- Then God said, "Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place,
and let the dry land appear"; and it was so. God called the dry land earth, and
the gathering of the waters he called seas; and God saw that it was good.
- Genesis 1:9-10 (NASB)
People have often wondered how human beings and animals colonized widely isolated lands. The solutions generally proposed include exceptional seafaring skills, enabling people to successfully navigate vast oceans; land bridges, such as across the Bering Sea from Alaska into Russia; or ice-free waterways that are not presently passable. Lawson L. Schroeder discussed the latter idea in his 2005 TJ magazine article, "A Possible Post-Flood Human Migration Route" (TJ 19:1, pp. 65-72). His thesis was that ancient mariners were able to navigate an ice-free Arctic Ocean in the years following the confusion of languages at Babel to reach lands in the North Pacific and points south.
I agree with Schroeder that the concept of Oard and Vardiman, that a warm post-Flood ocean gave rise to the Ice Age in a relatively short time, is quite persuasive. It would appear to allow for a navigable Arctic Ocean route into the North Pacific for a brief period (perhaps 500 years according to Schroeder, following Vardiman and Oard) until the full impact of the Ice Age was felt in the far northern and southern latitudes, with associated closing of some waterways to sea travel. Furthermore, it seems Schroeder made a decent case in tying together commonalities of culture, language and human anatomy characteristics between Northern Europe and outlying areas into the Western Pacific. So far, so good.
"Gathered Into One Place"
There is, however, an underlying assumption that Schroeder does not address, and which places his thesis in doubt: that expanses of ocean would have to be crossed in order to colonize what are now distant lands. It appears to assume that a configuration of the continents and seas more or less like what we find today would have existed around the time of the Babel dispersion. I am not convinced this is the case.
Why not? The Bible itself provides reason to question this assumption. The Genesis 1:9-10 passage quoted above tells us that at Creation, all the waters of the sea were "gathered into one place." I think that the vast majority of commentators have overlooked the significant corollary of this statement - namely, that there was a single original landmass, likewise "gathered into one place."
Evidence from Plate Tectonics
In agreement with this single-continent understanding of Genesis 1:9-10, the theory of plate tectonics - which posits that the earth's outermost layer is fragmented into a dozen or more "plates" of varying sizes and shapes riding upon hotter, fluid material - supports the idea of a single original landmass via several lines of evidence. These include: (1) the shapes of many continents look like they are separated pieces of a jig-saw puzzle; (2) many fossil correspondences exist along the edges of continents that look like they fit together, which only makes sense if the two continents were joined at some point in the past; (3) a large amount of seismic, volcanic and geothermal activity occurs along the conjectured plate boundaries; (4) there are ridges, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, that are produced by lava welling up from between and pushing apart the plates, and likewise there are mountain ranges being formed where plates are pushing against each other (e.g., the Andes and Himalayas, which are still measurably rising); and (5), glacial striations on rocks indicate that glaciers moved from Africa toward the Atlantic Ocean and from the Atlantic onto South America, a situation most likely if there had been no Atlantic Ocean and the continents had still been joined during at least part of the Ice Age. Taken together, these clues point to the existence of a single original landmass - Pangaea, Greek for "all lands" - that later divided up into the present continents.
If we accept this thesis of a single original landmass, we can reasonably conclude that this was the form of the earth at the time of the Flood. There is no hint of any event prior to Noah's Flood that could have broken it up, making it quite safe to say that the universal Flood - which the Bible exclusively designates with the Hebrew and Greek words mabbul and kataklusmos respectively, unique terms never used for local floods - overtook a single super-continent. Extending this, we can also safely say - though it cannot be proven - that when the Flood subsided, the single landmass remained more or less intact, perhaps with some cracks and additional relatively small bodies of water, but still essentially a unit. (Just one year of Flood-related tectonic activity seems to be far too short a time to put South America and Africa as far apart as we now find them.)
The concept of a single landmass at the close of the Flood has enormous practical implications for understanding early earth history. For one thing, it would have allowed the animals to move far and wide from the Ark over the entire landmass, with localized concentrations of particular animals developing in certain areas (such as marsupials in what would one day become Australia) due to a combination of environmental factors, predator pressures, and even God-given instincts. Human beings, of course, by and large stuck together, and made their way in a relatively short time to the Fertile Crescent and established Babel. There, God intervened and confused the languages, resulting in sub-populations of humans doing what the animals had already done - dispersing over the still-intact single continent.
Is the Peleg "Division" the Same as Babel?
An objection may be raised to this scenario, however. If such a far-reaching event as breakup of the continents took place, why does the Bible say nothing about it? Actually, it does, in the manner of a passing allusion - IF one does not equate the "division" connected with Peleg in Genesis 10:25 with the language-based "division" that occurred at Babel. Those who believe the meaning of Peleg's name, "in whose day the earth was divided" (Gen. 10:25), alludes to the scattering of humanity from Babel, can find no biblical reference to such a continental breakup. Schroeder is apparently in this camp, and asserts that, if one follows Archbishop James Ussher's chronology, "the dispersion of people from the Tower of Babel in Mesopotamia occurred five years after the birth of Peleg" (my emphasis). Schroeder does not demonstrate in his article how he calculated his five-years-after-Babel birthdate for Peleg from Ussher's writings, but for the sake of argument let's accept it for now. Even if the precise date is a little off, the main point stands - that per Ussher, Peleg's birth was close enough to the Babel event to equate the "division" in his day with the confusion of languages.
There are problems with equating the Peleg "division" with that of Babel, however. A minor consideration is that, in order to have influenced his parents' choice of a name for him, the "division" - whatever it was - had to have already begun BEFORE, not after, Peleg's birth. It does not make sense that his parents would have waited until little Peleg was five years old - assuming Schroeder's reading of Ussher is correct - before naming him, and there is no evidence in the biblical text that allows us to conclude that Peleg was renamed, after the fashion of Abram > Abraham and Jacob > Israel, sometime later in life. This naming consideration strikes a logical blow at the Babel dispersion occurring five years after Peleg's birth.
Further, it was pointed out to me that the Hebrew grammar, which uses the perfect form of palag in Gen. 10:25, refers to the event of dividing rather than the state of being divided. This does not appear to conflict with the division event being an ongoing one, initiated sometime before Peleg was born but continuing throughout his lifetime. The separation of the landmasses was not a one-time, "state" event, but a continuing process of increasingly greater separation of land sections with associated infilling of the new low places by the sea. It began as a sort of natural "canalization," and over time far exceeded that limited scale. We can see a similar process taking place even today in the Afar Triangle region of Africa; see http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0%2C1518%2C405947%2C00.html. But the Babel disruption of languages was a one-time event that created a state of "division," and requires us, if Schroeder's understanding is correct, to see Peleg's name as either a renaming or a kind of prophecy of something that would happen sometime after his birth. Both of these ideas seem to involve special pleading not justified by the biblical data.
More significant is that, if we accept the genealogy of Shem in Luke 3:35-36, which includes the mention of Cainan, as correct - though differing from the Masoretic (Hebrew) text, it matches the Alexandrian Septuagint (Greek) version - then we clearly have Peleg in the FIFTH generation after the Flood (Shem > The Flood > Arphaxad > Cainan > Shelah > Eber > Peleg). Those who allege that the division in Peleg's day was that of Babel overlook the glaring inconsistency that the Babel event affected the SECOND generation of the descendents of Japheth. Genesis 10:5 notes that from the sons of Javan, son of Japheth, "the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language..." (NASB). Simply put, language differences impacted Japheth's grandchildren, and since there was a universal language until Babel, we can connect the Babel event to this time. But we must jump three generations forward to the fifth generation of Semites before we come to Peleg's division. Accounting for long human life spans at the time, plus a general equivalence in the timing of the generations following Noah's three sons (all childless while aboard the Ark), this means approximately 200 years separate the Babel and Peleg divisions. Thus, we must conclude they are NOT the same, and that one division is of languages, and the second, later one is of the earth itself - of the primeval single landmass. They cannot be one and the same event.
Another thing which should be pointed out is that there are also etymological considerations based on Peleg's name, which strongly indicate the Peleg division involved water. Bernard Northrup, a Hebrew scholar, states:
[Peleg, palag, or PLG] often contains within it a reference to water. It is used to refer to a stream of water in Hebrew, Coptic, Ethiopic and in Greek. The root is used to refer to irrigation canals which carried the water throughout the farming land of Mesopotamia. However, an examination of the Greek usage (of the family of Japeth) of the root letters PL and PLG clearly shows that in the majority of the instances this root was used of the ocean...It is used to mean: “to form a sea or lake,” “of places that are flooded and under water,” “of crossing the sea,” of “the broad sea” itself, of “being out at sea,” “on the open sea.” It is used of seamen and ships. The noun with the result suffix is used of “an inundation.” I continue: it is used of “a being at sea,” of “a creature of or on the sea,” of “one who walks on the sea,” of “running or sailing on the open sea,” of “a harbor that is formed in the open sea by means of sandbags,” and in many ways of “the open sea itself,” of “going to, into or toward the sea,” of “roving through the sea,” of “being sea-nourished,” of “turning something into the sea or into the sea or of flooding.” It is quite apparent that every Greek usage here involves the sea in someway.
This is yet another indication that the "division" in Peleg's day was not the disruption of languages at Babel. Dr. Walt Brown elucidates further on the above and other considerations on his website, to which the interested reader is directed for further research.
Recommended Resources for Further Study
A Satisfying Framework for Early Earth History
The concept that biblical Pangaea existed until the time of Peleg provides a satisfying framework for understanding several mysteries of early earth history. For one thing, it allows for a few hundred years of relatively easy human migration following Babel to widely separated places, without resorting to hypothetical land bridges or sophisticated ocean navigation knowledge by the first few generations following the Flood. (Such knowledge does not seem likely to have been possessed by the early, land-locked inhabitants of Mesopotamia.) A satisfying answer is also given to the question of how marsupials could find a home in Australia following the Flood - they just walked there! Isolated continents and impassibly high mountains did not exist at that early time, only developing in succeeding centuries as continued post-Flood earth turmoil and the Ice Age wrought geological change on a grand scale. The resulting geographical isolation led, via inbreeding and selective pressures imposed by different environments, to the development of the various races of human beings, as well as providing safe havens from predators for various types of vulnerable animals, like the Dodo birds.
Africa's New Ocean: A Continent Splits Apart. March 15, 2006. Spiegel Online (May 10, 2006). http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0%2C1518%2C405947%2C00.html (10 May 2006).
How Was the Earth Divided in Peleg’s Day? May 5, 2006. In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood. http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/FAQ213.html (May 10, 2006).
For Kids Only - Earth Science Enterprise (NASA)
On the Move...Continental Drift and Plate Tectonics. Jan. 22, 2003. http://kids.earth.nasa.gov/archive/pangaea/evidence.html (April 14, 2006).
1979 Continental Drift and the Fossil Record. Pp. 165–166 in Repossess the Land. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bible Science Association.
On Finding an Ice Age Book. Sept. 9, 1996. http://www.ldolphin.org/iceage.html (April 14, 2006).
The Genesis of Geology. n.d. http://www.ldolphin.org/genages.html (April 14, 2006).
Oard, Michael J.
2001 An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood. El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research.
Schroeder, Lawson L.
1990 A possible post-Flood human migration route. TJ 19(1), pp. 65-72.
2005 Climates Before and After the Genesis Flood: Numerical Models and Their Implications. El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research.
United States Geological Survey
Historical perspective. May 5, 1999. http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/dynamic/historical.html (April 14, 2006).