You are hereNot Just A Floating Zoo

Not Just A Floating Zoo

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By jcarter - Posted on 13 June 2003

by Jeff Carter
I don't want to steal Tim (Middleknowledge)'s thunder, but here is my minor contribution to the regional flood cause...

I don't want to steal Tim (Middleknowledge)'s thunder, but here is my minor contribution to the regional flood cause...

Genesis has always been one of my favorite books of the bible. I like the universal scope of the book. I like epic scale from the momentous beginning of everything in a tremendous flash of light and the primeval stories of the beginnings of humanity. I am delighted by gradual narrowing of focus from the creation of the universe and the fall of mankind to the final focus on one family and the creation of a chosen people, and the promise of a coming redeemer.

It is in Genesis that we find one of our favorite stories from childhood –the story of Noah and a tremendous flood that covered the whole earth, and of Noah’s floating menagerie. But our recollections of childhood favorite may cloud our understanding of what the story of Noah and the flood is really about.

I do not believe in a literal actual-factual understanding of the flood story. I do not believe that a universal cataclysmic deluge covered the entire surface of the earth even to the point of covering the highest mountains. I do, however, believe the bible, and I do believe the story of Noah and the flood.

I do not believe that the stories of Genesis 1 –11 should be treated as scientific documents. Those who attempt to interpret these stories through a scientific microscope looking for the FACTS of a world wide catastrophe may miss the TRUTH of the story if their attention is focused on proving a world wide flood rather than on the rescue and redemption provided by God.

I believe that the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis are mythical. But before we begin throwing stones at the pastor and screaming heresy, let me define myth not just as a fictional story – but as an instructional tale; as a story told to explain “why?” “Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of ‘beginnings.’ - Myth is a presentation of the actual in terms of the ideal.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol. 4) Even if you disagree with me about the mythical quality of these stories, and of Noah in particular, follow with me as we try to find the truths of the story – for I believe that we can disagree about the historicity of the tale and still agree on the truth it contains.

In my sophomore year of high school I had a social studies teacher who, while she did not believe the bible to be the word of God, challenged me to critically examine my faith in the scriptures. She introduced me to the fact that the myth of a global flood from which one righteous hero was saved is found not just in the pages of our bible- but in hundreds of other cultures as well.

From Africa to Australia, from India to Mongolia and China, nearly all culture groups around the world have some variation of this story: in which the gods decide to destroy the humans by using a cataclysmic flood. But one hero is saved along with his family and animals by building a large boat.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is perhaps the clearest parallel to our story of Noah. In it, the creator and magician god, Enki, cleverly communicates to the hero Utnapishtim (also called Atrahasis) about the impending disaster and instructs him to build a 6 story cube shaped ship to save himself, his family, and animals. The flood rages for 7 days and everyone dies, except Utnapishtim and those on board his boat. The ship finally comes to rest on a mountain top and a bird is released to verify that the waters have gone down. After coming out of the boat Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods for his salvation and is granted immortality by the gods.

And what completely blew my mind when I first discovered it is that the written stories of Utnapishtim are older, much older, than the written stories of Noah recorded in our scriptures. This has caused many critics of the faith to dismiss Noah, and Genesis all together as a collection of fables, a collection of fictional stories that have no eternal truth.

Many of these skeptics point to evidence of a tremendous flood in what is now the Black Sea, saying that this flood is the historical background for the many universal flood stories including Noah and Utnapishtim. They propose that as the people who lived in the area now covered by the Black Sea fled the rising flood waters they carried with them the tale of a tremendous cataclysmic flood – that over time became a story of a global flood survived by one hero and his family.

I believe that this may be true. There is strong geological evidence for a flood in the Black Sea nearly 8,000 years ago. There is genetic evidence that the many scattered people groups have common ancestors in that area. There is linguistic evidence that the many varied languages are related to an original language spoken by people in that area. I believe it highly probable that the flooding of the Black Sea may be the historical truth that inspired these many myths. (Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About The Event That Changed History – by William Ryan & Walter Pitman, Simon and Schuster 1998)

But I also believe that there is something that sets the myth of Noah’s flood apart from all the others. I believe that the Genesis stories used this mythological fragment recounting the flood to teach us truth. Of course, that means that we will have to lay aside some of a common, assumption about how the bible was written. That assumption is built on a certain view of Scripture that says God is basically the sole author of the Bible.

This understanding of inspiration is a form of a dictation or a verbal inspiration theory of the origin of Scripture – making the people who wrote more like typewriters than creative agents.
“A better perspective with which to begin is that the biblical authors were writing what they understood about God as he enabled them to understand him through inspiration. That is why we can confess that Scripture is "God’s word" And yet at the same time they were expressing what they understood about God in terms of their own culture and their own historical context, in "human words." … They were writing for "BC" Israelites, in the language, metaphors, figures of speech, and literary style that they would understand in that culture. It is that gap between where we are culturally and historically and where they were culturally and historically that often makes it difficult for us to understand.

The story of Noah begins with a very mythical element: the marriage of divine beings (“sons of God”) called the and human daughters, and the resulting titan offspring. Some have tried to dismiss the mythic elements here by saying that the sons of God were righteous (human) men, or perhaps kings. But these normalized, natural explanations do little to explain the birth of giant offspring of heroic stature.

But this borrowed mythical element is a key, I think, to understanding the story of the flood. The story of the great flood is less about the flood than it is about the human condition and God’s response to humanity.

In the many of the other tales of global floods, the deluge is merely a natural disaster. In others, the gods cause the flood but no explanation is given as to why they wanted to destroy the humans. In other versions, the gods decide to destroy the human population because they are becoming too numerous. And in the Mesopotamian story of the flood survivor, Atrahasis, the god Enlil decides to destroy the humans because the noise they are making is disturbing his sleep.

Enlil heard their noise.
And addressed the great gods,
'The noise of mankind has become too intense for me,
With their uproar I am deprived of sleep'.

The situation described in Genesis is very different. The flood is no natural disaster, and it is not the result of a capricious God. It is the result of moral offense. Not only has the population of humans multiplied, but their wickedness and violence and lawlessness has multiplied. The other stories focus on the actions of the human hero who survives the destruction – but in the biblical account the focus is on God’s dealings with humanity.

In an earlier chapter of Genesis we read about the fall of humanity, the original sin of Adam and Eve in eating of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent tempted Eve saying that, if she ate of it she could “be the same as God” (anchor bible) The sin in the garden wasn’t just disobedience, it was an attempt at self divinization. They wanted to become gods.

And here again in our story of Noah we have humanity attempting to become gods – through sexual relations with celestial beings. The author of this story borrows this mythical story and uses it to illustrate the unbounded depravity of the early humans (and all humanity ). They have broken the boundaries of what is right and natural. They have forgotten about the One God and continued their attempt to become gods themselves; and in doing so, they have filled the earth with every kind of violence and outrage imaginable.

It is evil, and not just the human population that has multiplied over the face of the earth. The wickedness of the people had infected and polluted everything. “And the earth was corrupt before God and the earth was filled with outage. And God saw the earth and, look, it was corrupt for all flesh had corrupted its ways on the earth.” (6: 11 – 12)

And the Lord saw that the evil of the human creature was great (multiplied) on the earth and that every scheme of his heart’s devising was only perpetually evil. Yet when God looked at all of this wickedness and violence and lawlessness He was not angry. He was not filled with wrath. There is no word of anger in this story. Seeing that the human creature was only and always plotting evil, the Lord regretted having made the human on the earth and was grieved to the heart. (6:5 – 6) God saw a world full of people who were inwardly corrupt, outwardly violent, and upwardly rebellious, and he repented that he had ever made such a creature. He was like a father who wished he’d remained childless.

And so in sadness (not wrath) God sent the flood to destroy the human population along with the rest of creation which the humans had corrupted with their lawless acts and with their violence. God decided to un-create all that he had created. By sending a flood to destroy the world, he returned it to its original state – a “formless waste, with darkness over the seas and only an awesome wind sweeping over the water” (Gen 1: 2 anchor bible)

But the flood alone is not the point of the biblical narrative. The destruction of the world by the sudden unleashing of the floodgates of heaven and the waters of the deep is tremendous and lies behind the legends of many cultures – but the scriptures aren’t just telling us a story of a flood and a floating zoo. The scriptures are telling us a story of rescue and redemption.

From out of the wickedness and depravity of the human population, God sees Noah and treats him with favor. This isn’t because of anything Noah did. It was God looked on Noah and chose him. Gen. 6:9 does say that Noah was a righteous man and was without blame among that generation – but Noah wasn’t some esoteric saint who walked unscathed through this life. Noah’s righteousness was declared by God in spite of his failures and faults. The favor that God gave Noah was not based on Noah’s righteousness. God’s favor preceded Noah’s righteousness. (Gen. 6: 8, 9)

In the ark we have a picture of grace. The ark was an undeserved, unmerited way of salvation for Noah and his family. God gave Noah the warning of the coming flood. Noah didn’t perceive the danger on his own. God gave Noah the plans for constructing the ark. Noah didn’t design it himself. And having instructed Noah and his family to go aboard, God shut the door. Noah didn’t close the hatch to keep out the waters. The ark was God’s grace to Noah and his family to keep them and save them from the death the washed over the earth.

This is the TRUTH of the myth of Noah’s flood. That God saves by grace. And this is an eternal covenant given to us

For this is like the days of Noah for me:
When I swore that the waters of Noah should not pass over the earth again,

So I swore not to be angry at you, nor to rebuke you.

For the mountains may move, and the hills may be removed;

But my love will not move from you, and my covenant of friendship will not be removed’
Says YHWH , who has compassion on you. (Isa. 54: 9 – 10)

The waters of the flood that destroyed the earth were not just a punishment of the wicked - but also God’s cleansing agent. The deluge destroyed not just the people but also their wickedness, giving the earth a clean fresh start.

In 1st Peter 3:18 – 22, we read the following: “Christ himself died once and for all for sins, the upright for the sake of the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit he went to preach to the spirits in prison. They refused to believe long ago while God patiently waited to receive them, in Noah’s time when the ark was being built. In it only a few, that is eight souls, were saved through water. It is the baptism corresponding to this water which now saves you – not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience given to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, with angels, ruling forces and powers subject to him.”

Christ is our ark. It is in him that we are saved from death. It is with that waters of the flood that our wicked lawless selves are destroyed and in Christ our ark we are saved.

The story of Noah and the flood is not about sedimentation and fossilization during the flood, or proving that Noah took dinosaurs on the ark. The flood narrative isn’t about countering Darwinian Evolution or disproving the Big Bang theory. The flood story isn’t even really about a catastrophic world wide flood.

The flood story is about human wickedness, and our continued attempts to make ourselves into gods. The flood story is about the continually evil heart of mankind. The flood story is also about grace, and rescue, and salvation. And not just the grace offered to Noah and the salvation they found in the ark – But it is a story of eternal truth about the salvation that God offers to each of us.

revray's picture

Gee whiz. Nice posting job I did. Posted twice. Read the second one, its my final revised version.

Ray Carroll

revray's picture

Two objections to this discussion come to mind and they are things I'm sure the author has considered before. The first point is a hermeneutical one. Myths or legend stories are written in a certain genre. Historical narrative is written in another. For example, a good fairy tale begins with "once upon a time" and contains mythic elements such as unbelievable super strange events. In other words, myth stories are written with certian characteristics which contrast them against historical narrative. Myths are written in a style in which you are not expected to believe as factual. If we are to be consistent with our exegesis, then we should apply the hermeneutic of myth to the rest of the book of Genesis. Genesis is written in the style of historical narrative and we are expected to believe it. However, that is assuming that your presuppositions are conservative and believe in verbal-plenary inspiration.
Secondly, another common point is that in counterfeiting, there always has to be an original. What better way for our adversary (now crushed by our Savior - praise the Lord!) to work than counterfeit the original event. The point that is often brought up is that every civilization has a story about the flood. True, but is it possible that each story is reflecting the true event as written by our one true God in Scripture? These events in other civilizations come from unreliable manuscript evidence and include stories about turtles carrying the world on their backs.
Again, I am sure the writer and those who would agree recognize these points, but it is helpful to review them. I do believe the story as literally true that come from the breath of God as revealed to man in Scripture. God has not given us myth stories to support and strenghten our faith, He has given us the true events that He has reigned sovereign over since eternity past.

Ray Carroll

Seeker's picture

No one is denying the truth of the flood, just the fact that we may have been applying a universal or global paradigm when we shouldn't have been. We could have been interpreting it wrong. When you hear the word world you think of one thing, but when they heard the word erets, depending on the context, they could have been thinking something totally different.

Seeker

Seeker

revray's picture

Two objections to this discussion come to mind and they are things I'm sure the author has considered before. The first point is a hermeneutical one. Myths or legend stories are written in a certain genre. Historical narrative is written in another. For example, a good fairy tale begins with "once upon a time" and contains mythic elements such as unbelievable super strange events. In other words, myth stories are written with certian characteristics which contrast them against historical narrative. Myths are written in a style in which you are not expected to believe as factual. If we are to be consistent with our exegesis, then we should apply the hermeneutic of myth to the rest of the book of Genesis. Genesis is written in the style of historical narrative and we are expected to believe it. However, that is assuming that your presuppositions are conservative and believe in verbal-plenary inspiration.
Secondly, another common point is that in counterfeiting, there always has to be an original. What better way for our adversary (now crushed by our Savior - praise the Lord!) to work than counterfeit the original event. The point that is often brought up is that every civilization has a story about the flood. True, but is it possible that each story is reflecting the true event as written by our one true God in Scripture? These events in other civilizations come from unreliable manuscript evidence and include stories about turtles carrying the world on their backs.
Again, I am sure the writer and those who would agree recognize these points, but it is helpful to review them. I do believe the story as literally true that come from the breath of God as revealed to man in Scripture. God has not given us myth stories to support and strenghten our faith, He has given us the true events that He has reigned sovereign over since eternity past.

Ray Carroll

Prickert's picture

Well... I'm somewhat of the opinion that Noah and Utnapishtim ARE the same person... there is some interesting parallels... and the fact that the Gilgamesh epic is OLDER than the story Moses wrote does not make it any less true... nor that Moses copied Gilgamesh... It's more likely that they are the same story and Gilgamesh was corrupted by the memory of the sub-continent ancestors and written down.... but I think Moses got it right (the whole inspiration thing...)

Peace,
Paul

mrfullpreterist's picture

Mr. Jeff Carter,

Interesting article. I like your explaination on in what sense the scriptures are "God's Word". For the most part I agree with you on this.

I was just curious as to whether or not you read all of the comments under "Was there a Pre-Adamic Race?" on this site under the "Open Debate" forum? JL's comments especially, are very insightful. I don't know if I believe the "angels" solution anymore.

Robert L. Statzer

mrFOOLpreterist FKA as mrfullpreterist

Still searching to understand the Truth.

jcarter's picture

I've read the comments about a pre-adamic race... though to be honest, i'm not sure i understand it. I believe that Adam and Eve may not have been the first or the only people created - other than that, i really don't know.

There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. - Vasilii Rozanov

JL's picture

They weren't Rob's comments. I was summarizing Dick Fisher's discussion in The Origins Solution.

Fisher believes,

1) Man evolved.
2) Modern man appeared about 60,000 to 200,000 years ago.
3) Modern man has always had about a 20 year maturity and a 70 year life span.
4) Around 8000 years ago, Adam and Eve were specially created with about a 50 year maturity and a 900 year life span.
5) They were placed in a garden which had the Tree of Life available to them. As long as they continued to eat of the Tree of Life, they would not suffer physical decay and death.
6) They sinned, were separated from the Tree of Life, grew old, and died.
7) The things Cain's descendants invented, their time of invention can be accurately be placed and dated to the Shurupak region sometime before the Shurupak Flood (3200 BC).
8) The Shurupak Flood was not a judgement against man (hin) but against Adamites (hadama) and essentially destroyed that race. Several half-breed tribes of giants that had moved to the Jordan River area escaped the Flood.
9) Noah's wife was non-Adamite, so Noah's sons lived half as long as Noah. Noah's sons married non-Adamites and there life span was cut again.
10) Inbreeding in Abraham's family slowed dilution of the gene pool and allowed them to have 100+ year life spans. which impressed their neighbors.
11) Eventually, the dilution was complete and Noah's descendants all had 70 year life spans.
12) God had the Israelites wipe out the half-breed tribes that had escaped the Flood. This effectively eliminated Adam's genes from the gene pool.

I personally like this explantion of Gen. It solves a lot of problems. If you replace #1 with a special creation of man instead of evolution, I'm happy with it.

I certainly prefer the Shurupak Flood over the Black Sea Flood as Noah's. Ryan & Pitman believe it was too small, that it was a major dike break rather than a severe regional flood.

JL

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

demario's picture

Of course there are flood traditions before the written account of Noah's flood. Noah and his three sons certainly passed down the flood story to their children. Over time, the details were lost and the story reworked. This means that flood stories (e.g., Gilgamesh) are rip offs of the original. Moses, through revelation, wrote the details of the original centuries later. The biblical flood story--whether global or local--is the true story while the others are mythological.

Gary DeMar

JL's picture

Gary,

Ryan & Pitman's book has a chapter on oral legends. They discuss the work of experts in the field. Gilgamesh fits the pattern. It was an old oral legend when it was first applied to tablet around 2800 BC.

It is interesting to note that even though Gilgamesh's flood is described in similar "universal" terms as the Biblical flood, it is clear that Gilgamesh is not a descendant of that flood's surviors. That is, the flood was regional.

Ryan & Pitman believe Genesis was also oral legend. Yet Genesis clearly defies that pattern.

For all of the other flood "traditions," I believe a better explaination is cross fertilization of "traditions" by missionaries. A missionary comes into a village and tells a "story." The people pass on the story to the neighboring tribes who adopt it as one of their own.

Geneological records for many pre-christian european kings show lineages that are traced to their gods. After christianity took hold, the geneologies changed and often went through Soloman.

Anthropologists have found numerous tribes with tales that the star Sirius has a dark partner. These can be traced to missionaries who were active shortly after its discovery.

The Black Sea Flood, in no way fits the Biblical/archeological dating or geography of the Black Sea Flood. The Gilgamesh Flood may be a confusion of the Noahic Flood and the Black Sea Flood. But Noah's Flood is likely a different event in history.

JL

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

jcarter's picture

Using the definition of Myth as "a presentation of the actual in terms of the ideal.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol. 4)

I would say that I do believe there was a flood (a regional flood- quite possibly in what is now the black sea...)I do believe that God sent instructions and that a righteous man and his family were saved.

That is the actual - that lies behind the presentation of the ideal (global "face of the earth" ) flood.

Am I sitting on the fence enough?

There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. - Vasilii Rozanov

mrfullpreterist's picture

Jeff,

I don't know if you are saying in your article that "Noah" may not have been the true name of the "hero of righteousness", but if you are I think that you are just possibly taking this just a little too far. Are you saying that the record of the flood is just an "ideal" interpretation of an "actual" flood, the true historic details of which we don't really know much about? If you are I must say that I do disagree with you on this. My earlier statement of agreement with you pertained more to the fact that the Bible was not a "dictation". God allowed certain human concepts and ideas to be expressed in His word. He did not just speak to humanity, he spoke THROUGH humanity. However, I believe that when we look at the context, we can determine what is God expressing Himself, and what is God allowing men to express Him as they understand Him.

Robert L. Statzer

mrFOOLpreterist FKA as mrfullpreterist

Still searching to understand the Truth.

jcarter's picture

Thank you Robert (and all) for continuing to dialogue with me.

Are you saying that the record of the flood is just an "ideal" interpretation of an "actual" flood, the true historic details of which we don't really know much about?

Not JUST an ideal interpretation as if that meant less important or less divinely inspired. I believe the ideal interpretation to be more imporatant than the historical details.

The same might be said of Ezekiel's prophecies against Tyre (Ezekiel 26:7 - 14) wherein he fortells Tyre's complete and premanent destruction at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar. Histoical records tell us that King Neb. laid siege to the city of Tyre for 13 years but was never able to destroy it...

Ezekiel later made an ammendment to this prophecy in chapter 29:18 - 20 wherein he says that becuase Neb was unable to take Tyre he could have Egypt instead. But there's no evidence that he ever took Egypt either.

Are the historical details here more important than the "ideal"? I hope not or we might have to consider removing these

The gospel authors worked the same way. They took the historical details of Christ's life and used them to tell the "ideal" story that they were inspired to tell. The historical details of the the four gospels don't match up on all accounts. But they weren't hung up on the exact details. The gospels weren't biographies of Christ.

Just as i don't believe the stories of Genesis 1 - 11 are meant to be understood as strict historical documents. The Theology, the "ideal" takes precedent over the details.

I hope that you don't misunderstand me and think that i'm saying that Noah or the flood or Ezekiel or the Gospels are in any way untrue or mere fictions I do not believe that at all.

I believe that when we look at the context, we can determine what is God expressing Himself, and what is God allowing men to express Him as they understand Him.

I believe that as well.

There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. - Vasilii Rozanov

mrfullpreterist's picture

Jeff,

Thanks for clarifying yourself a little bit. I see your point. My question is however, Do you think all of Genesis 1-11 are possibly inaccurate in details, including lineages and names and such?

I do see your point when it comes to the gospels, although I have seen people that are able to make it all agree. Also, Isn't there a thread in the forumse here at planetpreterist.com that speaks of "Ezekiel's wwild outlandish failure"? I am sure I've read this before. Come to think of it, Didi you write it?

Robert L. Statzer

mrFOOLpreterist FKA as mrfullpreterist

Still searching to understand the Truth.

jcarter's picture

yeah that was me.

Critics have long delighted in pointing out the numerous contradictions and inconsistancies of Gen 1 -11 (perhaps i should say "apparent" contradictions and inconsistancies....) Literalists go great lengths to proove that there are none - and their "beginning time" scenarios are almost as bizarre sometimes as their "end times".

I don't know if the historical details of primeval history will ever be available to us with any degree of certainty. I don't believe that Gen. 1 - 11 is meant to give us the details.

whether the details as recorded are 'accurate' as far as linages and names etc... we know that there are gaps in the geneaologies, could there be inconsistancies? i don't know. i'm not sure i would even want to hazard a guess.

There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. - Vasilii Rozanov

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