Parashat Noach – 2nd November 2019, Leslie Wheeler

The story of Noah’s Ark and the flood has intrigued Jews, Christians and Muslims over many centuries. Despite its overtones of death and destruction, the flood story has given birth to rainbows, countless cheder lessons, nursery decorations and even Fisher Price toys. The name Noah has scored in America’s top ten most popular names for newborn boys since 2009.

So what does Torah tell us about Parashah Noach?
God was so angered at his creation of mankind that he decided to wipe them out with a flood! Noah’s generation had been blessed with “good times.” Harvests were plentiful. People lived hundreds of years without illness. The weather was alway pleasant. No one lacked for anything. So what had these people done to deserve such a punishment? It would seem that Noah’s generation had become so accustomed to having everything that they became complacent and took their good fortune for granted. They felt there was no further need to thank God for their good fortune. Their soul aim in life was self satisfaction! In Genesis 6:5 we are told they spent their whole days planning and devising “nothing but evil all of the time.” They robbed lied, cheated and murdered.  God was so angry, he regretted having ever made human beings, and decided to drown them all with a flood. All except, that is, Noah and his family and at least two of every animal.

Do we have any evidence of a flood that annihilated mankind?
One of the strongest evidences of a flood which annihilated all people on Earth has been the ubiquitous presence of flood legends in the folklore of almost every culture around the world and the stories are all so similar. From Finland in Europe to Asia, Africa, Pacific Island nations American Indian Tribes the stories were told and retold through time. “Once upon a time, water came and covered the earth and almost everything died.” So maybe there are myths and legends about a great flood from all around the world because people all around the world did, in fact, witness a great flood! Though the stories and legends have been with us for thousands of years, our understanding of their origins is relatively recent. The Noah story is an excellent example.

In the year 1872 George Smith, a former banknote engraver turned assistant in the British Museum, astounded the world by discovering the story of the Mesopotamian flood which was much the same as that described in the Book of Genesis. His findings were found inscribed on a cuneiform tablet that had been excavated at Nineveh (the modern day city of Mosul, Iraq). The Mesopotamian flood story describes, how human behaviour, prompted the Sumerian gods to wipe out all mankind with a flood and, as in the Torah, the survival of all living things was effected at the last minute by a single man, Atrahasis. Like Noah, Atrahasis was given instructions to build an ark and fill it with every kind of animal. The flood arrives and drowns everything except Atrahasis and the animals aboard the ark. The Mesopotamian flood account written on the cuneiform tablet provides further specific details, such as the dispatching of a raven and a dove in search of land, the grounding of the ark atop a mountain and the offering of a sweet-smelling animal sacrifice, just as the account we read in our story of Noah.

How does the Mesopotamian and Noah’s ark differ?
The Mesopotamian Ark built by Atrahasis was a giant coracle, a circular boat also known as a Gufa, and is best described by the Greek historian Herodotus:

They have boats plying the river down to Babylon which are completely round and are made of leather. In Armenia, which is upstream from Assyria, they cut branches of willow and make them up into a frame, around the outside of which they stretch watertight skins to act as a hull; they do not broaden the sides of the boat to form a stern or narrow them into a prow, but they make it round, like a shield. Then they line the whole boat with straw and send it off down the river laden with goods. Their cargo is most commonly palm-wood casks filled with wine. The boats are steered by two men who stand upright and wield a paddle each; one of them pulls the paddle towards his body and the other pushes the paddle away from his body. These boats vary in size from very large downwards; the largest of them can manage cargo weighing five thousand talents. Each boat carries a live donkey or, in the case of larger boats, several donkeys. At the end of their voyage to Babylon, when they have sold their cargo, they sell off the frame of the boat and all the straw, load up the donkeys with the skins and drive them back to Armenia. They do this because the current of the river is too strong for boats to sail up it and that is why they make these boats out of skin rather than wood. Once they have got back to Armenia with their donkeys, they make themselves more boats in the usual way. Herodotus, Histories Bk 1

The coracle constructed by Atrahasis was made from a large quantity of palm-fibre rope rather than animal skins, enough in fact to stretch from London to Edinburgh. It was sealed both inside and outside with bitumen to make it watertight. The coracle had a diameter of 70 metres across giving it a floor area about half the size of a football pitch. It further included two decks with surrounding walls 6 metres high and a roof.

Were these floods truly global or localised?
The Hebrew word translated as “earth” is ארץ (eretz). While this word can mean the whole “earth,” it is usually used in the context of a “land” or a “region.” Examples are: Eretz Israel, Eretz Mitzrayim. I won’t attempt to contest whether the flood was global or localised, however; if it were a global flood the task of collecting Polar bears and penguins from the North and South Poles would have been a mammoth task for Noah and Atrahasis!

Recent evidence relating to a Black Sea Flood
Geologists Bill Ryan and Walt Pitman of the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory in New York wrote in the April 1997 issue of Marine Geology outlining the geological argument in favour of a Black Sea flood:

In the last Ice Age, sea levels dropped so low that the Black Sea which lies between southeast Europe and Asia Minor was a freshwater lake, into which the salty Mediterranean water never flowed. And so it remained until the world temperatures began to rise again, glaciers melted and sea levels inched up year by year. Then one fateful day, the silt-choked Bosporus channel separating the Mediterranean from the Black Sea could no longer resist the mounting water pressure. Out blew the plug of silt and torrents of water came roaring into the basin, swallowing up vast swaths of land.

During an expedition for the National Geographic Society, Robert Ballard, who is famous for discovering the Titanic, found astonishing evidence in support Ryan’s and Pitman’s theory: the discovery of well-preserved artefacts of human habitation more than 300 feet below the Black Sea surface, 12 miles off the Turkish coast. Carbon dating of shells found by Ballard from the previous fresh water lake shoreline, indicated that whatever happened in the area occurred around 7600 years ago which is believed by experts to be around the time of Noah’s flood.

Does the Earth contain sufficient water to produce a truly global flood?
Let’s explore what science has to say about our Earth’s waters. We know that the oceans occupy about 71% of the Earth’s surface, and the oceans holds roughly 96.5% of all Earth’s water. Water also exists in the air as water vapour (clouds), in rivers, lakes, icecaps and glaciers. Water is further stored in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers.

Science knows a lot about the oceans, continents, our atmosphere and even space because we can visualise and explore them but what about below the oceans and continents, places deep down in the earth that we cannot physically enter? During the space race between what was then the USSR and the USA another race took place to see who could drill the deepest hole down into the earth crust. The Americans achieved a depth of about 6 miles with the Bertha Rogers Well in Oklahoma USA known as the “Moho Project.” The drilling ceased after 5 years due to lack of funds. The Russians achieved a depth of just over 7.5 miles, the deepest hole in the world with their Kola Superdeep Borehole. The Kola borehole was halted in 1994, primarily because of the temperature they encountered at this depth 185°C (365°F) made further drilling extremely difficult.

So what is the connection  between these super boreholes and the flood water we read about in Parashat Noach The verse we read in Genesis 7:11 ends: “on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were open.” It’s the Hebrew word תְּהוֹם which, when translated, refers to an abyss (a surging mass of water).

Science has revealed a lot from drilling the Kola Superdeep Borehole. One of the most significant findings was that the Earth holds a large volume of water both above and below its surface. Hot mineralised water was found almost everywhere along the entire length of the Kola Borehole.

An article in the ‘New Scientist’ by Andy Coughlan describes a study by Steven Jacobsen of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Jacobson and his team used 2,000 seismometers to study the seismic waves from 500 earthquakes. What they found was a reservoir of water, three times the volume of all the surface oceans.  This reservoir of water lies hidden inside a blue rock called Ringwoodite that lies 700 kilometres underground in the Earths mantle.

The ‘New Scientist’ article summarises as follows: “We should be grateful for this deep reservoir” says Jacobson “if it wasn’t there it would be on the surface of the Earth, and the mountain tops would be the only land poking out.” Jacobson’s summary has similarities to what we read in Genesis 7:21 “Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail and the mountains were covered.”

Finally a quote made by Jewish physicist Dr Gerald Schroeder from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provides a fitting summary when comparing science with Torah: “I see these discoveries through the lens of science, that is coming closer to seeing the world through the lens of Torah” he said. “After all, science and Torah have the same author.”