(Don’t forget to sign up to receive all of my blogs and updates automatically–simply hit the “Subscribe by Email” link on the menu icon!)
The Hobbit. FernGully. Gulliver’s Travels. James the Giant Peach. Noah and the Great Flood. All are more or less equally factual, because none are factual at all. None of these cute little tales are really true. Let’s be honest about it: the stories of a massive deluge that wreaked havoc on humanity are all hogwash. Utter nonsense. Please . . . just call it for what it is.
This is of course the standard narrative that is pushed by the precious few who are enlightened enough to know better. To these intellectual “grownups,” science and rationality have slowly extinguished the flame of religious folklore. However—and as is seemingly always the case—they are clearly wrong. More than being wrong, they appear to have it completely backwards.
In 1993, Columbia University scientists William Ryan and Walter Pitman made a scientific expedition to the Black Sea with the Russian Academy of Sciences. Utilizing sonar imaging techniques, they were able to detect that shorelines had once been about 140 meters (nearly 460 ft.) lower than they were during the measurement. The presence of a single, uniform layer of mud was also found, suggesting that a flood may well have occurred on the Black Sea. Moreover, the expedition recovered sun-bleached freshwater mollusks via sediment samples. Using carbon-14 dating methods, they were able to tell that the mollusks from both the deepest and the shallowest layers of that sediment were only about forty years apart; the waters had not risen gradually, but rapidly. What typically causes rapid flooding? Hmm, you got me. A column on Columbia News summarized their subsequent theory in the following way:
“Ryan and Pitman believe that the sealed Bosporus strait, which acted as a dam between the Mediterranean and Black seas, collapsed when climatic warming at the close of the last glacial period and caused icecaps to melt, raising global sea level. With more than 200 times the force of Niagara Falls, the flood caused water levels in the Black Sea, which was no more than a large lake, to rise six inches per day and swallowed 60,000 square miles in less than a year.”
In effect, it was perhaps the Mediterranean Sea that had flooded, causing the Black Sea to fill so drastically. Isn’t the Mediterranean Sea located just west of present day Israel and ancient Israel/Palestine? Wouldn’t that actually be the most probable biblical location of the Great Flood?
A number of other researchers have come to believe that there was indeed a flood of large proportions that occurred at the Black Sea, several thousand years after the last ice-age. Perhaps most notably, renowned Titanic researcher Robert Ballard has taken a special interest in the possibility of a Black Sea flood. Ballard’s overarching theory was that around 7,000 BCE, post ice-age warming caused oceans and seas to rise, resulting in the “swelling” of the Mediterranean Sea and a subsequent push of its waters north through modern-day Turkey. In fact, he too speculated that this water ended up hitting the Black Sea with a force 200 times harder than those created by the incredible Niagara Falls. A surge of that magnitude could be called nothing other than a “Great Flood.”
Additionally, a 2004 expedition by a number of prominent scientists also led to the conclusion that the Black Sea was once “. . . an immense lake of black water that at one point in history began to widen in an unusually rapid way.” While neither the works of Ryan and Pitman nor Robert Ballard suggested that the entire earth was covered in water, they certainly suggested that a sizeable flood occurred in an area that would fall right in line with the biblical account. It’s worth mentioning that the size of Noah’s Flood is seriously debated, even among those coming from either Jewish or Christian backgrounds. It is quite conceivable that the Flood was a local or regional flood, and that it occurred in this specific area.
While the proposition that an event of this magnitude actually occurred in the areas of the Black and Mediterranean seas is not widely accepted as absolute fact—William Ryan himself has ask some perplexing questions about the theory—it is nonetheless still compelling. While parts of these theories have somewhat fizzled out—having found no tell-tale signs of extremely ancient housing, only wreckage dating between about 350-550 AD—the general idea that there was indeed a type of major flooding event that occurred in the Black Sea region is still difficult to ignore. Was this the site of the Great Flood? We don’t know. It certainly does seem as though something of the sort happened, though.
But enough about the science. Clearly, there are prominent researchers who support the idea of at least a local flood that occurred in the same general area described by the biblical authors. Anyone who is familiar with my blogs knows that I value good science: honest, open, and investigative science. However, they also know that I equally value the traditions of our earliest ancestors. After all, who has ever been closer to the source of human origins than they were? With every generation, we get farther away from the beginning of our race and the major events of our early history. Of course, the early civilizations are precisely where the whole notion of a giant flood began in the first place.
The ancient Hebrew tradition tells of an immense flood in which God wiped humanity almost entirely off of the map. Having become exceedingly angry with their consistent and egregious rebellion, God decided to destroy the world of men. Genesis 6:11-13 records the following:
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 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.”
As the text describes, only a man named Noah and his family were allowed to survive the impending destruction. While the Bible’s portrayal of the Great Flood is undoubtedly the most popular, it is not by any stretch the only flood tradition. In fact, nearly every ancient culture had its own flood story. Besides the biblical account, the most notable probably comes to us from the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. In its introduction of Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk—who is, incidentally, both part god and part man—the first “tablet” of the Epic makes several allusions to a great flood of destruction.
“He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden, he brought information of (the time) before the Flood . . . Mighty net, protector of his people, raging flood-wave who destroys even walls of stone! . . . It was he who reached by his own sheer strength Utanapishtim, the Faraway, who restored the sanctuaries that the Flood had destroyed!”
While allusions to the flood show up very early on, it isn’t really until the end of the Epic (Tablet XI) that we are given greater clarity concerning the event. Utanapishtim—the man commissioned by another god, named Enki, to build a massive boat that would preserve him and his family during the flood (sound familiar?)—reveals the “secret of the gods” to Gilgamesh:
“Shuruppak, 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 . . . 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. Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth . . . Six days and seven nights came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land. When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding, the flood was a war–struggling with itself like a woman writhing (in labor). The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped up. 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.”
While the Epic’s insistence that there are a great number of gods and god-like beings (Gilgamesh being one of them) involved in this particular flood story, the Bible clearly depicts the Flood as being the product of one God, Yahweh, who had reached His limit with human disobedience. Still, the similarities are striking. There is a massive flood due to divine dissatisfaction with humanity, a righteous man who builds a giant ship to escape the flood, and the preservation of human beings and civilization through this great “Ark.”
Then we have a number of ancient flood myths recorded by the ancient Chinese people, the Gun-Yu myth being the most prominent. Though the accounts vary slightly, the ancient Greeks also believed in a great flood that was sent by Zeus (the “father of the gods”) to destroy humanity. Clearly, the flood traditions are very widespread among ancient cultures. The ancient Sumerians, who actually preceded the Babylonians, also wrote (see Kramer, below) about a flood: “All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, attacked as one, at the same time, the flood sweeps over the cult centers.”
These references to a flood indicates something very important—all of the most prominent cultures on record believed that there had been a massive flood.
It would appear that flood stories are not only extraordinarily widespread, but also extraordinarily ancient. What was the cause of this catastrophic event? The ancients were adamant about the cause: divine, heavenly beings were responsible for the Great Flood. While these beings go by different names—Gun-Yu, Zeus, Yahweh, etc.—none of these cultures believed that the flood occurred by purely naturalistic causes. According to the ancient traditions, it was intentional. Even if we hold that the Flood was simply a product of ordinary causes, we would be left with the questions behind the question.
How is it that Noah, for example, could have known that he needed to construct a giant boat in order to survive the event? Who was responsible for warning those inhabitants about their impending doom? Who could have known that the flood was coming, in a day and age without anything close to sufficient weather technology? How could all of these cultures have similar stories when they were spread so far apart?
We can be nearly certain of several points in all of this. The first is that there was almost certainly a Great Flood (or floods) because every prominent ancient culture affirms it, and modern science has slowly been verifying that something of the sort occurred. To call all of these accounts “myths” is truly unfair. It is more probable that this event occurred than not.
The second point is related to the first, in that there is essentially a cross-cultural consensus concerning the event. While several of the most prominent accounts were mentioned, there are actually more than three hundred ancient flood stories from around the world. More than three hundred. It is quite true that many of the particulars (the details) of the flood stories differ from culture to culture, but the main aspects of each account are consistently present.
Can we really believe they were all just propagating some ancient lie that originated with a small group of people?
The third point is that there is also a consensus among the ancients that the flood was caused by greater, extraterrestrial beings who were releasing the waters upon the earth for the express purpose of destroying earthlings. These cultures seem largely to affirm that the god/s decided to spare a remnant of human beings so that the human race could ultimately outlast the catastrophe.
In the end, this appears to be yet another case where ancient history and modern science are converging. The simple fact that the ancient accounts all point to beings who possessed both extraordinary power and knowledge should cause us all to take pause. We might dismiss the whole thing if only a couple small groups promoted the idea of a massive flood. But when there are hundreds of accounts to consider—including the testimonies of the most renowned civilizations in ancient history—we have to admit that there might just be something to this.
Yeah, the notion of a Great Flood is no more realistic than all of the other fictional stories we love to read and tell about: the fairy tales we read to children before nap time.
Ballard, Robert. “Ballard and the Black Sea.” http://www.nationalgeographic.com/blacksea/ax/frame.html
Vintini, Leonardo. “Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, Did it Really Happen?”. The Epoch Times. http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/61371-was-there-really-a-great-flood/
Hannah Fairfield, “Finding Noah’s Flood”. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/99/11/flood.html
Holloway, April. “Gun-Yu and the Chinese Flood Myth.” http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/gun-yu-and-chinese-flood-myth-00370
Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer. Pg. 153. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday / Anchor, 1959
“Noah’s Flood.” http://www.columbia.edu/cu/newrec/2412/tmpl/story.4.html
Ryan, William. “Status of the Black Sea Hypothesis.” http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~billr/BlackSea/Ryan_Chapter7_Springer.pdf
Stone, Larry. “Did the Story of Noah Really Happen?” http://www.foxnews.com/science/2014/03/28/did-story-noah-really-happen.html
The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablets I and XI. http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/tab1.htm