Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Answers to High Schoolers' Questions about the Flood

Alice C. Linsley

Part 4: The Flood
This continues the series on Questions that High Schoolers Ask about Genesis. Additional important data is provided here.

Q:  Was the flood global or regional?

A:  This was the question most often asked by the high school students about Noah's flood.  To answer this question we must consider who Noah was, where he lived, and the climate conditions that he experienced.  Not all of this information can be found in the Bible.  However, Genesis provides many clues that can direct the search for the historical Noah.

Noah lived approximately 2490-2415 BC, when the Sahara experienced a wet period (Karl W. Butzer 1966). This is the period of the Old Kingdom, a time of great cultural and technological achievement in Egypt.

Noah, a descendant of the men named in the Genesis 4 and 5 King Lists, was a great ruler.  The  rulers named in Genesis 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. 

These ancient rulers imposed taxes on cargo that moved through their territories. They used the rivers to expand their kingdoms and to spread their Afro-Asiatic worldview.  Nimrod is an example.  His father was Kush, a ruler who controlled a vast region of the Upper Nile.  Nimrod left the Nile region and built his kingdom along the Tigris in Mesopotamia. (Gen. 10:8-12)

Noah likely lived in the region of Bor-Nu (Land of Noah) near Lake Chad. This is the only place on Earth that claims to be Noah's homeland. Satellite photographs reveal that Lake Mega-Chad was once a huge body of water, five times the surface area of Lake Superior and with a depth ranging from 200 to 600 feet. This part of Africa was much wetter than it is today due to climate cycles and the African rifts that created great watersheds or troughs.

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

In Noah's time, there was a prolonged wet period due to monsoons circulating from the Indian Ocean. During this wet period, the major water systems from the Benue Trough to the Tigris-Euphrates overflowed, creating a vast watery world. This was the world that Noah knew, so from his perspective the whole world was flooded.

During the Late Holocene, Lake Chad had a surface area of approximately 159000 square miles. As the climate changed and the waters receded, what was once a single lake became three separate lakes: Lake Chad, Lake Bodele and Lake Fitri.

In 1987, a fully preserved boat was discovered in the region where Noah's flood took place. The Dufuna dugout was buried at a depth of 16 feet under clays and sands 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 about 5000 years old.

Peter Breunig (University of Frankfurt, Germany) lead the excavation of the Dufuna boat. He said, “The bow and stern are both carefully worked to points, giving the boat a notably more elegant form.” Breunig believes 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.”

The Dufuna dugout dates from the time of the collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet in North America. This resulted in a significant rise in global sea levels. This event contributed to the success of European farming, but was not the main cause of Noah's flood. The flood recorded in Genesis was due more to seismic events and climate changes closer to Noah’s home in Africa.

The story of Noah's ark landing on a mountain in Armenia represents a misunderstanding of the Afro-Arabian words Har Meni, meaning Mount Meni located in East Africa. David M. Westley, PhD, Director of the African Studies Library at Boston University, reports that "From the center of the Chad Basin to Mount Meni is about 230 miles."

Not all peoples have flood stories. Those that do live near major water systems which had catastropic flooding in the past. There is no geological evidence for a worldwide flood. Nor is there sufficient water in Earth's biosphere for the mountains to be covered by flood waters.  It has been argued that God created more water to flood the entire earth, but this is contrary to the biblical assertion that God completed all His creation on the 6th day and thereafter rested from the work of creating.

Q:  Did Noah literally put two of every species on the Ark?

A:  According to Genesis 6:19, Noah brought only a male and female of the species onto the ark. However, Genesis 7:2 says that he saved seven pairs of only "clean" animals.  Clearly, there are two flood accounts, just as there are two creation stories. These represent different traditions among Abraham's Afro-Asiatic people.

The emphasis on having a male and female indicates God's concern that the various species survive the extensive flooding. The animals were indigenous to the region where Noah lived and some were imported. Noah probably had a ménagerie, something that was common among rulers during that period.  Ménagerie animals were kept in pairs so that they would reproduce. Perhaps these were the animals that God instructed Noah to save.

Syrian bears were brought to Egypt during the 5th Dynasty. These bears were generally docile and kept on leashes.  Athenaios of Naucratis reports that a white bear was housed by Ptolemy II in his private zoo at Alexandria.  The oldest known zoo was in Nekhen (Hierakonpolis), a shrine city dedicated to Horus (the Deity of Abraham's Horite people). The Nekhen ménagerie existed in the middle of the second millennium BC. It is believed that the local ruler kept powerful wild animals as symbols of his power.

Q:  How did Noah built the Ark? Did he have help?

A:  Noah was a great ruler. He would have had boat builders, household servants and gardeners.  He is remembered for having a vineyard (Gen. 9:20). As a king, Noah had access to the best and the most plentiful supply of boat building materials and shipwrights.

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)

The greatness of the Lake Chad region declined when the Monsoon Belt moved more to the south and the desert began to encroach. Apparently, many people migrated toward the Nile and the center of political power shifted from west central Africa to eastern Sudan, Egypt, Arabia and Mesopotamia. This corresponds to the Kushite migration of Abraham's ancestors confirmed by DNA studies.

Q:  Did Noah know about tar or pitch to seal the planks of his boat?

Egyptians making ropes and fishing lines
A:  Noah used technologies and materials that were available.  The ancient Egyptians used tar in mummification so it was known to Noah and was available. Tar and pitch were used in the ancient world to waterproof ship hulls and to caulk the seams of sailing vessels. Pitch is more solid while tar is more liquid. The words tar and pitch are often used interchangeably.

Ships and boats require wood rudders, sails and ropes.  The ancient Egyptians were the first to document how to make ropes. The Egyptians were consummate ship builders.  In Noah's day ships were built of both wood and reeds. 
4000 year old Egyptian ship plank

Q:  What was the weight capacity of Noah's Ark?

A: The answer to that question depends on the materials used to construct the boat.  According to Genesis 6:14, Noah's Ark was constructed of גפר (gofer/gopher) wood. Since this word does not appear elsewhere in the Bible, there is a good deal of speculation about the material used to build the Ark. Noah would have built with materials available to him and those materials included wood and reeds.

Noah's boats were likely constructed mainly of reeds. Reeds were an abundant building material in Bor-nu during Noah's time. The word translated "ark" in Genesis 6:14 is found only one other place in the Bible. Moses' mother put him in a reed basket which is called an "ark" in Exodus 2:3. This is why some Bibles read: "Make yourself an Ark of gofer wood, with reeds make the Ark..." (Schocken Bible, Vol. I, p. 35)

If the ark was constructed of a wood frame with hollow reeds in large bundles it would have had great buoyancy. Thor Heyerdahl learned from the Marsh Arabs that if the reeds are cut in August they retain their buoyancy rather than absorbing water.

Reed boats of this type were about 60 feet long and were capable of carrying 50 tons of cargo when fully loaded.

Q:  Maybe all the species on earth today evolved from the "pairs" of animals saved on Noah's Ark. Wouldn't this support evolution by natural selection?

A:  The animals on Noah's ark would be animals that we recognize today as species indigeneous to Africa and Arabia.  They are not the progenitors of all the animal species today.  The Bible does not provide evidence to support evolution of one species becoming an entirely different species gradually over time.

Related reading:  Analysis of the Flood Story; The Extent of Noah's Flood; Abraham's Ancestors Came Out of Africa; Part 1: Answers About God; Part 2: Answers About Adam and Eve; Part 3: Answers About the Serpent


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I am so very much enjoying all your answers to these questions! Thanks again.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thank you, Anastasia! I'm glad you encouraged me to answer the students' questions.