Tuesday, September 06, 2005

And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth (Gen 7)

I apologize for the long delay in bringing this post for those of you, I imagine, who hang on my every word. (I'm sure I'm only imagining it, of course.) I had a busy Friday, followed by a long weekend, and while I started to write a post on Friday, I ended up getting sidetracked into a Hebrew word study on "rain". I'm not sure how germane it is to the topic at hand, but Hebrew has at least two words for rain used in the Bible. The word "geshem" is a general-use term, while "matar" is a word meaning specifically a good and useful kind of rain. The only thing of interest in that is that 7:4 uses the latter term, while 7:12 uses the former. The next three times the Bible uses "matar", (Gen 19:24, Ex9:18,23) it is also clearly in reference to God's judgment.

Okay, let me scan what's here and see what's not a repeat of what's already covered (as well as scan my last few entries to see if there's anything I didn't cover but promised to hit on here!) Noah "perfect" or "righteous"? Check. Seven vs. two animals? Check. Flood being cruel? Check. Ah, here we are...

When did Noah enter the ark? It's a very good question. I've always heard it held as a fact that Noah entered the ark seven days before the flood, as it seems to be saying in verse 10, but it indeed does seem to be saying that they entered the ark the day it started raining. This may not be reconcilable, but I'll offer some suggestions that anybody can accept or reject as they see fit.

First of all, one of the things that I think many people, both believers and non-believers, overlook about this story is that loading this many animals into the ark was probably a task that took more than one day. (The SAB notices.) I suppose it might be the case that it took a week to fully load the thing. Whatever amount of animals Noah had on that ark, it was an awful lot, and there was only one door.

Secondly, I have to admit something here that's a minus to the quality of the Biblical story, but that may offer a sort of loophole for the issue of a time line. Let me address this to believers rather than skeptics who no doubt have already noticed it: chapter seven is a muddled mess! I mean really, read it! I don't know whether it detracts from the main point of the story, perhaps it does for some individuals, but stylistically, if you really look at it, it's hard to plow through. It may be because it is, as some have claimed, two different accounts of the same story ham-handedly edited together, or it may just be bad writing, but look at it verse by verse:

6: Notes that Noah is 600 years old
7: Humans go in, because it's flooding
8-9: Animals go in
10: Seven days after (after what?) "the waters" are there
11: Notes again that Noah is 600, apparently waters come
12: Rains for 40 days
13: Humans go in (again?)
14-15: Animals go in (again?)
16: God shuts the door
17: Floods for 40 days

The problem here is the phrase "selfsame day" in verse 13, but in the midst of all this muddling of the time line, I have to ask, "selfsame" as what? You'd be inclined to guess the specific day that was mentioned in verse 11, as it's one of the few attempts in the story to be specific, but in the interceding verse, there's 40 days mentioned. My personal opinion? There may indeed be a contradiction here, but in the general mishmash of this portion of the story told in chapter seven, I'm not sure how you can tell much of anything.

Let's hit a few specifics that can be addressed more directly. How did Noah get all those animals? Clearly, this is a superhuman task. It's my belief that what the SAB suggests in jest is what happened in fact. Noah was far too busy with the actual building of the ark to bother with the filling of it. Although the Bible doesn't specify, it makes a great deal of sense that God was the one who gathered the animals together.

In verse 11, it says, "were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened." The SAB calls this an absurdity (only the second part, for some reason), joking that God opens the window in the sky every time it rains. The fact is, I don't think you'll find this sort of terminology used anywhere else in the Bible to describe rain, and you'll notice that in fact, the word "rain" isn't used much here at all. Thematically, this story is a reversal of the act of creation in chapter one, and while there we saw God creating a space separating waters above and below, now he allows this space holding the waters back to collapse in on itself. Waters rush in on the world, both pouring down from the sky and gushing up from the ground. I once heard someone protest that the amount of water it would take to flood the earth would take more than 40 days worth of rain, and I think they're right; but this is more than rain.

The SAB asks the question about how long the flood lasted. I think there is some ambiguity, but not in the verses cited. The 40 days is the amount of time that it was actually raining and the waters were rising. The remainder of the 150 days is a time frame in which the water was not apparently doing anything, and the remaining time after these 150 days was a period of drying we'll get to in the next chapter.

Not being a geologist, I can't address the geological record, but I think I can address the matter of the supposedly surviving Nephilim. The fact is, even though the passage in Numbers 13 uses the same word, there is no reason to believe these are the same people as existed before the flood. In fact, they may be giants that have nothing to do with anything supernatural. The fact that this race of giant men was wiped out in the flood does not preclude the possibility that giants could someday arise again, nor that the Hebrew scouts might not be exaggerating, for that matter. It's rather unfortunate but true that whatever reason God had for causing the flood, the beneficial effects were only temporary.

(Edited to add on Sep. 8) I was too busy on the seventh to post, but being a much faster reader than typist, I did read the article linked to at the bottom of the SAB's chapter seven, Common Sense and Noah's Flood. As a skeptic who's writing a bit more at leisure than I am in trying to make a post a day and hoping for some progress through the book, the author really gets into a lot of the details that I couldn't fully delve into, and he's right about so many of them. You have to ask yourself exactly how high were those mountains that were covered with water, and how much water it would take, where would it come from, and (a question I don't think he considered, since the thought of so much water existing in the first place seemed to ludicrous to him) where exactly did it go when the flood was over? As he puts it, "{God} chose to have a man build a boat that had to be miraculously stocked with animal life and then miraculously sustained through a miraculous flood of thousands of inches of miraculously produced rain supplemented by miraculously emptied 'fountains of the deep.'" Although I don't agree 100% with all his analysis, I also don't think you can get around this conclusion. The flood is either a myth, or it's a large-scale complicated miracle on God's part. Take your pick according to your own beliefs.


Anonymous said...

Brucker: "The flood is either a myth, or it's a large-scale complicated miracle on God's part. Take your pick according to your own beliefs."

Which do you think it was, Brucker?

Brucker said...

Honestly, I have no great reason to pick one or the other. I'm inclined toward "complicated miracle" since my approach towards tohe Bible tends towards "It means what it says unless you have good reason to believe otherwise," and in the case of the miraculous, it's usually acceptable that God may have intervened however He felt neccessary.

The story of the flood as a whole is also a rich metaphor for a number of things, such as baptism, resurrection, salvation, and probably a numbero of other things I've not thought of. Of course, being a metaphor does not preclude something being a true story. All the stories I shared here were true, but I felt they were excellent metaphors.

Anonymous said...

Considering that 70.8% of the earth's surface is covered with water, the tallest mountain is shorter than the deepest trench in the ocean and also that we know nothing of Pre-diluvian earth's topology it is silly to say that a world wide flood is purely impossable. It is likely that "Pangea" (pre-flood land mass) had no extreamly tall mountains.

Brucker said...

You've got a good point, but at the same time, there are some other problems with that theory. Actually, I thought I had written about it in my other blog, but it turns out it was a draft that I never posted.

The problem with saying that things were so markedly different at the time of the flood without appealing to the miraculous is that we need a kind of accelerated natural history for which there is little support.

In my unpublished post (if I publish it at a later date, it will have the tag "Noah" on it) I talk about how assuming a smaller number of species on the ark than now exist needs an appeal to a super-charged sort of evolution. Did Noah carry two each of about 3,000 species of snake on the ark, or are all those snakes evolved from just a small number (maybe even just two) of snakes Noah had? Either one presents its own set of problems.

As for geological problems, what you're suggesting is that the earth as we know it is particularly different from Noah's earth; specifically that Noah's earth was essentially "flatter" than ours. Now, I can accept that to some degree, but I have to question how it came to be that a mere 4,000 years (actually considerably less time than that) was sufficient to make the continents the shape that they currently are.

Getting from Pangea to our current continents in a short time requires yet again some rather exremely miraculous movement of land masses. Could God do it? Sure! But it may raise more questions than it answers.