This is not a discussion on the historicity of Noah and the flood, although it is interesting to note that the Judeo-Christian tradition is not alone in its depiction of a great flood. Catastrophic flood stories exist in many mythic traditions and a comparative analysis could fill the pages of a long book.
I studied comparative mythology in college and came to believe that all myths contain threads of truth, but the Judeo-Christian tradition rises above the rest in terms of its logical robustness and verity.
As for the historicity of the great flood, there are compelling scientific arguments suggesting a worldwide flood shaped the rock formations we see today, but again, it’s not my aim to convince you that the story of Noah and the Great Flood are historical fact.
What I do aim to do is share with you some nuance to the story that I learned during my Bible reading today. I have read the Biblical account several times, but, as usual, the Bible always has something new to offer.
Seven of a Kind?
We typically learn in Bible school that the ark contained two of every kind. However Genesis 7:2-3 (NIV) paints a different picture:
Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female.
Wait, what? In verse 6:19 God said: You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.
Is God contradicting himself? The conclusion that many Biblical scholars share is that God is not contradicting himself, he is providing further instruction.
Thus, after God told Noah to take two of every kind of animal into the ark, He then instructed him to take extras of the clean animals. Similar to how Genesis chapter 2 supplements the first chapter of Genesis by giving a more detailed account of the Creation (see Lyons, 2002), the first portion of Genesis 7 merely supplements the end of the preceding chapter
Why would God instruct Noah to take extra pairs of “clean” animals? I had a more difficult time finding an answer to this, but it could be that Noah was required to sacrifice the clean animals and that Noah and his family would eat some of the clean animals during their time on the ark. Also, he may have required seven pairs of birds so that after the waters receded, the birds could help reseed the land.
Two of Every Kind
When I think of two of every kind of animal on the earth, my mind imagines an unwieldy zoo of creatures that couldn’t possibly fit on one boat. However, during my Bible reading today, I realized I might have been going about it wrong. There are many variations of cats: lions, tigers, domesticated cats, bobcats. But they are all a kind of cat. So it is more conceivable that God sent Noah one kind of cat, not one of each variation of cat.
For example, tigers, lions, leopards, and ocelots were probably not specifically present. Instead, Noah likely took two representatives of the cat kind.
When approached this way, it is much more conceivable that God could have saved the vastness of the animal kingdom in a single boat, and that the variations we see today within the cat kind, for example, could have occurred after the flood. Again, this isn’t a discussion on historicity or how such genetic diversity could have emerged since the days of the flood, although that would be an interesting topic for another blog post.
It Wasn't Just Rain
Most of us who are familiar with Noah’s story know that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. We learned it in Bible school and it’s an easy fact to recite. However, according to the Biblical text, rain wasn’t the only source of water that God unleashed upon the world. Consider the following verse:
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 (NIV 7:11)
According to this verse, God unleashed subterranean sources of water upon the earth, and it can be argued that this was the source of most of the flood water. The following quote is lengthy, but it is very interesting and explains it better than I can:
If the fountains of the great deep were the major source of the waters, then they must have been a huge source of water. Some have suggested that when God made the dry land appear from under the waters on the third day of creation, some of the water that covered the earth became trapped underneath and within the dry land.
Genesis 7:11 says that on the day the flood began, there was a “breaking up” of the fountains, which implies a release of the water, possibly through large fissures in the ground or in the sea floor. The waters that had been held back burst forth with catastrophic consequences.
There are many volcanic rocks interspersed between the fossil layers in the rock record—layers that were obviously deposited during Noah’s flood. So it is quite plausible that these fountains of the great deep involved a series of volcanic eruptions with prodigious amounts of water bursting up through the ground. It is interesting that up to 70 percent or more of what comes out of volcanoes today is water, often in the form of steam.
In their catastrophic plate tectonics model for the flood, Austin et al. have proposed that at the onset of the flood, the ocean floor rapidly lifted up to 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) due to an increase in temperature as horizontal movement of the tectonic plates accelerated. This would spill the seawater onto the land and cause massive flooding—perhaps what is aptly described as the breaking up of the “fountains of the great deep.”
For those who prefer to err on the side of science, it is intriguing to consider what sort of geological event might have occurred to lift the ocean floors; however, what might have precipitated the event is another topic for another blog post.
What's the Point?
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the story of a great cataclysmic flood is an integral part of the human psyche. Because the flood story crosses so many cultures and mythic traditions, it seems feasible that an actual historical geological and meteorological event occurred in our history. The question is when and how did we survive? The story of Noah’s ark provides potential clues, and it is up for the discerning reader to decide what is fact and what is fiction.
I hope, like me, you learned something new today.
Thanks for Listening
Until next time.
“List of Flood Myths.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 3 September 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_flood_myths.
Trefill, James. “Evidence for a Flood.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Institution, 1 April 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/evidence-for-a-flood-102813115/.
Lyons, Eric. “How Many Animals of Each Kind Did Noah Take into the Ark.” Apologetics Press, Apologetics Press, 2004, https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=656.
Jones, Erik. “Clean and Unclean Animals on the Ark.” Life Hope and Truth, Life Hope and Truth, https://lifehopeandtruth.com/bible/blog/clean-and-unclean-animals-on-the-ark/.
Jeanson, Nathaniel T. “Which Animals Were on the Ark with Noah.” Answers in Genesis, Answers in Genesis, 28 May 2016, https://answersingenesis.org/creation-science/baraminology/which-animals-were-on-the-ark-with-noah/.
“Noah’s Flood—Where Did the Water Come From?” ChristianAnswers.Net, Christian Answers Network, https://christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c010.html.
Jessica E. Thomas graduated summa cum laude with Academic Honors in Writing from Ball State University, receiving a Bachelor of Science in English and a Minor in Creative Writing. She began her professional career in marketing at a large Indianapolis law firm. Since transitioning to Information Technology in 2001, she has worked in the pharmaceutical, student loan, and finance industries as a computer programmer, systems analyst, Web developer, and technical writer. She has authored two novels, three novellas, a poetry collection, a short story collection, and a children’s book.