Genesis and the Flood: Understanding Ancient History

(system) #1
When it comes to the Flood story, we need to look beyond the narrow categories of “literal history” and “myth”.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(George Brooks) #2

“… let’s face it, whether the ark is hypothetically seaworthy or not, there has never, ever been a wooden boat nearly as large as the ark (at least, until now). The closest was built in the nineteenth century, a 449-foot boat (and this includes the jib and the boom; actually it is 329 feet). This is yet another indication that the original readers would have realized we are dealing with a figurative description of a boat. We could go on, of course, detailing the hyperbolic language of the flood story…”

This is a great paragraph.

There are two opposing dynamics in the Flood story:

  1. no matter how WILD and UNBELIEVABLE the story becomes, the YEC position is that God can make it happen in just the WILD and UNBELIEVABLE way.

So … I don’t see much profit in pointing out all the ways that the story of Noah lacks plausibility.

  1. the OTHER side of the coin is the Flood Story is a PAGAN story … about a time period that is actually not beyond human recorded history.

The Bible dates the flood sometime during the 4th and 5th dynasty of Egypt. Egypt did not disappear. It did not become extinct.

The Flood did not happen. It is an erroneous story.

So… the YEC’s have to come to terms with THIS aspect of the Flood … that it never happened… and so they must begin to extract truths from the story … or they will have nothing but lies.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #3

I’m pretty sure that basic YEC 101 would tell you that the Bible is true from the first word to the last. Not that some parts of the Bible are false and so we need to extract whatever parts are still true. I don’t know any YECs who would think even remotely like that! In fact that is what they accuse Biologos and TEs of doing. So with regard to your last sentence … what were you thinking?!

Your point #1 was a good one, though!

(George Brooks) #4


The Flood story is a PAGAN story - - Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian - - the Priests adopted the story into the religious history just the way the Roman Catholic church co-opted pagan traditions all around Europe and Asia … in order to capture the minds of men.

The Flood did not happen. There is no way to dance around this reality. Millions of innocent animals did not get wiped out just so God could prove a point. The Destroyer in Exodus is dang near SURGICAL in its precision of who dies… compared to the primitive nature of the global flood.

So … let’s find a way to give YEC’s SOME kind of truth from the Parable of the Flood

What is the TRUTH buried in the story of Noah’s Flood.

(George Brooks) #5


Here’s a quote from another thread … this is the problem with attempting to compromise with YEC’s about the Flood…

“When people accept the AiG narrative that [YEC-formulated] … scientific conclusions are essential to Christianity, then their faith is often shaken when they encounter the incredible explanatory power of modern science.”

" In fact, we hear from individuals on a daily basis who have experienced a deep crisis of faith when their young-earth creationist beliefs were exposed as scientifically (and biblically) weak."

" While we are grateful that BioLogos has helped recover and strengthen the faith of these Christians, we mourn the fact that countless others have drifted away from the faith. Young-earth creationist teaching is causing unnecessary harm to the reputation of the Church and creates a stumbling block for people who are considering the Gospel."

(George Brooks) #6

Yes, let’s understand Ancient History …

THE FLOOD circa 2348 BCE

5th Dynasty
Userkaf 2465-2458 (or 2498-2491) Pyramid in Saqqara.
Sahure 2458-2446 (or 2490-2477) Pyramid at Abusir
Neferirkare Kakai 2477-2467 (or 2477-2467) Son of Sahure
Shepseskare Ini 2426-2419 (or 2468, only a few months)
Neferefre 2419-2416 (or before Shepseskare)
Niuserre Izi 2453-2422 (or Nyuserre Ini 2445-2422) Brother to Neferefre
Menkauhor 2422-2414 (or Menkauhor Kaiu 2422-2414) Last Pharaoh to build a sun temple.
Djedkare Izezi 2388-2376 (or Djedkare Isesi 2414-2375)
Unas 2375-2345 (or 2375-2345) Pyramid of Unas inscribed with earliest example of Pyramid texts.

6th Dynasty
Teti 2345-2333 (or 2345-2333)
Pepy I (Meryre) 2332-2283 (or Meryre Pepi I, 2332-2283)
Merenre Nemtyemzaf 2283-2278 (or Merenre Nemtyemsaf I, 2283-2278)
Pepy II (Neferkare) 2278-2184 (or Neferkare or Neferkare Pepi II, 2278-2184)

Userkaf (Buried in a pyramid in Saqqara. Built the first solar temple at Abusir.) 2498–2491 BC
Sahure (Moved the royal necropolis to Abusir, where he built his pyramid.) 2490–2477 BC
Neferirkare Kakai (Son of Sahure, born with the name Ranefer) 2477–2467 BC
Neferefre (Son of Neferirkare) 2460–2458 BC
Shepseskare (Reigned most likely after Neferefre and for only a few months, possibly a son of Sahure.) A few months
Nyuserre Ini (Brother to Neferefre) 2445–2422 BC
Menkauhor Kaiu (Last pharaoh to build a sun temple ) 2422–2414 BC
Djedkare Isesi ( ) 2414–2375 BC
Unas (The Pyramid of Unas is inscribed with the earliest instance of the pyramid texts ) 2375–2345 BC

Sixth Dynasty
Teti (Was possibly murdered by his successor) 2345–2333 BC
Userkare (Reigned 1 to 5 years, may have usurped the throne at the expense of Teti) 2333–2332 BC

Meryre Pepi I ( ) 2332–2283 BC
Merenre Nemtyemsaf I ( ) 2283–2278 BC
Neferkare Pepi II (Possibly the longest reigning monarch of human history with 94 years on the throne. Alternatively, may have reigned “only” 64 years.) 2278–2184 BC
Neferka (Only mentioned in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Reigned during Pepi II) 2200–2199 BC
Merenre Nemtyemsaf II (Short lived pharaoh, possibly an aged son of Pepi II.) 1 year and 1 month c. 2184 BC
Neitiqerty Siptah (Identical with Netjerkare. This male king gave rise to the legendary queen Nitocris of Herodotus and Manetho.) Short reign: c. 2184–2181 BC

(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Millions of YECs must be breathing a sigh of relief. George is on the job to tell them which parts of the Bible they can trust and which parts they can’t.

What planet did you say you were from again?


What exactly do you mean by that? The traditionally-imagined GLOBAL flood? Or a flood of any sort involving the land where a man named Noah lived?

Again, I’m not sure as to your meaning. Does a story have to be “literal history” to avoid being erroneous?

I’m just asking for clarification. I appreciate the posts.

(George Brooks) #9


I understand your questions. And I want to satisfy you . So, how would you assess the situation fi you were me?
Generally speaking, your basic fundamentalist sees the Global Flood as something well before recorded history. But the Biblical chronology does not agree. No matter how you add up the numbers … the Flood would have occurred about 4,300 years ago… or about 2348 BCE.

So… if YEC’s insist that the story of Adam & Eve happened just the way it is written … down to the Six (6) days of creation … then we can rightfully insist that the Flood takes place WHEN and HOW it is said to have taken place.

If we choose 2348 BCE, the flood happened during the reign of the 1st pharaoh of the 6th Dynasty: Teti !

The chronology below says Teti ruled from 2345 to 2333.
Teti 2345-2333 (or 2345-2333)

THE FLOOD circa 2348 BCE
5th Dynasty
Userkaf 2465-2458 (or 2498-2491) Pyramid in Saqqara.
Sahure 2458-2446 (or 2490-2477) Pyramid at Abusir
Neferirkare Kakai 2477-2467 (or 2477-2467) Son of Sahure
Shepseskare Ini 2426-2419 (or 2468, only a few months)
Neferefre 2419-2416 (or before Shepseskare)
Niuserre Izi 2453-2422 (or Nyuserre Ini 2445-2422) Brother to Neferefre
Menkauhor 2422-2414 (or Menkauhor Kaiu 2422-2414) Last Pharaoh to build a sun temple.
Djedkare Izezi 2388-2376 (or Djedkare Isesi 2414-2375)
Unas 2375-2345 (or 2375-2345) Pyramid of Unas inscribed with earliest example of Pyramid texts.

6th Dynasty
Teti 2345-2333 (or 2345-2333)
Pepy I (Meryre) 2332-2283 (or Meryre Pepi I, 2332-2283)
Merenre Nemtyemzaf 2283-2278 (or Merenre Nemtyemsaf I, 2283-2278)
Pepy II (Neferkare) 2278-2184 (or Neferkare or Neferkare Pepi II, 2278-2184)

Of course, perhaps the dating can be fudged … a little further into time … but only a LITTLE.

And what we see is that the Great Flood - - that wiped out all humanity - - did not wipe out the Egyptian empire… and based on the writings … the Flood didn’t even wipe out a dynasty! And the Egyptian civilization kept on running … to complete the 6th dynasty and then on to the 7th Dynasty.

SO… if you insist that the Great Flood must have been a REGIONAL flood…? That’s fine… I’ll agree to that when the YEC’s agree that the story of Adam and Eve needs to be ADJUSTED to reality as well… starting with a creation that was not completed in 6 days.

I think a regional flood fits in well with the Akkadian take-over of all the Sumerian city-states. But, of course, this is not what the Bible says happened.

Comments, Socratic Fanatic ?


I entirely disagree with Bishop Ussher’s approach to chronology. (Of course, his chronology was nothing new but I refer to him by name because his is the best known.) So I don’t consider the Bible to have established a dating of the Noahic Flood.

Thus, I’m not necessarily adverse to insistence upon a “Biblical flood” because I don’t see the traditional Young Earth Creationist Great Flood as synonymous with what the Bible states.

As for Genesis 1, I consider it to be what some call a hymnic tribute to the Creator: six verses, each with repeating chorus. Add to that the internal conflicts resulting from a literal interpretation of six 24hour days of creation and for me it is easy to see that Young Earth Creationist traditions and resulting chronology simply aren’t synonymous with Genesis.

That said, if someone asked me, “Do you believe in Noah’s Flood?”, I can say yes, although I’m likely to point out just how ambiguous “believe in” can be. (Something doesn’t even have to be a record of an historical event to be “literally true”. A purely fictional story can refer to a “literal flood” and convey an important truth(s).

So that’s why I asked what you meant by “The flood did not happen.” I’m confident that my answer would be no if referring to the traditional YEC view of the flood. But I’m open to the possibility that there could have been a man named Noah who survived a terrible flood of his ERETZ (land). I even think he could take aboard “all kinds of animals”, as any survivalist could be expected to do. (“All” doesn’t necessarily mean what traditionalists think it means. Yet, my translation of “all” is just as “literal” as the 100% kind.)

But even if I became convinced by evidence that Noah in Genesis was just an adaptation of an ancient myth, it could still be the case that memories and retellings of an incredibly disastrous flood could have led to the Genesis account and God could have used it to convey important ideas.

So, as you can see, the exact chronology just hasn’t been an issue to me because I don’t see it as a major issue in the Hebrew text. In fact, I doubt if the ancients who passed down the tale gave much thought to dating the events. I believe that virtually every number in the Flood pericope was chosen for its symbolic and philosophical significance and nothing else. That can sound shocking to people today but I studied enough Ancient Near Eastern literature to know that it wasn’t shocking to them.

Long ago I did a monograph on the ark’s dimensions and found it interesting that each dimensions measurement is based on closely related composite products of the first few prime numbers. Coincidence? Happenstance? I don’t think so. But it is anachronistic and condescending to think such “contrived” numbers to be somehow inferior to “literal” dimensions of a literal ark someone actual built to that size. Today we would probably be horrified to find that reported dimensions of something were “idealized” by an author into something quite different from what was actually built. But the ancient culture’s values and priorities were quite different from ours. So the numbers must be judged by their views, not ours.

Even if the Great Deluge happened much as described, a phrase like “40 days and 40 nights” was also most likely symbolic than an actual length of time. We know from neighboring cultures that lifespans of 120 years were regarded as ideals and fitting for great persons—and so “120 years” is more idiomatic in meaning than a literal timespan.

When it comes to numbers, probably the best example is the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. So it doesn’t bother me that nobody agrees on how to break down the ten. The word “ten” is more a description of completeness and gravity than a strict numbering.

With those things in mind, that should establish the context from which I asked my question. I don’t expect to read a chronology into Genesis that isn’t really there.

(Jon) #11

This is an example of the kind of sleight of hand that results in people concluding that people who hold the Biologos position don’t trust or believe in the Bible. Every time this claim is pulled out and waved around without any evidence, it looks like a complete evasion of what the text is actually saying.

No evidence is provided in the article that the original audience of the text would think “Wow, a ship that size is impossible, obviously this entire flood thing is just figurative rather than historical narrative”. Not even a single historical expositor anywhere proximate to the text is citing as interpreting it as symbolic rather than literal. This is a classic case of viewing the text with Western eyes, making conclusions based on our modern knowledge, and then interpreting the text accordingly.

The original audience lived in a cognitive world in which talking snakes and donkeys were possible. They lived in a cognitive world in which light came from the moon. The idea that a ship this size would have been physically impossible to build, would simply not have occurred to them. The Akkadians were perfectly happy with the idea of a ship the shape of a cube, which we know is completely unseaworthy and would not be remotely practical. But the Akkadian’s didn’t see it that way, and their audience would not have thought “A ship the shape of a cube? Aha, clearly the writer is telling us this story is only symbolic, not to be taken as historical narrative!”.

In passing I note the article cites the Ark as 510 feet long. This seems like exaggeration, since the standard maximum length I’ve seen in commentaries is 450 feet, with some putting it at 425 feet. But as for the size of historical ships, the statement “The closest was built in the nineteenth century, a 449-foot boat (and this includes the jib and the boom; actually it is 329 feet)” isn’t actually true.

Historians recognize a number of ancient large ships comparable to the Ark as actual historical vessels.

  1. 1,480 BC: [1] An obelisk barge built in Egypt for Queen Hatshepsut, 95-140m long (311-459ft), 32m wide (104 ft).[2] A wall relief shows it carrying two obelisks end to end, indicating a length well over 100 metres.[3]

  2. c. 200 BC: The Thalamagos, a large pleasure barge built Ptolemy IV Philopater, 114m long (377 ft), [4][5] [6] [7] [8] described by the Greek historian Athenaeus.[9]

  3. c. 200 BC: The Tessarakonteres, a warship built for Ptolemy IV Philopater, 128m long (420ft), [10] [11] [12] [13] described by the 1st century Roman historian Plutarch.[14]

  4. c. 200 BC: A timber warship described by the 1st century Greek historian Memnon of Heraclea,[15] 100m long (300ft).[16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]

  5. 1st century: The ‘Nemi Ships’, two timber barges built for the Roman emperor Caligua, 70m long (229ft), 18m wide (60ft). [22][23] [24]

  6. 1st century: A large cargo barge built for Caligula, used to transport an obelisk from Egypt to Rome, 104m long (341ft), 20.3m wide (66ft).[25]

[1] Late Bronze Age.

[2] Estimates vary depending on interpretations of the historical evidence.

[3] Even estimates made on the basis that the obelisks were carried side by side have ranged between 84 and 95 metres, Landström, ‘Ships Of The Pharoahs’ (1970).

[4] ‘It was over 300 feet long’, Casson, ‘Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World’, p. 342 (1995).

[5] ‘well known from historical sources’, Robert, ‘Text and Artifact in the Religions of Mediterranean Antiquity’, p. 347 (2000).

[6] ‘Athenaios does not indicate his sources for the second ship, [the Thalamagos] but it must have been an eye-witness or a person who obtained measurements and other details from a contemporary’, Sarton, ‘Hellenistic Science and Culture in the Last Three Centuries B.C.’, p. 121 (1993).

[7] ‘These tours, which were announced in advance, were occasions for pomp and ostentation, though it is uncertain whether the sovereigns made use of the famed forty-bank ship built for Ptolemy IV, a veritable floating palace whose huge size and limited maneuverability confined its use to brief excursions on Lake Mariut or the canal leading to Canopus.’, Chauveau, ‘Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra: History and Society Under the Ptolemies’, p. 43 (2000).

[8] ‘Athenaeus 5.204e-206d. It was a catamaran, like Ptolemy’s other showpiece, the “forty” (110-11) above. It was over 300 feet long, 45 wide at the broadest point, and towered 60 over the water.’, Casson, ‘Ships and Seamanship In The Ancient World’, p. 342 (1995).

[9] ‘The Deipnosophists’, Book 5 (2nd-3rd century CE).

[10] ‘Toward the end of the third century B.C., Ptolemy IV built a brobdingnagian “forty”, but this was intended for display not action.’, Casson, ‘Ships and Seamanship in Ancient Times’, p.98 (1994).

[11] ‘For a discussion of the large polyremes in the Hellenistic navies, and of the largest ship produced by this naval arms race (a “forty” built by Ptolemy IV), see CASSON, 1971, pp. 103-16, and 137-40.’, Murray, ‘Octavian’s Campsite Memorial for the Actian War’, p. 116 (1989).

[12] ‘There was, however, one final, futlie effort made by Ptolemy IV of Egypt in the last quarter of the third century B.C. - some 50 years after the heyday of the big warship. This was a ‘forty-er’ (in Greek, tessarakonteres), a description of which was written up by Callixenus of Rhodes…’, Landels, ‘Engineering in the Ancient World’, p. 152 (2000).

[13] ‘Athenaios (5.203e-204d) tells us that it was 420 ft long, 57 ft wide, 72 ft high, and manned by 4,000 rowers, 400 sailors, and 2,850 soldiers.’, Bugh, ‘The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World’, p. 276 (2006).

[14] Plutarch, ‘Life of Demetrius’, chapter 43, sections 5-6; Plutarch notes that the ship was too large for practical use as a warship.

[15] Memnon, ‘History of Heracleia’, Book 13, quoted in Photius, ‘Myriobiblon’, Book 9, chapter 8, section 5 (9th century).

[16] Morrison, ‘Long ships and round ships: warfare and trade in the Mediterranean 3000 BC’, p. 46 (1980).

[17] Meijer, ‘A history of seafaring in the classical world’, p. (1986).

[18] Casson, ‘Ships and seamanship in the ancient world’, p. 149 (1995).

[19] Morrison & Gardiner, ‘The age of the galley: Mediterranean oared vessels since pre-classical times‎’, p. 76 (1995).

[20] Paine, ‘Warships of the world to 1900‎’, pp. xiv, 93-94 (2000).

[21] Hattendorf, ‘The Oxford encyclopedia of maritime history’, volume 1‎, p. 76 (2007).

[22] White, ‘Medieval technology and social change‎’, p. 105 (1966).

[23] Casson, ‘Ships and Seamanship In The Ancient World’, p. 210 (1995).

[24] ‘the gigantic Lake Nemi ships of the early 1st century AD’, McGrail, ‘Boats of the World: From the Stone Age to Medieval Times‎’, p. 157 (2004).

[25] ‘Atop one of these was erected a lighthouse that used as its foundation the giant ship that had been built to transport the obelisk of Heliopolis from Egypt to Rome under the reign of Caligula’, Aldrete, ‘Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia’, p. 206 (2004).

(George Brooks) #12


Perfectly wonderful paragraph, Socratic!

My “EDENIC PAIRING” to this paragraph above would read:

“But even if I became convinced by evidence that Creation of humans came suddenly, and without natural explanation, after millions of years of evolution from the first fish to the first hominids, it could still be the case that tellings and retellings of the first Semites to enter the Mesopotamian watershed could have led to the Genesis account of the first man and woman to arrive outside of Eden - - and God could have used this story to convey important ideas.”.

I await a YEC who is willing to embrace YOUR interpretation of the Flood … so that I might re-visit this interpretation of Eden?


Often they simply declare me “an atheist pretending to be an evangelical Christian.” And they nearly go apoplectic in saying, “No, you were never a Young Earth Creationism advocate. You are lying.” I can rarely get them to engage topics like the meaning of ERETZ in Genesis 1 through 9.

It grieves me that discussion of these topics with Young Earth Creationists so often degenerates to declarations of who is and isn’t a “true Christian”. It didn’t used to be that way. Christians used to be able to discuss origins topics with limited risk of anger and accusation. I remember those days.

(Wookin Panub) #14

My friend, Jesus, “The Christ” constantly quoted Genesis as literal history. Why shouldn’t I? :frowning:

(Christy Hemphill) #15

Actually he didn’t constantly quote Genesis. He quoted Genesis one time, two if you count parallel accounts (Matthew 19, Mark 10). See this article about how the idea that Jesus repeatedly quoted Genesis is an easily contested fabrication by ICR:

How do you know that because he referred to Genesis, he believed it was literal history. If I refer to George Washington cutting down his father’s cherry tree to make a point about honesty, you could understand the point I made and think it is true and valid that honesty is important without knowing whether I know that the story about the cherry tree was not really literal history. And the fact that George Washington and the cherry tree is myth doesn’t mean the existence of George Washington “is a lie” or that honesty is not important. So I don’t see how the fact that Jesus referred to Genesis to make a point about marriage proves anything about whether or not he thought Adam and Eve were “literal history” or not.

(Wookin Panub) #16

Pro- (sin) homosexuality Christians make the same argument. Jesus quoted Genesis quite a few times. I will create a new thread about this some time this week :slight_smile:

(Christy Hemphill) #17

I look forward to it. :grin:


YEC’s also believe the “WILD and UNBELIEVABLE” story that Jesus was crucified, raised from the dead, and sent the powers of the Holy Ghost to the first century Jews, who, in turn, did miraculous things.



I suspect that pagans made up the story that the flood story is a pagan story. There are flood legends around the world that are similar to the Noah story. For example:

“Hawaiians have a flood story that tells of a time when, long after the death of the first man, the world became a wicked, terrible place. Only one good man was left, and his name was Nu-u. He made a great canoe with a house on it and filled it with animals. In this story, the waters came up over all the earth and killed all the people; only Nu-u and his family were saved.” [Monty White, Flood Legends]

“Tanzania. God told two men to take seeds and animals onto a boat so they could survive a mountain-covering flood. These men sent out a dove and then a hawk to see if the earth had dried up.” [Creation Museum, Worldwide Flood Legends]

“Peru. The creator, Viracocha, sent a flood to destroy the unruly giants he had made. Only two giants survived in a boat, which landed at Tiahuanaco. The creator then made animals to fill the earth, and he made people from clay.” [Creation Museum, Worldwide Flood Legends]

“China. It records that Fuhi, his wife, three sons, and three daughters escaped a great flood and were the only people alive on earth. After the great flood, they repopulated the world.” [Monty White, Flood Legends ]

There are many such legends.



And, by implication: Hasty generalization