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An examination of the internal consistency of the flood accounts on the basis of the magnitude of the flood and the test flights.
It is necessary to examine the magnitude of the flood in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis in order to argue their internal consistency. In the Gilgamesh Epic, the flood seems to have been universal according to the following descriptions: “The olden days indeed have turned to clay” (XI 118), “And all of mankind turned into clay” (XI 133), “The ship had landed on the Mt. Niṣir” (XI 140), “No man was to survive the annihilation” (XI 173).1 Nevertheless, as noted in the previous chapter, it seems to be physically impossible for the flood to have been universal because of the inadequate water sources and the short duration of the flood. Even if one interprets the above passages literally, they do not appear plausible. If the flood were local, it seems unreasonable that Ea commanded Utnapishtim to build a huge ship and to load “the seed of all living creatures” on it (XI 24–31) when he had to escape from the flood stealthily. While it is not clear how long it took to build the ship, if the flood were not universal, it would have been much easier for Utnapishtim simply to migrate to an area the flood did not cover rather than to waste time, energy and materials building the huge ship.2 Thus, the Epic does not seem to be reasonable or internally consistent.
On the other hand, in Genesis, the Flood is likely described as universal3 because of the following reasons:
Furthermore, Jesus Christ and Apostle Peter referred to the Genesis Flood as a universal one and as a type of the final Judgment (Mt. 24:37–39; Luke 17:26-27; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5, 3:6).5 As noted above, according to the source and duration of the Genesis Flood, it seems to be reasonable to accept it as universal. R.K. Harrison argues that the Flood seems to have been a river flood and only local in Mesopotamia.6 However,
The wording of the entire record, throughout Genesis 6–9 could not be improved on, if the intention of the writer was to describe a universal Flood; as a description of a river overflow, it is completely misleading and exaggerated, to say the least.7
In addition, in the Bible, the usage of the term מבול (Gen. 6:17; 7:6–7, 10, 17; 9:11, 15, 28; 10:1, 32; 11:10; Ps 29:10)8 and κατακλυσμός are limited to the Genesis Flood (Mt. 24:38–39; Luke 17:27; 2 Peter 2:5).9
As her primary reason to deny a universal flood, Carol A. Hill believes that the universal terms, “earth” (ארץ), “all” (כל), “every” (כל) and “under the heaven” (על-הארץ ) are not always used in the literal sense in the Bible, listing Genesis 41:46 and so on.10 In contrast, John C. Whitcomb argues as follows:
The only possible way to determine the sense in which universal terms are to be understood is to examine the immediate and general context in which they are used. Let us therefore examine the biblical context for the Flood account of Genesis 6–9. The Book of Genesis is clearly divided into two main sections: (1) chapters 1–11 deal with universal origins (the material universe, plants, animals, human beings, sin, redemption, and the nations of the earth); (2) chapters 12–50, on the other hand, concentrate on the particular origin of the Hebrew nation and its tribes, mentioning other nations only insofar as they came into contact with Israel. A realization of this fact sheds important light on the question of the magnitude of the Flood, for the biblical account of this catastrophe occupies three and a half chapters in the midst of these eleven chapters on universal origins …”11
Best insists that it would have been impossible that all the high mountains under the whole heavens were covered by the Flood (Gen. 7:19).12 However, as noted in chapter five, the highest mountains on the earth were probably not as high as today, but they have risen to the present height by the catastrophic movement of the tectonic plates during and after the Flood. Therefore, this is no longer an issue.
Harrison argues, “No certain geological evidence of the Flood is known, and consequently there is no ground for the belief that the Genesis Deluge covered the entire world.”13 But Ham, Sarfati and Wieland respond as follows:
What evidence would one expect from a global watery cataclysm that drowned the animals, birds, and people not on the ark? All around the world, in rock layer after rock layer, we find billions of dead things that have been buried in water-carried mud and sand. Their state of preservation frequently tells of rapid burial and fossilization, just like one would expect in such a flood.14
Morris also states, “Most of the earth’s crust consists of sedimentary rocks (sandstones, shales, limestones, etc.). These were originally formed in almost all cases under water, usually by deposition after transportation by water from various sources.”15 Whitcomb cites some instances:
These flat-lying sedimentary rocks, exposed to view in the Grand Canyon and many other spectacular canyons, cover an area of a quarter of a million square miles, including most of Utah and Arizona and large segments of Colorado and New Mexico. According to Burdick and others who have studied such formations, the only adequate explanation is a vast complex of rapid-moving currents of water of worldwide scope.16
Thus, the geological features seem to agree with the Genesis account.17
If the Flood really covered the whole world, even all the high mountains (7:19), it would have been impossible for Noah, his family and the animals to survive by migrating to another area or by escaping to a high mountain. The Ark was the only way for them to survive from the universal Flood. Thus, the Genesis account is internally consistent.
The Gilgamesh Epic also includes the account of the test flights for determining whether the land had emerged or not. Actually in the ancient world, birds were used by navigators for finding the location of land.18 In the Epic, from the seventh day after the ship landed on Mt. Niṣir, Utnapishtim sent out three kinds of birds (XI 140, 145): a dove, a swallow and a raven. The first two returned and the raven did not (XI 146–154). Because the Epic does not specify the interval between each test flight, it is impossible to ascertain the duration of each bird’s flight and to evaluate the appropriateness. On the other hand, it is important to know the habits of ravens to examine the reasonableness of the test flights. The Epic notes that “She (the raven) went and seeing the water had receded, she ate … and did not return” (XI 153–154). However, ravens are omnivorous birds which eat even carrion, and hence they have high adaptability to unendurable conditions for man.19 According to these habits, one can conclude that the raven’s failure to return to the ship does not necessarily mean that the land became a sufficiently livable environment for the survivors to leave the ship. It seems to be irrational that Utnapishtim sent out the raven last and “sent away all” from the ship (XI 155) after its failure to return.20 In addition, there is no reference that any of these birds which Utnapishtim had sent out brought any plant to the ship like the dove in the Genesis account.21 Therefore, these test flights do not seem to show that Utnapishtm is judicious, in spite of his other designation “Atrahasis” which means “the exceedingly wise” (XI 187).22 Basically, if the flood were local, such test flights would be nonsense because a raven could have flown away to the dry land.23 Thus, these test flights seem to lack logic.
It is likely that the earth had considerably dried up by that time.
On the other hand, in Genesis, from the forty days after the water had begun receding (Gen. 8:6), Noah sent out birds four times at seven day intervals. First, the raven kept flying back and forth (Genesis 8:7). Second the dove returned because she found no resting place to set her foot (Genesis 8:8–9). Third, the dove brought back an olive leaf to the Ark (Genesis 8:10–11). Finally, the dove did not return (Genesis 8:12). The duration of these test flights is sensible.24 It seems to be proper to send doves after a raven for the purpose because doves “feed almost entirely on vegetable matter such as seeds, acorns, grains and fruits.”25 It would be difficult for doves to find food on the earth after the Flood. Even if they found some dried place, they would have come back because of their diet. “It is significant that the olive leaf is mentioned, since it is well known that this is one of the hardiest of all plants and would be one of the first to sprout again from such a cutting after the Flood.”26 In addition, the dove did not bring back “a withered leaf, nor the one that had been floating on the water, but ‘a freshly plucked’ leaf.” (8:11).27 Olive trees can grow “in soils of high lime content and on rocky hills unsuited for other crops.”28 At the same time, the soil is required to be “well-drained.”29 Therefore, it is likely that the earth had considerably dried up by that time although the dove returned to the Ark. Doves have been known for their strong homing instinct from great distances and have been utilized for it since ancient days.30 Therefore, the final dove’s failure to return seems to have been a proof that she found an environment in which she could get better food than in the Ark, i.e., there would have been plants on the earth. It is reasonable that Noah did not use a swallow like Utnapishtim did. Because a swallow is entirely insectivorous,31 it would not have been informative even if it did not return. Thus, the account of the test flights in Genesis seems logical, informative and realistic.