05 March 2017

God's Fresh Start

In this continuing survey of Genesis, the book of beginnings . . .

The most well-known story in the Bible is that of Noah and the flood. The purpose of the story seems to be to assign meaning to historic floods experienced by people in Mesopotamia and to explain the origin and presence of people living in proximity to the Hebrews. It also is a story of God's mercy and wrath.

The basic account is simple enough. God sees the wickedness of mankind. He decides to destroy not only mankind, but all other animal life as well. He graciously spares Noah and his family by instructing him to build a barge to preserve Noah's family and specimens of the surrounding animal life. Flood waters fall from the sky for 40 days and 40 nights. Fountains from the deep open. Water covers the earth and destroys everything. In the seventh month, the waters began to recede and  Noah's ark eventually come to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The family and all the animals leave the ark and repopulate the earth. God promises never to destroy the earth again with a flood and indicates his faithfulness by the appearance of a rainbow in the sky.

As to its historicity, the story of the flood may preserve the oral traditions about the flooding of the Tigress and Euphrates rivers or even about the Black Sea. It at least superficially resembles the Epic of Gilgamesh. The biblical story may even conflate two different accounts. As in the opening chapters of Genesis describing the creation, the account of the flood uses two different names for God. And the directions given Noah by the two “gods” differ. One directs Noah to collect animals in pairs; the other directs him to gather seven pairs of animals.

The primitive notion of a worldwide flood that persists among bible-believing Christian is, well, primitive. The Genesis account of the flood, like the account of creation, assumes the “earth” is a flat landmass floating on water, not a spherical planet. Moreover, the landmass is covered with a large dome. This dome has windows through which the water poured to destroy the earth. It is a poor hermeneutic to read back into this ancient text the modern understanding of geophysics. And it leads to conclusions more ridiculous than when taking the story at face value. There is simply not enough water above or beneath the earth for a worldwide flood. To overcome modern scientific objections, one must adopt the presupposition behind all myths—that the world “of old” differed fundamentally from the world “as we know it.”

Then there is the problem of all those animals. Just gathering them all in only seven days seems the most fundamental challenge. Since we did not eat animals before the flood (and presumably they did not each each other), Noah could successfully gather them two by two ( or two by two by seven). Again, the world “before” differed from “the world as we know it.”

And why this mission of saving the animals anyway? God's wrath against the wickedness of man. Only man possesses the free will to deliberate and choose between different courses of action. Animal behavior derives from instinct. Moral accountability for them should be a non-issue. Seen in this light, the flood comes across as not so much a divine punishment resting upon a finely honed sense of justice as an intemperate act of rage against circumstances beyond one's control.

Every children's story must have a children's song. The children's song innocently ignores the
millions of bloated, rotting carcasses left after the flood.

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