Genesis: History of the Semitic Peoples or Not?

Elated by his find, Woolley encouraged excavators at other sites to look for flood layers. Sure enough, flood layers or more cautiously “sterile stratum” of various thicknesses were found. At last, thought Woolley, archeology had established firm evidence for what had long been a controversial Bible story - the great flood. But that euphoric feeling was not to last.

Dating archeological digs in the absence of deposits of volcanic ash lacks the kind of precision archaeologists prefer but, nevertheless, the thick flood stratum Woolley found at Ur was placed at the early fourth millennium, about 3800 BC. Notwithstanding, a higher flood level also was uncovered dated to about 2700 BC, but it was discounted as too little and too late.1


  1. Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan, “Noah’s Flood Reconsidered,” Iraq , n. s., 26 Pt 2 (Autumn 1964): 72.

Langdon and Watelin excavated Kish in 1928-29. They dated the bottom layer, which amounted to about one foot in thickness, to 3300 BC. This seemed to lend support to Woolley’s claim, even though the dates were 500 years apart. The thickest layer at Kish was at a higher level, however, and assigned a date somewhat closer to the thinner layer found at Ur.

Mallowan, who excavated the more northern city of Nineveh, uncovered several strata of mud and riverine sand totaling six feet in depth. Diplomatically, he called this not a flood, but a “pluvial interval,” and placed it at the fourth millennium, similarly dated to Woolley’s lowest layer. But then, flood deposits at Kish, Shuruppak, Uruk, and Lagash were considered and a consensus put all of these layers at nearly a thousand years later than Woolley’s renowned find, averaging around 2900 BC.1


  1. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 208.

This prompted a debate turning on who had uncovered the biblical flood—the most important flood in human history—and it left Woolley in a bit of a quandary. After all, he had wasted a lot of time and energy if his trumpeted flood deposit was from the wrong flood.

As it turned out, the flood layer Woolley thought was from Noah’s flood was dated too early in relation to the other sites, while the higher layer he had discounted, that was dated closer to the flood layers from the other sites, seemed puny by comparison. Ironically, the lower, earlier, and thicker layer Woolley thought was from “the flood” resulted apparently from merely a flood. And conversely, the higher, later, and thinner layer he thought was from only a flood, may have been left by “the flood” . Such is the plight of an archaeologist (or a theologian) who goes public before all the facts are in.

Interesting reading. Looks like floods are local and not all that rare over the millennia.

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Uruk cylinder seal impression was dated to ca. 3000 BC, although this could be a bit early. It pictures a man dressed in the garb of a king. By his long hair and beard we know he is a Semitic Akkadian. For what reason would an Akkadian king ride in a boat loaded with crates and animals? Note also the punting poles. The Gilgamesh epic states that “punting holes” were applied to the ship.

In addition to the accomplishment of the excavation of the ancient city of Ur, reputedly Abraham’s home town, Leonard Woolley was keenly aware of related Mesopotamian literature. Writing in 1929 Woolley gave this assessment:

"For a long time it has been generally conceded that the Genesis story of the Flood is either based upon or derived from the same source as the Babylonian or Sumerian versions; perhaps it is for that reason that critics and commentators have been too ready to relegate the whole narrative to the domain of legend or mythology. The coincidence is really the strongest argument in the opposite sense; the Sumerian story is far inferior in moral content but it does most certainly contain a substratum of historical truth.

In the first place the details are altogether consistent with local conditions of southern Mesopotamia –the disaster as described could have occurred there and could not have occurred in a country of a different character; it was local, not universal, and was what might happen at any time by an abnormal combination of the normal circumstances of a Mesopotamian flood."1


  1. C. Leonard Woolley, The Excavations at Ur and the Hebrew Records (London: G. Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1929), 16-17.

Flood Dates

Graph shows the dates applied to the clay layers found in the respective cities by archaeologists, Woolley, Langdon, Watelin and Mallowan. In perspective, Nineveh wasn’t occupied by Semites until Shem’s son, Asshur took it over (Gen. 10:11 KJV). Asshur built Nineveh on an ancient, existing city site dating to the pre-flood era called “Ninua” before Semites arrived.1 Although Ur and Kish had earlier floods there is a confluence of clay layers dated at 2900 BC in the cities that would likely have held Adamite populations.


  1. I. E. S. Edwards, C. J. Gadd and N. G. L. Hammond, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History I, Pt 2, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 730.

The Genesis 6-9 flood account contains numerous words and phrases that are similar or even identical with other flood narratives such as Atrahasis, Ziusudra, and the eleventh tablet of Gilgamesh listed here in order of origination. There are twelve existing tablets about the exploits of the fifth king of Uruk in the post-flood era, Gilgamesh. All are inscribed in Sumerian with one exception written in Semitic Akkadian. The eleventh tablet features one of their own the flood survivor, “Utnapishtim,” (he who found long life).

"The gods commanded total destruction " - Atrahasis II, viii, 34
"… I will destroy them with the earth.” - Genesis 6:13

"He [Enki] told him of the coming of the flood. " - Atrahasis III, i, 37
"And God said onto Noah … I, even I, do bring a flood " - Genesis 6:13, 17

“… the huge boat” - Ziusudra v, 207
“That ship shall be an ark. ” - Atrahasis x, 9
“Tear down this house, build a ship!” - Gilgamesh XI, 24
"Make thee an ark …" - Genesis 6:14

" pitch I poured into the inside" - Gilgamesh XI, 66
"… pitch it within and without with pitch. " - Genesis 6:14

“… he sent his family on board” - Atrahasis III, ii, 42
“… into the ship all my family and relatives” - Gilgamesh XI, 84
“Come thou and all thy house into the ark …” - Genesis 7:1

“… who protected the seed of mankind.” - Ziusudra vi, 259
"Bring into the ship the seed of all life.“ - Gilgamesh XI, 27
“… to keep seed alive …” - Genesis 7:3

“… animals which emerge from the earth” - Ziusudra vi, 253
“… all the wild creatures of the steppe” - Atrahasis DT, 42(w), 9
“The cattle of the field, the beast of the plain” - Gilgamesh XI, 85
"Of clean beasts and of beasts that are not clean …” - Genesis 7:8

“the storm had swept … for seven days and seven nights” - Ziusudra
“For seven days and seven nights came the storm” - Atrahasis III, iv, 24
"… after seven days the waters of the flood were upon the earth.“ - Genesis 7:10

“Below let the fountain of the deep be stopped …” – Atrahasis
"The fountains also of the deep … were stopped " - Genesis 8:2

“Ziusudra made an opening in the large boat.” - Ziusudra vi, 207
"I opened the window. “ - Gilgamesh XI, 135
“… Noah opened the window of the ark …” - Genesis 8:6

"Then I sent forth and set free a raven. " - Gilgamesh XI, 152
"And he sent forth a raven “ - Genesis 8:7

"The dove went out and returned. " - Gilgamesh XI, 147
“And he sent forth a dove …” “… and she returned unto him …” - Gen. 8:8,9

“He offered [a sacrifice].” - Atrahasis III, v, 31
“… and offered a sacrifice.” - Gilgamesh XI, 155
"And Noah … offered burnt offerings on the altar. " - Genesis 8:20

" That I may remember it [every] day." - Atrahasis III, vi, 4
" I shall remember these days and never forget." - Gilgamesh XI, 165
"… and I will look upon it (the bow) … that I may remember ” - Genesis 9:16

The Sumerian, Akkadian, and Assyrian accounts, as well as the inspired version in Genesis, are conspicuously related. Probably they arose from one source initially and went separate ways with different groups of people. Numerous words and phrases common to ancient Near East literature and to Genesis highlight a common heritage and support the validity of the Genesis account and the event described, the flood, as a mainstay of Semitic history, a devastating deluge that terminated all of Adam’s descendants but survived by Noah, his sons and wives, some Sumerians, and the rest of the world.

Both Akkadians and Sumerians identified Shuruppak as the home of Atrahasis (exceeding wise), Utnapishtim (he found long life), and Ziusudra (he who laid hold on life of distant days) in agreement with the Sumerian king list. If Shuruppak is the place where Noah embarked on his voyage the next question would be where did he land? Not that anyone knows with certainty there are places that are possible and likely and places that are neither possible nor likely. Genesis 8:4 identifies “the mountains of Ararat.” The kingdom of Urartu (Sumerian Aratta) was located in southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran, and the Hebrew word for “mountains” also means “hills.” Thus, the “hills of Urartu” would be an area where we could look for a landing site.

As a practical matter poling a boat up a mountain with at least eight adult passengers and full of animals seems rather unlikely, bordering on impossible, so we could eliminate 17,000 foot Mount Ararat (Agri Dagi) from consideration. Mount Nisir is mentioned twice in the Gilgamesh epic. The annals of King Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria (833-859 BC) also placed the ark on Mount Nisir.1 Yet, just sheer topography casts an element of doubt on any mountain as a landing site unless we add “at the foot of,” or “near Mount Nisir.”

Scholars disagree on the exact location of Mount Nisir, but two approximate areas are prominent. One of these locations would require a significant slog to a higher elevation, the other lies east of the Tigris and south of the Lower Zab River in western Iraq or eastern Iran. Getting to this location would not be all that difficult. A pathway downstream along the Purretum&Eridu canal to the Euphrates River and the Persian Gulf, and then up either the Tigris or Karun River could have led to an area that would have been remote and free from potentially hostile Sumerians.


  1. John Warwick Montgomery, The Quest for Noah’s Ark (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1972), 1-335.

The Adiabene region in the Kermanshah province of Iran would qualify as a possible, maybe even probable, landing site. The size of the kingdom varied over time; initially encompassing an area between the Zab Rivers. In the first century AD, while discussing the royal family at Adiabene in a district called Carra {Karon), Josephus, remarked: “…the remains of the Ark in which report has it that Noah was saved from the flood…remains which to this day are shown to those who are curious to see them.” Josephus added that this land was rich with “Amomom,” an herb known to grow in the mountains of central Iran.1

Hippolytus wrote from Rome in the 2nd century AD, “The relics of this Ark are …shown to this day in the mountains called Ararat, which are situated in the direction of the country of the Adiabene.”2

So in lieu of any more suitable locations, and with caution, we could pencil in this area as the probable site where Ham, Shem and Japtheth had 350 years to produce their offspring before dispersing as per Genesis 10.


  1. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (Loeb edition) IV, 45.

  2. Hippolytus, The Extant Works and Fragments of Hippolytus, trans. Rev. S. D. F. Salmond, Section V., on Gen. viii. I.

Flood Survivors

When we consider that racially diverse populations covered the globe long before 5,000 years ago, flood survivors are mandated. In his book The Biblical Flood , Davis Young concluded:

… archaeological investigations have established the presence of human beings in the Americas, Australia, and southeastern Asia long before the advent of the sort of Near Eastern civilization described in the Bible and thus long before the biblical deluge could have taken place. In the light of a wealth of mutually supportive evidence from a variety of disciplines and sources, it is simply no longer tenable to insist that a deluge drowned every human on the face of the globe except Noah’s family.1

“All the relevant evidence from the created order tells us that the flood was neither geographically nor anthropologically universal,” Young went on to say. “Indeed, the Bible writers themselves appeared to be cognizant of flood survivors.”2 The Genesis 6:4 “giants” ( Nephilim in Hebrew) were some manner of men with ancient origins who apparently were in residence prior to Noah, and maybe even Adam. Furthermore, they appear in later chapters. In Numbers 13:33, the post-flood “sons of Anak who come of the giants” reflects back to Genesis 6:4, to the pre-flood period.

This from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary:

On the face of it, the remark presents a problem to the view that only Noah and his sons survived the Flood, since it suggests that the “sons of Anak” were descendants of the “Nephilim” ( min hannepilim , lit. “from the Nephilim”) who lived before the Flood.3

How could Nephilim be on both sides of the flood? Because they were living in what became Canaanite country, the region of Palestine, outside the flood zone. Data compiled from archaeological excavations in the Near East corroborates the local nature of the flood. Although flood deposits have been found at sites in Mesopotamia, no flood layers have been found in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, or in the Palestine region with the exception of evidence of flooding around the Dead Sea.4


  1. Davis A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extra-biblical Evidence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 242.

  2. Young, The Biblical Flood ., 242.

  3. Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, and Ralph H. Alexander, eds., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 79.

  4. Frumkin, et. al., Radiocarbon , 43, No. 3, (2001): 1179–89.

Noah’s flood, recent in occurrence and confined to the Mesopotamian valley was retribution for sin, but according to Paul: " Sin is not imputed when there is no law " (Rom. 5:13b).

Populations who lived outside the immediate area were unaccountable and unaffected by the flood. The biblical, archaeological, and anthropological evidence corroborates spared human settlements beyond the Euphrates valley. God “winked at” their ignorance (Acts 17:30), but targeted the Adamite population in particular, obliterating those who were answerable and willfully disobedient.

Noah lived 350 years after the flood (Gen. 9:28) and remained in the remote area where the ark landed with his three sons and their immediate families. According to Jubilees the earth (land) was divided into three parts for Shem and Ham and Japheth, “according to the inheritance of each” (Jubilees 8:10).

" And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg in his days was the earth divided ." (Gen. 10:25). Peleg’s name means “to divide,” and was so named because the lands were divided or apportioned by Noah to his sons and their generations. And this took place at the time of Peleg.

According to Jubilees: “the children of Noah began to divide the earth amongst themselves: for this reason he called his name Peleg.” “And he called his sons, and they drew nigh to him, they and their children, and he divided the earth into the lots, which his three sons were to take in possession, and they reached forth their hands, and took the writing out of the bosom of Noah,” their father.

Ancient Hebrew chroniclers surmised Noah’s family remained concentrated near the mountainous region or hill country where the ark landed, and it was there Noah planted his vineyard. Not until Noah died did his sons venture forth with their families to live in the lands and territories allotted to them. Possibly, Noah could have seen the warlike tendencies of his people and putting some distance between them seemed like a good thing to do for their own well being. Noah trusted Shem with his testament, and he was laid to rest in the same region where the ark had come to rest 350 years earlier.1 Time was necessary to rebuild their numbers and seclusion was necessary for their safety, but the time had come to shake up the world.


  1. Synkellos, The Chronography of George Synkellos, 61.

The middle of the third millennium was tumultuous in war-ravaged Sumer. Fortress cities fought for supremacy against each other with first one, and then another, vying for and gaining control, only to lose it again in yet another battle. Umma and Lagash were two of the cities most in opposition, and they engaged one another in conflict frequently. Around 2450 BC, a monument was raised in Lagash heralding the triumph of King Eannatum over the Ummans.

At about 2375 BC, Lugalzaggesi of Umma exacted revenge and sacked the city of Lagash, burning their temples.1 The heady aroma of victory was not to endure as the forces of Lugalzaggesi were crushed at Nippur by Sargon the Great (2334-2284 BC), bringing to power a new ruler, a Semite, over Sumer and Akkad.


  1. George, Constable, ed., The Age of God Kings: Time Frame 3000-1500 BC (Alexandria: Time-Life Books, 1987), 32.

Sargon’s origins are surrounded in intrigue. Legend has it that a Semite woman found herself embarrassingly with child. After birth, baby Sargon was placed in a reed basket waterproofed with pitch, and set adrift Moses-style upon the headwaters of the Euphrates. The basket drifted downstream and was found by a Sumerian farmer irrigating his fields who later reared little Sargon in his home.

Sargon came from Nimrod’s city of Accad, though some historians give Sargon credit for its founding. Starting his career as cupbearer to the king of Kish, Sargon launched an effective military campaign and, after crushing Lugalzaggisi’s army, began his rule.1 A dynamic, conquering ruler, Sargon left his indelible mark.

The Sumerian kingdom of Lugalzaggisi soon fell entirely into the hands of Sargon, whose full title proudly proclaimed him to be lord and master of the `four quarters of the world,’ namely Amurru to the west, Subartu to the north, Sumer and Accad to the south and Elam to the east.2


  1. C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, and Jeremy A. Sabloff, Ancient Civilizations: The Near East and Mesoamerica (Menlo Park: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., 1979), 163.

  2. Andre Parrot, Sumer (France: Thames and Hudson, 1960), 170.

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