21 Upon the Mountains of Ararat
Bible and Science – Upon the Mountains of Ararat
And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat. (Gen. 8:4)
If the deluge in Noah’s day was just a local flood compassing only the Tigris/Euphrates river valleys, how then did Noah’s ark end up in the mountains of Ararat far north of the Persian Gulf outlets of these two waterways? Bible skeptics dismiss the Ararat beaching claiming it is obviously a mistake, or an exaggeration and instead suggest that Noah’s barge came to rest on an island in the Tigris/Euphrates delta or beyond. They confine the Genesis flood to the Tigris/Euphrates region and presume that only a small number of people died, namely, those living near the rivers who did not have sufficient time to escape to higher ground. Bible skeptics downgrade the period of rain from 40 days and nights to 6 days and nights, preferring the Gilgamesh account to Genesis. Their arguments hinge on the assertion that such a prolonged period of rain would not be consistent with the climate of Mesopotamia. An attack is also made on the biblical record of the size, shape and carrying capacity of Noah’s Ark. Finally, they make the point that archaeological evidence proving the deluge appears to be lacking.
This chapter will consider the validity of the arguments of Bible skeptics who diminish every aspect of the account of the flood in Genesis, but cannot deny the overwhelming historical memory of a gigantic deluge that is ingrained in the cultures of people all over the globe. I will not attempt to address the extreme form of Bible critic who dismisses the entire scriptures as mere myth and legend. Such a person is beyond the scope of consideration in these essays (though it is hoped that the rationality of the arguments presented might persuade them to examine further the claims of the scriptures). These writings are aimed at the person who respects equally the Bible and science, realizing that the Lord God is the author of both (Psa. 89:11; Psa. 104:24; I Cor. 14:33).
The extent of the flood
Let us revisit the extent of the deluge. In the previous article (Noah and the Deluge) we presented evidence that the flood was neither global, nor did it cover Mount Everest. However, the other side of the coin is not necessarily a local flood confined to the Tigris/Euphrates valleys. The Bible record says that it rained forty days and forty nights (Gen. 7:4, 12) and that the fountains of the great deep were broken up (Gen. 7:11). What does this mean in terms of the possible extent and severity of the deluge?
Skeptics ask: where did all the water come from and where did it go?
- a) Rainfall
We can dismiss the notion that it rained only 6 days and nights as told in the Gilgamesh epic. That epic is so replete with exaggeration and tales of multiple pagan gods doing magical things that we can safely say it is unreliable. Given the authenticity of the scriptures that has been verified over and over again by historical and archaeological evidence, to say nothing of the moral and prophetic word that is unique, there is every reason for us to accept the 40-day/night-rainfall period specified in Genesis. Consider the result of such a rainfall. The atmosphere of this planet can absorb water vapor from the seas to an extent limited by solar energy. We can reasonably estimate the maximum severity of a possible storm by checking the historical weather records. For example, one of the largest storms ever recorded was tropical cyclone Domoina, which poured 21.34 inches of rain in a 24-hour period measured by the gauges at the Cape St. Lucia lighthouse on January 31, 1984.1 Since 1 inch of rain equals 12 inches of snowfall the Domoina cyclone was equivalent to receiving 244 inches of snow in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan in one day! While one might say that this is unlikely, nevertheless it did happen to St. Lucia. One can see that this is a truly enormous amount of precipitation for a twenty-four hour period and a lot of energy had to be poured into that storm.
What if such a storm continued for 40 days and 40 nights? Impossible? In California, a region of the United States with weather patterns not markedly different from Mesopotamia, starting on December 24, 1861, rain continued unabated for almost four consecutive weeks. This weather event has been called the “Great Flood.” By the time it had finished, it had created an inland sea in Orange County in Southern California that took many weeks to drain. Hundreds of miles to the north, the entire Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, to an extent of 250 to 300 miles long, overflowed their banks to a breadth averaging 20 miles. With such tremendous climatic events as the Domoina cyclone and the Great Flood, it is not hard to either imagine, or scientifically acknowledge, that a God-driven rain of 40 days and nights would have had a devastating effect.
If rainfall continued daily at the level of the Domoina event, at the end of 40 days, roughly 68 feet of precipitation would have fallen. In reality, given the runoff from the mountain streams at the headwaters of the Tigris/Euphrates rivers (and perhaps other river valleys, eg. Nile, Ganges, etc.), and the concomitant melting of the snow caps, the flood crest downstream would have been a number of times higher than the total amount of precipitation. Such a fierce storm need not be confined to a small region.
The area covered by such storms should be a familiar occurrence to people who live along the eastern seaboard of North America where tropical hurricanes can originate in the Caribbean Sea and sweep along the entire east coast up to Nova Scotia, a breath of a couple of thousand miles. Thus a “perfect” storm of the magnitude specified in Genesis could easily have encompassed people living from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the Western Indian Ocean and everywhere in between. Nothing in the path of such a storm could have survived in that age unless they were in an Ark prepared by God.
- b) Fountains of the deep
The scriptures tell us that God prepared far more than just a severe storm to carry out His purpose of completely destroying an evil generation. We are told that the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up (Gen. 7:11). The word “broken” as rendered in the Authorized Version literally means “crumble” or “broken to pieces”.2 This could possibly refer to subterranean earthquakes in the Indian Ocean, Arabian and Mediterranean seas that would have inundated coastal inhabitants with massive Tsunami’s more powerful than the one that struck the nations on the perimeter of the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004.3
Recent explorations have turned up direct evidence that the Black Sea (which lies north and west of the Mountains of Ararat) was once a fertile valley inhabited by many people (see map inset).4 Geological studies of the Black Sea done by the Russian research vessel Aquanaut have revealed that this region was once a much smaller fresh water lake hundreds of feet below the present sea level. The shore line of that lake was surrounded with villages and core samples estimate an age (via radioactive Carbon dating) that places the demise of those cultures around the same time as generally accepted for Noah’s deluge, roughly 5000 years ago. Further studies of the flow patterns and geology of the straits of the Bosporus (the six-mile wide channel connecting the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, see map inset) led the authors of “Noah’s Flood” to conclude that this strait was once a closed, land-locked barrier. The crumbling of this barrier would have sent a wall of water six miles in width initially (but spreading as it followed the contour of the Black Sea basin) and hundreds of feet high. With all the pressure of the vast Mediterranean Sea behind it, this massive flume of water would have raced at speeds comparable to a Tsunami and annihilated all the habitations in the forefront of its path. Ryan and Pittman estimate that “the Bosporus flume roared and surged at full spate for at least three hundred days”.5 Everything in its path would have been swept from west to east towards the Mountains of Ararat. If Noah and his family lived in that Black Sea basin, it would explain very nicely how he ended up in the Mountains of Ararat, something that would be nearly impossible if he had simply ridden out a flood in the Tigris/Euphrates basin.
The Bible never actually says where Noah lived prior to the flood and Josephus claims that Noah and his sons had immigrated from their original habitation because of the wickedness of the people in that abode and sought refuge elsewhere (the Black Sea basin?) only to find that place evil also.6 If the Black Sea basin is where Noah built the ark, and the collapse of the Bosporus land bridge and the enormous storm mentioned earlier happened together, then it is entirely natural that he would have ended up in the Mountains of Ararat. It is also reasonable that it would be some nine months or more [Gen. 7:11 8:4, 5] before he would have a hint of abatement of the flood from his perspective. By that time, the Bosporus flume would have settled and the modern day salt water Black sea have been created.
The answer to the skeptics’ question of where did all the water come from and go has a logical outcome. The schematic map inset illustrates the inhabited part of the world that was most likely inundated by the deluge.7 The flood of Noah’s day happened through a miraculous confluence of events that are nevertheless entirely plausible and within the realm of scientific evidence.
Skeptics doubt that the size of the Ark was correct
One particularly cantankerous website doubts that a wooden boat the size specified in Genesis would have held together under the stresses of the deluge.8 This commentary goes on to dispute almost every aspect of the Bible story of the ark from its carrying capacity to the ability to load so many animals from far and wide in such a short time. If you believe that Noah did everything single-handedly without the aid of the almighty God, then indeed you could have a problem with a literal interpretation. However, let us consider a few facts about this Ark. First, it was designed with almost the perfect ratio of length to breath 6:1 (300 cubits long by 50 cubits broad), which made for great stability in the water (Gen. 6:15). It was only 30 cubits high and hence had a low center of gravity thus stabilizing it from pitching side to side. How did Noah arrive at these numbers if not by the grace of God? The Gilgamesh Epic, by contrast, has the hero, Utnaphistim, sailing in a perfect cube shaped vessel, which would be completely unseaworthy.
The ark was sealed with bitumen for waterproofing and the interior decks acted as cross bracing for added strength. Finally, there were no breaks in the side of the hull that could have acted as stress concentrator, which could have lead to a failure of the ship.9 The only place where this was possible was at the entry door and the Scriptures are careful to tell us that God sealed that door for protection (Gen. 7:16).
If the flood covered the entire habitable region from the western Mediterranean to as far east as India and north to south from the Black Sea valley to the shores of equatorial Africa, then hundreds of thousands of square miles would have been inundated. The ark was certainly big enough to carry animals and feed so that, in the post-diluvian world, the environmental balance between the land and animals in the vast flooded area would be quickly restored. There is no doubt that the ark was essential and technically capable of its intended purpose.
Skeptics decry the apparent lack of archaeological evidence proving the flood
The problem of finding archaeological evidence becomes acute if you accept the views of creationists that world population at the time of Noah was somewhere between one billion and as high as nine billion or more.10 Finding the remnants of such large populations destroyed from the flood should have left telltale signs all over the globe. On the other hand, the United States Government Census Bureau has compiled historic world population levels and gives a figure of approximately 14 million as reasonable for 3000 BC.11 A population of this level would surely have spread beyond the Tigris/Euphrates basin in search of fresh water and arable land. They would have sought out other areas such as the fresh water lake that comprised the Black Sea depression prior to the flood. The Nile valley and the Ganges in India would also have been primary habitable possibilities.
The systematic geological and oceanographic studies reported by Ryan and Pitman12 in their book make a good case for definitive proof of a massive deluge destroying the Black Sea basin and their dating is consistent with the biblical story of Noah. The archaeologist Woolley found evidence of a dense layer of flood deposited silt with civilized occupations above and below at the ancient site of Ur of the Chaldees.13 Dating of this layer was consistent with the time of the Biblical deluge. This caused a world-wide sensation at the time, but subsequent excavations at Kish by others did not find corroborative evidence. However, exploration specifically seeking to map out the possible extent of a deluge at the time of Noah throughout Mesopotamia has never been done on anywhere near the scale as in the studies in the Black Sea, where dozens of sites were examined all over the sea basin.
It is also obvious that finding silt deposits in a region where a flood surge came roaring down a vast river valley would leave areas where silt would build up and others where the power of the flow of the raging rivers would have scoured the land. Where one would find silt layers attributable to Noah’s time would depend on the local terrain 5,000 years ago, and what happened in those regions in the intervening period down to our present times.
What we can say for sure is that there are indeed bits and pieces of evidence that a massive flood occurred at the time of Noah from a region encompassing the Black Seato several thousand miles south and east including the Tigris/Euphrates valley. More definitive evidence for a wider extent of the biblical deluge awaits serious dedicated archaeological digs over a wider area of the globe.
The bottom line is that it is reasonable to conclude the biblical deluge covered the entire area of the habitable world at the time of Noah, roughly 3000 BC. Such a flood would have been sufficient to accomplish exactly the purpose of the Lord God, namely to destroy a world filled with violence and make a new beginning with righteous Noah and his heirs. To presume more or less than this, I will leave to the reader’s own conscience.
By John C. Bilello, Ann Arbor, Michigan
1 Saint Lucia is an island nation in the southeastern West Indies lying in the Caribbean sea almost due north of Venezuela. Its average annual rainfall is only about 100 inches. Worldbook Encyclopedia Electronic edition, article by Gerald R. Showalter.
2 “broken” = see Strong’s No. 1751.
3 “A wave of biblical proportions”, read the headline on page 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, February 18, 2005 in referring to the Indian Ocean event of December 26, 2004.
4 William Ryan and Walter Pitman, Noah’s Flood, Touchstone edition, Simon and Schuster Pub., New York, (2000).
5 ibid pg.249.
6 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, in “The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, Translated by William Whiston, The John C. Winston Co., Philadelphia, (1957), pgs. 35-39.
7 The land area of the region shown on the schematic map comprises a little over 4 million square miles.
8 http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-noahs-ark.html#building. Article by Mark Isaak, Problems with a Global Flood, 2nd Edition, Copyright © 1998.
9 In World War II the United States made Liberty cargo ships that had a notch cut-out midship to facilitate loading. In cold weather and heavy seas this caused ships to literally split in two. This was not a design flaw made in Noah’s Ark!
10 Such a huge population being destroyed by God with only eight being saved seems monstrous; surely Christian thinking has faith in a more merciful LORD or we are without hope ourselves.
11 Colin McEvedy, and Richard Jones, 1978, “Atlas of World Population History,” Facts on File, New York, pp. 342-351.
12 See Reference 4.
13 Sir Leonard Woolley, (1880-1960), was a British archaeologist who performed excavations at Ur between 1922 and 1934 where he found geological support for a great flood, possibly the Biblical Deluge.