29 May 2023

The flood story.

In Genesis there’s a story about a massive flood. Rain for a month and a half; waters which covered every hill in the area, and killed every living thing. It was, states the author of Genesis, God’s way of getting rid of the violence in the land: He got rid of everybody except this one righteous (well, righteous enough) family.

Starts like this.

Genesis 6.11-21 KWL
11 To God’s face, the land was ruined.
The land was full of violence.
12 God saw the land. Look, ruin!
all flesh ruined its way in the land.
13 God told Noah, “To my face,
the end of all flesh is coming:
They fill the land with violence before them.
Look, the land is ruined!
14 Make yourself a box of cypress trees.
Make living spaces within the box.
Plaster it from the inside to the outside with asphalt.
15 This is how you’ll make it:
A box 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits high.
16 Make a window in the box, a cubit from the top.
Make a doorway in the box’s side.
Make bottom, second, and third floors.
17 Look at me: I bring the deluge of waters on the land
to destroy all flesh on it,
the breath of life under the heavens:
Everything on the land dies.
18 I raise my relationship with you.
Come into the box.
You, your sons, your woman, your sons’ women with you.
19 All living things, all flesh:
Two of all comes into the box to live with you.
They’ll be male and female.
20 From the bird to its kind,
from the animal of its kind,
from all which swarms the ground of its kind,
two of all comes to you to live.
21 Take with you all the food you can eat.
Gather it for yourselves.
It’s for food, for you and them.”
22 Noah did everything God commanded him to do.

So God has this man, Noah ben Lamekh, build himself a big black box…

Yeah, black box. What d’you think an ark is, a boat? What, were the Hebrews carrying around the Boat of the Covenant through the desert for four decades? Did Indiana Jones excavate a Nazi-killing gold boat, or am I remembering that movie all wrong?

But you’d be forgiven if you made the mistake of thinking a תֵּבַ֣ת/tevá is a boat. After all, American popular culture has the image of a boat cemented in everybody’s brain. Noah built a boat, they say—and on dry land! How the neighbors must’ve laughed and jeered at Noah and his kids for building a boat on dry land. Then when the floodwaters came, boy did they get their comeuppance.

Except it nowhere says in the bible, nowhere in Genesis, that Noah built a boat. That bit about the jeering neighbors? Not in the bible either. I know; you’ve been told this story so many times, you half remember it being biblical, don’t you? Nope. Go read Genesis 7 again. Isn’t there. Never happened.

Wait, what about those people in Kentucky who made the Ark Encounter, the life-size Noah’s Ark which they claim is totally based on the bible? Again, read your bible. Read that bit of Genesis 6 I just translated, in any translation you please. But remember, “ark” means box. God told Noah to build a box. Covered in כֹּֽפֶר/kofér, “bitumen,” or asphalt, so it wasn’t be bare or stained wood, like the Ark Encounter depicts it. It’d be black as the roads outside your house.

Arguably log-cabin style, ’cause it’s made of עֲצֵי גֹ֔פֶר/ačé-gofér, “trees of cypress.” God didn’t say planed wooden planks. I know!—you imagined Noah building a boat, so of course you imagined him building it out of planks, but there’s nothing in the bible to describe what Noah did with the trees once he chopped ’em down. Now, figuring a cubit is half a meter (or half a yard, if you’re American like me), Noah was instructed to make it 150 by 25 by 15, square. Not with a curved bow to easily cut through water, and certainly not with a rudder—who’s gonna steer it? What’s its destination? Why would Noah presumptively assume his box would even float?—for all he knew, it might stay where it was, underwater, watertight, waiting for the floods to pass.

The Kentucky monstrosity is entirely based on popular Christian culture, based on what generations of American preachers and their art have speculated about Noah’s box. Something which actually requires less faith in God than Genesis is describing. ’Cause they imagine Noah built something seaworthy, that could survive on its own—instead of something God would have to miraculously preserve, and did.

So whenever skeptics ask me whether I believe the bible’s flood story, I can’t give them a simple yes. I do believe the story. But the story I believe is the plausible one we find in the bible. Not as it’s told by young-earth creationists, who turned it into Christian mythology… then turned that into junk science.

Did God flood all the land… or all the planet?

More than once, Genesis states God dumped the floodwaters on the אָ֖רֶץ/ereč. This word can be translated two ways: “Land,” which is how it’s frequently used in the bible, like in “the land of Egypt” Ge 41.41 or “the land of Canaan,” Ge 12.5 or “the land of Edom,” Ge 36.31 and pretty much every other geographic area. Or “land” as opposed to what’s not land—whether the seas and oceans, Ge 1.18 or the heavens. Ge 1.1

And yes, it can be translated to mean what the young-earth creationists mean by it: Earth. Our planet. The whole earth. Genesis records God flooding the whole ereč, and young-earth creationists insists this means, and can only mean (and if you dare suggest it doesn’t mean this, you’re compromising the Holy Faith), the whole planet. Not just Mesopotamia; everywhere.

Including parts of the planet where there weren’t even any humans yet. In order to stop the earth’s violence, I suppose God also had to flood Antarctica and take out all those evil penguins.

Sometimes I wonder whether biblical literalists aren’t trying to play a game of chicken with reason, and trying to outdo one another in how far they’re willing to go. “Oh, you believe a literal interpretation of the bible means that? Well I believe a literal interpretation of the bible means this. Top this.” It’s not enough to believe God created the cosmos in six steps; they gotta insist these steps were literal 24-hour days, and if you don’t believe likewise, you’re an antichrist. And when science indicates the scriptures can’t mean literal days, down with science, because they believe bible. But in reality they’re trying their darnedest to sound like the believingest Christians ever. Even if they choose to believe goofy nonsense.

The most commonsense interpretation of Genesis is God flooded the land. That land; not the globe. (Assuming young-earth creationists accept the earth even is a globe; some don’t!) After all, flooding Earth in its entirety was wholly unnecessary. Humans weren’t spread out that far. Nor is God the sort of being who’d destroy everything else he created simply ’cause he can, just to show off how much rage is in him. I know some dark Christians who love the idea, but they really need to get saved. God didn’t need to prove to anyone he’s almighty; creating the cosmos did that.

And goodness knows young-earth creationists, who insist the flood was planetary, have been struggling to find explanations for where all the water came from, and where it went. For some reason “miraculously appeared” and “miraculously disappeared” aren’t among their options… at least not till they’re absolutely stymied for plausible explanations. But never underestimate the practitioners of junk science. They can invent and believe any explanation, no matter how head-scratchingly bad it sounds. The young-earthers I know are currently going with “the firmament” for where the water came from, and “the ice caps” for where it went. (A theory that, at the rate the caps are melting, is soon to be disproven.)

The universe… if we take Genesis literally. NIV Faithlife Study Bible

What’s a firmament? That’d be the space between the ground and a massive wall in outer space—one in which all the stars are embedded. The wall holds back all the water which used to cover Earth’s dry ground. That’s what the ancients believed they were looking at in the sky. Not trillions of dim galaxies, as our space telescopes have more recently discovered; the back wall of the heavens.

Young-earth creationists have redefined “firmament” to mean a barrier in Earth’s atmosphere which held back the water. Which used to exist… but then God decided to flood the world, so he cracked open the firmament (as they figure “the windows of heaven were opened” Ge 7.11 KJV means) and dumped all that water back onto Earth until all the הָרִים֙ הַגְּבֹהִ֔ים/harím ha-gevoším, “high hills,” were covered. Ge 7.19

The next verse, in the KJV, translates הָרִ/har, “hill,” as “mountain,” and states “and the mountains were covered.” Young-earthers love to point to it as a proof text and claim, “See? God even covered Mount Everest!” Well yeah, that’d be true… if ereč means “Earth” and har really means “mountain.” But they don’t, because that very same verse says the water rose only 15 cubits. Yep, only 23 feet deep. Ge 7.20 If it only took 8 meters of water to cover the “mountains,” we’re not actually talking about mountains.

Neither does “firmament” mean any atmospheric barrier whatsoever—because the sun, moon, and stars are in it. Ge 1.17 Which you’d know if you read your bible instead of believing young-earther theories.

I won’t even touch how they imagine Noah kept dinosaurs on the ark.

Defending the flood story, versus sharing Jesus.

For skeptics, the implausible part of the flood story is the idea of a planetary flood. They have no problem believing in floods; we get ’em in the United States every time a hurricane makes landfall, or whenever the Mississippi overflows, or whenever a levee breaks. Whenever I travel between Sacramento and Davis in the winter, it’s over water; all that land is flooded. Floods happen! But a global, extinction-level event? That, they’re not so sure about.

Sometimes I point out to these skeptics they do believe in extinction-level events, like the asteroid which supposedly killed the dinosaurs, or the smallpox plague which wiped out the American Indians, or the coming catastrophe that pollution is creating right this minute. Why not a global flood?

But once I explain to these skeptics how I don’t believe Noah’s flood was global—how a commonsense interpretation of the scriptures doesn’t require anyone to believe the flood was global—it pretty much answers all their skepticism. “Oh, it wasn’t global? Okay then.” And we can move on to other things. More important things. Like, say, Jesus and their relationship with him. You know, the real issue—which people love to avoid with useful distractions like an implausible global flood.

For young-earth creationists, they don’t just stumble across the smokescreen: They run into it and try to wave away the smoke. As if their first duty is to defend the self-described “creation scientists” who invented their haywire worldview, and not their Lord. No doubt the devil has a lot of fun sidetracking them into creationism debates, then watching them make all sorts of ignorant statements about “real science” which not only don’t win over skeptics, but make ’em think we Christians are the dumbest, most gullible humans alive. Next thing you know, we’ll be telling them essential oils are better than vaccination.

Don’t let the flood story distract you! Share Jesus.