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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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1. The Biblical story , Genesis 6:5 to Genesis 9:17 [ Genesis 6:1-4 is probably a separate tradition, unconnected with the Deluge (see Driver, Genesis , p. 82)]. The two narratives of J [Note: Jahwist.] and P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] have been combined; the verses are assigned by Driver as follows: J [Note: Jahwist.] Genesis 6:5-8 , Genesis 7:1-5; Genesis 7:7-10; Genesis 7:12; Genesis 7:16 b, Genesis 7:17 b, Genesis 7:22-23 , Genesis 8:2-3 a, Genesis 8:6-13 b, Genesis 8:20-22; P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] Genesis 6:9-22 , Genesis 7:6; Genesis 7:11; Genesis 7:13-16 a, Genesis 7:17 a, Genesis 7:18-21; Genesis 7:24 , Genesis 8:1-2 a, Genesis 8:3-5 , Genesis 8:13 a, Genesis 8:14-19 , Genesis 9:1-17 . J [Note: Jahwist.] alone relates the sending out of the birds, and the sacrifice with which J″ [Note: Jahweh.] is so pleased that He determines never again to curse the ground. P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] alone gives the directions with regard to the size and construction of the ark, the blessing of Noah, the commands against murder and the eating of blood, and the covenant with the sign of the rainbow. In the portions in which the two narratives overlap, they are at variance in the following points. ( a ) In P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] one pair of every kind of animal ( Genesis 6:18-20 ) in J [Note: Jahwist.] one pair of the unclean and seven of the clean ( Genesis 7:2-3 ), are to be taken into the ark. (In Genesis 7:9 a redactor has added the words ‘two and two’ to make J [Note: Jahwist.] ’s representation conform to that of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] .) The reason for the difference is that, according to P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , animals were not eaten at all till after the Deluge ( Genesis 9:3 ), so that there was no distinction required between clean and unclean. ( b ) In P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] the cause of the Deluge is not only rain, but also the bursting forth of the subterranean abyss ( Genesis 6:11 ); J [Note: Jahwist.] mentions rain only ( Genesis 6:12 ). ( c ) In P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] the water begins to abate after 150 days ( Genesis 8:3 ), the mountain tops are visible after 8 months and 13 days ( Genesis 7:11 , Genesis 8:5 ), and the earth is dry after a year and 10 days ( Genesis 8:14 ); in J [Note: Jahwist.] the Flood lasts only 40 days ( Genesis 7:12 , Genesis 8:6 ), and the water had begun to abate before that.

2. The Historicity of the story. The modern study of geology and comparative mythology has made it impossible to see in the story of the Deluge the literal record of an historical event. (The fact that marine fossils are found on the tops of hills cannot be used as an argument, for (i.) the same argument could be used and is actually used by native tribes to prove other flood-stories in various parts of the globe; and (ii.) though it proves that some spots which are now at the tops of hills were at one time submerged, that is not equivalent to asserting that a flood ever occurred which covered the whole planet apart from the extreme improbability that the submergence of mountains was within the period of man’s existence.) The difficulties in the story as it stands are immense. ( a ) All the water in the world, together with all the vapour if reduced to water, would not cover the whole earth to the height of Mt. Ararat. And if it had, it is impossible to imagine how it could have dried up in a year and 10 days (not to speak of 40 days), or whither it could have flowed away. ( b ) If only a single family survived, it is impossible to account for the wide variety of races and languages. ( c ) The means of safety is not a ship, but simply a huge chest, which would instantly capsize in a storm. It is popularly assumed that it had a hull, shaped like that of a ship; but of this nothing is said in the Heb. narrative. ( d ) The collection by Noah of a pair of every kind of animal, bird, and creeping thing, which would include species peculiar to different countries from the arctic regions to the tropics, is inconceivable. And no less so the housing of them all in a single chest, the feeding and care of them by eight persons, the arrangements to prevent their devouring one another, and the provision of the widely diverse conditions of life necessary for creatures from different countries and climates. From every point of view it is clear that the story is legendary, and similar in character to the legends which are found in the folk-lore of all peoples.

3. The Cause of the Deluge . This is stated to be rain ( Genesis 7:11 b, Genesis 7:12 ), and the bursting forth of the subterranean abyss. It must be studied in connexion with other flood-stories. Such stories are found principally in America, but also in India, Cashmir, Tibet, China, Kamschatka, Australia, some of the Polynesian Islands, Lithuania, and Greece. In the great majority of cases the flood is caused by some startling natural phenomenon, which often has a special connexion with the locality to which it belongs; e.g. the melting of the ice or snow, in the extreme N. of America; earthquakes, on the American coastlands where they frequently occur; the submergence or emergence of islands, in districts liable to volcanic eruptions; among inland peoples the cause is frequently the bursting of the banks of rivers which have been swollen by rains. Sometimes the stories have grown up to account for various facts of observation; e.g. the dispersion of peoples, and differences of language; the red colour, or the pale colour, of certain tribes; the discovery of marine fossils inland, and so on. In some cases these stories have been coloured by the Bible story, owing to the teaching of Christian missionaries in modern times, and often mixed up with other Bible stories, and reproduced with grotesque details by local adaptation. But there are very many which are quite unconnected with the story of Noah. (For a much fuller discussion of the various flood-stories see the valuable art. ‘Flood’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ii.) It is reasonable, therefore, to treat the Hebrew story as one of these old-world legends, and to look for the cause of it in the natural features of the land which gave it birth. And we are fortunate in the possession of an earlier form of the legend, which belongs to Babylonia, and makes it probable that its origin is to be ascribed to the inundation of the large Babylonian plain by the bursting forth of one of the rivers by which it is intersected, and perhaps also, as some think, to the incursion of a tidal wave due to an earthquake somewhere in the South. This, among a people whose world was bounded by very narrow limits, would easily be magnified in oral tradition into a universal Deluge.

4. The Babylonian story . ( a ) One form of the story has long been known from the fragments of Berosus, an Egyptian priest of the 3rd cent. b.c. It differs in certain details from the other form known to us; e.g. when the birds return the second time, clay is seen to be attaching to their legs (a point which finds parallels in some N. American flood-legends); and not only the hero of the story, Xisuthros, and his wife, but also his daughter and the pilot of the ship are carried away by the gods.

( b ) The other and more important form is contained in Akkadian cuneiform tablets m the British Museum, first deciphered in 1872. It is part of an epic in 12 parts, each connected with a sign of the Zodiac; the Flood story is the 11th, and is connected with Aquarius, the ‘water-bearer.’ Gilgamesh of Uruk (Erech, Genesis 10:10 ), the hero of the epic, contrived to visit his ancestor Ut-napishtim, who had received the gift of immortality. The latter is in one passage called Adra-hasis, which being inverted as Hasis-adra appears in Greek as Xisuthros. He relates to Gilgamesh how, for his piety, he had been preserved from a great flood. When Bel and three other gods determined to destroy Shurippak, a city ‘lying on the Euphrates,’ Ea warned him to build a ship. He built it 120 cubits in height and breadth, with six decks, divided into 7 storeys, each with 9 compartments; it had a mast, and was smeared with bitumen. He took on board all his possessions, ‘the seed of life of every kind that I possessed,’ cattle and beasts of the field, his family, servants, and craftsmen. He entered the ship and shut the door. Then Ramman the storm-god thundered, and the spirits of heaven brought lightnings; the gods were terrified; they fled to heaven, and cowered in a heap like a dog in his kennel. On the 7th day the rain ceased, and all mankind were turned to clay. The ship grounded on Mt. Nisir, E. of the Tigris, where it remained 6 days. Then Ut-napishtim sent forth a dove, a swallow, and a raven, and the last did not return. He then sent the animals to the four winds, and offered sacrifice on an altar at the top of the mountain. The gods smelled the savour and gathered like flies. The great goddess Ishtar lighted up the rainbow. She reproached Bel for destroying all mankind instead of one city only. Bel, on the other hand, was angry at the escape of Ut-napishtim, and refused to come to the sacrifice. But he was pacified by Ea, and at length entered the ship, and made a covenant with Ut-napishtim, and translated him and his wife to ‘the mouth of the rivers,’ and made them immortal.

The similarities to the Heb. story, and the differences from it, are alike obvious. It dates from at least b.c. 3000, and it would pass through a long course of oral repetition before it reached the Hebrew form. And herein is seen the religious value of the latter. The genius of the Hebrew race under Divine inspiration gradually stripped it of all its crude polytheism, and made it the vehicle of spiritual truth. It teaches the unity and omnipotence of J″ [Note: Jahweh.]; His hatred of sin and His punishment of sinners; but at the same time His merciful kindness to them that obey Him, which is shown in rescuing them from destruction, and in entering into a covenant with them.

5. It is strange that, apart from Genesis 9:28; Genesis 10:1; Genesis 10:32; Genesis 11:10 , there are only two allusions in the OT to the Flood, Isaiah 54:9 and Psalms 29:10 (the latter uncertain; see commentaries). In the Apocr. [Note: Apocrypha, Apocryphal.] : Esther 3:9 Esther 3:9 f., Wis 10:4 , Sir 44:17 f. ( Sir 40:10 in LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , but not in Heb.). In the NT: Matthew 24:38 f., Luke 17:27 , Hebrews 11:7 , 1Pe 3:20 , 2 Peter 2:5 .

A. H. M‘Neile.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Deluge'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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