Genesis Flood

Thu, 25 Apr 96 20:21:32 -0500

A Local, Recent (and Historical) Flood

(Excerpts taken from The Origins Solution)

A few years ago, a couple of limbs blew down from an enormous
pecan tree that grew in my yard. I bought a chain saw and cut the
limbs into firewood-sized pieces. As I labored for three days, it
gave me only a tiny glimpse of what it must have been like to
build an enormous ark.

Noah had no chain saw. Unlike my logs, which needed to fit a
fireplace, the beams for the ark had to be cut with enough precision
that it could carry an immense load and withstand the pressures of a
lengthy flood. Coating with tar would have done little good if the
timber had not been hewn with care. We can assume Noah had
assistance, but regardless of the amount of help, constructing a huge
water-tight vessel would have been virtually impossible without
metal saws, axes, hammers, and such.

The necessity of semi-modern tools to accomplish such a feat of
construction places a limit as to how far back into history the flood
could have taken place. The deluge had to have happened in relatively
recent times when copper or bronze was in use.

It matters little whether the flood was of short duration, or whether it
was a protracted year long odyssey. The task for which the boat was
constructed requires an ability to produce it, which puts the flood event
somewhere into fairly recent history, if we can call around 5,000 years
ago "recent." Since modern man was already racially divided and had
covered the globe sparsely by this late date, the flood must have been
narrowly confined.

James Strickling tackled the problem of Noah's flood, and compiled
sixty-one legends of flooding catastrophes from all over the world,
and found interesting similarities as well as striking differences. A
favored family saved in a boat has a basis in mythology from various
parts of the world. A remnant population of an unspecified number,
using other means of survival, also has a basis in mythology. Through
statistical techniques, he concluded:

"Either catastrophic flooding of global or near-global dimensions
occurred more than once, or there were more survivors of the
Great Deluge than one crew, or both." 1

Strickling reasoned that a one-time universal event with a family of
eight as sole survivors was not feasible. If Noah's flood was a universal
event, there were numerous survivors in many locales; or perhaps,
flooding occurred many times during man's history, and survivors used
various means of escape, or both.

What about the flood stories that permeate the mythology of remote
populations? Interestingly, the differences more than offset the
similarities. Nelson's schematic of 41 flood myths shows that just
nine of them mention saving animals. However tempting it might be
to attribute all those ancient stories to a one-time global catastrophe
to conform with the traditional interpretation of the Genesis flood, a
literal reading of Genesis does not require it, and the unyielding
revelations of nature and history disavow it.

It should not surprise us that floods punctuate the distant past of many
present-day civilizations. A look at a map of the United States, paying
particular attention to its cities, shows that early European settlers
located their population centers usually on rivers or at river junctions.
Concerns for drinking water, bathing, washing clothes, irrigation, and
transportation overpowered concerns about flooding.

Why should primitive men think differently? It would have been only
natural for early tribes to camp along rivers, and to be swept away
upon occasion. Indeed, besides tribal warfare, what other kinds of
catastrophes could there have been in ancient days? It is to be
expected that survivors would be most vocal in recounting a
devastating flood to following generations. The _Interpreter's
Dictionary of the Bible_ deflates the idea that flood stories from
different parts of the world might be related to the biblical account:

"At one time this widespread distribution of a flood tradition was
considered proof of the historicity of the biblical account, which
with some expected modification had spread throughout the
world as people migrated from their original homeland in the
Near East. This notion has necessarily been given up. We
know, e.g., that numerous peoples have no flood legends in their
literature. Flood stories are almost entirely lacking in Africa,
occur only occasionally in Europe, and are absent in many parts
of Asia. They are widespread in America, Australia, and the
islands of the Pacific. In addition, many of the known flood
legends differ radically from the biblical story and stand
independently of it and of one another. Many do not know a
world-wide flood at all, but only a local inundation.... Often
the heroes save themselves in boats or by scaling mountains,
without intervention by the gods. Further, only a few of the flood
stories give the wickedness of man as the cause for the Flood....
The duration of the Flood, if given, varies from a few days to
many years. Facts of this kind disprove the claim that the
biblical account is the parent of all flood stories." 2

Also, we need to consider the impact early missionaries had on the
mythology of primitive peoples. The biblical account of the great flood,
related by missionaries, may have become interwoven with ancient tribal
stories to produce hybrid myths that would parallel the Genesis narrative
more closely. According to Gaster no flood story can be traced in
Sanskrit until after elements of the Aryan civilization began to arrive in
India. The Nestorian Christian missionary attempts in China stand out
as the source of the flood story among the Lolos people. 3 Gleason
Archer admits:

"The list of descendants in the respective lines of Ham, Shem,
and Japheth as recorded in Genesis 10 does not permit any easy
identification with the remoter races who lived in the lower
reaches of Africa, Far East Asia, Australia, and the Americas.
Particularly in the case of Australia, with its peculiar fauna
indicating a long period of separation from the Eurasian
continent, the difficulty of assigning either the humans or the
subhuman population with the passengers in the ark has been
felt to be acute." 4

In other words, the Bible is silent on any possible relationship between
the descendants of Noah and the Black Africans, or the Mongoloid race,
or the native Americans who descended from the Asiatics, or the
Aborigines who populated Australia, or even the blond-haired
Scandinavians, not to exclude any racial group. 5 That squares exactly
with what we know about the antiquity of those races of peoples who
were far distant from the Mesopotamian valley by 5,000 years ago.

"Since the beginning of agriculture no new subspecies (of man)
have arisen; the principal changes that have taken place have
been vast increases in the numbers of some populations and
decreases to the threshold of extinction in others. All this points
to one conclusion: the living subspecies of man are ancient. The
origins of races of subspecific rank go back into geological
antiquity, and at least one of them is as old by definition, as our
species." 6

How does the notion of "something less" than a global flood square
with the Genesis account? Halley addressed that issue:

"All the high mountains that were under the whole heavens, were
covered. And all flesh died that moved upon the earth" (Gen
7:19, 21). This, doubtless, is the very language in which Shem
related, or wrote, the story of the Flood to his children and
grandchildren. He told it as he saw it. Are we to interpret his
language according to his own geography, or present day
geography? The whole race, except Noah and his family, were
destroyed. To destroy the race it was necessary for the Flood to
cover only so much of the earth as was inhabited. Accepting the
Bible account as it is, there had been only TEN generations from
Adam, the first man. How could ONE family, in TEN
generations, with primitive modes of travel, populate the whole
earth? Most likely the race had not spread far outside the
Euphrates basin." 7

Halley does not seem to be aware of extra-Noahic populations, but he
does opt for a non-global flood. The following comes from Archer:

"In explanation of this assertion (that the flood was not
necessarily universal) it needs to be pointed out that the Hebrew
'eres, translated consistently as earth' in our English Bibles, is
also the word for `land' (e.g. the land of Israel, the land of
Egypt). There is another term, tebel, which means the whole
expanse of the earth, or the earth as a whole. Nowhere does
tebel occur in this account, but only 'eres, in all the statements
which sound quite universal in the English Bible (e.g., Gen. 7:4,
10, 17, 18, 19). Thus, Genesis 6:17c can be rendered:
`Everything that is in the land shall die' - that is, in whatever
geographical region is involved in the context and situation." 8

An unenlightened Bible translation has made victims of us all. The
word "earth," synonymous with "globe" or "planet," is a permissible
translation of the Hebrew word "`erets," from Genesis 1:1 to 2:4, even
though this last verse is transitional, and shifts focus to the immediate
area where Adam was created, where the flood took place, and where
the tower of Babel was built.

fit the context better than the word "earth," with the possible exception
of Genesis 8:22 and 9:13. Cain was not driven off "the face of the
earth" (Gen. 4:14), just out of the vicinity of Eden. Clouds never cover
the globe completely (Gen. 9:14), only a segment of land. The planet
was not divided in Peleg's days (Gen. 10:25), simply the immediate

Undoubtedly, the Old Testament writers had no concept of the earth as
a round globe with a circumference of 25,000 miles. What we can
visualize as the earth today is entirely different from what they could
have pictured as a definition of the word. Could the Hebrews or
Egyptians or any other Near Eastern cultures have envisioned the world
then as we know it exists today, with polar ice caps and oceans covering
three-fourths of the surface, massive land continents, and numerous
oceanic islands burgeoning with unique faunal populations?

The notion of a global flood, based solely on the Genesis narrative, fails
on two counts: (1) the word translated "earth" in Genesis can mean
"land," and (2) any word which might have defined "earth" would not
mean then what it means today.

In the next capsule we will discuss why, in addition to the Genesis flood
being a localized deluge, it was also a recent, historical event, and not
an ancient, unrecorded event. Comments, corrections, and criticisms on
all postings are always welcome.

Dick Fischer

An Answer in the Creation -Evolution Debate
See web page:

1. James E. Strickling Jr., Origins - Today's Science, Tomorrow's Myth
(New York: Vantage Press, 1986), 33-39.
2. Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II (New York: Abingdon
Press, 1962), 280.
3. Theodore H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament
(New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 96, 355, sec. 38, n. 6.
4. Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago:
Moody Press, 1974), 213.
5. Jacquetta Hawkes, The Atlas of Early Man (New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1976), 54-55.
6. C. S. Coon, The Origin of Races (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,
1962), 20.
7. Henry H. Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1965), 74.
8. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 210.