Many cultures around the world have Flood legends. Most of them contain the basic elements that the earth was flooded, and that only a small number of people were saved. The Society claims that
the only explanation for such a widespread acceptance is that the Flood was a historical event.250
The fact that there are not merely a few but perhaps hundreds of different stories about that great Deluge, and that such stories are found among the traditions of many primitive races the world over, is a strong proof that all these people had a common origin and that their early forefathers shared that Flood experience in common.251
What can we conclude from these many Flood legends? Though they differ greatly in details, they have some common features. These indicate an origin in some gigantic and unforgettable cataclysm. Despite vivid colorations over the centuries, their underlying theme is like a thread that ties them to one great event -- the global Deluge related in the simple, uncolored Bible account.252
However, there are reasonable alternative explanations. In no case is the evidence for any view, including the Society's, compelling. The following material presents some reasonable alternatives.
In making the above claims, the Society discards the possibility that the common legends are not based on a historical event, but are merely a common myth. Some Watchtower writers are aware of this possibility. A quotation from The Biblical Archaeologist Reader in Awake! said:253
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that many of [the accounts] are recollections of a common event, or at least are diffused from a common tradition.
Note that according to the Bible, the Flood was a common event, not for various peoples and cultures, but for just eight people. The Society therefore cannot claim that the Flood was an event common to many peoples.
One possible explanation for widespread Flood traditions is, as the above quotation mentions, diffusion or transmission from a common tradition. Ancient people seem to have had more contact with each other than they are usually given credit for. Often people incorporate stories they hear from travelers into their own body of legends and, in time, the source is forgotten. Modern anthropologists have repeatedly proved this happens.
For example, in discussing the source of myths and legends of primitive or ancient peoples, and how some people interpret these as evidence for extraterrestrial visitors, Carl Sagan tells a story254 of one Dr. Gajdusek, who visited the primitive Fore people of New Guinea in 1957 to study the rare disease kuru, which is spread by cannibalism. While stuck inside a communal longhouse during two days of intense rain, Sagan says the
hosts sang their traditional songs all through the first night and on through the following rainy day. In return, "to enhance our rapport with them," as Gajdusek says, "we began to sing songs in exchange -- among them such Russian songs as 'Otchi chornye,' and 'Moi kostyor v tumane svetit' ..." This was received very well, and the Agakamatasa villagers requested many dozens of repetitions in the smoky South Fore longhouse to the accompaniment of the driving rainstorm.
Some years later Gajdusek was engaged in the collection of indigenous music in another part of the South Fore region and asked a group of young men to run through their repertoire of traditional songs. To Gajdusek's amazement and amusement, they produced a somewhat altered but still clearly recognizable version of "Otchi chornye." Many of the singers apparently thought the song traditional, and later still Gajdusek found the song imported even farther afield, with none of the singers having any idea of its source.
We can easily imagine some sort of world ethnomusicology survey coming to an exceptionally obscure part of New Guinea and discovering that the natives had a traditional song which sounded in rhythm, music and words remarkably like "Otchi chornye." If they were to believe that no previous contact of Westerners with these people had occurred, a great mystery could be posited.
Another example from Carl Sagan is the255
remarkable mythology surrounding the star Sirius that is held by the Dogon people of the Republic of Mali.... [who have] been studied intensively by anthropologists only since the 1930s.... The most striking aspects of Dogon astronomy have been recounted by Marcel Griaule, a French anthropologist working in the 1930s and 1940s. While there is no reason to doubt Griaule's account, it is important to note that there is no earlier Western record of these remarkable Dogon folk beliefs and that all the information has been funneled through Griaule.... In contrast to almost all prescientific societies, the Dogon hold that the planets as well as the Earth rotate about their axes and revolve about the Sun....
More striking still is the Dogon belief about Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. They contend that it has a dark and invisible companion star which orbits Sirius.... once every fifty years. They state that the companion star is very small and very heavy, made of a special metal called "Sagala" which is not found on Earth.... The remarkable fact is that the visible star, Sirius A, does have an extraordinary dark companion, Sirius B.... [which is] the first example of a white dwarf star discovered by modern astrophysics. Its matter is in a state called "relativistically degenerate," which does not exist on Earth, and since the electrons are not bound to the nuclei in such degenerate matter, it can properly be described as metallic....
At first glance the Sirius legend of the Dogon seems to be the best candidate evidence available today for past contact with an advanced extraterrestrial civilization. As we begin a closer look at this story, however, let us remember that the Dogon astronomical tradition is purely oral, that it dates with certainty only from the 1930s.... The hypothesis of a companion star to Sirius might have followed naturally from [other] Dogon mythology.... but there does not seem to be any explanation this simple about the period and density of the companion of Sirius. The Dogon Sirius myth is too close to modern astronomical thinking and too precise quantitatively to be attributed to chance. Yet there it sits, immersed in a body of more or less standard prescientific legend. What can the explanation be?....
The Dogon have knowledge impossible to acquire without the telescope. The straightforward conclusion is that they had contact with an advanced technical civilization. The only question is, which civilization -- extraterrestrial or European? Far more credible than an ancient extraterrestrial educational foray among the Dogon might be a comparatively recent contact with scientifically literate Europeans who conveyed to the Dogon the remarkable European myth of Sirius and its white dwarf companion, a myth that has all the superficial earmarks of a splendidly inventive tall story. Perhaps the Western contact came from a European visitor to Africa, or from the local French schools, or perhaps from contacts in Europe by West Africans inducted to fight for the French in World War I.
In 1862 the companion of Sirius was telescopically discovered, and by the end of the 19th century it was widely speculated that it was a white dwarf. By 1915 astronomers had confirmed that it was, and by 1928 the idea of extremely dense matter had been popularized. All this
was covered in the scientific press and was accessible to the intelligent layman. All this was occurring just before Griaule encountered the Dogon Sirius legend.... In my mind's eye I picture a Gallic visitor to the Dogon people, in what was then French West Africa, in the early part of this century. He may have been a diplomat, an explorer, an adventurer or an early anthropologist. Such people.... were in West Africa many decades earlier. The conversation turns to astronomical lore. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky. The Dogon regale the visitor with their Sirius mythology. Then, smiling politely, expectantly, they inquire of their visitor what his Sirius myths might be. Perhaps he refers before answering to a well-worn book in his baggage. The white dwarf companion of Sirius being a current astronomical sensation, the traveler exchanges a spectacular myth for a routine one. After he leaves, his account is remembered, retold, and eventually incorporated into the corpus of Dogon mythology -- or at least into a collateral branch (perhaps filed under "Sirius myths, bleached peoples' account"). When Marcel Griaule makes mythological inquiries in the 1930s and 1940s, he has his own European Sirius myth played back to him.
So people do incorporate other stories into their own body of legends. If this were done by many peoples, with a Flood legend that originated over four thousand years ago in an influential civilization like the Sumerians, why should this be surprising? The Society says the Sumerians, or ancient Babylonians, had a tremendous effect on all mankind religiously, and if so this would logically apply to Flood legends.
Historians attribute the earliest Flood legends to the Sumerians. The generally accepted idea is summarized in In The Beginning:256
Sumeria was a flat land between two large rivers. As is true of any large river...., unusual rises will bring about flooding conditions. In a land as flat as Sumeria, it would not take much of a flood to cover large portions of the entire region.
A particularly bad flood would live on in the memory of later generations, and particularly bad floods undoubtedly occurred. In 1929, the English archaeologist Sir Charles Woolley reported finding water-deposited layers as much as ten feet thick in excavations near the Euphrates, and Sumerian records speak of events as happening "before the Flood" and "since the Flood." [This was later dated to about 2800 B.C.]
Naturally, a particularly bad flood would destroy records, especially in a primitive situation where writing had, at best, barely come into use. For that reason, events "before the Flood" would quickly take on a legendary and, very likely, highly exaggerated nature. The Sumerians listed kings who reigned for tens of thousands of years before the Flood; they made no such reports of kings who reigned after the Flood. And, of course, this reflected itself in the ages given of the antediluvian patriarchs in the Bible.
The dramatic tale of the Sumerian Flood was included in the epic of Gilgamesh, which must have been popular all over the ancient world and which couldn't help but influence the myths of other nations.
.... there is no sign of.... a universal deluge in the third millennium B.C. Egyptian history, for instance, carries right through the entire third millennium B.C. without any sign of a break or any mention of a flood.
On the other hand, if we consider the flatness of the Tigris-Euphrates valley, and consider the Flood to have been a local phenomenon of the region, we might well imagine twenty-two feet to be a sober estimate of the depth to which the elevations of the region were covered.
Isn't it remarkable that a local flood happened in Sumeria at just about the time the Bible says there was an earthwide Flood? Its deposits cover an area of thousands of square miles in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, but are not evident beyond the valley. If there was a Flood, why are such deposits not continuous throughout the earth? Jacquetta Hawkes said in The First Great Civilizations:257
.... although silt deposits have been discovered at Ur and several other Sumerian cities they belong to different dates and it has proved impossible to establish a single great inundation affecting the whole land. Presumably floods were a familiar dread that produced in men's minds the myth of the great flood.
I am well aware of everything the Society has written about the improbability of the Sumerian flood legend being incorporated into the Genesis account. The above is presented, not to prove any particular point of view, but to show that archaeologists and Bible scholars have a variety of opinions about the Flood legends, and that explanations other than the Society's are reasonable. Note that what I have said about the possible spread of the Flood story is very nearly the same as what the Bible and the Society say -- that this is the way false religion spread. The major difference is in whether the Flood was local or global. The geological evidence I've presented shows this is not unreasonable.
Is the fact that the Flood tradition is widespread significant in itself? Not necessarily. Perhaps at least as widespread as Flood traditions are creation stories. Often they incorporate the idea that the earth rests on some large animal, or is supported by a god. Obviously these are not based on some common observation. Why should the Flood story be different?
Another fact which escapes the notice of some Bible commentators is that floods are universal phenomena. As Legends of the Earth explains:258
.... the universality of flood traditions can be explained very easily without requiring a widespread flood of cosmic or any other origin, if we bear in mind that floods, plural, are a universal geologic phenomenon.... [In a previous chapter we] have seen how volcano legends of peoples widely separated in time and place have many features in common. If active volcanoes were found everywhere, volcano legends no doubt would be so common that someone would look for a universal eruption as the underlying cause. As it is, active volcanoes, and with them volcano legends, are restricted to certain belts on the face of the earth. On the other hand, there is virtually no part of the globe where there could not at some time have been a flood potentially dangerous to humans in the vicinity. A river anywhere can overflow if its waters are rapidly augmented by heavy rains, or even more suddenly augmented by the bursting of a natural dam. Even the deserts have their floods, for when the infrequent rains do fall, they commonly come as cloudbursts and there is no vegetation to retard run-off. (However, desert dwellers are too knowing to be caught in one of these very temporary but incredibly awesome "flash floods.") ...
At all times up to and including the present, there has been one source of frightful flooding of coastal areas in all parts of the world -- but particularly on all Pacific shores -- which would be particularly memorable to those fortunate enough to survive: tsunamis, or seismic sea waves [commonly referred to in English as "tidal waves"]. Although by no means universal individually, tsunamis can and often do wreak havoc in very widely separated places, within hours. Since tsunamis are important not only as possible sources of flood legends but also in connection with matters of paramount importance in the chapters yet to come, a detailed look at these formidable waves is necessary at this point.
Tsunamis as a rule are associated with submarine earthquakes. They are generated either directly, if earthquake faulting displaces the sea floor, or indirectly, by submarine landslides, mudflows, or slumping triggered by an earthquake. Occasionally they can result from a submarine eruption, if an underwater explosion displaces substantial amounts of water. Sea-floor displacements involved when a caldera collapses on the sea floor likewise can produce tsunamis, and if the caldera is a large one and its collapse sudden, as in the case of the Krakatau eruption of 1883, the resulting tsunami may be of stupendous proportions. Also in Krakatau-like eruptions, huge waves may be generated when incalculable amounts of volcanic tephra suddenly fall on the sea surface after a major explosion.
Tsunamis can travel thousands of miles from their source, sweep miles inland, and can reach heights up to several hundred feet. Japan has many times in recorded history experienced tsunamis up to 120 feet high, which killed tens of thousands of people at a time. The Krakatau eruption in 1883 caused tsunamis up to 130 feet, with 36,000 deaths in Indonesia. Hawaii regularly gets tsunamis up to forty feet.259 Earthquakes can trigger landslides that can locally produce water surges in lakes or estuaries up to more than a thousand feet high.260
So floods themselves are essentially universal occurrences. But what about the question of how flood traditions having so many features in common could arise? Legends of the Earth explains:261
All in all, then, from the purely geologic point of view we should expect independent flood traditions to have arisen almost anywhere in the world at almost any time, engendered by flood catastrophes stemming from perfectly natural causes, and of all the possible causes of floods, only tsunamis are capable of giving rise to flood legends in widely separated places at the same time. Although many different floods are required to account for the many traditions known, there is no reason to be surprised that flood traditions from all over the world may bear notable resemblances to one another. For when we come right down to it, there are only two basic ways in which people can survive a flood: [italics added] by getting above it, or by riding it out on some floating object. Thus there are legends in which the survivors take to high ground or climb exaggeratedly tall trees, and there are legends in which the survivors float to safety in an ark, a canoe, a chest, or what have you. In most flood traditions a vessel is the means of salvation, and that too is not surprising, in view of the fact that the water depth is often exaggerated to the point where everything is submerged and there would be no other way to account for anyone's being saved to carry on the human race. Exaggeration likewise tends to reduce the number of survivors toward the apparently irreducible minimum of the one man and one woman needed to repopulate the world (but some legends manage to get by with even less). And finally, need we be surprised if some independently generated legends lay the blame for the disaster on somebody's misbehavior? Remember, in the preceding chapter, how the Maoris attributed the Tarawera eruption to the breaking of tabu by the victims? Nevertheless it is undeniable that many flood traditions in widely separated parts of the world do show similarities in detail, highly reminiscent of the biblical deluge, which cannot be explained entirely by the general similarity of floods and the general similarity of human reactions to floods.
There are only two ways in which the story of Noah's flood, whatever its local source, could have been spread around the world: by diffusion, as the people to whose culture it originally belonged migrated to new lands, or by transmission, which requires contact between at least one narrator and one listener from different cultures. Flood traditions are found throughout the western hemisphere from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. In the extreme diffusionist point of view this constitutes evidence that the Indians of North and South America are descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel, who brought the story of Noah with them as they migrated across Asia and into North America via Bering Strait and on down through South America. But while anthropologists do believe that man reached the Americas by way of Bering Strait, the waves of migration took place long before Noah's prototype existed. So that brings us to transmission and its corollary, syncretism (the fusion of elements from independent traditions). If all the biblical parallels in New World flood traditions are the result of cultural contact, then either that contact was somehow established long before the first missionaries are known to have reached the western hemisphere, which is unlikely, or else all such parallels must date from after the time of the first missionaries.
A highly illuminating example of how a legend can be transferred from one culture to another literally overnight was related by Alice Lee Marriott in a New Yorker article some years ago [Dorson, Richard M. "The debate over the trustworthiness of oral traditional history." Volksuberlieferung, Kurt Ranke Festschrift (1968), 19-35] When she was collecting the folklore of a South Dakota tribe, she was challenged one day by the old Indian who was her informant to tell him one of the tales of her people. She thereupon related the story of "the Brave Warrior and the Water Monsters" -- Beowulf. Few changes were necessary; it was "all within the patterns of legendary behavior, which the old man could understand, and I reflected that there might be more to this universal-distribution-of-folklore than I had realized." A little later she heard him relate the story to an audience of his people, "and I must admit the old man made a better story of it than I did. A born, creative story teller, he added bits here and there to round the tale out and make it richer. So must the story of Beowulf have gone, many centuries ago, from hearer to hearer, improved and embellished until at last it was written down." The punch line of her article told how a few years later in an ethnological journal she came across a paper entitled "Occurrence of a Beowulf-like myth among North American Indians," published by a graduate student who, in violation of an unwritten law among ethnologists, had been using the same informant.
With this illustration in mind, it seems quite natural that certain details of the biblical flood story should turn up all over the world. For more than nineteen centuries missionaries have been carrying it to every corner of the earth. The story of Noah is one of the most colorful of all the Bible stories, and it is also one whose moral is particularly obvious and therefore most likely to be emphasized. Moreover, it should have made the most impression precisely among those peoples who already had a flood tradition with which it could be fused. Missionaries have always been among the first to brave the wilderness to bring the Gospel to primitive people, and in many instances they were the first to take down the legends of the people among whom they worked. In other cases, however, the legends were collected by ethnologists and others who came well after the missionaries. Because it often was the missionaries who first devised written forms of obscure languages, it is impossible to prove whether a flood story really predates the missionary influence or whether it is just Noah being given back with local color, like Beowulf in South Dakota. Only one very equivocal instance of pre-missionary documentation is known (which will will be discussed subsequently), but at least one instance has been confirmed where Noah was given back in the same way as Beowulf: A missionary named Moffat related, in a book published in 1842...., how he had never found a flood legend among the South Africans until one day a Namaqua Hottentot told him one. Suspecting possible missionary influence, he questioned the man closely but was assured that it was a tale of his forefathers, and that the Hottentot had never even met a missionary before. But later, when Moffat was comparing notes with another missionary, he learned that the other had indeed told the story of Noah to the very same Hottentot.
So there exist plausible mechanisms for generating widely distributed flood legends, and there are examples of these mechanisms at work. Now let's look at some examples of ancient legends. Legends of the Earth describes one well known Greek flood legend, Deukalion's deluge:262
Best known to most of us after the Babylonian-Hebrew flood tradition is that of classical mythology, Deukalion's deluge. Of the several Greek flood traditions, it is the only one in which the flood is said to have been worldwide.... Deukalion's flood was accepted as historical fact by the Greeks, including Aristotle. There apparently was at least one king by that name. A marble pillar found on the island of Paros gives a list of the kings of Greece and the dates of their reigns, and according to this chronicle, Deukalion's deluge occurred in about 1539 B.C.... About the middle of the fifteenth century B.C., or possibly earlier, there was a Krakatau-like eruption of the volcano Santorin262a in the Aegean Sea.... At the end of that eruption the volcano collapsed to form a caldera, and that collapse could have generated one or more tsunamis, possibly far bigger than any ever generated in the Mediterranean area in the more normal way by earthquakes. The possible dates for Deukalion and for the eruption are sufficiently close, in our present state of knowledge, that the proposal.... that the legend or myth of Deukalion's deluge was a consequence of that catastrophe appears very plausible. In this light it appears particularly significant that [Richard] Andree.... states that in an early version of the myth the flood is said to have come from the sea.... -- and what else could that mean but a tsunami?
Later versions of the Deukalion story include details that closely parallel the Hebrew-Babylonian flood story. In the course of time the sea flood became nine days and nights of rain, the chest became an ark, animals were included in the passenger list, and Deukalion sent out a dove on successive occasions to see if the waters had receded.... Thus the traditions of two different places, based on floods centuries apart, merged into what is essentially the same story.... There is considerable lack of agreement concerning Deukalion and the characters associated with other Greek flood traditions.
In view of the above, the Watchtower's description263 of one Greek legend is seen to be a gross simplification of the history of the several Greek flood legends. It is similar with a flood legend from India, in which a man named Manu is saved with the help of a small fish. Concerning this legend's development, Legends of the Earth said:
The legend of Manu is post-Vedic, there being only obscure references in the Vedas that might relate to it. It first appears in the Satapatha Brahmana, which goes back to about 600 B.C..... It has been suggested that in view of the geographic setting, the bursting of a landslide-dammed lake in the Himalayas could be a possible factual basis for the flood tradition in Sanskrit literature.
In later versions Manu is not merely a common man, but a great seer or a king. As in the case of the Deukalion myth, possibly Semitic elements appear after a while. In the Matsya Purana, dating from 320 A.D., Manu takes all living creatures and the seeds of plants into his "ark."
The Watchtower article also described legends from the South Pacific and the Americas. Legends of the Earth describes a number of South Pacific legends, and summarizes some interesting points:264
The South Seas also provide abundant flood traditions in very diverse forms. Aside from some biblical parallels, which can easily be attributed to missionary influence, many of these traditions are remarkably consistent with the local geologic setting. Very often the flood is said to have come from the sea, as would be expected in islands frequently subjected to earthquake-generated tsunamis or typhoon-lashed waves.
Legends of the Earth describes some American flood traditions, and comments that:
North American Indian lore contains abundant evidence of the way in which primitive mythologies absorb later elements. For instance, Old Coyote Man, the culture-hero of the Crow legends, is supposed to have invented horses -- but horses were unknown to the Indians until the Conquistadores introduced them in the sixteenth century. The general resemblance of many of the American Indian flood traditions to each other can readily be explained in terms of migration or contacts between tribes, and frequent resemblances to the Bible story are not at all difficult to attribute to the efforts of missionaries.265
Flood traditions are prolific throughout Latin America. There are numerous legends in which the survivors of the deluge, either a couple or a family, escape in a calabash, a canoe, or a raft, or climb mountains or trees. Biblical overtones are very recognizable in some cases.266
Next are described some legends of purely local origin, as well as ones with biblical overtones. The last example is one from the Aztecs, and was referred to earlier on page 205 as one equivocal instance of pre-missionary documentation:267
The story of Coxcox is the one and only flood legend with possibly biblical elements for which there seems to be pre-missionary documentation in the form of pictographs. Or is there? According to Andree.... none of the early writers concerned with Mexican mythology, who could have heard the tale at the time of the Conquistadores or shortly after, ever mentioned a Bible-like flood legend, and he doubted that the interpretation of the pictographs was the correct one. In this he followed Don Jose Fernando Ramirez, conservator of the National Museum in Mexico City, who showed that the descriptions of the pictographs as given by Clavigero, Humboldt, Kingsborough, and others were all based on the same source, a picture map published by Gemilli Careri in Churchill's A Collection of Voyages and Travels, volume 4 [written in 1732]. Gemelli Careri had read into this picture the story of the Flood, and Humboldt and all the rest followed suit and accepted his interpretation. But according to Ramirez the "dove" was intended to be the bird known as the Tihuitochan, which calls "Ti-hui," and the picture actually represented the story of the migration of the Aztecs to the Valley of Mexico. The Aztecs are believed to have come into Mexico from farther to the north. Their traditions told how a little bird kept repeating "Ti-hui, ti-hui," which in their language meant "Let's go!" and their priests interpreted this as a divine command to seek a new home. Seven subtribes set out, six of whom established themselves more or less quickly in various parts of Mexico, while the seventh wandered for some time, looking for a sign in the form of an eagle sitting on a rock holding a serpent in its mouth. The promised sign was encountered at Lake Texcoco, and accordingly the city now known as Mexico City was founded on its shores in 1325. This, then, is the tradition historians believe is embodied in the picture writing in question; it was Gemilli Careri alone who decided that the bird in the picture was the dove giving out tongues. He himself admitted that the chronology was "not so exact as it should be, there being too few years allow'd between the flood and the founding of Mexico".... -- for the picture includes symbols telling the number of years spent in various places during the wanderings.
Gemilli Careri heard the story of Coxcox during his sojourn in Mexico in 1667, well over a hundred years after the first missionaries had arrived with Cortez and ample time for biblical details to have become superposed on indigenous Aztec myths and traditions. Other Mexican flood stories are quite obviously the Bible story transplanted to a more familiar local setting.
The above should be enough to establish that the problem of how Flood traditions arose is not nearly so black-and-white as Watchtower publications would have it. Here are a few more things to consider.
A problem with putting too much stock in the supposed universality of Flood traditions is that they are not universal, but simply widespread. As significant as is the fact that many cultures have Flood traditions is the fact that many lack such traditions. According to Legends of the Earth,268
Flood traditions are lacking in semi-arid Central Asia, which is hardly surprising....
Very conspicuous by its absence is an Egyptian flood legend; but likewise conspicuous by their absence in Egypt are disastrous floods. Every year the Nile overflowed its banks gently and predictably, leaving behind a life-giving deposit of fine silt to replenish the soil. Lean years might have ensued when the waters fell short of the average, and extra-high waters might conceivably have caused some inconvenience, but the annual flood could never have been anything but benign on the whole. Its failure to materialize would have been the disaster to commemorate in legend. The other main rivers of Africa also have an annual rise which, being predictable, is not calamitous.
The only legend from southern Africa involving any sort of inundation is not a typical deluge tradition at all, but one which seeks to explain the origin of a particular lake.... This tale was collected by Livingstone, and was the only one he encountered in all his years of missionary work which had any resemblance to a flood tradition.
A good summary of the issues surrounding Flood legends is in the final paragraphs of Legends of the Earth.269
To cite further examples of flood traditions would become tedious, if it has not done so already. Enough instances have been given, I hope, to demonstrate that when viewed from their geologic context, many flood traditions obviously have originated on the spot. I can see no reason to assume that in explaining the ubiquity of flood traditions we are limited to a choice between two extreme alternatives. [Immanuel] Velikovsky, for instance states:
The answer to the problem of the similarity of the motifs in the folklore of various peoples is, in my view, as follows: A great many ideas reflect real historical content. There is a legend, found all over the world, that a deluge swept the earth and covered hills and even mountains. We have a poor opinion of the mental abilities of our ancestors if we think that merely an extraordinary overflow of the Euphrates so impressed the nomads of the desert that they thought the entire world was flooded, and that the legend so born wandered from people to people. [Worlds in Collision, Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1950; New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1967]
To which one might reply: Of course many ideas reflect real historic content. However, there is not one deluge legend, but rather a collection of traditions which are so diverse that they can be explained neither by one general catastrophe alone, nor by the dissemination of one local tradition alone. Some are highly imaginative but very wide-of-the-mark attempts to explain local topographic features or the presence of fossil shells high above sea level. A large number are recollections -- vastly distorted and exaggerated, as is the rule in folklore -- of real local disasters, often demonstrably consistent with special local geologic conditions. Surely it is not accidental, for instance, that in many flood traditions from the Pacific coast of the Americas and from Pacific islands, the flood is attributed to a rise of the sea; more than 90 percent of the earthquake energy released annually in the world is released in the Pacific area, and consequently tsunamis are most likely to be generated there. One of the oldest of the remembered flood disasters occurred a long, long time ago in Mesopotamia, and it made such an impression on the dwellers in the city of Ur that the tale was handed down from generation to generation and carried with the Patriarchs when they migrated toward the Mediterranean. The legend born of that long-ago flood might never have wandered very much farther from its source were it not for the fact that it became a part of the Scriptures, and thus in later ages was zealously carried to every corner of the world by Christian missionaries, often to become merged with pre-existing traditions indigenous to their localities. Flood traditions are nearly universal, partly because of the efforts of these missionaries, but mainly because floods in the plural are the most nearly universal of all geologic catastrophes.
Keep in mind the above material when reading the following conclusions from the Watchtower article on Flood legends, page 9.270 It contains a number of inaccuracies and unwarranted conclusions.
What can we conclude from these many Flood legends? Though they differ greatly in details, they have some common features. These indicate an origin in some gigantic and unforgettable cataclysm. Despite vivid colorations over the centuries, their underlying theme is like a thread that ties them to one great event -- the global Deluge related in the simple, uncolored Bible account.
Since the Flood legends are generally found among people who did not come in touch with the Bible until recent centuries, it would be a mistake to contend that the Scriptural account influenced them.... So we can confidently conclude that the Flood legends confirm the reality of the Biblical account.
This Watchtower article quoted from The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, as does the article on the Deluge in the Insight book. Here is the one from Insight.271 Again note the inaccuracies:
The universality of the flood accounts is usually taken as evidence for the universal destruction of humanity by a flood and the spread of the human race from one locale and even from one family. Though the traditions may not all refer to the same flood, apparently the vast majority do. The assertion that many of these flood stories came from contacts with missionaries will not stand up because most of them were gathered by anthropologists not interested in vindicating the Bible,
What does who gathered the stories have to do with whether they came from missionary contacts?
and they are filled with fanciful and pagan elements evidently the result of transmission for extended periods of time in a pagan society. Moreover, some of the ancient accounts were written by people very much in opposition to the Hebrew-Christian tradition.
Opposition to the Hebrew-Christian tradition apparently did not matter in the case of the Greek Deukalion story or the Indian Manu story -- they gradually took on more and more biblical elements over time.
What about the Genesis Flood account itself? Is it self-consistent? Does it really bear the mark of inspiration by God? The general consensus among non-fundamentalist biblical scholars is that it is self-contradictory and is actually the result of two earlier accounts being merged and reworked by Jewish priests of the fifth century B.C. Isaac Asimov's In The Beginning272 contains much commentary on this material. The Noah's Ark Nonsense273 explains the problems clearly:
The Flood story in Genesis is more complex than the other Flood accounts. Unlike them, it contains significant contradictions and inconsistencies. Here are some examples.
CONTRADICTIONS AND INCONSISTENCIES
1a. Then the Lord said to Noah, "... Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth" (7:1a, 2-3).
1b. And God said to Noah, "... And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you, to keep them alive" (6:13a, 19-20).
These two passages clearly disagree on the number of birds and of clean animals that should be taken aboard the ark (clean animals are those fit to eat; see Leviticus 11): seven pair in 1a, and one pair in 1b. The passages also disagree on the term for deity: "the Lord" vs. "God."
2a. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.... At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made, ... He waited another seven days, ... Then he waited another seven days (7:12; 8:6, 10a, 12a).
2b. In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.... In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth; ... In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, "Go forth from the ark" (7:11; 8:13a, 14-16a).
These two sets of passages disagree on the duration of the Flood. In 2a a total of only 54 days (40 plus 7 plus 7) passed from the time that the Flood began until Noah left the ark. In 2b, however, the period was the equivalent of a solar year. The period appears to be more than a year (a year and ten days), but that is because time here is stated in terms of the old Near Eastern lunar year.28
28. As stated in these passages in Genesis, the period of time is from the 600th year of Noah's life, 2d month, 17th day, to the 601st year, 2d month, 27th day. The "year" is a lunar year (12 months of 29 1/2 days each), with 11 days added (according to the ancient custom of counting both the first and last days [17th and 27th]). This adds up to 365 days, a solar year. See Cassuto, vol. 2, p. 113 [Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis].
Biblical fundamentalists invariably either ignore these differences or try to interpret the verses to eliminate the differences and to harmonize the passages. Such procedure fails because it distorts the evidence. Either device -- ignoring parts of the text or reinterpreting parts of the text -- usually leads to misinterpretation of the text.
THE DISCOVERY OF SOURCES
The only way to understand the cause of the inconsistencies is to recognize that we have before us an example of ancient composite literature. Two separate written sources have been conflated; that is, two sources, or extracts from two sources, have been interwoven into one account, without rewriting them to make their vocabulary, style, and ideas agree with each other. Conflation invariably produces contradictions and inconsistencies, and sometimes duplications. Ancient Near Eastern literature, including that of the Hebrews, often repeated ideas, however, so duplication of thought does not necessarily indicate several writers. On the other hand, duplication of an incident in a story is usually caused by conflation. Composite literature was very prevalent in the ancient world, and a major contribution of modern biblical scholarship is the recognition that much of both the Old Testament and the New Testament is composite.
The same two sources that are used in the Genesis Flood story run through the Pentateuch, where they are combined with other source material. The presence of written sources in the Creation accounts was first observed when H. B. Witter in 1711 recognized the significance of the different terms for God. Gradually biblical scholars discovered more and more evidence of earlier sources and later editing in the Pentateuch. The famous Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis assigned letters to the main sources: J, E, P, and D. Although the hypothesis has had to be revised and refined, it is basically sound. Orthodox Jews and Christians attack it because it upsets the traditional view that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, but the evidence for written sources is quite decisive. The contradictions, duplications, and linguistic inconsistencies cannot be sensibly explained as the composition of a single writer.273a
The passages quoted above in the "a" category (1a, 2a) are from the J source, in which the term for God is "the Lord." The passages in the "b" category are from the P source, in which the term is "God." J was written in the tenth or possibly ninth century B.C., but the date of P is sixth century and later -- P was written over a period of time. J was a narrative document in which stories were arranged in a chronological framework. P was produced by Hebrew priests to promote their religion.
Duplication is another type of evidence that there are two sources in the Genesis Flood story. Three instances are quite plain. (1) Noah is told who and what to take aboard (7:1-5, J; 6:18-22, P). (2) The Flood begins (7:10, J; 7:11, P). (3) The deity promises not to do it again (8:21-22, J; 9:8-11, P).
The evidence forms a pattern: the same passage that is a duplication, or a contradiction, or causes a break in the flow of thought, usually displays a difference in vocabulary, especially the word for God.
If we are to understand the Flood story in the Bible in relation to other Deluge stories, we must first separate it into its two accounts and let each speak for itself. The traditional practice of treating them as a single account, on the other hand, conceals the distinguishing characteristics of each, and presents a distorted picture of the Hebrews' treatment of the story.
Below is a reconstruction of the two sources, in the Revised Standard Version, according to the analysis made by Professor Speiser.29 "R" indicates either an insertion made by a redactor (editor) or a later gloss made by a scribe.
29. E. A. Speiser, Genesis, pp. 47-50. [Vol. 1, Anchor Bible series]
THE FLOOD STORY IN J
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (6:5-8).
Then the Lord said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground." And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. (7:1-5).
And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him went into the ark, to escape the waters of the flood. (Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, (two and two, [R]) male and female, went into the ark with Noah [R; Speiser overlooked this gloss, suggested by 6:22 and 7:16]). And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth (7:7-10).
And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights (7:12).
And the Lord shut him in. The flood continued forty days upon the earth [Speiser assigns part of this clause to P]; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth (7:16c-17).
Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark (7:22-23).
The rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually (8:2b-3a).
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made, and sent forth a raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put forth his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she did not return to him any more (8:6-12).
And Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry (8:13b).
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease" (8:20-22).
THE FLOOD STORY IN P
These are the generations of Noah. (Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God [R].) And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof [Speiser: sky light] for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and set the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them." Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him (6:9-22).
Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth (7:6).
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened (7:11).
On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind, and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And they that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him (7:13-16b).
The waters prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily upon the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm upon the earth, and every man (7:18-21).
And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days. But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed (7:24-8:2a).
At the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen (8:3b-5).
In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth (8:13a).
In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, "Go forth from the ark, you and your wife, your sons and your sons' wives with you. Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh (birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth [R; Speiser assigns this to P]) that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply upon the earth." So Noah went forth, and his sons and his wife and his son's wives with him. And every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves upon the earth, went forth by families out of the ark (8:14-19).
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (9:1).
CHARACTERISTICS OF J
Two of the most obvious features of J, which are not in P, have been mentioned: "the Lord" as the name for God, and the distinction between clean and unclean animals, an old distinction in Hebrew and other religions. Also the numbers seven and forty are characteristic of J. Seven was a popular number in the Near East because of interest in the seven planets and the seven days of the week. "Forty days" occurs often in the Bible. The Hebrew word geshem, "heavy rain," is another linguistic feature of J's Flood story. In J, Noah sent forth birds after the rains ceased. The ark apparently had no window, and in order to see that the ground was dry, Noah had to remove the covering over the ark. Afterwards, Noah built an altar and offered up a tremendous burnt offering, which consisted of some of every kind of clean animal and every kind of clean bird. This feature demonstrates that J's author or authors sought to promote Hebrew ritualistic law....
CHARACTERISTICS OF P
P's priestly authors were very much interested in composing genealogies; therefore the term "generations" occurs often in P. The word occurs in the Flood story in Genesis 6:9.
Only P gives details of the ark's construction. The dimensions are given in Hebrew cubits: approximately 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high....
It is P which gives a landing site for the ark: "the mountains of Ararat." As we have observed, this indicates some connection with the Hurrian version of the Flood story. Considering the late date of P, however, its priestly writers may have learned of it indirectly through some other group.
The covenant idea was very characteristic of Hebrew religion. Accordingly, the priestly writers interpreted God's promise (not to send such a flood again) as a covenant between God and Noah and his descendants. They made the rainbow the sign of this covenant.
The situation after the Flood was similar to that after the Creation: only a very few people were on earth to reproduce the human race. Therefore the priestly writers portrayed God as giving the same instruction in both situations. He told Noah and his sons (9:1), as well as Adam and Eve (1:28), "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." The same writers used the expression, "according to its kind," in both the Creation and Flood accounts (1:25; 7:14).
The author of The Noah's Ark Nonsense next shows the parallels in the two Genesis accounts with those in the early Sumerian account, the Gilgamesh Epic, and various other ancient flood stories.
For many years I noted breaks in the flow of thought in the Genesis account (usually using the New World Translation), the needless duplication of the description of events, the places where the account says clearly that two of each of every sort of animal went into the ark, as opposed to the places where it says seven clean and two unclean went in, and other problems. As is apparent from reading of the above J and P accounts, it is clear why these problems occur -- there are two accounts in Genesis that have not been made consistent with one another. Note how much more smoothly each account flows than does the composite account.
Here are a few more problems. Why, for example, does Gen. 8:6 say (New World Translation):
So it occurred that at the end of forty days Noah proceeded to open the window of the ark that he had made.
The composite account in Genesis does not make clear at the end of forty days of what. The verse only makes sense in terms of the above explanation -- it is part of the J document, which pegs the length of the Flood at 54 days total, and the forty days were the end of forty days of rain. Another translation of Genesis, in The Book of J,274 presents the entire J document and further makes these things clear.
Similarly, it is not clear what the 150 day time periods refer to. From reading various translations, it is not clear whether there are one or two. What is clear is that Gen. 7:24 to 8:2 says consistently the same thing across many translations. The New World Translation says:
And the waters continued overwhelming the earth a hundred and fifty days. After that God remembered Noah.... and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters began to subside. And the springs of the watery deep and the floodgates of the heavens became stopped up, and so the downpour from the heavens was restrained.
The New English Bible says:
When the waters had increased over the earth for a hundred and fifty days, God thought of Noah.... and he made a wind pass over the earth, and the waters began to subside. The springs of the abyss were stopped up, and so were the windows of the sky; the downpour from the skies was checked.
The Jerusalem Bible says:
The waters rose on the earth for a hundred and fifty days. But God had Noah in mind.... God sent a wind across the earth and the waters subsided. The springs of the deep and the sluices of heaven were stopped. Rain ceased to fall from heaven....
The Revised Standard Version says:
And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days. But God remembered Noah.... And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed.
The Bible in Living English says:
And the water swelled over the earth for a hundred and fifty days. And God remembered Noah.... and God sent a wind across the earth, and the water was checked; and the water-holes leading from the deep and the hatches of the sky were blocked, and the rain was shut off from the sky.
These quotations from the P document make it plain that the rain shut off after 150 days, whereas according to Gen. 7:4, 12, which is from the J document (New World Translation):
.... I am making it rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights.... And the downpour upon the earth went on for forty days and forty nights.
The Society makes no attempt, at least that I have been able to find, to address any of the above problems. Gen. 8:6 is not referenced in any Watchtower publications index from 1930 through 1989. It is conspicuous by its absence. The various time periods mentioned in Genesis -- the 40 day periods, the 150 day periods, and the dates of the month -- all have a general disconnectedness out of which little sense can be made, and the Society gives no hint of the difficulty. Even the Aid and Insight books do not attempt to reconcile the time periods, but present only the things that can be made sense of. Try to decipher the time periods yourself. You will quickly see what I mean.
250 The Bible -- God's Word or Man's?, p. 116, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, 1989.
251 Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, p. 611, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, 1988.
252 The Watchtower, p. 8, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, January 15, 1992.
253 Awake!, p. 8, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, May 8, 1968.
254 Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain, pp. 89-91, Ballantine Books, New York, 1979.
255 ibid, pp. 81-88.
256 Isaac Asimov, In The Beginning, pp. 153-154, 165, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1981.
257 Steve Allen, Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, & Morality, p. 154, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1990.
258 Dorothy B. Vitaliano, Legends of the Earth, pp. 144-148, The Citadel Press, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1973, 1976.
259 Bruce A. Bolt, Earthquakes, pp. 81-86, W. H. Freeman and Company, New York, 1988.
260 ibid, p. 84,185.
261 Vitaliano, op cit, pp. 150-153.
262 ibid, pp. 156-160.
262a This eruption has been variously dated at from about 1300 to 1650 B.C.
263 The Watchtower, op cit, p. 7.
264 Vitaliano, op cit, p. 166.
265 ibid, p. 169.
266 ibid, p. 172.
267 ibid, pp. 176-177.
268 ibid, pp. 163-164.
269 ibid, pp. 177-178.
270 The Watchtower, op cit, January 15, 1992.
271 Insight on the Scriptures, op cit, Vol. 1, p. 611.
272 Isaac Asimov, op cit.
273 Howard M. Teeple, The Noah's Ark Nonsense, pp. 41-52, Religion and Ethics Institute, Inc., Evanston, Illinois, 1978.
273a An interesting viewpoint on the J document is given in The Book of J, Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg, Grove Weidenfeld, New York, 1990. The following quotations from this book give a taste of the authors' ideas, and also shed light on the reasons many Biblical scholars see several original sources interwoven in the five Bible books ascribed to Moses.
"In Jerusalem, nearly three thousand years ago, an unknown author composed a work that has formed the spiritual consciousness of much of the world ever since. We possess only a fragmentary text of that work, embedded within what we call Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, three of the divisions of Torah, or the Five Books of Moses. Since we cannot know the circumstances under which the work was composed, or for what purposes, ultimately we must rely upon our experience as readers to justify our surmises as to what it is that we are reading. [p. 9]
"My.... assumption is that J was not a professional scribe but rather an immensely sophisticated, highly placed member of the Solomonic elite, enlightened and ironic. But my primary surmise is that J was a woman, and that she wrote for her contemporaries as a woman, in friendly competition with her only strong rival among those contemporaries, the male author of the court history narrative in 2 Samuel.... I will be attempting to account, through my years of reading experience, for my increasing sense of the astonishing differences between J and every other biblical writer. [pp. 9-10]
".... the Book of J, though fragmentary, is hardly Mr. David Rosenberg's creation or my own. All I have done is to remove the Book of J from its context in the Redactor's Torah and then to read what remains, which is the best and most profound writing in the Hebrew Bible. What emerges is an author not so much lost as barricaded from us by normative moralists and theologians, who had and have designs upon us that are altogether incompatible with J's vision.
"[There is] a profound reason for regarding the Bible as a library of literary texts, which to me and many other readers it must be. Yahweh, in transmogrified forms, remains the God of the Children of Abraham, of believing Jews, Christians, and Muslims. But Yahweh, in the Book of J, is a literary character, just as [Shakespeare's] Hamlet is. If the history of religion is the process of choosing forms of worship from poetic tales, in the West that history is even more extravagant: it is the worship, in greatly modified and revised forms, of an extraordinarily wayward and uncanny literary character, J's Yahweh.... I am neither a believer nor a historian, but the dilemma I cite seems to me as much theirs as mine. Why does Yahweh attempt to murder Moses? How can God sit under the terebinth trees at Mamre and devour roast calf and curds? What can we do with a Supreme Being who goes nearly berserk at Sinai and warns us he may break forth against the crowds, who clearly fill him with great distaste? [p. 12]
"The largest assumption of nearly all writers on the Bible is that it is a theological work, as well as historical and literary. J was no theologian, and rather deliberately not a historian.... The Book of J fits no genre, though it established whatever genre the authors of the E, P, and D texts sought to follow. J tells stories, portrays theomorphic men and women, links myth to history, and implicitly utters the greatest of moral prophecies to post-Solomonic Judah and Israel. Yet J is something other than a storyteller, a creator of personalities (human and divine), a national historian and prophet, or even an ancestor of the moral fictions of Wordsworth, George Eliot, and Tolstoy. There is always the other side of J: uncanny, tricky, sublime, ironic, a visionary of incommensurates.... [p. 13]
"The God of the Jews and the Christians, of the Muslims, of the secular scholars and critics, is not the Yahweh of J. What J portrays, with loving irony, is an archaic Judaism now largely lost to us, though to call it a Judaism at all is bound to be an error.... [p. 14]
"J's Yahweh is.... an imp who behaves sometimes as though he is rebelling against his Jewish mother, J. Like J herself, we ought always to be prepared to be surprised by him, which is the only way we can avoid being surprised. [p. 15]
"Embarrassment caused by the impishness of J's Yahweh presumably began with the early revisionists, attaining a first culmination with the work of the Redactor.... Jewish Hellenists rather desperately sought to.... [allegorize] away a Yahweh who walked and who argued, who ate and who rested, who possessed arms and hands, face and legs. [p. 24]
"J's attitude toward Yahweh resembles nothing so much as a mother's somewhat wary but still proudly amused stance toward a favorite son who has grown up to be benignly powerful but also eccentrically irascible. [p. 26]"
A reviewer said: "Fascinating.... The Book of J clearly highlights one of the major problems in Western culture: the fact that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is not a theological god at all but an intensely human character as violent and unpredictable as King Lear."
Another author, Robert Alter, in The Art of Biblical Narrative, extolled the literary qualities found in the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole. Bloom said that Alter "reads a work of 'composite artistry,' in which the artist is the Redactor, masterfully blending his somewhat incompatible sources. [The Book of J, p. 14]"
The Society is aware of many of these points, although it sweeps the conclusions under the rug. The original version of the Society's book All Scripture Is Inspired and Beneficial (pub. 1963, p. 13, para. 3-5) said: "Jehovah God is the Author of the Bible, but he inspired Moses to compile and write the book of Genesis. We say 'compile' because it is evident that Moses possessed written documents preserved by his forefathers as precious, valuable records of the origins of mankind. The Bible refers to eleven of these, the Hebrew word being toledoth (Greek, genesis), which, according to the noted Hebrew scholar Gesenius, means 'history.' A study of the writing style of ancient times reveals that such historical documents were ended with a colophon or conclusion, setting out the name of the writer or owner of the document. Hence, we are able to identify the eleven 'histories' in Genesis by these colophons that conclude them.... Moses compiled these documents under inspiration." The later edition of All Scripture Is Inspired (revised ed., 1990, p. 13, para. 3) completely revised this interpretation and said: "Jehovah God is the Author of the Bible, but he inspired Moses to write the book of Genesis. From where did Moses get the information he recorded in Genesis? Some could have been received directly by divine revelation and some, under the direction of holy spirit, through oral transmission. It is also possible that Moses possessed written documents preserved by his forefathers as precious, valuable records of the origins of mankind." Both editions go on to say that Moses is the single author of Genesis because: (1) Tradition ascribes authorship to Moses. (2) Many references within the rest of the Bible do so.
It is of note that the later edition of All Scripture Is Inspired deletes mention of the compilation of Genesis. It is also interesting to note the slant that the Insight book gives to these points. Vol. 1, pp. 919-920, says that no "definite conclusion can be arrived at, therefore, as to the immediate source from which Moses obtained the information he recorded", but that, nevertheless, the writers believe the "important point is that Jehovah God guided the prophet Moses so that he wrote by divine inspiration." Vol. 2, p. 1212 explains the reasons that the point of view in the earlier version of All Scripture Is Inspired has been changed. It should be obvious that some of the Society's writers noted the clear division of Genesis into sections and the evidence for compilation; otherwise why would they bring the point up?
Insight also discredits the "Documentary Theory," (the general notions originated in the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis) saying: "If the material attributed to each theoretical source is extricated portion by portion, and sentence by sentence, from the Genesis account and then reassembled, the result is a number of accounts each one of which by itself is illogical and incoherent...." A careful reading of the material here presented should convince the reader that the exact opposite is true of the Flood accounts; they make far more sense separately than merged into one.
274 Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg, The Book of J, pp. 68-72, Grove Weidenfeld, New York, 1990.