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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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signifies, in general, any great inundation; but more particularly that universal flood by which the whole inhabitants of this globe were destroyed, except Noah and his family. According to the most approved systems of chronology, this remarkable event happened in the year 1656 after the creation, or about 2348 before the Christian aera. Of so general a calamity, from which only a single family of all who lived then on the face of the earth was preserved, we might naturally expect to find some memorials in the traditionary records of Pagan history, as well as in the sacred volume, where its peculiar cause, and the circumstances which attended it, are so distinctly and so fully related. Its magnitude and singularity could scarcely fail to make an indelible impression on the minds of the survivors, which would be communicated from them to their children, and would not be easily effaced from the traditions even of their latest posterity. A deficiency in such traces of this awful event, though perhaps it might not serve entirely to invalidate our belief of its reality, would certainly tend considerably to weaken its claim to credibility; it being scarcely probable that the knowledge of it should be utterly lost to the rest of the world, and confined to the documents of the Jewish nation alone. What we might reasonably expect has, accordingly, been actually and completely realized. The evidence which has been brought from almost every quarter of the world to bear upon the reality of this event, is of the most conclusive and irresistible kind; and every investigation, whether etymological or historical, which has been made concerning Heathen rites and traditions, has constantly added to its force, no less than to its extent.

And here, it were injustice to the memory of ingenuity and erudition almost unexampled in modern times, were we not to mention the labours of Bryant, the learned analysist of ancient mythology, whose patience and profoundness of research have thrown such new and convincing light on this subject. Nor must we forget his ardent and successful disciple, Mr. Faber, who, in his "Dissertation on the Mysteries of the Cabiri," has in travelling over similar ground with his illustrious master at once corrected some of his statements, and greatly strengthened his general conclusions. As the basis of their system, however, rests on a most extensive etymological examination of the names of the deities and other mythological personages worshipped and celebrated by the Heathen, compared with the varied traditions respecting their histories, and the nature of the rites and names of the places that were sacred to them, we cannot do more, in the present article, than shortly state the result of their investigations, referring for the particular details, to the highly original treatises already mentioned. According to them, the memory of the deluge was incorporated with almost every part of the Gentile mythology and worship; Noah, under a vast multitude of characters, being one of their first deities, to whom all the nations of the Heathen world looked up as their founder; and to some circumstance or other in whose history, and that of his sons and the first patriarchs, most, if not all, of their religious ceremonies may be considered as not indistinctly referring. Traces of these, neither vague nor obscure, they conceive to be found in the history and character, not only of Deucalion, but of Atlas, Cronus, or Saturn, Dionusos, Inachus, Janus, Minos, Zeus, and others among the Greeks; of Isis, Osiris, Sesostris, Oannes, Typhon, &c, among the Egyptians; of Dagon, Agruerus Sydyk, &c, among the Phenicians; of Astarte, Derceto, &c, among the Assyrians; of Buddha, Menu, Vishnu, &c, among the Hindus; of Fohi, and a deity represented as sitting upon the lotos in the midst of waters, among the Chinese; of Budo and Iakusi among the Japanese, &c. They discover allusions to the ark, in many of the ancient mysteries, and traditions with respect to the dove and the rainbow, by which several of these allegorical personages were attended, which are not easily explicable, unless they be supposed to relate to the history of the deluge. By the celebrated Ogdoas of the Egyptians, consisting of eight persons sailing together in the sacred baris or ark, they imagine the family of Noah, which was precisely eight in number, to have been designated; and in the rites of Adonis or Thammuz, in particular, they point out many circumstances which seem to possess a distinct reference to the events recorded in the sixth and seventh chapters of Genesis. With regard to this system, we shall only farther observe, that, after every reasonable deduction is made from it, which the exuberant indulgence of fancy occasionally exhibited by its authors appears to render necessary, it contains so much that is relevant and conclusive, that it induces the conviction that it has a solid foundation in truth and fact; it being scarcely possible to conceive, that a mere hypothesis could be supported by evidence so varied, so extensive, and in many particulars so demonstrative, as that which its framers have produced.

Beside, however, the allusions to the deluge in the mythology and religious ceremonies of the Heathen, to which we have thus concisely adverted, there is a variety of traditions concerning it still more direct and circumstantial, the coincidence of which, with the narrative of Moses, it will require no common degree of skeptical hardihood to deny. We are informed by one of the circumnavigators of the world, who visited the remote island of Otaheite, that some of the inhabitants being asked concerning their origin, answered, that their supreme God having, a long time ago, been angry, dragged the earth through the sea, when their island was broken off and preserved. In the island of Cuba, the people are said to believe that the world was once destroyed by water by three persons, evidently alluding to the three sons of Noah. It is even related, that they have a tradition among them, that an old man, knowing that the deluge was approaching, built a large ship, and went into it with a great number of animals; and that he sent out from the ship a crow, which did not immediately come back, staying to feed on the carcasses of dead animals, but afterward returned with a green branch in its mouth. The author who gives the above account likewise affirms that it was reported by the inhabitants of Castells del Oro, in Terra Firma, that during a universal deluge, one man, and his children, were the only persons who escaped, by means of a canoe, and that from them the world was afterward peopled. According to the Peruvians, in consequence of a general inundation, occasioned by violent and continued rains, a universal destruction of the human species took place, a few persons only excepted, who escaped into caves on the tops of the mountains, into which they had previously conveyed a stock of provisions, and a number of live animals, lest when the waters abated, the whole race should have become extinct. Others of them affirm, that only six persons were saved, by means of a float or raft, and that from them all the inhabitants of the country are descended. They farther believe, that this event took place before there were any incas or kings among them, and when the country was extremely populous. The Brazilians not only preserve the tradition of a deluge, but believe that the whole race of mankind perished in it, except one man and his sister; or, according to others, two brothers with their wives, who were preserved by climbing the highest trees on their loftiest mountains; and who afterward became the heads of two different nations. The memory of this event they are even said to celebrate in some of their religious anthems or songs. Acosta, in his history of the Indies, says, that the Mexicans speak of a deluge in their country, by which all men were drowned; and that it was afterward peopled by viracocha, who came out of the lake Titicaca; and, according to Herrera, the Machoachans, a people comparatively in the neighbourhood of Mexico, had a tradition, that a single family was formerly preserved in an ark amid a deluge of waters; and that along with them, a sufficient number of animals were saved to stock the new world. During the time that they were shut up in the ark, several ravens were sent out, one of which brought back the branch of a tree. Among the Iroquois it is reported that a certain spirit, called by them Otkon, was the creator of the world; and that another being, called Messou, repaired it after a deluge, which happened in consequence of Otkon's dogs having one day while he was hunting with them lost themselves in a great lake, which, in consequence of this, overflowed its banks, and in a short time covered the whole earth.

Passing from the more remote western to the eastern continent, nearer to the region where Noah is generally supposed to have lived, we find the traditions respecting the deluge still more particular and minute. According to Josephus, there were a multitude of ancient authors who concurred in asserting that the world had once been destroyed by a flood; "This deluge," says he, "and the ark are mentioned by all who have written barbaric histories, one of whom is Berosus the Chaldean." Eusebius informs us, that Melo, a bitter enemy of the Jews, and whose testimony is on this account peculiarly valuable, takes notice of the person who was saved along with his sons from the flood, having been, after his preservation, driven away from Armenia, whence he retired to the mountainous parts of Syria. Abydenus, after giving an account of the deluge from which Xisuthrus, the Chaldean Noah, was saved, concludes with asserting, in exact concurrence with Berosus, that the ark first rested on the mountains of Armenia, and that its remains were used by the natives as a talisman; and Plutarch mentions the Noachic dove being sent out of the ark, and returning to it again, as an intimation to Deucalion that the storm had not yet ceased.

This, however, is by no means all; Sir W, Jones, speaking of one of the Chinese fables says, "Although I cannot insist with confidence, that the rainbow mentioned in it alludes to the Mosaic narrative of the flood, nor build any solid argument on the divine person Niuva, of whose character, and even of whose sex the historians of China speak very doubtfully; I may nevertheless assure you, after full inquiry and consideration, that the Chinese believe the earth to have been wholly covered with water, which, in works of undisputed authenticity, they describe as flowing abundantly, then subsiding, and separating the higher from the lower age of mankind."

Still more coincident even than this with the Mosaic account, is the Grecian history of the deluge, as preserved by Lucian, a native of Samosata on the Euphrates; and its authority is the more incontrovertible, on account of his being an avowed derider of all religions. The antediluvians, according to him, had gradually become so hardened and profligate, as to be guilty of every species of injustice. They paid no regard to the obligation of oaths; were insolent, inhospitable, and unmerciful. For this reason they were visited with an awful calamity. Suddenly the earth poured forth a vast quantity of water, the rain descended in torrents, the rivers overflowed their banks, and the sea rose to a prodigious height, so that "all things became water," and all men were destroyed except Deucalion. He alone, for the sake of his prudence and piety, was reserved to a second generation. In obedience to a divine nomination, he entered, with his sons and their wives, into a large ark, which they had built for their preservation; and immediately swine, and horses, and lions, and serpents, and all other animals which live on earth, came to him by pairs, and were admitted by him into the ark. There they became perfectly mild and innoxious, their natures being changed by the gods, who created such a friendship between them, that they all sailed peaceably together, so long as the waters prevailed over the surface of the globe.

Scarcely less remarkable is the Hindoo tradition. It is contained in the ancient poem of the Bhavagat; and forms the subject of the first Purana, entitled Matsya, or "The Fish." The following is Sir William Jones's abridgment of it; and the identity of the event which it describes, with that of the Hebrew historian, is too obvious to require any particular illustration: "The demon Hayagriva, having purloined the Vedas from the custody of Brahma, while he was reposing at the close of the sixth Manwantara, the whole race of men became corrupt, except the seven Rishis, and Satyavrata, who then reigned in Dravira, a maritime region to the south of Carnata. This prince was performing his ablutions in the river Critimala, when Vishnu appeared to him in the shape of a small fish, and after several augmentations of bulk in different waters, was placed by Satyavrata in the ocean, where he thus addressed his amazed votary: ‘In seven days all creatures who have offended me shall be destroyed by a deluge, but thou shalt be secured in a capacious vessel miraculously formed; take therefore all kinds of medicinal herbs, and esculent grain for food, and, together with the seven holy men, your respective wives, and pairs of all animals, enter the ark without fear: then shalt thou know God face to face, and all thy questions shall be answered.' Saying this, he disappeared; and after seven days the ocean began to overflow the coasts, and the earth to be flooded by constant showers, when Satyavrata, meditating on the deity, saw a large vessel moving on the waters. He entered it, having in all respects conformed to the instructions of Vishnu; who in the form of a vast fish, suffered the vessel to be tied with a great sea serpent, as with a cable, to his measureless horn. When the deluge had ceased, Vishnu slew the demon, and recovered the Vedas, instructed Satyavrata in divine knowledge, and appointed him the seventh Menu, by the name of Vaivaswata."

When we thus meet with some traditions of a deluge in almost every country, though the persons saved from it are said, in those various accounts to have resided in different districts widely separated from each other, we are constrained to allow that such a general concurrence of belief could never have originated merely from accident. While the mind is in this situation, Scripture comes forward, and, presenting a narrative more simple, better connected, and bearing an infinitely greater resemblance to authentic history, than any of those mythological accounts which occur in the traditions of Paganism, immediately flashes the conviction upon the understanding, that this must be the true history of those remarkable facts which other nations have handed down to us, only through the medium of allegory and fable. By the evidence adduced in this article, indeed, the moral certainty of the Mosaic history of the flood appears to be established on a basis sufficiently firm to bid defiance to the cavils of skepticism. "Let the ingenuity of unbelief first account satisfactorily for this universal agreement of the Pagan world; and she may then, with a greater degree of plausibility, impeach the truth of the Scriptural narrative of the deluge."

The fact, however, is not only preserved in the traditions of all nations, as we have already seen; but after all the philosophical arguments which were formerly urged against it, philosophy has at length acknowledged that the present surface of the earth must have been submerged under water. "Not only," says Kirwan, "in every region of Europe, but also of both the old and new continents, immense quantities of marine shells, either dispersed or collected, have been discovered." This and several other facts seem to prove, that at least a great part of the present earth was, before the last general convulsion to which it has been subjected, the bed of an ocean which, at that time, was withdrawn from it. Other facts seem also to prove with sufficient evidence, that this was not a gradual retirement of the waters which once covered the parts now inhabited by men; but a violent one, such as may be supposed from the brief but emphatic relation of Moses. The violent action of water has left its traces in various undisputed phenomena. Stratified mountains of various heights exist in different parts of Europe, and of both continents; in and between whose strata, various substances of marine, and some vegetables of terrestrial, origin, repose either in their natural state, or petrified. To overspread the plains of the arctic circle with the shells of Indian seas, and with the bodies of elephants and rhinoceri, surrounded by masses of submarine vegetation; to accumulate on a single spot, as at La Bolca, in promiscuous confusion, the marine productions of the four quarters of the globe; what conceivable instrument would be efficacious but the rush of mighty waters? These facts, about which there is no dispute, and which are acknowledged by the advocates of each of the prevailing geological theories, give a sufficient attestation to the deluge of Noah, in which "the fountains of the great deep were broken up," and from which precisely such phenomena might be expected to follow. To this may be added, though less decisive in proof, yet certainly strong as presumptive evidence, that the very aspect of the earth's surface exhibits interesting marks both of the violent action, and the rapid subsidence, of waters; as well as affords a most interesting instance of the divine goodness in converting what was ruin itself into utility and beauty. The great frame-work of the varied surface of the habitable earth was probably laid by a more powerful agency than that of water; either when on the third day the waters under the heavens were gathered into one place, and the crust of the primitive earth was broken down to receive them, so that "the dry land might appear;" or by those mighty convulsions which appear to have accompanied the general deluge; but the rounding, so to speak, of what was rugged, where the substance was yielding, and the graceful undulations of hill and dale which so frequently present themselves, were probably effected by the retiring waters. The flood has passed away; but the soils which it deposited remain; and the valleys through which its last streams were drawn off to the ocean, with many an eddy and sinuous course, still exist, exhibiting visible proofs of its agency, and impressed with forms so adapted to the benefit of man, and often so gratifying to the finest taste, that, when the flood "turned," it may be said to have "left a blessing behind it."

The objections once made to the fact of a general deluge have, indeed, been greatly weakened by the progress of philosophical knowledge; and may be regarded as nearly given up, like the former notion of the high antiquity of the race of men, founded on the Chinese and Egyptian chronologies and pretended histories. Philosophy has even at last found out that there is sufficient water in the ocean, if called forth, to overflow the highest mountains to the height given by Moses,—a conclusion which it once stoutly denied. Keill formerly computed that twenty-eight oceans would be necessary for that purpose; but we are now informed "that a farther progress in mathematical and physical knowledge has shown the different seas and oceans to contain, at least, forty-eight times more water than they were then supposed to do; and that the mere raising of the temperature of the whole body of the ocean to a degree no greater than marine animals live in, in the shallow seas between the tropics, would so expand it as more than to produce the height above the mountains stated in the Mosaic account." As to the deluge of Noah, therefore, infidelity has almost entirely lost the aid of philosophy in framing objections to the Scriptures.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Deluge'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​d/deluge.html. 1831-2.
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