Thursday, December 13, 2012

Finding Noah's Flood Creates Real Problems

Noah looks for dry land.

 In keeping with the on-going, desperate attempt by religious fundamentalists to prove the Bible is factually correct, a noted explorer now claims to have proof of Noah’s flood.  That’s the one that the Bible says covered the whole world and killed all living creatures except one family.

Actually, Robert Ballard didn’t find that.  He found evidence of a massive flood in what is now Turkey.  That’s not the same thing as finding Noah's flood.

Ballard, who is credited with uncovering the Titanic in its watery grave as well as the World War II battleship the Bismarck, said his study of the Turkish shoreline turned up evidence of a civilization swept away 7,500 years by a flood. 

Despite the loud shouting, Ballard was actually building on research first announced in 1990s by geologists William Ryan and Walter Pittman. They proposed that the Mediterranean Sea rose and inundated the original shoreline of the Black Sea.  Naturally, any humans living in that area would also have been swamped.

"We went in there to look for the flood," Ballard said. "Not just a slow moving, advancing rise of sea level, but a really big flood that then stayed... The land that went under stayed under."

His search has been spurred by the biblical account in Genesis 7:

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights…

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.

Mt. Ararat
He’s not the only researcher drawn by that story.  Some explorers actually climbed Mt. Ararat, the supposed resting place of Noah’s Ark in hopes of finding ancient timbers.  They were serious.  Noah’s Ark isn’t just a story, but the linchpin of biblical history.  After all, Noah’s family repopulated the world. In addition, the account testifies to God’s power.  

If it didn’t happen, then one of the underlying stories behind the Christian faith turns out simply to be a myth. 

Therefore, fundamentalists have read the news of Ballard’s findings with great interest.  He may have actually pinpointed a Noah-like flood. There also may have been a tiny civilization that was inundated.  So far, so good.

However, Ballard is using “robotic technology,” according to a published account, that takes the research back 12,000 years to when the ice that covered much of the land began to melt and caused floods. 

That’s a problem.  Fundamentalist accept that the Earth is no more than 9,000 years old.  What a dilemma.  They can accept the flood and deny their own creationist nonsense.  Or disavow their cherished flood and the Bible to remain wedded to the fake history.

Then, too, this flood covered an estimated 100,000 square miles.  That’s a big flood, but not big enough.  The biblical account claims that the floor covered the entire Earth and killed every living creature except those safely living on Noah’s ark. 

22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. (Genesis 7)

Another dilemma: accept the smaller flood, which other humans, besides Noah, survived and that the Bible is inaccurate; or deny the flood and the accompanying research.

Regardless of the answer, there’s another problem: The water can’t just disappear. Water sits on the surface of the ground only when it can’t go lower.  If the whole Earth is covered with a flood, where did the water go?  It can’t evaporate, since it would only return as rain.  It can’t go into underground caverns since they don’t exist and the ground would have been totally saturated. 

What is a poor fundamentalist to do?

How about recognizing that the story, once placed in a historical context constructed by Ballard or anyone else, can’t be accurate?  History isn’t that cut and dry.

Sure, there may have been a flood.  Why not?  After all, other cultures have histories of floods.  Such events are commonplace today.  There’s no reason they didn’t occur as frequently in the past. 

One ancient document, the Babylonian saga called the Gilgamesh, for example, has a detailed account of a huge flood.  The tale precedes the Bible by at least 1,000 years and yet contains very similar ideas: there’s one survivor who sent out a raven and a dove to test the depth of the receding waters. 

In fact, historians have long recognized that the Gilgamesh provided a framework for the Noah account.

Noah's Ark  after landing
However, that flood cannot match the biblical version.  No flood could cover the Earth so that only a mountain top – not the world’s highest mountain either – was visible.  At the same time, DNA testing has shown that humans all evolved from African ancestors, but that we contain DNA from other human species.  More than Noah and his family had to have survived.

What a problem for literalists: accept the Bible account and ignore the research which provides some support for the cherished stories; or accept the research and concede the Bible isn’t 100 percent accurate.

Ballard intends to keep searching for the flood.  Everyone else will just have to keep searching for answers to questions raised by his findings.

This is my last post for 2012.  I’ll be away until the New Year.  I have enjoyed writing these articles on religious history and hope anyone reading them does, too.

Happy New Year!


Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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