Dating the Noachian Deluge?

Hi everyone!

I’m new here, so a little bit of background about me: I’m an undergrad majoring in biology (with a minor in archaeology) and a former young-earth creationist. About a year ago, I vehemently denied evolution, but because I’ve always tried to have an open mind about matters of science, after sincerely studying the actual genetic data I could no longer deny that the preponderance of the evidence strongly supported universal common descent vis a vis creationism. I’m now a theistic evolutionist / Christian affirming evolutionary science and I lean toward Dr. Swamidass’ GAE hypothesis to reconcile science with scripture.

But enough about me. I’m writing this post to hopefully get some feedback from like-minded Christians on the historicity of the Noachian Deluge. Recently, I’ve been looking into several different possibilities for the place and time of the Flood. The most viable of these possibilities appear to be these three:

  1. The Shuruppak Flood hypothesis. This associates the flood deposits at Kish and Shuruppak c. 2900 BC, at the Jemdet Nasr / Early Dynastic I transition, with the Noachian Deluge. This position is currently defended primarily by geologists Lorence G. Collins (2009) and Carol A. Hill (2001).

This is in agreement with the Mesopotamian traditions of the Deluge, which state that Atrahasis/Ziusudra/Utnapishtim was king at Shuruppak prior to the Flood. Shuruppak was only first occupied during the Jemdet Nasr period, so if these traditions are accurate, then the terminus post quem for the Flood is 3000 BC. Furthermore, the “Shuruppak Flood” position is in line with Genesis 4:22, which implies that bronze- and iron-working – the latter of which finds its origin c. 3200 BC (Rehren et al. 2013) – began prior to the Noachian Deluge. This also seems more in line with the (LXX) Genesis genealogies that put Noah ~1000 years before Abraham (c. 2000 BC).

However, this position runs into several problems when compared with the actual biblical account of the Flood, and even with the Mesopotamian traditions. Both of these accounts tell us that, even if not all humanity was killed, Noah/Ziusudra/Utnapishtim and his family at least believed themselves to be the only survivors from the land they had previously inhabited. In contrast, the 2900 BC flood was admittedly more severe than the average floods of the time, but virtually all of the cities that were inhabited in the Jemdet Nasr remained inhabited with no evidence of a cultural or occupational break. Even at Kish, where a major flood deposit was found, the mud-brick buildings remained. There is no way that a family of eight could have considered themselves the sole survivors of this ‘deluge.’

Furthermore, both the Mesopotamian epics and the Bible relate that God/Enlil told Noah/Ziusudra/Utnapishtim that He would never flood the earth again to such an extent. In contrast, there were much more severe floods following the 2900 BC deluge, including one from the end of the Early Dynastic III period (c. 2600 - 2400 BC – far too late for the Flood of the Mesopotamian epics) at Kish which produced a sediment layer more than twice as thick as the supposed ‘Noachian Deluge’ deposit.

Thus, the 2900 BC deposits from Kish and Shuruppak are not the result of the Flood of either the Mesopotamian epics or of the Bible.

  1. The Neolithic Flood hypothesis. This dates the Noachian Flood to approx. 5700 BC, in line with several geologic and archaeologic indicators. This position is primarily defended by Alan Dickin (2018).

This is more in agreement with the archaeologic record, since the first surviving southern Mesopotamian mud-brick buildings at Tell el-Oueili have been radiocarbon dated to 5600 +/- 200 cal BC by association with charcoal deposits (Hritz et al. 2012). We would expect a flood of the magnitude of the Noachian Deluge to wipe out any evidence of settlement on the floodplain of southern Mesopotamia, so the existence of such buildings at Tell el-Oueili provides a terminus ante quem for the Flood of c. 5600 BC.

Furthermore, as Dickin explains in the article linked above, the 18O/16O ratio from lakes in the Ancient Near East and the Soreq cave in Israel show that there was a huge spike in precipitation during the period 5700 - 5500 BC (Roberts et al. 2011), and sedimentary boreholes in southern Mesopotamia show a marine transgression which covered southern Mesopotamia beginning c. 5700 BC (Aqrawi 2001; Hritz et al. 2012; Bogemans et al. 2017). Although these don’t provide evidence that a gigantic flood occurred, the combined effect of increased precipitation and marine transgression would have created the “perfect storm” (literally) for such a Deluge to occur. Also, there may be some evidence for a cultural and occupational break following 5700 BC as well, since there is a lack of material dating to the late Halaf and Halaf/Ubaid transition in northern Mesopotamia (Campbell 2007; Campbell and Fletcher 2010).

However, as I looked further into this Neolithic Flood hypothesis, I found more discrepancies with the actual geologic and archaeologic record. It looks like Dickin was cherry-picking the data when defending this position, whether consciously or unconsciously. Although there is evidence of increased precipitation in the general period of 5700 - 5500 BC, the individual lacustrine records don’t line up perfectly. For example, Lake Van shows increased precipitation at 5500 BC, but actually a dip in the precipitation level at 5700 BC, and Lake Mirabad shows the opposite – increased precipitation at 5700 BC and a dip at 5500 BC – whereas at Lake Golhisar, the precipitation amount was lower than modern-day levels during this entire period (Roberts et al. 2011). When combined, these individual records don’t show any period of uniquely high precipitation over the entire Mediterranean at this time. Likewise, although individual archaeological sites fit Dickin’s Flood model, there are many sites within the Tigris-Euphrates watershed (such as Tell Aqab and Tell Arpachiyah) which show cultural and occupational continuity through 5700 BC.

So although the Neolithic Flood hypothesis seems at first to provide strong evidence for dating the Noachian Deluge to c. 5700 BC, the combined geological and archaeological data don’t support this as strongly as Dickin seems to think. The existence of occupational continuity at archaeological sites in north Mesopotamia provides strong evidence against the Flood’s occurrence at this time.

  1. The Persian Gulf Flood hypothesis. This sees the Noachian Flood as identical to the flooding of the Persian Gulf which occurred c. 6500 BC. This position is held by some amateur Christian apologists like the blog Sentinel Apologetics (2017) and youtuber Inspiring Philosophy (2020), and it also seems that Dr. Swamidass is at least partial to this view, in light of one of his comments on this forum.

This is supported by the most geological/archaeological evidence, since it actually finds its origin in a peer-reviewed geology journal article which infers the existence of a huge deluge that flooded much of modern Arabia, overtopping the relatively low mountain ranges there and carving out small canyons (Bastawesy 2015). Furthermore, this flood occurred at a major cultural break/shift in Mesopotamia, after which the Halaf and Hassuna cultures appeared rather abruptly in the north and the Ubaid in the south, as might be expected if the sole survivors of a catastrophic event spread outward from southeastern Anatolia.

Also, if we use the biblical account, the terminus post quem for the Flood is the rise of mobile pastoralism (Gen. 4:20) and the use of bitumen for waterproofing (Gen. 7:14), both of which occurred in the mid-seventh millennium BC (Arbuckle and Hammer 2018; Gregg et al. 2007). Dating the Flood to 6500 BC would be a tight ‘fit,’ chronologically speaking, but it could just barely work. The only problem would be the use of bronze and iron prior to the Flood (Gen. 4:22), but this is not an issue if “bronze and iron” is a metaphor for rebelliousness as in Jer. 6:28, or if we assume that Tubal-Cain’s metalworking knowledge was lost in the Deluge.

However, this historical placement of the Noachian Flood still suffers from one major problem, and that’s that it is way too far south for the biblical account. The Genesis Flood narrative is clear that the Ark landed in the mountains of Urartu in northern Mesopotamia, whereas the Persian Gulf deluge only reached as far north as Damascus according to Bastawesy (ibid.). Perhaps absence of evidence is not evidence of absence in this case, but it seems that a flood which left such striking geomorphological evidence of its occurrence in Arabia should have also left at least some evidence in north Mesopotamia if it indeed stretched that far.

The Persian Gulf Flood hypothesis seems to be the best historical placement of the Noachian Deluge yet, but the fact that the Persian Gulf flood only stretched as far north as Damascus seems to be a fatal flaw. Maybe, though, it could be that this flood did stretch all the way to Urartu and was merely so tranquil at that point so as not to leave a trace of its occurrence. Or perhaps the “mountains of Ararat” in the biblical account do not refer to Urartu, and instead describe a location in Arabia?

Hopefully this post wasn’t too long, I do have a tendency to ramble on about topics that I’m interested in. But I hope this will spark some conversation about the historical place and time of the Noachian Deluge, at least among Christians here who accept a local Flood. Do you think that the Persian Gulf flooding event can be made to fit Noah’s Flood? Or maybe the archaeological evidence can be made to fit with one of the other hypotheses? Or perhaps there’s some other option I haven’t considered? Please share your thoughts!

Also, if anyone here thinks that the Noachian Flood was merely allegorical, or if you believe it didn’t actually happen, also please explain why you believe that! Especially if see something in the archaeological or geological record which precludes the local Flood model. I always try to be willing to have an open mind to other positions.

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The cultural origins of the Noachian flood place it squarely in Mesopotamia:

The actual wording of the myth can be found here:

https://www.historywiz.org/primarysources/sumerianflood.html

Most historians would place the Epic of Gilgamesh well before the writing of the Old Testament, so I think it is fair to say that the OT authors borrowed from Mesopotamian culture, perhaps as a result of the Babylonian captivity.

Where did the flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh come from? That whole culture lived on the flood plains of the Tigris and Euphrates, so it isn’t that surprising that they have flood myths. I don’t see why any one flood should be attached to the myth.

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Hello Andrew, and welcome to Peaceful Science. :smiley:

You are probably aware of the writings of Glenn Morton? He paid us a visit here shortly before he passed, and some discussion followed. This relates to the Garden of Eden, but I believe Morton also wrote

AND this:

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If you don’t mind my asking, has there been any negative reaction from your family, friends, or community? Your story is not uncommon, and some people face personal hardship because they simply want to broaden their views.

In any case, congratulations on taking that big step,and good luck with your studies.

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I am aware, yes. I disagree with his placement of the Garden and the Flood in the Mesopotamian basin, though. For one, his interpretation of the four rivers of Eden doesn’t seem to fit the biblical account, and I don’t think Adam and Eve could have lived as early as >5 mya since they and their children are said to be agriculturists. Also, the flood which (debatably) refilled the Mesopotamian basin 5.3 mya never receded, contra the biblical account. The period 13 - 5 kya seems to better fit the early chapters of Genesis, IMO.

The reaction from my friends and community has been pretty neutral tbh. I haven’t broached the topic with my family, but they’re reasonable people so I doubt their response would be very negative.

Thank you.

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Agreed. The biblical account also puts the landing site of the Ark (which IMO was probably more of a reed raft / mudhif) in the mountains of Urartu. That’s one of the reasons I dislike the Persian Gulf flood as a historical candidate for the Noachian Flood, since it appears to be too far south. Although, it is interesting that the Gilgamesh version of the Flood epic says that Noah / Utnapishtim lived in Dilmun (in the Persian Gulf) following the Flood.

I do understand this point of view, but as a Christian I see Genesis 1-11 as historical (even if hyperbolic or only mytho-historical). So unless there are geological or archaeological reasons why a local Noachian Deluge could not have happened, I tend to believe that it does represent a single, large local flood.

Going to that scale of time, you may need to consider allegory AND historical events. Writing isn’t nearly old enough, and oral history isn’t reliable enough. I can’t tell you what to believe, but as you already know, literal readings of genesis are hard to match with historical data. Trying to understand the allegorical interpretation - without necessarily accepting them - may give you insights that cannot be reached through a strictly historical interpretation.

We have a few Biblical scholars lurking about too, they might have suggestions for you.

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This is explained by the OT authors borrowing the flood story from Mesopotamia.

I’m sure there was more than one bad flood in the region. The accumulation of stories over that period could have been combined into a single story.

I used to deal with litigation arising out of river flooding, and in the course of that, my goodness, did I see a lot of damage done by water. I think that most of us, not living by necessity in low-lying farmland built up by deposit of river-borne silt, and protected as we are in most cases from the consequences of river flooding, have no damned idea. To people whose lives required that they live and work right in the path of the hazard, this would have been the grandest sort of catastrophe, and tales of the worst floods would have lived for a long, long time, open to folkloric embellishment. If you live in Florida you may fear hurricanes. If you live in Seattle you may fear earthquakes and volcanoes. But these people would have experienced the consequences of moderate flooding with some regularity, and severe flooding from time to time, and I doubt there is any calamity that they feared so much as that. Its power as folklore will have been amplified by this experience.

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At the same time, flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates brought in rich river silt in the spring that was great for farming, so it was a give and take. I have to wonder if this dichotomy between rivers bringing bounty and bringing destruction had any impact on how religious views developed in the region.

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Heck, I know farmers whose religious views are probably influenced by it today. One client of mine had the river jump its bank just upstream of his long field, parallel to the river, and gouge a ravine thirty feet deep in it, running the whole length and eliminating most of his usable ground. His next-door neighbor, isolated on a high point that had now become an island, shrinking from minute to minute as the floodwaters scoured the soil on both sides of him, would have drowned if not for a daring, extremely dangerous boat rescue. And that’s in the modern era, when we usually KNOW a flood is coming before it actually shows up. The sheer terror of floodwaters, as experienced in our river valleys, exceeded anything I had ever, as a city kid, imagined.

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It made them very Hapi.

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Your post is amazingly detailed. I’m curious if you don’t mind indulging me - what genetic data was the most convincing and/or more specifically how did it convince you?

@thoughtful, I answered your questions in a separate post. There was a lot of evidence I wanted to address, and I can be a bit longwinded, so hopefully it’s not too long for you.