The Incoherence of the Flood

It’s been too long since I posted anything controversial so I guess I better start living up to my villain namesake. Actually, this discussion has probably already been done to death on the ‘nacle so feel free to ignore this post. It’s just that it’s one of my favorite heresies and never fails to stir up some conversation.

I’m a moderate Mormon, which means that I meet a lot of fellow LDS that think that I’m a flaming liberal because I’m not exceptionally conservative like they are. Trust me, there are some flaming liberals at this blog and yours truly is not one of them.

As an example, when I’m speaking with such people, I like to use the Flood as an example of how coming to see things taught within the Church from a different perspective has actually led me to receive greater insights and a stronger testimony. So lets dis the Flood, open our minds a bit, and walk away even happier with God.

There are so many points of contention that I have with the Flood story as it stands that I hardly know where to begin. I guess we should review the record. The whole story is found in Genesis chapters 6-8.

The whole land has grown wicked, very wicked. God warns Noah that he’s getting fed up with his children and Noah gets sent out to preach repentance for 120 <i>years</i>. The people laugh and jeer at Noah and his warnings and God decides that since everyone is so bad that he’s going to wipe them all out and start over with Noah and his sons.

God gives Noah enough of a warning before things go down to build an ark, or really big boat. He gives him instructions to make it out of gopher wood (cool!) and to make it 300x50x30 cubits. A cubit is about 18 inches or so so we’re talking about 450x75x45 feet. It has to be pitched in and out and it gets one “window.” It has a (presumably) big door and has three interior floors with lots of rooms.

Noah then has to collect animals. <i>Lots</i> of animals. Two of every kind and seven of every clean kind. He’s to take only himself, his wife, his three sons and their three wives by way of people. Then the flood comes. Of course food and water for all are needed also.

It rains 40 days and nights. The windows of heavens open and the fountains of the deep break up. The water rises and rises and doesn’t stop until the water has risen 15 cubits above the highest mountains. The waters prevails 150 days. It takes a while before the plants start to come back and everyone can safely leave. God makes a covenant not to do all this again and puts a nice rainbow in the heavens to show that he’s not lying.

Before we get into Bible bashing, let me just explain where I <i>think</i> the problems originate. I think that what we have here is a true story that got mythologized. Serious exaggeration that got way out of hand. There are several possible examples of this (only possibilities though). One that comes to mind is the height of Goliath. Sure the dude was big, very big even, but by all accounts 12 or 13 feet high is off the charts. The cool thing now is that the Dead Sea Scrolls have a different reading that puts him at 7 or 8 feet, a definite improvement. In fact, lots of numbers appear to be exaggerated in the OT. It happens when these oral stories get passed down over hundreds of years. And that’s not even the only reason or way that mythologizing happens to a text. But rather than argue this point (it could be someone else’s post if there is enough interest in it), let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

Lets start with the ark. The thing is made from Gopher wood. We don’t actually know what type of plant this was and it could have been anything. So I won’t make issue here. However, regardless of whatever wood it was made from, this is a boat that would have had a tough time floating. Wood makes a good material for ship building, up to a point. It doesn’t have the strength of other materials (usually metal) that we make ships out of today. Sliming the boat with pitch and stuff is all good and necessary but for a boat that is 450 feet long and 75 feet wide, wood will not do. Our ark would have sprung a leak and sank, even if empty, within a few hours. Not a great start.

Now this can be a place where God intercedes and helps out. Maybe the boat doesn’t sink because God performs a miracle. It could happen. So let’s go on.

One of the most obvious problems in the whole story involves the fitting of the animals into ark. Even if God miraculously sends a perfect pair for Noah so he doesn’t have to go look for them, how do they all fit? I’ve heard one estimate that it would take more than 10,000 (and I’m being generously low here) arks just to fit two of every animal in the world known today. That requires a miracle of unprecedented proportions. And it doesn’t account for the necessary food and water. For me, this is serious strike number one.

Serious problem number two involves the water. Where did it all come from and where did it all go? This is a pretty standard question and the Bible gives its answer: rain, the windows of heaven, and the fountains of the deep. These terms don’t mean much to us (except rain of course) unless we have a good picture of how the Israelites viewed the world and universe. Here’s the one I am familiar with (although I know that there are others out there).

When God created the world everything was water, or chaos which is usually viewed as water. God divided the waters and created a little bubble in which the earth resides. Land is gathered up into one place. It is surrounded by water: water above (why the sky is blue silly!), water below (those fountains of the deep), and water all around (the ocean). When you see things this way, there is more than enough water and God has lots of places to put it when he is done.

Clearly this doesn’t work for us. And even if all the ice caps melted there still isn’t even close enough to flood the whole earth above the tops of the mountains. Throw in a couple of seriously big ice asteroids and maybe you have enough then, but then where does it all go? This requires, again, another miracle the likes of which we don’t see anywhere else. Strike two. (interesting note: Mt. Ararat, the traditional landing site of the ark and tallest mountain in the region (I think) is 16,854ft tall. Add 20 more and you have the water level of the earth rising almost 17,000 ft in 40 days or 425 ft a day or a shade under 18 feet an hour. Everest is 29,035 feet. That means that the water would have risen 725 feet a day or more than 30 feet an hour for 40 straight days. Forgive me if I’m skeptic)

The third problem has to do with mud and animals and people. Where is the evidence of this flood. The amount of debris that this sort of calamity would stir up is enormous. It would leave a huge layer of silt etc in the geological record around the whole world. And we’d have found it by now and it would be very obvious. After all, ancient floods, asteroids, volcanoes, and other major disasters (all of which pale in comparison to what we’re talking about) have left incredible amounts of evidence behind. There is no world wide flood layer. Nothing even close.

In the Genesis account all of the land and air animals have to be preserved in the ark because all of their counterparts are destroyed and representatives are needed to repopulate the planet afterwards. Again, the geological and other natural records available to us through good solid science do not agree with this whatsoever. The first problem is diversity. The animals got far and wide throughout the earth very quickly. And either all of their very diverse natural habitats reappeared very quickly also so they could resume normal life or they diversified into different species at an astronomical rate. Also, there is no evidence of all the species of animal on the earth today radiating quickly out from one tiny area about 5000 years ago. And trust me, there would be lots of evidence for this too. But it isn’t there. It doesn’t exist. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the problem of plant diversity (no account of Noah having to save two of every plant and then having to replant them all all over the world post-Flood).

The same problem applies to people. Genesis insists that all the families of the world descend from Noah and his sons at this point and we have Shem, Japeth, and Ham scattering in every direction to populate the known world. Shem gets the Middle East (the term Semitic derives from this name), Japeth repopulates Europe, and Ham and his cursed spouse move to Africa. What about our Far East Asian friends? Or our Indian brothers and sisters? Or our non-Jaredite, Lehite, Mulekite indigenous American neighbors? And where is the archaeological evidence for this happening 5000 years ago? Things just do not add up.

Here’s how I see the Flood. There was a real Noah who was a real prophet who really was spoken to by God who really lived in an exceptionally wicked place and time. God did command him to preserve his family and as many animals as possible by means of a boat that he showed him how to make (hello? Nephi anyone?) while he catastrophically flooded the land. The basic premise is entirely correct. It’s the details that are off in a major way.

Contrary to what some people have heard, not every people, kindred, tongue, and nation has a flood story. Many do, it’s true, but not all. And they are not all alike. And there is one very good reason for most people having some kind of a flood story: all civilization as we know it sprang up in places where there was not enough rainfall to support a large sedentary population but there was nearby a body of water that that could be drawn from. To my knowledge, these bodies of water were always rivers: the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Yangtze, the Yellow, that one in India I can’t remember. And if you live near a river long enough it will always flood. Always.

Because of Katrina more of us have learned about 100 year storms. It’s a theory about weather that states that as storms increase in severity, the frequency of occurence between storms of such power increases. For example, on average the area of New Orleans will have a Katrina strength storm once in a hundred or so years. This is not the worst kind of storm. There are 500 year storms and 1000 year storms. I don’t actually know how high that number can go (1000 may actually be too high already) but you get the idea. Maybe Noah’s storm was a 1000 or 5000 year storm.

Another part of the story that probably very naturally got exaggerated was how extensive the flood was. There is almost no way that the Israelites knew about the geography of the world the way we do. We have some old maps, maps that don’t go anywhere near as far back as Noah, and they all show the same thing: people in general had no idea how big and extensive the world really was. The land they knew by personal experience, trading, and rumors from other peoples made up about the extent of it. For a person living in Palestine during the Roman era the ends of the world were Britain, India, maybe China, Ethiopia, and Spain. You get the idea. And the world would have looked a lot smaller in the days of Noah. What constituted his world? We don’t know. We do know that the word for world in Hebrew is the same as land and earth and sometimes country. Even retelling the story accurately could have lead to an exaggeration of how much land was covered with water. It very easily goes from all the land around where I lived got flooded to the whole earth got flooded to the water went way over the tops of the mountains! Not a stretch at all.

There are plenty of times and places when this catastrophic flood of Noah’s could have taken place. I’m not personally a fan of the American Noah so I look to somewhere in the East. The tradition of where Noah landed might generally be correct, somewhere near eastern Turkey. I personally favor the flooding of the Black Sea story myself. The Black Sea used to be the Really Big Inland Freshwater Lake. But Turkey separates the Mediterranean from the Black and they have lots and lots of big earthquakes there. A particularly nasty one goes off a few thousand years ago and all of a sudden the waters of the Mediterranean go flooding down into the previously below sea level Black Sea, add a huge rainstorm, and voila! you have yourself a very plausible Flood story.

See, I’m not completely heretical. I just think that the story as we currently have it asks too much of God. I don’t see the need for all of the miracles about animals, water, and people when the miracles that would have taken place in the story underneath the story would do just fine. I don’t see God working that way at all. It doesn’t seem to be his style. God’s miracles are subtle, improvable, and must be taken on faith. I can’t see God creating this horrible flood and then going back and erasing all proof that it ever existed just to confound us.

The reason why I like to use this as an example of thinking outside of the box is because I don’t believe that my salvation is jeopardized by believing what I do about it. I’m not going to get to the pearly/fiery gates and meet Peter/Joseph/whoever and have them say to me, “man you made and kept those covenants spot on but that whole Flood heresy is going to keep you out.” Not going to happen.

However, it does give me some very positive things to focus on. For starters a greater appreciation for the depth of the sacred texts we have and the need to read them very carefully and prayerfully. I also appreciate the stuff that is not as messed up as this is. I appreciate that any truth at all comes down to us from so long ago and that God is willing to preserve such a long and rich history of his interactions with his children so that we can see how acts toward us and have faith that he is a loving and kind Father. There are countless other reasons I could list, not all of which everyone would agree with, but the one thing that this teaches me is that I must be discerning when it comes to all scriptures. It opened my mind to the possibility that other scriptures should be understood in dramatically different ways and reveal great truths. Since then I have tried to view almost everything in the Gospel in a different light just to see whether it made more sense or taught me something new. The fruits of this have been on occasion as beautiful and amazing as the fruit from the Tree of Life, probably because they have in some real way come from there.

  • Frank Fish

    Mr. Luthor,

    Don’t forget also that the whole story is a blatant rip-off of the Mesopotamian flood tale.

    The thing about the Black Sea flood is that if did happen it happened, what, 8000 BC? The Mesopotamian flood stories first surface around 2000 BC and later. There’s no way a story can be remembered for 6000 years without writing.

    Not believing in a literal Flood doesn’t make you a liberal, alas. It just means you’re sane.

  • lxxluthor

    Mr. Fish: I think you correct to claim that not believing in a literal flood does not make me liberal. My insinuation was that ultra-conservative Mormons might mistake me for one. Clearly you are not one of these. However, claiming that the whole story is a rip-off would make one a liberal in my mind (you completely discredit everything about Noah as a prophet if you take away the flood) which I fortunately don’t. And according to wikipedia.org (finest free site for public info in my mind) the flood of the Black Sea was around 5000 or 6000 BC and that the oldest Sumerian dating of the flood could push it back as far as 2900 BC. A couple thousand years might be possible to remember without writing, would it not?

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com/ Geoff J

    I think there are lots of people around these parts who believe the flood is 1) an allegory 2) a localized event, or 3) some combination of those two.

    See here for a post I put up on some research saying the flood might actually be a variation on a creation story.

  • lxxluthor

    Geoff: I shoulda known that you would have beaten me to this already. All the coolest topics have already been done at the Thang. Congrats on reading all the way through this monstrosity. You too Fish.

  • Julie M. Smith

    My normally 5-comment Sunday School post turned into a 190-comment slugfest with my flood lesson:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2890

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  • http://ldsgospeldoctrine.net Kurt

    I wouldnt say the account is incoherent, I would say it defies overly-literal Westernized hermeneutics. As for how literal the account, I really have no idea, and that isnt my primary interest in the text, and it doesnt appear to be the authors primary intent either. The authors primary intention is to set the theological stage for the impending Abraham story, same as with the case of the Tower of Babel account, it is stylized such that it is cast into a context of explaining the context and need for the Abrahamic Covenant. I read the Noachide covenant the same way. With Noah you see catastrophic destruction because of divine retribution owing to human wickedness, which never happens again. Why? Abrahamic Covenant. You see a new Creation. You see the Lord shift position in capital punishment and animals are now approved for human consumption, but not entirely, no blood. Setting the context for the Akedah, Abraham and Isaac. How technically accurate the details of the flood are is not really relevant to the covenant theology addressed therein as those details are just there to serve to stage a setting for Abraham. The human race is annihilated and brought back from near extinction so that one man can be singled out and covenanted with to provide a covenant people. Now, that isnt to say I dont read the text at the very least somewhat literally, because I do read it somewhat literally, probably moreso than many. However, I find such debates largely meaningless and mostly fruitless, and prefer to focus on the theological import instead, because that is relevant to us today and now, and the relative literalness is not.

  • jupiterschild

    I’m with FF–the flood narratives from Mesopotamia are too close to be coincidence, and the explanation that I’ve heard (“it’s simply evidence that Adam taught these things to all his children, which then show up in different versions”) is totally unsatisfactory. (And not to be too “flaming liberal,” but the Mesopotamian version is a much better read.)

    What I like about this post is the exploration of the possibility that there is a value in this narrative (way) beyond the question of historicity.

    The flood and creation comparison has been around for a long time (almost any decent commentary will deal with the verbal and thematic similarities). I think that the realization of this by members of the church could be a point of entry for a discussion of how scripture works, what it means, why simplistic notions of inspiration, revelation, and history may do more harm than good, etc., as the threads cited above show quite nicely.

    And, lest we write the question of historicity off as an ivory-tower kind of musing, this very question gets a lot of airtime in David Wright’s excommunication.

  • jupiterschild

    (on my last point, after clicking on the link, search “flood”)

  • jupiterschild

    And, I should have said, “mesopotamian versions”, plural…

  • handle

    I agree w/ Jupiterschild and FF: it’s impossible to ignore the Mesopotamian influences on the biblical version of the deluge. Duane Jefferies (a BYU prof) had an excellent article in a “flaming” publication, I think called “Noah’s Flood: Modern Scholarship And Mormon Traditions.” He argues for a literal flood on a much smaller scale while also exploring the possibility that there may have been no flood at all.

    My own view is that Noah may have existed, but the record we have of him comes from the mind of some ancient author who had heard all about mythical flood heroes (like Utnapishtim) and wanted to appropriate the tradition for Israel. Noah has been mythologized at the least, and invented at the most (but at least we can say that he wasn’t invented from thin air – there was plenty of literary precedent). This makes explaining Genesis 9:22 much easier.

  • lxxluthor

    Julie: Wow. That was one heck of a response to that post. I’ll definitely be watching my back for some of your “friends” from back then.

    Jupiter and Handle: All I really have to say is that somehow I’m not surprised that I have people telling me that I didn’t go far enough. I expect I’ll have people telling me I went too far in the next couple of days too. Such is the middle road of mediocrity that I walk.

    I do have just one serious rebuttal for any claims that Noah may not have been a real prophet figure: when JS says Noah=Gabriel and that he actually appeared to him, I take JS at his literal word.

    Now, I cannot write off entirely that perhaps the true record of Noah is completely lost or changed and that the whole Flood story is swiped from the Sumerians (or whoever). But I can doubt it pretty seriously. I don’t see a good reason for any Jew to take this story which accounts to God something as horrible as destroying nearly all of mankind just to set up that they descend from the right guy. I’m not buying it. At least not with what has been presented to me.

    What I like about this post is the exploration of the possibility that there is a value in this narrative (way) beyond the question of historicity.

    Thank you. That is a major goal of this post. And I’m very interested in the stuff I’m seeing about the connection to the creation story. It makes a lot of literary sense to me that the telling of the Flood would undo what was done in the creation. Very interesting stuff.

  • Frank Fish

    Luthor Boy,

    The earliest extant copies of the flood tale date to around 2000-1800 BC. It is true that the tradition goes back further into the third millennium, but it is difficult to say how far. I still think even 2-3000 years is a very long time. We need not look to the Black Sea. More likely we have the potent mix of a Euphrates or Tigris flood(s), some fairly colorful characters from ur-history (a “Gilgamesh,” a “Ziusudra”), plus some very powerful Mesopotamian imaginations. Voila, the Deluge.

    Without a doubt the biblical writers used this myth, recast it using their own theology, and thus Noah was born.

    I don’t see a good reason for any Jew to take this story which accounts to God something as horrible as destroying nearly all of mankind just to set up that they descend from the right guy.

    What?! The (early) Old Testament is full of such a God!

  • Rob osborn

    Modern day scoffers?

    What makes the flood story so real to me is that it was recorded by Moses from a world/ universe perspective. He knew that the flood covered the entire globe. Even Christ knew of the magnitude of the flood. So was the flood real? If so, where is the evidence?

    These questions are all too common in society. Many look not for the evidence that could support the flood but actually look for evidence to refute it. Past analysis has always shown that if you look hard enough in whatever direction you want- it will produce, even if it is wrong.

    The flood did happen, and it did cover the entire globe. The mountains were covered and destroyed. The mountains we now have are not prediluvial but are post diluvial. Every continent has massive evidence of a watery catastrophic event burying all forms of life. Every continent also shows massive evidence of uplift of these sedimentary ocean layed layers now found in the mountain chains of the world. Evidence of this uplift can be found that all of the major mountain chains have layers at their tops of seashells. These layers have been shown to have once been under the ocean but are now uplifted to very great heights.

    So I think it can be stated quite factually that all or most of the entire topography of the land has at one time been underneath ocean currents where massive and catastrophic flooding occurred. So does this prove the flood to be true? No, not conclusively. So what does it take then? Faith! We do not ask how the finger of the Lord was made known to the brother of Jared and how he was able to place his hand on rocks to make them glow. Neither do we ask for conclusive evidence that the golden plates exist before we read the Book of Mormon. Neither do we believe the seemingly lack of evidence of the BoM peoples.

    So wht are we so criticle of the flood? Because of a total lack of faith! We put too much trust in the arm of man. We seem to state that the flood could not of possibly of happened because there is no flood happening today! We also allow scientists to convince us of the various bajillion different species of animals when in fact they somehow seem to classify 100 different kinds of horses into separate species. We also discount the numerous books and studies put out by reputable scientists who believe in the flood and have shown quite clearly in theory how it was very much indeed possible.

    Scoffers? I am not sure, but I can say that he who lacks faith knows not where to find the real truth but is always lost!

  • http://notapostate.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    I’m following this conversation with interest. Both sides can make their case with equal vehemence, but it occurs to me that we can take this thread in a different direction by considering each theory in its own right and what principles we can learn from each.

    For example, if the flood story was appropriated from Gilgamesh or Mesapotamian myth, why was it used by Biblical authors? What ties did they have to the story to cause them to adopt it as their myth of national origin?

    Perhaps the flood was a localized event based on the flooding of the Tigris/Euphrates River Valley. What lessons did the small group of people who survived learn from the event? How did they see themselves in the larger picture of world history? How does their story apply to us as a “chosen people?”

    Lastly, consider Noah’s story as a literal worldwide catastrophe. Why would God find it necessary to cleanse the entire earth and start over? What were his purposes in doing so? What made him promise not to do it again?

    Perhaps others may think of more thought-provoking questions, I’m just throwing out a few simple ones to illustrate the possibilities in using this approach.

  • lxxluthor

    Fish-monger: I’ll trust your dating of the flood story. It’s tough but I’ll abandon the monolith of information that is wikipedia for you. But you still haven’t answered my argument that JS said he met the guy. And, no, I don’t think the OT is full of such a God. I don’t see any parallel for the destruction of life that the Flood purports except in the conquest of Canaan where the Israelites are commanded to destroy every man, woman, and child. And frankly I don’t believe that either.

    Rob: Ah, Rob. I wondered when I’d see you. I’ve read some of your comments from Julie’s post and T&S and I feel I know where you stand. And I say stand there man, do whatever you think is right. But please, don’t run around making statements like,

    So wht are we so criticle of the flood? Because of a total lack of faith! We put too much trust in the arm of man.

    Did you even read the post? The whole point was that right or wrong one can read the Bible critically and still maintain perfect faith! And I’m very concerned for anyone who is so willing to judge the quality of another person’s faith based on a single episode from the Bible which has nothing to do with anything related to personal salvation. But I would like to peruse some of these books by faithful scientists who support the idea of the Flood. I was not aware that any existed.

    Bored: An interesting idea. It sounds like a whole other post though.

  • lxxluthor

    Bored: I just caught your name in another blog (I won’t say which one), do you have a brother Mark who served in New Zealand by chance?

  • Matt W.

    Ya know, Lxx, you’re a good bloke. But I have to say Julie’s post she linked to is absolutely the super coolest. Someday I am going to drive up to Austin for an institute class…

  • http://notapostate.blogspot.com Bored in Vernal

    No brother or relatives named Mark. Although you’re probably referring to my husband’s last name, not mine. He is the only member in his famiy.

  • Rob osborn

    Lx,

    You opened the door…..

    I do not take Noah and the flood bashing very well like you presented in the post. I do not judge personal faith as it pertains to individual salvation solely off of where they stand on the flood.

    You state that you doubt God would create such a catastrophic miracle and then erase the evidence of it. Evidence is all in the eye of the believer, take off the blindfold.

    You are spot on though that a lack of belief of the global flood is not going to keep you out of heaven, I agree with you there.

  • Doc

    LXX,
    Of course their is chance of gentle scolding from God when you see him, similar to Peter sinking in the water, “O ye of little faith, wherefore dids’t thou doubt.” I imagine him saying it with a smile and wry wit. You are probably right, as long as you trust that God still performs miracles today, and is forever a God of miracles, as Moroni clearly states, then you are probably okay downplaying earthwide deluge.

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  • lxxluthor

    Bored: Just wondering. Can’t be the same person obviously.

    Doc: I almost would rather have the experienced you described just to hear the Lord be wry. It would certainly prove something about his character that I’ve always thought that I’d love to have confirmed.

    Rob: I am much more comfortable with our discussion now. I appreciate you taking my claim about judging faith well. As for blindfolds…

    I should mention that until recently I’ve been an avid pro-flood supporter. The blindfold that I took off was to see that much, if not all, of the evidence that I took for as support of a worldwide deluge is fraudulent. Including some of the stuff you cited above about fossils on the tops of mountains. These things have much better explanations than what you are suggesting, at least in my newly reconsidered opinion. Any archaeologist can tell you that we expect to see certain extremely clear signs in the geological record of this having ever occured.

    Now, this is clearly relying on the arm of man, as you said, and I don’t deny it. Well, in part I don’t deny it. The Flood realization was not my first when it comes to thinking outside of the LDS box.

    Although I do not want to open a different can of worms here, I’ll give a mild example of what I mean. On my mission I was thinking about damnation (don’t know why):) and it occured to me, let me restate: was revealed to me by inspiration, that if we define damnation as a cessation of progression that one could be saved in damnation in the Celestial Kingdom. Later it was confirmed to me that this was true. My inspiration led me to believe something that I had not been publicly taught before and it was correct.

    Many individuals, including apostles who became prophets, have had similar experiences. Public support for an idea should not always be considered as absolutely the last word on an issue. Even apostles have had the reverse experience by clinging too tenaciously to a current mode of thinking on certain issues. Elder McConkie publicly doubted that blacks would ever be given the priesthood. He was dead wrong and had to admit it. Elder Benson (before he was prophet) publicly stated that he doubted that man would be allowed to reach the moon because it was a different kingdom of glory. Again, the public recounting. Even the best people are wrong sometimes. Would a person who disagreed with those Brethren before the truth was revealed have been guilty of having a lack of faith if the Spirit had whispered to them the truth? I say no.

    On this principle I state that the Flood story as contained in the Bible is not correct. And I feel that it was inspiration that guided that realization. I know that pulling the “I felt the Spirit so you can’t argue with me” card is not fair. You probably have had an equal and opposite experience. This conflict is important but not necessarily what this post is about.

    So, I’ve given over the whole ball of wax (almost). Think of it what you will. It is simply my explanation for why I think that I am justified in considering myself 100% faithful and viewing the story as I do.

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    Well, Noah’s grandson divided the land with the gentiles, after their languages, before the tower of Babel. Lots of interesting commentary on that, but it gives a different perspective on the story to read that part of the Bible narrative in connection with Moses and every land being an earth.

  • lxxluthor

    Yeah, I’ve often wondered about the dividing the land notiong associated with Peleg. A little Hebrew can be a dangerous thing. Which about how much I know.

  • jupiterschild

    I think the talk about “relying on the arm of man” as referring to belief in evidence against a flood too often sets up a false dichotomy. Is not our trust in the scriptures also “relying on the arm of man”? It’s not as if Latter-day Prophets selected the texts to be included (and even if they had, they’re limited, as we have seen, by all kinds of human susceptibilities). Should we expect the scriptures to be accurate as they’ve been handed to us? Should we assume Moses to be the author even though the text nowhere states this, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary? Especially when we have the eighth article of faith? (Which, nota bene, doesn’t say anything about “historical accuracy,” but rather about scripture being the word of God.)

    For the record, Latter-day Saints in general, including many LDS scholars, do not seem to have a firm grasp of what the documentary hypothesis is, does, explains, etc. The first problem is that we don’t read scriptures as they are written (My Elder’s Quorum president said last sunday: “The scriptures shouldn’t be read. The scriptures should be studied” in response to someone who was having a hard time with the storyline).

    There is hard evidence for the existence of four independent documents (the fact that D refers only to J accounts in cases and only E in others, that certain Psalms only know one account of the plagues (J) or that Ezekiel seems to know P as an independent source). Latter-day Saints do not generally control this information, and often find themselves chiming in with weak arguments that do little more than to point out that there could be another alternative, maybe. This is not an argument. Again, I say, that this thread’s strength is in (or should be in) its exploration of other possibilities for finding the value in scripture. And I think that once we look at these theories as real possibilities and take account of their evidence, it will open up the field for a much broader and more helpful discussion of what scripture meant and continues to mean.

    For example, what could the existence of four different viewpoints of God (as in JEDP) tell us about a plurality of voices and thought in the church? (General authorities, as it is well noted, have been disagreeing with each other on doctrinal points since the church began). How would it change our reading? How would it help us to understand revelation as a process? Is it really worth holding onto a Mosaic authorship?

  • jupiterschild

    Rob, Doc, etc.: What do you guys make of the existence of the Mesopotamian Flood Stories (Atrahasis, portions of Gilgamesh, and other isolated accounts), some of which antedate Moses even by Cleon Skousen’s chronology? Especially when they are literarily related to the Genesis account?

  • jupiterschild

    (#25 was an honest question, no sarcasm intended at all. I want to hear reactions to this stuff.)

  • lxxluthor

    JC: Well said. I was intentionally trying to avoid the whole “how can we trust the Bible?” scene because I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Often in the NT I really want people to confront the text as it stands because as often as not it makes good sense once you take it as it at face value and stop trying to quote AoF8 at it. The OT seems to me to be a bit of a beast of a different ilk and you have done a much better job at raising this issue than I ever could have.

    Although, it is my understanding that the documentary hypothesis is currently under attack from certain scholars and is not in vogue so much these days. Am I wrong?

  • http://ndbf.blogspot.com R. Gary

    Lxx (#21) errs when he says “Elder McConkie publicly doubted that blacks would ever be given the priesthood.” Just the opposite is true. From its 1958 first edition and unchanged in the 2nd edition until the 1978 revelation, McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine taught that in the future worthy blacks would receive the priesthood.

    Lxx (#21) also errs regarding Elder Benson who, I’m certain, said no such thing about the moon.

    Regarding the flood, I’m more or less with Rob (#12).

    My own (insane according to #1) opinion is that “during Noah’s time the earth was completely covered with water” (See the LDS Church’s  “Guide to the Scriptures: Flood at Noah’s Time“).

  • jupiterschild

    LXX: You’re not wrong about the attack, but it’s under attack from the same sorts of positions as they were from the beginning of “higher criticism.” People are dissatisfied with the results of source criticism (either theologically or intellectually), so they say scrap it and move to something else, or invent outright theologically-minded redactors who inserted whole chapters of their own material. But there is nothing else that is satisfactory. People make all kinds of arguments for unity based on literary features like chiasmus, but these are not effective, (since chiasms, besides being often in the eye of the beholder, can be either 1) created by a redactor or, more likely 2) chiasmus existed in the sources themselves and their integration preserves that. I heard a great paper at the SBL last year on this very thing). Nothing explains the literary problems as effectively as source criticism, but it has gotten out of hand with all kinds of redactors, etc, with the result that people throw their hands up in frustration. But this doesn’t take away the convergence of thousands of pieces of data pointing directly to the conclusion that a compilation of probably four sources had been made. Sometime I’ll have to give you the breakdown (maybe I’ll do it in a post, to show people how this can be done and what issues it raises) of Exodus 34, a problematic text historically, but quite clear when the sources are worked out correctly.

    There is a prominent resurgence of this sort of stuff, especially in the work of some Jerusalem scholars and their pupils (esp. M. Haran, B. Schwartz, and some PhD candidates working now on their dissertations). This school, imo, will do major things for bringing this “back” into vogue (reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated). They cut through all the redactorial stuff by showing that someone had four sources (much like the Gospels) and spliced them together, only changing what absolutely could not be explained via exegesis (much the way you’d have to do with the gospels–you’d have to change place names, for example, to make Jesus not exist in two different places at the same time).

    I think that the realization that this narrative was composed–like every other body of scripture we have–as a compilation of various preexistent texts (it’s hard to name one book in all of the Mormon canon that doesn’t have this kind of thing going on) will open up all kinds of new possibilities for people to become engaged with scripture. What if we see the Joshua narratives not as a vengeful God who commands the extermination of whole towns, but rather as the work of a certain stratum of society (the court) who sought to legitimate their claims to territory? I’m not sure that we wouldn’t keep more people interested in scripture if they could latch onto stuff like this, rather than figure out a way to understand this kind of god. (I’m reaching a little here, I know.) And as for the question that will invariably be asked (Doesn’t this destabilize scripture and prophecy and revelation?) I’d say: Joseph Smith already did that for us. The “hermeneutics of suspicion” were already there with him. Subsequent generations are the ones who restabilized it. And as for the destabilization of revelation, it might teach us a little more clearly and carefully how it works, replacing the regnant model of a hand reaching down from heaven with a leather-bound, gilded-edge book ready to read.

  • Roland Deschain

    JC,

    what could the existence of four different viewpoints of God (as in JEDP) tell us about a plurality of voices and thought in the church?

    This, sir, is an excellent question. Really excellent. I’ve always thought of the Deuteronomist as the correlation committee (tell stories to illustrate simple, orthodox positions).

    Another point: the Book of Mormon claims to be a redacted book, of course. In principle, Mormons should have nothing against JEDP > R.

  • Rob osborn

    Lxx,

    It is interesting you bring up the analogy of “damnation” to present how you believe inspiration can tell you truth about something and then apply that same logic to the flood. You must have done some very good research of my own blog and background or maybe just mysteriously coincidental that the word “damnation” tops out as about #1 or #2 as one of my favorite topics to discuss, so……to not try to open up that can of worms more than is needed…

    Damnation as it is used in scripture and how Joseph Smith used it in the transalation of the BoM is always meant to “condemn” or pass judgement on an individual that delivers his spirit/ soul over to the devil. So no, one could not possibly be damned in the Celestial Kingdom. The plan of salvation saves us from “damnation” or “condemnation” in hell. The typical mormon definition of “damnation” is a spinoff definition from Bruce R McConkie’s view of the word. This stems from an early mistake in the church to use the word “damn” like the word “dam”, like you would dam a stream a slow or stop it’s progress.

    Now of coarse a “damned” persom is stopped in their progression. But this is because they are in hell in a state of condemnation. Every dictionary you look in never gives the typical mormon definition of that word. Why? Because our definition flat out doesn’t fit the criteria. We teach that we are either “saved” or “damned”. But we also teach that one can be both saved and damned at the same time. This is an oxymoron because we are saved from damnation just as those who are damned are damned from salvation. Now to get back to the matter at hand…

    So it seems that just because your interpretation might be different than mine on other subjects such as damnation, it can be concluded that we both believe what we believe to be true, but that under careful scrutiny, things are not as they really appear. So who is right, and, does it really matter?

    Ah… the question that has always plagued christianity? Whether I am right or you are right should not be the issue, rather we should ask what parts of your idea are you uncomfortable with and also what parts of mine I am uncomfortable with. This method lets us both look critically at our own thought and logic process that will ultimately lead to the truth. For instance-

    I really believe in the flood but I am uncomfortable with not really knowing how many different species Noah actually took on the ark. Now, before you jump all over that question, ask yourself the same type of question you are uncomfortable with. Once you present your question maybe we could look at each others questions with an unbiased opinion and seriously get down to the whole logic part of it.

  • http://jettboy.blogspot.com Jettboy

    “Joseph Smith already did that for us. The “hermeneutics of suspicion” were already there with him.”

    Yes, but you are making a simplistic statement that only half supports your theory. He questioned the recieved text, but he literalized everything beyond what even his contemporary religionists did. I don’t think he would have any problems with the redactionist theory of Scripture; as that was one of his chief complaints was how many hands had touched Scripture. What he would have major problems with (and the core idea of Mormonism is related to this) is a rejection of miracles as mere mythology or fiction. Although he would have no problem with questioning the particulars, I think he would actually agree with Rob O. that a complete rejection would lead to damnation.

  • lxxluthor

    JC: Very interesting, I look forward to that post. I’ve never had a good handle on the documentary hypothesis but am favorable to the basis idea behind it. When I said this at BYU the other day I got some very strange looks, which I then returned with strange looks of my own.

    Roland: About that first statement: what an interesting proposition! What better way to demonize the Deuteronomists anew! On the second statement: my thoughts exactly.

    Rob: Apparently opening cans is what I do. Also, interesting proposition but I’m not at all convinced that it will lead to truth.

  • lxxluthor

    Gary and Kurt: Your comments were just saved from the spam filter. Sorry no earlier responses.

    Kurt: I don’t think the story is incoherent either, it’s a historical reference to The Incoherence of the Philosophers (as you probably knew). I thought I was being clever. Also, I am going to look at that link of yours in just a sec.

    I find such debates largely meaningless and mostly fruitless, and prefer to focus on the theological import instead, because that is relevant to us today and now, and the relative literalness is not.

    You are entitled to your opinion of course, I would never deny anyone that, but I think from our few comments here (and the truckload in Julie’s discussion) that we can safely say that the debate is not meaningless to everyone and therefore not meaningless. And it should be even more clear that not everyone agrees with you that literalness of the event is meaningless either. I do, however, think that the theological implications are more important.

    Gary: I’m pretty sure you are wrong on both accounts. I’ll look into it though so I’m not misrepresenting them. As for the last part of your comment, we know what the unofficial stance of the Church on the issue is, the question is whether it is right.

  • Nitsav

    “Lxx (#21) also errs regarding Elder Benson who, I’m certain, said no such thing about the moon.”

    Gary is correct. It was Joseph Fielding Smith in 1961. A firsthand source confirmed this for me.

  • http://ndbf.blogspot.com R. Gary

    President Smith’s 1961 comment about colonizing the moon has not yet been contradicted.

  • smallaxe

    But this has. I found it through your link.

    As an example of Apostle Smith’s rejection of science, he instructed a stake conference in 1961: “We will never get a man into space. This earth is man’s sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it. The moon is a superior planet to the earth and it was never intended that man should go there. You can write it down in your books that this will never happen.” See E, 848 (entry for 14 May 1961), with commentary a few days later in George S. Tanner diary, JWML. Smith wanted this view to be taught to “the boys and girls in the Seminary System.” (Chapter 7 note 79)

  • lxxluthor

    Nitsav: Thanks. I knew it was someone. I’m sure I’d heard that it was Benson. Oh well.

    Axe: Thanks for the direct quote. Clearly I am not infallible.

    Gary: Is one needed when we’ve been there several times?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    Sorry Gary. President Smith admitted he’d been wrong.

    My informant says:

    “I am well aware of Joseph Fielding Smith’s opinions about space travel. I do
    not remember the NASA presentation that you mention. However, I DO remember,
    vividly (since I was a fan of science fiction and anything to do with space
    exploration), a news conference that Joseph Fielding Smith gave shortly
    after becoming president of the Church in January 1970. (I was 14 years old
    at the time.) One of the reporters mentioned his previously stated belief
    that man was not meant to go to space, and then added that just six months
    previously, exactly that had happened with the landing on the Moon by the
    crew of Apollo 14. What did Smith have to say to that, he asked. His
    response? “Well, I was wrong wasn’t I?”

    That ended that. Which is probably why the NASA presentation the following
    year went off without a hitch or hint of embarrassment. He had already
    admitted, in public, that his previous position had been untenable.”

    There you have it. Admitted fallibility :)

  • smallaxe

    Whether I am right or you are right should not be the issue, rather we should ask what parts of your idea are you uncomfortable with and also what parts of mine I am uncomfortable with.

    I’m not sure I completely agree with this line of discussion, but I am willing to explore it. In loosening some of the historicity of certain events (which is the position I take), I am uneasy about a number of things: Will this lead me to in effect saying “it doesn’t matter if any of these events actually happened” (in other words, that history doesn’t matter)? Does this detract from the “power” of the gospel to both draw people to it and keep people in it? To employ the over-used saying, have we thrown out the baby with the bathwater?

  • http://ndbf.blogspot.com R. Gary

    “Elder Benson (before he was prophet) publicly stated that he doubted that man would be allowed to reach the moon because it was a different kingdom of glory.” (#23)

    It turns out that Joseph Fielding Smith and LXXLuther made similar mistakes.  Each used a faulty illustration involving the moon to prove a valid point.

  • lxxluthor

    Yup. But I like that quote that you linked to. I have a good friend who has worked for Joseph McConkie for a few years and he is full of stories that humanize the McConkie’s and Smith’s.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us HP

    Gary,
    I am not sure what your point is. If it is that both Lxx and President Smith were human and capable of (and probably prone to) error, we knew that. If it is that that statements of Lxx and President Smith affect an equal number of people or bear equal authority in an LDS setting, well, that’s wrong. I feel like you feel you are scoring points here, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how.

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  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    Elder McConkie also poked fun at himself, but it tended to get edited out of publication. See “Elder McConkie- Fallible Humorist?” from M*.

  • a random John

    Here is a list of skeptics’ concerns about the concept of a recent worldwide flood.

  • http://ndbf.blogspot.com R. Gary

    … and here is a mild reprimand for for LDS skeptics of the Flood.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com HP

    Gary,
    It is pretty clear that the verse that President Hunter cites could be read in support of a localized flood (and there is nothing in his statement that contradicts a localized flood). So please let it go.

  • Doc

    indeed, with a localized flood destroying Noah’s known civilization, we still have the same spiritual lessons, the same points being made by God, the benefits of obedience and faith even when it may look foolish, and really a very impressive show of the power of nature. Demanding more than this is really kind of folly and no amount of GA quotes will ever convince me otherwise, particularly when all these salient points are preserved. There really is no insidious plot to shrink God here, please move on.

  • http://ndbf.blogspot.com R. Gary

    President Hunter cautions against disbelieving “the account of Noah and the flood as related in the Old Testament.”

    Click here for evidence that the Bible does not teach a “localized flood.”

  • ETO_Buff

    I would like to clarify a couple of points. People have stated that they heard Joseph Fielding Smith’s statement on space travel from someone who was actually there. The following statement can be found (within the entire answer to the question) in the second volume of “Answers To Gospel Questions” by Joseph Fielding Smith: “Keep it in mind, however, that such man-made planets belong to this earth, and it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet.”
    First, note the word “DOUBTFUL”.
    Second, bear in mind that President Smith at the time he said this was not the president of the Church, and he was not announcing Church doctrine. He was offering his opinion on the matter, about which, as has been stated, he admitted he was wrong.
    Third, (a minor point) Apollo 11 was the first lunar landing mission, and took place six months before President Smith was called as president of the Church. Apollo 14 was the third, and the crew of that mission landed on the moon on 5 February, 1971.

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  • Aaron Brown

    I feel compelled to recommend one of my favorite articles on this subject. You’ll like it, lxxluthor:

    http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/8619_issue_11_volume_4_number_1__3_12_2003.asp

    Aaron B

  • http://adventures-in-mormonism.com Bruce F. Webster

    Lxx:

    Teaching Gospel Doctrine last year, I also had to deal with the Flood (and several other early Old Testament issues). Fortunately, I had already laid groundwork regarding the means of composition of the OT, then pointed out Helaman 8:18, which talks about people receiving prophecies of Christ “…a great many thousand years before his coming…”. This passage suggests that an OT-derived chronology may be woefully short, since it’s hard to interpret “a great many” as meaning “4″.

    My current (but “forever tentative” as per Karl Popper) personal opinion is that the Flood stories have reference to the last two Ice Age periods. There is some evidence to suggest that the melting of the North American ice sheet created a vast lake held in place against the retreating ice sheet. When the lake broke through the ice dam and poured into the North Atlantic, it may have shut down the Gulf Stream and triggers a snap ice age that wiped out most of humanity (and, I suspect, most of life in general); one recent study I ran across suggested that the entire human race may have been down to Adventures in Mormonism

  • http://adventures-in-mormonism.com Bruce F. Webster

    Lxx:

    Delete my previous comment — somehow, the last few lines got deleted. Let’s start again.

    Teaching Gospel Doctrine last year, I also had to deal with the Flood (and several other early Old Testament issues). Fortunately, I had already laid groundwork regarding the means of composition of the OT, then pointed out Helaman 8:18, which talks about people receiving prophecies of Christ “…a great many thousand years before his coming…”. This passage suggests that an OT-derived chronology may be woefully short, since it’s hard to interpret “a great many” as meaning “4″.

    My current (but “forever tentative” as per Karl Popper) personal opinion is that the Flood stories have reference to the last two Ice Age periods. There is some evidence to suggest that the melting of the North American ice sheet created a vast lake held in place against the retreating ice sheet. When the lake broke through the ice dam and poured into the North Atlantic, it may have shut down the Gulf Stream and triggers a snap ice age that wiped out most of humanity (and, I suspect, most of life in general); one recent study I ran across suggested that the entire human race may have been down to

  • http://adventures-in-mormonism.com Bruce F. Webster

    Lxx:

    Delete my previous two comments — my fault for attempting to use a ‘less than’ symbol. :-)

    Teaching Gospel Doctrine last year, I also had to deal with the Flood (and several other early Old Testament issues). Fortunately, I had already laid groundwork regarding the means of composition of the OT, then pointed out Helaman 8:18, which talks about people receiving prophecies of Christ “…a great many thousand years before his coming…”. This passage suggests that an OT-derived chronology may be woefully short, since it’s hard to interpret “a great many” as meaning “4″.

    My current (but “forever tentative” as per Karl Popper) personal opinion is that the Flood stories have reference to the last two Ice Age periods. There is some evidence to suggest that the melting of the North American ice sheet created a vast lake held in place against the retreating ice sheet. When the lake broke through the ice dam and poured into the North Atlantic, it may have shut down the Gulf Stream and triggers a snap ice age that wiped out most of humanity (and, I suspect, most of life in general); one recent study I ran across suggested that the entire human race may have been down to less than 1000 people (with, one presumes, a corresponding loss of animal and plant life). This is more in line with the Book of Mormon chronology above (more reliable, IMHO, than any OT chronology), and it’s easier to posit glaciers and snow as ‘water prevailing upon the earth’ — including (and especially!) mountain tops — than to come up with a six-mile-deep shell of water covering the entire earth. ..bruce..


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