Such a cataclysm as the deluge, which washed the whole world of that time out of existence, would never be forgotton by the survivors. They would talk about it to their children and their children's children. For 500 years after the deluge Shem lived on to relate the event to many generations. He died only 10 years before the birth of Jacob. ( Meaning that Abraham and Isaac could have heard this story first hand from Shem, Noah's son! ) Some time after the flood, when God defying people built the tower of Babel. Jehovah confused their language and scattered them "over all the earth" ( Gen. 11:9)
It was only natural that these people took with them stories of the Flood and passed them on from generation to generation. The fact that there are more than 90 different stories about a great deluge. and that such stories are found amoung the traditions of many primitive races the world over, is a strong proof that all these people had a common origin and that their early forefathers shared that Flood experience in common.
1. The Biblical Account: The means described in Gen 6-8 by which the Lord destroyed, on account of their wickedness, all the members of the human race except Noah and his family. According to the account, Noah was warned of the event 120 years before (Gen 6:3; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5). During all this time he is said to have been a "preacher of righteousness" "while the ark was a preparing," when we may well suppose (according to theory to be presently propounded) the physical events leading up to the final catastrophe may have given point to his preaching. When the catastrophe came, the physical means employed were twofold, namely, the breaking up of the "fountains of the great deep" and the opening of "the windows of heaven" (Gen 7:11). But the rain is spoken of as continuing as a main cause only 40 days, while the waters continued to prevail for 150 days (verse 24), when (8:2-3) "the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained; and the waters returned from off the earth continually," so that after 10 months the ark rested upon "the mountains of Ararat" (the highlands of Armenia in the upper part of the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris ). Here it rested 40 days before the water subsided sufficiently to suggest disembarking, when a raven (which could easily find its food on the carcases of the animals which had been destroyed) was sent forth, and did not return (verse 7); but a dove sent out at the same time found no rest and returned empty to the ark (verse 9). After 7 days, however, it was sent out again and returned with a fresh olive leaf (verse 11). After 7 days more the dove was sent forth again and did not return. After 56 days more of waiting Noah and his family departed from the ark.
2. "Noah's Log Book": The following are the leading points in the story which has been appropriately styled by Sir William Dawson "Noah's log book" (see S. E. Bishop's article in Biblical Sac. (1906), 510-17, and Joseph B. Davidson in the author's Scientific Confirmations of Old Testament History, 180-184).
It will thus be seen that there is no need of supposing any duplication and overlapping of accounts in the Biblical story. There is continual progress in the account from beginning to end, with only such repetitions for literary effect as. we are familiar with in oriental writings. In Gen 6:5-7:13 the wickedness of the world is assigned as the reason which prevailed in the Divine counsels for bringing about the contemplated catastrophe. While emphasizing the righteousness of Noah which led to his preservation, 6:13-21 contains the direction for the making of the ark and of the preparations to bring into it a certain number of animals. This preparation having been made, the order was given (7:1-4) for the embarkation which (verse 5) was duly accomplished. We are then told that Noah and his family, and beasts both clean and unclean, were shut up in the ark during the prevalence of the water and its final subsidence. Altogether the account is most graphic and impressive (see W. H. Green, Unity of the Book of Genesis, 83 ff).
Compared with other traditions of the Deluge, the Biblical account appears in a most favorable light, while the general prevalence of such traditions strongly confirms the reality of the Biblical story.
3. The Egyptian Tradition: An Egyptian legend of the Deluge is referred to in Plato's Timaeus, where the gods are said to have purified the earth by a great flood of water from which only a few shepherds escaped by climbing to the summit of a high mountain. In the Egyptian documents themselves, however, we find only that Ra' the creator, on account of the insolence of man, proceeded to exterminate him by a deluge of blood which flowed up to Heliopolis, the home of the gods; but the heinousness of the deed so affected him that he repented and swore never more to destroy mankind.
4. The Indian Tradition: In Indian mythology there is no reference to the Flood in the Rig Veda, but in the laws of Manu we are told that a fish said to Manu, "A deluge will sweep all creatures away ..... Build a vessel and worship me. When the waters rise enter the vessel and I will save thee ..... When the Deluge came, he had entered the vessel. .... Manu fastened the cable of the ship to the horn of the fish, by which means the latter made it pass over the mountains of the North. The fish said: 'I have saved thee; fasten the vessel to a tree that the water may not sweep it away while thou art in the mountain; and in proportion as the waters decrease, thou shalt descend.' Manu descended with the waters, and this is what is called the Descent of Manu on the mountains of the North. The Deluge had carried away all creatures, and Manu remained alone" (translated by Max Muller).
5. The Chinese Tradition: The Chinese tradition is embodied in sublime language in their book of Li-Ki: "And now the pillars of heaven were broken, the earth shook to its very foundation; the sun and the stars changed their motions; the earth fell to pieces, and the waters enclosed within its bosom burst forth with violence, and overflowed. Man having rebelled against heaven, the system of the universe was totally disordered, and the grand harmony of nature destroyed. All these evils arose from man's despising the supreme power of the universe. He fixed his looks upon terrestrial objects and loved them to excess, until gradually he became transformed into the objects which he loved, and celestial reason entirely abandoned him."
6. The Greek Tradition: The Greeks, according to Plutarch, had five different traditions of the Deluge, that of Deucalion being the most important. According to this, Prometheus warned his son Deucalion of the flood which Zeus had resolved to bring upon the earth by reason of its wickedness. Accordingly, Deucalion constructed an ark and took refuge in it, but with his vessel was stranded on Mount Parnassus in Thessaly, whereupon they disembarked and repeopled the earth by the fantastic process revealed to them by the goddess Themis of throwing stones about them, those which Deucalion threw becoming men and those which Pyrrha threw becoming women. Lucian's form of the legend, however, is less fantastic and more nearly in line with Semitic tradition. In the Greek legend as in the Sem, a dove is sent forth which returns both a first and a second time, its feet being tinged with mud the second time, intimating the abatement of the flood. But neither Homer nor Hesiod have this tradition. Probably it was borrowed from the Semites or the Hindus.
7. The British Tradition: In Britain there is a Druid legend that on account of the profligacy of mankind, the Supreme Being sent a flood upon the earth when "the waves of the sea lifted themselves on high round the border of Britain. The rain poured down from heaven and the waters covered the earth." But the patriarch, distinguished for his integrity, had been shut up with a select company in a strong ship which bore them safely upon the summit of the waters (Editor Davies in his Mythology and Rites of British Druids). From these the world was again re-peopled. There are various forms of this legend but they all agree in substance.
8. American Indian Traditions: Among the American Indians traditions of the Deluge were found by travelers to be widely disseminated. Mr. Catlin says, "Among the 120 different tribes which I visited in North, South, and Central America, not a tribe exists that has not related to me distinct or vague traditions of such a calamity, in which one, or three, or eight persons were saved above the waters upon the top of a high mountain" (quoted by Wm. Restelle in Biblical Sac. (January, 1907), 157). While many, perhaps most, of these traditions bear the stamp of Christian influence through the early missionaries, the Mexican legend bears evident marks of originality. According to it the 4th age was one of water, when all men were turned into fishes except Tezpi and his wife Hochiquetzal and their children, who with many animals took refuge in a ship which sailed safely over the tumultuous waters which overwhelmed the earth. When the flood subsided the ship stranded on Mount Cohuacan, whereupon he sent forth a vulture which did not return, and then a humming bird which returned with some leaves in its beak. The Peruvian story differs from this in many particulars. According to it a single man and woman took refuge in a box and floated hundreds of miles from Cuzco to an unknown land where they made clay images of all races, and animated them.
The Moravian missionary Cranz, in his History of Greenland, says that "the first missionaries among the Greenlanders found a tolerably distinct tradition of the Deluge" to the effect that "the earth was once tilted over and all men were drowned" except one "who smote afterward upon the ground with a stick and thence came out a woman with whom he peopled the earth again." Moreover, the Greenlanders point to the remains of fishes and bones of a whale on high mountains where men never could have dwelt, as proof that the earth was once flooded. Among the North American Indians generally legends of the Deluge are so embellished that they become extremely fantastic, but in many of them there are peculiarities which point unquestionably to a common origin of extreme antiquity.
The unprejudiced reader cannot rise from the study of the subject without agreeing in general with Francois Lenormant, who writes: "As the case now stands, we do not hesitate to declare that, far from being a myth, the Biblical Deluge is a real and historical fact, having, to say the least, left its impress on the ancestors of three races-Aryan, or Indo-European, Sem, or Syrio-Arabian, Chamitic, or Kushite - that is to say on the three great civilized races of the ancient world, those which constitute the higher humanity-before the ancestors of these races had as yet separated, and in the part of Asia together inhabited" (Contemporary Review, November, 1879).
9. The Babylonian Tradition: The most instructive of these traditions are those which have come down to us from Babylonia, which until recently were known to us only through the Greek historian Berosus of the 4 th century B.C., who narrates that a great deluge happened at some indefinite time in the past during the reign of Xisuthrus, son of Ardates. Xisuthrus was warned beforehand by the deity Cronos, and told to build a ship and take with him his friends and relations and all the different animals with all necessary food and trust himself fearlessly to the deep, whereupon he built "a vessel 5 stadia (3,000 ft.) long and 2 stadia (1,200 ft.) broad." After the flood subsided Xisuthrus, like Noah, sent out birds which returned to him again. After waiting some days and sending them out a second time, they returned with their feet tinged with mud. Upon the third trial they returned no more, whereupon they disembarked and Xisuthrus with his wife, daughter and pilot offered sacrifice to the gods and were translated to live with the gods. It was found that the place where they were was "the land of Armenia," but they were told to return to Babylon. Berosus concluded his account by saying that "the vessel being thus stranded in Armenia, some part of it yet remains in the Corcyraean mountains."
10. Cuneiform Tablets: An important tradition was found inscribed on cuneiform tablets in Babylonia dating from 3000 BC. These were discovered by George Smith in 1870 and filled as many as 180 lines. The human hero of the account, corresponding to Noah of the Bible and Xisuthrus of Berosus, is Gilgamesh, who lived is Shurippak, a city full of violence, on the banks of the Euphrates. He was warned of an approaching flood and exhorted to pull down his house and build a ship and cause "seed of life of every sort to go up into it." The ship, he says, was to be "exact in its dimensions, equal in its breadth and its length. .... Its sides were 140 cubits high, the border of its top equaled 140 cubits. .... I constructed it in 6 stories, dividing it into 7 compartments. Its floors I divided into 9 chambers. .... I chose a mast (or rudder pole), and supplied what was necessary. Six sars of bitumen I poured over the outside; three sars of bitumen over the inside." After embarking, the storm broke with fearful violence and the steering of the ship was handed over to Bezur-Bel, the ship man. But amidst the roll of thunder and the march of mountain waves the helm was wrenched from the pilot's hands and the pouring rain and the lightning flashes dismayed all hearts. "Like a battle charge upon mankind" the water rushed so that the gods even were dismayed at the flood and cowered like dogs, taking refuge in the heaven of Anu while Ishtar screamed like a woman in travail, and repenting of her anger, resolved to save a few and "to give birth to my people" till like "the fry of fishes they fill the sea." The ship was therefore turned to the country of Nizir (Armenia).
It is worthy of notice that the cuneiform tablet exhibits as much variety of style as does the Biblical account. Plain narrative and rhetorical prose are intermingled in both accounts, a fact which effectually disposes of the critical theory which regards the Biblical account as a clumsy combination made in later times by piecing together two or more independent traditions. Evidently the piecing together, if there was any, had been accomplished early in Babylonian history. On comparing the Biblical account with that of the cuneiform tablets, the following similarities and contrasts are brought to light:
(1) That the cuneiform inscription is from start to finish polytheistic (II. 3-17), whereas the narrative in Gen is monotheistic.
(2) The cuneiform agrees with the Biblical narrative in making the Deluge a Divine punishment for the wickedness of the world (II. 5, 6).
(3) The names differ to a degree that is irreconcilable with our present knowledge.
(4) The dimensions of the ark as given in Gen (Gen 6:15) are reasonable, while those of Berosus and the cuneiform tablets are unreasonable. According to Gen, the ark was 300 cubits (562 ½ ft.) long, 50 cubits (93 2/3 ft.) wide, and 30 cubits (56 ¼ ft.) deep, which are the natural proportions for a ship of that size, being in fact very close to those of the great steamers which are now constructed to cross the Atlantic. The "Celtic" of the White Star line, built in 1901, is 700 ft. long, 75 ft. wide and 49 1/3 ft. deep. The dimensions of the "Great Eastern," built in 1858 (692 ft. long, 83 ft. broad, and 58 ft. deep), are still closer to those of the ark. The cuneiform tablets represent the length, width and depth each as 140 cubits (262 ft.) (II. 22, 23, 38-41), the dimensions of an entirely unseaworthy structure. According to Berosus, it was 5 stadia (3,000 ft.) and 2 stadia (1,200 ft.) broad; while Origen (Against Celsus, 4,41), represented it to be 135,000 ft. (25 miles) long, and 3,750 ft. (3/4 mile) wide.
(5) In the Biblical account, nothing is introduced conflicting with the sublime conception of holiness and the peculiar combination of justice and mercy ascribed to God throughout the Bible, and illustrated in the general scheme of providential government manifest in the order of Nature and in history; while, in the cuneiform tablets, the Deluge is occasioned by a quarrel among the gods, and the few survivors escape, not by reason of a merciful plan, but by a mistake which aroused the anger of Bel (II. 146-50).
(6) In all the accounts, the ark is represented as floating up stream. According to Gen, it was not, as is usually translated, on "Mount Ararat" (Gen 8:4), but in the "mountains of Ararat," designating an indefinite region in Armenia upon which the ark rested; according to the inscriptions, it was in Nizir (II. 115-20), a region which is watered by the Zab and the Tornadus; while, according to Berosus, it was on the Corcyraean Mountains, included in the same indefinite area. In all three cases, its resting-place is in the direction of the headwaters of the Euphrates valley, while the scene of the building is clearly laid in the lower part of the valley.
(7) Again, in the Biblical narrative, the spread of the water floating the ark is represented to have been occasioned, not so much by the rain which fell, as by the breaking-up of "all the fountains of the great deep" (Gen 7:11), which very naturally describes phenomena connected with one of the extensive downward movements of the earth's crust with which geology has made us familiar. The sinking of the land below the level of the ocean is equivalent, in its effects, to the rising of the water above it, and is accurately expressed by the phrases used in the sacred narrative. This appears, not only in the language concerning the breaking-up of the great deep which describes the coming-on of the Flood, but also in the description of its termination, in which it is said, that the "fountains also of the deep .... were stopped, .... and the waters returned from off the earth continually" (8:2-3). Nothing is said of this in the other accounts.
(8) The cuneiform tablets agree in general with the two other accounts respecting the collecting of the animals for preservation, but differ from Gen in not mentioning the sevens of clean animals and in including others beside the family of the builder (II. 66-69).
(9) The cuneiform inscription is peculiar in providing the structure with a mast, and putting it in charge of a pilot (II. 45, 70, 71).
(10) The accounts differ decidedly in the duration of the Flood. According to the ordinary interpretation of the Biblical account, the Deluge continued a year and 17 days; whereas, according to the cuneiform tablets, it lasted only 14 days (II. 103-7, 117-22).
(11) All accounts agree in sending out birds; but, according to Gen (Gen 8:8) a raven was first sent out, and then in succession two doves (8:8-12); while the cuneiform inscription mentions the dove and the raven in reverse order from Gen, and adds a swallow (II. 121-30).
(12) All accounts agree in the building of an altar and offering a sacrifice after leaving the ark. But the cuneiform inscription is overlaid with a polytheistic coloring: "The gods like flies swarmed about the sacrifices" (II. 132-43).
(13) According to the Biblical account, Noah survived the Flood for a long time; whereas Nuhnapishtim and his wife were at once deified and taken to heaven (II. 177-80).
(14) Both accounts agree in saying that the human race is not again to be destroyed by a flood (Gen 9:11; II. 162-69).
Close inspection of these peculiarities makes it evident that the narrative in Genesis carries upon its face an appearance of reality not found in the other accounts. It is scarcely possible that the reasonable dimensions of the ark, its floating up stream and the references to the breaking-up of the fountains of the great deep should have been hit upon by accident. It is in the highest degree improbable that correct statements of such unobvious facts should be due to the accident of legendary guesswork. At the same time, the duration of the Deluge, according to Genesis, affords opportunity for a gradual progress of events which best accords with scientific conceptions of geological movements. If, as the most probable interpretation would imply, the water began to recede after 150 days from the beginning of the Flood and fell 15 cubits in 74 days, that would only be 3 2/3 inches per day-a rate which would be imperceptible to an ordinary observer. Nor is it necessary to suppose that the entire flooded area was uncovered when Noah disembarked. The emergence of the land may have continued for an indefinite period, permitting the prevailing water to modify the climate of all western and central Asia for many centuries.