Evangelical Eisegesis: SJ Thomason and “God’s Promises,” part 3

This is the third post in a seven-part series responding to the blog post “And Babylon Will Never Be Inhabited” by pop-apologist S. J. Thomason. You can read the second post here. All Scripture quotations unless otherwise noted are from the New Revised Standard Version.

PROMISE #3 – “THE STONES WILL CRY OUT”

Thomason wrote,

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ I tell you,’ He replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” – Luke 19:39-40.

As Millar Burrows of Yale says, “In many cases, archeology has refuted the views of modern critics. In a number of instances it has been shown that these views rest on false assumptions and unreal artificial schemes of historical development. The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural” (Kennedy, 1999, pp. 24).

“The archeological confirmation of the Flood of Noah’s time is enormous. Stories of the Nochian Flood have been found in almost every civilization in the world. Among the most interesting are those found in Babylonia and Acadia. They provide substantially the same description except for the perversions that had entered into the later Babylonian version, written about eight hundred years after the Mosaic account” (Kennedy, 1999, pp. 23).

It should come as no surprise that Thomason rips Luke 19:39-40 from its original context to use it as her springboard to cite Kennedy and Burrows (via Kennedy). In fact, her clever subtitle – “The Stones Will Cry Out” – is one she lifted from Kennedy in his book Why I Believe. The second chapter of that volume is entitled “The Stones Cry Out…” and the verse that opens it is none other than Luke 19:40. Not very original. But let’s move on.

Before we address the Noachian myth itself, we must first consider the position of James Kennedy whom she cites at length and refers to a few times in her blog. Whereas Thomason has every apperance of being an Old Earth Creationist, Kennedy was a Young Earth Creationist, a position that claims the universe is around six-thousand years old. Consequently, Kennedy believed that the Flood was global in scale, covering every continent on the earth. He wrote,

The Flood was such a terrifying experience that it has remained forever etched in the memory of humankind. People all around the globe—from the Indians of Mexico to the inhabitants of the South Seas to the Eskimos of the Arctic—have included the story of this worldwide catastrophe in their oral and written histories.

I’m not sure if Thomason realized this when she quoted Kennedy and that it contradicts her own position on the subject [1] but in my experience with Thomason and in reading her blog posts she often rashly and indiscriminately lifts and borrows from authors without realizing the import of their writing (or if what they write is even accurate).

We should also consider her quoting of Millar Burrows, an expert in the Dead Sea Scrolls who died before I was even born. Now, it is clear that Thomason is quoting Kennedy who is quoting Burrows. But if you dig a little deeper you will find that in reality it is Thomason who is quoting Kennedy who is quoting Josh McDowell from his Evidence That Demands a Verdict who is quoting Burrows. This is quote-mining at its finest. Furthermore, while Burrows was undoubtedly an accomplished biblical scholar, the book that the quote comes from – What Mean These Stones? – was published in 1956 and a lot has happened in the sixty-two years since that time. That Thomason does not bother to provide more relevant or more recent work is problematic but it also reveals, yet again, her affinity for quote-mining indiscriminately. [2]

It almost goes without saying that there is no good evidence to warrant belief in a Flood on the scale that the book of Genesis says happened. And it would be a waste of time to provide reasons why we should reject such a view since Thomason apparently doesn’t buy into it. [3] So rather than dismantle Young Earth Creationism, we will move on to an analysis of the biblical texts that are relevant to our discussion here as well as other ancient Flood texts which predate the Noachian myth.

THE TWO BIBLICAL FLOOD TALES

Your average Bible reader that takes up Genesis 6-9 sees but one continuous story. This is a testament to the skill of the text’s editors. But if you look closely you can see not one but two versions of the Flood myth. Both feature the character Noah and both follow a very similar plot which include a prelude to the Flood, a narrative of the Flood itself, and then the aftermath of the Flood. But the two versions differ on details that help us see that someone has woven two versions of the myth together.

The Yahwist Version (or the J Source)

The first version we can identify is commonly referred to as the Yahwist – or J – source. [4] J was composed sometime in the ninth or tenth centuries BCE and we see it in earlier biblical passages, including the second creation account in Genesis 2:4-25 and the story of the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Among the more notable features of the J source are its usage of the divine name יְהוָה (Yahweh, or “LORD”), its anthropomorphistic view of God (see Genesis 2:7, 3:10, etc.), and in the patriarchal narratives the emphasis on the southern area of Judah.

In J’s version of the Flood we see the use of יְהוָה over and again by the narrator as well as the very personal and anthropomorphized deity who, among other things, shuts Noah and his family into the ark (7:16) and smells Noah’s post-Flood sacrifice (8:21). In J, Yahweh decides to send the Flood because he was “sorry that he had made humankind on the earth” (6:6). J also describes the Flood’s effects as blotting out (6:7, 7:4, 7:23) and the Flood itself only lasts for forty days (7:4, 7:17, 8:6). Also in J Noah is told to bring seven pairs of clean animals and birds and a pair of unclean animals (7:2-3).

Here is a reconstruction of J based upon the work of Richard Elliot Friedman, a prolific biblical scholar and proponent of the Documentary Hypothesis. (Friedman, 2003, 42-47) The translation is from the New Revised Standard Version.

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the LORD said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord. (6:1-8)

Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.”  And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him. (7:1-5)

And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth.  The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. And the LORD shut him in. The flood continued forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters.  The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. Everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. (7:7, 10, 12, 16c -20, 22-23)

The rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters gradually receded from the earth. At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made.  Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark. And the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more. and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. (8:2b-3a, 8-12, 13b)

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease.” (8:20-22)


The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan.
These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled.

Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.  When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
 lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

He also said,
“Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem;
and let Canaan be his slave;
May God make space for Japheth,
and let him live in the tents of Shem;
and let Canaan be his slave.” (9:18-27)

All the elements of the Flood story are there: the prelude to the Flood, the Flood itself, and the aftermath of the Flood. It is a self-contained narrative that can be read and understood without the second source we find in Genesis 6-9.

The Priestly Version (or the P Source)

The second version of the Flood comes from what is known as the Priestly – or P – source. P was likely composed sometime after J in the sixth century BCE. In P the featured deity isn’t יְהוָה but אֱלֹהִים (Elohim or “God”), at least until the revelation of the divine name to Moses in Exodus 6:2-3. And whereas in J the deity Yahweh was more imminent and personable, in P he is more transcendant. The entire creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is entirely P. The Priestly source seems to be very concerned with rules and regulations governing worship and holiness. Thus the book of Leviticus is almost exclusively from the Priestly source.

In P’s version of the Flood myth we can detect some of these elements. Clearly the name אֱלֹהִים appears rather than יְהוָה. We also see an emphasis on the dimensions and material of the ark (Genesis 6:14-16) which reads much like the description in Exodus of how the tabernacle was to be built (Exodus 26-27). We also see where P differs from J. Whereas in J the command is to take seven pairs of clean animals and birds and a pair of every unclean animal, in P Noah is simply told to take “two of every kind into the ark.” (Genesis 6:19) Furthermore, in P the Flood lasts over a year while in J it is just forty days and forty nights.

Here is Friedman’s reconstruction of P. As with J, I am using the New Revised Standard Version.

These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.  For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (6:9-22)

Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark, they and every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind—every bird, every winged creature. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days. (7:8-9, 11, 13-16a, 21, 24)

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains appeared. and [he] sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth;  In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families. (8:1-2a, 3b-5, 7, 13, 14-19)

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.

Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
for in his own image
God made humankind.

And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.”

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (9:1-17)

Like J, P is a complete story which includes the reason for the Flood, the Flood itself, and the aftermath of the Flood. It can be read straight through and the reader will have understood it sufficiently. Regarding both J’s and P’s versions, Friedman notes that the

two flood stories are separable and complete. Each has its own language, its own details, and even its own conception of God. And even that is not the whole picture. The J flood story’s language, details, and conception of God are consistent with the language, details, and conception of God in other J stories. The P flood story is consistent with other P stories. And so on. (Friedman, 1997, 60)

Yet as old as the stories in J and P are, they are not the oldest versions of a Flood myth extant. In fact, we have no manuscripts of J and P from their respective time periods. The earliest Hebrew texts featuring the Flood myth were found in the caves of Qumran and date to the first or second century BCE. This is problematic for the claim by Kennedy and, by extension, Thomason that other ancient versions of the Flood were “written about eight hundred years after the Mosaic account.” (Kennedy, 2005, 37) The available data do not show this as we will see.

THE FLOOD BEFORE NOAH

The Flood myth is one that can be found in many different cultures, as Kennedy astutely observed. But there are at least three major versions of it that predate what we find in both the J and P versions of the Flood myth. Recall that J dates to around the tenth century BCE and P to the sixth. While undoubtedly these stories existed in some oral form, how far back the version with Noah as the hero goes is uncertain. But what we do know is that there are version of the myth that feature different heroes that are older than what we have in the biblical texts.

Atrahasis 

The first and oldest of the Flood myths that we will consider is known as the Epic of Atrahasis. It was composed sometime around 1700 BCE in the Sumerian city of Sippar by a scribe named Ipiq-Aya. The Epic is featured on three clay tablets each with eight columns and each column containing around fifty-five lines. (Dalley, 1989, 3) It features a creation narrative as well as a Flood narrative and has been called one of “the most significant works of Mesopotamian literature.” (Finkel, 2014, 92)

In the Epic‘s Flood narrative, the gods are upset that humanity has become too numerous and too noisy. The high god Ellil speaks to his council saying,

The noise of mankind has become too much.
I am losing sleep over their racket. (Dalley, 20)

Various methods are employed to cut down on the rabble but in the end Ellil decides to send a Flood to destroy humanity. However, not all the gods are thrilled by the idea of killing off everyone. One of them, Enki, reveals to Atrahasis that the Flood is coming and that he should dismantle his home and build a boat. Enki tells him to “reject possessions, and save living things.” (Dalley, 30) He even offers instructions as to how to build the vessel. There are to be upper and lower decks (cf. Genesis 6:15). It is to be pitched with bitumen (cf. Genesis 6:14). Atrahasis begins gathering animals – “pure ones” and “fat ones,” birds that “fly in the sky,” cattle, and wild animals of the “open country.” (Dalley, 31)

Atrahasis gathers up the animals and people and he hears the thunder from the god Adad being to roll.

When (?) he (Atrahasis) heard his noise,
Bitumen was brought and he sealed his door.
While he was closing up his door
Adad kept bellowing from the clouds.
The winds were raging even as he went up
(And) cut through the rope, he released the boat. (Dalley, 31)

Then the Flood arrives. Dubbed the kašušu-weapon, it covers the sun and makes it so that no one can see anyone else. It is such a frightening weapon that even the gods are terrified of it. And it rages for seven days and seven nights.

As the storm subsides, the vessel Atrahasis and those he saved are in comes to rest. He then offers a sacrifice to the gods who, when they smell it gather “like flies over the offering.” (Dalley, 33; cf. Genesis 8:21) But Ellil, who must not have been with the gods to smell the offering, sees the boat Atrahasis had been in and becomes very angry with the divine council.

We, the great Anunna, all of us
Agreed together on an oath!
No form of life should have escaped!
How did any man survive the catastrophe? (Dalley, 34)

Ellil knows that it is Enki who told Atrahasis about the Flood. “I did it, in defiance of you,” Enki tells the high god. “I made sure life was preserved….” (Dalley, 34) It is not clear what becomes of Atrahasis. But the gods decide to not send another Flood but find alternative methods to control the human population including causing stillbirths.

As I pointed out above, there are some similarities between the Epic and the biblical Flood narratives. In both stories, a Flood is decided upon by the god(s) to purge mankind. However, a hero is chosen out from mankind to preserve life and he is given instructions to build a boat and to take with him various animals. Following the Flood, the hero offers a sacrifice to the god(s). This is clear evidence that there was a common Flood story in the Ancient Near East upon which the biblical authors drew.

But there are also many differences between the Epic and the biblical texts. For example, while in both stories the Flood is sent to purge mankind, the reason for the Flood is different in the biblical text from the Epic. In J the Flood is sent because Yahweh is “sorry that he had made mankind” (Genesis 6:6) because of humanity’s “wickedness” (6:5). And in P the Flood is sent because “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” (6:11) In the Epic the Flood is sent because of overpopulation, resulting in Ellil’s sleeplessness. There is also an emphasis on the covenant with Noah in J and P but we do not see any such covenant in the Epic.

These differences do not in any way detract from my point that the biblical authors drew from ANE versions of the Flood myth. What the differences show is that the biblical authors – J and P – accomodated the story for their own purposes. And the final editor of the Torah wove them together to create a single, authoritative version of the Flood myth. But as the Epic was composed in the seventeenth century BCE, it is far older than either J or P which were likely composed in the tenth and sixth centuries respectively.

Eridu Genesis

The second version of the Flood myth we will consider briefly is known as Eridu GenesisEridu is an old Sumerian version of the Flood story that was probably written down around 1600 BCE. (Finkel, 90) The tablet upon which it is written is not complete and we are missing nearly two-thirds of the whole story which undoubtedly included some kind of creation narrative. What we do have is the story of Ziusudra, a king in Shuruppak, who builds a boat to survive a Flood.

In Eridu, the gods have decided to destroy mankind for reasons not known to us. But as in the Epic of Atrahasis, not all the gods are in agreement that the Flood should be sent to destroy humanity and so Enki tells Ziusudra that the Flood is coming. Though it isn’t described in the text (those lines are missing), Ziusudra evidently builds a boat and takes with him animals and people. As the flood abates, Ziusudra exits the craft and offers a sacrifice to the gods. An enraged Ellil knows that Enki is the reason humanity has survived the Flood but because he has survived it Ziusudra is rewarded by Ellil and the gods immortality.

Now, there are elements that Eridu shares with the biblical narrative. There are differences as well. But as we saw with the Epic of Atrahasis, the point is that the reason the biblical narratives read similiarly to works like Eridu Genesis and the Epic of Atrahasis is that they borrowed elements from them. And as Eridu predates both J and P by centuries, it cannot be that Eridu is a bastardized form of the biblical versions. That ship won’t float.

Gilgamesh

The final version of the Flood story we will consider is perhaps the most famous of all: the Epic of Gilgamesh. It tells the story of Gilgamesh, a king in the Mesopotamian city of Uruk, and his adventures.

[Of him who] found out all things, I [shall te]ll the land,
[Of him who] experienced everything, [I shall tea]ch the whole.
He searched (?) lands (?) everywhere.
He who experienced the whole gained complete wisdom.
He found out what was secret and uncovered what was hidden,
He brought back a tale of times before the Flood. (Dalley, 50)

The Epic was likely composed sometime around in the second millenium BCE and there are multiple versions. The Old Babylonian Version is the oldest, though it is missing numerous sections including the Flood narrative. The Standard Babylonian Version can be dated to around to the second millenium as well but the tablet upon which the Flood story was written – Tablet XI – does not date to the second millenium. Rather, it is a first millenium production, perhaps as old as P.

In the Epic‘s version of the Flood, Gilgamesh tracks down Ut-napishtim, the survivor of the Flood. He asks him to detail what happened and Ut-napishtim tells the tale. The gods had decided to send a flood to destroy humanity but, as in the Epic of Atrahasis and Eridu Genesis, not all the gods felt this was a good thing. One of them, Ea, swore that he would not reveal the plan to anyone so he goes to a reed hut and begins to give it instructions.

Listen, reed hut, and pay attention, brick wall:
(This is the message:)
Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubara-Tutu,
Dismantle your house, build a boat.
Leave possessions, search out living things.
Reject chattels and save lives! (Dalley, 110)

Ea offers some instructions as to how Ut-napishtim, the “man of Shuruppak,” was to build the boat. He loads the vessel with gold, animals, and plant seeds. Then he sees the storm approaching and closes the door to the boat. “Everything light turned to darkness,” he tells Gilgamesh. (Dalley, 112)

As was the case in the Epic of Atrahasis, the gods are terrified of the Flood.

Even the gods were afraid of the flood-weapon.
They withdrew; they went up to the heaven of Anu.
The gods cowered, like dogs crouched by an outside wall. (Dalley, 113)

The storm rages on for six days and seven nights and finally ends on the seventh day. The boat in which Ut-naphishtim was in came to rest on Mount Nimush. After seven days, he releases a dove that comes back as it had nowhere to perch. Then he releases a swallow but it too returns. Finally, he releases a raven that did not return because the waters had finally receded. When he exits the craft, Ut-naphishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods.

Then I put (everything ?) out to the four winds, and I made a sacrifice,
Set out a surqinnu-offering upon the mountain peak,
Arranged the jars seven and seven;
Into the bottom of them I poured (essences of ?) reeds, pine, and myrtle.
The gods smelt the fragrance,
The gods smelt the pleasant fragrance,
The gods like flies gathered over the sacrifice. (Dalley, 114)

Ellil, the high god, comes down and discovers that there was a survivor of the Flood. He is enraged at Ea for revealing the plan and allowing Ut-napishtim to survive. But for his efforts, Ut-napishtim is rewarded with immortality.

It is quite obvious that the Epic of Gilgamesh‘s version of the Flood is very similiar to that of the Epic of Atrahasis. And it is also very similiar to the biblical version. In both the Epic and the biblical version, the boat rests on a named mountain or mountanous area. In both, birds are released to check the status of the Flood. In the Epic it is a dove three times while in J it is three different birds, including a dove.

Again, this is evidence that J and P were produced in a culture where stories of the Flood had already been circulating. The Yahwist and Priestly versions, then, are adaptations of the Flood myth and are not the original versions of it. The Epic of Gilgamesh clearly borrows from far older versions of the story, one that had been circulating for millenia.

Noah, Ziusudra, and Ut-naphishtim

The hero of the biblical version of the Flood is נֹ֫חַ, Noah. It looks similiar to the Hebrew word for “rest” – נ֫וּחַ. The hero of Eridu Genesis is Ziusudra whose name means something like “long life.” The hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh is Ut-naphishtim (or Uta-na’ishtim) and his name means “he found life.” It is possible that an abbreviated form of Uta-na’ishtim was used in ancient Palestine that was closely related to the name “Noah.” (Uta) – na’ish(tim) becomes “Na’ish,” phonetically close to “Noah.” (Dalley, 2) If this is the case, it is further evidence that the biblical authors were borrowing and adapating other ANE Flood stories.

There are other signs of this borrowing and adapting as well. In the Sumerian King List which dates to the third millenium BCE we read of numerous kings who reigned for tens of thousands of years. Before the Flood, there were a total of eight kings who ruled a total of 385,200 years. But after the Flood, those reigns are greatly shortened, the longest being a mere 1,200 years. (Coogan, 2013, 65-66) Similarly, in the biblical epic the lives of the antediluvian patriarchs are far longer than those of the postdiluvian patriarchs.

In another version of the Flood by a Babylonian priest named Berossus, the story’s hero is Xisuthros, a Hellenized rendering of “Ziusudra”. Berossus’ version begins with a list of ten antediluvian kings of whom Xisuthros is the tenth. In Genesis 5 we read of Adam’s genealogy and we have ten antediluvian patriarchs of whom Noah is the tenth.

THE MEANING OF IT ALL

Again and again we see that the biblical version clearly adapts other versions of the Flood story just as other cultures clearly did with one another. This should not be surprising as this was standard practice in the ANE. Stephanie Dalley writes, “Plagiarism and adaptability are characteristics of written literature in ancient Mesopotamia.” (Dalley, xvi) This is why we often see themes that stretch across cultures and why stories share details though the characters are often different.

Given that works like the Epic of Atrahasis and Eridu Genesis are far older than the biblical versions, Kennedy’s position as well as Thomason’s is invalid. The fact of the matter is that the biblical versions found in J and P are just two of many versions of the Flood myth but they are not by any stretch the oldest. Archaelogy has not confirmed the biblical account. If anything, it reveals its utter lack of imagination.

ENDNOTES

[1] I know of no Old Earth Creationists who believe in a worldwide Flood.  

[2] Kennedy also quotes Nelson Glueck in his book as saying, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” (Kennedy, 38) Like the Burrows quote, Kennedy lifted Glueck’s words from McDowell’s volume. Glueck wrote those words in the 1960s and he was just plain wrong as the work of a myriad of archaeologists have shown.

This also shows that Kennedy was not relying on any analysis of the data but was simply quote-mining. Did Thomason sit under his tutelage or is this an “apologist” thing?

[3] Later in this same post in her bungled attempt to render γενεά as “times” in Matthew 24:34 she wrote, “The translation to times may also be the case, considering the earth’s age (4.5BY) and the time since Jesus walked the earth is relatively short.”

[4] The J refers to the German for Yahweh which is Jahweh.

PRINTED WORKS CITED

Michael D. Coogan. A Reader of Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Stephanie Dalley. Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Irving Finkel. The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 2014.

Richard Elliot Friedman. Who Wrote the Bible? New York, NY: HarperOne, 1997.

Richard Elliot Friedman. The Bible with Sources Revealed: A New View Into the Five Books of Moses. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003. 

James Kennedy. Why I Believe. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2005.

 

 

 

 

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