I have received a comment that challenges my understanding that the flood described in Genesis 6-9 of the Bible was a global event. The reasons given for the comment include:
– The biblical passages quoted don’t support it in any way.
– Many people who believe Noah was a real person, also believe the flood was local.
– Scholars devote their lives to their studies, and while we don’t always have to agree with what they say, we also don’t have to completely disregard them, either.
They conclude that I’m making a huge assumption to believe that the flood was global rather than local.
My understanding with regard to this topic is based on the biblical text and my concerns about the common interpretation of sedimentary rock layers. I will begin with the Bible as it is the primary historical record of the flood.
What did Moses believe?
Moses complied the book of Genesis, so he knew more about the flood than any other biblical author. This is how he described the floodwaters: “They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 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” (Gen. 7:19-23NIV). Note that the flood account is written from God’s perspective, not Noah’s. This seems to be more like a global flood than a local flood. And the purpose of the flood was to destroy sinful humanity (Gen. 6:5-8), which wouldn’t be achieved by a local flood.
Moses recorded the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood as follows.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 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. 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.”
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: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 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. 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.”
So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth” (Gen. 9:8-17).
The format of this covenant follows that of a Royal Grant in the ancient near east where a king grants land (or some other benefit) to a loyal servant for faithful or exceptional service. The grant was normally perpetual or unconditional, but the servant’s heirs benefited from it only as they continued their father’s loyalty and service (NIV Study Bible).
This covenant was made with Noah, and his descendants and “every living creature on earth” (Gen. 9:9-10). It was an “everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (Gen. 9:16). The covenant sign was the rainbow in the sky (Gen. 9:13, 17).
The promise was, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth … Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Gen. 9:11, 15). It was an unconditional divine promise to never again destroy all earthy life with a flood. This is what Moses believed. With regard to the destruction of life, the flood was a unique event. But a local flood can’t be unique in terms of the destruction of life. Therefore, Moses didn’t believe that it was a local flood. Clearly Moses believed that it was a unique global catastrophe. There have been no more global destructive floods, but there have been many local destructive floods. And Noah was on the ark for over 380 days (Gen. 7:10-11; 8:14); which is much too long for a local flood! And on the ark “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” (Gen. 7:14). This wouldn’t be necessary for a local flood.
Psalm 104 was written about 400 years after the time of Moses. See the Appendix A for comments on Psalm 104:9, which has been used to support the idea of a local flood.
What did Isaiah believe?
In the context of Israel’s captivity and restoration, Isaiah wrote, “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 [Israel], never to rebuke you again” (Isa. 54:9). Here Israel’s captivity and exile is likened to the flood. Both are God’s judgment on rebellion and sin. Isaiah believed “that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth”. But a local flood can’t be unique in terms of water covering the earth. Therefore, Isaiah didn’t believe that it was a local flood. Clearly Isaiah believed that it was a unique global catastrophe. There have been no more global floods covering the earth, but there have been many local floods covering the earth.
What did Jesus believe?
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). The flood came suddenly and Jesus will return suddenly to establish His kingdom. In both instances God’s judgment comes suddenly. No one outside the ark escaped the flood. It was inescapable. Likewise, no unbelievers will escape God’s coming judgment.
These passages don’t say specifically whether the flood was local or global. But the fact that it was inescapable suggests that it was more than a local flood. So, what did Jesus think? Jesus knew the Old Testament very well and taught from it in the synagogue. For example, He taught from Genesis (Mt. 10:15; 11:23-24; 19:4-5; 22:31-32; 23:35; Mk. 10:6-8; Lk. 17:26-27) and from Isaiah (Mt. 13:14-15; 15:7-9; Mk 7:6-7; Lk. 4:16-19). Jesus would have understood the Old Testament in the same way that the original authors understood it. His understanding would have been consistent with that of Moses and Isaiah. Therefore, Jesus didn’t believe that it was a local flood.
Furthermore, a global flood illustrates the extent of God’s judgement better than a local flood. Even though a local flood is sudden, people and creatures can escape a local flood. But this is not the case for a global flood.
What did Peter believe?
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). And 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). The fact that only a few people were saved from the destructive flood, illustrates that it isn’t surprising when only few people respond to the offer of salvation from God’s judgment through Jesus Christ.
These passages don’t say whether the flood was local or global. So, what did Peter think? Peter was with Jesus during His earthly ministry. He was an apostle who brought the good news to Jews and Gentiles and established the early church. He would have believed what Jesus believed. Because Jesus didn’t believe that it was a local flood (see above), Peter didn’t believe that it was a local flood. The main difference between the teaching of Jesus and Peter is that Jesus taught under the old covenant (of Moses) and Peter taught under the new covenant. But this difference is irrelevant as to whether the flood was local or global.
Furthermore, a global flood illustrates the extent of God’s judgement better than a local flood. Even though a local flood is sudden, people and creatures can escape a local flood. But this is not the case for a global flood.
What did the prophets and apostles believe?
The Old Testament was written by the Hebrew prophets and their associates. Moses and Isaiah were prominent Old Testament prophets. We have shown that both Moses and Isaiah didn’t believe that it was a local flood. The other Hebrew prophets would have believed the same as they believed and taught the same law of Moses. This means that they believed that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood.
The New Testament was written by the Jewish apostles and their associates. Peter was a prominent apostle. We have shown that Peter didn’t believe that it was a local flood. The other apostles would have believed the same as they believed and taught the new covenant which was instituted by Jesus and revealed to Peter and Paul. This means that they believed that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood.
Therefore, the writers of the Bible believed that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood. And all Bible translations understand the account of the flood in universal terms. We find none of them substituting the word land for earth or using any other terms that would imply a limited scope for the flood. So, written history shows that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood. And written history is the most reliable record of ancient history.
What do sedimentary rock layers show?
The sedimentary rock layers show whatever we want them to show. Our interpretation of these layers is based on our presuppositions. If we believe the theory of biological evolution we will use the geologic time scale which assumes that evolution occurs gradually over a long period of time, and we will say that the layers indicate erosion, sedimentation and deposition over a long period of time.
But if we realize that creatures and plants aren’t being fossilized today, we will wonder, “When were the vast sedimentary rock layers deposited on the earth?”. “When were lots of plants and animals buried to produce fossil fuels”? “When were lots of creatures buried to produce fossils”? If we believe the recorded history of the Bible, we will realize that Noah’s flood caused the death of “every living thing that moved on the earth”, except those on the ark. And a flood of such a magnitude and duration could have caused massive erosion, sedimentation and deposition. In this case, the vast layers of sedimentary rock probably indicate erosion, sedimentation and deposition over a relatively short period of time, mainly during Noah’s flood and its aftermath.
So although the Bible does not say if sedimentary rocks were deposited by Noah’s flood and eroded by the runoff as the waters subsided, this is the most likely event/catastrophe in recorded history to have caused a majority of the sedimentary stratification and the geomorphology of the earth.
My concerns with regard to geologic time
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a number of geologists began to argue that the thick sedimentary rock layers on the earth were not formed quickly during a global flood, but slowly over long ages. As a result of this shift in interpretation, a number of people began to re-interpret biblical verses referring to the flood as a local flood, rather than a global inundation.
Unfortunately, the geologic time scale used today by many geologists and paleontologists is based on assumptions that make it unreliable. These are the presupposition of uniformity and biological evolution.
It is assumed that “the present is the key to the past”. But this is incorrect with respect to the extent and rate of formation of sedimentary rock layers.
Extent: Sedimentary rock layers cover vast areas of the continents. But today deposition is only occurring in restricted areas like river deltas, lake beds and along narrow strips of coastline. This is different to the pattern of sedimentation in the past. So in this context, the present is not the key to the past.
Rate of formation: Rapid burial is necessary to produce fossils and polystrate fossils (where tree trunk fossils cut across many sedimentary rock layers) and to preserve animal tracks, ripple marks, and raindrop marks in sedimentary rock layers. But today deposition is slow and gradual. This is different to the pattern of sedimentation in the past. So in this context, the present is not the key to the past.
Sedimentary rock layers are generally parallel, with no evidence of long periods of time between adjacent layers. For example, there is no evidence of erosion between these sedimentary rock strata at Umina Point, NSW Australia. It looks like the layers were laid down in rapid succession or simultaneously and not sequentially with millions of years between each deposit and the next. Such lack of erosion within and between sedimentary strata is a feature of sedimentary rocks all over the earth.
Furthermore, the presupposition of uniformity is a huge extrapolation from the present to the past which can’t be verified. It’s poor science (see Appendix B).
Sedimentary rock layers are usually characterized by the fossils they contain and are dated according to the presumed dates when these fossils were living. These dates are speculative, as there is no way they can be calibrated (no one was there to make a historical record).
When radiometric dating methods are used to date geological strata, the only dates accepted are those consistent with the assumed evolutionary dating. In practice, the radiometric dates are very unreliable as the initial conditions and boundary conditions since the assumed date are unknown.
Sin affects all creation
Paul personifies creation when he describes Christ returning to rule over the world, “I consider that our [Christians] present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed [when Christ returns]. For the creation was subjected to frustration [at the fall into sin], not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies [at the rapture]” (Rom. 8:19-23).
When Adam and Eve sinned it impacted the whole earth – the ground was cursed (Gen. 3:17-19). Creatures can experience disease and violent death. All creation was subjected to futility, frustration, disorder and decay. The whole creation is now suffering like a woman in childbirth. Meanwhile creation looks forward to being restored to the idyllic conditions that existed before the fall into sin.
Because humanity’s sin affects all creation we see that God’s judgment of sin affects all creation as well. There are three examples of this in the Bible:
– At the flood – “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed” (2 Pt. 3:6).
– In the tribulation between the rapture and Christ’s reign – where natural disasters are part of God’s judgment (Rev. 6:5-6; 8:7-12; 16:4, 8-12; 17-21).
– Destruction of the earth by fire (maybe a global nuclear holocaust) at the end of Christ’s Millennial reign (2 Pt. 3:7, 10).
This explains why the flood affected the natural world as well as humanity, and is consistent with the flood being global rather than local. But Sodom and Gomorrah are an example of a local judgement of sin (Appendix C).
After the flood Noah’s family repopulated the world like Adam and Eve did in the beginning. Adam and Eve were told: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground … I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food” (Gen. 1:28-29).
Similarly, Noah was told: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 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. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Gen. 9:1-3).
An assessment of some of the written history of Noah’s flood shows that there is more evidence for a global flood than for a local flood. Because of its global extent, Noah’s flood and its aftermath probably caused a majority of the sedimentary stratification and the geomorphology of the earth.
Because it relies on the ideas of uniformity and biological evolution, the geologic time scale is unreliable. Likewise radiometric dating of rock layers is unreliable because of the huge assumptions involved.
Appendix A: What about Psalm 104:9?
This verse has been used to say that the flood was local and not global. The passage says,
“5He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
6 You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
8 they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
9 You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.” (Ps. 104:5-9).
This psalm is a poem/song to God as the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He is praising God’s greatness in nature, and in the general laws under which he has placed it. It addresses: the heavens (v.2-4), the earth (v.5-9), plants and animals (v. 10-18), cycles (v.19-23), marine life (v.25-26), God’s providence (v.27-28), birth and death (v. 29-30).
Does v.9 refer to creation (Gen. 1:2) or to the floodwaters of Noah’s time (Gen. 9:11-15)?
Those who believe that the context is the original separation of land and water during creation (Job 38:10-11; Prov. 8:29) may say that this means the flood was local and not global. Or they may think that because humanity crossed the boundaries of human behavior, then God crossed His boundary in Noah’s flood but re-established it in the covenant promise with Noah. God command the waters to cover the earth in Noah’s flood, but afterwards He promised not to drown the world again. Some think there is no need to make this exception; since this was written after the flood, and when God had sworn that the waters should no more go over the earth (Isa. 54:9).
But v.6-9 could be a poetic description of the flood, in which case it is consistent with a global flood.
How can we resolve these two views?
Some principles of biblical hermeneutics (interpretation) are that:
– “Scripture interprets Scripture”, which means that we should read any passage of the Bible in light of the entire Bible and not build a doctrine or position on a single proof text. Also,
– Obscure passages of Scripture must be interpreted in light of clear passages as God is the author behind all Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pt. 1:20-21; Jn. 10:35-36). If something is unclear in one part of Scripture, it probably is made clear elsewhere in Scripture. When we have two passages in Scripture that we can interpret in various ways, we want to interpret the Bible in such a way as to not violate the basic principle of Scripture’s unity and integrity. We use clear statements to help understand ambiguous ones.
As there are many Bible passages that are consistent with a global flood (see the main text of this post), we mustn’t use this single verse to say that it supports a local flood.
Appendix B: Water above the Himalayas?
Some criticize the idea of a global flood by saying that there’s not enough water to cover the Himalayan mountains. That’s true because Mt Everest is 8,848m (29,030 ft) above sea level. But the flood didn’t have to cover the present Earth. The Bible says that “the world of that time [pre-flood] was deluged and destroyed” (2 Pt. 3:6). No one knows the height of the mountains or the depth of the ocean valleys in Noah’s day. Thus, one cannot know how much water was on the earth during the Noahic flood.
But if the earth’s surface was completely flat, with no high mountains and no deep ocean basins, then the water in the oceans would cover the earth to a depth of about 2,500 m (8,200 ft). Afterall, about 70% of the earth’s surface is water.
During the flood the pre-flood topography was eroded and deposited in sedimentary strata beneath water. Later some of these strata were uplifted and some subsided – the mountains rose, and the valleys sank down (Ps. 104:8). Those that were uplifted formed continents and mountain ranges, while those that subsided formed deep ocean basins and troughs. This is illustrated by the fact that the uppermost parts of mountains ranges, including Mount Everest, are composed of fossil-bearing, water-deposited layers.
So Noah’s flood didn’t cover the Himalayas, but it caused them to be formed and uplifted! Where did all the water go? Most of the waters of Noah’s Flood are probably in today’s ocean basins.
This illustrates the misunderstandings that result from the idea of uniformity. The present is not the key to the past. Instead, understanding what happened in the past helps to explain the present. So the past is key to the present!
Appendix C: What about Sodom and Gomorrah?
About 530 years after the flood, God destroyed the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim because of their wickedness (Gen. 19:12-29; Dt. 29:23). “The people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). It was a local catastrophe that was restricted to the plains near Sodom and Gomorrah, “Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land” (Gen. 19:24-25). “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (Gen. 19:27-28). The NIV Study Bible suggests that perhaps a violent earthquake spewed up burning asphalt.
The vegetation in this area has never recovered. What was once good grazing land that attracted Lot to this wicked city is now bare or submerged under shallow water.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an example of God’s judgment of sin (2 Pt. 2: 6-7; Jude 1:7). He judged the ungodly and rescued the righteous. In this case it was regional and not global in extent.
Written, January 2019
Also see: Noah: 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
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?
After some Australian motorists drowned when their cars were swept away by floodwaters in June 2016, university researchers investigated how much force it takes to wash cars away from the road. A 1 tonne vehicle was moved by water 15 centimeters deep flowing at 3.6 km/hr. It was carried away in 60 centimeters of water. A 2.5 tonne vehicle was moved by 45 centimeters of water and began floating in 95 centimeters of water. The cars were moved so easily partly because even shallow water can be deceptively strong, and partly because modern cars are so air-tight that instead of taking on water they get pushed along by it. Even slow-moving water is powerful because water is heavy: each cubic metre weighs 1 tonne. They concluded that vehicles became vulnerable to moving floodwaters once the depth reached the floor of the vehicle. This is consistent with Queensland advice that “Water deeper than the bottom of your car door is enough to float your vehicle away, or splash the engine and cause it to stall”.
If a shallow river can be so powerful, a global flood would be an enormous catastrophic disaster. If this happened about 4,350 years ago, surely there would be some evidence of it still visible today. This blogpost is a summary of eight main points that were made by Dr Tasman Walker in a presentation on “Evidence of Noah’s flood in Australia”.
What would we expect to find on earth if there was a global flood as described in Genesis chapters 6-8 in the Bible?
Fractures in the earth’s crust
The two main sources of the water for the flood are described as “all the underground waters erupted from the earth, and the rain fell in mighty torrents from the sky” (Gen. 7:11-12NLT). Subterranean water burst from beneath the earth and there was torrential rain for 40 days. The flood waters rose to cover the highest mountains of the pre-flood world by 8 meters (Gen. 7:17-20). By the way, Mt Everest didn’t exist before the flood because there are sedimentary rocks with marine fossils on its summit.
If underground water was erupting from the earth on a global scale you would expect that the earth’s crust would be fractured. Today major fractures are seen in the earth’s crust around the edges of the continental plates. When these continental tectonic plates move against each other there are earthquakes and volcanic activity. Such geological activity around the Pacific Ocean is called the “ring of fire”.
So we would expect to find fractures in the earth’s crust and we do. These fractures are evidence of Noah’s flood.
Billions of dead things
If a catastrophic flood covered the earth for six months you would expect to find billions of dead things all over the earth. “Everything (except those on the ark) that breathed and lived on dry land died” (Gen. 7:22NLT). Because such a flood would transport huge amounts of sediment across the earth, most of the creatures that drowned would be buried in the sediments. Because such a flood would also transport huge amounts of sediment into the ocean and cause a depletion in oxygen levels, many marine creatures would die and be buried as well.
At Winton in Queensland, there are many well-preserved fossils of dinosaurs and marine creatures. Dinosaur fossils have also been found at Muttaburra (Queensland). These fossil-bearing sediments extend across the Great Artesian Basin into New South Wales, South Australia, and the Northern Territory, while marine fossils are found in other parts of Central Australia.
So we would expect to find billions of dead things (fossils) in sedimentary rocks and we do. These fossils are evidence of Noah’s flood.
Evidence of rapid burial
If a catastrophic flood covered the earth for six months you would expect to find evidence of rapid burial.
At Richmond in Queensland an exceptionally well-preserved marine reptile fossil was discovered in 1990. It’s a plesiosaur that’s over 4 meters long. In order to be preserved so well it must have been buried rapidly. Fossils of land animals are also found in this region, such as the ankylosaur (an armored dinosaur).
So we would expect to find evidence of rapid burial and we do. These fossils of creatures that were buried rapidly are evidence of Noah’s flood.
Sediment covering huge areas
If a catastrophic flood covered the earth for six months you would expect to find evidence of sediment covering huge areas.
Geologists find that layers of sedimentary rocks extend across large areas called sedimentary basins. They can contain coal, oil and gas that’s used as fossil fuels. For example, the Great Artesian Basin and the Sydney Basin. There are also examples in other continents. And there are also offshore sedimentary basins on the continental shelf of countries around the world.
So we would expect to find evidence of sediment covering huge areas and we do. These layers of sedimentary rock across huge areas are evidence of Noah’s flood.
Evidence of raging waters
If a catastrophic flood covered the earth for six months you would expect to find evidence of raging waters. As these flood waters would have been highly energetic, they would have transported material along with the flow.
The Three Sisters rock formation at Katoomba is composed of sandstone, which was laid down by water. This layer extends across the Sydney sedimentary basin. An examination of the sedimentary layers evident in road cuttings shows layers 1-2 meters thick, which indicates that a lot a water was involved in transporting and depositing this sediment. This water must have been continually rising (to enable continual deposition). There are many cross-beds that go at an angle across the strata. They are formed when the sediment layer builds sideways.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the Northern Territory is made of sandstone and the layers have been tipped up so they are almost vertical. These strata are visible as parallel lines on Uluru. This shows that there hasn’t been any significant erosion between the deposition of the strata. So there was rapid deposition – one layer was laid upon the other quite quickly. When we look at a geological cross-section through Uluru it is evident that a lot of sandstone has been eroded from above Uluru. The grains that comprise Uluru are angular, poorly sorted (a large range of particle sizes) and well-preserved (not weathered) which is consistent with rapid deposition.
Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) is a group of large, domed rock formations 25km west of Uluru. They are comprised of large boulders (30-50cm in size). These all face in a similar direction, which is the direction of the water flow that transported them to this site. They indicate highly energetic flood waters.
So we would expect to find evidence of raging waters (which transport and deposit lots of sediment) and we do. These cross-beds, parallel sedimentary strata and boulders are evidence of Noah’s flood.
Evidence of massive erosion
If a catastrophic flood covered the earth for six months you would expect to find evidence of massive erosion. After the flood waters peaked and subsided, they would have flowed off the continents and eroded material away as they flowed back into the ocean.
When you stand at Echo Point overlooking the Three Sisters, you see that Jamison valley is cut into a flat plateau. How did it get so flat? As the floodwaters moved across the continent, they eroded the surface flat. That’s how plateaus formed all around Australia and around the world. Jamison valley is much larger than any valley caused by Kedumba River that flows through it (the same is true for the Grand Canyon in USA). Geomorphologists call these overfit valleys – the valley is too big for the river. How did it get to be such a large valley? The valley was carved by a lot of water and not by the current river. As the floodwaters subsided, when hills became exposed, the water carved out large valleys transporting the sediment out of the area.
This is also evident at Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland at the intersection of the Great Artesian Basin and the Bowen Basin. A large valley has been cut into a sandstone plateau that’s capped by basalt. As material has been eroded away, these sedimentary layers originally covered a much larger area.
As a result of such erosion, rivers can flow through mountain ranges rather than around them. For example, the Heavitree Gap in the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs. How did that happen? Many explanations have been proposed, but none of them work. As the floodwaters subsided, the higher parts of the ridge become exposed and the water flows between the gap between them. As the waters continue to drop, they continue to erode through this gap until when the water has all subsided the gap remains and a river flows through this gap today. It’s called an air gap if it doesn’t go down to the level of the adjacent surface.
So we would expect to find evidence of massive erosion and we do. These large overfit valleys are evidence of Noah’s flood.
Evidence of youthfulness
If a catastrophic flood covered the earth for six months about 4,350 years ago, you would expect to find evidence of youthfulness.
At Kata Tjuta there are a few boulders lying around, but not many. And there is a small apron around it, but not a large one as if it had been eroding for millions of years. And there’s very little debris around the base of Uluru or Kata Tjuta. This indicates that it was eroded recently.
So we would expect to find evidence of youthfulness and we do. The lack of erosional debris is evidence of Noah’s flood.
Worldwide memories of the flood
All of the people of the earth are descendants of the eight people on Noah’s ark. As the global flood occurred about 4,350 years ago, you would expect to find memories of Noah’s flood in the different people groups around the world.
Cultures around the world have flood legends (or stories). For example, the Bundaba Flood Story of the Aboriginals at Broome is given in the appendix. Common features in the stories are that there was a moral cause, people were drowned, there were people saved in a boat, and there was a bird.
So we would expect to find worldwide memories of the flood and we do. These flood stories are evidence of Noah’s flood.
There’s plenty of evidence in Australia of Noah’s flood. Evidence of eight aspects of Noah’s flood show that what we observe is consistent with what the Bible says. This flood is a key to connecting the Bible to the world around us. It explains the sedimentary rocks and the fossils. And it washes away the millions of years that are assumed by evolutionists.
It also helps us understand the world. It makes sense of biblical creation. Death and suffering came after Adam and Eve and not before them because they were a consequence of sin. Whereas according to the idea of evolution, death and suffering over millions of years brought about our existence.
Questions and answers
What is rapid burial?
When animals and fish die today they disintegrate and are recycled. They aren’t fossilized. So, how were the fossils preserved? If they are buried quickly it stops them being scavenged and it affects how bacteria destroys animal’s bodies. So rapid burial is necessary to produce fossils.
What about continental drift?
Like evolutionists, creationists fit the evidence into their world view. There is a creationist model of how the continents were all together before the flood and they broke apart during the flood (catastrophic plate tectonics). The earth’s mantle (beneath the earth’s crust) can suddenly lose its strength under high temperature and high pressure. So the continental movement could have happened very quickly (continental sprint) during Noah’s flood. In the second half of the flood the ocean basins sank and the continents rose: “Mountains rose and valleys sank to the levels you decreed” (Ps. 104:8NLT).
What does “the earth was divided” in the time of Peleg mean (Gen. 10:25)?
This is just before the tower of Babel when God divided the people into different language groups and they dispersed across the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). This is what we believe it means. It couldn’t be the separation of the continents because if it happened a few hundred years after the flood that would be a huge catastrophe and many people would perish and there is no evidence of this in Scripture.
When was Mt Everest formed?
The earth’s crust moved during the flood. The mountain ranges like Mt Everest were elevated towards the end of the flood. The mountians we see today rose up at this time. The shapes of the mountains were carved by the waters of the flood (and any post-flood ice).
Do we know how high the mountains were before the flood?
No. We know there were mountains before the Flood because the Bible speaks of them (Gen. 7:19-20). But we don’t know how high they were. Some creation geologists speculate that they weren’t as high as those today.
What about the ice age?
It happened after the flood. The flood is the only thing that explains the ice age. It was due to warm waters after the flood caused by the addition of hot subterranean water and by heat from volcanic activity. And large amounts of volcanic dust and aerosols in the atmosphere would have reflected solar radiation back into space causing low atmospheric temperatures. Warm oceans evaporate water, which then moves over the land. Cold air over the continents results in this water precipitating as snow. And the snow accumulates forming ice. Because the ice was not fully melted the following summer, the ice built up from year to year. It has been estimated that the ice accumulated for 500 years after the flood and then retreated to where it is today over another 200 years. But evolutionists don’t have an adequate explanation for the ice age.
What about global warming?
Climatic modelers try to include the ice age, but they don’t include Noah’s flood. They think that the earth’s atmosphere is unstable and a little change will tip it over the edge. Whereas the earth’s climate is very stable – after the huge climatic disturbance of the global flood, it took about 700 years to come back to equilibrium.
What about the decrease in longevity?
Before the flood people typically lived over 900 years. After the flood this decreased exponentially towards 100 years (David) and then 70 years. It was probably a genetic change and not an environmental one because after the flood Noah lived 350 years (Gen. 9:28) and Shem lived 500 years.
What about the Behemoth described in Job 40?
We believe it was a brachiosaur (sauropod) dinosaur. The size of its tail is one of the reasons. We believe that dinosaurs and people lived together. They were called dragons and other names because “dinosaur” is a modern name.
Appendix: The Bundaba Flood Story
Long, long ago there was a great flood. It happened because some children found the “winking” owl and plucked out all its feathers. The bird flew without wings, into the heavens and showed himself to Ngowungu, the Great Father. Ngowungu became very angry and decided to drown the people.
Later the people saw a small cloud rising which grew bigger and bigger till it spread all over the sky. The thunder began to roll and crash and the people were greatly afraid. With the rain and thunder was a terrible wind which broke great limbs off trees and rooted up others. During this terrible storm there was a noise above the awful crashes of thunder. This noise was coming from the north. The salt water, the sea, came pouring over the ranges from the north. The flood rose higher and higher till all the land was covered except the tops of two or three mountains.
A bird with a leaf in its mouth flew in front of them showing them the way to Mt. Broome. From further west a man and his wives with a dog were battling their way in a canoe when a bird with a leaf in its mouth flew in front of them showing them the way to Mt. Broome. They eventually reached Mt. Broome and landed there where some other survivors were.
Then Djabalgari, the great left-handed man incised his little finger and let the blood trickle down into the flood waters. The waters began to go down and eventually disappeared off the country. All other people were drowned.
This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr Tas Walker (a geologist with Creation Ministries International) on “Evidence of Noah’s flood in Australia”.
Written, July 2016
Did you know that there is a full-sized replica of Noah’s ark in Dordrecht in The Netherlands? This post was inspired by a visit to this replica.
Many nations all over the world have flood stories. Even tribes that never heard of the Bible. The Biblical story in Genesis chapters 6 to 9 of the Bible is the only realistic flood story. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, for instance we find a brawl between gods and a cubic shaped ark, which is the least stable shape. However, the dimensions of Noah’s ark made it almost impossible to capsize. The ratio of 6:1 for length to width appears to be most stable and seaworthy and is still being used for unmotorised vessels.
When God decided to destroy the earth because of humanity’s corruption and violence, He told Noah to build an ark that was “three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high” (Gen. 6:15NIV). The length of a cubit was based on the distance from the elbow to the fingertips, so it varied between different ancient groups of people. Two types of cubit are mentioned in the Old Testament, with the older one being one handbreadth longer than the newer one (2 Chron. 3:3; Ezek. 40:5; 43:13). According to the NIV Study Bible, the old cubit was 7 handbreadths and the new one was 6 handbreadths.
Because it is not known what cubit Noah used, the replica uses a different definition of the cubit for each dimension! They call these the “three most famous cubit sizes” as follows:
• 45 cm (Hebrew) for the length, making 135 m
• 60 cm (Egyptian) for the width, making 30 m
• 70 cm (18th Century) for the height, making 21 m (but they state 23 m)
This means that the replica has a different shape to the original (being wider and higher for the given length). The original would have been about 140 m long, 25 m wide and 15 m high, which is shaped more like the barges that travel past the replica on the Rhine River.
Noah was told to “make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out” (Gen. 6:14NIV). The Hebrew word translated “rooms” also means “nests”. There were to be rooms within the ark, which were pitched both inside and outside. The ark had a very solid construction. It was partitioned into many compartments, which led to extra strength. These rooms had different functions. Some were used to store food and if the rooms were large enough, they could be used as an animal cage. Furthermore, in the case of damaged compartments, the remaining rooms would maintain the buoyancy of the ark.
It is not known what type of wood was used to construct the ark – many translations call it “gopher wood” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew text. Pinewood seems to be the best option – this was used in the 1599 Geneva Bible and many modern translations render the Hebrew term as “cypress” (NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV). The ark was to be covered with pitch, both inside and outside. Pitch can be made from pinewood and is created by putting pinewood waste under a pile of sand and burning it to produce a think liquid pitch. Because of the large amount of resin present, pinewood is soft and flexible. After several years, the wood and resin become hard and strong. If the ark was made out of pinewood, it would have been very strong and durable. The replica ark was built out of 12,000 Scots pine trees from Scandinavia.
Cain’s descendant Jabal “was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah” (Genesis 4:20-22NIV).
The Bible says that Tubal-Cain was a blacksmith and that there were stringed instruments at that time. The strings of a harp are made out of steel and are complicated to forge. Therefore, Tubal-Cain and his descendants must have been good blacksmiths. Tubal-Cain lived about 600 years before Noah. From this we can deduce that Noah probably had steel, hammers and nails for the construction of the ark.
Could all the animals fit in the ark?
Noah was told “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 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. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them” (Gen. 6:19-21).
A common criticism of the Biblical account is, “How can millions of species fit on the ark?”. But this fails to recognize that “every kind” does not mean “every species”. Instead, a “kind” is more like a “genus” than a “species”. Noah only needed a pair of every kind of creature, not of every species. For example, one kind of dog and one kind of horse, not many. Since the flood each kind has produced many species (variety within a genus). It is estimated that there were about 8,000 genera at that time, including extinct genera. This means that about 16,000 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians would need to be housed on the ark.
It is estimated that the median size of all animals on the ark would have been that of a small rat, while only about 10% would have been much larger than a sheep. As the animals were to repopulate the world after the flood, they would have been young and not old. The ark had three “decks”. If the smaller 90% of the animals were in two layers on one deck, each pair would have an average of 1 square metre. If the remainder of the animals were on another deck, each pair would have an average of 4 square metre. This indicates the feasibility of housing the animals in two thirds of the ark.
The Bible says that eight people survived the great deluge because they were on the ark. Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives. However, there would have been more than eight beds on the ark. What is the reason for that? It took Noah about 120 years to build the ark. During this time he told the people that they could be safe on the ark (2 Peter 2:5). Unfortunately no one accepted the invitation.
Jesus said He is preparing a place for us in heaven, just like Noah prepared a place for the people of his age (Jn.14:2). In Noah’s time the ark was the only way to survive the great deluge. In the same way, Jesus came to earth to save us. Just like in Noah’s time, the Lord has a way to rescue people. Because God loved the world so much, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to the earth. Jesus died on the cross, to bear our sins and He rose again so we can be saved from the penalty of our sin; eternal death (Jn. 3:16). We are to tell the world of this salvation. Otherwise those places will stay empty (Mt. 28:19)!
Written May 2014
Hollywood has produced a blockbuster movie that is loosely based on the life of the biblical character Noah. It includes stunning visuals of the catastrophic global flood via computer generated imagery. But why was Noah’s family saved from the disaster? And why were the rest of the people and the animals of the earth destroyed in the cataclysmic flood? To find the answers we need to go to the original record, the book of Genesis in the Bible (Gen. 6:1-13). Here we will see that mothers have strong influences on their children. So much so, that ungodly mothers often lead their children into ungodliness.
The first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) were compiled and written by Moses for the benefit of the Israelite nation. Genesis begins with the creation of the universe, including the first people who were told to populate the earth. After Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God, their son Cain murdered his brother Abel. Then Adam and Eve had another son named Seth.
• A selection of Cain’s descendants are listed to the 8th generation on earth (Gen. 4:17-24).
• A selection of Seth’s descendants are listed to the 10th generation on earth (Gen. 4:25 – 5:32).
• After this reasons are given for the flood (Gen. 6:1-13).
• And then Noah and the flood are described including the preparation before the flood, the flood itself, followed by its aftermath.
The characters in this prelude to the flood are the “sons of God” (Gen. 6:2, 4NIV), the “daughters of humans” (v.2, 4), the “Nephilim” (v.4), Noah (v.8-10) and the Lord (v.3, 5-8). In order to understand what these words meant to the Israelites, we will look at how Moses used them elsewhere in the Pentateuch.
The “sons of God” (Strongs # 1121, 430) are also mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:1 and 32:3-6. Deuteronomy describes God’s covenant with the Israelites, who are called “sons (or children) of the Lord your God”. God was their Father and Creator because He made the Israelite nation, even though they didn’t always behave like His sons (or children). But the Israelite nation commenced well after Genesis 6. As the Israelites were God’s people, the meaning of “sons of God” in Genesis 6 would be the people who followed God at that time. Enoch and Noah were said to have “walked faithfully with God”, so they would have been “sons of God” (Gen. 5:22; 6:9). As they were descendants of Seth and because when Seth had a son “At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26), presumably the “sons of God” were male descendants of Seth who followed the Lord. However, as faith in God is not necessarily restricted to one lineage, some of the “sons of God” may have been descendants of Seth’s brothers.
Such faith in God would have been evident in their obedience to God’s commands. As both Abel and Noah offered animal sacrifices to God, presumably that was one of God’s commands (Gen. 4:3-5; 8:20-21). At this time people knew the difference between right and wrong (Gen. 3:22). For example, Cain knew what was right, but didn’t do it (Gen. 4:7).
Traditionally the “sons of God” have been understood to be angels, but this is based on Scriptures outside the Pentateuch and on extra-biblical sources.
The “daughters of humans” (Strongs # 1323, 120) are also mentioned in v.1 where it is clear that they were women who were alive at that time. After looking at all the evidence, we will clarify what type of women they were.
The “Nephilim” (Strongs # 5303) were “the heroes of old, men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). The 10 bad spies said that the Nephilim “are of great size” (Num. 13: 32-33). The root word also means a bully or tyrant (Strongs Concordance). The term seems to describe mighty warriors with giant stature and great strength.
The passage says, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). Notice that the Nephilim existed “in those days.” Which days? The days “When human beings began to increase in number on the earth” (v.1) and “when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them” (v.4), “and also afterward (v.4)”. The passage doesn’t seem to indicate the Nephilim were caused by the union, but that they existed at the same time as these unions took place. So they are a historical marker.
Traditionally the “Nephilim” have been understood to be the product of the union between fallen angels and women, but this is not what the Hebrew text says and is based on Scriptures outside the Pentateuch (Job 1:6; 2:1; Dan. 3:25) and on extra-biblical sources.
In Genesis 6, Noah is contrasted against others. He is righteous and blameless, while they are wicked. We will see that he is being compared with the other descendants of Seth who were alive at that time.
The order within Genesis is a historical sequence, which provides an overall genealogy from Adam to Joseph’s grandchildren. Within each family the children of lesser importance are usually mentioned briefly followed by a more detailed account of the children that were divinely chosen to be God’s agents. The latter were either Christ’s ancestors or Israelite patriarchs. For example, Shem over Japheth and Ham (Gen. 10:1-32; 11:10-26), Isaac over Ishmael (Gen. 25:12-18; 25:19 – 35:29), and Jacob over Esau (Gen. 36:1-43; 37:1 – 50:14).
Likewise, the genealogy of Cain (Gen. 4:17-24) is given before that of Seth (Gen. 4:25 – 5:32). “The written account of Adam’s family line” goes through Seth, not Cain (Gen. 5:1). Cain’s genealogy in the Bible only goes to Lamech’s children (8 generations), but Seth’s goes to Christ (Lk. 3:23-38; at least 75 generations). So Cain’s descendants are of lesser importance in the Bible than those of Seth.
As Noah is a descendant of Seth, Genesis 5-10 is an account of the descendants of Seth. This includes the passage we are looking at (Gen. 6:1-13).
“Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” who “walked faithfully with God” (Gen 6:10). “Blameless” (tamim Strongs #8549) means sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity. It includes being innocent of the behavior listed below and of idolatry and spiritism (Dt. 18:13). Instead he usually followed God and did what was right. But he still sinned as indicated by his drunkenness after the flood (Gen. 9:21).
In contrast, at that time the other descendants of Seth were characterized by:
• “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). This was extreme evil – note “every inclination,” “only evil,” and “all the time.”
• “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Gen. 6:11).
• “God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Gen. 6:12).
• “the earth is filled with violence” (Gen. 6:13).
Three Hebrew words are repeated in these verses. They are given below together with their usage in the Pentateuch.
• “Wickedness” & “evil” (ra Strongs #7451). This word is also used to describe the people of Sodom (Gen. 13:13); adultery, when Joseph resisted Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:9); and Israel’s rebellion when they refused to enter Canaan (Num. 32:13).
• “Violence” (chamas Strongs # 2555), which means violence or wrong, including Hagar’s injurious language and harsh treatment of Sarai (Gen. 16:5).
• “Corrupt” (sachath Strongs #7843), which means moral corruption, including idolatry (Ex 32:7; Dt. 4:16, 25; 9:12; 31:29; 32:5).
What can we learn about this situation from the New Testament? Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” and those destroyed in the flood were “ungodly” (2 Pt. 2:5). For 120 years before the flood, Noah preached in the power of the Holy Spirit to those who were disobedient and God waited patiently (1 Pt. 3:19-20).
Noah had great faith in God (Heb. 11:7). When warned about things not yet seen (God predicated a destructive flood), in holy fear he built an ark to save his family. The salvation of his family and the animals in the ark is symbolic of salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Pt. 3:21).
The ungodly people didn’t expect the flood. They carried on living as usual until it was too late when the flood came (Mt 24:37-41; Lk. 17:26-27). That’s how it will be when Christ returns to judge the world. The ungodly are taken away in both instances for judgment because they reject God’s mercy.
Thousands of years after the flood, people forget that the world was destroyed in the flood and doubt that God will judge the world again (2 Pt. 3:6-7). But the next time it will be by fire.
Noah is included in the genealogy of Christ (Lk. 3:23-38). After Adam sinned God told Satan “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). This was a promise that one of Eve’s male descendants would destroy Satan. People may have wondered who would be the destroyer and Satan would be trying to stop the fulfilment. The first candidate was Abel, but Satan had him murdered by Cain. Noah was the only candidate of His time, so Satan would be trying to introduce ungodliness into Noah’s family. So this was a crucial point in the genealogy of Christ. We see that God acted decisively to remove this threat.
The Bible says that the flood was God’s judgment of humanity’s wickedness. But what caused this wickedness to spread amongst mankind? The Bible seems to give a clue when it mentions the marriage between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of humans” before and after the warning in Genesis 6:3. The implication is that the cause of the departure from righteousness amongst God’s people in Noah’s day was because godly men chose ungodly wives. They chose wives based on their beauty alone – “the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (Gen. 6:2). It seems as though the wives spread this ungodly behavior through their children (Gen 6:4). Like those destroyed in the flood, they were “ungodly”. When a godly man marries an ungodly woman, the children are likely to be ungodly. If most godly men marry ungodly women, after a few generations, most of the people are likely to be ungodly.
So one of the reasons why Noah was godly was because he probably had a godly mother. He learnt to obey God when he was young and continued to be godly when he was an adult. Likewise one of the reasons his mother was godly was because her mother was probably godly. Here we see how the godly influence of mothers can propagate to their descendants. So one of the reasons why Noah was godly was because of the godly influence of his female ancestors.
This explanation is consistent with the rest of Scripture which teaches that the Israelites were not to intermarry with the Canaanites because they would cause their children to follow idols (Dt. 7:3-4). When they disobeyed this command, they were expelled from the promised land (Jer. 44:1-30). After the exile, they were punished for continuing to marry idol worshippers (Ezra 9:1-4, 10-15; 10:1-44; Neh. 13:23-27; Mal. 2:10-12). Also, Christians shouldn’t marry unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).
If Noah’s ancestors were godly and they didn’t die in the flood, then they must have already died when the flood came. Otherwise, they should have been on the ark. Using the dates in Genesis 5 we see that his father Lamech died 5 years before the flood and his grandfather Methuselah died in the year that the flood came. This was enabled because Noah didn’t have a child until he was 500 years of age, which was more than double the next largest recorded time period of 187 years. Also, Lamech was the youngest to die at 777 years, appreciably younger than the next recorded youngest of 895 years.
Maybe the ungodly were influenced by descendants of Cain such as the different Lamech who practiced polygamy and murder (Gen. 4:19, 23-24). This evil was so widespread that Noah was the only man to resist this temptation. But if the ungodliness continued unchecked, the godly remnant would have ceased to exist (humanly speaking).
Some say that Genesis 6:2 refers to intermarriage between the descendants of Seth and of Cain. But this implies that all the descendants of Seth were godly and those of Cain were all ungodly. This is not true, because when the flood came all the descendants of Seth except Noah’s family died in the flood, which implies they were ungodly.
Why were the rest of the people destroyed in the flood? The Bible says they were ungodly. One of the reasons they were ungodly is because they probably had ungodly mothers. They learnt to disobey God when they were young and continued to be ungodly when they were adults. They disobeyed God by refusing to offer animal sacrifices. Instead they probably worshipped idols. Also, they refused God’s mercy because they refused to believe that they faced His judgment.
Was God unfair to judge the world in this way? Well we see that they had plenty of warning. At that time, the Lord said “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal (or corrupt); their days will be a hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3). Here God is giving the people 120 years warning of their coming judgment.
Chief lesson for us
For us today, the salvation of Noah’s family in the ark is symbolic of the salvation available through Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Pt. 3:21). There is a warning that unless we respond to God’s rescue plan, we will perish spiritually in hell, just like those who perished physically in the flood. Meanwhile God is waiting patiently “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). Those who confess and repent of their sin and trust that Christ has paid the penalty are godly in God’s sight (like Noah) and will live eternally in heaven.
So Noah was saved from the flood because he took after his godly mother. The rest of the people were destroyed in the flood because they took after their ungodly mothers.
This shows the power of a mother’s influence on her children. Godly men need to be careful when choosing a wife because of the impact on the spirituality of their descendants. Ungodly mothers often lead their children into ungodliness. After all, godliness is more important than beauty.
Written, April 2014
We live in a world of contracts. They regulate our lives and financial transactions. There are employment contracts and marriage contracts. Contracts for the supply of telephone and internet services. Contracts when you buy a car or a property or build a house. Anti-bullying contracts at schools.
This article looks at some of God’s contracts in the Bible. We will see that because God keeps His contracts, we can rely on them.
Adam and Eve lived in utopia. But after they disobeyed God, they were banished from the Garden of Eden. Sinful behaviour increased until it had to be punished when God destroyed the world in a global flood and started again with Noah’s family. Noah lived about 2,500 years BC. We see two aspects of God’s character in His response to humanity’s sin. First there is judgement and punishment. Second there is grace and mercy. God’s covenants in the Old Testament are contracts with great promises.
The first five books of the Bible were written by Moses at about 1,500 years BC. The most important types of contracts, agreements and treaties at this time involved kings. There were two types:
- Royal land grants – A king’s free gift of land or some other benefit to a loyal servant. The grant was normally perpetual and unconditional, but the servant’s descendants benefited from it only if they continued to be loyal.
- Suzerain–vassal treaties – A treaty between a great king and the lesser kings that he ruled. Here the one with the political control is called the suzerain (a French word) and the other is called the vassal (a Latin word). The suzerain protected the vassal as long as the vassal was loyal to him. It was a conditional treaty.
We will now look at a series of covenants/contracts that God made with humanity. A contract is a legally binding agreement between two parties.
After the flood, God told Noah’s family, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:11NIV). He called it “a covenant for all generations to come” and an “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:12, 16). It was between God and every living creature on earth and was symbolized by the rainbow (Gen.9:13). It was unconditional, like a royal land grant.
When in Babylon, Ezekiel had the vision of God’s glory, and the radiance was like a rainbow (Ezek. 1:28). When on Patmos, John had the vision of the throne in heaven, which was encircled by a green rainbow (Rev. 4:3). The rainbow symbolizes that God keeps His covenants/contracts.
How did people respond to God’s promise never to destroy the world again with a global flood? At this time they were also told to “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1, 7). But they were disobedient and built the city of Babel instead and resisted being scattered across the earth (Gen. 11:1-4). That’s behaving like a teenager who is given everything by their parents, but rebels and goes their own way.
What about us? The Bible says that Jesus is “sustaining all things by His powerful word” and “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:11). Do we live as though God sustains the universe, or do we ignore Him and go our own way?
So the first covenant/contract was a promise of God’s protection and now we will move to the second.
Promised nation and land
When the people proudly built a tower as a monument to celebrate their achievements, God judged their sin by causing the people to start using different languages (Gen. 11:7-9). Because they couldn’t understand each other, they scattered across the earth into different nations that spoke different languages.
Then God responded with grace and mercy and promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan from the Wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates River (Gen. 15:18-21). This was unconditional like a royal land grant. By the way, this promise has not yet been fulfilled. Although Solomon ruled over it as over vassal states, his people didn’t occupy all of it themselves (1 Ki. 4:21, 24).
How did they respond? Sarah, unable to have any children, persuaded Abraham to father a child by her servant, Hagar (Gen. 16:2). The child was Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabic people. Sarah and Abraham lacked faith and took matters into their own hands.
So God repeated the promise to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan and promised to be their God (Gen. 17:1-22). He promised a son who was to be named Isaac who would have many descendants and Ishmael would also have many descendants. It was an everlasting covenant/contract (Gen. 17:7-8). They were to undergo male circumcision because it was the sign of this covenant/contract (Gen. 17:11).
How did they respond? Abraham promptly circumcised the males in his household. When they were told that Sarah would have a son, Abraham worshiped and laughed in amazement, while Sarah laughed in disbelief as she was past the childbearing age (Gen. 17:17-18; 18:9-15). In this case Sarah doubted God’s promise and needed to hear, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14).
Politicians make promises before elections. But people often doubt them because afterwards they can get downgraded into core and non-core promises or scrapped because it is alleged that the circumstances have changed.
What about us? In the New Testament, God promises eternal life, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s second coming. Do we treat God like we treat politicians? Do we live as though these are doubtful non-core promises? Are we like Abraham who trusted God or like Sarah who didn’t?
So the second covenant/contract was a promise of a nation and land and now we will move to the third.
The promises given to Abraham were repeated to Isaac and Jacob; and Jacob’s family followed Joseph to Egypt. After being in Egypt for many years, Jacob’s family grew to a nation of 2 million people and Moses led them out in the exodus to Canaan. At Mt Sinai, God promised the Israelites they would be His special people – “my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5) and He would drive out the Canaanites so they could occupy their land (Ex. 19 – 31). As it was conditional on obeying God’s laws, including the 10 commandments, social laws and religious laws, this covenant/contract was like a Suzerain-vassal agreement. There were blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience (Lev. 26, Dt. 28-29). It was based on works; if people obeyed, God would do His part. The Sabbath day was given to Israel as a sign of this covenant/contract (Ex. 31:13, 17).
How did they respond? The 4th time that Moses went up Mt Sinai to met with God lasted 40 days (Ex. 24:18) and the people got impatient and made a golden idol shaped like a calf (Ex. 32:1-6). It was not a good start! Then after the spies explored Canaan, the people rebelled against God and wanted to go back to Egypt (Num. 14:1-4). Their punishment was to wander in the wilderness for 38 years, while those that rebelled died before they reached Canaan.
After the Israelites occupied Canaan, they were ruled by Judges for about 300 years. Then they became a monarchy. Saul was the first king and David the second. David lived about 1,000 years BC. Later in the monarchy they divided into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. All of Israel’s kings were ungodly; they followed idols instead of keeping the covenant/contract. They were punished in the Assyrian conquest of 722BC. Many of the kings of Judah also followed idols instead of keeping the covenant/contract. They were punished in the Babylonian conquest of 586BC.
If a tenant fails to pay the rent on time or damages the property, they are warned of the danger of being evicted. If they continue failing to comply with the contract then the lease is terminated and they are evicted.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the end for the Jews as some returned to Judah after the exile in Babylon. But we will see later that this covenant/contract is now called the “old covenant”.
Likewise, sin shouldn’t be the end of our fellowship with the Lord. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). If we confess our sins, then we can experience God’s parental forgiveness.
So the third covenant was a promise of a special relationship with God and now we will move to the fourth.
When king David planned to build a temple for God, God promised him an everlasting dynasty, a great name, and peace for the nation of Israel (2 Sam. 7:5-16, 28; 1 Chron. 17:11-14; 2 Chron. 6:16; Ps. 89:3-4). His son Solomon would build the temple and experience God’s mercy. This covenant/contract was unconditional like a royal land grant. But it was conditional for Solomon’s descendants (Ps. 132:11-12). It was repeated by Jeremiah and Luke (Jer. 33:17-26; Lk. 1:32-33). The prophets also predicted a Messiah who would bring peace and prosperity.
A descendant of David ruled in Judah until the Babylonian conquest in 586BC when the descendants went into exile and there was no kingdom and no king for about 400 years. Then King Herod ruled but he wasn’t Jewish as he had Edomite (Idumean) ancestry. At this time Jesus was rejected as king, but since His ascension, He is on His throne in heaven. Peter and Paul said that Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of God’s promise to David (Acts 2:29-36; 13:20-24). Jesus is a descendant of David (Lk. 3). His kingdom is everlasting.
Unrest has stopped peace talks in the Ukraine and between Pakistan and the Taliban. There is little progress in Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Peace is illusive in the world’s hot spots.
The Bible says that this world will not have peace until Jesus returns to set up His kingdom. Just as Solomon had a peaceful kingdom, Jesus will bring peace to the world. Do we believe this?
So the fourth covenant/contract was a promise of a dynasty and now we will move to the final one.
We’ve seen that the Israelites couldn’t keep the old covenant/contract. The prophet Jeremiah said that because they had broken the covenant by disobedience and idolatry, God would bring a disaster (Jer. 11). He predicts a Babylonian conquest and 70 year exile (Jer. 12-13; 25; 27). Then he predicts that Israel would be restored after the captivity (Jer. 30-31).
He also promises the Israelites a new covenant/contract, which becomes effective after the 2nd advent of Christ (Jer. 31:31-34). “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:33-34).
The nation is revived and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25, 27); they willingly obey the Word of God; they have a unique relationship with God; everyone will know the Lord; their sins are forgiven and forgotten; and the nation continues forever (Jer. 31:35-37). In fact Paul says that Jews will begin to turn to God after the rapture (Rom. 11:25-26). This was a mystery to people in the first century and many are ignorant of it today.
This is called the “New covenant” (Heb. 8). It’s a promise for the Jews, involving Christ’s millennial reign on earth which will merge into the eternal kingdom. This covenant/contract was instituted at the first Lord’s Supper when Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20). It began at His death when the curtain inside the temple was torn in two. His death makes the new covenant/contract possible. It’s the foundation.
Ancient covenants were validated by the sacrificial death of an animal (Gen. 15:9-21; Heb. 9:19). Christ had to die before the new covenant/contract commenced. He is the mediator of the new covenant/contract (Heb. 12:22).
The blessings of the new covenant/contract for the Jews are both physical and spiritual. Believers enter into it spiritually; they enjoy its spiritual blessings. Our sins are forgiven and we have peace with God if we accept the gospel by believing that Christ paid the penalty for our sin. Gentiles like us have been grafted into the tree of the faithful, but in future believing Jews will be grafted back into the tree (Rom.11:17, 23-24).
The new covenant/contract is different to the one given at Mt Sinai. It is unconditional like a royal land grant. It depends on God alone. The old covenant/contract of the Jewish law is now obsolete (Heb. 8:13). We shouldn’t live by those rules and practices. The old covenant/contract was a shadow of what was to come. Its purpose was to bring a knowledge and conviction of sin (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10). It was temporary, until the time of Christ. God confirmed this by destroying the temple in AD 70 (1 Cor. 3:7, 11). The new covenant/contract is eternal (Heb. 13:20). Since Christ’s death, the Jewish law has been replaced with the Christian faith and the Jews have been replaced by the church as God’s people on earth (Gal. 3:23-25).
With the advent of computers, typewriters are now obsolete. Photocopiers have made carbon paper obsolete. Other things like floppy disks and video tapes are also obsolete. So let’s not be tempted to try to please God by following the Old Testament laws, because they are now obsolete.
The gospel is called the “new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6). Because it depends on God and not humanity, it brings forgiveness of sins, something the old covenant/contract couldn’t do. It’s a “better covenant” with “better promises” (Heb. 7:22; 9:6) as explained in Hebrews chapters 8-10. The law promised blessing for obedience but threatened death for disobedience. It required righteousness but didn’t give the ability to produce it. The gospel imputes righteousness where there is none and empowers believers to live righteously. It’s better, because it relies on God alone. The Old Testament offerings were ceremonial and ritual, they didn’t deal with the guilt of sin (Heb. 9:9-10). Christ’s sacrifice was superior, it was once for all.
The Lord’s Supper is our symbol of the new covenant/contract (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Do we celebrate it regularly and recall our spiritual blessings?
So the final covenant/contract was a promise of Jewish revival and spiritual blessings for believers.
Lessons for us
What can we learn from these five covenants/contracts that God made with humanity?
We have seen that God’s covenants in the Old Testament are contracts with great promises. They illustrate God’s grace and mercy.
The covenant/contract often had a sign or symbol to remind people of it:
- Rainbow – given to Noah to remind of God’s protection for all
- Male circumcision – given to Abraham to remind of Jewish nation and land
- Sabbath day – given to Moses to remind of the Jewish relationship with God (They were His special people)
The other two covenants didn’t include a sign, although the Lord’s supper reminds Christians of the spiritual blessings of the new covenant/contract (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25) and receiving the Holy Spirit could also be viewed as a sign (Eph. 1:13).
They show us that God keeps His covenants/contracts. He is faithful. In particular the rainbow symbolizes that God keeps His covenants/contracts. Many of the promises he made in the Old Testament have already been fulfilled. But not all of them.
We have seen that people don’t always accept what God offers to them. Some trust in them like Abraham, while others rebel against them like the Israelites. Do we live as though God is our master, our Suzerain, and we are His servant, His vassal?
Some may say the revival in the new covenant/contract only applies to Christians and that God is finished with the Jews. They are extinct as a separate entity in God’s plans for the future. But when he wrote Romans in AD 57, Paul predicted a Jewish revival and it hasn’t happened yet (Romans 11). Also in AD 55 he divided people into three categories, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). The Greeks are unconverted Gentiles and the church includes believing Jews and Gentiles. Also Jews appear in John’s visions of the future in the book of Revelation (Rev. 7:4-8; 11:1-2; 14:1-5; 15:5-8). It includes 144,000 Jewish believers who are sealed for their protection. Although this was written in AD95, 25 years after the temple was destroyed, it hasn’t happened yet. So according to the Bible, God isn’t finished with the Jews. If He was, why has the Jewish nation returned to Israel of recent times after a gap of about 1,900 years?
We have seen how God’s grace and mercy flows through the Old Testament covenants/contracts into the New Testament and to us another 2,000 years later. In a world that has no time for God, and in the struggles of life, it’s good to know that He controls the big picture.
So let’s be like Abraham trusting that God keeps His covenants/contracts.
Because God keeps His contracts, we can rely on them.
Written, February 2014