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Reading Noah's Flood and other ancient near-Eastern literature

Clinton CHISLOM

Wednesday, May 14, 2014    

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ONE of Dr Michael Abraham's clients called my attention to his recent column on Noah and the flood, and based on her testimony I regard Dr Abraham as a sincere seeker-after-truth.

It needs to be hammered home to everyone (Christian and critic alike) that we cannot use our likes or dislikes, our belief or disbelief in the content of a text to decide on the genre of that piece of ancient literature. The advice of world-renowned specialists should be useful.

Kenneth Kitchen is professor emeritus of egyptology and honorary research fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics, and Oriental Studies, University of Liverpool, England. After providing a summary comment on the lengths of the various flood accounts from the ancient near-East, he informs "...the Sumerians and Babylonians of c 2000/1800 BC believed so firmly in the former historical occurrence of such a flood — in a land plagued by floods until modern times — that they inserted it into the Sumerian King list, and not merely in their epic tales. In the second and final form of that list, the flood was a benchmark between kings before, and kings after, the flood. Thus...it is not surprising to find authorities in Mesopotamian archaeology and history such as [Sir Max] Mallowan or [William] Hallo seriously essaying to date the flood of tradition. Pure fiction hardly seems likely, as a solution." (In his 1977 book The Bible In Its World, p 30)

In a similar vein, Walter C Kaiser Jr, distinguished professor of Old Testament, advises concerning Genesis 1-11: "The bulk of Genesis 1-11 is in narrative form; not poetic narrative, such as some of the OT [Old Testament] prophets exhibit, but prose narrative. Poetic narrative would provide for forms such as myths, sagas, legends, anecdotes, and various other types of tales, but Genesis 1-11 does not give any of the indicia that would allow for these types of narratives." (In his 2001 book The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? p 81)

Dr Abrahams' piece was quite interesting and humourous but, though he may not know it, every single one of his queries has been plausibly answered ages ago. If the goodly doctor would oblige with his mailing details I would send him a gift copy of the 1996 delightful book Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study by J Woodmorappe.

Rather than treat Noah as 'fool-fool', we should attribute basic common sense to him and read the biblical texts carefully and many puzzles disappear. As I urged in a media dialogue donkey's years ago "the Ark was not a canoe...". As researcher Jonathan Sarfati observed: "The Ark measured 300 x 50 x 30 cubits (Genesis 6: 15), which is about 450 x 75 x 45 feet...so its volume was 1.54 million cubic feet. To put this in perspective, this is the equivalent volume of 522 standard American railroad stock cars, each of which can hold 240 sheep. Most vertebrates are actually rather small (rodents, lizards, birds), and the median size would have been that of a rat. If the animals were kept in cages with an average size as large as 1 cubic metre, the 16,000 animals would only have occupied 16,000m3, a little over one entire deck." (In his very commendable 2004 book Refuting Compromise, p 275).

If you are wondering about Sarfati's number of animals, bear in mind that even we proud moderns do not know for sure how many species of land vertebrates (the only kind brought by God to Noah, see Genesis 6: 20) there are, or were at any time in history. Even if Noah selected the animals he would be sensible enough to choose the infants of species or families plus; even dinosaurs are not all huge and they all grow over time. Taking care of waste and smell could possibly be dealt with by "sloped floors or slatted cages, where the manure could fall away from the animals and be flushed away — plenty of water around! — or be destroyed by vermicomposting (...by worms), which would also provide earthworms as a food source...absorbent material (for example, sawdust, softwood shavings, and especially peat moss) could have reduced the moisture content and hence the odor." (Sarfati, p 276)

The post-flood spread of certain animals can be adequately explained by an appeal to plate tectonics (catastrophic or uniformitarian) as the once connected earth separated into continents (see J Beard, 'How a Supercontinent Went to Pieces', New Scientist 137: 19 (January 16, 1993).

The modern critic's rejection of the historicity of biblical accounts that contain divine intervention may be understandable, but not excusable. The Merneptah stele, like the Bible, provides evidence of divine intervention in a historical narrative. British egyptologist and linguist Kenneth Kitchen says: "The support of deity is repeatedly invoked in what are otherwise straightforward historical accounts, because that is simply how the ancients saw their world. Again, the Ten-Year Annals of Mursil II are a good example among very many. This feature does not imply non-historicity, either outside the Hebrew Bible or inside it." (On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, 175) — This book is a goldmine of information.

clintchis@yahoo.com

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