Part I: The Extent of the Flood
The Extent of the Flood
THIS chapter we consider two relevant issues: (1) the significance
of Flood Traditions found in every part of the world, and (2)
the reasons why an ark should be built and animals preserved
in it if the Flood was geographically limited, when migration
would seem a preferable alternative.
of World-Wide Flood Traditions
among the nations and tribes of the world are the traditions
of a Flood that a treatment of such a theme in so small a compass
is likely to suffer from two rather serious faults. It may be
uninteresting because it approaches too closely to being a mere
catalog, or it may be rather superficial and more akin to newspaper
reporting because of an over-emphasis on unusual features of
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What I propose to do here is to
discuss some of the more surprising common factors in these traditions
and then to show that many of them, in spite of their diversity,
are concordant if the account given in the biblical record is
taken to be the true one. As far as I am aware, these stories
all differ from the biblical tradition in one particular, namely,
that in each one of them the ark comes to rest upon a mountain
of local importance to the people who possess the tradition.
In view of the fact that the Hebrew people were concerned primarily
with Palestine and only exceedingly remotely with Armenia, it
is an evidence of the truthfulness of their own account that
the ark landed outside their own country -- indeed, in a land
very far removed from their interests.
is a curious fact that whenever close parallels have been found
among pagan peoples of biblical stories, there has been an immediate
temptation to exclaim, "Ah, this is where the Hebrews got
their story!" It seems there is some kind of law that the
borrowing is always on their side. The idea that the Hebrew record
could provide us with the original seems to be considered unreasonable.
Accordingly, when the Flood traditions were first discovered
in the cuneiform literature, it was immediately assumed that
the Hebrews had borrowed the account.
However, there are some remarkable
differences between the biblical record and these others from
the Middle East that clearly refer to the same event. The language
of Genesis contains none of the polytheistic elements of the
others. It is sane and sober -- even matter-of-fact. The Cuneiform
accounts speak of the gods crying like frightened children and
afterwards buzzing around "Noah's" sacrifice like hungry
flies.(5) The biblical
account pictures a vessel without a helmsman or steering equipment.
It is not difficult to think of such a vessel preceding one equipped
with the means of steering it, but it seems very unlikely that
an ark which had these refinements would in a borrowed account
become an ark without them. Other things being equal, the details
of second-hand traditions are usually embellished -- not simplified.
Now the common
factors of these traditions may be considered briefly under three
general headings: first, the cause and effect of the Flood; second,
the fact that a favored few escaped; third, the method of their
The Doorway Paper which follows
this one is devoted to a more extensive examination of the Flood
traditions of the world. In that paper a list of sources is provided
in which may be found either the full details or at least the
essentials of such traditions. For our purposes here, we must
be content with something in the nature of a very brief summary.
To begin with, it may be said that
these traditions are found among cultured and primitive people
alike, the remarkable degree of concordance being evidence of
the importance attached to the story. Only in one or two cases
do we not find a tradition among such people of the subsequent
Confusion of Language and Dispersion of Mankind. This means in
effect that the last catastrophic event
5. Lines 114-117 and 161, 162 of the seventh-century
B.C. Nineveh Tablet as given by George Barton, in his Archaeology
and the Bible, American Sunday School Union, Philadelphia,
1933, pp. 337-338.
involving the whole
human race was the Flood, since it is the last recollection
shared by all nations alike. It would seem that to most of these
nations the Dispersion was not comparable at all in terms of
its effect upon their national history. None of them have any
recollection of such events as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,
the next such dramatic judgment in Scripture. It appears, therefore,
that these nations had left the Cradle of Civilization before
this event took place.
Traditions of the Flood are found
in Africa, North and South America, China, Oceania, Australia,
Burma, India, throughout the Middle East, among the Greeks, the
Persians, in Asia Minor, in Europe, Scandinavia, Lapland, Russia,
Wales, among the Druids -- indeed, there is scarcely a people
known without them. A tradition is found even in Egypt.(6) This may not seem surprising
until it is remembered that to the Egyptians the annual flooding
of the Nile is absolutely vital to the survival of the country:
to conceive of a flood of water as coming upon mankind as a punishment
would be difficult for them. Consequently, the cause of the Flood
in their story was, like the biblical one, man's wickedness,
but it was not a flood of water.
Their story tells how the great
god Rha once assembled the other gods and said, "Behold
the men that you have begotten by me, they utter words against
me; tell me what you would do in such a case. Behold, I have
waited and not slain them before listening to your words."
The reply was, "Let thy face
permit it, and let those men who devise such wicked things be
smitten and let none of them remain."
A goddess named Hathor then went
down and began to slaughter men upon the earth, and for many
nights Sechet trod with his feet in their blood even to the city
of Heracleopolis. The anger of Rha was then appeased by an offering
comprised of 7,000 pitchers of liquor made from a fruit mixed
with human blood.
Rha came to examine the vases and
said, "It is well: I shall protect men because of this.
I lift up my hand in regard to this and declare that I shall
no more slay mankind."
In the middle of the night he commanded
the vases to be over turned, and the result was a
6. For the details of this particular tradition,
see John Urquhart, "The Testimony of Traditions Of the Flood,"
in Bible League Quarterly, September, 1937, p. 119. Josephus
(Antiquities of the Jews, I,3) refers to the Egyptian
tradition as being recorded by Hieronymus, an Egyptian,
but gives no details. J. H Titcomb ["Ethnic Testimonies
to the Pentateuch," Transactions of the Victorian Institute,
vol. 6, 1872, p.241] points out that "the water god"
of Egypt was named No, which he suggests is the
word Noah in a variant form.
flood, which in accordance
with Egyptian experience was regarded as a sign of favour.
The Australian aborigines -- like
the Greeks, Hawaiians, the Pimas of Northern Mexico, and many
other peoples -- refer to the wickedness of man as the cause
of the judgment. In quite a few of these traditions it is not
only that rain swelled local rivers, but sometimes that water
came up over the earth to magnify the Flood. The Hawaiian story
says that long after the time of Kumukonna, the first man, the
earth became wicked and careless of the worship of the gods.
One man alone was righteous, and his name was Nu-u. In this story
it is stated that the waters came up over the land. To an island
people this would possibly seem the only way that a destruction
by water could be effected. Subsequently Nu-u mistook the moon
for the god and was rebuked for worshipping it, but excused because
it was a mistake. The god, as a token of his forgiveness, left
the rainbow behind when he went into the sky.
A Fiji Island legend states that
the cause of the Flood was the killing of a favorite bird of
the god Mdengei,
by his two evil grandsons. A small remnant of the race was saved
-- numbering, according to the legend, eight persons -- in a
vessel which finally grounded in the district of Mbenga. Hence
the Mbenga claimed to stand first in Fiji rank.
An East Indies legend says that
the god Vishnu warned one of his worshipers of a Flood about
to come and advised him to take "all kinds of useful vegetables"
and to embark with the Seven Rishis and with his wife and their
wives in a "great ship marvelously built". It is true
in this story that the total number of persons is sixteen nevertheless,
emphasis is laid on the number of males, which totaled eight.
The Druid tradition is complex.
The judgment began with a great fire (lightning?) which split
the earth asunder so that Lake Llion burst its bounds and contributed
its waters to the waves of the sea which swept over the earth
and destroyed all except a certain patriarch who was shut up
together with a select company in an enclosure with a strong
The Toltecs have a story recorded
by a native historian of Mexico, Ixtlalxochitl, in which it is
stated that the highest mountains were submerged to the depth
of fifteen cubits (caxtolmotli). It is possible that some elements
of this story may have been borrowed from European sources through
the Spaniards -- but this is by no means certain.
to the depth of water, some of these accounts have details which
are quite amusing, yet which undoubtedly are seriously intended
to emphasize the magnitude of the event. The Crees of Manitoba
tell of a universal deluge caused by an attempt of the fish to
drown Woesachootchacht, a kind of demigod, with whom they had
quarreled. Having constructed a raft, he embarked with his family
and all kinds of birds and beasts. After the Flood had continued
for some time, he ordered several water fowl to dive to the bottom.
The waters were so deep that the obedient birds all drowned.
But a muskrat, having been dispatched on the same errand, was
more successful and returned with a mouthful of mud.
In a court of law it is often held
that a contradictory witness which can be logically reconciled
by taking account of the cause of the contradiction is more valuable
than ordinary supporting evidence. The fact is that truth is
rather easily distorted, so that some disharmony is only to be
expected; deliberate liars seek to make their testimony consistent
by collusion, and such collusion is usually very evident. In
the East Indies story there is an interesting illustration of
this kind of testimony. It is true that sixteen people were saved,
a detail which contradicts the story in Genesis. However, to
the Hindu, women folk hold a very insignificant place in society.
Recollecting that eight souls were saved, they would very probably
take it for granted that these eight souls were males. But it
would be no good to save them without wives and so the number
is swelled to sixteen quite naturally. This, then, proves to
be an instance of a contradictory testimony that is more valuable
than a direct one.
In the Druid tradition, the strong
door can surely be none other than the door which God shut (Genesis
7:16), "which no man openeth" (Revelation 3:7). impregnable,
in fact, by reason of Him who shut it.
In the Cree story, the first attempt
to find land -- in this case at the bottom -- was not successful,
though a bird was used as in Noah's case. It must have occurred
to the Crees that what the birds could not do, a muskrat could.
Noah's second attempt was likewise successful. It is easy to
see how the real situation became confused and was given a local
coloring as in the American Indian story.
These are all illustrations of
the manner in which the original account, because it is the true
one, serves to explain the differences in the later traditions.
We have also mentioned that these
traditions differ from Genesis in one important respect, namely,
the location of the grounding of the vessel. For example, the
Andaman Islanders say that the
survivors landed on a
local mountain named Wotaemi. The Menangkalan natives of Sumatra
have a tradition that "Noah" landed on their Mount
Marapi. The Pimas say that Szenkha, the son of the creator, saved
himself by floating on a ball of resin and that when the waters
receded, he landed near the mouth of the Salt River. The Phrygians
say that the ark landed at the city of Apamaea, and they still
point to the actual spot! In the Greek legend of Deucalian, the
hero and his wife landed on Mount Parnassus.
We see, therefore, that these stories
quite consistently give details about the moral causes of the
Flood as well as its physical causes. They mention the construction
of some kind of vessel and in many cases state that animals were
taken on board also. The form of the vessel is given in terms
which are meaningful to the local residents and, with understandable
national conceit, the home country was the favoured landing place.
There are one or two observations
which may be made at this point regarding these traditions. First
of all, they do not demonstrate that the Flood was world-wide
in the geographical sense, though this claim has often been made
for them. If such were really the case, it would mean that in
every part of the world there were a few local survivors who
originated the local traditions -- in which case the biblical
story is in error in claiming that only one family actually escaped:
and so are all the other traditions that make this claim! This
brings us to a second observation. Not one of these traditions
puts the scene of the catastrophe in some other part of the world
as an event far removed from them in which they themselves did
not share, but of which they had knowledge. This can only mean
that there was but one single Flood and all mankind was involved
in it, for they are evidently referring to the same event in
which their own forebears were involved.
Why Noah Did Not Simply Migrate
It is sometimes
argued that the Flood must have been worldwide or God would merely
have advised Noah to migrate beyond its geographic limits. At
first sight this seems a reasonable argument. Moreover, animals
and birds could surely have migrated under God s direction by
themselves, thus sparing Noah and his family a great deal of
There are several responses to these
points. To begin with, God intended to exterminate the whole
race except for Noah and his family -- but not without fair warning.
The labour of Noah in
constructing the ark was to serve as a continuing and forceful testimony
against the rest of mankind, who in spite of the magnitude of
the undertaking evidently paid no attention to it. The New Testament
makes it clear that they deliberately ignored this warning and
were therefore without excuse. Suppose that Noah had been led
to believe that the Flood was comparatively local and could be
avoided by migration. He could have declared his reasons for
leaving the community and then, taking his family and his animals
with him, shaken the dust of the land off his feet as a testimony
against them and disappeared. Moreover, any who were merely frightened
could rather easily have packed up and gone with them, rather
like the "mixed multitude" who joined themselves to
the Hebrews in the Exodus. The rest of the population who were
evidently very busy in marrying and giving in marriage would
not pay too much attention to the sudden disappearance of a single
We are dealing with a real situation
here, with real people, and apparently with a community that
did not have to work very hard to survive. In every such group
there are always some who don't work, who can find nothing useful
to do, and who somehow manage to live without accumulating anything
and without any fixed abode or permanent home. These would be
just the people who would "decide to go along, too."
It would require real energy and faith to follow Noah's example
and build other arks, but it would have required neither of these
to pack up a few things and migrate. There is nothing that Noah
could have done to stop them except by disappearing secretly.
Such a departure could hardly act as the kind of warning that
the deliberate construction of the ark must have done. And the
inspiration for this undertaking was given to Noah by leaving
him in ignorance of the exact limits of the Flood. He was assured
that all mankind would be destroyed, and he probably supposed
that the Flood would therefore be universal. This supposition
may have been essential for him.
It is doubtful whether God could
have chosen a more effective way of making sure that while everyone
was warned, no one who believed the message need be lost. But
this is true only if the existing population of the earth was
small enough in numbers or confined enough in settlement to hear
about the undertaking. With such a task to be completed as soon
as possible, it is highly improbable that Noah could afford the
time for a kind of evangelistic campaign, visiting and warning
communities scattered far and wide over the earth's surface.
If people were living at that time in Europe and Far
East and, which is worse,
in the New World, it is exceedingly doubtful whether they could
ever have heard his message. The very method by which God forewarned
men implies a situation in which the population of the world
was still fairly well congregated.
Suppose Noah had gone on an evangelistic
campaign: by what sign could he have convinced them? Merely to
mention that his family at home was constructing an ark would
hardly have carried much weight. In other words, the building
of the ark was a testimony only to those who could actually see
it or have first hand knowledge of it. People can hardly have
been scattered to the ends of the earth if this was to be a testimony
The actual period of time allotted for the
building of the ark is probably not given, but certainly it was sufficient
only for the completion of the ark and did not allow time for visiting
other parts of the world to give warning. In Genesis 6:3 God says, "My
spirit shall not always strive with man for that he also is flesh; yet
his days shall be 120 years". This passage has been taken by many
commentators to mean that God allowed the world that then was 120 years
of grace before bringing judgment upon it, during which time Noah was
building the ark. There is, however, an entirely different meaning that
can be attached to these words, namely, that because of his great longevity
man had become altogether too wicked and that therefore from this time
on the normal life span should be reduced to a period of 120 years. In
I Peter 3:20 the statement is made that God, in His long-suffering, waited
in the days of Noah while the ark was being completed, and this has been
taken by some to be a reference to the 120-year interval. This might be
so. However, the Hebrew of Genesis 6:3 is probably more accurately rendered
as the Revised Standard Version has it, "My spirit shall not abide
in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be 120 years."
I think the Hebrew supports this translation, and I would only suggest
that the words "for ever" could even better be rendered "for
so long." There is considerable question as to whether the Hebrew
word ('olam) really means "for ever" or
"indefinitely," a long period of time of unspecified duration. It
may then be asked, If the Flood was geographically limited, why was Noah
required to take animals on board?
There is much
evidence to show that the domestication of animals was first
undertaken somewhere in this general area. Assuming that such
species as had been domesticated in the centuries between Adam
and Noah were confined to the areas settled by man and had not
spread beyond this, any Flood
which destroyed man would
also wipe out these animals. The process of domestication would
then have to be begun all over again and probably under far less
We have already considered the
reasons why the migration of Noah was not suitable for God's
purposes. It is almost certain that domesticated animals could
not have migrated alone. Although such animals do turn wild upon
occasion, they survive in this state only when they are not subjected
to predators -- and in the world outside of human settlements
at that time, such predators were probably numerous. Domesticated
sheep, cattle, pigs, fowl, goats, perhaps camels, and possibly
asses -- to mention only the more common ones -- might not have
fared too well in a natural environment still quite outside man's
control. For this reason, if for no other, some animals at least
would have to be taken on board -- but these were probably of
the domesticated varieties.
There were only four men in the
ark. These men represented the crew. They did not have sails
or other ship's gear to attend to, but they did have animals
to care for. Any farmer would tell you that thirty or forty head
of cattle requiring feeding, watering, and cleaning out daily
could occupy considerable time. The record states that there
would be seven pairs of each of the clean animals; this means
fourteen head of every clean species. Besides this there were
to be two of all the others, however many this may have been.
Even if there were only two species of clean animals (e.g., sheep
and cows) this would mean quite a bit of work.
Many commentators have calculated
the size of the ark and the total number of species in the world,
and spoken freely of its capacity to carry them. What they do
not always remember is that such animals need attention and food,
the carnivorous ones (if they existed as such) requiring meat
which would have to be stored up for one whole year. In any case,
a sufficient supply of water for drinking would probably have
to be taken on board since the mingling of the waters in a world-wide
Flood would presumably render it unfit to drink. While the use
of imagination is sometimes considered to be a presumptuous exercise
of unbelief, it is rather difficult to visualize a Flood of world-wide
proportions but with so little turbulence that four men (perhaps
helped by their womenfolk) were able to care for such a flock.
It would take very little unsteadiness to make the larger animals
almost unmanageable. It becomes even more difficult to conceive
how proper provision could have been made for many animals which
spend much of their time in the water, such as crocodiles and
dimensions of the ark are given in Genesis as 300 cubits
long, 50 cubits across, and 30 cubits deep. This is generally
interpreted as meaning that the vessel was 450 feet by 75 feet
by 45 feet. This is an immense structure. It may be that the
ark really was of such proportions: but it may also be that the
terms of measurement are no longer correctly known. The
cubit may not at this early period have been equal to eighteen
inches. I think anyone who tries to visualize the construction
of a vessel 450 feet long by four men will realize that the size
of the timbers alone for a "building" 45 feet high
(analogous to a four-story apartment building) would seem by
their sheer massiveness to be beyond the powers of four men to
handle. With all the means later at their disposal, subsequent
builders for four thousand years constructed seaworthy vessels
that seldom seem to have exceeded 150 to 200 feet at the most.
The Queen Mary has a total length of 1,018 feet, which is not
very much more than twice the length of the ark. It was not until
1884 apparently that a vessel, the Eturia, a Cunard liner, was
built with a length exceeding that of the ark. It would have
to be a very solidly constructed ship for its decks to carry
such a load as two elephants, for example, weighing four to five
I should not like these observations
to be interpreted as a criticism of Genesis, in which I have
complete confidence. They are intended to give a proper perspective:
to me, they suggest that the figures for the dimensions of the
ark are not at present correctly understood.
Or to make a long story short,
the size of the animal cargo and the nature of the animals which
constituted it must be determined to a large extent by the size
of the crew which had to care for them, not merely by the size
of the ark. This crew numbered eight, i.e., no more than the
number of adults necessary to run many a farm where the animals
in large part care for themselves. They certainly could not have
cared for tens of thousands of species, even if they could have
gotten them on board -- and even if the average size of all animals
is only that of a small cat as has been estimated, I believe.
It is not a question of size at all, but of numbers to be looked
after, of mouths to be fed.
I am saying in effect that the
animals which God brought to Noah were not crocodiles and polar
bears and lions and such creatures but only those which had become
essential to man in his conquest of nature, or which had become
companions, such as cats and dogs. It would surely not be incredible
that God should take
it upon Himself to bring to Noah also such other creatures whose
habitat was to be threatened and who, not yet having spread elsewhere,
would otherwise be brought to extinction. Moreover, God had brought
animals to Adam for an express purpose (Genesis 2:19). There
is an established precedent, therefore, for this kind of action
on God's part.
Yet, for all this, one still wonders
why birds should have been included. Here again there is evidence
that some of these needed to be preserved by being taken into
the ark. To begin with, unless they had left the area before
the Flood began, it is unlikely they could have made their escape
once the torrential rains had come. Forced to land, whether in
trees or on the ground, they could not long have survived the
downpour. Nevertheless we are making two assumptions here. First,
there were some species of birds limited to this one geographic
area; second, in some way these particular species were essential
to the economy of nature, or to man, and were therefore to be
preserved as God saw fit.
That such might be the case with
birds may seem at first very unlikely. But according to one authority
at least, it could well be so. Hugh Miller has quite an extended
statement in this connection:(7)
The grouse is so extensively
present over the Northern hemisphere that Siberia, Norway, Iceland
and North America all have their grouse; yet so constricted are
some of the species that were the British Isles to be submerged,
one of the best known of the family, the Red Grouse, or Moorfowl,
would disappear from creation.
This bird, which rated at its money
value is one of the most important in Europe . . . is exclusively
a British bird: and unless by miracle a new migratory instinct
were given it, a complete submergence of the British Isles would
secure its destruction. If the submersion amounted to but a few
hundred miles in lateral extent, the Moorfowl would certainly
not seek the distant uninundated land. Nor is it at all to be
inferred that in a merely local widespread deluge birds occupying
more extensive areas than that overspread by the Flood would
speedily replenish the inundated tract as soon as the waters
Up till about the middle of the
last century [8th c. at the time of writing] the Capercailzie
was a native of Scotland. It was exterminated about the time
of the last Rebellion, or not long after . . . and from that
time the species disappeared from the British Isles. And though
it continued to exist in Norway, it did not replenish the tracts
from which it had been extirpated. The late Marquis of Breadalbane
was at no small cost and trouble in re-introducing the species,
and to some extent he succeeded; but the Capercailzie is, I understand,
still restricted to the Breadalbane Woods.
7. Miller, Hugh, The Testimony of the Rocks,
Shepherd and Elliott, Edinburgh, 1857, p. 293.
I have seen the Golden Eagle annihilated
as a species in more than one district of the North of Scotland;
nor, though it still exists in other parts of the Kingdom and
is comparatively common in the Mountains of Norway, have
I known it in any instance to spread anew over the tracts from
which it had been extirpated.
Since Hugh Miller
was writing one hundred years ago , it is possible that
his remarks would no longer be true. Some of these birds may
have finally returned. Nevertheless it is clear that such birds
as grouse, capercailzie, and eagles evidently can be driven out
of an area and will not return to it easily as one might suppose.
Animals move slowly enough into new territory, but one always
imagines that birds know no such restraints. Yet apparently they
To give one more illustration,
Miller has this to say about the raven: (8)
The raven seems restricted to
the Northern Hemisphere . . . and when extirpated in a district,
it is found that, as in the case of the Capercailzie and the
Golden Eagle, the neighbouring region in which the ravens continue
to exist fail for ages to furnish a fresh supply. There are counties
in England in which the raven is now never seen, and I am acquainted
with a district in the North of Scotland from which when a pair
that were known to breed for more than a century in a tall cliff
were destroyed by the fowler, the species disappeared.
from the implications of Hugh Miller's remarks, there are two
other considerations. First of all, it is quite possible that
certain fowl had been domesticated and were providing part of
man's food requirements. But there is a second possibility that
should not be altogether discounted. Many primitive people use
birds for navigation purposes, and it happens that the two types
most frequently used are the raven and the pigeon. Both these
birds have long been found in close association with human settlements,
and the history of early navigation could not be written without
reference to the use of these animals. It was customary to take
on board a certain number of birds of either kind which, once
the vessel was some distance out to sea and out of sight of land,
were released one at a time. Some of these birds -- the pigeon
variety in particular -- would head directly back home, thus
giving the mariner a proper sense of direction. This was particularly
important when the sun was not visible and prior to the use of
the magnetic compass. The raven type was often used to locate
land other than the point of departure: If no land was sufficiently
nearby, the birds would return to
8. 1bid., p. 296.
the ship and would be
released later only after traveling some further distance. According
to James Hornell, this system was used by the Vikings in the
re-discovery of Iceland in A.D. 874. (9)
Saga of Floki, the second Scandinavian to visit Iceland, there
is a gloss dating from the time when the Saga was first committed
to writing about 1225 in which it is mentioned that Floki before
setting sail to re-discover the Island had performed a great
sacrifice and had consecrated three ravens to the gods, which
he had then taken on board his ship in order to serve as guides
on the voyage. After he had voyaged westward for several days
without sighting land, he liberated at intervals the three ravens,
one at a time: the first flew back to Norway, the second returned
to the ship, but the third flew ahead and did not return. He
proceeded onwards in the wake of the third raven, duly making
a landfall on the southeast coast of Iceland in 874.
were carried on board to be used on the return trip in a similar
way. The Polynesians used much the same method to re-locate comparatively
small islands in the vast Pacific. However, the latter also noted
the flight patterns of other birds without actually taking them
If our interpretation of pre-Flood
history is correct, there can have been very little if any open
water navigation until Noah's family subsequently spread to other
areas. In a sense Noah was instituting a new method of finding
one's way out of sight of land. Certainly the use of these birds
by this very ancient mariner is not without parallel in other
parts of the world, though it probably was the first instance.
While these explanations of why
birds were included in the cargo will not satisfy those who have
visualized thousands of them flocking into the ark to escape
destruction, it could still be strong confirmation of Noah's
use of them as described in Genesis 8:6-11.
One is apt to suppose that animals
roam far and wide at will finding very little hindrance to their
freedom of movement, and that an area devastated by such a flood
would quickly be taken over once more by the animals from surrounding
country. This is apparently an illusion. Even apart from natural
barriers such as rivers, animal species tend to establish territorial
rights which they neither desert for other territories, except
under very unusual circumstances, nor permit other species to
invade. The boundaries of these territories are found, at times,
to be remarkably clearly defined. Such territorial rights are
claimed both by birds and land animals. This may account in part
for the fact that after an area is devastated, it is apt to remain
deserted for a surprisingly long time while life teems all around.
9. Hornell, James, "The Role of Birds
in Early Navigation" in Antiquity, vol.20, 1946,
It is quite obvious that some territories are determined
by temperature -- the Arctic regions or
deserts, for example. Consequently it is difficult to conceive
how creatures accustomed to these very well-defined climatic
conditions could pass through great stretches of country with
entirely different environmental conditions as they made their
way to the ark. Yet this would be necessary if the Flood was
world-wide. Desert lizards from Central America, polar bears
from the Arctic, kangaroos from Australia, and giraffes from
Africa would all have to make their way over thousands of miles
of unfamiliar territory, and in one case by sea, to Asia Minor,
where the environmental conditions might very well be "unsuitable"
for any of them. Multiply this circumstance to cover thousands
of creatures who are so small that the journey could only be
completed by about the tenth or even the twentieth generation
descending from those who began it, and one gets a fair idea
of the miraculous supervision required to assemble a crew sufficient
to preserve every species from a global Flood.
There are so many problems in such
a view which have been overlooked. One reads of the speed achieved
by certain animals such as deer and antelope and imagines accordingly
that they could easily make the trip. But this disregards one
important fact, namely, that such creatures are herbivorous.
The importance of this observation is that these animals must
spend an enormous amount of time browsing in order to gain enough
energy for ordinary living. In some cases this may even amount
to 80 percent of their waking hours. Such a circumstance leaves
them little time for making long journeys through unfamiliar
territory, and it accounts for the fact that a man can outrun
a horse -- given time -- as has been demonstrated on many occasions.
In spite of its strength the horse must stop to eat far more
frequently than the man who eats meat. Furthermore, the diet
of many species is limited to the food supplied by their own
natural environment. Thus polar bears cannot afford to be too
far away from the water which supplies them with their food.
These are "objections,"
but not insuperable difficulties if one is prepared to allow
the operation of sufficient miracle. But in the total situation
the miraculous element would seem to be unnecessarily great if
this is what happened. Moreover, remarkably small barriers to
the movement of animal life can be decisive. As E. O. Dodson
has put it, "Even a very small amount of salt water is a
nearly absolute barrier to amphibians". Similarly he remarks,
"Large bodies of water are among the most effective
barriers to land birds.
The Amazon River seems to be an absolute barrier to many of them.
. . ." (10) He
points out also that two species of mice will sometimes dwell
on opposite sides of a quite small river, unable to get across.
Even fish life would suffer in
a universal catastrophe. The mingling of the salt and fresh water
could be fatal to many of them. In a universal deluge without
special miracle, vast numbers of salt water animals could not
fail to be exterminated: in particular, almost all the molluscs
of the littoral and laminarian zones. Nor would the plant kingdom
fare much better than the animal one. Of the 100,000 species
of better-known plants, few indeed would survive submersion for
a year, and the seeds of most of the others would fare little
better than the plants themselves, according to Hugh Miller.
The difficulties involved in getting
the animals back to their native habitats after the Flood was
over must also be considered. With the longer-lived animals this
might not be serious from one point of view, but with short-lived
creatures whose breeding cycle might be completed within the
ark itself, the young would have to make the long trip in a very
immature state -- unless one postulates a further miracle, namely,
the suspension of breeding instincts during the period in the
Some of these problems have been
recognized from very early times. For example, this is what Augustine
had to say on the matter (11)
But there is a question about
all these kinds of beasts, which are neither tamed by man, nor
sprung from the earth like frogs, such as wolves and others of
that sort . . . as to how they could find their way to the islands
after that Flood which destroyed every living thing not preserved
in the Ark. . . .
Some, indeed, might be thought to reach
islands by swimming, in case they were very near; but some islands
are so remote from continental lands that it does not seem possible
that any creature could reach them by swimming.
adds that possibly man might have conveyed some of them for the
pleasure of hunting them subsequently. He also suggests that
the transfer could have been accomplished through the agency
of angels! But one could hardly account for the transfer of creatures
which are not hunted by man and are not pets -- nor for some
of the larger animals which are found in Australia and New Zealand,
such as the ostrich.
10. Dodson, E. O., A Textbook of Evolution,
Saunders, Philadelphia, 1952, p.316.
11. Augustine, City of God, XVI, 7.
As has frequently been observed, in certain areas
(Australia, for example) there is a continuity in form between
the animals now existing and those found as fossils in the rocks,
and this applies to some species which are unique to that area,
such as the marsupials. the significance of this is that these
creatures, if the Flood was world-wide, must have crossed the
ocean and made a land journey covering thousands of miles to
reach the ark only to return later, reversing the sequence and
finally swimming home in order to preserve the continuity between
the fossils and the living forms peculiar to the area.
then, it seems that the extent of miracle required to preserve
life as we find it in its present distribution, against the destructive
forces of a world-wide Flood, would be quite incommensurate with
the purpose God had in mind. This is particularly true in view
of the fact that no mention whatever is made of a subsequent
re-creation of living forms, especially plant life, which would
probably, at least in some instances, be necessary for the preservation
of the new natural communities established by the pairs of animals
arriving once more in their devastated homeland.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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