THE STORY OF THE GREAT FLOOD. -- Gen.6-8.
Hist. Bible I, 52-65.
Darwin, Origin of Species; Wallace, Darwinism; 3. William Dawson, Modern Ideas of Evolution; Article Evolution in leading encyclopedias.
When Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every purpose in the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, it was a source of regret that he had made man on the earth and it grieved him to his heart. Therefore Jehovah said, I will destroy from the face of the ground man whom I have created, for I regret that I have made mankind.
Then Jehovah said to Noah, enter thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee I have found righteous before me in this generation.
And Noah did according to all that Jehovah commanded him.
Then Jehovah destroyed everything that existed upon the face of the ground, both man and animals, and creeping things, and birds of the heavens, so that they were destroyed from the earth; and Noah only was left and they who were with him in the ark. -- Gen.6:5-8; 7:1, 5, 23 (Hist. Bible).
And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing with God; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him. By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house, through which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. -- Heb.11:6, 7.
Rare is the man who can look back over his life and not confess, at least to himself, that the things which have made him most a man are the very things from which he tried with all his soul to escape.
If we would attain happiness,
We must first attain helpfulness.
But stay! no age was e'er degenerate
Unless men held it at too cheap a rate,
For in our likeness still we shape our fate.
THE TWO BIBLICAL ACCOUNTS OF THE FLOOD.
Careful readers of Genesis 6-9 have long recognized certain difficulties in interpreting the narrative as it now stands. Thus, for example, in 6:20 Noah is commanded to take into the ark two of every kind of beast and bird; but in 7:2, 3 he is commanded to take in seven of all the clean beasts and birds. According to 7:4, 12 the flood came as the result of a forty days' rain; but according to 7:11 it was because the fountains of the great deep were broken up and the windows of heaven were opened. Again, according to 7:17, the flood continued on the earth forty days; while according to 7:24 its duration was a hundred and fifty days.
These fundamental variations and the presence of duplicate versions of the same incidents point, some writers think, to two originally distinct accounts of the flood which have been closely woven together by the final editor of the book of Genesis. When these two accounts are disentangled, they are each practically complete and apparently represent variant versions of the same flood story. (See Hist. Bible, I, 53-56, for these two parallel accounts.) The one, known as the prophetic version, was written, these writers believe, about 650 B.C. It has the flowing, vivid, picturesque, literary style and the point of view of the prophetic teacher. In this account the number seven prevails. Seven of each clean beast and bird are taken into the ark to provide food for Noah and his family. Seven days the waters rose, and at intervals of seven days he sent out a raven and a dove. The flood from its beginning to the time when Noah disembarked continued sixty-eight days. At the end, when he had determined by sending out birds that the waters had subsided, he went forth from the ark and reared an altar and offered sacrifice to Jehovah of every clean beast and bird.
The other and more detailed account is apparently the sequel of the late priestly narratives found in Genesis 1 and 5. The style is that of a legal writer -- formal, exact and repetitious. In this account only two of each kind of beast and bird are taken into the ark. The flood lasts for over a year and is universal, covering even the tops of the highest mountains. No animals are sacrificed, for according to the priestly writer this custom was first instituted by Moses. When the flood subsides, however, a covenant is concluded and is sealed by the rainbow in accordance with which man's commission to rule over all other living things is renewed and divine permission is given to each to eat of the flesh of animals, provided only that men carefully abstain from eating the blood. This later account is dated by this group of modern Biblical scholars about 400 B.C.
THE CORRESPONDING BABYLONIAN FLOOD STORIES.
Closely parallel to these two variant Biblical accounts of the flood are the two Babylonian versions, which have fortunately been almost wholly recovered. The older Babylonian account is found in the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh epic, which comes from the library of Asshurbanipal. This great conqueror lived contemporaneously with Manasseh during whose reign Assyrian influence was paramount in the kingdom of Judah. In his quest for healing and immortality Gilgamesh reached the abode of the Babylonian hero of the flood. In response to Gilgamesh's question as to how he, a mortal, attained immortality the Babylonian Noah recounts the story of the flood. It was brought about by the Babylonian gods in order to destroy the city of Shurippak, situated on the banks of the Euphrates. The god Ea gave the warning to his worshipper, the hero of the flood, and commanded him:
Construct a house, build a ship,
Leave goods, look after life,
Forsake possessions, and save life,
Cause all kinds of living things to go up into the ship. The ship which thou shalt build, --
Exact shall be its dimensions:
Its breadth shall equal its length;
On the great deep launch it.
I understood and said to Ea, my lord:
|Behold, my lord, what thou hast commanded,
I have reverently received and will carry out.|
A detailed account then follows of the building of the ark. Its dimensions were one hundred and twenty cubits in each direction. It was built in six stories, each of which was divided into nine parts. Plentiful provisions were next carried on board and a great feast was held to commemorate the completion of the ark. After carrying on board his treasures of silver and gold he adds:
All the living creatures of all kinds I loaded on it. I brought on board my family and household;
Cattle of the field, beasts of the field, the craftsmen, All of them I brought on board.
In the evening at the command of the god Shamash the rains began to descend. Then the Babylonian Noah entered the ship and closed the door and entrusted the great house with its contents to the captain. The description of the tempest that follows is exceedingly vivid and picturesque.
When the first light of dawn shone forth,
There rose from the horizon a dark cloud, within which Adad thundered, Nabu and Marduk marched at the front,
The heralds passed over mountains and land;
Nergal tore out the ship's mast,
Ninib advanced, following up the attack,
The spirits of earth raised torches,
With their sheen they lighted up the world.
Adad's tempest reached to heaven,
And all light was changed to darkness.
So great was the havoc wrought by the storm that
The gods bowed down, sat there weeping,
Close pressed together were their lips.
For six days and nights the storm raged, but on the seventh day it subsided and the flood began to abate. Of the race of mortals, however, every voice was hushed. At last the ship approached the mountain Nisir which lay on the northern horizon, as viewed from the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Here the ship grounded. Then,
When the seventh day arrived,
I sent forth a dove and let it loose,
The dove went forth, but came back;
Because it found no resting-place, it returned:
Then I sent forth a swallow, but it came back;
Because it found no resting-place, it returned.
Then I sent forth a raven and let it loose,
The raven went forth and saw that the waters had decreased; It fed, it waded, it croaked, but did not return.
Then I sent forth everything in all directions, and offered a sacrifice, I made an offering of incense on the highest peak of the mountain, Seven and seven bowls I placed there,
And over them I poured out calamus, cedar wood and fragrant herbs. The gods inhaled the odor,
The gods inhaled the sweet odor,
The gods gathered like flies above the sacrifice.
At the intercession of Ea, the Babylonian Noah and his wife were granted immortality and permitted |to dwell in the distance at the confluence of the streams.|
A later version of the same Babylonian flood story is quoted by Eusebius from the writings of the Chaldean priest Berossus who lived about the fourth century B.C. According to this version the god Kronos appeared in a dream to Xisuthros, the hero, who, like Noah in the priestly account, was the last of the ten ancient Babylonian kings. At the command of the god he built a great ship fifteen stadia long and two in width. Into this he took not only his family and provisions, but quadrupeds and birds of all kinds. When the flood began to recede, he sent out a bird, which quickly returned. After a few days he sent forth another bird, which returned with mud on its feet. When the third bird failed to return, he took off the cover of the ship and found that it had stranded on a mountain of Armenia. The mountain in the Biblical account is identified with Mount Ararat. Disembarking, the Babylonian Noah kissed the earth and, after building an altar, offered a sacrifice to the gods.
Thus the variations between the older and later Babylonian accounts of the flood correspond in general to those that have been already noted in the Biblical versions. Which Biblical account does the earliest Babylonian narrative resemble most closely? In what details do they agree? Are these coincidences merely accidental or do they point possibly to a common tradition? How far do the later Biblical and Babylonian accounts agree? What is the significance of these points of agreement?
HISTORY OF THE BIBLICAL FLOOD STORIES.
On the basis of the preceding comparisons some writers attempt to trace tentatively the history of the flood tradition current among the peoples of southwestern Asia. A fragment of the Babylonian flood story, coming from at least as early as 2000 B.C., has recently been discovered. The probability is that the tradition goes back to the earliest beginnings of Babylonian history. The setting of the Biblical accounts of the flood is also the Tigris-Euphrates valley rather than Palestine. The description of the construction of the ark in Genesis 6:14-16 is not only closely parallel to that found in the Babylonian account, but the method -- the smearing of the ark within and without with bitumen -- is peculiar to the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Many scholars believe, therefore, that Babylonia was the original home of the Biblical flood story.
Its exact origin, however, is not so certain. Many of its details were doubtless suggested by the annual floods and fogs which inundate that famous valley and recall the primeval chaos so vividly pictured in the corresponding Babylonian story of the creation. It may have been based on the remembrances of a great local inundation, possibly due to the subsidence of great areas of land. In the earliest Hebrew records there is no trace of this tradition, although it may have been known to the Aramean ancestors of the Hebrews. The literary evidence, however, suggests that it was first brought to Palestine by the Assyrians. During the reactionary reign of Manasseh, Assyrian customs and Baylonian ideas, which these conquerors had inherited, inundated Judah. Even in the temple at Jerusalem the Babylonians' gods, the host of heaven, were worshipped by certain of the Hebrews. The few literary inscriptions which come from this period, those found in the mound at Gezer, are written in the Assyrian script and contain the names of Assyrian officials.
Later when the Jewish exiles were carried to Babylonia, they naturally came into contact again with the Babylonian account of the flood, but in its later form, as the comparisons already instituted clearly indicate. It is thus possible, these scholars believe, to trace, in outline at least, the literary history of the Semitic flood story in its various transformations through a period of nearly two thousand years.
AIM OF THE BIBLICAL WRITERS IN RECOUNTING THE FLOOD STORY.
The practical question which at once suggests itself is, What place or right has this ancient Semitic tradition, if such it is, among the Biblical narratives? At best the historical data which it preserves are exceedingly small and of doubtful value. Is it possible that the prophetic and priestly historians found these stories on the lips of the people and sought in this heroic way to divest them of their polytheistic form and, in certain respects, immoral implications? A minute comparison of the Babylonian and Biblical accounts indicates that this may perhaps be precisely what has been done; but the majestic, just God of the Biblical narratives is far removed from the capricious, intriguing gods of the Babylonian tradition, who hang like flies over the battlements of heaven, stupefied with terror because of the destruction which they had wrought.
Each of the Biblical narrators seems to be seeking also by means of these illustrations to teach certain universal moral and religious truths. In this respect the two variant Biblical narratives are in perfect agreement. The destruction of mankind came not as the fiat of an arbitrary Deity, but because of the purpose which God had before him in the work of creation, and because that purpose was good. Men by their sins and wilful failure to observe his benign laws were thwarting that purpose. Hence in accord with the just laws of the universe their destruction was unavoidable, and it came even as effect follows cause. On the other hand, these ancient teachers taught with inimitable skill that God would not destroy that which was worthy of preservation.
In each of the accounts the character of Noah stands in striking contrast with those of his contemporaries. The story as told is not merely an illustration of the truth that righteousness brings its just reward, but of the profounder principle that it is the morally fit who survive. In both of the versions Noah in a very true sense represents the beginning of a new creation: he is the traditional father of a better race. To him are given the promises which God was eager to realize in the life of humanity. In the poetic fancy of the ancient East even the resplendent rainbow, which proclaimed the return of the sun after the storm, was truly interpreted as evidence of God's fatherly love and care for his children. In the light of these profound religious teachings may any one reasonably question the right of these stories to a place in the Bible? Did not Jesus himself frequently use illustrations drawn from earlier history or from nature to make clear his teachings? Is it not evidence of superlative teaching skill to use that which is familiar and, therefore, of interest to those taught, in order to inculcate the deeper moral and religious truths of life?
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST IN THE NATURAL WORLD.
It is interesting and illuminating to note how the ancient Hebrew prophets in their religious teaching forecast the discoveries and scientific methods of our day. This was because they had grasped universal principles.
Since the memorable evening in July, 1858, in which the views of Darwin and Wallace on the principles of variation and selection in the natural world were sent to the Linnaean Society in London, the leading scientists have laid great stress upon the doctrine of the survival of the |fittest| as the true explanation of progress in the natural world. It was apparently made clear by Darwin, and supported by sufficient evidence, that |any being, if it vary however slightly, in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and somewhat varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.|
This principle, since that day, has been thoroughly worked out in practically all the important fields of both the plant and animal world. Moreover, the doctrine of evolution, dependent upon this principle, has exerted so great an influence upon the process of investigation and thinking in all fields of activity that the resulting change in method has amounted to a revolution. The principle is applied not only in the field of biology, but also in the realm of astronomy, where we study the evolution of worlds, and in psychology, history, social science, where we speak of the development of human traits and of the growth of economic, political and social institutions.
It is necessary to remember in applying such a brief statement of a principle, that the words are used in a highly technical sense. The word |fittest| by no means need imply the best from the point of view of beauty or strength or usefulness in nature; nor does it necessarily mean, in reference to society, best from the point of view of morals or a higher civilization. Rather the |fittest| means the being best adapted to the conditions under which it is living, or to its environment. As a matter of fact, it is the general opinion that in practically all fields this principle works toward progress in the highest and best sense; but it is always a matter for specific study as well as of great scientific interest and importance, to determine where and how the variation and the corresponding selection tend to promote the morally good. Especially is this true in the study of society, where we should endeavor to see whether or not the |fittest| means also the highest from the moral and religious point of view.
The story of the flood gives us a most interesting example of the way in which the ancient Hebrews looked upon such a process of selection in the moral and religious world and taught it as a divine principle. It is, therefore, one of the most suggestive and interesting of the writings of the early Israelites.
THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST IN SOCIAL AND POLITICAL LIFE.
From our modern point of view, the ancient Hebrew writers had a far deeper knowledge of moral and religious questions than of natural science. They had a far keener sense of what was socially beneficial than of what was scientifically true. However we may estimate their knowledge of geology and biology, we must grant that their beliefs regarding the good and ill effects of human action have in them much that is universally true, even though we may not follow them throughout in their theories of divine wrath and immediate earthly punishment of the wicked.
But is it not true almost invariably, if we look at social questions of every kind in a comprehensive way, that the survival of the fittest means the survival of the morally best? That the religion which endures is of the highest type? Business success in the long run, is so strongly based upon mutual confidence and trust, that, especially in these later days of credit organization, the dishonest man or even the tricky man cannot prosper long. A sales manager of a prominent institution said lately that the chief difficulty that he had with his men was to make them always tell the truth. For the sake of making an important sale they were often inclined to misrepresent his goods. |But nothing,| he added, |will so surely kill all business as misrepresentation.| Even a gambling book-maker on the race tracks in New York, before such work was forbidden by law, is said to have proudly claimed that absolute justice and honesty toward his customers was essential to his success and had therefore become the rule of his life. Although it is sometimes said that the man who guides his life by the maxim, |Honesty is the best policy,| is in reality not honest at heart, it must nevertheless be granted that in business the survival of the fittest means the survival of the most honest business man.
It may perhaps have been true in the days of Machiavelli that cruelty and treachery would aid the unscrupulous petty despot of Italy to secure and at times to maintain his dukedom; but certainly in modern days, when in all civilized countries permanently prosperous government is based ultimately upon the will of the people, the successful ruler can no longer be treacherous and cruel. Even among our so-called |spoils| politicians and corrupt bosses, who hold their positions by playing upon the selfishness of their followers and the ignorance and apathy of the public, there must be rigid faithfulness to promises, and, at any rate, the appearance of promoting the public welfare. Otherwise their term of power is short.
If we look back through the history of modern times, we shall find that the statesmen who rank high among the successful rulers of their countries are men of unselfish patriotism, and almost invariably men of personal uprightness and morality, and usually of deep religious feeling. Think over the names of the great men of the United States, and note their characters. Pick out the leading statesmen of the last half century in England, Germany and Italy. Do they not all stand for unselfish, patriotic purpose in their actions, and in character for individual honor and integrity?
The same is true in our social intercourse. Brilliancy of intellect, however important in many fields of activity, counts for relatively little in home and social life, if not accompanied by graciousness of manner, kindness of heart, uprightness of character. It may sometimes seem that the brilliant rascal succeeds, that the unscrupulous business man becomes rich, and that the hypocrite prospers through his hypocrisy. If all society were made up of men of these low moral types, would such cases perhaps be more often found than now? In a society of hypocrites, would the fittest for survival be the most skilful deceiver? Or, even there, would the adage, |There must be honor among thieves,| hold, when it came to permanent organization? But, whatever your answer, society fortunately is not made up of hypocrites or rascals of any kind. With all the weakness of human nature found in every society, the growing success of the rule of the people throughout the world proves that fundamentally men and women are honest and true. Generally common human nature is for the right. Almost universally, if a mooted question touching morals can be put simply and squarely before the people, they will see and choose the right.
Fortunate it is for the world that the lessons taught by the early Hebrew writers regarding the survival of the moral and upright are true, and that good sense and religion both agree that in the long run, honor and virtue and righteousness not only pay the individual, but are essential to the prosperity of a nation.
Questions for Further Consideration.
Had most primitive peoples a tradition regarding the flood? How do you explain the striking points of similarity between the flood stories of peoples far removed from each other?
Is there geological evidence that the earth, during human history, has been completely inundated?
What do you mean by a calamity? Is it a mere accident, or an essential factor in the realization of the divine purpose in human history?
Are appalling calamities, like floods and earthquakes, the result of the working out of natural laws? Are they unmitigated evils? Were the floods in China and the plagues in India, which destroyed millions of lives, seemingly essential to the welfare of the surviving inhabitants of those overpopulated lands?
What were the effects of the Chicago fire and the San Francisco earthquake upon these cities? How far was the development of the modern commission form of city government one of the direct results of the Galveston flood?
To what extent is the modern progress in sanitation due to natural calamities? What calamities?
Is a great calamity often necessary to arouse the inhabitants of a city or nation to the development of their resources and to the realisation of their highest possibilities? What illustrations can you cite?
How do changes in the environment of men affect the moral quality of their acts? How do circumstances affect the kind of act that will be successful? During the Chinese revolution of 1912 in Peking and Nanking, looting leaders of mobs and plundering soldiers when captured were promptly decapitated without trial. Was such an act right? Was it necessary? What conditions would justify such an act in the United States? Would the same act tend equally to preserve the government in both countries?
Subjects for Further Study.
(1) Flood Stories among Primitive Peoples. Worcester, Genesis 361-373; Hastings, Dict. of Bible Vol. II, 18-22; Extra Vol.181-182; Encyc. Brit.
(2) The Scientific Basis of the Biblical Account of the Flood. Ryle, Early Narratives of Gen.112-113; Davis, Gen. and Semitic Traditions 130-131; Driver, Genesis 82-83, 99; Sollas, Age of the Earth, 316 ff.
(3) Compare the treatment accorded their rivals and competitors for power in their various fields by the following persons: Solomon, Caesar Borgia, the late Empress Dowager of China (Tz'u-hsi), Bismarck, the great political leaders of today in Great Britain and the United States and the modern combinations of capital known as trusts.
I Kings 1; Machiavelli, The Prince; Douglas, Europe and the Far East, Ch.17.
Did these different methods under the special circumstances result in the survival of the fittest? The fittest morally?