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A source for the stories of Noah's flood?

Part 1: The catastrophic deluge
that flooded the Black Sea

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Quotations from reviews of William Ryan and Walter Pitman's book: "Noah's Flood: 1

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"The [Black Sea] flood is a fascinating story, all the better for being told by working scientists. What comes across clearly is the thrill of discovery....The mixture of disciplines and ways of doing science is exhilarating and paints a realistic picture of the way research works." Sue Bowler of the New Scientist.


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"...an interesting and provocative story.... a detective story that rollicks along, sweeping up everything in its path..." Richard Ellis, The New York Times Book Review.


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"The Sumerian 'Deluge' story, the Akkakian 'Atrahasis' epic, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Noah's Flood are 7000 year old echoes of this awesome event." A book reviewer of the same book on the Amazon.com web site

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Overview:

In 1996, William Ryan and Walter Pitman, two senior scientists from Columbia University proposed a theory that a massive transfer of water occurred about 5600 BCE - over seven and a half millennia ago. They wrote:

"Ten cubic miles of water poured through each day, two hundred times what flows over Niagara Falls. ... The Bosporus flume roared and surged at full spate for at least three hundred days."

The result was that 60,000 square miles of land were inundated. 1 The shoreline of what is now called the Black Sea significantly expanded to the north and east. The water level was raised many hundreds of feet. The sea changed from a fresh-water landlocked lake into a salt water lake connected to the world's oceans.

They drew on the findings of experts in agriculture, archaeology, genetics, geology, language, development of textiles and pottery, etc. They postulate that this deluge had catastrophic effects on the people living on the shore of the Black Sea. It triggered mass migrations across Europe and into the Near East, Middle East and Egypt. It may have been the source of many flood stories in the area. Many researchers believe that the story of Noah's flood in the Biblical book of Genesis is a myth that had its origin in this cataclysmic event.

In the year 2000, Ryan and Pitman published their book about the titled event: "Noah's Flood: The new scientific discoveries about the event that changed history." It describes one of the most fascinating scientific puzzles of recent years. We found it far more riveting than any detective novel. 1

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Religious significance:

About 300 cultures around the world have stories of a massive flood. 2 In Judeo-Christian countries, the most famous is the story of Noah's Flood, as recorded in the Bible: Genesis, chapters 6 to 8.

The story of the  worldwide flood of Noah has fueled conflicts between geologists and conservative Christians since the early 19th century - long before Darwin was born. 

bullet Conservative Christians generally believe that the the book of Genesis was written by Moses under the inspiration of God. Thus, the original Hebrew text of Genesis was inerrant -- preserved from all error. The worldwide flood happened just as Moses recorded it: all humans and animals were exterminated, except for those who made it to safety on the ark: 2 or 7 animals of each "kind," and eight humans: Noah, his wife, their three sons and the wives of the three sons. On the basis of the percentage of the human race who were killed, it can be argued that the universal flood was the largest genocide in history, involving the extermination of all almost every man, woman, youth, child, infant and newborn. The catastrophic filling of the Black Sea might have happened, but it is unrelated to the Noachian flood for three reasons:
 
bullet The timing is wrong. According to the Bible, the Noachian flood happened circa 2350 BCE; the Black Sea deluge apparently happened circa 5600 BCE, over three millennia earlier. 3

bullet The area covered by the flood is wrong. The Noachian flood is described as having been worldwide -- it covered the entire world to a level above that of the tallest mountains. The Black Sea merely enlarged the borders of the lake to its present size, and raised it level by only a few hundred feet. The Genesis account states that God's intention was to exterminate the entire human race except for Noah and 7 members of his family. Thus, the entire world must have been submerged in water.

bullet God intentionally triggered the physical processes that would lead to the extermination of all of these land animals and people because of humanity's sinful behavior. It was not an event that simply happened naturally. It was an intentional genocide by God. 

The reality of the worldwide flood forms a vital part of the belief system of conservative Christians -- particularly those who are Creation Scientists. They have based their theories of astrophysics, geology, paleontology, linguistics, and anthropology upon the creation stories, flood and Tower of Babel stories in the book of Genesis. In particular, they hold the universal flood responsible for the deposit of massive amounts of sediment in successive layers all over the world. This, in turn, solidified to produce the layers of rock observed by geologists.


bullet Liberal Christians typically regard the Noachian, Babylonian, and hundreds of other flood stories as a myths. Many might linked in some way with a historical flood. The legend of a universal, worldwide flood, as in the Genesis account, might be an interesting myth with spiritual significance; however, it did not happen in reality. There is no source of sufficient water to produce a world-wide flood that covered the highest mountains. Even if it did happen, there is no place to which the flood waters could later subside. Genesis was written over an interval of many centuries by at least five author/editors.  The universal flood story seems to have been derived from an earlier Babylonian myth by two of these authors. There are many points of comparison between a Babylonian myth and the Genesis account. The Babylonian myth appears to be based on an earlier legend that, in turn, might well have been based on dimly remembered memories of the Black Sea catastrophe. 

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What happened to the Black Sea?

The theory presented by Ryan & Pitman is partly based on generally agreed scientific findings, and partly on their observations at the Black Sea. 1 The dates will not make much sense to those conservative Christians and others who believe in the young earth version of "creation science." This is the belief that God created the earth and the rest of the universe less than 10,000 years ago. We will use the dates used by the 95% of scientists who believe in an "old earth" -- one which coalesced about 4.5 billion years ago.

bulletCirca 5 million BCE: What is now the Mediterranean Sea was a largely dry valley. A narrow height of land between what is now Spain and Northern Africa held back the Atlantic Ocean. The height of land collapsed -- perhaps due to an earthquake, and the Atlantic Ocean flowed in to form the Mediterranean Sea.

bullet120,000 to 18,000 BCE: During the last ice age, sheets of ice up to two miles thick covered much of the northern parts of North America, Europe and Russia. So much water had been withdrawn from the world's oceans that their level was about 400 feet (120 meters) lower than it is today.
 
bullet18,000 BCE: Temperatures started to warm again. The ice at the southern boundaries of the glaciers began to melt. Some of the water fed what is called the New Euxine Lake -- a fresh water lake located within the area of today's Black Sea. It had a small outlet to the Sea of Marmara and thence to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.
 
bullet13,000 BCE: The flow of freshwater from the glaciers into this lake had almost stopped.

bullet10,500 to 9400 BCE: Both the temperature and rainfall dropped in the region -- an event called the Younger Dryas. The flow of fresh water into the New Euxine lake almost stopped. The lake level dropped, due to evaporation. Eventually, the lake level fell below its outlet to the Sea of Marmara. The New Euxine Lake then became a landlocked, fresh water lake. Various tribes in the Near East were experiencing drought conditions. They gravitated to the shores of this and other large lakes where the water supply was fresh and plentiful. They built villages, hunted, fished and learned to cultivate grain crops. They may even have experimented with primitive irrigation methods.

bullet 9400 BCE: Normal levels of temperature and rainfall returned once more.
bullet6200 BCE: Another ice age arrived. With it was a lessening of rainfall which produced difficult times for those farmers throughout the Middle East who were not situated beside a reliable water supply. Many "farming villages in Anatolia and along the Fertile Crescent were abandoned, while others dwindled." 1 Villagers from many cultures gravitated in large numbers to the New Euxine lake. Along the shores of the lake there would have been villages with farmers and hunters from many cultures in the region. They spoke "many different languages -- Proto-Semitic, Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Kartvalian and others..."

bullet Circa 5650 to 5500 BCE: Warmth and rain returned once more. The New Euxine lake was still landlocked and fresh. But the Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Marmara  had gradually risen to a level some 426 feet (130 meters) higher than the lake. It was held back only by a small rise of land at the Bosporus River -- now the Bosporus Straight near present-day Istanbul, Turkey. Eventually, the ocean level rose high enough to slosh over into the Euxine Lake. It would have cut a small channel down to the lake. "The rivulet became a gentle brook, flowing ever more swiftly, scouring and tugging more forcefully at the bottom and walls of its channel." In a short time, the flow would reach 10 cubic miles of water per day -- 200 times the flow of the present Niagara Falls. Its velocity would have reached 50 miles per hour (over 80 km/hour)! Its noise would have been audible 120 miles (200 km) away. The lake level would have risen about six inches a day. The shoreline would have expanded up to a mile each day in some areas. The effect on the many groups who had settled on the lake shore would have been catastrophic.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. book cover image William Ryan and Walter Pitman, "Noah's Flood: The new scientific discoveries about the event that changed history," Simon & Schuster, (!998) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.

  2. book cover image Norman Cohn, "Noah's Flood: The Genesis story in Western thought," Yale University Press, (1996). Read reviews or order this book This is a very attractive book with many colored illustrations.
  3. Holy Bible, Scofield Reference Edition, Oxford University Press, (Copyright date 1917).

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Copyright 1999 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-NOV-20
Latest update: 2014-FEB-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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