Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Josephus

The “Global” Deluge – Is it Unbiblical?

To explain the geologic record, Creationists read the Biblical story of Noah and the flood into the evidence. They look at the fossil record and reason that these are creatures that just didn’t make it in the Ark and perished when the flood waters overtook them. The story of Noah is one of the most famous stories in the Bible, and gives a lesson about renewal of the old. But Young-Earth Creationists propose that Noah is more than myth: He is real, historical person, and that his flood covered the entire planet.

I will not argue against the existence of  Noah as a historical person. Personally, I have no reason to believe that he didn’t exist, being a Christian. But what I will argue against is that the flood covered the entire planet since I believe the evidence in the geologic record points against it. — And I have yet more reasons than just geology to suspect the flood was a “local” event, and not universal which I will focus on in this post.

The reason why YECs insist on a global flood is because their model demands it. It is supposed to account for the fossil record, and it is based on their interpretation of the story found in the book of Genesis. There are also some “hard” atheists that use the same arguments against the idea that Genesis allows for a local flood in an attempt to say that acceptance of an old earth or Evolution is incompatible with Christianity. My personal assessment of the claims made by both groups is that they are wrong and misguided. In fact, I think the reading of  a “local” flood in Genesis is not only plausible, but also Biblical.

The basic Biblical support that Creationists have for a global flood is the universal language which is used in the Genesis account:

  • I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. (Genesis 6: 17)
  • Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made. (Genesis 7: 4)

The language from these verses is most definitely universal, so it is no wonder that modern readers, Creationists and “hard” atheists alike, understand the “global” deluge as the only viable interpretation of the flood account. — Notice my stress on the term “modern readers.” — Though somewhat convincing at first glance, universal language is hardly an indicator that the Biblical account was intended to teach that the planet as a whole was covered in water. Such usages of the term  “All under heaven” have been used to describe geographically limited areas. For example, during the time of the Roman Empire, the Romans claimed to rule the “whole earth.”  Also, In ancient China, the domain of the emperor was said to be “all under heaven,” but obviously this only applied to China and neighboring states, and not to nations far out its reach.

In fact, the Bible itself uses this universal term in geographically limited contexts as well. For example, Acts 2: 5 says, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” — Obviously, “all under heaven” does not mean the entire planet. It most certainly does not include other regions like North America, Japan, as well as China and Korea. These terms were simply a way of expressing one’s self in ancient times, and they didn’t have the same meaning as they do today.

Another detail to take into account is the Hebrew word for “Earth” which is אֶרֶץ (pronounced as “eretz”) which is used in the flood story. — Though this word can be understood and the entire planet, it also has several other meanings like ground, soil, land, country, territory, district, and region. Most of these can actually be substituted for “Earth,” showing that the flood can be understood as covering a local region or territory.

A couple of Atheist and Creationist rebuttals to the “local” flood that I read object on the basis that the flood story says that the mountains were covered,

The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. (Genesis 7: 18: 20 )

Certainly this could falsify the local flood, right? — Wrong! Objections made of the basis that the waters covered the “mountains” are only dependent on English literalism which is not a legitimate reading of the Bible if the word in the original language can be understood differently. — The Hebrew word for “mountains” is הַר (pronounced as “Har”) which also means hill or even hill country. So the passage can simply be understood as saying that the flood waters elevated over the hills by over twenty feet.

Granted, this information doesn’t prove that  global flood isn’t what the writers of Genesis intended to write about. It only shows that a local flood is a legitimate understanding from the Biblical text. — If we left it all here, we would think that both interpretations, though different from each other, are harmonious with the Bible itself, but I have no intention of leaving it to that. It is my contention that the global flood is unbiblical, not just simply irrational. — Now, is there any Biblical evidence to back me up? You bet there is! — One of the best pieces of evidence comes from the prelude to the flood story itself,

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwardwhen the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6: 4)

The Nephilim were a race of pre-flood people. Some commentators blame them for the evil in the world which caused God to bring the flood. But notice that the story says they were “on the earth in those days — and also afterward.” This implies that not only wasn’t the flood sent to destroy this race of people, they survived the flood.  They are mentioned to still be living in the time of Moses (Numbers 13: 33 ). This could only logically be true if the flood was a local event, and not global. — The one objection I ran across for this point is that the Nephilim that were around before the flood were probably not the same as those that existed afterwards. However, even if I grant that Numbers 13:33 is talking about an unrelated race, that doesn’t explain why Genesis 6:4 implies that  pre-flood and post-flood Nephilim shared a common progeny as they are both associated with “the sons of God who went to the daughters of man”  implying that they managed to survive the flood.

Then there is also the drainage of the flood. Genesis 8: 1 says that a wind was used to cause the waters to recede which would have been pointless if the flood were global because the water that got blown away would simply have been replaced my different water that wasn’t there previously. — Also, Noah is said to have sent a dove which returned with an olive leaf (Genesis 8: 11). This is also evidence against a global flood because the time allowed in the Bible for the recession of the waters would not allow an olive tree to have grown by then. Also, the salt water of the flood would have destroyed much of the plant lifeeven the olive trees, not to mention the terrestrial conditions on the earth wouldn’t have been suitable for plant growth for a while.

Interestingly enough, even the writings of Flavius Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, seem to give credence to a local flood when one reads between the lines. After his retelling of the flood, he mentions other historians which mention similar events, and then quotes Nicolaus of Damascus,

Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them; where he speaks thus: There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses the legislator of the Jews wrote.” (Antiquities of the Jews 1: 94-94)

This is significant for two reasons: 1) Because Josephus believes that Nicolaus is describing the flood of Noah, and 2) he mentions that there were many that fled and were saved from the deluge, and he seemingly differentiates them from the passengers on the ark. This implies that these other non-Noachian survivors had different means of escape besides the Ark of Noah.  This would only make sence in the light of a local flood, not a global one. — Also, it is notable that Josephus does not correct Nicolaus as to others escaping the flood besides the passengers on the ark, implying that he agrees with him. It would be out of character for Josephus to not correct him if he disagreed with him.

The idea of a local, non-global, flood has plenty of support. The original Hebrew shows that this particular understanding id viable, and the Bible itself confirms it by implying that other people (i.e., the Nephilim) survived it. That latter detail should surely be a stumbling block to anyone who believes in a global flood. However, it is not problematic if one embraces the local flood. — In fact, for these reasons, I consider the local flood the only viable understanding of the Genesis story, and that the “global” flood is not only irrational but also unbiblical.

References:
Chinese imperialism: Encyclopedia – Chinese imperialism
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, Hebrew word for Earth
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, Hebrew word for Mountains.
CH542: Plant survival in the Flood, by Mark Isaak, from the Talk.Origins Archive.

Further Reading:
The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?, by Carol A. Hill. From the American Scientific Affiliation, and published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
Yes, Noah’s Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth, by Lorence G Collins
Noah’s Flood: Global or Local? by Donald Hochner
The Genesis Flood: Why the Bible Says It Must be Local, by Rich Deem. From GodandScience.org
Universality of the Flood, by Greg Neyman. From AnswersInCreation.org
THE GENESIS FLOOD: The Biblical Argument for its local extent, by J. Reed. From J. Reed’s Christian Expositions.

UPDATED: December 23, 2010

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