Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Correlating the flood

I'm going to list a few considerations regarding Noah's flood:

i) At the risk of stating the obvious, the Bible commits us to the historicity of the flood. I realize that there are hipster churchgoers (a la Rob Bell) who don't think the Bible commits us to anything we don't want to believe. 

ii) If the Bible teaches a global flood, then that's what we're obligated to believe in. I also think the global flood interpretation is worth exploring and defending. 

iii) Assessing the nature of the flood is an interdisciplinary task. On the one hand, a Christian geologist has no particular expertise when it comes to exegeting an ancient text. On the other hand, an OT scholar has no particular expertise on flooding.

iv) To some extent, these are mutually interpretive. There's the meaning of the text. Then there's the historical event outside the text. The real-world referent. On the one hand the text gives us some pointers on what to look for. On the other hand, we need to know something about the world to identify references in the text. Correlating the word with the world is a two-way street. To some degree, we can't know the answer to one without knowing the answer to the other, and vice versa. 

v) If young-earth creationism is true, then there's a tight timeframe into which to shoehorn the flood. If old-earth creationism is true, then there's more play in terms of when it might of happened, and what historical or prehistorical events might trigger or match up with the flood account.

vi) Noah's flood is sometimes dated by reference to Mesopotamian flood traditions. One problem with that inference is that ancient people tend to depict the past in terms of their present. They didn't know much about the past. So they update the past, using their own time and place to pencile in the details. 

vii) Noah's flood is sometimes dated to the Bronze Age or thereabouts by synchronizing Gen 4:17-22 with ancient Near Eastern archeological periods. One problem with that inference is that Gen 4:17-22 might be quite localized. 

viii) Underlying the question of how to synchronize that pericope with ancient Near Eastern chronology is the deeper question of how secure that framework is. As Noel Weeks recently observed:

The earliest historical records that we have, and here I mean written texts, go back to around 3400BC. (This is on conventional dating. There are huge problems in ancient chronology and we cannot be certain about dates that far back.) This earliest evidence comes from southern Iraq. Incidentally, we can’t read the text but it looks like writing. It’s not until about 3000BC or later that we can get anything that we can read, either from Iraq or Egypt. If you want to base evidence on things other than written texts, it gets rather difficult.  

ix) How many commentators on Genesis have extensive firsthand experience of Mideast geography? When they comment on Ararat, how many of them have actually spent much time poking around hills and valleys in Armenia?

Seems to me that only an archeologist or geologist who's done fieldwork in the area is really qualified to comment on that. Otherwise, it's just a textual abstraction.

x) And, of course, we must also make allowances for changes in the regional topography. Indeed, the flood itself might have altered the terrain. So historical reconstruction is a bit circular. 

1 comment:

  1. I've enjoyed your posts recently on this topic here and on your thesethingarewritten site.