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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part II:  Flood Traditions

Chapter 1

The Nature of the Traditions

     HERE ARE two Flood stories which are surely not borrowed from the Bible. They have a certain quality about them which is characteristic of so many of these native traditions. There are elements in them which dimly reflect the same event, though the details have become misty through the intervening centuries. Only the basic fact remains. James C. Prichard records the story as told by the natives of the Leeward Islands. (1)

     Soon after the peopling of the world, the god Ruhatu was reposing in his coralline groves in the depths of the ocean. The waters about this area were sacred and fishing was taboo, but a certain fisherman, disregarding the fact, lowered his line till the hook became entangled in the hair of the sleeping god. He tried very hard to draw it up again, but succeeded only in arousing the god from his slumbers. Ruhatu appeared at the surface and upbraided him for his impiety, declaring that all mankind was equally impious and that therefore the whole land would be destroyed.
     The frightened fisherman implored forgiveness and, moved by his prayer, Ruhatu told him to go at once with his wife and family to a small island called Toa-marama. There he would find safe refuge. The man obeyed and took with him not only his wife and family but, it is generally said, a friend also, along with a dog, a pig, and two fowl. They no sooner reached the place of refuge than the waters began to rise, driving the nhabitants from their dwellings

1. Prichard, James C., Researches into the Physical History of Mankind, Houlston and Stoneman, London, no date., vol.5, p.116.

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and gradually increasing until in the morning only the tops of the mountains appeared. These, too, were soon covered and all people perished. When the waters subsided again, the fisherman and his family took up their abode
on the mainland and became the progenitors of the world's present inhabitants.

     Here is another story. The primitive inhabitants of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal also have an account of the Flood. (2)

     Sometime after they had been created, men grew disobedient and disregarded the commands which the Creator
had given them. In anger he sent a great flood which covered everything except Saddle Peak, where the Creator
himself resided.
     Every living creature, man and animal, perished in the water save for two men and two women who happened at the time to be in a canoe and contrived to escape with their lives. When at last the waters sank, the little company landed but found themselves in a sad plight, since all other living creatures were drowned. However, the Creator, whose name was Pulga, kindly helped them by creating animals and birds afresh for their use. Yet the difficulty remained of lighting a fire, for the flood had extinguished every fire on every hearth and everything was very damp.
     Whereupon, the ghost of one of their friends who had been drowned in the deluge, seeing their distress, flew in the form of a kingfisher into the sky, where he found the Creator seated beside his fire. Here he tried to grab a burning brand, hoping to carry it off in his beak for his friends on earth. But in his haste he dropped it on the august person of the Creator himself, who was greatly incensed at the indignity and, smarting with pain, hurled the blazing brand at the bird. It missed its mark and, whizzing past him, dropped plumb from the sky at the very spot where the four people were seated moaning and shivering. That is how mankind received the use of fire after the Great Flood. Subsequently the Creator condescended to explain to them that men had brought the Great Flood upon themselves by willful disobedience to his commands. That was the last time that the Creator ever appeared to men to converse with them face

2. Frazer, James G., Folklore in the Old Testament, Macmillan, London, 1919, vol.1, p.233.

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to face. Since then the Andaman Islanders have never seen him, but they still live in fear of him.

I have chosen these two stories because there is a certain freshness about them and they are clearly set in a context that is completely natural to the environment, both cultural and geographical. They are naive and have none of the down-to-earthness of the true account in Genesis. But they agree in certain basic matters, as do virtually all these stories:

     1. Man brought the Flood upon himself either by his disobedience or because of lack of piety and reverence. The Andaman Islanders' story contains one rather exceptional circumstance in it which is that those who
survived did so largely by accident, just happening to be in a canoe at the time. This is exceptional in that,
to my knowledge, in no other Flood tradition do the survivors escape by chance. In itself this might be
thought sufficient proof that it is, after all, a story recalling a local event unrelated to the biblical Flood. But
the circumstance is exceptional.
     The introduction of a bird into the scenario is not altogether surprising, since from very early times those
who live by the sea have used birds as navigational aids.
     In almost all these stories, with one notable exception (the Flood tradition from Egypt) the catastrophe
comes as a watery judgment. In the great majority of cases, forewarning is given in some way to those who
are destined to survive.

     2. In the biblical story, Noah is warned by revelation in a direct and personal manner. Many tribes feel that God is better able to converse with them indirectly, for example through animals. Thus the Ancasmarca Indians of Peru (3) had a tradition which tells how, about a month before the Flood came, a certain shepherd family noticed that their sheep were very sad, eating no food by day and watching the stars by night. At last their shepherd asked them what ailed them, and they answered that the stars foretold a coming destruction of the world by water. So the shepherd (and presumably his wife, though the story doesn't actually say so) along with his six children took council, gathered together all the food and sheep they could get, and went to the top of a very high mountain called Ancasmarca. They say that as the water rose, the mountain rose still higher so that they were saved. Thus the man and his family escaped and re-populated the land after the Flood.

3. Ibid, p.270. 

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     It is a remarkable fact that animals do sometimes give advanced warning of coming catastrophe by exhibiting uneasiness in various ways. Before the tragic collapse of the great reservoir dam above Longaroni
in Italy, animals apparently were seen leaving the subsequently devastated area as they headed for higher
ground. In the last major earthquake which occurred in Algeria, many people afterward recalled having noted peculiar behaviour on the part of many animals as though they were living in fear. It seems to me not at all impossible that the animals which came to Noah were guided by the same instinct, a form of "inspired knowledge" (as Faber termed it so aptly) as a witness to the law of God written in their "hearts." We shall have occasion to look a little further into the part played by animals in many of these traditions in chapter 2.
     The Pimas of Northern Mexico
(4) relate that a certain prophet was warned by an eagle (a messenger from heaven?) that a deluge was coming: but the prophet laughed at him. A second and a third warning were also unheeded. Not until there came a sudden peal of thunder and a "great green mound of water" raised itself over the plain did he believe the warning, and then it was too late. Only one man, but not the prophet, saved himself by floating on a ball of resin. This man, whose name was Szeukha, turned out to be a "son of the Creator." He subsequently sought out the eagle which had given warning and climbed up a cliff where the eagle resided and found there a great multitude of corpses, mangled and rotting, which had been carried off and devoured. These he raised to life and sent them away to re-people the earth.
      At first sight this story seems only remotely related to the biblical one. But there are at least two features in
it worth noting. Unlike most of the traditions, but like the record in Genesis, we are told that warning was given repeatedly but was unheeded by those who were forewarned. I cannot recall such a circumstance in any of the other stories than this one from the Pimas. The second point of interest is that only one individual escaped, thereby creating a situation which would make it logically impossible for the world to be re-peopled unless
special steps were taken to secure it. It is some reflection upon the practical good sense of many of the native peoples, who have a similar tradition in which only one individual escapes, that they all saw the necessity of

4. Titcomb, J. H., "Ethnic Testimonies to the Pentateuch" in Transactions of the Victorian Institute, 1873, p.236; J. G. Frazer,
ref.2, p.282; and Byron Nelson, The Deluge Story in Stone, Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1933, p.186.

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"making some such special arrangements", for the perpetuation of the race.

     3. This brings us to the third point, namely, that the world was re-populated entirely from the survivors. Sometimes the way in which this is done is highly complicated. The Singphos of Burma say that when the
Flood came, a man named Pawpaw Nan-chaung and his sister Changhko saved themselves in a large boat.
(5) They had with them nine cocks and nine needles. After some days they threw overboard one cock and one needle to see whether the waters were falling. But the cock did not crow and the needle was not heard to strike the bottom. They did the same thing day after day until the ninth day when the last cockerel crew and the last needle was heard to strike on a rock. Very soon the brother and sister were able to leave the boat, and they wandered about until they came to a cave inhabited by a male and a female elf. Soon afterward, the sister gave birth to a child, but the female elf who was a witch (and who used to mind the baby) got very angry whenever the baby cried. One day when the brother and sister were out, the old witch was in such a fury that she ran off with the baby and hewed it to pieces, strewing the bits all over the country round about. When the poor mother came home and heard what had been done, she cried to the Great Spirit to give her back her child and avenge
its death. The Great Spirit appeared to her and said, "I cannot piece your baby together again but instead I will make you the mother of all nations of men".
     And so from one section of the country where the body had been strewn about, the bits and pieces came to life and there sprang up the Shans; from another the Chinese; from others the Burmese; and the Bengalese; and all the races of mankind; and the bereaved mother claimed them all as her children because they all sprang from the scattered fragments of her murdered babe. Is this "scattering" a dim recollection of Genesis 11:8?
     I think it safe to say that virtually all these Flood traditions agree essentially in this too, that the Deluge wiped out the human race, necessitating a new start being made to re-people it. It is difficult, moreover, to look upon these stories as merely recollections of local floods, since no matter how sudden or devastating an ordinary flood may be there are always many families which escape. None of these stories leaves one with the impression that the survivors named subsequently met any other survivors to form a new nucleus for the peopling of the area. They alone escaped in every case.

5. Frazer, J. G., ref.2, p.208. 

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     4. One of the most striking and perhaps best known of the Flood traditions in which an animal plays a prominent part is the tradition from India in which a small fish gives warning. This story is known in several slightly different forms. (6) The hero's name is Manu, who finds a little fish in the water in which he is washing
his hands one day. The little fish appeals to Manu for protection from the large fish who are threatening him
until he grows big enough to defend himself. Manu takes pity on the fish and in due course, when the tiny creature has grown up, he puts him back into the sea. Subsequently, when the fish has become large he warns Manu that because of man's wickedness God is about to destroy mankind. He advises Manu to build a boat.
This Manu does, building it on dry land much as Noah did. When the flood waters lift the ship, the fish calls to Manu to throw a rope over his "horn" -- perhaps a dorsal fin? The fish then tows the ship to safety on a high mountain in the Himalayas.
     Manu is then told to tie the ship to a tree so that it will not float away when the waters recede. In some way as the waters go down, the ship is allowed to settle gradually and Manu himself comes down the mountain. This particular mount is (in one section of it) called "Manu's Descent."
     Once again, special steps had to be taken so that Manu could fill the earth, since all other human beings
had been swept away. The story therefore goes on to say that Manu made a mixture of butter, sour milk,
whey, and curds.
(7) Thence a woman was produced in one year's time. Through her he generated this race
which is the race of Manu. It appears that the word Manu in Sanskrit was the generic term for the human race, i.e., "man".
     Here we have an animal giving warning, as the eagle tried to do in the Pimas' story, and the same creature helping the survivor to a place of safety. As we shall see in chapter 2, various animals have been used to indicate the depth of the water and the condition of the land as the waters recede. In each area of the world an appropriate animal plays its part.

6. Cook, F. C., The Holy Bible According to the Authorized Version with an Explanation and Critical Commentary, vol.I, part I: Genesis and Exodus, Murray, London, 1871, p.74.
7. Wardour, Lord Arundell of, Tradition: The Mythology and the Law of Nations, Burns, Oates, London, 1872, p.228.
8. See Max Muller, Lectures on the Science of Language, first series, Scribner, New York, 1875, p.382

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     Birds are used frequently, and quite often the raven is singled out. The use of birds both in antiquity and in modern times as navigational aids has already been noted. The people who inhabit the Pacific Islands frequently take birds on board and use them to find their direction when the stars are hidden by releasing them and watching which way they fly home. When they are very far out to sea but believe they may be near to land,
they release them with the assurance that they will fly in the direction of land if land is visible to them from the air. If they return to the ship they know, as Noah did, that land is not visible.
     We come, then, to certain other aspects of these traditions.

     5. I think it is a point of real significance that the Hebrew people had a record of the Flood in which the ark landed on a mountain which was a long way from where they were, in a distant country of which the great majority of the people had no firsthand knowledge. This is a quite exceptional circumstance. All other traditions report that the ark landed locally. In Greece on Mount Parnassus; (9) in India the ark landed in the Himalayas; (10) in Central America one story has it landing on Keddie Peak in the Sacramento Valley; (11) and so it goes, everywhere the same, always a local mountain.
     This circumstance surely suggests that here in the Bible we have the genuine account. And it also underscores the great respect which the Hebrew people had for the Word of God and the requirement that they never
tamper with it. It would surely, otherwise, have been most natural for them to land the ark on their most
famous mountain, Mount Zion.

     6. It is hard to know how much importance to attach to the fact that in many parts of the world the account states that seven others survived along with the leader of the party. One of several versions of the Chinese story says that seven others survived with Fo-hi, who became the father of a new race. (12) But there is some reason

9. Nelson, Byron, ref.4, p.171.
10. Wardour, Lord Arundell, ref.7, p.224.
11. Coon, C. S., A Reader in General Anthropology, Holt, New York, 1948, p.281.
12. Doubts about the Chinese account: see J. G. Frazer, ref.2, p.214. Contrast H. Sinclair Paterson, In Defense of the Earlier Scriptures, Shaw, London, 1882, p.296; and Edward McCrady, "Genesis and Pagan Cosmologies" in Transactions of the Victorian Institute, vol.72, 1940, p.68. 

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to doubt whether this particular story really is a tadition of the Great Flood of Noah's time. (We shall return
to this). In Malaysia there are stories which refer to eight survivors.
(13) In all these cases, one has a sneaking suspicion after reading the account that the number of survivors is a detail which has been added -- grafted in,
as it were -- as the result of Christian missionary influence. For example, it is hard to see how Manu needed
to manufacture a wife if -- as one alternative account has it -- there were already seven other women. with
(14) It is therefore a matter only of passing interest, and not to be accounted highly significant, that some of these traditions reflect this detail of the biblical story. Yet many scholars feel strongly otherwise.

     7. We have avoided thus far reference to the various Flood stories which have been discovered in
Cuneiform in the Middle East, where the ark came to rest. There are a number of these, and they are so
well known that no attempt is being made in this paper to deal with them at any length. One of the most
useful volumes for information on this subject is Barton's Archaeology and the Bible, which has gone through
a series of editions.
     In various versions of the Cuneiform accounts there are little touches of realism which -- though Noah's matter-of-fact account did not see fit to include them -- may well have been experienced by Noah or his passengers. For example, one Cuneiform account speaks of bodies floating about like logs in the water.
And in another place we are told that the gods, after the Flood was over and "Noah" had offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving, gathered around like flies.
(17) The account in Genesis has no such unworthy interpretation of subsequent events, although it seems very likely that flies would gather in such a circumstance. Indeed, it must have been some time before the dead had decently returned to the dust and no longer served as food for flies. The interpretation of the circumstance in the Cuneiform record is clearly on a very low level of spiritual understanding, but the noting of the facts themselves is interesting, for it would undoubtedly be part of the
total effect of the catastrophe.
     Curiously enough, some of the stories which have been preserved among people living beside tropical waters speak of the evil plight of those who perished and describe them not only as trembling with fear but shivering

13. Urquhart, John, The New Biblical Guide, Marshall Brothers., London, popular edition, no date, vol.I.
14. Ibid., p.268. He gives the text of the poem.
15. More recent is James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Princeton University Press, 1969, pp.42-52.
16. Barton, George, Archaeology and the Bible, American Sunday School Union, Philadelphia, 1933, p 337 at line 135.
17. Ibid., p.338 at line 162.

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with cold. (18) In the warmer parts of the earth this seems an odd detail to have preserved, but it is quite likely that the immense rains which accompanied the Flood did have the effect of chilling to the bone those who were drowned by it. Some of the stories give details that are quite intriguing as to how the survivors were able to determine, at the height of the Flood, just how deep the water really was. This we shall illustrate in chapter 2.

     8. My first impression, after reading a substantial number of Flood traditions in the kinds of works which are more widely disseminated such as commentaries on Genesis and biblical encyclopedias, was that a great many of them showed evidence of borrowing from the biblical record in a way that might best be accounted for as due
to missionary influence. In due course as my reading broadened, I came to the conclusion that this impression
had arisen rather naturally for the simple reason that these sources of information, commentaries and so forth, had tended to emphasize or draw attention to those traditions which by their very similarity to the biblical story were most likely to appeal to their readers. I suspect that a great number of the authors of these commentaries "swapped" stories, as it were, with one another so that they were consequently reinforcing the same selective tendencies.
     But from an examination of the tremendous number of Flood traditions which have actually been recorded from all over the world and collected by men such as Sir James Frazer, one comes to a very different conclusion. The great majority of these stories have in common, as we have seen, only four basic elements. All other details -- the nature of the warning, the escape "vessel," the part played by animals, and so forth -- differ in such a way that borrowing from the biblical record is virtually excluded altogether. In view of the demonstrated ability of native people to recall the details of any story which has been reported to them and which has
genuinely captured their imagination, it is difficult, if not impossible, to derive the great variety of their traditions from the kind of account which would be presumably presented by a Christian missionary. These native traditions are undoubtedly recollections from the very distant past of an event which was so stupendous that it was never forgotten even though the details themselves became blurred: local coloring restored what had faded.
     Thus, in pre-Flood days men were wicked, but the nature of their wickedness assumed in time many forms.

18. Nelson, Byron, ref.4, p.183.  

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The gods were angry,but sometimes afraid as well! Those who were warned were counted worthy to be
so for a wide range of different reasons. These few escaped -- but by very different means, though the presence of water meant they either had to climb, float, ride aquatic animals, or build some kind of boat. Always, of
course, the event was "local," and always the local inhabitants were their descendants, whence the world was re-populated.
     In a sense, therefore, all these stories are in agreement, though in fact they are often as different in detail as it is possible to imagine. In a court of law, the testimony of witnesses who both agree and disagree in this fashion is considered to be a more powerful witness to the central truth than would be complete concordance, for in the nature of the case collaboration is manifestly excluded. There is no question that some details are borrowed, though not always borrowed from missionaries -- they may be borrowed from neighbours. And there is no question that some genuinely native traditions were modified or embellished or corrected in one way or another by people who compared their own account with the true account brought to them by missionaries. I have a feeling that in some cases at least this is true of the number of survivors. But the fact remains that the memory
of mankind in every part of the world bears witness to the reality of a tremendous Flood which came upon man as a result of his wickedness.
     The essential absence of borrowing is borne out by one other notable circumstance. While all over the world a tradition of the Flood may be found, it appears that this is the last great event in which all mankind shared: the Bible goes on to speak of other remarkable events (such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), but none of these subsequent events are commonly found throughout the world as treasured traditions. It seems most unlikely that a native people who had been taught by missionaries the events of the Old Testament would completely forget the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the events of the Exodus. Why should they all happen to remember only the single event of the Flood? It is most reasonable to assume that it was indeed the last great event in which all mankind shared. They were descendants of those who left the site where the ark landed and were not aware of these later, yet equally impressive, events.
     This selective memory so widely shared would be very difficult to account for if most of the people involved had obtained their information through the agency of Christian missionaries. The measure of agreement between  

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these stories in their essentials is some indication that the number of people who originally experienced this catastrophe and survived it was quite small -- indeed, probably a single family. (19)

9. We have already noted some of the absurdities which are often introduced into these traditions in an attempt
to compensate for obvious deficiencies -- as for example where only one individual survived so that some
special provision must be made to re-people the earth.
     There is no doubt that of all the 150 or so known Flood traditions, the biblical account is the only account which can really be taken seriously by an informed reader. Sir William Dawson wrote years ago:

     I have long thought that the narrative in Genesis 7 and 8 can be understood only on the supposition that it is a contemporary journal or log of an eye-witness incorporated by the author of Genesis in his work. The dates of the rising and fall of the water, the note of soundings over the hill-tops when the maximum was attained, and many other details as well as the whole tone of the narrative, seem to require this supposition. . . .

     In all the other traditions there are elements introduced into the story which could not have been witnessed
by the survivors. This is true even of the other Babylonian accounts, the Cuneiform accounts to which reference has already been made. For example, these stories record the supposed trembling of the gods, their jealousies, fears and anxieties, and their relief when they find somebody has survived. When the gods gather round the sacrifice like flies, we are being introduced, not to a factual eyewitness account of what happened but only to what was imagined. The flies were probably real enough, however one could not know that they were gods except by imagination -- or by revelation. Not a few of the more distant accounts assume such "revelation", and this is done in a way which contrasts markedly with the account in Scripture. For example, when the survivors send out a bird or some other creature and that creature does not return, indicating that the Flood is not over
yet, the account almost invariably gives details of what happened to that animal! In short, the events are used
as an excuse about which to spin an elaborate tale as though the writer had followed the animal and

19. On the Tower of Babel, see appendix 2.
20. Dawson, J. William, The Story of the Earth and Man, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1880. 

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observed all its subsequent doings.
     This kind of embellishment is entirely missing in Scripture. And I think one reason for this is that the record
in Genesis is an eyewitness account. To me it seems almost self-evident that once the journey on the water had begun, once Noah and his family were inside the ark and the rains began, from there on revelation has not entered into the account. Like any other captain, Noah kept his daily journal, marking off the events of the days and the weeks and the months, carefully and precisely and accurately, as he and his crew experienced them.
     And this raises another issue which cannot be altogether avoided, though here I should like to tread with care because it is possible to be mistaken. I think that if revelation is not clearly part of the record, one must assume that Noah could not know for sure that the Flood was of global proportions: he could only see what he could
see. Everywhere was water; not a piece of dry land remained in sight. This was all he had to go on.
     It has been argued occasionally, as it was for years by Sidney Collett,
(21) that because Flood traditions were world-wide, the Flood itself must similarly have been global in extent. But this, of course, is a dangerous argument to use for this purpose since, if people all over the world survived to bear witness to the reality of the Flood in their own districts, then Noah and his family were by no means the sole survivors. While this is, of course, a possibility, my impression is that those who argue strongly for a global Flood would be the first to insist that people did not survive anywhere else except in the ark. And it seems to me that the subsequent chapters of Genesis are best understood as intending that the world's population was entirely derived from Noah's family.
     Those who argue for a global catastrophe customarily point to the sweeping terminology of the biblical account which seems all-inclusive. The use of hyperbole in Scripture, however, must be borne in mind: in one form or another all the inclusive phrases in Genesis can be found elsewhere in Scripture with clear limitations as to their meaning. A list of examples will be found in Part I of this volume. In his commentary on Genesis, F. C. Cook makes a useful observation which should be underscored in this connection:

21. Collett, Sidney, The Scripture of Truth, Pickering and Inglis, London, 1931.
22. Cook, F. C., ref.6, p.77.

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    The words used may certainly mean that the Deluge was universal, that it overwhelmed not only the inhabited parts of Asia, but also Europe, Africa, America, Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania; most, if not all, of which Islands and Continents were probably then without human inhabitants.
     Yet, if only the inhabited world was inundated, and all its inhabitants destroyed, the effect would have been the same to Noah, and would most likely have been described in the same words [my emphasis].

     It has been customary in certain quarters to treat the biblical account as of "late" origin, the story being borrowed from the supposedly earlier Cuneiform accounts. One reason for believing this is that we do have substantial portions of Cuneiform accounts of the same event which are far earlier than any equivalent manuscripts of the biblical account. But there is another factor which has a powerful influence in deciding who borrowed from whom. It is acknowledged on all sides, by liberal and conservative theologians alike, that from a moral and religious point of view the biblical record is vastly superior to any of the Cuneiform accounts. Evolutionary philosophy being the dominant guide in such matters, it is required that the purer form be derived from the cruder one, the monotheistic account from the polytheistic one. So the Bible must have been borrowed from the Babylonian one -- and therefore must be later.
     In Sir James Frazer's Folklore in the Old Testament there is an extraordinary example of how to reason in a circular fashion with blinkers on, and starting with a false premise! Here is his statement:

     Formerly under the influence of the Biblical tradition, inquirers were disposed to identify legends of the great flood, wherever found, with the similar Noachian deluge, and to suppose that in them we had more or less corrupt and apocryphal versions of that great catastrophe, of which the only true and authentic record is preserved in the Book of Genesis. Such a view can hardly be maintained any longer. Even when we have allowed for the numerous corruptions and changes of all kinds which oral tradition necessarily suffers in passing from generation to generation and from land to land through countless ages, we shall still find it difficult to recognize in the diverse, often quaint, childish or grotesque stories of a great Flood the human copies of a single divine original. And the difficulty has been greatly increased since modern research has proved the supposed divine original in Genesis to be not an original at all, but a comparatively late copy, of a much older Babylonian or rather Sumerian version. No Christian apologist is likely to treat the Babylonian story, with its strongly polytheistic coloring, as a primitive revelation of God to man; and if the theory of inspiration is inapplicable to the original, it can hardly be invoked to account for the copy.

This is a most extraordinary statement! First of all, he assumes that the biblical account is borrowed from
the Babylonian or Sumerian account. Apparently this has been "proved." It follows logically from

23. Frazer, J. G., ref.2, p.334.  

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this that the biblical account, being a borrowed one, could not possibly be an inspired account since it is borrowed from a grossly polytheistic original! Having therefore demonstrated that it cannot possibly be inspired, it follows quite logically that it could never be treated as the lone inspired original of which all the other native traditions are human copies. Q.E.D.! It probably never occurred to Frazer that at one time the actual logbook which Noah wrote may very well have been preserved intact and kept as an heirloom within the family of
Shem, who therefore had the true account from which Mesopotamian civilizations several centuries later
derived their own particular scripts, made their copies, and took liberties which the Hebrew people appear
never to have taken with original records when those records were in the divine economy of things slated to become part of Holy Scripture.
     One strong indication that the biblical account is older lies in the fact that in the Cuneiform accounts more sophisticated terms are used in reference to the vessel itself. It is called a ship, not an ark, and it is spoken of as sailing, whereas Genesis merely says that "the ark went". Furthermore, in the Babylonian and Sumerian
traditions the vessel boasted a "steering-man," i.e., a helmsman. One would suppose that writers like Frazer, dedicated to the evolutionary view of things, would be reluctant to derive a story of a barge without sail or
helm out of a story of a ship with sails and rudder, since this is to derive the less sophisticated out of the more sophisticated -- evolution in reverse. Yet, evolutionists are flexible individuals and when it suits their purpose the evidence can be adjusted to fit.
     Frazer thinks that one of the circumstances common among the traditions of the coastal or island people -- namely, that the sea rose, that the waters came up -- is evidence that such traditions refer to local flooding as the result of earthquakes causing tidal waves or local subsidence of the land. In some cases violent tropical storms may have caused tremendous invasions of sea water in the form of exceptionally high tides. He gives a number
of examples which he thinks are pretty conclusive.
     It would be foolish to deny that some of these accounts may have originated in this way, but it is important
to bear in mind that the great majority of them present us with a picture, not of a tremendous tidal wave

24. Ibid.: Kamars, p.195, Minahassans, p.223; Hawaiians, p.245; Macusis, p.265; Michoacan Indians, p.275; Cora Indians, p.280; Tinneh, p.312; Eskimo, p.328; and Masa, Nilotic Negroes, p.330.

     pg.14 of 19    

sweeping inland and smashing everything before it, but of rising waters that came up comparatively slowly
but exorably, wiping out the existing civilization. Many natural disasters resulting from tidal waves have been reported in detail in the past, and one of the extraordinary things about them is that so many people, by one circumstance or another, survived the catastrophe. It is doubtful if there is any historical record of such an event completely obliterating a civilization so thoroughly that only one family survived
(25) Yet virtually every one of these nearly 150 Flood stories record that this is exactly what did happen: only one party survived. Have there really been that many such catastrophes in every part of the world, even in the Arctic, catastrophes of purely natural occurrence? It seems far simpler to assume that with a few possible exceptions these are not accounts of local events but recollections of one single catastrophe which left such an impression on those who survived that their descendants, hundreds of generations later, never altogether forgot it. As Kalish has stated: (26)

     It is certain . . . that these accounts are independent of each other; their differences are as striking and characteristic as their analogies; they are echoes of a sound which had long vanished away. . . .
     There must have indisputably been a common basis, a universal source. And this source is the general tradition
of earlier generations. The harmony between all these accounts is an undeniable guarantee that the tradition is no idle invention; a fiction is individual, not universal; that tradition has, therefore, a historical foundation; it is the result of an event which really happened in the ages of the childhood of mankind; it was altered, adorned, and it may be magnified, by the disseminations; it was tinctured with a specifically national colouring by the different nations; it borrowed some characteristic traits from every country in which it was diffused; it assumed the reflection of the various religious systems; but though the features were modified, the general character was indestructible and remained strikingly visible.

     Although Lenormant takes a rather less conservative view of the value of Scripture than the evangelical
does, he is nevertheless a most informative and stimulating writer whose respect for the biblical record is very real. In one of his best-known works, The Beginnings of History, he has a substantial section dealing with Flood traditions. In introducing this section he has these words:

25. The sole possible exception would be the disappearance of the Island of Atlantis, if there was such an event as Plato makes there out to be.
26. G. Kalisch, M. M., Historical and Critical Commentary of the Old Testament: Genesis, Longmans Green, London, 1858, p.205.
27. Lenormant, Francois, The Beginnings of History, Scribner, New York, 1891, p.382.

     pg.15 of 19     

     Among all the traditions which concern the history of primitive humanity, the most universal is that of the Deluge. It would be going too far to assert that this tradition is found among all nations, but it does re-appear among all the great races of men saving only in one instance -- an exception which it is important to note -- and that is the black race, traces of it having been vainly sought . . . among the African tribes.

     It may be necessary to qualify this when we have a better knowledge of African native traditions, but since Lenormant wrote, many scholars have spent a lifetime in Africa among its native people and yet have been unable to point with certainty to a genuine Flood tradition. This includes David Livingstone and Robert Moffat, both of whom remarked upon this lack. The question is, Why is this?
     It is possible that the situation in Egypt may shed light on the problem. In this country the annual flooding
of the Nile is the very lifeblood of the people. Every year the river overflows its banks and by careful management can be made to flood almost the whole of the valley wherever cultivation is possible. At this time people "cast their seed [i.e., bread] upon the waters" with the promise that after many days they will find it
again once the waters have retreated (Ecclesiastes 11:1). For such a people it was virtually impossible to think
of a judgment, a punishment, coming in the form of a flood covering the land. The one thing they feared was
a failure of the flood to occur.
     If Africa was settled by people who crossed the Nile Valley, it seems logical to suppose that when they got into the dry, hot places of Africa where water was so vital to survival, it would be easier for them to forget about a tradition of a flood which had come as a judgment.
     The Egyptians did, however, have a tradition which might very well be a recollection of the Deluge transmuted into an intelligible form, from their point of view.

     The great god Ra once assembled the other gods and said, "Behold, the men which have been begotten by myself, they utter words against me: tell me what you would do in such a case. Behold I have waited and have not slain them before listening to their words [defense.]." The gods replied, "Let thy face permit it, and let those men who devise wicked things be smitten and let none among them survive."
     So the goddess named Hathor went forth among them and "slew the men upon the earth: and behold Sechet for many nights trod with his feet in their blood even to the city of Hierapolis." The anger of Ra is appeased

28. Urquhart, John, "The Testimony of Tradition to the Flood" in Bible League Quarterly, no.152, 1937, p.119. 

     pg.16 of 19     

by an offering comprised of 7,000 pitchers of liquor made from fruit mixed with human blood. When Ra saw the vases he said, "It is well: I shall protect men because of this. I lift 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 turned over. The result was a great flood which was regarded as a sign of returning favor!

     In his Mythology, J. Bryant, after pointing out that the god of the Nile was named No, goes on to remark upon a ceremony in which it was customary to carry about a kind of ship which played a rather similar role that the Ark of the Covenant did in Israel. (29) It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the deity thus honoured was none other than Noah with a slightly corrupted name.
     In his commentary on Genesis, Skinner notes that in 1904 Edouard Naville claimed to have found fresh proof of an Egyptian Flood tradition in a text from the Book of the Dead which contained the following words:

     And further I (the god Tum) am going to deface all I have done; this earth will become an ocean through an inundation, as it was at the beginning.

     Thus in one corner of the African continent we do seem to have some vague recollection of a flood.
     In China we meet with a rather similar situation, although there are traditions such as will be found in Frazer's Folklore in the Old Testament, a list of these being given at the end of this paper. It is rather likely that the first settlers migrated down the Yellow River, settling in the areas watered by it. It is just possible that the topography of China, being such that irrigation was dependent upon the Yellow River (as well as the other two great river systems), may have left the same impression with these early settlers who thus came to associate controlled flooding with prosperity. It is customary in most essays which deal with these traditions to point especially to the following story which is identified as a reference to the Deluge. The first Emperor of China, Fo-hi, was produced supernaturally from a rainbow.
(31) He is said to have bred seven sorts of animals for sacrifice and that he appeared in the country after a convulsion in which waters in the bosom of the earth burst forth and

29. Bryant, J.: quoted by Lord Arundell of Wardour, ref.7, p.249.
30. Skinner, John, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, Clark, Edinburgh, 1951.  
31. Titcomb, J. H., ref.4, pp.238-39.

     pg.17 of 19     

overflowed it. He was attended by his wife and three sons and three daughters by whose intermarriage the whole "circle of the earth" was inhabited. This catastrophe occurred because man despised the Supreme Monarch of the Universe.
     This story is believed to be a composite made up of a genuine native tradition compounded with parts of the biblical story resulting from missionary teaching. The original story relates to a great flood during the time of the Emperor Yao, who reigned somewhere around 2400 B.C.
(32) Apparently this Flood resulted from the collapse of certain dikes which were under the care of an engineer, Khwan. This engineer tried for seven years to restore the Yellow River to its original course, without success. However, his son Yu subsequently succeeded where he had failed.
     I think Frazer's assessment of the circumstances in this instance are reasonable.
(33) But China is not without traditions among certain of its native people, namely, the Lolos in South China and the Bahnara of Cochin China, as will be observed in Frazer's list (see next chapter).
     It does therefore appear that the continent of Africa is the sole geographical area in the world lacking a recollection of the Great Flood. Such recollections are found in the far reaches of the north among the Eskimo
of North America, the Siberian peoples of Russia, and the peoples of Finland and Iceland. To the south we find similar traditions among the Maori of New Zealand, the Australian aborigines, and the Tierra del Fuegians at the very tip of South America. The story is, with this one exception of Africa, truly global.

     In conclusion, I cannot refrain from giving one more quotation of a nature similar to that of Kalisch, quoted above, this time from that great stalwart of the Faith, John Urquhart: (34)

     If this awful tragedy ever happened; if the entire human race perished save one family, and perished by the hand of God in punishment of sin, then that judgment must have cast long shadows. Through generation after generation the story must have lived on. It must have been the most awful and solemn recollection of our race. Many things may have been forgotten, but that could not be forgotten. . . .

32. Legge, James, in his translation of The Sacred Books of China, Oxford University Press, 1879, Part I, pp.34ff.
33. Frazer, J. G., ref.2, p.214.
34. Urquhart, John, ref.28, p.117.

     pg.18 of 19     

     If this recollection has a large place among the treasures of learning and the themes of poetry; if it has molded the traditions of every part of the far-sundered family of man; then the conclusion is evident.
     There must have been some awful disaster that left its impress upon the minds of men before they scattered abroad upon the earth; and the traditions would, in that case, be a testimony to man's unity as well as to the fact of the Deluge. 

     pg.19 of 19     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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