Rethinking the Flood (Part two)
Few take the biblical account of a worldwide flood seriously. Most view it as just another variation on received myths that arose from primitive and childlike worldviews in ancient times. But consider this: the book of Genesis sure comes across as if it is recording genuine and truthful accounts of earlier happenings. It talks about the inventiveness of pre-Flood folk, even naming some of their paramount innovators:
And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother's name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron (4:20-22).
One can also deduce that if they had developed metallurgical skills they undoubtedly made pottery, too. (Orthodox historical accounts put the invention of the potter's wheel at about 4000 B.C.) The brevity of the Genesis account frustrates those who yearn to know more about earliest history, but it provides just enough to inform us that the pre-Flood world was a sophisticated world. They tilled the soil (4:12), built cities (4:17) and practiced animal husbandry (above). They even used iron long before the Iron Age began. But just enough is provided to suggest that it was structured differently from the post-Flood world with its city states and professional armies, and the like. For instance, those who raised domestic livestock lived in tents (above).
Were these just bedtime stories of a piece with such literary gems as Wombat Stew? They don't read that way, do they? Passages that deal with personages and events after the Flood also read as if they are providing a true history:
These were the families of the sons of Noah, according to their generations, in their nations; and from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood (Gen. 10:32).
We are also given a chronology of the generations in the line of Abraham (11:10-26), which tell us that Abraham was born approximately three hundred years after the Flood; furthermore, working backwards from later known dates, biblical chronology sets the timing of the Flood at very roughly 2400-2350 B.C.1
Sure, you can reject them out of hand if you wish. But on what basis? Ah, of course. The facts of history and archaeology. No question about it. The story of ancient civilizations as put together by archaeologists and historians provides little comfort to those who accept the biblical accounts of both the universal Flood and chronology. They tell us, for instance, that the city of Jericho was inhabited, unbroken, during the Early and Middle Bronze Ages (3100-1800 B.C.). Uh, what about the Flood, which supposedly occurred right in the middle of that period? What are the chances that descendants of Noah would resettle in exactly the same place? After all, what knowledge would they even have of the city's very existence. And even if they did know about it (a distinct possibility if God told Noah to take some history books onto the ark as well as the animals), why would any of them have sought out the same spot to rebuild?
The problems for Flood believers go on and on. Egyptian history in particular presents a problem. Recent radiocarbon dating of 211 museum specimens of textiles and seeds and other organic matter associated with the remains of Egyptian kings has presented unequivocal evidence (for those who believe in the validity of radiocarbon dating) that orthodox interpretations of Egyptian chronology are fairly sound. They found, for example, that Djoser of the Third Dynasty
(meaning he was preceded by two lines of kings) began his reign "between 2691 and 2625 B.C", thus preceding the Flood by hundreds of years. Where in the world does one find evidence in Egyptian tomb paintings or in ancient historical sources of the significant hiatus in Egyptian history that must have occurred if Genesis is correct? But remember, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. Contemporary written records from earliest times in Egyptian history - the time around the Flood - are almost non-existent. (Perhaps due to the Flood!?) Apart from tomb and temple paintings (which obviously cannot present an exhaustive and systematic history) the only records of early Egyptian history come from much, much later. For example, the Turin King List, which provides the names and reigns of early kings, was not written until at least the reign of Rameses II (ca. 1250 B.C. - but even that date is contentious), over one thousand years after the Flood would have occurred - if it did occur. And this list was scribbled on the back of an older papyrus, possibly indicating that it was of no great importance to the writer.
Remember this: we live in an age in which the biblical record is systematically removed from almost all scholarly discussions about ancient history. Historians by and large reject whatever the Bible has to say and, perhaps inadvertently, allow their prejudices to skew their interpretations of the data. And we "little folk", without specialized training, are at their mercy. We can, however, take comfort in the very broad picture of ancient history presented in books and articles for the layman. You can read about the Hassuna, Halafian, Samarran, and Ubaid cultures. Though the dates given in standard texts for the end of these cultures does not fit the biblical chronology, one cannot help but wonder. When these Mesopotamian peoples disappeared from the scene, and were replaced by the Uruk culture, things changed dramatically:
But it was as if a page had been turned, for dramatic strides were made - new styles in pottery design, the construction of large cities [Gen. 10:8-12?], the building of sophisticated temples. and the development of administrative structures. Above all, however, the Uruk period gave rise to the first written records.2
Maybe this dramatic development occurred before the Flood. But just maybe it was a result of it. One also notes interesting statements by archaeologists, such as,
By 2350/2300 B.C., the city-state system had collapsed and all the tells were abandoned.3
Note the date. Makes you wonder, doesn't it. And then you have internal evidence from Scripture itself. About 350 years after the Flood, Abraham and Lot entered the land of Canaan. They met no resistance in spite of their search for adequate pastures for their huge herds of cattle:
And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere. like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east (Gen. 13:10-11).
Where were the rightful owners? The only logical explanation for the absence of a shootout at the O.K. corral is that the population in that area was still small. That's what you'd expect of a universal flood.4
Believers in the biblical Flood need not fret overmuch. The whole field of archeology and ancient history is loaded with contention among the experts. Who knows what the morrow may bring?