The day the earth flooded and why it still matters
For out of chaos comes order.
Pure beauty. I believe this would be an apt description of our home known as Earth when it was originally created. Our world, comprised of two different realms —the natural and supernatural— interwoven and locked together in harmonious form. There was a time when everything was right. I wish for that time. Not just for me, but for all of us.
Undoubtedly you've heard of the global flood story —the world apocalyptically cleansed. Catastrophic waves with enough force to shear mountains. The fountains of the deep bursting through the earth's crust in an event that would reset the entire planet leaving it emerged anew, the same, and in many ways different. The interesting thing about the earth is its ability to transform like a malleable piece of clay. Throughout its existence sea levels have risen and fallen; the average global temperature has fluctuated; tectonic plates have shifted; new mountains have given rise; new islands have emerged; civilizations have come and gone; and new species have appeared as others have completely vanished. One thing is certain —the world is not immutable.
In fact it appears that the very idea of cosmic balance has been programmed into our world. Order, not chaos must be kept. And if there is order we can derive the idea of purpose because order necessitates purpose. This begs the question: What was the purpose of the global flood? As you'll soon see, the purpose was to reinstate order not only to the earth, but to all of creation within the earth.
As someone who grew up in the church I'm pretty familiar with the global flood story, especially in the traditional sense —which I'll explain in a bit. However, I'm also pretty familiar with all of the mockery, wrong thinking and bad takes touted by those who believe the Bible is nothing more than a book of mythical stories derived from the minds of bored and equally inebriated goat herders. It is a shame that humanity has forgotten its ancient past and I don't mean ghost stories or legends of imagination. I'm referring to our understanding of the cosmos and our role within it. Despite ancient records left by our ancestors, people today often reject the substance of their writings for lack of "evidence", which really means: If we can't recreate it then it couldn't have happened, regardless of what's been recorded throughout history. Hello hubris.
Thanks for the confirmation guys! We couldn't have done it without you. 👍🏾
Contrary to popular Western thought, the story of the flood is not a Christian or even ancient Jewish idea. Nor is it a story that was stolen from the Babylonians —another bad take by those who don't understand ancient Near Eastern history. There are actually many ancient Near Eastern flood accounts in existence. This means a comparative study of the people and culture of that time must be conducted to better understand how the shared idea of a global flood originated. The results lead to a greater understanding of a people who once lived together in Mesopotamia as a collective, sharing the same ideas, cultural beliefs and practices. We find they were all simply retelling the same flood account but through individual cultural variances. No one stole anything from anyone.
Something else many people do not know, is the story of the flood doesn't just involve humanity and animals. It also includes divine councils, sages, giants and supernatural beings. This is a consistent theme throughout ancient Near Eastern literature.
I believe it is a shame the global flood event has been dwindled down to a cute story about Noah's Ark taking animals two-by-two at the behest of an angry God, as some sort of foreshadowing of Jesus' salvific victory. It is also of my belief that many Christians —and others who follow different faiths that subscribe to the flood story— aren't able to articulate and speak to the reality of this event because many religious leaders have decided that what I'm going to share with you isn't important in the grand scheme of things nor do they know what I'm going to share with you. The reality is they couldn't be more wrong. However, what I'm not proposing to you is that I have all of the answers. I am merely suggesting that this event is vitally important information to the human race.
Learning from the ancients
The story of a global flood is accounted for in a lot of ancient Mesopotamian literature such as Enuma Elish (“The Epic of Creation”), the Eridu Genesis, the Tale of Adapa, the Sumerian King List, Atrahasis, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta.
The Epic of Gilgamesh —a collection of stories dating back to the early Bronze Period (3300-2300 BCE) — delivers an account of Gilgamesh's journey during the flood event which parallels the Genesis account:
Well, Gilgamesh, let me tell you the story of a divine conspiracy,
Of a divine plot to exterminate humanity ...
Godfather Anu, Enlil, and Ninurta convened the divine assembly.
Which decide to flood the earth ...
Ea, divine patron of fresh water, opposed Enlil.
Ea repeated Enlil's plan aloud outside the reed walls of my house.
'Listen to me, wall,' Ea whispered,
'You reed mat, pay attention to me.
Inhabitant of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu,
Pull down your house! Build a barge
Abandon all your possessions,
Save your life.
Take specimens of every living thing on board
make the ark square with a roof like the dome of the heavens.''
An interesting note is that Gilgamesh was believed to be related to the giant Nephilim. Be sure to take a mental note of the term "apkallu" as this will be important later:
Gilgamesh was remotely related to antediluvian apkallus, as he ‘brought back a message from the antediluvian age’ (I 8). In Jewish terms, he was like one of the giant Nephilim, as exactly the Book of Giants depicts him (Stuckenbruck 2003: 329). There is new supporting cuneiform evidence that Gilgamesh was thought of as having a gigantic stature, his height being 11 cubits (George 2007: 240 l. 34). 1
The Akkadian stories of Atrahasis —penned down mid-17th century BC— take place in a world comprised of divine warriors and elders. The warriors refuse to keep the earth going and are provided with workers as part of a deal with the god Ea-Enki. The workers also refuse and thus a deluge is ultimately released on the earth to wipe them out.
Place a roof over the barge, Cover it as Apsu, the heavens, covers the earth. Do not let the sun see inside, Enclose it completely. Make the joints strong, Caulk the timbers with pitch. (Gen 6:14) I will gather flocks of birds for you ... and schools of fish." Then, Ea-Enki filled the water clock, Set the time for the flood on the seventh night. (Gen 7:4-10) 2
Like other antediluvian heroes, Atrahasis is known as a surviving sage —or giant— of the flood and is responsible for the transmission of knowledge to post-diluvian times to the one family who manages to escape.
The ancient Aztecs also possessed a global flood story of their own. It involves the god Tlaloc who was angered and sent a flood to wipe out the unruly giants and most of humanity. After the flood, one of the seven Aztec giants who escaped the deluge, Xelhua —known as "the architect"— went to Cholula and helped the surviving humans build a pyramid in dedication to Tlaloc the rain god. The gods becomes angered and rain down fire to stop the construction. This should remind us of the Tower of Babel incident in ancient Jewish literature. Even more interesting is the arrival of the wise supernatural entity, Quetzalcoatl, who shows up after the flood. According to tradition he teaches the local people agriculture, laws and architecture to enable them to build a new civilization from the ground up.
The ancient Greeks had three separate flood stories with one named the Ogygian flood as it occurred during the time of Ogyges— king of Attica. If you research this you'll find that this king is believed to be a mythical character by "modern scholars". An important note is the term Ogyges is synonymous with "primeval" and "earliest dawn". The flood event was believed to be a global deluge that purportedly wiped out most of early humanity. Here's where things get interesting. The Greek Philosopher Plato wrote about the lost city of Atlantis in the dialogues Timaeus and Critias. Plato states there was a global flood that took place around 9600 years before his time which resulted in the submergence of Atlantis. Remember, Plato lived roughly 2400 years ago and even in Plato's time there were some who didn't believe his story about a global flood. However, as I've already written, there is scientific evidence of a global flood that took place around 12,000 years ago that correlates with the Younger Dryas period. It appears that Plato was right all along and so were the ancient Greeks.
There's also the ancient Jewish account of the flood that most people are familiar with —at least in part. What many don't know is this account —according to 1 Enoch— also involves wise sages, lesser gods and the archangel Raphael who was commanded by God to heal the earth post flood. Considering Christians are often strongly encouraged to avoid extra-biblical materials it is no wonder why most don't know the full story behind the flood event. As I often tell people; the Bible points to everything that is important for us to know but it often doesn't give us all of the details behind what it points to. It was never meant to as the book would've become too exhaustive. But there are other "scriptures" we can use —the ones the biblical writers used before the advent of the Bible.
I've only listed a handful of global flood accounts just to provide necessary historical context but there are many, many more stories available. Unfortunately, you'll find these stories under the moniker of "myth" due to man's hubris despite the evidence. However, all of these stories share similar themes which should give us pause. How is it that ancient man —who lived in various parts of the world— all have a retelling of a global flood account? What is the significance? Are these stories important? Should we just file them away under "interesting" and return back to our daily lives?
As this is an area I've been studying for quite some time I believe I have an idea as to what is going on, and how to piece some of the pieces of the puzzle together. The truth is we're looking at pieces belonging to a larger mosaic —which right now is a bit fuzzy. We can make out some of the pieces but it's going to take a bit more critical thought and investigative work to put the picture together.
There are many questions we need to ask: How could different societies across thousands of years and different continents possess the same flood story? Why are there cultural differences in the accounts? Why did they all believe in what some call “mythical figures”? Were these figures real or simply made up? Why is there a theme of human culpability always attached to this specific event? What do we make of the unusual "cast of characters" that surround this event? How do we determine which event is the most accurate account?
At this point we only know one thing definitively and that is the earth experienced a catastrophic, global flood. One of the chief things missing from our story is coherence. With coherence we can logically piece the parts together and attempt to fill in the gaps. Again, we're really dealing with a bit of a mosaic that isn't quite complete.
There are several accounts of the global flood event and based on the evidence we can safely say the account is real. But which ancient story is the true version of the event? There are several, in fact many. I believe the answer is right in front of us. We just need to think a bit different than the common mainstream thought concerning ancient mythology.
Instead of just assuming —guilty until proven innocent— any one account is false or mythological in nature, or viewing each story as competing versions of a similar narrative from disconnected people, we would be better off giving early civilization the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because there's simply no evidence that the versions told by the Greeks, Akkadians, Babylonians and the whole peoples of ancient Mesopotamia are false unless you toss out the possibility of supernatural activity impressing upon a natural world. The people who told these stories believed them to be true. In my view, to denote all of ancient humanity as liars takes an incredible amount of arrogance. Once we submit ourselves to the very idea that these accounts are probable by being a bit more open-minded instead of defaulting to the narrative that they're all stories of imagination we can find coherence. And we can find coherence by seeing if it's possible to actually harmonize these stories together. Based on the evidence, given timelines and similar themes it appears to me that they should be harmonized together. This was one event that similarly effected all of ancient humanity, therefore we should treat it as such.
Admittedly, this is where people of our day can struggle mentally. Many lack belief in the supernatural despite the necessity of something existing outside of the natural in order to bring the natural into existence, hence "super" natural. I won't spend time here debating —from a philosophical or scientific perspective— the massive problems with denying the existence of the supernatural for sake of brevity in this edition.
The global flood story originates from ancient Mesopotamia and as I mentioned previously it doesn't belong to any one group of people or religion. However, I do believe the ancient Jewish scriptures helps us to greatly fill in the gaps for harmonizing the flood accounts. I believe these ancient text carry with them a massive benefit because within them lies direct ties from supernatural activity to the activities of humanity regardless of background or culture. Meaning, the scriptures are a bit more objective and global in nature as it includes peoples such as the greater Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, Persians, Greeks and others. The scriptures also reveal the gods of these peoples and speaks to their operations. Contrary to popular belief, the ancient Jewish scriptures go to great lengths to affirm the existence of other gods versus denying their existence and taking a position of exclusivity. The theme you should be picking up thus far is "harmony" not "disconnectedness" or even "competition". We are one human race with one origin connected like spokes on a wheel, with the hub of the wheel being the genesis. I hope this helps as we proceed. I thought it important to park here for a bit so you can understand why I'm going to lean in a certain direction.
Note: This is a pretty exhaustive topic so this will be more of a cliff notes version.
We're going to start with the Bible because it's an easy jump off point many people are familiar with. A lot of people mistakenly think the story of the flood starts at Genesis 6:5 so we'll need to correct this line of thinking; it actually starts with the first verse.
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. - Genesis 6:1–8 (ESV)
When you read these verses you'll notice what seems to be a bit of weird jump from verse 4 to verse 5. What do the Nephilim and preceding events have to do with people of earth becoming wicked? This jump may seem odd to us because we don't possess the ancient historical and cultural context that the writers and subsequently the people of that day did. The people of that time would have immediately understood the significance. It would have leaped off the page to them.
The first two verses concern what is called the Second Rebellion, with the first rebellion being The Fall in Eden. Here, sons of God known as elohim —disembodied supernatural beings— chose to leave their domain and impregnate earthly women. The result of this act spawned what is called the Nephilim. It will be important for us to use ancient Mesopotamian context to help our understanding. These early people had originally referred to the supernatural beings as the apkallu. You should remember this name from earlier in the article when we covered Gilgamesh. For quite a while scholars believed that the Nephilim were simply human kings or descendants from Seth. However, in 2010 ancient materials relating to the apkallu were found, meaning 99% of commentaries on the Nephilim are actually out of context.
“Mesopotamia had several versions of the story of a catastrophic flood, complete with a large boat that saves animals and humans.4 They include mention of a group of sages (the apkallus), possessors of great knowledge, in the period before the flood. These apkallus were divine beings. Many apkallus were considered evil; those apkallus are integral to Mesopotamian demonology. After the flood, offspring of the apkallus were said to be human in descent (i.e., having a human parent) and “two-thirds apkallu.”5 In other words, the apkallus mated with human women and produced quasi-divine offspring.” 3
This is why Genesis 6:4 takes the time to call out the Nephilim as the offspring of the sons of God. The writer is giving us —the reader— context for what led up to the flood. The Nephilim were part supernatural due to the supernatural influence on their human genome. They were taller than most humans at the time —not the ridiculous heights of 30 feet tall but anywhere from 9 to 13 feet tall. The wickedness that had filled the earth was a direct result of the actions instigated by the sons of God —known as the apkallu to early ancient Mesopotamians. This is why when you read other ancient flood accounts the writers mention wicked or evil giants and wise sages. The Nephilim were not of God's creation and were more like bastard children who had a propensity to bully humans, doing whatever they wanted on the earth. We can corroborate this story a bit with 1 Enoch.
The Book of Enoch –also known as 1 Enoch— is a collection of writings attributed to Enoch, great-grandfather of Noah. It bears great detail concerning the events that led up to the flood. In it we learn what the Nephilim were up to:
2 And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: 3 Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, 4 the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. 5 And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another’s flesh, and drink the blood. - 1 Enoch 7:2-5
The earth becomes a blood bath due to the actions of the Nephilim. We learn in 1 Enoch that these beings not only were eating humans but they were sinning against the rest of creation. We don't know the extent but this helps us understand why God found it necessary to flood the entire earth instead of only targeting humanity. All of creation had somehow become corrupt. The Book of Enoch actually describes what was taking place as a "plague" on the earth. God was essentially starting over. This is important to remember.
The Book of Enoch lists the names of all seven chiefs given responsibility as "Watchers" —sons of God—over the earth. One of the chiefs —Azazel— is deemed ultimately responsible for leading the corruption and is imprisoned in the wilderness. We see a further connection between this wicked entity and the ancient Jews "Day of Atonement", where a goat is sent out to Azazel by the transferring of sins into the wilderness (See Leviticus 16:10).
4 And again the Lord said to Raphael: 'Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein - Enoch 10:4
Despite being called out as their leader, Azazel wasn't the only one chained and bound. This was known well into the first and second century. The book of Jude calls out the parallel of sexual sins between Sodom and Gomorrah and the fall of the Watchers.
And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.- Jude 6–7
At this point we have a clear understanding as to why God flooded the earth. What we know as our home as well everything in it was no longer operating according to original design. All had become infected with a plague, turning creation into nothing but a shell of its former self. We may not often realize it, but there is a way creation must operate in order for it to exist peacefully and for balance to be maintained. This is no different than the human body. Its preference is to be healthy and happy. It will fight and regenerate where necessary in order to achieve homeostasis. All of creation —which includes the planet itself— operate under the same fundamental principle. The earth is alive.
Over the years I've often heard that God flooded the earth due to his anger at sin. However, that idea doesn't come from Genesis. In fact, what we see is a God that is grieving and is heart broken over what has happened to His creation. Not once are we ever told God was angry at humanity.
6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” - Genesis 6-7 (ESV)
The point of the flood was to restart everything and give humanity —as well as all of creation— a second chance. The flood was an act by God to prevent human extinction. God created humans in His image to exercise dominion over the earthly realm. The earth without its image bearers to reign is like a kingdom without a king or a city without people.
In this story God punishes those who instigated the corruption of the earth —those who happened to not be human. According to the Book of Enoch, God not only used the archangel Raphael to bind the sons of God, but He also used him to heal the earth:
6 And on the day of the great judgement he shall be cast into the fire. And heal the earth which the angels have corrupted, and proclaim the healing of the earth, that they may heal the plague, 7 And that all the children of men may not perish through all the secret things that the Watchers have disclosed and have taught their sons. -Enoch 10:6-7
If you remember from the different flood accounts there was often mention of wise sages or supernatural beings appearing after the flood to help rebuild civilization. The concept we need to grasp is the roles the supernatural beings played as they effectuated change within the earth. While the earth is for humans to rule, there are supernatural beings that get commissioned to carry out specific operations that we can't do, as well as divulge knowledge when authorized. Unfortunately, the Watchers were also found guilty of divulging knowledge we weren't authorized to have. This contributed to the plague.
There is one more thing we need to address as we wrap up and that concerns the cultural differences in the flood narrative. I believe it's easy to harmonize this issue as well. Often when people think about supernatural beings we assume they operate without an individual personality. We also don't think about the possibility of certain entities appearing in ways to better relate or to be better received by their audience. I believe as it relates to the flood event, there were numerous actors commissioned throughout the earth to effectuate change before and after the flood. I believe it is entirely possible that the variations in retellings are a result of these beings visiting humanity in their individualistic personalities. We as humans have unique personalities so why wouldn't supernatural beings?
The Hebrew Bible —more specifically Genesis 11— speaks of the Babel event where God splits up humanity some time after the flood. The languages of the earth become confused. Civilization will need help if its to reach its future glory. I believe this is in integral point where the supernatural beings come in to play and it seems plausible the cultural variations are a direct reflection of the personalities these beings possessed. This means each "tribe" on earth would eventually reflect the personality and characteristics of these entities which would also be reflected in their cultic worship. If you know anything about the ancient Jews, they were to image Yahweh in every way. Failure to do so would bring curses and calamity. It makes sense that other tribes would attempt to “image” the supernatural entities that were commissioned to guide them. The seeds of this idea are also supported in the Jewish text —Deuteronomy 32:8. Perhaps I'll expound on this another time.
This story —while being a very ancient story and seemingly disconnected from us— still bears importance for us today. What we need to realize is the earth is our home and our domain. However, like us it requires homeostasis or everything becomes corrupt and dies.
In some of my previous articles I've stressed the importance of getting a handle on the health crisis humanity is currently facing. This is a large enough issue in and of itself but things become much worse when we add in current environmental challenges from pollution and waste. The amount of plastic alone that we as a human race ingest or allow to permeate our skin by the synthetics we wear is beyond troubling. We often forget the downstream impacts the rest of creation faces due to our daily lifestyle choices. But at the top of the hierarchy —the apex of all living creatures— are humans. When we are sick as a race there are negative, downstream impacts to the rest of creation. If we can't find a way to solve our global health crisis and return to what it means to live as humans who are part of one family, I fear the earth —instigated by God— will be prompted to find homeostasis once more. What that looks like precisely, I'm not sure. We do know the impetus for the global flood event was due to moral failure on the earth. Moral failure is also a current day concern.
Could we face another global flood as a means to cleansing the earth? I tend to believe what God decreed in Genesis 8:11 —there would never be a another flood to destroy the earth. I also believe what was decreed in Genesis 8:21 when He stated:
21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. - Genesis 8:21 (ESV)
It's important to note what God is saying He won't do. He won't curse the ground again because of man. He also won't kill off every living creature. However, what He isn't saying, is that He won't take necessary and drastic measures to restore everything back to balance —which could involve targeting humanity specifically. He also isn't saying the earth won't take necessary and drastic measures to reset itself by naturalistic means. The point I want to drive home is that there is a very real need and desire for creation to find proper balance and operate according to its original design. This idea is "programmed" into all things. In order to avoid this resetting it is imperative for us to realize when our home —to include our human race— is veering off track. I believe we have a moral imperative to steward the earth and ourselves with wisdom and to the best of our abilities. What the flood event showed us, is that the ultimate ruler —God— is not willing to allow His creation to die because of our bad stewardship.
The flood story is a reminder of what's at stake. The ancient civilizations who came before us took great care to ensure we knew the story —our story— as a human race. We all have a responsibility to not only take great care of each other but also our home. Failure to do so will undoubtedly usher in catastrophic consequences for us all. For out of chaos comes order.
Feel free to leave comments as I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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Matthews, Victor Harold. Old Testament Parallels (New Revised and Expanded Third Edition): Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East