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An Apologist for Noah?

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil...
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I recently received a comment on my post about the pseudoscientific / pseudoarchaeological quest for “Noah’s Ark,” the mythical boat that carried two of “every kind” (which most creationists describe as analogs to “species”) of animal along with a family of the only righteous man in the world for 40 days and nights while the entire world was flooded. This flood myth obviously didn’t happen, which is what I said in my earlier post. But this is, perhaps, not so obvious to those for whom the sciences of geology, biology, and archaeology are not studiously read.

Which is painfully obvious from Rick’s comment to me:

Regardless of whether or not the ark has been found, one of the things I get tired of hearing is the straw man argument about how a worldwide flood is impossible. Those who make arguments such as this show their ignorance of the Bible and its account of the flood. The Bible does not say that every species on the planet was on the ark. It says that two of every kind of land animal was on the ark. That means, two dogs, not two pit bulls and so on. Also, the Bible states that the mountains were raised up and the valleys sank down after the flood. This means that preflood mountains would have been lower than those of today, and it likely means that the oceans were not as deep. Regardless of whether you believe the story or not, if you’re going to try to tear apart the story, at least use the actual text and stop making up your own.

First, a “strawman” argument is one that mischaracterizes the argument of another by restating another’s argument in such a way to make it more easily defeated, leaving the old, but difficult to refute argument behind in hopes that the other will as well.

I made no strawman argument. I said, “obviously a global flood didn’t happen” (or something very close to this). This is obvious since there would be countless examples of physical evidence for such a flood in the geological record. Something similar to the evidence for an asteroid impact that had a global effect at 65 million years ago, which is the K-T boundary -that thin layer of sediment that is found the world over and in the same consistent location of the geologic column. Above this layer the fossil species present take on an entirely new taxonomy -the dinosaurs extinct and their fossil remains lying below. Yet there is no evidence which supports the mythical claim of global flooding. There is plenty of evidence for regionally constrained floods at various places both temporally and geographically, each of these using but a minuscule of the water necessary for a “global flood.” Moreover, there is a continuity present in the archaeological records of civilizations going back to over 10,000 years where human occupation is always present somewhere on the Earth’s surface and in many, many places at once. Where a civilization collapses or evolves, others take its place either elsewhere or in the same locality.

In addition, there is no possibility that a boat was constructed in human history which allowed for two representatives of each species in the Near East, much less the planet, to be safely carried for 40 days. Such an endeavor boggles the mind when one thinks of food, waste, and habitat required. And, in spite of Rick’s attempt to admonish me on the difference between “kind” and “species,” I still don’t see where he’s made a distinction. This is a failing of creationists and biblical literalists that cannot be overlooked.

Finally, his last statement that I should make an effort to use the actual text should I wish to “tear it apart” is worth serious consideration. So here I do so.

The Gilgamesh epic is demonstrably the literary progenitor of the Noachian myth. I’ll include passages from both Genesis and Gilgamesh here in a line-numbered format to compare:
1.
2. At the end of forty days
3. Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and released a raven,
4. Which flew back and forth as it waited for the waters to dry up on the earth
5. Then he released a dove to see whether the waters were receding from the earth
6. But the dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth. Putting his hand out, he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him.
7. After waiting seven more days, he again released the dove from the ark.
8. In the evening the dove came back to him and there in his beak was a freshly-picked olive leaf! So Noah realized that the waters were receding from the earth.
9. After waiting seven more days, he released the dove and now it returned no more.
–Genesis 8:6-12
Now Gilgamesh:
1.
2. When the seventh day arrived,
3. I sent forth and set free a dove.
4. The dove went forth but came back since no resting place was visible, she turned around.
5. Then I set forth a swallow
6. The swallow went forth but came back, since no resting place for it was visible, she turned around.
7. .
8. .
9. I then set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not around.
–Gligamesh XI, 145-54
In the Gilgamesh passage, I left two blank lines to maintain the correlation between the two and show the parallels. The Genesis passage shows clear embellishments (again, a common literary device of the period) I took the Gilgamesh passage from Pritchard (1958, pp 94-95).
It follows that if there are clear parallels and evidence of borrowed motifs between earlier flood myths and the Noachian one, then other sub-myths within the overall myth of Genesis would also be expected to have been borrowed. This isn’t evidence of “intellectual dishonesty” on the part of the authors of Genesis, rather this is evidence of the practice of the day. Nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples (as well as many sedentary peoples) had strong oral traditions (and still do) in which they pass on information from one generation to the next which they find important or vital to their culture. In so doing, embellishments naturally occur in the evolution of the story. What may have once been a factually based account of a real event becomes convoluted and embellished to the point that it can only now be considered a myth. Myths and stories get embellished also due to the encounters of the story-tellers with other story-tellers.
We must consider that even Abram (later “Abraham” in the “J” source, a name redaction justified by the “P” source) admits that he is nomadic and originally Sumerian. The myths in question are, indeed, Sumerian (a.k.a. Chaldean). There is even emerging evidence of a diaspora in the Persian Gulf region, perhaps due to inundation of the Persian Gulf basin before 4,000 BCE, which may be the progenitor for the flood myths themselves. Certainly the origins of the Sumerians (they come from “Dilmun” according to their own writings, a place described as “eden” and “paradise”) is largely a mystery: their language is a linguistic isolate and their religion acculturates itself gradually -almost seamlessly- with the earlier Ubaid culture at around the Jemdat Nasr period (4000-3100 BCE).

The Gilgamesh epic is demonstrably the literary progenitor of the Noachian myth. I’ll include passages from both Genesis and Gilgamesh here in a line-numbered format to compare:

First, Genesis:

1.

2. At the end of forty days

3. Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and released a raven,

4. Which flew back and forth as it waited for the waters to dry up on the earth

5. Then he released a dove to see whether the waters were receding from the earth

6. But the dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth. Putting his hand out, he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him.

7. After waiting seven more days, he again released the dove from the ark.

8. In the evening the dove came back to him and there in his beak was a freshly-picked olive leaf! So Noah realized that the waters were receding from the earth.

9. After waiting seven more days, he released the dove and now it returned no more.

–Genesis 8:6-12

Now Gilgamesh:

1.

2. When the seventh day arrived,

3. I sent forth and set free a dove.

4. The dove went forth but came back since no resting place was visible, she turned around.

5. Then I set forth a swallow

6. The swallow went forth but came back, since no resting place for it was visible, she turned around.

7. .

8. .

9. I then set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not around.

–Gligamesh XI, 145-54

In the Gilgamesh passage, I left two blank lines to maintain the correlation between the two and show the parallels. The Genesis passage shows clear embellishments (again, a common literary device of the period) I took the Gilgamesh passage from Pritchard (1958, pp 94-95).

It follows that if there are clear parallels and evidence of borrowed motifs between earlier flood myths and the Noachian one, then other sub-myths within the overall myth of Genesis would also be expected to have been borrowed. This isn’t evidence of “intellectual dishonesty” on the part of the authors of Genesis, rather this is evidence of the practice of the day. Nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples (as well as many sedentary peoples) had strong oral traditions (and still do) in which they pass on information from one generation to the next which they find important or vital to their culture. In so doing, embellishments naturally occur in the evolution of the story. What may have once been a factually based account of a real event becomes convoluted and embellished to the point that it can only now be considered a myth. Myths and stories get embellished also due to the encounters of the story-tellers with other story-tellers.

We must consider that even Abram (later “Abraham” in the “J” source, a name redaction justified by the “P” source) admits that he is nomadic and originally Sumerian. The myths in question are, indeed, Sumerian (a.k.a. Chaldean). There is even emerging evidence of a diaspora in the Persian Gulf region, perhaps due to inundation of the Persian Gulf basin before 4,000 BCE, which may be the progenitor for the flood myths themselves. Certainly the origins of the Sumerians (they come from “Dilmun” according to their own writings, a place described as “eden” and “paradise”) is largely a mystery: their language is a linguistic isolate and their religion acculturates itself gradually -almost seamlessly- with the earlier Ubaid culture at around the Jemdat Nasr period (4000-3100 BCE).

So, Rick, as you can see, I used the actual text, that is to say, Gilgamesh, in order to “tear apart” another. Both are made up. Gilgamesh and other stories of flood and deluge in the Near East make no inherent claim to be truthful or “divine word.” Perhaps they were once considered so. Perhaps they were stories based on some kernel of truth -a flood that actually occurred and devastated families and societies along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in antiquity. Evidence of such flooding is present in both the geological and archaeological records. None of these floods are on a scale larger than their local regions.

I created no strawman. It is obvious to those who aren’t overly bound by superstition that a global flood did not occur. It is obvious, too, that there was no “Noah” or an “ark” to waste money looking for. I have great admiration for biblical stories and the knowledge that can be gleaned from them, but at least know where to add the requisite grains of salt to my intellectual meal.

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