May 22, 2018

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, Part 1- Proposition 6

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate
by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton
Part 1- Proposition 6

We are blogging through the book: The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton.  Today we will look at Proposition 6- Genesis Depicts the Flood as a Global Event.  Walton and Longman note that some scholars, who feel the force of the lack of any geological evidence for a worldwide flood, want to argue that the flood was a local event and that the biblical text describes it as such.  They admit that such an interpretation is plausible as it takes both the Bible and the scientific evidence (or lack thereof) seriously.  Usually these scholars point out that אָ֫רֶץ or eretz, translated as “earth” in the King James might be more accurately translated as “land”.  Likewise, שָׁמַ֫יִם or shamayim translated as “heavens” could also be translated as “skies”, and הָר or har translated as “mountain” can also be translated as simply “hill”.  So, for example, Genesis 7:17-20 could read:

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth land, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth land. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth land, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth land, and all the high mountains hills under the entire heavens sky were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains hills to a depth of more than fifteen cubits.

Another variant of this view is that, from Noah’s (or any ancient Mesopotamian dweller) perspective, a sufficiently large regional flood would have been perceived as the whole earth flooding.  Carol Hill, one of the geologists who contributed to The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth , which I reviewed starting here, put forth this view in this article .  She stated:

The picture that emerges from all of the biblical and non-biblical evidence is that Noah’s Flood was confined to Mesopotamia, extending over a vast alluvial plain as far as the eye could see, from horizon to horizon (under the “whole heaven” or sky). The top of all the hills (ziggurats?) were covered by this flood, and all people and animals were drowned except for Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark.  The flood was a real, historical event that covered—not the whole world— but the whole of Noah’s world.

Conceivably, if a major typhoon came up the Persian Gulf, while at the same time, a major hurricane-size storm blew in across Turkey from the Mediterranean, then most of the combined floodplains of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers could have flooded at the same time, especially if one or both storm systems stalled like happened with Hurricane Harvey.

Houston Flood During Hurrican Harvey

A rare event to be sure, but the recent Hurricane Harvey caused flooding in Houston at the 1,000-year flood recurrence interval, so not at all out of the realm of possibility.  Carol Hill has an article,  in Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith Journal that actually discusses how that might happen.  The Mesopotamian basin is exceedingly flat; the surface of the plain inland 240 miles is only 60 feet above sea level.

I have given this viewpoint considerable credibility in my thinking, but Walton and Longman have convinced me it is not the best interpretation of the biblical account.  The language used in the flood story does not support the idea that the flood was only a local, even if widespread flood.  They believe this conclusion is inescapable even if the initial reporter whose account was the basis for the flood story thought a local flood was a worldwide flood.  Walton and Longman have a list of elements of the story that leads them to conclude the flood in Genesis is being described hyperbolically as a worldwide flood.

  1. Human sin is pervasive, encompassing all humans, not just those in a local area.
  2. God regretted making human beings on the earth, not just those in a local area.
  3. The flood as God’s judgment is the first part of re-creation. In the creation account, God moves the cosmos from non-order to order.  The first phase should be pictured as a watery blob, which over six creation days is brought into a functional order.  The flood is a reversal of order to non-order, with the ultimate goal of reestablishing order.  In this scenario the flood would need to be worldwide.
  4. The need to take pairs (and in some cases seven pairs) of animals including birds, on board indicates a worldwide flood, not just a local flood.
  5. The size of the boat indicates flood waters beyond the imagination of a local flood.
  6. That “all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Gen. 7:11) indicates a worldwide flood.
  7. The height of the waters as fifteen cubits (23 feet) over the mountains (Gen. 7:20), and the only mountains mentioned being the sizeable “mountains of Ararat” (Gen. 8:4), point to a global flood.

They say: Thus it is our conclusion that Genesis 6-8 describes a worldwide, not a local flood.  This conclusion leaves us with what at first read, at least from our twenty-first-century Western perspective, is an error or at least a contradiction.  The Bible describes a worldwide flood, yet absolutely no geological evidence supports a worldwide flood.  While some people believe that this means that science must be wrong if the Bible is right, we believe the science is right, then it leads us to a better interpretation of the biblical material, the interpretation that gets us to the original intent of the biblical author.

This viewpoint is persuasive to me. It respects the inspiration of scripture without burdening that inspiration with violations of clear instances of physically verifiable facts.  I have been asked why, if I believe other miracle accounts of the Bible, especially the resurrection of Jesus, why I should balk at a miraculous description of a worldwide flood.  It’s a fair question.  One which we delved into at some length in the “Miracles and Science” series of posts.   The account of the flood in the Bible is not given as the description of a miracle, sign, or wonder.  It is a story.  The question is whether it is meant to be taken as a straight-forward historical account, or as a rhetorically influenced hyperbolic account that makes a theological point.  So far, Walton and Longman are making the case for the latter, and by the time we reach the end of this book, a very strong case indeed.


  1. First! Oh wait, that’s just for Saturday. Disregard. Sometimes the child cannot just sit at the table without making noise. For one minute please! For the love of God! Ok I’m done.

  2. Does the book go into the possibility that the Flood narravtive is a remembering of a catastrophic glacial outburst flood from the last Ice Age?

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      Yes, although they mention it mostly in passing. In Proposition 14, they mainly note the Black Sea-Bosphorous catastrophe.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Well, the four-river configuration of Eden in early Genesis exists in the form of four fossil riverbeds on the bottom of the Persian Gulf. Last time they were above water was the last Ice Age.

      It’s possible that element is an oral tradition dating back to the Ice Age.

  3. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Am I being unfair in detecting a lack of clarity here? We know from a plethora of other ancient literature that the flood story was centuries old by the time the Bible was written, and (I believe) they all describe a worldwide flood. The biblical author’s intent was to re-tell this story from his monotheistic, YHWH-believing perspective. There is no hint in the Genesis account that the author is questioning the “worldwide” aspect of the existing story, or that they had any reason to doubt it true. It is not clear whether the suggestion is that the author (somehow) knew full well the flood was not actually a worldwide event but described it as such to make his point or (which seems more likely) the point of the passage for him (and us) is the insight into the nature of God from meditation on and consideration of the traditional tale, and precisely what happened in the original event is not particularly relevant.

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      Walton and Longman don’t think the biblical author knew the flood was local but described it as worldwide; that is the viewpoint of modern scholars who feel the force of the lack of any geological evidence for a worldwide flood. Those scholars want to argue that the flood was a local event and the biblical text describes the flood as such. A variant on that view says the flood was local, not worldwide, but from the perspective of the ancient participants, Noah and his family, the waters covered the whole earth as far as they knew. In other words, from the participants, who are also the initial reporters of the event, this local flood did cover all the earth. I’ve held this variant viewpoint, but W & L convinced me otherwise.

      • Christiane says:

        perhaps there was some element in ‘the rising waters’ of Genesis that forecasts/predicted the rising oceans of our present day, when those in power continue to ignore the melting ice caps and the changing climate patterns ?

        Hyperbole. YES!

        but also, perhaps a prediction of what can happen when greedy evil people take what they want at the destruction of Creation knowingly (I think the climate change deniers are fibbing . . . they know!)

        So our humankind’s greedy abuse of the Earth is now physically causing the waters to rise . . . . . and I hear echos from Genesis perhaps also meant as ‘warning’ to the future sons and daughters of Noah who live now on the Earth and wade through those flood waters . . . .


        • Stbndct says:

          Do you have any idea which oceans have not risen but have fallen in the last 50years ? Again you make blanket statements without any backup.

          • Patriciamc says:

            Now, now. You can disagree more politely.

          • Christiane says:

            This may help you:

            The oceans of the Earth are inter-connected . . . . the waters flow together, so when the levels rise, all the oceans are affected by the melting of the ice caps . . .

            Perhaps you were thinking about closed water-ways? That is a different issue, yes.

            ” today we recognize four main oceans that make up our one interconnected ocean: the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. . . . . .

            scientists are in the process of recognizing a fifth ocean—the Southern Ocean. Once this ocean is globally accepted and recognized as a fifth major ocean, maps and other resources will have to change accordingly. ”

            and the resource used is this:

    • Stephen says:

      “We know from a plethora of other ancient literature that the flood story was centuries old by the time the Bible was written, and (I believe) they all describe a worldwide flood. The biblical author’s intent was to re-tell this story from his monotheistic, YHWH-believing perspective.”

      I think this is the essential point, not the misguided quest for some historical kernel of data. Nothing is more revealing of the Hebrew point of view than comparing their versions of Ancient Near Eastern legends and myths with the pov of other neighboring cultures.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        A lot fell into place when I heard the theory that the final form of Genesis 1 was structured as a deliberate PARODY of Mesopotamian creation myths.

        And Noah is similar; a specifically-Jewish take on the Mesopotamian Flood and Ark story.

        Some ways this could originate:
        1) Abraham was originally from Ur in Mesopotamia; he could have taken the original Old Stories with him when he left Ur and went nomadic.
        2) The current version of Genesis was reconstructed from oral tradition during the Babylonian Captivity, after the destruction of the original written versions in the fall of Jerusalem. During this period, the Jews were surrounded by Mesopotamian culture and mythology, and were trying to retain their identity.
        3) Both of the above.

  4. Rick Ro. says:

    Is it just me, or is the first name of Tremper odd?

  5. Burro (Mule) says:

    Just thinking and typing at the same time….

    Journalistic accuracy seems to be nowhere in sight as a consideration of what got written down until you get to Thucydides. I wonder why this is. I wonder a lot. Especially since the majority of written records from the Bronze Age Near East and Egypt appear to be bills of lading and receipts and such like.

    When it came to money our ancestors were as sharp-minded as we are. But when it comes to big narratives they wander off into saga and story, without any explanation or apology. Journalistic accuracy matters so much to US that I can only hypothesize that the mental processes of our ancestors were not similar to ours. It would be as if they could not discern the color blue and used words for reddish and blackish to cover that part of the spectrum (There is some evidence of this in the Iliad, the Vedas, and Hittite records).

    It is obvious to me that somewhere in the long story of God’s coaxing of dirt into consciousness, there was a point at which we had no language, no ability to contemplate the world apart from ourselves, and no free will. Well, maybe we weren’t as chemically determined as the ants or as bound to terrestrial magnetic lines as are some birds. Supposedly, there was a time when we became sexually dimorphic, and apparently this resulted in the dreaded patriarchy which persisted until, oh, 1974.

    The story of the development of the ‘inside’ of humanity, the development of consciousness is nowhere near as well established scientifically as the development of our outside, and once you start investigating it, you get into some real woo-woo places almost immediately; Rudolf Steiner, RM Bucke, Julian Jaynes, and no real guidance from anyone trustworthy.

    • “When it came to money our ancestors were as sharp-minded as we are. But when it comes to big narratives they wander off into saga and story, without any explanation or apology.”

      As I understand it, “history” back then was almost entirely an instrument of royal propaganda. And we all know how propaganda treats facts, especially if said facts are not in accordance with the intended party line…

      • Burro (Mule) says:

        plus ça change

        That’s a pretty cynical outlook. I wonder if the premoderns were quite as postmodern as all that. Also, the Old Kingdom and the Sumerian/Akkadian Commonwealth were very stable polities. It took the Soviet Union what, 70 years? to collapse under the weight of its own bullshit.

        • Compare the accounts in Assyrian records of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem (~701 BCE) with that of the Bible (Is 36-37; 2 Kings 18-19). Quite different accounts. Somebody’s ‘propagandizing’ something.

        • StuartB says:

          Can it be cynical if it’s historically accurate? It might be true, and just because we wish it weren’t doesn’t mean it isn’t.

          If it’s true, that’s something that needs to be acknowledged and wrestled with. Same with things like what happened at Geneva, the history behind The Great Disappointment, Josiah’s pograms, America’s destabilization of the US, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, etc.

          We don’t get to be comforted in the story just the victors tell.

          • Robert F says:

            But it’s the victors who write history; new regimes rewrite the histories around themselves. Thus it’s always been.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Journalistic accuracy seems to be nowhere in sight as a consideration of what got written down until you get to Thucydides. I wonder why this is. I wonder a lot. Especially since the majority of written records from the Bronze Age Near East and Egypt appear to be bills of lading and receipts and such like.

      Bills of lading are mundane everyday things and Mythologizing was for Real Important Things?

      In Christianese, Bills of lading are Secular and Mythologizing is Spiritual?

    • I’m inclined to believe, with much less education than you, that the ancient mind was far more concerned with the point, the moral of the story. There was no particular accountability for the accuracy of detail in the telling if the same light was at the end of the tunnel. He killed the bear with an ax. No he killed it with a bow. With no editorial board we won’t fuss over details. The bear is dead and there’s your rug and here’s your dinner.

      • I think that world, akin to some modern day “ancient” cultures that have been studied, lived in a more enchanted mindset that was less dependent upon critical analysis. Truth be told, we are not so far removed as a people from irrationality with our superstitions and behavioral foibles. There is a lot a changeable, malleable thinking that defies clear definition and documentability. More dreamy than rational. Stories that grow from that sort of thought tend to have very changeable borders.

  6. senecagriggs says:

    On the other hand, if Creator God is actually the author of Scripture …….

    BTW, I still think Cain and Abel were real time, real brothers and Cain killed his brother.

    As for our ape ancestor “Lucy,” I’m doubting it.

    I have come to like Geologist Mike – regardless

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “On the other hand, if Creator God is actually the author of Scripture…”

      Like the Sabbath, God didn’t create man for the Scripture, He created Scripture for the man. Don’t hold it higher than it should be.

      • senecagriggs says:

        Rick Ro, with God the penultimate author, you can NEVER hold Scripture too high IMHO.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          If you’re talking about the Word = Jesus, I’m with you.

          If you’re talking about the word = the Bible, I’m not.

    • Authors can write myth and poetry as well as journalism.

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      You do know that Walton and Longman are conservative evangelicals who believe in the inerrancy of scripture. They quoted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to support what they are saying about the use of rhetoric and hyperbole. Are you more conservative than the CSBI? I believe in the inspiration of scripture, as I have said repeatedly. I just don’t think inspiration requires a “magic book” view. Do you? And if so, why?

    • Christiane says:

      If God could take the elements of the Earth and form Himself our humankind over aeons of time, and then give his humankind souls, even ‘Lucy’ may have had a role in this.

      And those elements of the soil? We learn that they were forged together within the stars themselves before being sent outward into the universe . . . . more aeons.

      Biblical? I think so. When you remember, this:

      ” Beloved, do not let this one thing escape your notice: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. ” (2 Peter 3:8)

      IF those who struggle with 2 Peter 3:8 will come to understand its meaning, they may, in time, get it that Genesis tells of a progression of events in God’s time . . . . where ‘a day’ may be an aeon so long we cannot imagine it 🙂

    • Christiane says:

      A gift for SENECAGRIGGS,
      whose first name is of a great native American, this is something you may find meaningful:

      • senecagriggs says:

        Chief Seattle?

        I come from a long line of humans, but not Chief Seattle

        • Christiane says:

          well, did you watch the film?

          (I used to live in Seattle and you can see Mt. Rainier from there which is on the land of Chief Seattle’s people. So I learned about the ‘speech’ he gave and how it was written down and published.

          Very special film in my opinion, but I am supposed to have a touch of Indian blood through my French Canadian forebears. (Very proud of it, if it’s true)

    • jonn barry says:

      Was not the Mertz’s especially Fred older than Lucy? You gotta love her

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I like Geologist guy’s Thursday series.
    Lotsa interesting meat here.

    One of the biggest things I remember from my time in-country some 30-40 years ago was the “Holy Spirit Lobotomy” I was pressured to take as a condition of Salvation. Having to turn off my brains completely or Hellfire.

    Imagine how that combines with a 160 IQ and a brain that’s working so fast 24/7 you’re always riding the ragged edge of ADD.

    • john barry says:

      Headless U Guy, I am half way there, 80 IQ , brain working at max 71/21 but my attention span is


  8. Christiane says:

    Seeing the Flood Story of Genesis as PROPHECY?
    . . . . a warning of rising sea levels from mankind’s greedy abuse of the Earth ?

    a warning to the present-day sons and daughters of Noah who must wade through the flood waters of climate change’s fury . . .

    take a look:

    • Even in the worst case scenario, there just isn’t enough water in the polar packs to make anything even close to a worldwide flood, Kevin Costner notwithstanding. 😉

      • Christiane says:

        Hi Eeyore,
        but think of the world-wide impact of the rising oceans . . .

        I once had a gift given to me by a good friend (it was broken by accident some years ago) and it was a coffee mug with a map of the world all around it . . . . but when you put a hot liquid into the cup (filled), the map would ‘change’ to show the areas that rising flood waters from melting polar caps would affect . . .

        cute little illustrative teaching model, that cup, very interesting, and yes, the impact imprint on it was not limited to any one hemisphere 🙂

        AND, since most of our populations are nearer the coasts than the interiors of our continents . . . the impact is even more felt

        • I’m not saying that a total icecap melt wouldn’t have dire consequences for modern civilization, but that hardly makes it a model of the Flood. Even the most dire models indicate it was take many decades to rise.

      • Christiane says:

        And another thought, Eeyore

        those melting ice caps: they REFLECT a lot of the sun’s heat rays back into space. So when they are all melted, those heat rays will not be deflected away but will increase the temperatures on Earth

        think ‘Venus’ and you can envision a future Earth where carbon dioxide seals in ever-increasing heat and those protective ice caps have long since melted away, taking with them their contribution to the balancing of our Earth’s ability to cope with the intensity of the Sun’s rays

        melting ice caps? the harm won’t be just in rising coastal waters, no,

        AND, the increasing temperatures of the Earth WILL affect the whole planet (sigh)

        • Prior ages on earth have had no polar caps, and high CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Again, just because it would be a disaster for our civilization does not mean that humanity, or the planet, would die.

          • Christiane says:

            Eeyore, I believe that for life to exist, there has to be a healthy active CO2 – O2 cycle (plant and animal life depends on this).

            BTW, not all previous ‘ages’ (aeons) of the planet Earth contained life . . . . catch some of the NOVA shows on this topic, which are so well-done and informative

          • The problem is not only the level of CO2, but its rate of change. For an example of where rate of change is important, consider a brain catheter the diameter of a bullet. It can be slowly inserted into a brain to perform a diagnostic function with a much lower probability to produce damage than the high speed bullet traveling through the same material. Part of our present environmental problem is that CO2 concentrations are rising so rapidly. It is so rapid that many plants and animals will not be able to adjust. Some species will be able to migrate to cooler climes but many will not.

    • Stbndct says:

      Every coin has two sides
      The question of how much the ocean could rise due to warming is a topic of intense debate. In the past two decades global sea levels increased at a rate of roughly 0.12 inches a year, compared to 0.07 inches from 1961 to 2003, according to satellite data. A recent tide gauge study of sea levels in Australia and New Zealand, published in the Journal of Coastal Research, provided readings that suggested the rate of ocean rise has declined in the past decade.

      Patrick J. Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, noted that recent satellite data shows a slight decline in the rate of sea-level rise, which casts doubt on whether the ocean will expand as some predict by the end of the century.

  9. Peter Wolfe says:

    Maybe I missed it (likely) but how wide was their world? What scope of the earth did they mean by worldwide? DI they know of North/South America?

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      Well, look at the map of the Tigris-Euphrates basin. The distance to the horizon from a boat on the middle of the flooded basin is 11-12 miles, at most. So Noah in a boat in the middle of the flood would see water from horizon to horizon, which would seem like the whole world. The “world” would be what you would see from the top of the highest hill to the horizon to an ancient. I just don’t see what other perspective an ancient person would have. Even if you were on a 10,000 foot mountain peak, the horizon would be no further than 125 miles or so.

  10. Qual a solução? Medicações para Disfunção Erétil.