Atlantis has been the focus of much conjecture for thousands of years. If it did exist, what can we learn from the biblical account?
Keywords: Atlantis, Plato, Socrates, Solon, history, geography
Atlantis is the theme of modern science fiction, hotels, cartoons, and much, much more. Questions about Atlantis come into Answers in Genesis more than you might think. Let’s take a fresh look at it from a biblical perspective.
The island of Atlantis was first mentioned and recorded by Plato in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias.1 Plato mentions that this rather large island was later destroyed by a great earthquake. The time frame for this written account is said to be about 350–400 years before Christ.2
According to Plato, Atlantis was named for Atlas, who was supposedly the oldest twin of Poseidon, the son of Cronus in Greek mythology.3 Furthermore, Poseidon was the owner of the island and named it for his son. Other place names also reflect Atlas, such as the Atlantic Ocean and the Atlas Mountains extending from Morocco to Algeria.
According to Plato’s account (of Socrates’ account of Solon’s account that he received from the Egyptians), the Athenians (people of the city of Athens and perhaps others in Greece) went to war with those inhabiting the island of Atlantis. The Atlantians had conquered parts of modern day Italy and North Africa and were threatening Greece and Egypt. According to the account, many of the Athenians may have died while fighting the Atlantians not long before the island’s destruction.
When it comes down to it, either Atlantis was a real place or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, then the discussion is more-or-less finished. And considering that this story was passed down several times before Plato recorded it, we can assume that it has some inaccuracies.
Regardless, let’s assume for a moment that it was a real place and use a biblical framework to place it. Big-picture biblical explanations could be:
So, could Atlantis have been a pre-Flood continent? If so, there would be little evidence left due to such a worldwide cataclysm. However, the Critias account by Plato reads:
. . . which had elapsed since the war which was said to have taken place between those who dwelt outside the Pillars of Heracles and all who dwelt within them; this war I am going to describe. Of the combatants on the one side, the city of Athens was reported to have been the leader and to have fought out the war; the combatants on the other side were commanded by the kings of Atlantis, which, as was saying, was an island greater in extent than Libya and Asia, and when afterwards sunk by an earthquake, became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean.
Also in Plato’s account of Atlantis, he refers to the Atlantic Ocean as well as these “pillars of Hercules,” which is likely the Strait of Gibraltar between modern-day Spain and Morocco. Plato said that Atlantis was as large as “Libya” and “Asia” (Asia was originally seen as a part of modern day Turkey).4 Keep in mind that this is not what we think of today as Libya and Asia, but the way the Greeks viewed them about 500 BC. Take note that these are post-Flood features and names.
Plato also gives the dimensions of the main island of Atlantis in a measurement called “stadia,” which are about 600 feet each. The dimensions were 2000 by 3000 stadia. It was an oblong-shaped island. Translating this into modern measurement, it would have been about 227 miles by 340 miles, giving an estimated 77,000 square-mile area. This is about the size of the state of Nebraska. Plato’s measurement makes Atlantis much smaller than a continent.
Descriptions given by Plato appear to place it outside of the Mediterranean in the Atlantic Ocean.
Since the modern continent scheme was changed significantly from the Flood and Plato was referring to post-Flood places, it is very unlikely that this Atlantis was pre-Flood. Plato’s book Critias gives details of the island and much more (such as the ancient Egyptians originating the account), implying that if it existed, it was likely post-Flood. Egypt was formed by Mizraim, Noah’s grandson, and is still known as Mizraim in the Hebrew language. So, for Egypt to be aware of it requires Noah’s grandson Mizraim to have existed to begin Egypt. If so, descriptions given by Plato appear to place it outside of the Mediterranean in the Atlantic Ocean.
In the past, people have proposed likely places for Atlantis, such as the Americas or parts of it, remnants of the island of Thera (in the Mediterranean—which should be ruled out by Plato’s statements), or the Azores in the Atlantic, but there has never been a consensus by researchers that any of these were indeed Atlantis.
Plato also informs us that Atlantis was inhabited by Poseidon and his family (including Atlas). Before people begin thinking “Are you taking Greek mythology seriously?” take note that Poseidon was son of Cronus, which is a variant of Cethimas/Kittim (Cronus/Kronos, Κρόνος).5 Biblically, Kittim is the son of Javan, the son of Japheth, the son of Noah. With this mind, Atlas was likely Noah’s great, great, great grandson.
So, when Plato speaks of Poseidon inheriting land from the dispersion of people around the earth, this makes sense. Kittim, Poseidon’s father, was mentioned in the Tower of Babel account. With the Tower of Babel dispersion happening just over hundred years after the Flood according to Ussher, then the earliest Atlantis could have been inhabited was soon after that time.6
According to Plato, Poseidon’s control of Atlantis had already been given to Atlas, after whose death several kings had ruled by the time the disaster struck the island. If Poseidon was the great, great grandson of Noah (the same as Eber, who is the father of the Hebrews, and in a different lineage), then it is reasonable to assume that his life expectancy would be near the same as Eber and Atlas may have been near the same as Eber’s son Peleg. The ages of the post-Flood patriarchs dropped off after Noah.7
Eber, who was born 66 years after the Flood, would have died 530 years after the Flood. Had Poseidon lived about this long as well, then this would have been about 1818 BC (according to Ussher who put the Flood at 2348 BC).8 This would have been about the time Abraham died as well.
Peleg died sooner, and assuming that Atlas was his contemporary, he too should have died much sooner than Poseidon, as should the next few in line. Using these assumptions, about 1818 BC would have been the earliest that Atlantis could have been destroyed. To give you some context, Moses and the Exodus from Egypt would have occurred in 1491 BC or about 850 years after the Flood (using Ussher’s numbers).
So, it makes sense that there would be some time before the destruction of Atlantis. Plato records:
Now Atlas had a numerous and honorable family, and they retained the kingdom, the eldest son handing it on to his eldest for many generations . . . .
Remembering the limitations of Plato’s account, this suggests several generations of rule well after Poseidon’s son Atlas. Plato even records that their law had been passed down by Poseidon. So, it appears Poseidon had probably died by the time of the destruction of the island. So, let’s use the earliest estimated date for Poseidon’s death at 1818 BC.
The latest Atlantis could have been destroyed would have to be prior to Socrates, who died around 400 BC. But the account came through an aged Solon, who got it from the Egyptians and their accounts of the past. So, the latest date would surely be a few hundred years prior to Socrates’ death. To be generous, let’s set 600 BC as the latest date. So, we have a range of 1818 BC to about 600 BC.
First, it could have been completely destroyed by earthquake, volcano, or other disaster.9 Or perhaps the remnants of Atlantis that Plato wrote of have been destroyed since the time of his writing. Plato records that it was associated with a great earthquake—perhaps it was even felt in Greece.
According to Plato’s account in Timaeus, the ocean where Atlantis used to be was nearly impassable by boat due to the mud and debris from the island. However, in 2,000-3,000 years such sediment could have traveled and settled out in other areas due to ocean currents, tides, storms, and so on. So, that may not be a good sign to look for today. Perhaps groups of islands may be the place to look in the Atlantic Ocean extending from the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. But this is just speculation; we may never know where it was, if it did exist.
Could the destruction of Atlantis have been caused by a sudden rise in sea level? Creationists have often pointed out there was a post-Flood Ice Age that was triggered by the Flood. In brief, conditions following the Flood would have yielded warm oceans and cool summers due to massive volcanic activity associated with the Flood, plate movements during the Flood, and mountain building at the end stages (and soon after the Flood). With fine ash hovering in the upper atmosphere and being replenished with each volcano, this reflects sunlight back to space, hence cooling the globe. Warmer oceans due to plate movements and heated rock under the oceans increased evaporation, which caused more rainfall or, in winter months, more snowfall. With cooler summers not melting the snow, it accumulates into ice—many layers of ice quickly form. Therefore, the world would have rapid growth of glaciers and ice caps.10
From a big picture, an Ice Age takes water out of the ocean and deposits it on land. This means the ocean levels would have been reduced. Both Christians and non-Christians agree that an Ice Age would reduce ocean levels significantly—to a point where land bridges open up—which is likely how many people and animals could have migrated to most continents.
But at the end of the peak of the Ice Age, water levels in the ocean began to rise as glaciers and ice caps melted. Creationists have pointed out that the peak of the Ice Age would have been in the neighborhood of about 500 years after the Flood. For example, creationist researcher Mike Oard has estimated that there was extensive melting for the next two hundred years. If Atlantis’ destruction were 700 or 800 years after the Flood, it may have had something to do with the rising ocean levels. Keep in mind that an island being overtaken by rising sea levels appears identical to an island sinking!
The Americas can easily be ruled out due to size, but also because Timaeus refers to a continent set beyond it. This continent is likely the Americas. Most obviously, the Americas still exist and have not sunk into the sea. In addition, the Island of Thera is within the Mediterranean Sea; so, this would be ruled out.
Perhaps the most famous report of Atlantis came from Athanasius Kircher from Subterraneus in 1669. He drew a map and placed Atlantis between Africa/Europe and the Americas. Take note that North is facing the bottom in his map:
The size of Kircher’s Atlantis is much larger than Plato’s description, but it is in the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, Kircher’s version of Atlantis appears as large, if not larger, than Greenland. So, this may not have been as accurate as it could have been. However, the island is where the Azores now sit. And of the logical places Atlantis could have been, the remnants spoken of by Plato could be the Azores or perhaps the Canary Islands or the Madeira Islands. Plato states:
The consequence is, that in comparison of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, as in the case of small islands, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left.
This is, of course, assuming the mountaintops still remain to this day as islands. The Azores sit above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where many creationists believe some of springs of the great deep burst forth (Genesis 7:11). This area was likely wrought with earthquake and volcanic activity. But would this area be an obvious impasse of mud and debris for several years for those sailing out of the Mediterranean Sea? Since it seemed rather well known that mud and debris caused a near impasse for ships, this may not be where Atlantis was. It doesn’t seem as logical, since fewer ships were traveling that far into the Atlantic as opposed to the other two locations.
Madeira Island and the Canary Islands are aloft volcanoes as well, and these areas may be more apt to cause a problem with ships trying to pass if demolished so near the Straight of Gibraltar. A few potential areas are shown on the map below for the island of Atlantis.
We may never know where Atlantis existed. If it did exist, it was most likely a post-Flood island somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, not far from the Strait of Gibraltar.
Atlantis, if the accounts were reasonably accurate, would have been destroyed, leaving only much smaller islands still sitting above the Atlantic Ocean’s surface. The most logical remnants would seem to be the Canary or Madeira Islands as well as other underwater islands in their vicinity that may have further been destroyed 3000 years ago or so.