The Date of Noah’s Flood
The Date of Noah’s Flood:
Literary and Archaeological Evidence
by Dr. David Livingston
|Considerable interest in the Flood has been generated by recent attempts to find the Ark in the Mt. Ararat area of easternmost Turkey. At the same time, those who date the Flood within known Near Eastern ancient history – about 3000 BC – have long been derided by many Bible scholars. Even some who believe the Bible to be historically true feel the date cannot be later than 10,000 – 12,000 BC, placing it well beyond the reach of any related archaeological or literary data for which dates are known.There are important reasons for reexamining the evidence which points to a date closer to 3000 BC.
Unfortunately, many still accept William Henry Green’s out-of-date interpretation of the patriarchal genealogies:
Green plainly says he has allowed for great genealogical gaps in order to accomodate scientific “facts” which seem to indicate a very old earth (1890:286). And his view has captured the fancy of several generations of theistic evolutionists. But Green’s study is considerably flawed.
One study on the weaknesses of an approach like Green’s begins on page 18 of Archaeology and Biblical Research, Vol. 6, #1, Winter 1993, under the title “The Bible, Science and the Ages of the Patriarchs” by Bert Thompson. (Contact Associates for Biblical Research for back issues of the magazine.)
Before we look at the evidence itself, the following by an eminent Assyriologist is significant:
Biblical “Cush” Is Sumerian “Kish”
In this section it will be important to realize that Egyptian history begins after 3000 BC. Egyptian prehistory, then, is probably very short, again substantiating little time since the great Flood.
Hebrew “Cush” of Genesis 10:6f. may be transliterated “Kish,” which links this passage with well-known extrabiblical Sumerian history. In earliest times, the Hebrew letter vav was evidently interchangeable with yod. This is evidenced by the writer’s explanation in Genesis 3:20 that hevah, Eve, means hayah, the “mother of all living” (Keil and Delitzsch 1975:106). Thus Biblical “Cush” or Kush with a vav, can be equated with Sumerian “Kish” with a yod.
That the name Cush was also to be found in Africa by Isaiah’s time (Isaiah 20:3-5) is not questioned. In fact, that very movement may be tied to the genesis of the dynastic period in Egypt.
However, that Cush or Kish was first located in Mesopotamia is well attested (Genesis 2:13,14; 10:6-10). All of Cush’s descendants lived in Mesopotamia, seat of the Sumerian kingdom of Kish.
The Sumerian King List (listing in order the earliest kings of Sumer) begins with Kish immediately after the Flood, and both the List and the Bible speak of several cities with the same names as having come from “Kish” and “Cush” respectively. George Roux says the kingdom of Kish began in approximately 2700 BC (1966:120). It is important, as H.W.F. Saggs points out, that when the city of Kish was excavated, the earliest level was only from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca 2800-2400 BC; 1962:51,60). M.E.L. Mallowan in “Noah’s Flood Reconsidered” concluded the date must have been about 2700 BC (1964:82). Although Mallowan believed the flood to be only a local event, he nevertheless established its date from the available literature, which is exactly what we are trying to do.
The epic hero Gilgamesh was king of Uruk at about this time (ca 2700 BC) and, as the legend goes, was actually able to speak with a survivor of the Flood who had been on the Ark. (This would be impossible with a 10,000 BC date.) The experiences of Gilgamesh, coupled with the Sumerian King List (in which he is mentioned), suggest a Flood date close to the one we propose.
There are problems with our date, however. At several sites there was occupation, apparently, which preceded 3000 BC. Several so-called “flood levels” (at Ur, Jemdet Nasr, Fara, el-Obeid and other sites) were earlier thought to be the evidence for Noah’s Flood. However, they can hardly be related to the great Flood (Bright 1942:32).
Some of the archaeological evidence is puzzling. However, it may be explained by the fact that, (as so often has been done), in the first place, dates that were much too high were assigned for early civilizations. George Roux describes the situation:
There is no known Egyptian flood tradition in literature. However, there is important evidence from other literary indications and archaeology.
The First Dynasty of pharaohs, after 3000 BC, apparently corresponds to the arrival of a group of people from Mesopotamia who in a short time established a complete civilization. Arts, crafts, architecture, etc. of a high level suddenly (possibly in less than a hundred years) appeared all over Egypt. Was this from Mesopotamia? Many scholars think so (Edwards 1964:35-40; Emery 1961: 30-3; Frankfort 1956:124-37; Gardiner 1966:395-8; Kantor 1952; Roux 1966:80; Wilson 1956:37-41).
More important, much of lower Egypt at the founding of the First Dynasty was marshland, and today’s deserts were pasturelands. This was true as late as the 5th and 6th Dynasties (Frankfort 1948:16, Kees 1961:17-24). None of the land north of Lake Moeris was above water (Herodotus 1954:104). This includes the whole Delta, meaning the shore was at least 150 miles inland (near Cairo) compared to its present position.
The first Pharaoh, Menes, is famous for making embankments, draining swamps and establishing Memphis, which became for millennia the capital of Egypt. As founder, he was its “Creator” and was deified in the person of the god “Ptah.” The story of this is found in the Memphite Theology (Frankfort 1948:17-20, 24f., Wilson 1956:58-60). Indications of Lower (northern) Egypt as marsh is taken from tombs. This may have been during the period after the Flood while the remaining waters were drying up.
Although the equipment used to date radioactive materials has become more sophisticated, basic problems originally discovered by Willard Libby, inventor of the C14 dating method, still pertain. Radiocarbon (C14) dating, calibrated using known dates of Egyptian artifacts, has proved accurate back to only about 2000 BC, according to the discoverer (Libby 1965:ix; for an application to Mesopotamia, see Mallowan 1968:7-8). This has created problems for radio carbon dating older than 4000 BP (Before Present). Dates earlier than that cannot be calibrated since there is no known historical material older than 5000 BP. Dr. Libby himself said:
Further, dendrochronologically dated wood, when compared with C14 dates, has shown that C14 dates are about 500 years too low at 3900 BP; before that time, there is no accurate way to calibrate C14 dates (Pearson and Stuiver 1986).
River Deltas Begin Forming Worldwide About 3000 BC
One more important point needs to be mentioned. There was only one event in the history of man which was such a stupendous catastrophe as to make it possible for rivers worldwide to all begin flowing at about the same time – 3000 BC. That event was the worldwide Flood in the time of Noah. When the waters on the landmass finally subsided into the deepened oceans, and rain began to fall, the rivers could commence to flow and begin depositing the sediments which now form their deltas.
Problems with an Early Date (10,000 BC)
When literary documents are present to date an event, these must have precedence over and control scientific observations and dating which conflicts with the literary evidence. This is so in that ancient documents are eyewitness observations of the events recorded. And isn’t this what science is all about?
Better to Doubt the Scholars Than to Doubt God’s Word!
[Author's note to the reader: if you have evidence refuting or corroborating this article, we would like to hear from you.]
1942 Has Archaeology Found Evidence of the Flood? Pp.32-40 in Biblical Archaeology Reader I
(Garden City NY: Doubleday).
1964 The Early Dynastic Period in Egypt. Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. I, chap. 11.
(Cambridge: University Press).
1961 Archaic Egypt (Baltimore: Penguin).
1948 Kingship and the Gods (Chicago: University Press).
1956 The Birth of Civilization in the Near East (Garden City NY: Doubleday).
1962 Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. I, chap. 9 (Cambridge: University Press).
1966 Egypt of the Pharaohs (New York: Oxford University Press).
1890 Primeval Chronology. Bibliotheca Sacra 48:286-303.
1970 Antediluvian Cities. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 23/3:61-62.
1954 The Histories (Baltimore: Penguin).
1952 Further Evidence for Early Mesopotamian Relations with Egypt.
Journal of Near Eastern Studies 11:239-50.
1961 Ancient Egypt (Chicago: University Press).
Keil, C.F. and Delitzsch, P.,
1975 Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. I. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmam).
1958 Chemistry and the Atomic Nucleus. American Journal of Physics 26:528-41.
1965 Radiocarbon Dating (Chicago: University Press).
1964 Noah’s Flood Reconsidered. Iraq 26:62-82.
1968 The Early Dynastic Period in Mesopotamia. Cambridge Ancient History,, Vol. I, chap. 16.
(Cambridge: University Press).
Pearson, G.W. and Stuiver, M.,
1986 High-Precision Calibration of the Radiocarbon Time Scale, 500-2500 BC. Radiocarbon 28:839-62.
1966 Ancient Iraq (Middlesex, England: Penguin).
1962 The Greatness That Was Babylon (New York: Mentor).
1954 Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
1967 Unger’s Bible Hand Book (Chicago: Moody).
1956 The Culture of Ancient Egypt (Chicago: University Press).
© 2003 David Livingston
Taken from: http://davelivingston.com/flooddate.htm