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The source of the flood, the duration of the flood, and the structure of the ark in the flood accounts are examined for scientific reliability.
In the Gilgamesh Epic, thunder by Adad (god of storm and rain,1 XI 98) accompanied the flood. The flood is described with the coming of Shullat and Hanish (gods of destructive storms,2 XI 99), black cloud (urupatu ṣalāmu, XI 97), darkness (eṭūtu, XI 106), storm (mehû, XI 108, 128), wind (šâru, XI 128), evil wind (imḫullu, XI 131), and so on. According to the expression, “And all mankind turned into clay” (XI 133), the flood was probably global. And yet, the Epic does not appear to identify enough sources of the water to justify a global flood.
L.W. King asserts that the flood “was caused by the annual overflow of the Tigris and the Euphrates,” because he interprets the term abūbu to mean a “flood, which could take place through a rise of the rivers unaccompanied by heavy local rain.”3 However, Heidel opposes this position:
here does not appear to be any decisive evidence that abûbu was ever employed to denote also an inundation caused by the rivers unaccompanied by heavy rains; to designate a river-flood, or high tide of water, the Babylonians used mêlû or edû. But even should such evidence be available, it still does not alter the fact that the Babylonian versions very definitely attribute the deluge to a heavy storm. This phenomenon is emphasized with special force in column v of the Sumerian version and on Tablet XI: 90–131 of the Gilgamesh Epic. Neither of these passages sounds anything like a description of an inundation due merely to an overflow of the rivers. According to the latter passage, the flood was caused principally by “the raging of Adad,” the god of storm and rain, who had nothing to do with the periodic rising of the rivers in Mesopotamia.4
In fact, the flow of water is not described as much as the storm 5 in the Epic (XI 90–131). Even if the flood were caused by the annual overflow of the Tigris and the Euphrates, it seems to have been impossible that this event would engulf the whole world. As an illustration, “The Ohio and Mississippi River floods of 1937 killed 400, left 1,000,000 homeless, and destroyed $500,000,000 worth of property;” however, it was only a local flood.6 In addition, when Conemaugh Lake flooded in 1889, 2,200 people were killed by 20,000,000 tons of water in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.7 “Six small villages were practically picked off their foundations….”8 This was a terrible and unforgettable catastrophe; nevertheless, the American continent was not covered.
Sandars’ translation cites another source of the flood: “Nergal pulled out the dams of the nether waters.”9 However, this is an interpretive translation.10 The text, transliteration, and translation of XI 101, are as follows:
Although Nergal was the brother of Ninurta who was “God of war and lord of the wells and irrigation works” in the culture of Ancient Near East,12 there is not the word which corresponds to “the dams of the nether waters” in the text. Nergal, a Sumerian and Akkadian god, was “a great warrior” and “the ruler of the underworld, meaning supreme lord of the deceased.”13 According to the Ancient Mesopotamians’ conception, the underworld is “the dwelling-place of the chthonic deities and the discarnate spirit was situated in the lowest part of the earth.”14 And yet the significance of the term “tarkullu” is “wooden post, pole,” or “mast of boat; in irrigation regulator.”15 Almost the same passage is found in the Atrahasis Epic in the similar context, “Let Errakal [tear up] the mooring poles” (“ta-ra-ku-ul-li der-[ra-kal li-na-si-iḫ],” II vii 51).16 Walton states that the Epic “indicates that the deluge flattened the land, but none of the ancient Near Eastern accounts makes reference to the water rising and covering.”17 Even if XI 101 implies underground water, the Epic does not clearly mention the beginning and the ending of its eruption like the Genesis account does. In fact, the ending scene of the flood is mainly the abating of the storm (XI 129, 131). According to this context, the term “tar-kul-llu” probably signifies the regulator of the irrigation and hence XI 101 seems to be merely one of the descriptions of the breaking up of the irrigation channels.
It seems to be reasonable to think that rain was the source of the flood in the Epic.Thus, it seems to be reasonable to think that rain was the source of the flood in the Epic. However, D.E. Rush estimates that the amount of water vapor which can be held above the atmosphere is equivalent to about 20 inches of rainfall.18 If more water is held, the temperature of the surface of the earth becomes too high for life to exist.19 Although Rush and Vardiman maximize the amount of the water to one meter of rainfall,20 this research shows that rain cannot be an adequate sole source for the universal flood. Therefore, the passage “And all mankind turned into clay” (XI 133) seems unlikely.
On the other hand, in the Genesis account, the Flood was caused when “
all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened” (Genesis 7:11). Because these terms “
the windows of heaven” ( ארבת השמים) and “
the fountains of the deep” (מעינת תהום ) are also used in reference to the end of the Flood, it is likely that both are the sources of the flood waters: “
The fountain of the deep and the windows of heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained” (Gen. 8:2). Outside of Genesis, “
the windows of heaven” (ארבת השמים) is used to indicate the supernatural rain (2 Kings 7:2, 19) and the pouring of plentiful blessings from God (Malachi 3:10).21 According to these usages and the context of the Flood account, it is likely that this term refers to the source “through which rain pours destructively.”22 While the term “the fountains of the deep” (מעינת תהום) is also used in
“The great deep” is used three other times: Isaiah 51:10, where it clearly refers to the ocean; Amos 7:4, where God’s fire of judgment is said to dry up the great deep, probably the oceans; and Psalm 36:6 where it is used metaphorically of the depth of God’s justice/judgment. “The deep” is used more often, and usually refers to the oceans (e.g., Gen. 1:2; Job 28:14, 41:32; Ps. 42:7, 104:6; Isa. 51:10, 63:13; Ezek. 26:19; Jon. 2:3), but sometimes to subterranean sources of waters (Ezek. 31:4, (15)).24
Because the significance of the term מעין is “fountain, spring, well,”25 in this context, “the fountains of the deep” (מעינת תהום) is likely subterranean sources of the water.26 Donald B. Young states as follows:
Still today, vast amounts of water are stored below ground. About thirty times more fresh water exists underground than is visible in all the surface lakes and rivers. Some of this ground water is under great pressure and heat, as demonstrated by springs and geysers such as Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.27
As noted above, while rain could not have been the main source of the Flood, the Genesis account clearly shows another source, probably the subterranean water, which would have been adequate to cover the whole world.
Some have suggested that when God made dry land appear from under the waters on the third day of creation, some of the water that covered the earth became trapped underneath and within the dry land.28
Genesis 7:11 says that on the day the Flood began, there was a “breaking up” of the fountains, which implies release of the water, possibly through large fissures in the ground or in the sea floor. The waters that had been held back burst forth with catastrophic consequences.29
According to this scientific information, it seems to be reasonable to conclude that “Although Genesis does not purpose to be a text book of science, nevertheless, when it touches upon scientific subjects, it is accurate.”30
In the Gilgamesh Epic, although the duration of the rainstorm is mentioned, the duration from the beginning of the flood until the drying up of the earth is obscure.31 It is stated that “for six days and [six] nights, the wind blew, the deluge leveled the land” (XI 127–128). The word in the brackets is not certain in the original tablet. While Heidel, Sandars, and Speiser translate this line “six days and [six] nights,”32 Thompson, Parpola, Foster, and George render it “six days and seven nights.”33 Whichever it is, the maximum number of the nights is unlikely to be more than seven. In the Atrahasis Epic, it is stated that the storm lasted “For seven days and seven n[ights]” (tablet III, iv 24).34Therefore, it seems to be reasonable to restore the same number for the days and for the nights. Actually, the following lines in the Gilgamesh Epic are description of “silence” after the flood, “when the seventh day arrived” (XI 129-132). Thus, the duration of the rain is likely for six days and six nights. This timeframe seems to be too short for water to cover the whole world. For example, from September seventh to thirteenth in 1976, for six days, a rainstorm hit Japan, and 169 people were killed or lost; 2,833 buildings were broken; 452,203 buildings and 88,965 hectares of farms were flooded; 204 ships were lost.35 The total precipitation was 2,781mm (about 9 feet) and this is the Japanese record.36 However, even the small island nation Japan, which is surrounded by sea, was not completely covered by this rainstorm. Therefore, it seems impossible for a rainstorm to cover the whole world in such a short duration. The world record of one month maximum precipitation total is 366.14 inches in July 1861 in Cherrapunji, Assam, India.37 This is much more rain than the Japanese record, and yet even one country, India, was not covered by those rains. Therefore, the flood account in the Epic seems improbable if it literally means the flood covered the whole earth. As noted above, because rain seems to have been the major source of the flood, no matter how long the duration of the flood would have been, it appears impossible to destroy all mankind by the flood as described in the Epic. Even if the underground water had been another source of the flood, the duration of the flood seems too short for a global flood.
In contrast, in Genesis, the duration of the flood is clearly mentioned, about one year: from the beginning of the rain in the six hundredth year of Noah’s life on the seventeenth day of the second month (Genesis 6:11–12) to the complete drying of the earth on the twenty-seventh day of the second month in Noah’s six hundred and first year (Genesis 8:13–14). The details are as follows:
|The chronology of the Flood|
|The rain fall (Genesis 7:12)||40|
|The waters prevailed for 150 days (7:24)||110|
|The water decreasing (8:4–5): 13 + 30 + 30 + 1 days||74|
|Noah sent out the raven (8:6–7)||40|
|Noah sent out the first dove (8:8–9)||7|
|Noah sent out the second dove (8:10)||7|
|Noah sent out the third dove (8:12)||7|
|Noah removed the covering of the Ark. The waters were dried up (8:13)||29|
|The earth dried (8:14)||57|
The duration of the rain is “
for forty days and forty nights” (7:12); whereas “
the water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days” (7:24). And then, the duration for drying up the earth after the Flood was about seven months (8:3–14).39
Some may think that it would take more days for the earth’s drying up, according to the description, “
all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to the depth of more than twenty feet.”40 This view is based on the present geographical features. The fact is that the present height of Mount Everest is 29,028 feet (8,848 m); and yet, there are marine fossils at the tops of Mount Everest and the highest mountains on the earth.41 “The possibilities are that the sea rose to cover the mountains or the mountains were once under the sea and have since risen out of the sea, or a combination of the two.”42 Thus, it is likely that these mountains were not as high as today, but that they have risen to the present height by the catastrophic movement of the tectonic plate during and after the Flood.43 In addition, Whitcomb and Morris write:
There is, also, much evidence that sea level was once much lower relative to the land surfaces than it is at present, implying either that the amount of water in the ocean was much smaller, or that some parts of the sea bottom have dropped, or both.44
For instance, while most geologists have difficulties explaining the origin of submarine canyons,45 Whitcomb and Morris, based on the Genesis Flood account and geographical evidence, explain it as follows:
As the lands were uplifted and the ocean basis depressed at the close of the Deluge period, the great currents streaming down into the ocean depths would quickly have eroded great gorges in the still soft and unconsolidated sediments exposed by the sinking of the basis. Then, as these gorges were themselves submerged by the continuing influx of waters from the rising continental blocks, it may well have been that turbidity currents entering the canyons may have deepened and extended them still further, a process which has continued on smaller scale throughout the centuries since.46
According to some other geological evidence, Kenneth Landes remarks: “Can we, as seekers after truth, shut our eyes any longer to the obvious fact that large areas of sea floor sunk vertical distances measured in miles?”47 In fact, the depth of the deepest ocean, Mariana Trench near Guam in the Pacific, is 35,810 feet (10,915 meters) which is more than the height of Mount Everest.48 The following will throw light on this issue:
Indeed, if the entire earth surface were levelled by smoothing out the topography of not only the land surface but also the rock surface on the ocean floor, the waters of ocean would cover the earth’s surface to a depth of 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers). We need to remember that about 70 percent of the earth’s surface is still covered by water. Quite clearly then, the waters of Noah’s flood are in today’s ocean basins.49
According to these facts, it seems to be reasonable to judge that “The deepening of the ocean basis and the rising of the continents would have resulted in more water running off the land.” Thus, the timeframe of the Genesis Flood seems to be a reasonable length for a universal flood.
In the Gilgamesh Epic, there are some references concerning the structure of the ship which Utnapishtim built (XI 29–30, 57–58). While the ship had seven floors (XI 61), scholars interpret the ship as “a cube or ziggurat-shaped.”50 Ea’s instruction about the structure of the ship to Utnapishtim is in XI 29–30. According to the Parpola’s version, the text, transliteration,51 and translation are as follows:
According to these passages, it is clear that the deck of the ship was square because the width and length are the same. Robert M. Best remarks that the height of the ship is not clearly mentioned in the Epic and “a boat as high as its length would roll over in the water, if anyone were foolish enough to build such a boat.”54 Although the height of the ship seems not to be specified in XI 29–30, it is indicated in the other passages as follows:
One ikȗ ( ) is “About 3,600 square meters or approximately an acre.”59 Because the width and length of the ship are equal (XI 30), the floor space is 60 x 60 meters. The term SIG4 (igāru ) means “wall (of a building),” or “side of a ship.”60 Ten ninda ( ) is about 60 meters61 and hence the height of the ship is also about 60 meters. These passages show that the width, length and height of the ship are the same. As noted above, the ship had seven stories (XI 61), and yet the Epic mentions only that the ship’s deck ( ) was about 3,600 square meters, i.e., 60 x 60 meters (XI 58). Because the significance of the term “muḫḫu” is “topside” or “upper part of an object or a structure,”62 it seems to be reasonable to conclude that the ship is not ziggurat-shaped, but “an exact cube.”63 Whitcomb states, “Such a vessel would spin slowly around.”64 Unless the bottom was heavy enough and the upper part was either very light or empty the ship would turn over.65 Therefore, it is questionable how the occupants in the Epic could survive the flood in such a ship. The text implies that the reed hut was torn down to provide materials for the ship (XI 20–24).66 This would be a further indication of the fantastic nature of the account.
The Genesis account also describes the structure of the Ark: it was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high and it had three floors (Genesis 6:14–16). Cubit (אמה) is used in the Ancient Near East as the measurement which is in general construed as “either from the average length of one’s forearm (from the elbow to the middle finger), or from the average height of a newborn baby.”67 Although “the Hebrew cubits were 17.5 and 20.4 inches,” it is counted about 18 inches by most scholars.68 Based on this measurement, Noah’s Ark is about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high and “its volume was 43,200 m3 (cubic meters) or 1.52 million cubic feet. To put this in perspective, this is the equivalent volume of 522 standard railroad stock cars, each of which can hold 240 sheep.”69 Since according to Woodmorappe’s calculation, the average size of the animals on the Ark would have been smaller than sheep and “only about 11% of the animals on the Ark were substantially larger than sheep,”70 the Ark seems to have had enough space.71 The significance of the term for ark (תבה) is “strictly a box, chest,”72 and hence Noah’s Ark seems to be “of flat-bottomed, rectangular construction, square on both ends and straight up on the sides.”73 This term is also used for the vessel in which infant Moses was put (Exodus 2:3, (5)).74 Morris states, “According to God’s instruction, the Ark was to be designed for capacity and floating stability rather than for speed or navigability.”75 The staff of the Korea Research Institute of Ships and Ocean Engineering, Taejon, reported that the design of Noah’s Ark is highly stable.76 The abstract of their paper is as follows:
In this study, the safety of Noah’s Ark in the severe environments imposed by waves and winds during the Genesis Flood was investigated. Three major safety parameters—structural safety, overturning stability, and seakeeping quality—were evaluated altogether to assess the safety of the whole system.
The concept of “relative safety”, which is defined as the relative superiority in safety compared to other hull forms, was introduced and 12 different hull forms with the same displacement were generated for this purpose. Evaluation of these three safety parameters was performed using analytical tools. Model tests using 1/50 scaled models of a prototype were performed for three typical hull forms in order to validate the theoretical analysis.
Total safety index, defined as the weighted average of three relative safety performances, showed that the Ark had a superior level of safety in high winds and waves compared with the other hull forms studied. The voyage limit of the Ark, estimated on the basis of modern passenger ships, criteria, revealed that it could have navigated through waves higher than 30 metres.77
Bernard Ramm also states: “The lower the center of gravity the more difficult it is to capsize. If the center of gravity were low enough the ark or barge could only be capsized if violently rolled over.”78 Thus, the design of Noah’s Ark was realistic and safe in contrast to the design of Utnapishtim’s model.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.