This article was first published in the ABR Electronic Newsletter, January 2005.
Aired on TLC on 12/23/04, and many times subsequently, Noah's Ark: The True Story is fairly typical of television programs that depict the Noachian Deluge. The Biblical account is reduced to a local flood in Mesopotamia, while Noah is depicted not as the righteous man of God, but a Sumerian beer trader earning a living on the Euphrates River.
The usual inaccurate assertions are made: the Ark couldn't support itself since it was made out of wood, there were too many species of animals, Noah could not have gathered the animals in only seven days, and other erroneous claims that have been easily refuted over the years (see bibliography for further research). Even worse, the program features the geologist, Ian Plimer, a virulent anti-creationist, member of the Humanist Society of Victoria and 1995's Humanist of the Year in Australia.1
Mr. Plimer and other old canards aside, my purpose here is to evaluate one of the central claims of the program: that the Flood story in Genesis 6-9 was written by Jewish scribes in the 6th century B.C., using material borrowed from the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic.
The 4000 year-old Gilgamesh Epic was discovered at Nineveh by A.H. Layard in the 1850's and was translated two decades later. Tablet number 11 contains the story of a great Flood. The story contains many similar parallels to the Biblical account. These similarities include: divine planning, human disobedience, divine revelation to the hero of the story, a large ship built with pitch, the hero’s family is saved, animals are brought on board, all outside the ship are destroyed, the flood duration is specified, the ship lands on a mountain, birds are sent out, sacrifice is offered, a special blessing is received, and a promise is made regarding no future destruction by such a flood.
The program asserts that Jewish scribes heard of this story while in Babylon during the exile, and borrowed it while writing the book of Genesis. The Mosaic authorship of Genesis was a generally accepted fact up until the late 19th century. Strictly speaking, Moses would have been the editor and compiler of the book of Genesis, since its events obviously predate his life. Despite the continued insistence by liberal scholars to the contrary, the Mosaic authorship of Genesis has not been disproved. Unfortunately, many church leaders and seminary professors have rejected the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch as well.
First, there is no evidence that the Jewish scribes from the 6th century would have even known about the Babylonian version of the story. The program depicts the scribes looking at tablets, the insinuation being that they plagiarized the story for their own purposes. While the best-known copy of the Gilgamesh epic is from the 7th century B.C., we do not know if the scribes had any knowledge of it.
Second, the Table of Nations found in Genesis 10 is chronologically dependent on the events and personages from the Flood narrative in Genesis 6-9. The descendants of Noah became the founders/rulers of the nations listed. This history has been well documented over the centuries, including exhaustive studies by theologian/historian John Gill, Isaac Newton, Archbishop James Ussher, and the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, a contemporary of Jesus. William F. Albright asserted that the archaeological record supported the historicity of Genesis 10: "It stands absolutely alone in ancient literature without a remote parallel even among the Greeks… 'The Table of Nations' remains an astonishingly accurate document."
It is absolutely impossible for the Table of Nations to have been written more than two millennia later. Only a contemporary writer would be able to write with the degree of historical accuracy which Genesis 10 contains. Jewish scribes in the 6th century B.C. would never have had access to such exhaustive and accurate historical information. Instead, the evidence demonstrates that Noah was a real historical person who lived prior to the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, since his three sons were the fathers of the nations from this era. To assert that the Flood narrative was interpolated retroactively into the text as a fictional story predating the Table of Nations is a stretch far beyond credulity. The archaeological and historical evidence speaks of the authenticity and antiquity of the Flood narrative.
Third, we know that it would be natural for ancient peoples to write stories about creation, attempting to satisfy the human need to understand our origins. A Flood story would not be so easily explainable. Yet we find stories of a global and cataclysmic Flood in over 500 cultures, with geographical dispersions that cannot be explained away by plagiarism or collaboration. Archaeologists and historians have discovered Flood stories recorded by: the Aztecs of South America, the Sumerians of the Middle East, the Choctaw Indians of North America, the Aborigines of Australia, the Bahnars of China, and the Teutonic tribes of Scandinavia. Many of these stories contain remarkable similarities (as noted earlier), powerful circumstantial evidence that the Flood was a real, historical event. The story was altered and amended over the centuries as it was transmitted from generation to generation, exactly what one would expect to find if the Flood really happened.
In conclusion, we find very strong historical and archaeological evidence that the Flood narrative must have been preserved prior to Genesis 10. We also find extremely powerful testimonial evidence of a cataclysmic and global Flood in cultures throughout the entire world, strong proof that the stories are derived from one original, historical event. Lastly, space does not permit the discussion of the ample and overwhelming evidence that exists in the fossil record and geologic strata that point to a recent hydraulic disaster on a global scale.
ABR stands by the historicity of the Flood, supported by the archaeological, historical and geological considerations. The New Testament authors certainly acknowledged the Flood as historical, utilizing a unique Greek word used only in describing Noah’s Flood, kataklusmos. Most notably, the Apostle Peter and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself validated the Flood's historicity. Upon close inspection, the assertions made on the TLC program are found hopelessly wanting. Once again, when a fair analysis is undertaken, the Bible's reliability remains unshaken.
Recommended Resource for Further Study
- Mr. Plimer also claims that the subterranean water source described in Genesis 7:11 would have made the entire surface of the earth into 'quicksand'. It is hard to take this type of assertion seriously. Scientists acknowledge subterranean water volumes may exceed the volume on the surface of the earth.
Thoroughly researched and clearly presented, this book provides sensible solutions to the most difficult problems that faced Noah and his family on the Ark. With the skill of an engineer, John Woodmorappe enhances our understanding of the work that Noah did and the means he had at his disposal to manage the menagerie of animal life that God entrusted to him.
Bergeron, L. 1997 Deep Waters. New Scientist 155(2097): 22-26.
Connolly, Rebecca. 1997 Flood! Creation Ex Nihilo 23(1): 26-30.
Gill, John. 1809 An Exposition of the Old and New Testament: The Whole Illustrated with Notes, Taken From the Most Ancient Jewish Writings (London: printed for Mathews and Leigh, 18 Strand, by W. Clowes, Northumberland-Court.), nine volumes, edited, revised, and updated by Larry Pierce, 1994-1995.
Hoerth, Alfred. 2001 Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.
Jospehus, Flavius. 1930 Jewish Antiquities Books II-V. Harvard Press: Cambridge, p. 73. Loeb Classical Library No. 242.
McDowell, Josh. 1999 Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Newton, Isaac. 2004 The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. Originally published posthumously in 1728.
Plimer, Ian. 1994. Telling Lies for God. Australia: Random House.
Ussher, James. 2003. Annals of the World. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books. Originally written in 1654 in Latin and recently translated into English by Larry and Marion Pierce.
Whitcomb, John C., and Henry Morris. 1961. The Genesis Flood. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.
Woodmorappe, John. 1996. Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study. El Cajon, Ca.: Institute for Creation Research