Re: Chocking Noah after he has been choked on H2SO4

George Murphy (
Fri, 31 Jul 1998 10:44:25 -0400

Dick Fischer wrote:

> The best way to decide the meaning of a verse is to compare it with
> another verse where the meaning is obvious. Take the following
> example:
> In I Samuel, David and 600 of his men were in hot pursuit of the Amalekite
> army. When David's band made contact with the Amalekites, "behold, they
> were spread abroad upon all the earth ..." (I Sam. 30:16).
> Whereupon David smote them; only 400 young Amalekite men escaped death
> (I Sam. 30:17). To those who would insist that the language of Genesis 7 and
> 8 dictates a world-wide flood because the waters prevailed "upon the earth," I
> would invite them to be consistent, and distribute the Amalekite army over the
> globe also. Then explain how David was able to eradicate them in 24 hours
> with only 400 men (200 lagged behind).
> The Amalekite army, in all likelihood, occupied no more territory than did
> the
> Confederate troops at the battle of Gettysburg. Knowing that gives us a
> means of measurement we can apply to the flood. By using the Bible's
> own yardstick, the deluge of Noah's day would be local, not global.

This is a bit too simple. Looking at the different ways in which a word is
used in Scripture does help us to understand its _range_ of possible meanings, but not
every one of the meanings in that range can be applied in any given case. Yes,
_kol-ha'arets_, "the whole earth", can mean a relatively small territory, as in I
Sam.30. In Gen.11:1 it means the whole inhabited world, or at least the known inhabited
world. In Ps.96:1 it seems (in light of the rest of the psalm) to mean the whole
terrestrial creation. Ps.72:19 is similar.
The flood stories say simply that the waters prevailed upon "the earth"
(Gen.7:24. No _kol_.) Comparison with many other passages show that this could mean a
limited region, but comparison with Gen.1:1 shows that it could also mean literally the
whole terrestial realm. You can't tell just from the possible range of meanings. Your
concluding sentence is a considerable overstatement.
The situation is a little like that with _yom_ in Genesis 1. Ps.90:4 shows that
the word _can_ mean a period of a thousand years, but there are of course many places in
Scripture where it obviously means an ordinary 24 hour day. One might say that in Gen.1
it _can_ mean a period like 1000 years, but it would obviously be wrong to say "by using
the Bible's own yardstick the days of creation were each 1000 years long."

The bigger issue is this: As long as people keep insisting that all biblical
texts must be read as some kind of historical narrative, a great deal of time will be
wasted, no matter how elastic they try to make the language.


George L. Murphy