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Ark and flood legends

The Genesis flood and human history

If the Deluge recounted in The Bible (Genesis Chapters 6 to 9) affected the whole human race, we would expect to find references to it in the folklore of many countries. Before looking at the evidence of flood legends, it is necessary to consider whether the account points to a local or a global flood. Briefly, the following facts should be noted that tend to support a global flood.

  1. The enormous size of the Ark, giving it a displacement of an estimated 15,000 tons, suggests something bigger than a local catastrophe.
  2. Forty days and forty nights of rain was extraordinary; furthermore, the fountains of the great deep were opened up releasing vast quantities of juvenile water.
  3. The tops of the high hills (or mountains) were covered: since water finds its own level the flood could not have been confined to one particular district.
  4. Birds that could fly hundreds of miles were taken on board, indicating that there was no land they could fly to as would have been the case with a local flood.
  5. The average life-span of man was dramatically reduced after the flood, pointing to something more catastrophic in its effects than a local inundation.
  6. Noah was in the Ark for over a year: this long drying out period suggests something more than a local flood.
  7. The promise given by God to Noah after the Flood (Genesis chapter 8 verse 22) that `seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and winter and summer, and day and night' would not cease, suggests that even the seasons had been affected. This goes far beyond the power of a local flood.
In addition to these Biblical arguments that support a global flood, there are numerous physical and geological evidences which must be taken into consideration. These include: the lush vegetation that once grew in regions that are now arctic; fossil evidence indicating a warm climate for the whole Earth; sea mounts which are now a mile below the ocean surface but which were exposed to the atmosphere in the past.

Before referring to some of the ancient flood traditions, it must be emphasised that the account in Genesis is the only one that provides a realistic and restrained record of this catastrophic event. The final stamp of authority on this Biblical history is, of course, that given by the Lord Jesus Himself who spoke about: `the days of Noah . . . when the flood came and took them all away.'The Bible (Matthewchapter 24 verses 37 to 39 and Luke chapter 17 verses 26 and 27). To doubt the Genesis account is to undermine the integrity of the Son of God and no true Christian could ever consciously do this.

Dr Richard Andree, a German scholar, in his book Die Flutensagen Ethnologisch, has collected eighty-eight different flood traditions. Twenty of these have Asiatic origin; five come from Europe; seven were found in Africa; ten in Australia and the South Sea Islands; and forty-six were found among the aborigines of the Americas.

The most important history next to The Bible is the Babylonian flood story as told in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In 1872 George Smith was busy in the British Museum examining fragments of clay tablets dug up out of the ruins of Nineveh in the 1850s. Suddenly he realised that he was reading the story of a flood which had striking resemblances to the Biblical account. Here are a few.

        BABYLONIAN                      BIBLE

Take the seed of all            Gen. 6:19 And of every living

creatures aboard the ship       thing of all flesh you shall

I boarded the ship and          Gen. 7:1 Come into the Ark
closed the door.                Gen. 7:16 The Lord shut him in.

I sent out a dove . . . The     Gen. 8:8 He sent out a dove...

dove went, then came back,      But the dove found no resting-
no resting-place appeared       place . . . and she returned.
for it, so it returned.

Then I sent out a raven . .     Gen. 8:7 He sent out a raven,
it saw the waters receding,     which kept going to and fro
it ate, it flew about to        until the waters had dried up
and fro, it did not return.     from the Earth.

I made a libation on the        Gen. 8:20 Then Noah built an
peak of the mountain.           altar to the Lord (on the
                                mountain) and offered burnt

Research has shown that the Babylonian flood story did not begin as part of the Gilgamesh Epic. Another poem called the Atrakhasis Epic tells of the creation of man and his history up to the flood. The reason given for the flood is that Mankind made so much noise that the chief god on Earth could not sleep! A.R. Millard points out that the name Atrakhasis (the person equivalent to Noah) might be translated as `exceedingly devout' which is similar to the Biblical description of Noah as just and righteous.

In the Hindu story of the Flood, Monu built a boat and rescued himself and seven companions. Monu is called Satya meaning `righteous' (see Genesis chapter 6 verse 9). According to the Chinese tradition, eight people from the same family are rescued - as in the Biblical account. It is interesting that the Chinese word for a large ship consists of the symbols `eight' and `mouth' (persons). In the Mexican legend, one family only is saved and a humming bird alone returned bringing a branch covered with leaves (see Genesis chapter 8 verse 11). H.S. Bellamy in Moons, Myths and Men estimates that altogether there are over 500 Flood legends. About 70 can be found in Syke's Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology. It must be said, as a general comment, that the monotheism and high moral tone of Moses' account puts it on a higher plane than any of the other records.

The apostle Peter said that men would wilfully forget the emergence of the entire globe from beneath the waters at Creation and also wilfully forget that the world that then existed later perished, `being flooded with water.' Just as the entire world was flooded by water, so eventually the whole world will be destroyed by fire The Bible (2 Peter Chapter 3 verses 1 to 7).

David V. Jebson (1994)
Director of Noah's Ark Exhibition, Chester