Noah ‘Bout Bitumen?

In the discussion of issues with the Flood story in the Book of Genesis here on this blog recently, it was pointed out that there is another issue that hadn’t struck me before. Bitumen. Noah is supposed to make the ark waterproof using pitch. Bitumen forms from decomposed organic matter. And young-earth creationists claim that such organic petroleum products were produced by the Flood. And so how did Noah get any prior to the Flood, if young earth creationism is true and this story is factual?

It’s almost as though the author of the story had no interest in providing support for young-earth creationism…

  • ashleyhr

    I do not know what word in the original of Genesis 6:14 is translated as ‘pitch’ in many English translations of the Bible. According to Wikipedia pitch is resin and it can be made from petroleum products or plants. The page also states “The heating (dry distilling) of wood causes tar and pitch to drip away from the wood and leave behind charcoal … The terms tar and pitch are often used interchangeably. However, pitch is considered more solid while tar is more liquid. Traditionally, pitch that was used for waterproofing buckets, barrels and small boats was drawn from pine”. Thus in a 1984 article by leading young Earth creationist Tas Walker, still available on the CMI website, he stated “pitch can be extracted by distilling or heating wood … prior to the rise of the petroleum and coal industries this is exactly how pitch was made”. Though he also added “I cannot say for sure that Noah obtained pitch for the ark exactly in this fashion”. The question seems to be whether the word used in the original Hebrew can reasonably be translated in a way that suggests pitch derived from dry distilling wood rather than pitch that is synonymous with bitumen. My guess is that at the time the Bible was written there was no available technology to manufacture bitumen or asphalt from petroleum. Though of course bitumen does also occur (once coal and oil have formed) in natural deposits.

    • Matthew Funke

      I don’t expect that a pile of literature that fails to distinguish between birds and bats is going to be handing out precise mineralogical definitions. But that’s kind of the point. Genesis seems to be scientifically precise when YECists want it to be and loose enough to be translated in less strict ways when they want it to be. Their understanding of the terminology used in various accounts is determined by the narrative they attempt to spin out of it — and yet, they claim to come to the text with no preconceptions about how it ought to be understood.


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