Problems with a Local Flood Interpretation

There is a perspective that says the Flood was more specifically a judgment upon the events of the first few verses of Genesis 6— which could have been universal or local activity (where were the “sons of God” when doing this? etc) …and whether “that” perspective eliminates the need for judgment on a global scale would be a good question.

Below are three videos for the folk here’s edification.

I hope you don’t really think that ‘the folk here’ have any interest in watching those, since God has provided overwhelming evidence that a global flood ca. 3k ya didn’t happen.

        The Defeat of Flood Geology by Flood Geology
 

Also, a beautiful book, nine of the eleven contributing authors are evangelical Christians (my public library bought it, at my request, since it’s not available digitally):

        The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth

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The videos are actually arguing for a regional flood, the Persian Gulf flood.

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Yep, while I have not watched in their entirety, lots to agree with in just scanning. It is just that they have the “look” of some of the YEC youtubes that are put up here at times. Can’t judge a video by its promo.

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Yes, I do think that the folk here have an interest in watching these videos because they argue for and provide evidence from scripture and science for a regional flood and not a global one. This is why you should watch at least a little bit of any of these videos before posting something about them or little mishaps like this might happen.

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Yep, I was too hasty, sorry. The visual format seemed so typical of the YECish genre. If I would have just read, “The biblical authors didn’t even know there was a globe”… (but it was in all caps :sunglasses:).

Oh, its okay. Should’ve clarified what the videos were about. Didn’t know they gave off YEC vibes in their presentation. Sorry if I came off snotty in any way in my response.

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Hope I didn’t step on toes with the maybe too strong correlation. :woozy_face:

I got the same vibe from the YouTube images. Although that certainly looks like NT Wright in the first. The Arks have that Ark Encounter look to them so that is why I assumed YEC.

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Ah, so I wasn’t alone in my impression, just too quick to judge. :wink:

Thank you. If you post video’s in support of your position, it is helpful to provide a brief summary of relevance and the time stamps for the most pertinent points. I rarely watch suggested videos otherwise; not because I am close minded, but because such videos are in endless supply and I have no desire to waste time on regurgitated arguments heard countless times before.

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Yes, there are way too many unqualified YouTube videos on the internet and it takes way too long to get the information they are trying to convey. I will only watch YouTube by authors I know and trust: Text is much much simpler and actually allows for more detail and less superficial arguments. It’s also far easier to respond to. Had those been links to articles I would have read them and adjusted my position on the issue if necessary.

I’d like to see a counter argument to the view that creation is being undone during the flood and all the other evidence for a universal catastrophe. Also of the problem with reducing the Biblical flood to the point that just about any flood would fit the description!

Vinnie

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After posting sections 2 and 3 above I have worked my way back to section 1 and stumbled upon a very interesting point about one of the central features of the entire flood narrative:

Section 01: Introduction to the Genesis Flood Flood 01:**

  • [01A]: Literary Structure
  • [01B[: Two Flood Accounts Combined
  • [01C]: ANE Flood Parallels
  • [01D]: Top 10 Difficulties with a Global Flood**

Section 2: Did Jesus Teach the Flood was Historical?
Section 3: [Problems with a Local Flood Interpretation

01A: Literary Structure

The flood narrative is a masterful blend of two separate flood accounts. It takes the form of what Wenham calls a palistrophe or to use a more recognizable term, a chiastic-like structure (A, B, C, D, C’, B’, A’).

Naturally any flood will rise and abate, if you get on a boat you then later get off of it. We would expect some unintentional “turning back” in the story but these parallels, which are not perfect, go far beyond anything natural into pure literary form. The image on the right is from Gordon Wenham’s Rethinking Genesis 1-11, pg. 39.

He writes, “Some of them are so contrived they must be deliberate.” He then zooms in on the following sequence which shows the numbers (7, 7, 40 150) are reversed (150, 40, 7, 7): H, I, L, O, to O’, L’, I’. H’

“Wenham (ibid, pg. 39) writes, “But this is contrived because the first two mentions of seven days actually refer to just one week, the week between the command to enter the ark and the flood’s onset. Whereas the last two mentions of seven days cover three weeks of the dove’s reconnaissance flights.” Why does the author do this? As Wenham correctly suggests, the author is eager to make a point and its found in the center of the entire structure in line P where God remembers Noah. The point of all this literary show as Wenham writes (ibid pg. 40): “It is God who saved Noah, not, as in other oriental accounts, the hero’s own energy and good fortune.” The Genesis flood most certainly rearranges a lot of the furniture when it comes to surrounding flood accounts of which it shares many parallels and details. This is a clear example along with a statement of Jewish monotheism and the sovereignty of God.

It is also significant that the chiasm is broken into two halves: un-creation and re-creation. God’s created order in Genesis is clearly being undone during the flood and creation is restored afterwards as the flood abates. G. V. Smith (Structure and Purpose in Genesis 1–11,” JETS 20 [1977]: 310–11) came up with the following points of contact between creation and the flood (chapters 1-2 with 8-9). I have put the relationship from Smith in list format:

“(a) Since man could not live on the earth when it was covered with water in chaps. 1 and 8, a subsiding of the water and separation of the land from the water took place, allowing the dry land to appear (1:9–10; 8:1–13);
(b) “birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” are brought forth to “swarm upon the earth” in 1:20–21, 24–25 and 8:17–19;
(c) God establishes the days and seasons in 1:14–18 and 8:22;
(d) God’s blessing rests upon the animals as he commands them to “be fruitful and
multiply on the earth” in both 1:22 and 8:17;
(e) man is brought forth and he receives the blessing of God: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” in 1:28 and 9:1, 7;
(f) Man is given dominion over the animal kingdom in 1:28 and 9:2;
(g) God provides food for man in 1:29–30 and 9:3 (this latter regulation makes a direct reference back to the previous passage when it includes the statement, “As I have given the green plant”);
(h) in 9:6 the writer quotes from 1:26–27 concerning the image of God in man. The author repeatedly emphasizes the fact that the world is beginning again with a fresh start. But Noah does not return to the paradise of Adam, for the significant difference is that “the intent of man’s heart is evil” (Gen. 8:21)”

The importance of this for understanding the universal nature of the Genesis flood is discussed in section 3 of this series on the flood. Also, such an extensive literary device in a work would generally caution me from looking too closely at the details of the story as if they were all meant to be factually true. Even though in this case some elements of a chiastic structure are inherent to the story itself, the chiasm is very elaborate and historical reality is not usually this neat and structured. You can certainly narrate a historical event in a chiastic structure if you are allowed a degree of latitude but when the construct for the entire scene is a fancy literary device that leads to known contrived elements with the aim of telling a theological truth, caution is warranted on the historical front. The most important part of the flood account is how its central feature portrays God’s salvific role in contrast to what happens in other Mesopotamian flood mythology.

Vinnie

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01C: ANE Flood Parallels
The image on the right compares similarities between Atrahasis, an Akkadian epic, and the Genesis flood. This is a partial image of one that included parallels to the Garden story as well from Pete Enns who modified, for clarity, Frank Batto’s list in Slaying the Dragon (pp 51-52).

image

Atrahasis: is an epic written in Akkadian, the language of Babylon. An old version survives on clay tablets usually assigned to the 1600s B.C. but this ancient story likely predates this time period. The second tablet features Enlil sending famine and drought at regular intervals to deal with overpopulation and the noisy humans. Eventually he decides to destroy them with a flood. Tablet three depicts Enki warning Atrahasis, the hero of the story, to dismantle his house and build a multi-tiered boat of specific dimensions sealed with pitch. He is told to include two of each animals on board. He boards with his family and animals and the storm and flood, which lasted for seven days, was so severe even the gods were afraid. After the flood ends Atrahasis offers sacrifices to the gods.

The Epic of Gilgamesh: older than Atrahasis but its flood account might be dependent on it. Tablet eleven features Utnapishtim (as opposed to Atrahasis or Noah) as the principal character. Gilgamesh is seeking eternal life and Utnapishtim explains how he was granted it. He was warned by Enki to build a boat of specific dimensions and seal it with pitch and bitumen (very similar to the Genesis version). His family, all the animals of the field and his craftsmen were taken on board. After 6 days and nights the storm ended and all humans turned into clay. His boat, like the Biblical version, lodges on a mountain and he releases a dove, swallow and raven. When the raven fails to return he opens the ark and releases its inhabitants. He offers sacrifices to the gods who are pleased by the aroma (as does Noah who’s roasting animal flesh was a pleasing to the Lord). Ishtar vows never to forget this time. The parallels to Genesis are extensive.

The Sumerian version of the Gilgamesh Epic has a similar flood story but features Ziusudra as opposed to Noah (Genesis), Atrahasis (Atrahasis) or Utnapishtim (Gilgamesh). Will the real Noah please stand up?

Enns offered the following summary of similarities between Genesia/Atrahasis/Gilgamesh:

  • a flood and building a huge boat by divine command
  • pitch seals the boat;
  • the boat is built to precise dimensions (the biblical boat is much larger);
  • clean and unclean animals come on board;
  • a Noah figure and his family are saved ( Gilgamesh includes some others);
  • the boat comes to rest on a mountain;
  • a raven and doves were sent out ( Gilgamesh includes a swallow);
  • animals will fear humans;
  • the deity/deities smell the pleasing aroma of the sacrifices afterwards;
  • a sign of an oath is given (lapis lazuli necklace for Gilgamesh ).

Differences in the narratives are also evident. Bill Arnold ( Genesis: Baker Exegetical ) writes, “As in the Babylonian flood story, sacrifice and worship follow immediately after disembarkation. The differences, however, are profound, since in the Gilgamesh Epic, the gods are so famished in the absence of humans to feed them, they gather over the sacrifice like flies . . .”. Walton and Longman (Lost World of the Flood) write, “Indeed, all the gods come across as flawed in their motivations and actions. Ea, along with the other gods, had agreed to keep this plan a secret from humans. He engages in casuistry and subterfuge in order to warn the flood hero. The other gods are also depicted in a less than dignified way. They cower “like dogs” at the sight of the flood and gather “like flies” at the post-flood sacrifice since they are starved. “

We have already seen how the entire flood story is one big chiasmus. In the central line “God remembers Noah” and asWenham correctly suggests, the author is eager to make a point, “It is God who saved Noah, not, as in other oriental accounts, the hero’s own energy and good fortune.” After exiting the ark God tells Noah and company to be fruitful and multiply. They are to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and are given dominion over it again as in the creation accounts. Atrahasis speaks of changes that happened after flood as population control: women will now be barren, demons will cause miscarriages and steal babies and some women will remain lifelong virgins, consecrated to the gods.

In Atrahasis, one god (Enki) preserves life against the wishes of another (Enlil). In Genesis, we have one principle God who creates everything and has sovereign control over it. Atrahasis features a full heavenly host and hierarchy of divine beings. In Atrahasis the creation of humans, who are more like slaves, is the result of a rebellious divine soap opera. The humans are too noisy and “annoy” Enlil who regularly engages in population control. The humans anger him so much he decides to destroy them all in a flood. Even though a literal flood is still a difficult moral pill to swallow, in Genesis God is deeply distressed. Bill Arnold ( Genesis: Baker Exegetical ) writes of the flood: “Humanity’s heart is evil, and Yahweh’s heart is broken (v. 6). The narrator exposes Yahweh’s inner life as painfully grief-stricken and deeply distressed. “Pain” has become the common experience of all humans in this world ( ëi.s.sa ̄boˆn in 3:16,17 and 5:29) and is paralleled by the anguish of God (the verb ë.sb , “it grieved him,” v. 6). The Bible’s emotive language portrays no Aristotelian unmoved Mover, but a passionate and zealous Yahweh moved by his pathos into action.”

It is difficult to date ancient works and most of the time we do not understand their full compositional histories due to an impartial record but the flood stories in the Hebrew Scriptures appear to be much later than Gilgamesh/Atrahasis by possibly over a thousand years. We are talking Bronze age texts vs. Iron age. Thus, much of the primeval history (Gen 1-11) can be understood as rearranging ancient Mesopotamian furniture in an attempt to advance Jewish theology and belief. When I read Genesis 1-11 I do not read it as if its transcribing history. Instead, it is my contention that the flood account and the entire primeval history should be understood as a Jewish-theological retelling of older creation and flood myths. It is often etiological in nature as well. None of this is to suggest that we must think of Genesis as directly responding to one of the other ancient flood myths. As Walton and Longman (Lost World of the Flood) write, “Everyone in the ancient world knows there was a flood (just like everyone today knows there was a Holocaust). It is in the cultural river. The question is, what was God up to? Why did he send it? On this point, different texts may offer vastly different interpretations. Every culture will give the general tradition its own shape. The Mesopotamian accounts are drawing out of the cultural river and spinning it according to their cultural ideas and theology. The biblical authors are doing the same. We need not concern ourselves with whether the Israelite authors have access to copies of the Mesopotamian accounts.

Wenham ( Rethinking Genesis 1-11 ) summarizes: “If it is correct to view Gen 1-11 as an inspired retelling of ancient oriental traditions about the origins of the world with a view to presenting the nature of the true God as one, omnipotent, omniscient, and good, as opposed to the fallible, capricious, weak deities who populated the rest of the ancient world; if further it is concerned to show that humanity is central in the divine plan, not an afterthought; if finally it wants to show that man’s plight is the product of his own disobedience and indeed is bound to worsen without divine intervention, Gen 1-11 is setting out a picture of the world that is at odds both with the polytheistic optimism of ancient Mesopotamia and the humanistic secularism of the modern world. ”

Also stumbled across Walton and Longman’s thoughts on the local flood interpretation after writing my own. Seems my views here are in good company:

"Let’s conclude this section with a summary list of the elements of the storythat lead us to conclude the flood is being described in Genesis (hyperbolically) as a worldwide, not a local flood.

  1. Human sin is pervasive, encompassing all humans, not just those in a local area.
  2. God regretted making human beings on the earth, not just those in a local area.
  3. The flood as God’s judgment is the first part of re-creation. In the creation account, God moves the cosmos from nonorder to order. The first phase should be pictured as a watery blob, which over six creation days is brought into a functional order. The flood is a reversal of order to nonorder, with the ultimate goal of reestablishing order. In this scenario the flood would need to be worldwide.
  4. The need to take pairs (and in some cases seven pairs) of animals, including birds, on board indicates a worldwide flood, not just a local flood.
  5. The size of the boat indicates flood waters beyond the imagination of a local flood.
  6. That “all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Gen 7:11) indicates a worldwide flood.
  7. The height of the waters as fifteen cubits (twenty-three feet) over the mountains (Gen 7:20), and the only mountains mentioned being the sizeable “mountains of Ararat” (Gen 8:4), point to a global flood.

Thus, it is our conclusion that Genesis 6–8 describes a worldwide, not a local flood."
The Lost World of the Flood, Walton and Longman

To be sure, they think a flood happened, but don’t accept any concordant driven, localized interpretations. Walton/Longman are also more cautious than other exegetes. They seem to completely shy away from attributing any specific flood as the cause behind all the ANE stories.

Vinnie

Also stumbled across Walton and Longman’s thoughts on the local flood interpretation after writing my own. Seems my views here are in good company:

"Let’s conclude this section with a summary list of the elements of the storythat lead us to conclude the flood is being described in Genesis (hyperbolically) as a worldwide, not a local flood.

  1. Human sin is pervasive, encompassing all humans, not just those in a local area.
  2. God regretted making human beings on the earth, not just those in a local area.
  3. The flood as God’s judgment is the first part of re-creation. In the creation account, God moves the cosmos from nonorder to order. The first phase should be pictured as a watery blob, which over six creation days is brought into a functional order. The flood is a reversal of order to nonorder, with the ultimate goal of reestablishing order. In this scenario the flood would need to be worldwide.
  4. The need to take pairs (and in some cases seven pairs) of animals, including birds, on board indicates a worldwide flood, not just a local flood.
  5. The size of the boat indicates flood waters beyond the imagination of a local flood.
  6. That “all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Gen 7:11) indicates a worldwide flood.
  7. The height of the waters as fifteen cubits (twenty-three feet) over the mountains (Gen 7:20), and the only mountains mentioned being the sizeable “mountains of Ararat” (Gen 8:4), point to a global flood.

Thus, it is our conclusion that Genesis 6–8 describes a worldwide, not a local flood."
The Lost World of the Flood, Walton and Longman

To be sure, they think a flood happened, but don’t accept any concordant driven, localized interpretations. Walton/Longman are also more cautious than other exegetes. They seem to completely shy away from attributing any specific flood as the cause behind all the ANE stories.

Vinnie

Note that “reversing creation” is also invoked with regard to the Exile, which was definitely not a global event. Jeremiah sees a return to tohu and bohu (empty and without form).

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An interesting point. I am aware that the Exodus account echoes creation in some places but I don’t see it being nearly as explicit as the flood account. Maybe you could argue that all alone reversing creation isn’t enough but Moses didn’t build a ridiculously-impossibly large ship or take two of every animal on it. At any rate, G. V. Smith listed points of contact between the flood and creation. They are repeated below and they seem far more explicit and extensive than those in the Exodus. I would not use the Exodus story to force a localized interpretation of the flood. And as far as I am concerned, that Exodus echoes creation is an indication I am reading fiction and that the creation account predated it and was of popular appeal when it was written. The Exodus is told in a way as to give it cosmic importance. Not identical to what happens in the flood.

“(a) Since man could not live on the earth when it was covered with water in chaps. 1 and 8, a subsiding of the water and separation of the land from the water took place, allowing the dry land to appear (1:9–10; 8:1–13);

(b) “birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” are brought forth to “swarm upon the earth” in 1:20–21, 24–25 and 8:17–19;

(c) God establishes the days and seasons in 1:14–18 and 8:22;
(d) God’s blessing rests upon the animals as he commands them to “be fruitful and

multiply on the earth” in both 1:22 and 8:17;

(e) man is brought forth and he receives the blessing of God: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” in 1:28 and 9:1, 7;

(f) Man is given dominion over the animal kingdom in 1:28 and 9:2;

(g) God provides food for man in 1:29–30 and 9:3 (this latter regulation makes a direct reference back to the previous passage when it includes the statement, “As I have given the green plant”);

(h) in 9:6 the writer quotes from 1:26–27 concerning the image of God in man. The author repeatedly emphasizes the fact that the world is beginning again with a fresh start. But Noah does not return to the paradise of Adam, for the significant difference is that “the intent of man’s heart is evil” (Gen. 8:21)”

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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