The Date of Noah’s Flood

Amaic

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.

Genesis Genealogies

Unfortunately, many still accept William Henry Green’s out-of-date  interpretation of the patriarchal genealogies:

On these various grounds we conclude that the Scriptures furnish no  data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the  Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either  of the Flood or of the creation of the world (1890:303).

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.)

Mesopotamian Evidence

Before we look at the evidence itself, the following by an eminent  Assyriologist is significant:

There is, it is true, considerable vagueness and contradiction in  cuneiform literature about the antediluvian traditions. This is not unexpected,  even in the light of the latest discoveries. These now make it seem possible  that a specific historic flood provided the original inspiration for the  Mesopotamian versions of the deluge, and that this particular flood occurred  about 2900 BC. At the same time, the beginnings of Sumerian literature (and thus  of all literature) can now be traced back as far as the finds from Fara and Abu  Salabikh, which I am inclined to date no later than 2600 or 2500 BC. Fara is the  site of ancient Shuruppak, last of the antediluvian cities and home of the hero  of the flood story. Abu Salabikh has not yet been identified with any ancient  city, but its many literary tablets include a version of the “Instructions of  Shuruppak” in which the father of the flood-hero appears under the name of his  city. Thus the gap between the antediluvian period and its first reflexes in  cuneiform literature has been narrowed down to three or four hundred years. This  is no small achievement if we recall the three or four millennia that separated  earlier estimates of the date of the Flood from the first limitations –  Hellenistic and Neo-Assyrian — of native traditions about it (Hallo  1970:61-62).

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.

Cush is presented first and originally was connected with Babylonia  and only later with Egyptian Kosh or Nubia. The Babylonian connection is very  likely to be sought in the exceedingly ancient city-kingdom of Kish in lower  Mesopotamia, resurrected by modern archaeology. From Kish the Babylonian  emperors of the third millenium BC took their royal title as kings of the world.  The home of the original Cushites was clearly on the lower Tigris and Euphrates,  where Nimrod raised them to great power. Thence they spread into the southern  peninsula of Arabia and eventually crossing the Red Sea, colonized African Nubia  and Abyssinia. Original Asiatic Cush, however, was watered by the Gihon River in  Babylonia (Unger 1954:83; also 1967:53).

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:

Proto-history has been divided into five great periods, each of them  characterized by a distinctive cultural assemblage and named after the site  where this assemblage was first identified. They are in order: The  Hassuna-Samarra period; The Halaf period; The Ubaid period; The Uruk period; and  The Jemdat-Nasr period. As we shall presently see, these divisions do not  actually apply to the whole country under study. The first two cultures are  restricted to the north, the last two are predominant in the south. Moreover,  the reader should be warned that all is not as clear in practice as it is on  paper, and that scholars are still divided on the question of the exact limit  between the Uruk and the Proto-literate periods and even on the name which  should be given to the latter (1966:61).

The chronology of early periods rests upon more fragile foundations. In  theory, it should be possible to work out from king lists and dynastic lists,  but these have often proved to be misleading. Not only do they show significant  differences, but they contain a number of gaps or scribal errors, or they give  as successive dynasties which, in fact, partly overlapped or were  contemporaneous. One should not therefore be surprised to find different figures  in different textbooks and occasional changes of opinion  (1966:40).

Egyptian Evidence

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.

Radiocarbon Dating

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:

The first shock Dr. Arnold and I had was that our advisors informed  us that history extended back only 5000 years. We had initially thought that we  would be able to get samples along the curve back to 30,000 years, put the  points in, and then our work would be finished . . . We learned rather abruptly  that these numbers, these ancient ages are not known; in fact, it is about the  time of the first dynasty in Egypt that the last [earliest] historical date of  any real certainty has been established (1958:531).

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)

  1. If the Flood occurred as early as 10,000 BC, where is the 7000 year gap  (10,000-3000 BC) in Scripture or, for that matter, in anyof the  literature of the Ancient Near East?
  2. The descendants of “Cush” built actual cities (Genesis 10) whose foundations  date less than 3000 BC in most cases. Cush was the grandson of Noah.
  3. The ziggurats (the Tower of Babel?) are later than 3000 BC. There is no  trace of anything like them in earlier civilizations. A little time obviously  elapsed between the Flood and when they were built. But 7000 years? That is  longer than the entirehistory of man. Look at the accomplishments of man  and the population growth in only 5000 years! We have no basis for imagining a  7000 year gap.
  4. The genealogies of Genesis 10 may be “stretched” one or two generations, but  7000 years makes them meaningless for genealogical purposes. They cease  to be genealogies if huge gaps exist.

Conclusion

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.]

Bibliography

Bright, J.,

1942 Has Archaeology Found Evidence of the Flood? Pp.32-40 in Biblical Archaeology Reader I

(Garden City NY:  Doubleday).

Edwards, I.E.S.,

1964 The Early Dynastic Period in Egypt. Cambridge  Ancient History, Vol. I, chap. 11.

(Cambridge: University  Press).

Emery, W.B.,

1961 Archaic Egypt (Baltimore: Penguin).

Frankfort, H.,

1948 Kingship and the Gods (Chicago: University  Press).

1956 The Birth of Civilization in the Near East (Garden City  NY: Doubleday).

Gadd, C.J.,

1962 Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. I, chap. 9  (Cambridge: University Press).

Gardiner, A.,

1966 Egypt of the Pharaohs (New York: Oxford  University Press).

Green, W.H.,

1890 Primeval Chronology. Bibliotheca Sacra  48:286-303.

Hallo, W.,

1970 Antediluvian Cities. Journal of Cuneiform Studies  23/3:61-62.

Herodotus,

1954 The Histories (Baltimore: Penguin).

Kantor, H.J.,

1952 Further Evidence for Early Mesopotamian Relations with  Egypt.

Journal of Near Eastern Studies 11:239-50.

Kees, H.,

1961 Ancient Egypt (Chicago: University Press).

Keil, C.F. and Delitzsch, P.,

1975 Commentary on the Old Testament,  Vol. I. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmam).

Libby, W.F.,

1958 Chemistry and the Atomic Nucleus. American Journal of  Physics 26:528-41.

1965 Radiocarbon Dating (Chicago: University  Press).

Mallowan, M.E.L.,

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.

Roux, G.,

1966 Ancient Iraq (Middlesex, England: Penguin).

Saggs, H.W.F.,

1962 The Greatness That Was Babylon (New York:  Mentor).

Unger, M.F.,

1954 Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan).

1967 Unger’s Bible Hand Book (Chicago: Moody).

Wilson, J.A.,

1956 The Culture of Ancient Egypt (Chicago:  University Press).

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