Tear down the house and build a boat!
Make all living beings go up into the boat.
The boat which you are to build,
its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
its length must correspond to its width.
In this week's Parsha, Noah, God inundates the world with a great flood. You may have noticed that the passage above is not from Noah. It is from The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian story that dates back nearly 5,000 years and is thought to be perhaps the oldest written tale on the planet. In it, there is an account of the great sage Utnapishtim, who is warned of an imminent flood to be unleashed by wrathful gods. He builds a vast circular-shaped boat, reinforced with tar and pitch, that carries his relatives, grains and animals. After enduring days of storms, Utnapishtim, like Noah in Genesis, releases a bird in search of dry land.
This sounds a lot like the story of Noah. God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. So how is Noah different.
The destruction of the earth through a flood is a situation that presents itself in hundreds of cultures throughout the world. But Noah is not another Gilgamesh.
The flood in Gilgamesh concludes
'Where did a living being escape?
No man was to survive the annihilation!'
Rather than accepting that a human mortal could have survived the flood, God elevates Gilgamesh to the status of God.
This contradicts the very theme of Parsha Noah.
Unlike the story of Gilgamesh, Noah is a not a story of destruction. It is a story of rebirth. It is a do over of creation. In Gilgamesh, God gives up on humanity. Even the sole survivor cannot remain mortal on the land of earth. But in Noah, God has hope for humanity. God does not give up. Rather than giving up on the idea of creation. He starts over, mimicking his first attempt. Parsha Noah is the recreation of the world.
The Epic of Gilgamesh uses the flood narrative as the story of the destruction. And that’s what the flood appears to be in Noah. However, this is truly not the case. Noah is creation. Where one righteous man and his family survive to create the world anew. In fact, there is an incredible parallel between the story of creation and the flood of Noah.
וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃
And the wind of God from God swept over the water
וַיַּעֲבֵ֨ר אֱלֹהִ֥ים ר֙וּחַ֙ עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וַיָּשֹׁ֖כּוּ הַמָּֽיִם׃
And God made a Wind to pass over the earth and the water
In both the wind of God hovers over the water
וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֮ אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ֒ וַיַּבְדֵּ֗ל בֵּ֤ין הַמַּ֙יִם֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ מִתַּ֣חַת לָרָקִ֔יעַ וּבֵ֣ין הַמַּ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֖ר מֵעַ֣ל לָרָקִ֑יעַ
God made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse.
וַיִּסָּֽכְרוּ֙ מַעְיְנֹ֣ת תְּה֔וֹם וַֽאֲרֻבֹּ֖ת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וַיִּכָּלֵ֥א הַגֶּ֖שֶׁם מִן־הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃
The fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were stopped up, and the rain from the sky was held back;
The water from below was held back from the water above in both
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים יִקָּו֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם מִתַּ֤חַת הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ אֶל־מָק֣וֹם אֶחָ֔ד וְתֵרָאֶ֖ה הַיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה
And God said: “let the water under the heaven be gathered together unto one place and the dry land appear.”
וַיָּשֻׁ֧בוּ הַמַּ֛יִם מֵעַ֥ל הָאָ֖רֶץ הָל֣וֹךְ וָשׁ֑וֹב
the waters then receded steadily from the earth.
In both water recedes to show dry land here
Flood stories abound in great numbers from cultures around the world. According to John D. Morris, PhD (Institute for Creation Research)
“One of the strongest evidences for the global flood which annihilated all people on Earth except for Noah and his family, has been the presence of flood legends in the folklore of people from around the world. And the stories are all so similar. Local geography and cultural aspects may be present but they all seem to be telling the same story.”
“Over the years I have collected more than 200 of these stories, originally reported by various missionaries, anthropologists, and ethnologists.”
While the differences are not always trivial, the common essence of the stories is instructive as compiled below:
1. Is there a favoured family? 88%
2. Were they forewarned? 66%
3. Is flood due to wickedness of man? 66%
4. Is catastrophe only a flood? 95%
5. Was flood global? 95%
6. Is survival due to a boat? 70%
7. Were animals also saved? 67%
8. Did animals play any part? 73%
9. Did survivors land on a mountain? 57%
10. Was the geography local? 82%
11. Were birds sent out? 35%
12. Was the rainbow mentioned? 7%
13. Did survivors offer a sacrifice? 13%
14. Were specifically eight persons saved? 9%
Dr. Duane Gish, in Dinosaurs by Design, says there are more than 270 stories from different cultures around the world about a devastating flood. Although there are varying degrees of accuracy, these legends and stories all contain similarities to aspects of the same historical event—Noah’s Flood.
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.
Another flood story is from 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.
As the story of the Flood was verbally passed from one generation to the next, some aspects would have been lost or altered. However, each story shares remarkable similarities to the account of Noah in the Bible. This is true even in some of the details, such as the name Nu-u in the Hawaiian flood story. “Nu-u” is very similar to “Noah.”
Various archaeologists suggest there was a historical deluge between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago that hit lands ranging from the Black Sea to what many call the cradle of civilization, the flood plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The translation of ancient cuneiform tablets in the 19th century confirmed the Mesopotamian flood myth as an antecedent of the Noah story in the Bible.
Yet tales of the Flood spring from many sources. Myriad ancient cultures have their own legends of watery cataclysm and salvation. According to Vedic lore, a fish tells the mythic Indian king Manu of a flood that will wipe out humanity; Manu then builds a ship to withstand the epic rains and is later led to a mountaintop by the same fish. An Aztec story sees a devout couple hide in the hollow of a vast tree with two ears of corn as divine storms drown the wicked of the land. Creation myths from Egypt to Scandinavia involve tidal floods of all sorts of substances — including the blood of deities — purging and remaking the earth.
Flood myths are so universal that the Hungarian psychoanalyst Geza Roheim thought their origins were physiological, not historical — hypothesizing that dreams of the Flood came when humans were asleep with full bladders.
According to Rebecca Conolly and Russell Grigg in an article published Oct 12, 2011 at reallcreation.com:
The North American Indians have several flood stories. One from the Choctaw tribe tells how, long ago, men became so corrupt that the Great Spirit destroyed them in a flood. Only one man was saved—a prophet whose warnings the people disregarded, and whom the Great Spirit then directed to build a raft from sassafras logs. After many weeks, a small bird guided the prophet to an island where the Great Spirit changed the bird into a beautiful woman who became the wife of the prophet. Their children then repopulated the world.
Likewise, there are several Australian Aboriginal flood stories. One tells how, long ago, there was a flood that covered the mountains so that many of the Nurrumbunguttias, or spirit men and women, were drowned. Others, including Pund-jil, were caught up by a whirlwind into the sky. When the waters receded, and the mountains appeared again, and the sea went back into its own place, the son and daughter of Pund-jil ‘went back to earth and became the first of the true men and women who live in the world today’.
Here are some flood stories from other countries/cultures.
Early Jesuit scholars were the first Europeans to gain access to the Chinese ‘book of all knowledge’ from ancient times. This 4,320-volume collection told of the repercussions of mankind’s rebellion against the gods: “The Earth was shaken to its foundations. The sky sank lower towards the north. The sun, moon, and stars changed their motions. The Earth fell to pieces and the waters in its bosom rushed upwards with violence and overflowed the Earth.”5
Another story, in the folklore of the Bahnars, a primitive tribe of Cochin, China, tells of how the rivers swelled “till the waters reached the sky, and all living beings perished except two, a brother and a sister, who were saved in a huge chest. They took with them into the chest a pair of every sort of animal …”.6
Flood stories from the continent of Africa are rare, but one from Egypt tells of an ancient creation god, Tem, who “was responsible for the primeval flood, which covered the entire earth and destroyed all of mankind except those in Tem’ boat”
The Incas of Peru also had a tradition of a deluge. “They said that the water rose above the highest mountains in the world, so that all people and all created things perished. No living thing escaped except a man and a woman, who floated in a box on the face of the waters and so were saved.”
The stories of the Teutonic tribes of Scandinavia are vivid and describe terrifying events. The imagery of these legends emphasizes the size of the cataclysm. One such tale portrays the chaos of the world when the mighty wolf Fenrir shook himself and “made the whole world tremble. The aged ash tree Yggdrasil [envisaged as the axis of the earth] was shaken from its roots to its topmost branches. Mountains crumbled or split from top to bottom … ”. Men “were driven from their hearths and the human race was swept from the surface of the earth. The earth itself was beginning to lose its shape. Already the stars were coming adrift from the sky and falling into the gaping void. … Flames spurted from fissures in the rocks; everywhere there was the hissing of steam. All living things, all plant life, were blotted out. … And now all the rivers, all the seas rose and overflowed. From every side waves lashed against waves. They swelled and boiled and slowly covered all things. The earth sank beneath the sea …”. Then slowly “the earth emerged from the waves. Mountains rose anew … . Men also reappeared. … Enclosed in the wood itself of the ash tree Yggdrasil … the ancestors of a future race of men had escaped death.”
SO what are we to make of all these flood stories? Is ours, in Genesis the right one? The original one? The true one? Although most historians who have studied this matter estimate that these legends number into the hundreds, according to evolutionary geologist Robert Schoch, “Noah is but one tale in a worldwide collection of at least 500 flood myths, which are the most widespread of all ancient myths and therefore can be considered among the oldest” Schoch went on to observe:
“Narratives of a massive inundation are found all over the world.... Stories of a great deluge are found on every inhabited continent and among a great many different language and culture groups.”
Over a century ago, the famous Canadian geologist, Sir William Dawson, wrote about how the record of the Flood is preserved in some of the oldest historical documents of several distinct races of men, and is indirectly corroborated by the whole tenor of the early history of most of the civilized races.
So what to make of all of this. aThe accepted view is that the archetypal account originated in Mesopotamia. The earliest Mesopotamian version is far older than the biblical account, and the Flood story bears specifically Mesopotamian details that cannot reasonably be supposed to derive from a Hebrew original.
The academic community believes that the flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh is the original and that all the other stories that followed, including Noah, were part of the oral history that came to be included in our own histories. This is more evidence that the Torah is indeed a compilation of stories, redacted together at various times by various authors.