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The Flood: Not Global, Barely Local, Mostly Theological, Pt. 1


"Science and the Sacred" is pleased to feature essays from various guest voices in the science-and-religion dialogue. Today's entry was written by Paul Seely. Paul Seely is likely well known to
serious students of the intersection of the OT and the ANE. He has
written numerous pieces in several venues, including Westminster Theological Journal and Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (formerly Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation).
He has also delivered numerous papers at the annual meetings of the
American Scientific Affiliation. His lifelong area of focus is Genesis
1-11. The book Inerrant Wisdom was published in 1989 through the non-profit organization he founded, Evangelical Reform, Inc.


Part One: Noah’s Flood was not global


Data from various scientific disciplines provides a clear indication that Noah’s Flood did not cover the globe of the earth. Before considering that data, however, we must first determine a rough earliest probable date for the Flood. If the Flood is an actual
historical event, it must touch down in the empirical data of history
somewhere. We can make a rough approximation of its date from the two
genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. At one end is Adam, whose culture is
Neolithic and therefore can be dated no earlier than around 9,000 or
10,000 B.C. At the other end is Abraham who can be dated to
approximately 2000 B.C. In both genealogies the Flood occurs in the
middle of these two ends, and therefore roughly at 5500 or 6000 B.C. An
even clearer indication of the Flood’s date is implied by the statement
that shortly after the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard. This implies the
growing of domesticated grapes, which do not show up in the
archaeological record until c. 4000 B.C.1 The biblical Flood is therefore probably not earlier than 4000 or maybe 5000 B.C.2


What evidence is there then that there was no global Flood at any time since 5000 B.C.?


The first piece of evidence is geological. Christian geologists have given various scientific reasons why the Flood was not global.3 I will mention just one. From 9000 B.C. to the present, the only rocks in northern Mesopotamia which were made by rivers or oceans are along the river banks. This indicates that the only flooding which has
affected northern Mesopotamia in the last 11,000 years is from the
overflow of rivers.4

The second line of evidence is from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 ice core. The very close agreement of three independent, seasonally based, non-radiometric indicators of annual layers makes the age of the ice sheet on Greenland indisputably 11,000 years old, and the agreement of
two of those indicators adds another 100,000 years. Close examination
shows that the ice core is composed of fresh water from top to bottom.
There is not a single layer of ice in it or in the ground under it
composed of seawater nor any silt deposits such as a flood would leave.
Not a single layer gives evidence of having melted and refrozen. This
means no ocean water has ever stood over it or under it. Consequently,
this ice core falsifies the idea that there was a global flood in the
time of Noah.5

We can also consult archaeology. Before we do, however, we must briefly point out that carbon-14 dating has been fundamentally validated by comparison with other known dates. It fundamentally agrees with the tree ring record of American bristlecone pine going back to
6400 B.C. and with the tree ring record of European oak going back to
8480 B.C.6 The carbon-14 dates on these two different
sequences rise as the number of tree rings rise and are in such very
close agreement with each other that they convinced Gerald Aardsma,
Ph.D. specializing in carbon dating, and a teacher at the Institute for
Creation Research for 6 years, that Carbon-14 dating is reliable back
to c. 9300 B.C.7

With the validity of C-14 dating established back to at least c. 9000 B.C., we can now ask, "Is there any archaeological evidence for a Flood in the Near East subsequent to 4000 or 5000 B.C.?" The short answer is that the only evidence of serious flooding in the Near East
during that time period is from riverine floods.

When tells in the Near East which date from 5000 to the time of Abraham are examined, no evidence of a global flood is found. In fact, overlapping layers of occupation, one on top of the other, often with the remains
of mud-brick houses in place, are found intact spanning the entire
period. No matter what specific date one might put on the flood after
5000 B.C., there were sites in the Near East at that date where people
lived and remained undisturbed by any serious flood. In other words,
not only is there no evidence of a flood that covered the Near East,
there is archaeological evidence that no flood covered the Near East between 5000 and the time of Abraham.

In fact there are continuous cultural sequences which overlap each other from 9500 to 3000 B.C. and down into the times of the patriarchs and later.8

The empirical data of geology, glaciology, and archaeology, as interpreted by virtually all scientists qualified in these areas of study, clearly testify that no flood covered the entire globe or even the entire Near East at any time in the last 11,000 years.

The biblical flood story is likely based on more local events, which we will explore in my next post.

1. Jane M. Renfrew, “Vegetables in the Ancient Near East Diet,” CANE 1:192; Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of Plants in the Old World (2d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 134

2. For more details see Paul H. Seely, “Noah’s Flood: Its Date, Extent, and Divine Accommodation,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004) 291-293.

3. Glenn Morton, “Why the Flood was not Global,” http://home.entouch.net/dmd/gflood.htm; Donald C. Boardman, “Did Noah’s Flood Cover the entire World, No,” in Ronald F. Youngblood, ed., The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990) 210-229. Wayne Ault, "Flood," Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) 2:556-563; Davis Young, Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977) 176-210.

4. Personal communication from Glenn Morton verified by geological maps.

5. Paul H. Seely, “The GISP2 Ice Core: Ultimate Proof that Noah’s Flood was not Global,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 55 (2003) 252-60, available at http://www.asa3.org/aSA/PSCF/2003/PSCF12-03Seely.pdf.

6. M. Spurk, M. Friedrich, J. Hofmann, S. Remmele, B.Frenzel, H. H. Leuschner, and B. Kromer, "Revisions and Extension of the Hohenheim Oak and Pine Chronologies: New Evidence About the Timing of the Younger Dryas/Preboreal Transition," Radiocarbon 40 (1998) 1107- 1116.

7. Gerald Aardsma, "Radiocarbon, Dendrochronology and the Date of the Flood," in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism (ed. Robert E. Walsh and Chris L. Brooks; Pittsburgh, PA: The Fellowship, 1990) 1-10; Gerald Aardsma, "Tree-ring dating and multiple ring growth per year," Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 29
(March 1993) 184-189.

8. The two sites, Abu-Hureyra in Syria and Mehrgarh in Pakistan, by themselves, show continuous overlapping occupation from 9500 to 3000 B.C. Andres M. T. Moore, G. C. Hillman, and A. J. Legge, Village on the Euphrates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 491-93; Frank R. Allchin and Bridget Allchin, “Prehistory and the Harrapan Era,” The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India (ed. Francis Robinson; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 71; Dilip K. Chakrabarti, India: An Archaeological History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 126-36.

For another interesting discussion of science and faith, head over to "Jesus Creed" for their discussion of the question: "What effect does your approach to science have on your ability to be a missional witness in your communities? Will people set foot in the door and feel welcome?"

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The Flood: Not Global, Barely Local, Mostly Theological, II


"Science and the Sacred" is pleased to feature essays from various guest voices in the science-and-religion dialogue. Today's entry was written by Paul Seely. Paul Seely is likely well known to serious students of the intersection of the OT and the ANE. He has written numerous pieces in several venues, including Westminster Theological Journal and Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (formerly Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation). He has also delivered numerous papers at the annual meetings of the American Scientific Affiliation. His lifelong area of focus is Genesis 1-11. The book Inerrant Wisdom was published in 1989 through the non-profit organization he founded, Evangelical Reform, Inc.

Part Two: Noah’s Flood was Barely Local.

There are so many close similarities between the biblical Flood account and the Mesopotamian accounts that conservative scholars like Alexander Heidel, Merril Unger, Donald Wiseman, John Walton and others have concluded that the biblical and Mesopotamian flood accounts go back to a common tradition about the same flood.1 This means if we can locate the flood mentioned in the Mesopotamian accounts, we will have located the biblical flood.

Working from inscriptions and the Sumerian King List, the Sumerian Noah, Ziusudra, who lived in the city of Shuruppak, can be roughly dated to c. 2850 B.C. This agrees quite closely with the date of the only Mesopotamian flood that left simultaneous deposits in three locations (Shuruppak, Uruk, and Kish). A number of ancient Near Eastern scholars have, therefore, concluded that this flood is probably the one mentioned in the Mesopotamian and biblical accounts.2

Historian Jack Finegan writes,

Since in Sumerian tradition Shuruppak was the last ruling city before the flood and Kish was the first thereafter, it was presumably the inundation attested at Shuruppak between the Jemdet Nasr and Early Dynastic periods (and at Uruk and Kish at about the same time) that was the historic flood so long remembered. The date was about 2900.3


It is plausible that the Mesopotamian flood of c. 2900 B.C. was the historical basis of the biblical account. A Mesopotamian flood theory is the only flood theory that explains the fact that no other flood stories are anywhere near as close to the biblical account as the Mesopotamian accounts.4 It is also the only flood theory that agrees with the biblical description of the sources of the Flood’s water as all being fresh water sources.5

So, there is an objective basis for an actual biblical Flood. Why then do I title this post “Barely Local?” The answer is that neither the flood of 2900 B.C. nor any other actual local flood, such as the Black Sea flood, nor the melting of ice caps at various historical points closely fits the biblical description. Local flood theories do not fit the biblical account with regard to secondary issues such as lasting one year and destroying all the birds (even in a local area). More importantly, no local flood theory agrees with the biblical account at the most critical points: landing the ark in the Ararat mountains, covering the entire Near East (Genesis 9:19, “all the earth” = Genesis 10), establishing Noah as a new Adam, i.e., as a new beginning of the human race6, and dismantling the universe by reversing creation days two and three.7

We can say then that the biblical account may well be based upon an actual Mesopotamian flood and therefore is not properly designated a myth. At the same time, it is evident from geology, anthropology and archaeology that the above mentioned four critical points in the biblical description, which go well beyond the scope of a local flood, cannot be regarded as actual, factual history. The biblical account would, therefore, be properly described as Legend (or better, Parabolic Legend, as I will describe in my third post).

A fact often missing from the discussion of whether the Flood is global or local is the fact that Genesis 1-11 is accommodated to the limited scientific knowledge of the Israelites. We see this in the Flood account’s definition of “the whole earth.” Genesis 9:19, “These three were the sons of Noah: and of these was the whole earth overspread,” leads us to the author’s definition of “the whole earth.” It is the area overspread by the descendants of the three sons of Noah. Contextually, this area is set forth in Genesis 10. The “whole earth” according to the (final) author of Genesis 6-10 is thus the greater Near East.

This contextual definition of “the whole earth” excludes the usual ideas of a limited local flood as well as the idea that the Flood is described in Scripture as covering our modern globe. The biblical account is not written from the perspective of God’s knowledge of geography but is accommodated to the Israelites’ limited knowledge, wherein “the whole earth” both extends to and is limited to the greater Near East.

In addition, the sources of the Flood’s waters in Scripture depend upon an ocean above the sky and beneath the earth. The account is thus divinely accommodated to the ancient Israelites’ view of the universe.8 Since it involves ancient Near Eastern “science,” which has since been superseded, the biblical description is not all actual-factual. The biblical account is, in fact, much grander than the actual event, a point that we will look at in my third and final post.

1. Alexander Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946, 1949) 260. See a list of similarities in Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco, TX: Word, 1987) 163–64; Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954) 68; Donald J. Wiseman, Illustrations from Biblical Archaeology (London: Tyndale, 1958) 8; John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989) 40.

2. William W. Hallo and William Kelly Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971) 35–36; Mallowan, "Noah's Flood Reconsidered," 81; Samuel Noah Kramer, "Reflections on the Mesopotamian Flood: The Cuneiform Data New and Old," Expedition 9:4 (Summer, 1967) 18; H. W. F. Saggs, Babylonians (Berkeley: University of California Press, c2000) 39.

3. Jack Finegan, Archaeological History of the Ancient Middle East (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979) 26.

4. John Bright, “Has Archaeology Found Evidence of the Flood?” The Biblical Archaeologist 5 (1942) 56; Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1967) 96; Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 132.

5. Rain is obviously fresh water, and see Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Fountains of the Great Deep,” Origins 1 (1974): 67-72.

6. Kenneth Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26 (Nashville: Broadmans, 1996) 351, 398. The fact that Noah is taking the place of Adam as a new beginning for mankind has been widely recognized for centuries, e.g., “Noah was the beginning of our race” (Justin Martyr, Dial 19, ANF 1:204); “Noah, the second father of mankind” (Charles John Ellicott, Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible [c. 1863; repr., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959], 1:44); “the second origin of the human race” (Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Biblical Idea of Revelation,” in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible [Philadephia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1948], 78); “Adam the father of all humanity and Noah its father in the post-diluvian world” (Bruce Waltke, Genesis [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001], 127); “Noah is a second Adam,” Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1–17 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990], 313).

7. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, 291; Mathews, Genesis, 351, see 376; Walter Brown, The Ethos of the Cosmos (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) 54, cited in John H. Walton, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 331; Waltke, Genesis, 139; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1987) 181.

8. For more details on the accommodation of the Flood account, see my paper, “Noah’s Flood: Its Date, Extent, and Divine Accommodation,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004) 291-311.
I have a minor quibble with this Statement
There are so many close similarities between the biblical Flood account and the Mesopotamian accounts that conservative scholars like Alexander Heidel, Merril Unger, Donald Wiseman, John Walton and others have concluded that the biblical and Mesopotamian flood accounts go back to a common tradition about the same flood.
The Biblical account is a statement by eyewitnesses of the flood (Noah's sons). Wiseman demonstrates this, and this is the only reasonable conclusion from Radday's statistical linguistics. The Mesopotamian accounts all claim to be from an eyewitness (the Sumerian Noah, Ziusudra) passed down for several generations as an oral tradition.
As BCS demonstrates
So, there is an objective basis for an actual biblical Flood. Why then do I title this post “Barely Local?” The answer is that neither the flood of 2900 B.C. nor any other actual local flood, such as the Black Sea flood, nor the melting of ice caps at various historical points closely fits the biblical description. Local flood theories do not fit the biblical account with regard to secondary issues such as lasting one year and destroying all the birds (even in a local area). More importantly, no local flood theory agrees with the biblical account at the most critical points: landing the ark in the Ararat mountains, covering the entire Near East (Genesis 9:19, “all the earth” = Genesis 10), establishing Noah as a new Adam, i.e., as a new beginning of the human race6, and dismantling the universe by reversing creation days two and three.
is not a proper understanding of the biblical text. It should be noted that Scripture never refers to Noah as a new Adam, a point that should be obvious, but apparently needs to be shouted from the mountain tops.
Maybe shouted from the Mountains of Ararat!
The Shuruppak flood was a very interesting flood. It left a single layer of clay, 5 to 10 feet thick.

Primarily, the water came out of the ground, rising water table, more that than the rivers over-flowing their banks. The surface water, would have evaporated in the intense May heat and rained backed down. This would have continued steadily for at least a couple weeks and continued off and on until the end of Sept, 5 months later. All of this rain was generated by, not the cause of, the flood.

This is a place, where most years, there is no rain at all. What little rain falls, falls in the winter, almost never any during the hot summer dry season.

Ararat is an ancient name for Iran. The flatness of the area is such that the prevailing winds might overcome the current, or the ark might have been washed into the Persian Gulf. Either way, the ark would have been blown into the hills on the border of modern Iraq and Iran, someplace near where that border hits the ancient shoreline of the Gulf. My guess is someplace in the hills 20 to 50 miles north or east of modern Ahvaz, Iran.
Jeff,

You are a well of knowledge. Thanks so much.

Micah
I just hope no Christians are buying this. If the flood wasn't global, God could have spared Noah the trouble building an ark big enough with withstand a global flash flood and to house two of each animal kind. God could have told Noah to simply move away from the region. He also could have told the animals to move away with Noah instead of coming to Noah in the "danger zone." Plus, the rainbow was God's sign of the Covenant he made with the earth that he would not destroy it with water again. If the flood wasn't global, then God is a liar because we've had countless local floods since then all over the globe. No to mention, HOW MANY ancient cultures have Flood stories? More than I can remember off the top of my head! I guess they all migrated from the same local spot and survived the flood that rose above the mountains (ever heard of a LOCAL flood that rises above mountains?) Before the flood there was no rain yet on the earth (Gen 2:5-6) and it was watered by misty springs. Are we to believe this is really just some lesson on theology rather than accepting the account of our the physical Creation? It says it watered the "whole surface of the ground", I guess that really means it only watered the part where Adam was standing - I mean come on! Gen 6:17, 9:11 say that "all life under the heavens" were destroyed. But I guess the "all life" was only some scorpions and camels in one city. Yeah, that explains why God saved a male and female of every kind of animal...

This article really irritates me in case you can't tell. :)
"I just hope no Christians are buying this."

By "this" do you mean a local flood? Well, since there are Christians on this forum who advocate a local flood, I am afraid your hopes have been dashed. I certainly hope you are not suggesting that a local view of the flood is incompatible with Christianity. Because that type of rhetoric would not be tolerated here.
No need to put words in my mouth. If you could please address what I did say, that would be much appreciated.
Jason,

You have a right to be irratated if the story was intended the way you believe it was. However compare the language in the flood account with Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation and ask yourself if its not possible that your reading Biblical language literaly that was intended in a different vein. If Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation can be read symboloicaly and we believe they reveal God's truth through symbolism then is it just possible that Gen 1-11 may be incased in similar language.? Just something for you to ponder on because if it turns out that is the case then the language of the flood might actually reveal to us an important theological story just like Revelation does concerning the last days. Of course most folks think Revelation is about the end of the Physical World and we Preterist have a difficult time convincing them otherwise.

Blessings

Norm
Norm, it seems from Scripture that God used the physical events of the past as shadows for their realities at the time of Christ. As I said earlier, Genesis is very literal in its effects of time, names and places. Books like Daniel and Ezekiel, etc were drawing upon the physical events (like in Genesis) to show them what was spiritually taking place. This doesn't mean that Ezekiel and others are saying the events are the very same. I've been a Full Preterist for just over a year now and Genesis stands just fine with it being literal - in fact, it works great as the "warnings" that were taking place in the generation of 30-70 AD (1Cor 10:11).
Jason,

What you are saying here is basically speculation and is not verified by scripture. As I said earlier you could take the same argument for Revelation as youre doing in Genesis. So the question becomes whether one can biblically support their premise concerning a symbolical application or a literal application. The language and symbols are the same found in Genesis as they are found in those other sections that I've mentioned. This doesn't mean that there wasn't a literal happening just as it doesn't infer in Revelation that there wasn't real people symbolised by the "woman" fleeing "Satan" into the wilderness.

Jason, I don't expect you to change your views just because I say so but I do want to present to you that there are perhaps better applications to Genesis that you may not have opened your mind to yet. I know because I've been there before and it took years for me to get over my propensity to read sacred sections of scripture as symbolic instead of Literal.

blessings

Norm
PS What part of Houston do you live in. I live in Sugar Land
Norm, Third Ward. :)

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