Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Alan Dicken on Noah's Flood

Alan Dicken

Time to Abandon Aristotelian Approaches to Genesis?
by Alan Dicken
Professor, School of Geography and Earth Sciences
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario


"During the Enlightenment, the scientific method was developed as an empirical approach to the acquisition of knowledge, by rejecting the Aristotelian notion that the nature of reality could be determined by logical deduction alone. But by insisting that Genesis should be interpreted in a scientific vacuum, many theologians are perpetuating an Aristotelian approach to biblical interpretation against reliable empirical evidence. Relinquishing a few of these ill-founded beliefs will allow an improved understanding of the true nature of biblical origins. For example, abandoning the unscientific belief that all of humanity is biologically descended from Adam and Eve allows a more profound understanding of their roles as the ones first called to spread the spiritual image of God throughout the earth. Abandoning the unscientific belief that only Noah’s family escaped annihilation in the Flood allows a more profound understanding of Noah’s role as the one called to preserve the revelation of God to humankind during a major natural disaster. Abandoning the unrealistic belief that building the Tower of Babel was a nonreligious act allows a more profound understanding of the threat of false religion to the worship of the True God in an ancient multicultural society. Finally, abandoning a belief that the call of Abraham came in a spiritual vacuum leads to a new understanding of how the story of creation and humanity’s early history was preserved within a faith community devoted to calling on the name of the Lord, rather than through the mythology of pagans."-- Alan Dicken

Listen to his presentation here.

Response to Dr. Dicken's presentation
Alice C. Linsley

I did not attend the ASA/CSCA/CiS conference this summer. It was held at McMaster University where Dr. Dicken is a professor. I attended the 2013 conference in Nashville where I met Alan Dicken and we discussed the the cultural context of Abraham's ancestors. He asserts that they were Sumerians and I that they were Nilo-Saharans. Indeed, ancient images of the common folk of Sumeria reveal physical features and sun and cattle symbolism characteristic of the Nilo-Saharans. In fact, the term "fertile crescent" was coined by James Henry Breasted (1865–1935), a scholar of ancient Egypt and director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, in his 1916 textbook, Ancient Times: A History of the Early World. Breasted applied this term to a much larger area than the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. He had in mind the centers of civilization from the Nile to the Indus.

Dr. Dickens is a geologist and I am an anthropologist. This means that we approach the Genesis material from different disciplines. In his presentation he proposes to show that Noah's flood took place in Mesopotamia before 5000 BC, drawing on geological information that he believes supports this view.

Apparently, the abstract above was intended for a poster presentation, but instead Dr. Dicken gave an oral presentation. This explains why the title - "Time to Abandon Aristotelian Approaches to Genesis?" - does not align closely with the content of the talk.

This is a strange title as the empirical approach is the best way to understand the original cultural context of the Genesis accounts. It is older than Aristotle and the Scientific Method. Essentially it is the principle of acute observation. This is the work of Biblical Anthropology, a science. Science did not begin with Aristotle, but Aristotelian approaches have served science very well since before the Enlightenment.

Recycling the Mesopotamian Thesis

Dr. Dicken attempts to support the view that Noah' flood took place in Mesopotamia with geological information about the Tigris-Euphrates as a major water system that tended to flood. However, the only place on the surface of the earth that claims to be Noah's homeland is in the region of Lake Chad - Borno, meaning the Land of Noah.

Rifting combined with prolonged rains caused this entire region to flood. Lake Chad is located at the boundary of Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

Noah lived approximately 2490-2415 BC and according to geoarchaeologist Karl W. Butzer this region of Africa was wet at that time. One of Dr. Butzer's areas of expertise is Egypt and Nubia, including dissertation fieldwork (1956); archaeological survey for the German Archaeological Institute (1958); Quaternary studies and geoarchaeology for Yale University (1962-63); and geoarchaeology of the ‘Lost City of the Pyramids’ (Ancient Egypt Research Associates) (2001-02). Butzer’s early research of Egypt and Nubia was brought together in Desert and River in Nubia (with Carl Hansen, 1968) and especially Early Hydraulic Civilization in Egypt (1976). The latter is one of the most widely cited works in archaeology.

Noah lived during the period of the Old Kingdom, a time of great cultural and technological achievement. This places Noah and his sons in relatively recent history, not at the dawn of human existence. Further, the account of Noah preserving a collection of animals has historical basis when we place him in the proper cultural context. The oldest known zoological collection was found in the extended Nile Valley during excavations at Nekhen in 2009. The royal menagerie dates to ca. 3500 BC and included hippos, hartebeest, elephants, baboons and wildcats. It was the custom for Nilo-Saharan kings to collect exotic animals.

Lake Chad is a great depression or basis which in the Nilo-Saharan is Tchad. The etymology of the word is very interesting. It is linguistically related to the Luo word chaddhoreh, meaning a wound or bruise. In Isaiah 1:6 the King James Version translates the Hebrew chabbarah as "bruises", but it also means wound or depression where something has been cut out. The Luo verb chaddho means to cut out, to pluck out, or to bruise the skin. So the name Chad describes the cut out basin which filled with water and became Mega Chad in the Holocene.

Petroglyphs of boats found in the Eastern Central Desert of Egypt and Sudan
They date to between 4300 and 2900 BC.

The Proto-Saharans were river peoples who shared many common beliefs, customs and symbols. Their civilization was at its peak between 10,000 and 4000 BC when the Sahara was wet. The major water systems connected the Nile and Central Africa. The historian Roland Oliver describes the Green Sahara as follows:

[In] the highlands of the central Sahara beyond the Libyan desert,... in the great massifs of the Tibesti and the Hoggar, the mountaintops, today bare rock, were covered at this period with forests of oak and walnut, lime, alder and elm. The lower slopes, together with those of the supporting bastions — the Tassili and the Acacus to the north, Ennedi and Air to the south — carried olive, juniper and Aleppo pine. In the valleys, perennially flowing rivers teemed with fish and were bordered by seed-bearing grasslands.

The black mahogany Dufuna dugout was found in the Sudan buried 16 feet under layers of clay and sand whose alternating sequence showed evidence of deposition in standing and flowing water. The dugout is 8000 years old. By comparison, Egypt's oldest boat is only about 5000 years old. Peter Breunig (University of Frankfurt) has written this description of the Dufuna boat:

The bow and stern are both carefully worked to points, giving the boat a notably more elegant form”, compared to “the dugout made of conifer wood from Pesse in the Netherlands, whose blunt ends and thick sides seem crude”. Judging by stylistic sophistication, Breunig reasons that, “It is highly probable that the Dufuna boat does not represent the beginning of a tradition, but had already undergone a long development, and that the origins of water transport in Africa lie even further back in time.

About 7,500 years ago Lake Chad was 130 feet deeper than it is today and covered an area of about 135,000 square miles (350,000 sq km). The footprint of ancient Mega-Chad has been confirmed by satellite photography. The Nile waters swelled from increased rainfall and cut a deeper and wider floodplain, extending well into Sudan to the west.

The Nile floods were much more extensive than Dr. Dicken recognizes. They spread nearly 100 miles west of the river and created "mega-lakes" in the ancient desert. This has been shown by a team of American and Egyptian researchers using Space Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM). Data from these surveys reveal that the Nile floods started about 250,000 years ago and were much more extensive than originally thought.

Related reading: Boat Petroglyphs in Egypt's Eastern Desert; Nile Floods Gave Rise to Ancient Mega Lakes; Recovering the African Background of Genesis

Painting the "ancients" as ignorant

Dr. Dickens argues that the "ancients" did not know that there was a globe. I'm not sure to which "ancients" he refers. Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors were known for their wisdom and had considerable astronomical understanding. By 4245 BC, the priests of the Upper Nile had established a calendar based on the appearance of the star Sirius that becomes visible to the naked eye once every 1,461 years. Apparently, Nilotes had been tracking this star and connecting it to seasonal changes and agriculture for thousands of years. This is verified by the Priest Manetho who reported in his history (241 BC) that Nilotic Africans had been “star-gazing” as early as 40,000 years ago. Plato, who studied in Egypt, claimed that the Africans had been tracking the heavens for 10,000 years.

Material evidence continues to turn up in Africa indicating sophisticated astronomy among the Africans who lived in the time of Cain, Noah and Nimrod. There are ancient astronomical monuments in southern Africa and in the Sudan.

The wisdom of the Horite priests was so extensive that it was unrivaled in the ancient world before the rise of Greece and much of the wisdom ascribed to the ancient Greeks was borrowed from the Horites. Iamblichus wrote that Thales of Miletus insisted that Pythagoras go to Memphis to study because the priests there were esteemed for their knowledge and wisdom. Plato studied for 13 years in Egypt under the priest Sechnuphis and his conception of the eternal Forms was based on Horite metaphysics.

The Greek word for boundaries in creation is oros or horos, a reference to the celestial archetype of Horus who was said to be the marker of boundaries. Horus was born of Ra by the virgin queen Hathor-Meri who became pregnant when overshadowed by the Sun, the emblem of the Creator. Hathor's totem was a cow and temple images show her holding her son in a manger. This is an early expression of Messianic expectation and it is based upon the Edenic promise that a Woman of the Horite lines would bring forth the "Seed" who would crush the serpent's head and restore Paradise (Gen. 3:15). Jesus identified Himself as that Seed in John 12:24 when he told his disciples, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

In the works of Plato and Aristotle horos or horismos refers to landmarks, boundaries and categorical limits. From Horus come the words hour, horoscope, horologion, horotely and horizon. The association of Horus with the horizon is evident in Har-ma-khet, meaning "Horus of the Horizon". Horus was said to control the winds and to establish the cardinal points. The stars, planets and constellations were fixed in place by Horus, and as Ben Sira reminds us, not one of the heavenly bodies "has ever got in the way of another, and they will never disobey his word." (Ecclesiaticus 16:24)

Horus shrines and temples were located at major water systems and Horus ruled the waters. This is why the Horus name appears in the word for river in Hebrew and Arabic (nahar/nahr) and in Aramaic (nehar). Abraham’s older brother controlled commerce on the Tigris River between Ur and Haran. His Horus name is Na-Hor (Gen. 22:20).

Related reading: Ancient Wisdom, Science and Technology; Medical Care in Ancient Egypt; Seats of Wisdom

Dating Noah

Dr. Dickens believes that Noah's flood took place before 5000 B.C. and bases this on Mesopotamian and Sumerian sources. I find this strange in light of his opening remarks about allowing the Bible to speak for itself. The Sumerian king lists are not found in the Bible. However, the Genesis king lists do serve to identify Noah as a Nilo-Saharan ruler and are useful in calculated the approximate dates of these rulers.

The biblical description does not suggest that Noah lived between 8000 and 5000 BC (Neolithic Period). Noah was a descendant of the kings listed in Genesis 4 and 5. These ancient rulers controlled the major water systems of Lake Chad, the Nile, and the Tigris and Euphrates. The interconnected waterways were their roads. In other words, Noah would have been familiar with boats and likely had a fleet. The lines of his sons Ham and Shem intermarried according to the pattern of the ruler-priests. He kept a royal menagerie and drank wine, a drink reserved for the Nilo-Saharan nobility and ruler-priests.

Earliest evidence of wine consumption among the Nilotic rulers dates to between 4000-3600 BC, but rulers could have afforded to import wine from great distances. Plutarch wrote that the “priests of the Sun at Heliopolis never carry wine into their temples, for they regard it as indecent for those who are devoted to the service of any god to indulge in the drinking of wine whilst they are under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King. The priests of the other deities are not so scrupulous in this respect, for they use it, though sparingly.”

In the late 1980s, German archaeologists found remains of wine making equipment in the tomb of King Scorpion I. That find consisted of grape seeds, grape skins, dried pulp and imported ceramic jars covered inside with a yellow residue chemically consistent with wine. Ancient Egyptian murals depict details of wine-making.

The common people drank beer rather than wine and Nubian beer contained high levels of tetracycline. Beer was a staple in Egyptian diets, and was listed in the rations for pyramid builders.

Noah would have known of the greatest technological accomplishments of his time, including those of Egypt's Golden Age, the Fourth Dynasty, which lasted from c. 2613 to 2494 BC. It was a time of peace and prosperity, and trade with other countries. Ancient Egyptian rulers traded with Elam, Sumer, Palestine, Afghanistan and with modern Pakistan, the source for lapis lazuli, documented to have been imported into Egypt from Predynastic time.

Noah would have been born only about 100 years before the Horite ruler-priest Shepseskaf-ankh, who lived during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty (c. 2392-2282 BC). Shepseskaf-ankh was a priest of Re whose emblem was the Sun. The Horites were a caste of ruler-priests who were devotees of Ra, Horus and Hathor-Meri.

Shepseskaf-ankh's is the third tomb found at Abusir belonging to a physician. Originally the huge limestone tomb was marked by a pyramid. The discovery was made at Abusir near Cairo, not at the Abusir in Sudan. The Abusir pyramids in Sudan, along with the pyramids of Saqqara and Giza, are aligned with the ancient obelisk of Heliopolis (Biblical On).

Shepseskaf-ankh was one of the most distinguished physicians of the Era of pyramid builders. The Director of the Czech mission, Miroslav Barta, stated that the tombs in Abusir were constructed starting from the mid 5th Dynasty and many priests and officials who worked in the Pyramid complex of the 5th Dynasty Kings of Abusir and the Sun Temples were buried there.

Noah's reign must have been one of great prosperity for his people. An oracle concerning Noah states, “This one shall bring us relief from our work and the toil of our hands.” (Genesis 5:29)

Related reading: Chronology of the Genesis RulersThoughts on Calculating the Dates of the Patriarchs; The Early Kings of Nekhen; The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y

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