Thursday, October 18, 2007

The First Memoir

Here is the story of the worldwide flood recorded in Genesis 6-9. (I have also included what God had to say about meat eating in Genesis 9:2-4. This is for the benefit of my SDA brothers and sisters.)

What really happened? Read the Biblical account, and then I’ll tell you.

- Andy

Can you read this and believe it’s literally true? What about the physical size of the ark, the numbers of animals housed and fed, what about amphibians, the identification of “clean” an “unclean” animals before dietary laws were pronounced at Sinai, contradictory statements, the Lord smelling the “pleasing aroma” of Noah’s burnt offering. This account also makes God look stupid. He tried to destroy violence by the most catastrophic and violent act described in the Bible, and he failed miserably.

Before I describe what probably happened, I offer the following assumptions.

Assumption 1: the careful reading of the Bible will increase its value as a moral compass for behavior and will stimulate healthy intellectual inquiry.

Assumption 2: the actual reading of the Bible need not inspire fear, destructive doubt, or the rejection of the Bible as an inspired book.

Richard Elliott Friedman offers an explanation for the conflicting “facts” that are contained in the Biblical narrative. In his book, "Who Wrote the Bible”, He suggests that the Genesis flood story is actually two separate stories that someone “cut up and combined into one”.

Friedman’s thesis opens the door, at least a crack, for the consideration of the Flood, not as a literal account of what really happened, but a story about something like a tsunami.

Possible scenario: Earthquakes, probably the subduction or collision of tectonic plates, enlarged or broke through the land forms separating Europe (Gibraltar) from the coast of Africa and also created the Bosporus channel.

Fact: The Mediterranean and Black Sea bottoms contain evidence of previous human habitation.

Fact: Describing an event similar to the tsunami in South East Asia makes it possible to explain the Flood as something other than the result of God’s wrath; that we do not serve a god that is unforgiving and vindictive, who ruthlessly drowns innocent children and animals. That seems to me to be a worthy endeavor.

Here is my scenario. The people who survived the Flood lived some distance from their respective valley floors where cities, usually associated with sinful or at least secular behavior were likely to be situated. (Sodom and Gomorrah?) These people were savvy enough to head for higher ground when the animals did. Consequently, they ended up on the tops of hills accompanied by lots of animals. Some boats survived the general destruction.

The rainbow “promise” story was told by shamans to reassure shocked survivors, particularly children. The statement that “the waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet”, indicates the incredible magnitude of the event.

NOTE: Cartoon taken from Non Sequitur by Wiley
(click image to enlarge)

1 comment:

Andy Hanson said...

Geologists find signs of what may be Noah's flood

By Richard N. Ostling
The Associated Press

What?! New scientific proof demonstrating that the great biblical flood really did occur thousands of years ago?

Such is the sensational but speculative implication in the new book Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event That Changed History (Simon & Schuster,) by William Ryan and Walter Pitman. The authors are adjunct geology professors at Columbia University and senior scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Some biblical fundamentalists have expended great energy searching for the remains of Noah's ark. However, before they break out the nonalcoholic champagne to celebrate, they should know that the two scientists see no evidence for a worldwide deluge in line with a strictly literal reading of Genesis 7.

But geological research does find reason to believe there was indeed a vast, sudden and deadly flood around 5,600 B.C., close enough to the possible time of Noah to fascinate biblical literalists and liberals alike.

The Ryan-Pitman scenario was first publicized in a British television documentary in late 1996. The following year they laid out the technical data in the journal Marine Geology, but that scientific report avoided the all-important links with the biblical flood that are central to the current book.

The Ryan-Pitman candidate for the great flood locale is what we know as the Black Sea, bordering Turkey to the north. In 1993, Ryan and Pitman joined a Russian expedition on the Black Sea and used the latest technology to examine evidence of geological patterns, soil layers and forms of aquatic life that existed in ancient times.

One telltale clue: Freshwater mollusks with smashed shells gave way to saltwater creatures that had intact shells, a biological transition that could be dated through carbon-14 testing of the shell remains.

From such research, the scientists spin this scenario:

Until about 5600 B.C., the Black Sea was an inland freshwater lake, considerably smaller than today's saltwater sea and lying far below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. Then the sea waters broke through a natural dam that existed at the Bosporus strait, the waterway adjoining present-day Istanbul.

The flood was unusually sudden, powerful and deadly because sea waters were driven by the full force of the Mediterranean. It lasted a long time because all the world's oceans
continually pushed in new water to keep the Mediterranean at constant sea level.

By their calculations, the water would have rushed through at 50 mph with the power of Niagara Falls 200 times over. The waters inundated farmlands and drove the surviving inhabitants into other regions, including the areas to the south where flood stories were to be written down.

Surely, the authors contend, such a radical and frightening flood would have been burned into the permanent memory of the survivors and succeeding generations.

But the weak link in their theory comes right there. Could the flood story have been preserved for thousands of years before it reached the form we know from the biblical Genesis 6:8 and the similar narrative in pagan Babylon's Gilgamesh epic?

The geologists think that's not a stretch; others will doubtless disagree.

Biblical purists will note that Noah's flood was caused by rainfall, not the onrushing oceans depicted by the geologists. Also, the biblical flood was temporary, not permanent as in the new theory.