwards Christ “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep (died). Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also” (1 Cor. 15:6-8NIV). There were many more than two or three eye-witnesses! As most of these were still alive, they could be questioned by anyone who doubted Paul’s account.
The life of Christ
The most comprehensive record of the life of Christ is given in the books of the Bible written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are obviously four accounts of the same events, which satisfy the requirement of at least two or three witnesses. Who were these authors?
Matthew and John were two of the twelve disciples who accompanied Christ during His public ministry (Mt. 4: 21-22; 9:9; 10:2-4; Mk. 1:19-20; 2:14; Lk. 5:10-11; 27-28). They were there and saw the events they recorded. They were part of the twelve apostles who were Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8). When Judas was replaced by Matthias, Peter said that an apostle was a man who had “been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us”, who was “a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).
As a tax collector, Mathew was skilled in writing and keeping records. John’s testimony is reliable: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (Jn. 21:24). John was one of the three apostles that were closest to Jesus, the others were Peter and James (Mt. 17:1; Mk. 14:33). Also, he may have been a cousin of Jesus (Mt. 27:56; Mk. 15:40).
Mark lived in Jerusalem during Christ’s public ministry and was a cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10). Mark may have been at the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested as he wrote; “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind” (Mk. 14:51-52).
Tradition says that Mark was Peter’s interpreter and wrote down Peter’s account of the life of Jesus. This is supported by the fact that he was with Peter when 1 Peter was written (1 Pt. 5:13). Also, when Peter escaped from prison, he went to Mark’s mother’s house (Acts 12:12-17).
Luke was a historian. His record begins: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Lk. 1:1-5). He interviewed eye-witnesses of the life of Christ, including Mary as he gives the best account of Christ’s early years.
Luke was a Gentile medical doctor who travelled with Paul and was one of his fellow workers (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24). He was well educated and had an outstanding command of the Greek language. He also wrote the book of Acts and witnessed many of the events recorded in Acts.
Confirmed and busted
As documented history always trumps science with regard to past events, we don’t need the MythBusters to test the truth of the Bible. Instead, because of multiple eye-witnesses the resurrection of Christ and the Biblical account of the life of Christ are confirmed to be proven facts and not myths. So the viewpoint that the Bible is myth is busted!
Postscript – The rest of the New Testament
The other New Testament writers were also eye-witnesses of the events they documented.
Peter was a disciple and apostle like Matthew and John. He was present during the public ministry of Christ and the life of the early church. He witnessed everything that Jesus did, including His death and resurrection (Acts 10:39-41; 1 Pt. 5:1). Silas may have helped Peter write his first letter (1 Pt. 5:12).
James and Jude were half-brothers of Jesus: they had the same mother, but different fathers (Mt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3). Although they didn’t follow Jesus at the time, they grew up with Him and were aware of His public ministry. The Lord appeared to James after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). James and Jude became believers after the resurrection and were part of the life of the early church (Jn. 7:5; Acts 1:14; Gal. 1:19).
Paul was different to the other apostles as he became an apostle by special revelation. Instead of living with Christ during His three years of public ministry, Paul saw the Lord in a vision (1 Cor. 9:1; Gal. 1:16). He wrote that in this sense he was inferior to the others, like a premature birth compared to a normal one (1 Cor. 15:8). Nevertheless, he was to be a witness who told others about what he had seen (Acts 22:15; 26:16).
Paul was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:4-5). As he studied under Gamaliel at Jerusalem, he was well educated (Acts 22:3; Gal. 1:14). Paul established churches in Asia Minor and Europe and was part of the life of the early church.
Written, September 2012