We all know the story of Noah and the great flood, perhaps the best known Old Testament story. It can be found in chapters 6-9 in the book of Genesis, as well as recounted in the Koran. A mysterious event handed down from the ancients, it is a story of a catastrophe, the worst in human history. It occurred not to long after the 'creation' in Genesis. A worldwide flood in which Noah, a righteous man in God's eyes was spared by God along with his family and a multitude of animals, while the rest of the world perished in the deluge. It was to be the beginning of a new era. The washing clean of the sins of the world.
Genesis 6:13 (KJV)
And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
Some problems persist about the Noah story however. James Usher, a 17th century Irish priest, was partial to chronology. From his studies of the Bible he was able to establish that the world was created in 4004 BC, and the great flood occurred in 2328 BC. Ignoring the creation date for obvious reasons, he may not have been too far off with the flood date.
But Noah was 600 years of age according to Genesis, a problem for obvious reasons. So called 'facts' like that in the Bible frighten many scholars away from serious biblical research due to their lack of reason. Stories like that are generally perceived as not worthy of investigation. However, to explain the age issue some theologians say that when the bible refers to years as age it really is a metaphor for respect. When a great age is assigned to someone it implies great respect. It was a time and culture when age was respected - so unlike today!
There are many perplexing and baffling aspects to the Noah story. How many animals were there? There must be thousands of different types of land-based animals that required the shelter of the Ark to survive. Certain animals are obviously found in only specific parts of the world, how did these get to the Ark? And how did they return to where they came from? How did polar bears come from and return to the Artic. The same can be asked for penguins and the Antarctic, kangaroos and Australia, llamas and Peru, etc, etc.
What did they eat? How could the correct food, their normal diet, their essential diet for survival, be provided to each animal? How was food preserved for their duration on the Ark? How were so many animals fed by so few people? How were the animals exercised over the course of an entire year on the Ark? How was all the animal waste disposed of?
How were all the animals loaded in such a short period of time as 7 days? How could they all fit on a boat that size? Could so many prey and predators live side by side?
As regards the Ark itself, God told Noah to build an enormous wooden Ark with dimensions, according to the Bible, 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits tall. A cubit is about half a meter. But could Noah build a boat of such dimensions just from wood, which would withstand such a flood and deluge. How could he have acquired so much wood, cut the wood, shaped the wood and piece it all together solidly enough to ensure it was seaworthy?
Evidence of the Ark
So is there any evidence today of the most famous ship of all time? Could it still be embedded and preserved at least partially in a glacier in the mountains of the middle-east?
An Ark made of wood would surely not survive 1000s of years. So the famous CIA photo, the so-called 'Ararat Anomaly', a photo taken by the US Airforce in 1949, and numerous time subsequently by aircraft and satellites, can certainly be ruled out. How could it possibly end up at an altitude of 15000 feet at the top of a mountain anyway? The boat-like structure photographed did appear out of place. Unfortunately, due to the politically sensitive area that Mt Ararat is located, along with the fact that the top of the mountain is permanently snow-capped, and often under cloud cover, confirmation one way or the other remains elusive. Though it's hard to believe that is the case in 2009 when we have the capability and technology to prove once and for all what this structure actually is. Surely a well equipped archaeological expedition could accomplish this. We walked on the moon in 1969 but we can't walk on top of a mountain 40 years later! Certainly the potential rewards of finding proof of the Ark's existence would be immense, surely man's greatest discovery to-date.
Could the Ark have survived until 275BC? According to Berosus, it did. Berosus was a Babylonian writer who wrote The History of Babylonia in the early part of the 3rd century BC. The following quote, a reference to the Ark, is from his writings; "It is said, moreover, that a portion of the vessel still survives in Armenia on the mountain of the Cordyaens, and that persons carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they use as talismans."
But are people searching in the right place for the Ark? It seems not as Mt Ararat has been the source of much attention for the Ark hunters, since Genesis refers to this as its final resting place. However there are many scholars who claim that in biblical times the Ararat referred to in Genesis was actually an ancient name for the mountains in what is now Kurdistan, and it's these mountains, the Zagros mountains that Genesis is referring to as the final resting place of the Ark.
In fact Judi Dagh, a mountain about 100 miles north of Mosul, Iraq, is now proving to be the most likely resting place of the Ark. Located in the Zagros mountains on the Iraq/Turkish border this is a few hundred miles distant from the traditional resting place of the Ark, Mt Ararat in Eastern Turkey. Josephus made claim to this. As did Beressos.
The Koran also refers to Mount Judi as the resting place of the Ark.
"And the word was spoken: "O earth! swallow up thy waters! And, O sky, cease [thy rain]!" And the water sank into the earth, and the will [of God] was done, and the ark came to rest on Mount Judi. And the word was spoken: "Away with these evil doing folk!" (Quran, 11:44)."
Also, it was written that Sennacherib, the Assyrian king in the early 7th century BC, came upon a wooden plank which he worshipped as an idol as it had been part of Noah's Ark. He had come across it at the site of the Ark's resting place, in the land of the Kurds. But the precise location of his find was unknown until rock carvings of his own image were discovered on Judi Dagh in 1904 by L.W. King.
Either way, throughout the years there have been numerous searches for the Ark, coupled with numerous claims of success, but alas, no concrete evidence. In fact usually follow-up inspections by expeditions confirm that claims turned out to be merely a geological phenomena or a hoax.
Evidence of the Great Flood
Do we have any evidence of a worldwide flood? Well, no is the answer, we can conclusively rule it out. But while the Genesis story may not be accurate, is this a case of 'there is no smoke without fire'? It is conceivable that Noah could have saved his family and his animals in a local flood, maybe he had a big sturdy boat at the time, the envy of his neighbours, and the story was developed from there. And coupled with circulating flood legends and embellished with the use of a poetic licence it became incorporated into the Biblical flood we read in Genesis and the Koran. Perhaps a story devised with best intentions, as a reason to obey God's laws and wishes at your own peril - a type of biblical metaphor.
Floods stories and traditions are actually common to many parts of the world, crossing cultures, continents and religions. They are certainly not unusual to the Mesopotamian 'flood plain' which is susceptible to flooding from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
In fact the Sumerians too have their great flood story, which is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The oldest complete version of this story can be traced back to 2000 BC. Gilgamesh was the king of Uruk who reigned around 2600 BC. After the death of his friend Enkidu (space traveller?), Gilgamesh realized his own mortality and he decided to try and find the secret of eternal life. He seeks out Utnapishtim, his ancestor who had gained immortality, and throughout their discussions Utnapishtim informs Gilgamesh that he himself had escaped a great flood.
The parallels here with the Biblical flood are strong enough to suggest that they may be one and the same. In fact sceptics have suggested that Moses borrowed the facts from the Sumerians, thereby making a new version of the same story a few hundred years later. The core of both accounts is very similar, for instance both accounts state;
- the deluge was divinely planned and revealed to the hero of the deluge
- the hero was instructed to build a boat to take family and animals to safety
- birds were sent forth to determine whether the waters were subsiding
It is thought that world-wide-flood legends may have originated from ancient observations of seashells and marine fossils on high ground and mountains recorded in the records and histories of the Greeks, Egyptians, Sumerians, Chinese and many other ancient civilizations. Of course today we know that submerged land can be uplifted to form mountains over extremely long periods of time, a normal geological phenomenon, and this is how the fossil marine life ends up on high ground.
But returning to the Biblical flood, one theory regarding its origins, the Ryan-Pitman theory, argues for a catastrophic rise of the Black Sea water level around 5600 BC. This resulted from water building up in the Mediterranean and Aegean sea's until eventually overflowing via the Bosporus straits into the Black Sea. Evidence to support this includes submerged beaches, 150 meters below the surface, discovered when mapping underwater topography in the Black Sea. Also, core sample show that the Black Sea was once a freshwater lake, then very suddenly became a saltwater sea, shown by an abrupt transition from freshwater clams to marine clams and this transition was dated to 7600 years ago. It seemed indeed like a flood of biblical proportions, perhaps caused by melting polar ice caps at the end of the ice age, affected the Mediterranean and in turn the Black Sea.
So the water from the Mediterranean flowed into the Black Sea in a dramatic event over the course of perhaps weeks. The people living around the Black sea would probably have time to save themselves and move to higher ground but many of their possessions may have been swept away in the 'deluge' and the legend of the flood in this area was born. The stories of the great flood were passed on verbally from generation to generation, until eventually written down in stories such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical flood. This would have seemed to be a huge dramatic event at the time as the flood would have covered most the land (the world) they knew about then. And the bible scribes perhaps added a moral dimension to the story.
But David Rohl, a well respected biblical scholar has rebuked this theory on the grounds that the dates are too early, the ancient writings make specific reference to rainstorms and not just flooding which the Ryan-Pitman theory doesn't accommodate, and the floods eventually receded, where as the Black sea didn't.
And another piece of evidence in support of a 'flood' was discovered at the time of a major excavation of the Sumerian city of Ur between the years 1928 and 1934 by Sir Leonard Woolley, who unearthed a thick alluvial silt deposit. He concluded that this was a 'flood layer', consistent with some major flood event. This discovery has since been dated to around 3000 BC.
So there is much evidence to suggest that 'the flood' described in Genesis and the Sumerian texts was an actual historical event (or two events?) in ancient times in this region. But its causes, its scale and its implications are the real questions that require more precise answers.