Monday, October 08, 2007

The Biblical Deluge


[Noah's Ark]

This week, Jews will read in the synagogue the story of the Deluge, Genesis 6 to 8. This story describes how God wished to destroy all of mankind except for one righteous family. To do this, He caused water to pour out of the sky and from within the earth and to cover the entire globe for a period of several months. In the meantime, Noah and his family took refuge within a boat Noah had built. A sample of every land animal and bird likewise took refuge in the ark. The water then disappeared and Noah, his family and the animals were able to disembark from the ark and repopulate the earth. According to Talmudic tradition, the Deluge occurred in 2106 BCE.

Questions often asked about the Deluge are: Where did all the water come from? Where did it all go? How did the animals find the ark? How did they, together with their food, all fit into the ark? How did they return to their original habitats afterwards? How did plants survive?

The answer is: God did it. In other words, these events cannot be explained according to the laws of physics, chemistry, biology etc. They can only be explained by miraculous divine intervention.

Atheists take it for granted that the Deluge did not happen, since to believe it did happen would mean believing in miracles, which would mean believing in God, which would mean believing in God’s commandments, which would disturb their selfish and self-indulgent lifestyle.

However, putting aside self-serving narrow-mindedness, is there any proof outside the Bible that the Deluge did in fact happen?

First of all, the Deluge is recorded in the oral histories of most ancient nations. Considering the fact that natural floods are never extensive enough to leave the survivors believing that they are the only humans remaining alive, apparently these Deluge legends are based on a miraculous global flood.

In addition to that, the only civilizations in existence in 2106 BCE were Egypt, Sumer and the Indus Valley Civilization. Egyptian civilization changed radically at the time of the Deluge. The Old Kingdom, along with its unique massive building programs, ended at this time. (I have previously written a post regarding Egypt.) Sumer fell at this time as well. The Indus Valley Civilization is believed to have ended approximately 1700 BCE, however I am uncertain how precise that date is. We have no written records from that civilization. Seemingly uncalibrated radiocarbon dating from that era could be inaccurate by several hundred years. Problems within that range are found in Egyptian archeology.

Therefore I would suggest that although our knowledge of that era is very limited, archeology does hint at the possibility of a global catastrophe about 4,000 years ago.

There is no geological evidence of the Biblical Deluge, however when one considers the miraculous nature of the Deluge, this is hardly surprising. Surely no one would argue that the lack of scorch marks on Mount Sinai proves that the Ten Commandments were never given there.

[Interestingly, Bruce Masse, an environmental archeologist at the Los Alamo National Laboratory, believes that a global flood did indeed happen in historic times. He believes, however that it occurred in 2807 BCE, killed 80% of mankind and was caused by a comet strike. See Discover magazine, 11/2007, page 66 for details.]

23 comments:

Lubab No More said...

> The answer is: God did it.

I appreciate the invitation to read your blog but answers like the one above are exactly the reason I don't believe in God/Torah. I'm afraid I won't find what I am looking for here.

jewish philosopher said...

What sort of answers are you looking for?

BEEHIVE said...

JP,

I've been a long time reader, but I admit it,I am a bit shy.

I would say that oral histories are not always accurate and it is a little hard to base such a huge phenomena on the perceptions of people.

Personally, I believe that science and God work together. One can not exist without the other.

Cameron said...

JP: Questions often asked about the Deluge are: Where did all the water come from? Where did it all go? How did the animals find the ark? How did they, together with their food, all fit into the ark? How did they return to their original habitats afterwards? How did plants survive?

CH: Excellent questions. I would add;

What about dinosaurs which predate the 'deluge'?

JP: The answer is: God did it. In other words, these events cannot be explained according to the laws of physics, chemistry, biology etc. They can only be explained by miraculous divine intervention.

CH: Or as I like to call it, the 'I completely give up' explanation. Having discovered that there is not a shred of evidence for what you believe, having in fact catalogued both many of the obvious questions, and half dozen fields of science that abandon you, you just simply claim 'God did it'. This lack of evidence, this complete reversal of reality compared to your beliefs isn't a bug, it's a feature! Bravo.

JP: In addition to that, the only civilizations in existence in 2106 BCE were Egypt, Sumer and the Indus Valley Civilization.

CH: What about the Chinese? The Japanese? (I could go on...)


JP: Egyptian civilization changed radically at the time of the Deluge. The Old Kingdom, along with its unique massive building programs, ended at this time. (I have previously written a post regarding Egypt.) Sumer fell at this time as well. The Indus Valley Civilization is believed to have ended approximately 1700 BCE, however I am uncertain how precise that date is. We have no written records from that civilization. Seemingly uncalibrated radiocarbon dating from that era could be inaccurate by several hundred years. Problems within that range are found in Egyptian archeology.

CH: I claim no special knowledge about ancient Egypt (though in a pinch I will refer disputes to my friend doing her PHD in Egyptology), but here are some opening thoughts on the above paragraph;

Egypt was like all civilazations, built on and around a major river, in this case, the Nile. One of its major features? Routine flooding. If they didn't have flood stories, now THAT would be exciting!

As for the Indus etc. having their own flood stories? C'mon. All civilzations with rivers have flood stories. Just like Japan has Tsunami stories.

JP: There is no geological evidence of the Biblical Deluge, however when one considers the miraculous nature of the Deluge, this is hardly surprising.

CH: Agreed. Miracles don't happen, and hence, there is no evidence for the 'Deluge' being a real event. Not surprising at all.

jewish philosopher said...

One of the points I am trying to make is that atheistic arguments against the Biblical Deluge are classic straw man arguments. The opposing side’s position is misrepresented and then contradicted.

First the assumption is made that the Deluge was some sort of natural catastrophe and then it is asserted that such a natural catastrophe is impossible and therefore the Deluge could not have happened.

In fact, the Biblical Deluge was clearly a completely supernatural event, not a natural one.

The earliest Chinese dynasty began about 2070 BCE.

jewish philosopher said...

In my humble opinion, a meteorologist telling a Jew that the Torah is false because the Deluge could not have happened is similar to a zoologist telling a Jew that the Torah is false because Balaam’s ass could not possibly speak. I don’t find that too impressive.

avrum68 said...

"Having discovered that there is not a shred of evidence for what you believe"

Not one shred, really? I'd say the mass revelation argument, survival of Judaism, and the Watchmaker principle provie more than shreds. Your as fundamentally myopic as the fundies your despise.

badrabbi said...

Miracles are things that God does that seem to defy the laws of universe. Thus, the seemingly impossible are accomplished by God through miracles.

Religious people point to the definition of a miracle and say that by definition miracles do not comply with the laws of universe and thus can not be logically refuted. I agree.

But miracles have consequences that can be checked. For example, when in the story of creation, it is said that God created the moon, the event was miraculous in nature. Yet we can look at the sky and see the consequence of the miracle, namely the existence of the moon. When in the Tower of Babel God confused the language of the people, this too must have been a miraculous event. All we need do is to look around the world and notice that there are many languages and confirm that the miracle is at least consistent with observation.

But suppose that God performed a miracle and the world flooded. Such a flood would necessarily leave its mark on earth. Unless God deliberately removed all evidence of such an event, we should be able to find some evidence of the deluge. It is not that we are arguing that God is incapable of the miracle. It is that if he performed such a miracle, we should see some signs of it. The Torah makes no mention that God deliberately removed any signs of a flood, so we must assume that signs of a massive flood should be out there.

That we can not find any signs of a calamitous world wide flood suggests that He did not perform the alleged miracle. He is capable of it, but he did not do it.

Let me give you an example: Suppose that JP said that through a miracle God destroyed the Empire State Building. God is certainly capable of instantly vaporizing the building, so I guess the miracle is plausible. But when we go to 5th Avenue and 34th street, we see that the building is still there, safe and sound. When we see the building still standing, we must conclude that such a miracle never took place. Not that God can not perform it, but that it never happened!

The story of Noah’s ark is similar. We are not disputing that God is capable of flooding the Earth. We are saying that we find very little evidence of such an event. Since there is no mention that God purposely removed such evidence, we must conclude that the event probably never happened.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, those are good points, however I am still not convinced.

From the Biblical narrative, it would seem clear that the Deluge was not an ordinary flood. According to Genesis 7:4, all life was to be blotted out from the face of the earth. Yet, according to 8:11, trees apparently survived intact. Therefore, I think it’s presumptuous for us to assume that the Deluge must have left a layer of gravel and mud over everything which we would still find traces of today. I don’t think we know precisely what the mechanics of the Deluge were.

avrum68 said...

"Therefore, I think it’s presumptuous for us to assume "

I'm in the early stages of my on-line Mussar course, and I'd say the above statement is an accurate one, particularly for the middot of humility and patience.

badrabbi said...

Fish also survived despite God's wanting to blot out all life.

Thus, we have some inconsistencies in the story (again, recall that we are not saying that God is not incapable of doing things miraculously, but even by miracle work, there are issues):

1. God said that he wants to destroy all living things, but the fish and trees, as well as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa survived. This is inconsistent with his intent.

2. God wished to insure that animals' seed should continue by taking 2 of every animal, �male and female� (Genesis 6:18). The issue here is that not every animal is male or female. For example, there is not a way to take a male and a female earthworm into the ark. These kinds of statements suggest a crude understanding of the diversity of animals. They cast doubt on the divine origin of the story.

badrabbi said...

Another issue that people seem to overlook is of the "clean" animals. It turns out that there are hundred of thousands of "clean" animals and bird species. Once the ark come aground so that the animals were let out, poor Noah had to sacrifice from "every" clean animal and bird. This amounts to hundreds of thousands of sacrifices. Clearly slaughtering these animals was not a miraculous event, so that Noah would have had to spend years slaughtering one animal after another.

Think logistics folks! This could not happen without God's help. Yet there is no mention of divine intervention in making sacrifices in God's behalf.

jewish philosopher said...

My impression is that the animals taken into the ark were limited to mammals, birds and reptiles. These are the creatures included in God’s decision Genesis 6:7 “And the LORD said: 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.'” Everything else remained outside the ark and survived never the less.

Also my impression is that “clean animals” (Genesis 7:2) and fowl means those animal which in the future would be offered by Jews as sacrifices in the Temple – cattle, sheep, goats, doves and pigeons. These animals were known even in Noah’s time to be designated as sacrifices and an extra number of these had to be taken into the ark to be used as offerings when the water receded. He didn’t take seven Rocky Mountain sheep, seven Canadian geese, seven giraffes etc. and offer them all up after the flood. I think the author of the Genesis takes this for granted.

badrabbi said...

Gen Chapter 7:2 "Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee seven and seven, each with his mate"

Notice that it say "of every clean beast". EVERY means EVERY. So, yes, sheep and Canadian geese and even giraffes are part of that "EVERY".

I did not write the "every", but it is there. Words mean things and every is every.

What is more, Gen 8:20 "And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar."

Again, Noah took of EVERY beast. I mean the word is repeated three times!

jewish philosopher said...

I don't believe it's to be taken literally. I would presume that it is taken for granted that "every" means "every one from which a sacrifice is traditionally brought".

badrabbi said...

It is hardly fair to consider "traditional sacrifices" at the time of Noah as traditions were not yet set.

jewish philosopher said...

The commentaries discuss this.

badrabbi said...

The Commentaries do not 'discuss this' at all. In your link, there is a discussion as to how Noah knew the difference between pure and unpure animals. That is not what I was talking about.

jewish philosopher said...

The commentaries explain that Noah studied Torah.

badrabbi said...

so?

jewish philosopher said...

From the Torah, Noah knew which animals were used as sacrifices.

badrabbi said...

All clean animals were used for sacrifices according to the Torah. All clean animals include those with split hoofs and those who chew their cods. These and the clean birds constitute hundreds of thousands of animals according to the torah.

jewish philosopher said...

We never find in the Bible any sacrificial animal offerings other than cattle, sheep, goats, pigeons and doves. I would assume that Noah also followed that pattern.