The flood myth

The Flood

The flood myth is in every culture and religion known to man, some of these are similar and others differ dramatically. Some of the stories originate from the Arctic, North America, and Africa while the majority of them originate from what is known today as Turkey. Almost all of the stories protest that a god or gods are angry with the civilization they reside over. The result of this is a great flood removing the populous from the earth with the exception of a chosen few. Regardless of the exact points in the story it is believed that in today's modern culture there exists a scientific explanation for the origin of the myth.

The most average of the myths is that of the Anglo-Saxon, Roman Catholic, and Christian:

God, upset at mankind's wickedness, resolved to destroy it, but Noah was righteous and found favor with Him. God told Noah to build an ark, 450 x 75 x 45 feet, with three decks. For 40 days and nights, floodwaters came from the heavens and from the deeps, until the highest mountains were covered. The waters flooded the earth for 150 days; then God sent a wind and the waters receded, and the ark came to rest in Ararat. (Genesis)

The story is similar to those of the Greek:

The first race of people was completely destroyed because they were exceedingly wicked. The fountains of the deep opened, the rain fell in torrents, and the rivers and seas rose to cover the earth, killing all of them. Deucalion survived due to his prudence and piety and linked the first and second race of men. Onto a great ark he loaded his wives and children and all animals. The animals came to him, and by God's help, remained friendly for the duration of the flood. The flood waters escaped down a chasm opened in Hierapolis. (Frazer)

The similarities between the Christian and Greek are not that uncommon because they were from the same geographical region. However the similarities between those and the story from the inhabitants of New Zealand:

Long ago, there were a great many different tribes, and they quarrelled and made war on each other. The worship of Tane, the creator, was being neglected and his doctrines denied. Two prophets, Para-whenua-mea and Tupu-nui-a-uta, taught the true doctrine about the separation of heaven and earth, but others just mocked them, and they became angry. So they built a large raft at the source of the Tohinga River, built a house on it, and provisioned it with fern-root, sweet potatoes, and dogs. Then they prayed for abundant rain to convince men of the power of Tane. Two men named Tiu and Reti, a woman named Wai-puna-hau, and other women also boarded the raft. It rained hard for four or five days, until Tiu prayed for the rain to stop. But though the rain stopped, the waters still rose and bore the raft down the Tohinga river and onto the sea. At last they landed at Hawaiki. (Isaak)

The similarities between the three stories are the fact that a "God sent rain down to flood the earth because they were mad or upset for some reason, a group of people escaped in a vessel, and they landed somewhere other than where they began and started the world population over again. I don't think it was a coincidence that these stories have the same basis if the cultures are over nine thousand miles apart and separated mainly by ocean.

Many scientists today believe that there is a scientific explanation for the flood in many ancient myths. It is generally agreed that the events of all cultures took place at around 5600 BCE. (Robinson) The flood is believed to be from the melting of polar ice after the Ice Age at that time, however the event as described in the myths of ancient cultures is a little taken out of proportion. The true event as believed in modern culture is nowhere near as catastrophic. The scientific explanation rests on the paleoclimatologic evidence collected in the 1980's that set forth the following time line:

120,000 to 18,000 BCE: Sheets of ice up to two miles thick covered much of the northern parts of North America, Europe and Russia. So much water had been withdrawn from the world's oceans that their level was about 400 feet (120 meters) lower than it is today.

18,000 BCE: Temperatures started to warm again. The ice at the southern boundaries of the glaciers began to melt.

10,500 to 9400 BCE: Both the temperature and rainfall dropped in the region an event called the Younger Dryas.

9400 BCE: Decent levels of temperature and rainfall returned once more.

6200 BCE: Another ice age arrived.

Circa 5650 to 5500 BCE: Warmth and rain returned once more. The Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Marmara had gradually risen to a level some 426 feet (130 meters) higher than the lake. It was held back only by a small rise of land at the Bosporus River -- now the Bosporus Straight near present-day Istanbul, Turkey. Eventually, the ocean level rose high enough to slosh over into the Euxine Lake. It would have cut a small channel down to the lake. In a short time, the flow would reach 10 cubic miles of water per day -- 200 times the flow of the present Niagara Falls. Its velocity would have reached 50 miles per hour! Its noise would have been audible 120 miles away. The lake level would have risen about six inches a day. The shoreline would have expanded up to a mile each day in some areas causing any tribes or people settled around water sources to move.The effect on the multiple cultures who had settled on the water shore would have been catastrophic. (Robinson)

It is believed that if the waters can expand so rapidly in this area around modern day Turkey then it is also possible that the rise in water also occurred everywhere around the world. However only cultures that lived next to a body of water that is connected to the ocean or close to the Northern parts of America, Europe and Russia would be effected by this global occurrence. During the time of the flood almost all cultures lived next to these bodies of water due to their sub-par and inadequate farming techniques.

In comparison the myths of the ancient cultures differ from the scientific explanations of today. During the time of 5600 BCE the different cultures did not know how big the world was. The flooding that occurred in that time may have seemed to be on a bigger scale that it really was. However due to modern advances in science and technology today we now know that the flooding was contributed to global warming and a long monsoon season. If the flooding and the monsoon occurred today we would probably not consider it to be catastrophic due to our knowledge and scientific insight. Just as cultures grow they also evolve and what was a myth is replaced by fact and scientific evidence.

Bibliography

  • Frazer, Sir James G. Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co., 1919.
  • Genesis, 6-9. The Bible. New York: Biblica The New International Version (NIV), 1984.
  • Isaak, Mark. "Flood Stories from Around the World." 02 September 2002. The Talk Origins Archive. 10 February 2010 .
  • Robinson, B.A. "The catastrophic deluge." 20 November 1999. Religious Tolerance. 11 February 2010 .

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