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Genesis flood narrative

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Martin, John - The Deluge - 1834

"The Deluge", by John Martin, 1834. Oil on canvas. Yale University

The Genesis flood narrative is a flood myth in the Hebrew Bible, comprising chapters 6-9 in the Book of Genesis. The narrative indicates that the God of Israel intended to return the Earth to its pre-Creation state of watery chaos by flooding the Earth for 370 days (the 150 days of flooding + the 220 days it took to dry up the floodwaters) because of the world's evil doings and then remake it using the microcosm of Noah's ark. Thus, the flood was no ordinary overflow but a reversal of creation.[1] The narrative discusses the evil of mankind that moved God to destroy the world by the way of the flood, the preparation of the ark for certain animals, Noah, and his family, and God's guarantee for the continued existence of life under the promise that he would never send another flood.[2]



According to most exegetes, the Genesis narrative is composed of two different stories (the Jahwist (YHWH) source and the Priestly (Elohim) source) that were interwoven into the final canonical form of Genesis 6-9.[3] Although there are differences in characteristic style and vocabulary, overall they are not contradictory. [1] However, where apparent contradictions do exist, they were not typically viewed as mistakes by Jewish scholars, but as allusions to deeper meanings. Even later interpreters sought to discover the basic harmony that underlies the narrative whether written by different authors, at different times, or within different cultures.[4] Notable difficulties are: the two different reasons for bringing a destructive flood, Noah being given different instructions about what animals and birds to take on board the ark, the two different time frames for how long the flood lasts, the source of the flood waters, the circumstances by which Noah and the animals leave the ark, and the use of two different names in reference to God.[3]


The Masoretic text of the Torah, or Pentateuch, places the Great Deluge 1,656 years after Creation, or 1656 AM (Anno Mundi, "Year of the World"). Many attempts have been made to place this time-span to a specific date in history.[5] At the turn of the 17th century, Joseph Scaliger placed Creation at 3950 BC, Petavius calculated 3982 BC,[6][7] and according to James Ussher's Ussher chronology, Creation begun in 4004 BC, dating the Great Deluge to 2348 BC.[8]

Flood Geology

The development of scientific geology had a profound impact on attitudes towards the biblical Flood narrative. Without the support of the Biblical chronology, which placed the Creation and the Flood in a history which stretched back no more than a few thousand years, the historicity of the ark itself was undermined. In 1823, William Buckland interpreted geological phenomena as Reliquiae Diluvianae: relics of the flood which "attested the action of a universal deluge". His views were supported by other English clergymen and naturalists at the time, including the influential Adam Sedgwick, but by 1830 Sedgwick considered that the evidence only showed local floods. The deposits were subsequently explained by Louis Agassiz as the results of glaciation.[9]

In 1862, William Thompson, later Lord Kelvin, calculated the age of the Earth at between 24 million and 400 million years, and for the remainder of the 19th century, discussion focused not on whether this theory of deep time was viable, but on the derivation of a more precise figure for the age of the Earth.[10] Lux Mundi, an 1889 volume of theological essays which is usually held to mark a stage in the acceptance of a more critical approach to scripture, took the stance that the gospels could be relied upon as completely historical, but that the earlier chapters of Genesis should not be taken literally.[11]

Flood narrative


Genesis 6:1–4 presents the Sons of God marrying the daughters of men and siring a race of giants, the "mighty men that were of old, the men of renown." Genesis continues, "And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."[12] God decided to destroy what he had made and start again with the righteous Noah. God chose the flood as the instrument for destruction which is portrayed as a veritable reversal of creation.[13]

Preparing the ark


The Deluge (illustration by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible)

Beginning with Genesis 6:14, God gives instructions to Noah to build a waterproof vessel that would house his immediate family, along with a sample of animal life.[14] The vessel is an ark made of gopher wood covered in pitch inside and outside. The ark was to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high, and have an opening for daylight near the top, an entrance on its side, and three decks. God told Noah that he, his sons, his wife, his sons’ wives, and two of each kind of beast — male and female — would survive in the Ark (Genesis 6:1-22). Seven days before the Flood, God told Noah to enter the Ark with his household, and to take seven pairs of every clean animal and every bird, and one pair of every other animal, to keep their kind alive (Genesis 7:1–5).

Great deluge

The priestly (Elohim) source of Genesis 7:11;8:1-2 describes the nature of the flood waters as a cosmic cataclysm, by the opening of the springs of the deep and the floodgates, or windows, of heaven. This is the reverse of the separation of the waters recounted in the Genesis creation narrative of chapter 1. After Noah and the remnant of animals were secured, the fountains of the great deep and the floodgates, or windows, of the heavens were opened, causing rain to fall on the Earth for 960 hours, or 40 days. The waters elevated, with the summits of the highest mountains under 15 cubits (22 feet 6 inches) of water, [14] flooding the world for 150 days, and then receding in 220 days.[15]

The Jahwist (YHWH) version of how the flood waters came to be, is indicated in Genesis 7:12 where it develops by way of a torrential downpour that lasts 40 days, then recedes in seven day periods.[15] During this time, the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat where Noah opens the window and sends out a raven that went to and fro. Then he sends out a dove to see if the waters had decreased from the ground, but the dove could not find a resting place, and returned to the Ark. He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove, and the dove came back toward evening with an olive leaf. He waited another seven days and sent out the dove, and it did not return. When Noah removed the covering of the Ark, he saw that the ground was drying. (Genesis 8:1-13)

Rainbow covenant

Joseph Anton Koch 006

Landscape with Noah's Thank Offering (painting circa 1803 by Joseph Anton Koch)

God makes a pledge of commitment to Noah in Genesis 9:1–17. The priestly (Elohim) version takes the form of a covenant arrangement. This is the first explicit act of a covenant in the Hebrew Bible and is used seven times in this episode. God commits to continue both human and animal life and vows to never again use a second deluge against humanity. The covenant is sealed with the sign of a rainbow, after a storm, as a reminder.[16]

God blesses Noah and his sons using the same language as the priestly source of the Genesis creation narrative, "Be fruitful and increase and fill the earth."[17] Before the flood, animals and humans coexisted in a realm of peace only knowing a vegetarian diet. After the flood, God maintained that mankind would be in charge over the animals, granting that they may be eaten for food under the condition that their blood be removed.[18] God set these purity rules well before any transaction with Ancient Israel, effectively not confining such precedence solely to the Jewish faith.[19] Human life receives special divine sanction because humanity is in the image of Elohim.[20]


The Qu'ran states that Noah (Nūḥ) was inspired by the God in Islam, believed in the oneness of God, and preached Islam.[21] God commands Noah to build a ship. As he was building it, the chieftains passed him and mocked him. Upon its completion, the ship was loaded with only the animals in Noah's care as well as his immediate household,[22] along with 76 who did submit to God. The people who denied the message of Noah, including one of his own sons, drowned.[23] The final resting place of the ship was referred to as Mount Judi.[24]


According to the Yazidi Mishefa Reş, two flood events occur. The first Deluge involved Noah and his family whose ark landed at a place called Ain Sifni in the region of Nineveh Plains, 40 kilometres (25 mi) north-east of Mosul. In the second flood, the Yazidi race was preserved in the person of Na'mi (or Na'umi), surnamed Malik Miran, who became the second founder of their race.[25] His ship was pierced by a rock as it floated above Mount Sinjar, but settled in the same location as it is in Islamic tradition, Mount Judi.

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 Bandstra 2009, p. 61.
  2. Cotter 2003, p. 49, 50.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cotter 2003, p. 50.
  4. Byron, John (2011). Cain and Abel in text and tradition : Jewish and Christian interpretations of the first sibling rivalry. Leiden: Brill. p. 5. ISBN 9789004192522. : References Kugel. HU Center for Jewish Studies, 2001, p. 18
  5. Timeline for the Flood. AiG, 9 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-24.
  6. Barr 1984–85, 582.
  7. Davis A. Young, Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks, and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth, p. 45.[1]
  8. James Barr, 1984–85. "Why the World Was Created in 4004 BC: Archbishop Ussher and Biblical Chronology", Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 67:604 [2]
  9. Herbert, Sandra (1991). "Charles Darwin as a prospective geological author". British Journal for the History of Science (24): pp. 171–174. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  10. Dalrymple 1991, pp. 14–17
  11. James Barr (4 March 1987) (PDF). Biblical Chronology, Fact or Fiction?. University of London. p. 17. ISBN 978-0718708641. Retrieved 2010-08-08. 
  12. Genesis 6:5
  13. Bandstra 2009, p. 59, 60.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Bandstra 2009, p. 62.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Bandstra 2009, p. 65.
  16. Bandstra 2009, p. 65, 66.
  17. Bandstra 2009, p. 66: Genesis 1:28
  18. Blenkinsopp 2004, p. 45: Genesis 9:3-4
  19. Blenkinsopp 2004, p. 45.
  20. Bandstra 2009, p. 66: Genesis 9:6
  21. Qur'an 4:163, Qur'an 26:105–107
  22. Qur'an 11:35–41
  23. Qur'an 7:64
  24. Qur'an 11:44
  25. Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, London Institution, Volume 2 (1921). University of London: School of Oriental Studies. 


Bandstra, Barry L. (2009). Reading the Old Testament : an introduction to the Hebrew Bible (4th ed. ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/ Cengage Learning. pp. 59–66. ISBN 0495391050.,+Barry+L+%282004%29.+Reading+the+Old+Testament:+an+introduction+to+the+Hebrew+Bible#v=snippet&q=flood&f=false. 
Blenkinsopp, Joseph (2004). Treasures old and new : essays in the theology of the Pentateuch. Grand Rapids, Mich. [u.a.]: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.. p. 45. ISBN 0802826792. 
Cotter, David W. (2003). Genesis. Collegeville (Minn.): Liturgical press. pp. 49–64. ISBN 0814650406. 

Further reading

Hamilton, Victor P (1990). The book of Genesis: chapters 1-17. Eerdmans. 
Kessler, Martin; Deurloo, Karel Adriaan (2004). A commentary on Genesis: the book of beginnings. Paulist Press.,+Karel+Adriaan+Deurloo#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
McKeown, James (2008). Genesis. Eerdmans. 
Rogerson, John William (1991). Genesis 1-11. T&T Clark. 
Sacks, Robert D (1990). A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Edwin Mellen. 
Towner, Wayne Sibley (2001). Genesis. Westminster John Knox Press. 
Wenham, Gordon (2003). "Genesis". in James D. G. Dunn, John William Rogerson. Eerdmans Bible Commentary. Eerdmans. 
Whybray, R.N (2001). "Genesis". in John Barton. Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford University Press. 

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