Myth 5: "The Bible’s account of Noah’s Flood is just myth and was drawn from writings from the Ancient Near East.”
Below is a summary of Myth 5. For the full chapter on this topic, download the Seven Myths book here.
Myth number 5 is: “The Bible’s account of Noah’s Flood is just myth and was drawn from writings from the Ancient Near East.” To investigate this claim, we’ll look at the global evidence for a worldwide flood, the seaworthiness of the Ark, and answer tough questions like “how could Noah fit all of the animals on the Ark?” Finally, we’ll contrast the Bible’s account of the Flood with the leading flood myth from the Ancient Near East—the Epic of Gilgamesh.
First, let’s review the evidence for the worldwide, year-long Flood of the Bible. The Bible records that the Flood commenced by the “fountains of the great deep” breaking open that led to the entire globe being covered with water, with the highest hills even submerged by 20 feet. If this happened as described, it would have left some amazing scars on earth.
This is exactly what we find with the 40,000-mile oceanic rift system that covers the earth 1.9 times over—including the massive 10,000-mile mid-atlantic ridge that quite obviously shows how these continents were once joined together and then pushed apart.
When viewing a map with all the ocean water removed, the deep continental shelves become visible and we can see how the continents fit together like puzzle pieces to shape an earth that used to be mostly a single land mass. This is especially obvious when looking at the matching jagged edges of lower South America and Africa. We can also see a notch of submerged land off the grand banks of Newfoundland and how it perfectly fits into a slot north of Spain.
These continents fit together so well because of the catastrophic linear rifting that occurred when the fountains of the great deep were pulled apart. The Hebrew term used for this is “baw-kah” which means to “cleave, rend, or break and rip open; to make a breach.” This couldn’t describe what we see any better. One of the largest tears—the mid-atlantic ridge—includes perpendicular faults along its entire length, showing the formation of new seafloor that occurred rapidly during the flood—not slowly over millions of years. The raised and sloped features on each side of the rift also testify to the hot and buoyant rock that still lies beneath it. This is certainly something that happened quickly in the past and then slowed down greatly, as GPS measurements today indicate.
The evolutionary view holds that these continents moved apart slowly over millions of years. If this was true, the large rivers on the continents that straddle each side of these rifts would have left a connected trail of mud stretching from one side of the Atlantic to the other. But what we see from the evidence is that they were rapidly split apart, and then the draining and erosion started. Major rivers like the Congo, Mississippi, and Amazon run off the continents and have mud fans with only thousands of years’ worth of mud deposits—not millions. Also, there are flat sand bottoms on each side of these continents showing they were split apart rapidly—they don’t have millions of years’ worth of runoff with extensive mud extending out into the ocean. These rivers began shaping and eroding only thousands of years ago, not millions.
The fossil record that now straddles both sides of this global tear testifies to the rapid nature of this catastrophe, with millions of the same kinds of animals that were once living together now found buried in mud layers on either side.
Global geology joins this testimony with recent analyses of 1,800 bore holes from around the world revealing six megasequences of the Flood that indicate its worldwide extent.[i] Billions of fossils buried in mud around the world—including 13 states of dead dinosaurs mixed with marine life in the middle of America. What type of Flood could do this? Just how much water would it take to bury millions of land creatures under hundreds of feet of mud in this 13-state, 700,000 square mile area? And just how did so many land creatures get buried together with marine life, with 97% of the dinosaurs found disarticulated, and many of the remaining 3% that are found in-tact discovered in mud layers with their necks arched back, suffocating as they died.
Catastrophic plate tectonics explains the mechanism behind the Genesis Flood, with massive oceanic plates subducting under the land masses generating cycles of tsunamis that brought megatons of sediment onto land, wiping out every living creature in their paths, burying them in the muddy layers we can still see today. These types of tsunamis still occur, although much less frequently and on a smaller scale. The spreading sea floor subducts, binds under the land masses, and then releases, creating mud-filled tsunamis that carry debris and sea life onto land, sorting them in layers. This is exactly what we see in dinosaur graveyards today around the world.
North America provides some clues to the massive nature of the Flood. In fact, even secular geologists refer to what’s known as the “widespread Late Cretaceous transgression,” which is just technical jargon for “worldwide flood.” Studies have revealed that “a sea level rise of 310 meters is required to flood the Cretaceous layers based on their current elevation. However, the maximum thickness of the fossil layers produced by a 310 meter sea level rise is only about 700 meters.” The challenge is that, in North America, nearly 50 percent of the Cretaceous layers contain strata thicker than 700 meters, indicating that the continents had to sink and buckle during this global inundation. This is exactly what the catastrophic nature of the Flood would have done. There’s just no way that rising sea levels alone can explain the fossil record in North America—something much more catastrophic that warped and submerged the continents just had to be involved.[ii]
Was the Ark seaworthy? God gave certain dimensions to Noah for building the Ark: 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. Using the Nippur Cubit[iii] at 20.4 inches, this works out to a vessel about 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. Accounting for a 15% reduction in volume due to the hull curvature, the Ark had about 1.88 million cubic feet of space, the equivalent of 450 semi-trailers of cargo space.[iv] That’s twice as long as a Boeing 747 and stretching over one-and-a-half football fields, this was a massive ship.
But was such a vessel seaworthy? Interestingly, the Ark’s dimensions were about the same as modern shipping vessels, making a fitting shape for handling ocean swells that are typically spaced out in such a way that ships of this size fare well at sea. In fact, Dr. Seon Won Hong, who holds a Ph.D. in applied mechanics from the University of Michigan, conducted a study on the seaworthiness of Noah’s Ark at the world-class ship research center KRISO.[v] Dr. Hong’s team compared twelve different hull designs of various proportions and found that the Ark based on the biblical dimensions out-performed all others because it carefully balanced the conflicting requirements for stability (resistance to capsizing), passenger stability (or “seakeeping”), and strength. The study also confirmed that the Ark could handle waves as high as 100 feet without capsizing.[vi]
Noah was instructed by God to coat the inside and the outside of the Ark with pitch, a thick gooey substance secreted by trees as a means of protection against infection or insect attack. For centuries, tar, which is made from pitch, was among Sweden’s most important exports, peaking at over a quarter million barrels per year in the late 1800s. Many of the eastern states in the U.S. were also major tar exporters for ship building purposes until the 1900s.
When heated into a liquid state and applied to ship planking, pitch hardens almost instantly into a protective, waterproof shell, very similar to how epoxy or fiberglass are used in shipbuilding today. The strong outer shell provided by hardened pitch adds both strength and waterproofing beyond the natural capability of the wood. These “divine shipbuilding instructions” given to Noah certainly seem to make realistic sense.
Next let’s look at one of the most frequently asked questions about the Ark: “How could it fit all the animals?” Skeptics frequently scoff at the idea of packing “all the animal SPECIES” onto the Ark. But the solution is found in this very objection—Noah didn’t have to load “all animal species” on the Ark—he only had to load the animal “kinds.” For example, there are over 300 dog breeds and over 300 horse breeds and all breeds within these two animal kinds [are] inter-fertile, producing offspring representing a mix in-between the two parents. The same is true for many other animal groups. Collapsing these animal trees results in a very feasible number of animal kinds—less than a few thousand—that could board the Ark, get off a year later, and then spread around the world and reproduce into the varieties within kinds we see today.
Now let’s compare the Biblical Flood to the leading flood myth, the Epic of Gilgamesh. In 1853, archaeologists found a series of 12 tablets dated to around 650 BC, although parts of the story existed in earlier, fragmentary versions.[vii] Because the story had many of the same elements as the Genesis account, skeptics believed that Gilgamesh preceded the Biblical account, negating the Genesis account as just a spin-off. Fortunately for Christians, however, there are major clues that point to the Biblical account as the accurate one, and Gilgamesh as a later work of fiction that incorporated legendary elements of a flood within a cultural fantasy. Here are the reasons why.
First, we have the feasibility of the Gilgamesh version of the Ark, described as a massive, unstable cube that was about 200 feet on each side with six decks that divided it into seven parts. Along with help from the community and craftsmen, he supposedly built this vessel—which was over 3 times the size of the Biblical Ark, in just a week. How would something like this fare during a catastrophic, worldwide Flood? It would obviously tumm-=pknol,nl,ble, killing or maiming its passengers. That’s obviously quite different than the biblical Ark which had a 7-to-1 length-to-width ratio which is very similar to many of today’s ocean barges, making a feasible design for staying afloat during the Flood. Scripture provides clues that Noah and helpers likely had between 55 and 75 years to build the Ark.[viii]
The second key for determining which of these Flood accounts is the original is the duration of the Flood provided by each. The Gilgamesh flood lasted a mere six days, whereas the Genesis Flood lasted 371 days. Both accounts claim the Flood was worldwide, but how could water cover earth in just six days? A floating, 200 by 200 foot cube and six days for worldwide inundation certainly stretch credulity.
The next consideration is the reasons for the Flood given by each of the two accounts. In the Genesis account, God’s judgment is just—he was patient with utterly wicked mankind for 120 years before sending the Flood and showed mercy to the last righteous family. In the Gilgamesh account, the Flood was ordered by multiple, self-centered squabbling ‘gods’ that were ‘starving’ without humans to feed them sacrifices. These two are quite different!
Finally, there are several other parts of the Gilgamesh account that are obviously mythical, such as Gilgamesh being 2/3rds divine and 1/3rd mortal. After oppressing his people, Gilgamesh and others call upon the ‘gods’ and the sky-god Anu creates a wild man named Enkidu to fight Gilgamesh. The battle is a draw, and they become friends. Gilgamesh apparently also encounters talking monsters and a “Scorpion man” in his journeys.
Many myths are based on historical accounts, but they get embellished over time, becoming more and more mythical as the story is repeated over generations. This is exactly what we see with flood myths like Gilgamesh—they take the original, historical account (the Biblical Flood) and grow it into a mythical, interesting story over time. For example, the earlier version of the Gilgamesh Flood account[ix] clearly identifies the flood as a local river flood, with the dead bodies of humans filling the river “like dragonflies” and moving to the edge of the boat “like a raft” and moving to the riverbank “like a raft.” Centuries later, this gets exaggerated into a global, worldwide flood where humans killed in the flood “fill the sea” like a “spawn of fish.”
Both accounts have a God or “gods” that are sending judgment, describe a worldwide inundation, have an Ark built to specific dimensions that are loaded with surviving humans and animals, and land just a few hundred miles apart from each other after using birds as a test to find dry land. Myths often grow from historical to being more mythical, but they almost never develop in the reverse, becoming more truthful and accurate over time. While these accounts mirror each other in so many ways, which account is the original, historical one? The feasible one of course. While both accounts describe plenty of divine intervention, only the Biblical ark size, shape, function, build time, and flood duration makes sense.
Jesus taught about a real flood and compared it to what the end times will be like. Jesus warned: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
Because Jesus stood firmly on the historicity of the Flood and likened it to end times, the two go hand-in-hand. If the Genesis Flood never happened, we have no foundation for believing in the rest of what Jesus said, including his second coming. At least for Christians, Matthew 24 alone should destroy the “Flood as myth” idea.
Looking back through history, there are actually hundreds of flood accounts, and the similarity between these accounts and the Genesis Flood are uncanny.[x] Most of them seem to draw from the same common themes: judgement from God, a family chosen to preserve humanity, and loading animals. The early Chinese certainly seemed to have Genesis and the Flood in mind when they invented the earliest version of written language.[xi] For example, the character for boat is a “vessel with eight people,” the one for “forbidden”[xii] is “two trees with God,” in a way that notifies “God makes a commandment about two trees.” The one for “temper” is “devil with trees under cover.” Where did the Chinese picture concepts come from? Why do these figures match Genesis history so clearly?
Isn’t it also interesting that all human history disappears about the same time as the Biblical Flood? Even secular school textbooks admit this. This is exactly what we would expect with civilization starting again after the Flood.
In summary, the Bible clearly lays out a Flood account that, while miraculous, fits into history with much more believability than the mythical accounts. The Ark is the only vessel in the ancient Flood accounts that could have actually survived the Flood. It was seaworthy and watertight, fit dimensions of many similar ships today, and could certainly hold the thousands of animal kinds necessary to blossom into the variety of animal life we see today. The obvious scars around the world also coincide well with the Bible’s account, matching both the megasequences in the geologic record and the massive, worldwide fossil record consisting of billions upon billions of animals buried in the muddy catastrophe that killed them.
[i] See Daniel A. Biddle, “Debunking the Seven Myths that Deny the Historicity of Genesis, Creation, and Noah’s Flood: A video-based training program to help students keep their faith in college” (2019) for scientific references.
[ii] Liu, L., S. Spasojevi & M. Gurnis (2008), Reconstructing Farallon Plate Subduction Beneath North America back to the Late Cretaceous, Science, 322, 934-938; Spasojevi, S., L. Liu & M. Gurnis (2009), Adjoint Convection Models of North America Incorporating Tomographic, Plate motion and Stratigraphic Constraints, Geochem., Geophy., Geosys. 10, Q05W02; G. A. Bond, Geology 4, 557 (1976); Timothy A. Cross & Rex H. Pilger Jr, “Tectonic controls of late Cretaceous sedimentation, western interior, USA,” Nature, Volume 274, 653–657 (1978).
[vi] Source: worldwideflood.com/ark/hull_form/hull_optimization.htm
[ix] Jeffrey H. Tigay (1982), The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, ISBN 0-8122-7805-4 According to Tigay, Atrahasis tablet III iv, lines 6–9 clearly identify the flood as a local river flood: "Like dragonflies they [dead bodies] have filled the river. Like a raft they have moved in to the edge [of the boat]. Like a raft they have moved in to the riverbank." The sentence "Like dragonflies they have filled the river." was changed in Gilgamesh XI line 123 to "Like the spawn of fishes, they fill the sea." Tigay holds that we can see the mythmaker's hand at work here, changing a local river flood into an ocean deluge. Other editorial changes were made to the Atrahasis text in Gilgamesh that removed the suggestion that the gods had physical needs. For example, "The Anunnaki (the senior gods) were sitting in thirst and hunger" was changed in Gilgamesh to "The gods feared the deluge." Other sentences in Atrahasis were omitted in Gilgamesh, for example, "(the goddess) was surfeited with grief and thirsted for beer" and "from hunger they (the gods) were suffering cramp."