Local Mesopotamian flood

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

My personal interpretation of the Biblical flood, which I believe is supported by archaeology and the Bible:

Virtually all scholars I know claim that there is a link between the Genesis flood and the Atrahasis/Gilgamesh flood. The King of Shurrupak, Ziasudra, or Atrahasis received a revelation from the deity Ea warning him that the gods would send a deluge to wipe mankind from the face of the earth. Archaeology has shown that a major flood did indeed happen in the area around Shurrupak around approx 2900 BC, which is by no coincidence, exactly when the Sumerians claimed it happened, if we calculate the genealogies in the Sumerian King List, given the links between Genesis and the Atrahasis/Ziasudra epic, I am left in no doubt that this is the Biblical flood.

But wait, doesn’t the Bible say that ‘the whole earth’ was destroyed?

Well, this is what ‘the whole earth’ meant in ancient Mesopotamia:


Notice the complete lack of reference to Egypt, Meluhha (India), Canaan and the all the other lands which the Mesopotamians knew full well existed?

The point being is that in a Mesopotamian context (where the biblical flood story likely originated, either patriarchal or exilic), the phrase ‘the whole earth’, was often not meant literally, this is also shown in how Mesopotamian rulers such as Sargon, Ashurbanipal and (as I shall get on to) Nebuchadnezzar were described as ruling the whole earth, ‘from the upper sea to the lower sea’. Evidently this was not restricted to Mesopotamia either, since Cyrus was said to rule the four corners of the earth. But, wait, wouldn’t God know better?

Well if it is acknowledged that God was speaking to Ancient people in their language, where this would hardly be incorrect usage, then the notion of inerrancy needn’t be compromised, as Walton would say, the Bible was written for us, not too us. Note too, that Daniel claims in Daniel 4 that Nebuchadnezzar ruled to the ends of the earth, so evidently God saw no issue with communicating to Mesopotamians using their geographic terminology.

For more information read these articles by the NCSE and Jon Garvey:


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #2

Jon points out in his article what I always point out:

“The word translated “earth” is also the word for “land”.”

They simply didn’t have a concept that corresponds to what we moderns think of when someone says, “the whole Earth.”

(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

This is one of the reasons why I claim that one simply cannot claim that Genesis must be describing a global flood.

(Edward Miller) #4

@Reggie O Donoghue; @AMWolfe
I must agree that this writer is correct. While in college, I worked in the library since I wanted to study librarianship. I read an article in the Reader’s Digest about Bible topics and discovered the theory of the Local Mesopotamian flood. I agree that the Hebrew word for land can mean the whole planet or a particular area. After I read the scientific data, I must agree that the flood was a local one, a concept that I now fully accept. I see that Dr. Jon Garvey wrote an interesting article on this subject. I will study it.

Edward Miller, BA, Old Dominion University; Master of Ministry, Liberty Baptist Seminary
Baptist Deacon

(Jay Johnson) #5

They didn’t have our modern concept, but the “regional flood” theory asks that one word, eretz, to carry far too much of a load. Hebrew may not have the proper word to reflect our concept of “the whole earth,” but it is more than capable of indicating the universal scope of the event. For example, Gen. 6:5-7 loses all its force if we say the flood was a literal, regional event.

5 But the Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—everything from humankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.”

Was the wickedness of 'adam (humankind) great only in the region, or was the inclination to evil only a regional phenomenon, as well? Continuing in chapter 6:

11 The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence. 12 God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful. 13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth.

Was only the regional eretz filled with violence? Was sinfulness, as a general condition of mankind, only limited to the region? I could go on, such as asking whether the rainbow is also a regional phenomenon, but you get the idea. The universal nature of God’s judgment against human sin is a constant drumbeat throughout Genesis 6-9. The regional flood was the first among many ad hoc interpretations meant to preserve the historicity of Genesis 1-11. In trying to “save” Genesis from science, they have done a disservice to the text, in my opinion.

Your mileage may vary.

Edit (to save a second post): I should also note that my comments do not rule out the possibility that there may be a historic flood behind all of the Mesopotamian flood myths. Nevertheless, that does not dictate our interpretation of the text of Genesis, any more than the possibility that Gilgamesh was an actual individual influences scholarly interpretations of that text.


This is a strong possibility but I am not necessarily convinced. The Genesis text says the waters will rise above the tallest mountain and consume everyone living. The reason why your picture does not include places like Japan is because the Mesopotamians didn’t really know much existed outside of their borders.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #7

Very good points!

So do I have to wait for the book-length treatment to hear your counterproposal? :slight_smile: How do you make sense of it all?

(Juan Romero) #8

Very interesting! But how will you tell this to young earth creationists like Ken Ham?

(George Brooks) #9

There is no convenient rationalization, for either scenario: global or regional.

The only explanation is that both interpretations were forced on the original text!

@Jonathan_Burke’s paper on the regional nature of the flood does a good job explaining how the story was originally a regional.

But then someone else followed along and added enough changes to intend the Regional Flood to be interpreted as a global one.

A. Nobody spends a year building a boat to survive a regional flood; you build a sledge with some wood and move out of the valley!

B. Nobody has to float for a year, “trapped in a boat”, if the flood is regional.

C. Nobody sends a bird aloft to see if there is land nearby if the flood is only regional.

It’s a mess, plain and simple.

(Larry Bunce) #10

The true meaning of the story of Noah’s Flood goes far beyond the historical events that might have inspired the original author. Modern science has determined that the entire earth could not have been flooded and then dried out again in just over a year, and that two of every known species of animal could not have fit on a ship 450 feet long, or that a wooden ship that big would even have been seaworthy. Those details take nothing away from the truth of the story: that all life on earth is necessary, even the creepy-crawly things we don’t like, and that God is capable of destroying all of God’s creation if we displease God. Arguing over whether the flood was local or worldwide is like asking Jesus for the names of the men who built their houses on sand and bedrock.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #11

Um, no, they did. They knew full well that Egypt, Canaan, Meluhha, Dilmun, Magan and the lands of the Uman Manda existed, but they are not shown on the map.

(George Brooks) #12


I have yet to read any convincing analysis that the Hebrew scribes -

knew of China, let alone Japan;
knew of North America, let alone South America;
or knew of Scandinavia, let alone Britain.

The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 is notoriously incomplete and distorted.


So how do you know the image you posted represents what was meant by the ‘whole earth’ by Mesopotamians?

(Antoine Suarez) #14

In my view the question about archaeological evidence of “a major local Mesopotamian flood” should be placed in a broader context.

We could ask:

Is there massive archeological evidence of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection?
Or is there such evidence of a historical Moses, Exodus of Israelites, and crossing of the Red Sea?

In my view the answer is NO to either of these two questions:

Regarding Jesus Christ’s Resurrection:

We believe in it on the basis of the testimony of many persons (Apostles, Maria Magdalena, disciples etc.), who reported to have seen Him resurrected, and whose accounts are trustworthy from the perspective of Salvation.

Nonetheless, one cannot yet definitely exclude that the Turin Shroud provides evidence for the Resurrection, and the search for biologic evidences on this twill linen cloth with more sophisticated methods is still going on (see for instance here).

Regarding Moses, Exodus, and the crossing of the Red Sea:

We believe in a historical Moses and the wonders God worked out through him on the basis of the authority of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who in different occasions referred to Moses and his wonders as narrated in the Old Testament. In particular, Moses’ authority is confirmed by Jesus in the episode of the Transfiguration upon the mountain.

For the time being it seems safe to claim that “no archaeological evidence has been found that confirms the crossing of the Red Sea ever took place.” However the debate on archaeological evidence for and against the historicity of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt is far from being closed (see for instance here).

Regarding Noah’s Flood:

As for Moses, we have to believe what we are taught by Jesus Christ and Peter’s Letters about Noah and the Flood. In postings in the thread “My theory about the Flood” I have argued that this teaching supports the following conclusions:

  • Noah is a historical figure and the Flood a historical event.

  • Nothing speaks against interpreting the Flood as local from today’s geographic perspective.

  • From the perspective of Salvation one has to accept that, excepted Noah and his family, all humans endowed with free will and capable of sinning living at that time perished in the catastrophe. This may have been a population of hundreds of thousands concentrated in a rather little area.

Nonetheless, to date there are no compelling reasons to pin a connection between any of the archeologically evidenced floods - at Ur, Kish, or Shuruppak - with neither the Flood of Mesopotamian literature nor Noah’s Flood. The reported archaeological data look somewhat paradoxical and raise questions: It is for instance unexplained how a massive Flood at Ur could have happened without letting any trace 11.81 miles away, in Eridu (see map). So probably we have to await renewed excavation and better scientific techniques to decide the question of whether the region around the first Sumerian cities was the scenario of Noah’s Flood.

In summary, interventions of God in human history (like the Resurrection, the crossing of the Red sea, Noah’s Flood and other similar ones) are unique events we believe on the basis of trustworthy testimonies (Revelation) and that could have happened without leaving “massive archaeological evidence”. Nonetheless the effort to find such evidence cannot be disqualified as nonsense.

(George Brooks) #15


I am certainly sympathetic to this view. I agree that the text was originally a story of a local/regional flood.

But I don’t see how you can view the final form of the flood story and not see the problems:

Here are three questions that immediately arise (“A”, “B” & “C”):

How much “special pleading” should we expect to have these three questions resolved?

(Jay Johnson) #16

No, the text of Genesis 6-9 paints a pretty clear picture of the universal nature of the flood. It is the wrongheaded insistence that the story must be historical in some way – however tenuous that connection might be – that has been forced onto the text. The debate over inerrancy has muddied the waters.

Haha. Not book-length. Just a few chapters. :wink: I do happen to be working through these issues at the moment, but the heavy lifting has already been done by Middleton and Walton.

Before getting into that, a quick digression. Have you ever taken a close look at the substance of God’s curses in Gen. 1-11?

The serpent will crawl on its belly. (3:14)
Enmity between offspring of woman and snake. (3:15)
Woman will experience pain in childbirth. (3:16)
Man will dominate woman. (3:16)
Man must do painful work for his food. (3:17)
The ground will produce thorns and thistles (3:18)
Man will eat plants of the field (3:18)
Man will return to the ground in death (3:19)
Man is barred from the garden of God’s presence. (3:22-24)
Man cannot live forever. (3:22-24)
In the aftermath of the Flood, we also find these changes that don’t fall into the category of “curses”:
Fear of man among other creatures (9:2)
Everything will be food for man (9:3)
The rainbow is given as a sign (9:13)
Humanity was divided and scattered into nations (11:8)
Human language was divided and confused (11:9)

All of these things are the “natural” conditions of mankind. Pain in childbirth is the result of bipedalism and brain evolution. (Narrower pelvis + larger head = greater difficulty and pain in childbirth for humans vs. other primates.) Even the one possible exception – being barred from the Garden – explains the hiddenness of God. This is exactly what an etiological myth does; it explains how we got to “here” from “there.” The genre of Genesis 1-11, as much as evangelicals hate the term, is etiological myth.

At this point, the question becomes: How is this myth, Gen. 1-11, different from Mesopotamian myths? Skipping all the details and coming right to the point, the mythology of all the surrounding cultures is basically propaganda in support of existing social structures. The gods created mankind to serve their needs for food and shelter (sacrifices and temples). The king is the gods’ representative on earth and is responsible for all cultural advances, especially the building of cities and temples and the maintenance of aqueducts/agriculture.

Genesis, on the other hand, subverts the Mesopotamian mythology of empire and exploitation and turns it on its head. Genesis says that God did not create by violence, but by his spoken word. Genesis asserts that all people – male and female – are created in God’s image, and while the Fall may have perverted God’s purpose for us and infected human culture with sin, it is ordinary people, not kings, who found cities and advance the culture in Genesis 5. The genealogies of early Genesis are not filled with kings, a la the Sumerian King lists, but ordinary men and women. This egalitarian portrait of imago Dei in Genesis is what Middleton calls “the liberating image.”

In Middleton’s analysis of Gen. 1-11, he sees it functioning “to recontextualize Israel’s core theological and ethical traditions in terms of universal human history,” and “the categories for this recontextualization are taken precisely from these Mesopotamian traditions.”

Thus, what we see after “the fall” in Gen. 4-11 is a prophetic/symbolic representation of the progress of sin and culture. The story culminates with the tower of Babel, which is a critique of the concentration of power – economic, political, and religious – in the hands of kings and priests, who in turn use that power to exploit the mass of humanity in the service of the gods.

Now, lest anyone accuse Israel of judging other cultures from its own “objective” standard, the nation’s prophets critiqued their own culture by the same standards. This is Israel’s distinctiveness. In all other cultures, their religious literature serves as propaganda to justify “the system.” Only in Israel do you find the prophets criticizing kings, priests, and even the temple itself. And what is the focus of their complaints? You already know – idolatry and exploitation of the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the stranger.

(Laura) #17

Well… they do if God tells them to. Maybe that’s too simple… but from what I see in the text, Noah was a righteous man, therefore God told him to do something and he did it. It wouldn’t be the only time God has asked someone to do something that may have been “unnecessary” (Abraham & Isaac) but served as important foreshadowing for a later event.


That’s my reading as well. As @gbrooks9 states, having the flood be local instead of global doesn’t solve most of the literal or scientific problems with the story. You can’t have Noah landing his boat in the mountains after months floating about without flooding most of the world. It makes a lot more sense as a morality and theological lesson that was written in a region that had numerous and unpredictable floods. Part of the reason that people settled in that region is the rich soil transported to the valley from floods, so it isn’t surprising that they would be used to teach about religion.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #19

Nowhere else is depicted, beyond the sea and islands is nothing but an empty void.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #20

I’m in no way implying that they were aware of the true extent of the earth, only that they knew that it contained more than a few cities in Iraq.