The great flood

Genesis, chapter 7:10-24 described the great flood.  On the 17th day of the second month of the 600th year of Noah, the mythic flood began as the fountains burst from the windows of heaven.  It rained for forty days and nights as the heavens opened with rain.  The waters increased around the earth, so that the ark floated above the high mountains.  Thus, God destroyed all humans and all breathing animals not in the ark, because they were evil.  During the forty days, the ark floated over the mountains, so that everything not in the ark died.  Only those on the ark with Noah were saved.  The waters continued to swell for 150 days, after the 40-day deluge.  This narrative of the great flood drew on two narratives, the Jahwist (J) and the Priestly (P) source intertwined together, so that many of its details are contradictory, yet it looks like a unified whole.  J equals chapter 6:1-8; chapter 7:1-5, 7-10, 12, 16b-17a, and 22-23; and chapter 8:6-12, and 20-22.  P equals chapter 6:9-22; chapter 7:6, 11, 13-16a, 18-21, and 24; chapter 8:1-5, and 13-19; and chapter 9:1-17.  However, a global flood as described in this myth is inconsistent with the physical findings of geology, archeology, paleontology, and the global distribution of species.  A branch of creationism known as flood geology is a pseudoscientific attempt to argue that such a global flood actually occurred.  Some Christians have preferred to interpret the narrative as describing a local flood, instead of a global event. That would make some sense.  Floods in the wake of the Last Glacial Period, 20,000 to 25,000 years ago, are speculated to have inspired myths that survive to this day.  Plato’s allegory of Atlantis is set over 9,000 years before his time, leading some scholars to suggest that a Stone Age society which lived close to the Mediterranean Sea could have been wiped out by the rising sea level, an event which could have served as the basis for this story.  Mesopotamia, like other early sites of river civilizations, was flood-prone.  Flooding could destroy the whole of their known world.  Earth’s sea level rose dramatically in the millennia after the last ice age.  The geography of the Mesopotamian area changed considerably with the filling of the Persian Gulf after sea waters rose following this last glacial period.  In the low-lying and fertile region in Mesopotamia, in which human habitation is thought to have been around for many years, there was a sudden increase in settlements around 7,500 BCE.  These global flood stories may have been inspired by ancient observations of seashells and fish fossils inland and in mountain areas.  The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all documented the discovery of such remains in such locations.  The Greeks hypothesized that earth had been covered by water on several occasions.  There was a Deucalion myth that postulated that there was a large tsunami in the Mediterranean Sea around 1630–1600 BCE.  All of these floodings were local rather than a region-wide great flood.  Another controversial Black Sea deluge hypothesis may have happened around 5600 BCE from the Mediterranean Sea into the Black Sea basin.  What is the biggest flood that you ever saw?

Noah prepares the ark for the flood

Who was this man named Noah?  The name of the hero, according to Mesopotamian versions of the flood was Utnapishtim.  It is just possible that an abbreviation of Utnapishtim as “Na’ish” was pronounced “Noah”.  This Noah was told how to make a big triple deck ark of gopher cypress with pitch all over it, 450 feet long (300 cubits), 75 feet wide (50 cubits), and 45 feet high (30 cubits) in Genesis, chapter 6:14-7:9.  This was hard work for Noah and his three sons building this boat ark with a roof and a door.  By today’s standards, it was like a small river cruise ship or an American destroyer ship.  God said that he was going to send a big flood and destroy everything except for whatever would be in this ark.  Everything on the earth would die, if it was not on the ark. Thus, Noah built an ark, loaded it with animals, stocked it with food, and then got on it with his family.  His family consisted of Noah, his unnamed wife, and his three sons and their unnamed wives.  Yahweh told Noah to get two of every living thing, a male and female, of birds, animals, and creeping things, and put them into the ark.  This in itself would have been a difficult task also.  The division of living things was always the same, clean and unclean animals, birds, and creeping things.  This ‘creeping things’ seems strange, but appears over and over again.  There was no word about fish since they could survive in the water.  Noah also took food and did as God asked him to do.  God told Noah to take seven pairs of all clean animals, instead of just one pair of the other unclean animals.  In fact, this is the Priestly tradition story with the emphasis on clean and unclean animals that was never mentioned until here.  Of course, the clean and unclean animals were part of the later Mosaic Law.  In seven days, God said that the forty-day rain would begin.  In seven days, the 600-year-old Noah got his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, their wives, and all the animals, birds, and creeping things into the ark, just as God had told him to do.  This was a crowded ship, even though there was no indication of any children of the three sons.  That was quite a task, but Noah was up to the work.  Have you ever had a busy week?

The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia, regarded as the earliest surviving notable piece of literature, and the second oldest religious text, after the Pyramid Texts, dating back to the 18th century BCE.  The first half of the story discussed Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk, and Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. In the second half of this epic, distress over Enkidu’s death caused Gilgamesh to undertake a long and perilous journey to discover the secret of eternal life.  Gilgamesh’s fame survived well after his death.  This epic is regarded as a foundational work in religion and in the tradition of heroic sagas, as the prototype for later heroes like Heracles and the Greek Homeric epics.  It has been translated into many languages and is featured in several works of popular fiction.  These Old Babylonian tablets from 1800 BCE are the oldest surviving tablets for a single Epic of Gilgamesh narrative.  The first ten tablets told the story about Gilgamesh and Enkidu.  Tablet eleven, is the “Babylonian Flood Story”.  Gilgamesh observed that Utnapishtim seemed no different from himself, and asked him how he obtained his immortality.  Utnapishtim explained that the gods decided to send a great flood.  To save Utnapishtim, the god Enki told him to build a boat.  He gave him precise dimensions, and it was sealed with pitch and bitumen. His entire family went aboard together with his craftsmen and all the animals of the field.  A violent storm then arose which caused the terrified gods to retreat to the heavens.  Ishtar lamented the wholesale destruction of humanity, and the other gods wept beside her. The storm lasted six days and nights, after which all the human beings turned to clay.  Utnapishtim wept when he saw the destruction.  His boat lodged on a mountain.  Thus, he released a dove, a swallow, and a raven.  When the raven failed to return, he opened the ark and freed its inhabitants.  Utnapishtim offered a sacrifice to the gods, who smelt the sweet savor and gathered around.  Ishtar vowed that just as she will never forget the brilliant necklace that hangs around her neck, she would always remember this time.  When Enlil arrived, angry that there were survivors, she condemned him for instigating the flood and sending a disproportionate punishment.  Enlil blessed Utnapishtim and his wife. He rewarded them with a unique gift of eternal life.  This account largely matched the flood story.  As if to demonstrate this point, Utnapishtim challenged Gilgamesh to stay awake for six days and seven nights.  However, Gilgamesh fell asleep.  Gilgamesh, who was seeking to overcome death, could not even conquer sleep.  Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that at the bottom of the sea there lived a boxthorn-like plant that would make him young again.  When Gilgamesh stopped to bathe, it was stolen by a serpent, who shed its skin as it departed.  Gilgamesh wept at the futility of his efforts, because he had now lost all chance of immortality.  In 2003, there was a translation of this work by Andrew George.  He held that the Genesis flood narrative matched that in Gilgamesh so closely that few doubt that it was derived from this Mesopotamian account.  What was particularly noticeable was the way the Genesis flood story followed the Gilgamesh flood tale point by point and in the same order.  In a 2001 Torah commentary, released on behalf of the Conservative Movement of Judaism, rabbinic scholar Robert Wexler stated, “The most likely assumption we can make is that both Genesis and Gilgamesh drew their material from a common tradition about the flood that existed in Mesopotamia.  These stories then diverged in the retelling.” Thus, the flood story in Genesis 6–8 matched the Gilgamesh flood myth very closely.  What do you believe about the flood story in Genesis?

The Genesis flood narrative

This flood story is among the best-known stories of the Bible, found in chapters 6–9 in the Book of Genesis.  In this account, Noah labored faithfully to build an ark at God’s command, ultimately saving not only his own family from extinction during the great flood, but mankind itself with all kinds of land animals.  God created this flood after realizing that the world was full of sin. Afterwards, God made a covenant with Noah and promised never again to destroy all the earth’s creatures with a flood.  After this flood, God commanded Noah and his sons to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth”.  This story may have been two independent stories put together, since God is sometimes called Yahweh and other times just called Elohim.  This united narrative indicated that God intended to return the earth to its pre-creation state of watery chaos by flooding the earth, because of humanity’s misdeeds.  Then God was going to remake earth from those in Noah’s ark.  Thus, the flood was no ordinary overflow but a reversal of creation.  This narrative discussed the evil of mankind that moved God to destroy the world with a great big water flood.  Noah was to prepare the ark for certain animals.  Noah, and his family had God’s guarantee for a continued life existence, with the promise that God would never send another flood.  Scholars believe that the Noah flood myth originated in Mesopotamia during the Old Babylonian Period (1880-1595 BCE) and reached Syro-Palestine in the latter half of the 2nd millennium BCE.  Numerous and detailed parallels made clear that the Genesis flood narrative was dependent on the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, which is thought to date from 1300-1000 BCE.  The Mesopotamian gods decided to send a great flood to destroy mankind.  There are various other correlations between the stories of Noah and Gilgamesh, including the flood, the construction of the ark, the salvation of animals, and the release of birds following the flood.  The Hurrian people had a territory that included the city of Harran, where Abraham had his roots.  The Hurrians may have inherited the flood story from Babylon.  Gilgamesh’s historical reign is believed to have been approximately 2700 BCE, shortly before the earliest known written stories.  For Christians, Noah and his ark have become a figure or image of the Christian Church.  This was like the baptism of the world with all this water, that prepared the salvation of the world to come with Jesus Christ.  The family of Noah was saved by water and wood, just like how Jesus saved the world by the wood of the cross and Baptism.  All the animals saved were like precursors to the fact that the gospel word of Jesus was to spread to the whole world to save them.  There was a new creation after the flood like there is a new person after the Baptism of Jesus Christ.  At the conclusion of the flood, there was an agreement with Noah and God.  So too, there is the new covenant with Jesus Christ.  Thus, Noah and the flood was and is a very strong image for most Christians.  What do you know about Noah and his ark?


A new class of people appeared in Genesis, chapter 6:4, called the Nephilim, נְפִילִים (Nefilim), who were very tall giant warriors. Somehow these mysterious Nephilim people were involved with the sons of God in this narrative, as they were large and strong. The word Nephilim was loosely translated as giants in some translations of the Hebrew Bible, but left untranslated in others. Jewish explanations interpret them as hybrid sons of fallen angels.  They may have later inhabited Canaan at the time of the Israelite attempted conquest of Canaan.  The majority of ancient biblical translations interpret this word to mean giants, the violent ones, or fallen ones.  It is unclear if they are the sons of God or their offspring.  They could be the warriors of old, who descended to Sheol with their weapons of war.  Most of the contemporary English translations call them giants, just like the Greek Septuagint translation, οἱ δὲ γίγαντες (oi de gigantes), which then led to the Latin Vulgate translation as giants, gigantes.  In the non-canonical 1 Enoch, they were great big giants, whose height was three hundred cubits, 450 feet tall.  They may have survived the flood, because they were so tall.  The story of the Nephilim was further elaborated in I Enoch, as it connected the origin of the Nephilim with the fallen angels who came to earth to have sexual intercourse with human females.  Thus, the Nephilim were the offspring of their union.  Seth was said to have disobeyed God, by breeding with the Cainites and producing wicked children, thus angering God into bringing about the deluge.  They may also have been part of Sumerian mythology.  Other anthropologists have looked to find the remains of tall ancient giants with little success.  Nevertheless, these giant Nephilim have been part of medieval and contemporary popular culture.  What is the tallest person that you have ever seen?

The anthropomorphic God and limited human life

In the sixth chapter of Genesis, God decided that he would limit the age of humans to 120 years, because the world was getting overly populated.  He should see it today!  Yahweh felt that these humans that he had created were evil.  He was sorry that he had made them.  He was tired of them, so that he did not want his spirit with them forever.  Thus, he decided to get rid of them all, including the animals and birds, as if they were somehow related to the humans and their evil ways.  The earth was corrupt and filled with violence, a theme heard among some Christians today.  Once again this was an anthropomorphic way to talk about God.  As God, Yahweh was often described as having hands, arms, feet, white hair, and a face, with a mouth and ears.  Various human attributes of different kinds of feelings were applied to the divine eternal God, so that he could communicate with humans.  How do you communicate with God?

The sons of God

Once again, this was an odd strange Jahwist story about the sons of Elohim, in Genesis, chapter 6:1-7.  These sons of Elohim were enamored over the daughters of men.  Who were these sons of the Elohim God?  Apparently, they could be divine beings who belonged to the heavenly court, maybe related to the cherubim.  Perhaps, it was something like the various Greek and Roman gods who had intercourse with humans.  Maybe it was the line of Cain marrying with the line of Seth.  Most of the early biblical sources refer to the “sons of heaven” as angels.  From the third century BCE onwards, there were non-canonical references to the “sons of heaven” being enamored by human women, like some kind of superhumans.  Likewise, a long-held view among some Christians was that the “sons of God” were the formerly righteous descendants of Seth who rebelled, while the “daughters of men” were the unrighteous descendants of Cain.  Orthodox Judaism has taken a stance against the idea that angels could marry with humans. They have suggested that this text should read “the sons of noble lords”.  Jesus said that angels did not marry, but these may have been fallen angels.  Who are the sons of God?

3 Enoch

The Third Book of Enoch is another biblical apocryphal book, whose origins can only be traced to the fifth century CE.  3 Enoch was supposedly written by Rabbi Ishmael, a leading figure of Merkabah mysticism, who lived after the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.  Hugo Odeberg (1898-1973) edited a critical edition of this work in 1928, 3 Enoch, or the Hebrew Book of Enoch.  Some of the same ideas that there were in 1 Enoch appeared here in 3 Enoch.  Enoch went to heaven in a chariot, was transformed into an angel, and was enthroned in heaven, as well as receiving some cosmological secrets about creation.  The main themes running through 3 Enoch were the ascension of Enoch into heaven and his transformation into the angel Metatron.  This Enoch, whose flesh was turned to flames, his veins to fire, his eye-lashes to flashes of lightning, his eye-balls to flaming torches, received a heavenly transformation into Metatron.  It is impossible to reach a very firm conclusion as to the date of 3 Enoch.  The main problem is the literary character of the work, since it is not the product of a single author at a particular point in time.  This work appears to be from a community tradition which incorporated elements from widely different periods.  Certain rough chronological limits can be established.  3 Enoch can hardly have been written later than the tenth century CE.  This work drew some of its materials from the Babylonian Talmud, so that its final redaction can hardly be earlier than the fifth century CE.  Many of 3 Enoch’s ideas about Metatron and about the heavenly world were known in magical circles in the sixth and seventh centuries CE.  Even though 3 Enoch contains some very old traditions and stands in direct line with developments which had already begun in the Maccabean era, a date for its final redaction in the fifth or the sixth century CE seems appropriate.  Thus, it was probably written after the New Testament but before or during the time of the Quran.  Did you ever think that Enoch was this important?

2 Enoch

The Second Book of Enoch is an apocalyptic text, describing the ascent of the patriarch Enoch, an ancestor of Noah, through ten heavens of an earth-centered cosmos.  2 Enoch is distinct from 1 Enoch, and there is also an unrelated 3 Enoch.  The cosmology of 2 Enoch corresponds closely with beliefs about the ancient metaphysical structure of the universe.  Some scholars attribute 2 Enoch to an unidentified Jewish sect, while others regard it as the work of some first-century Jewish-Christians, but it is not included in either the Jewish or the Christian biblical canons.  Thus, 2 Enoch’s composition must be later than that of 1 Enoch. Scholarly efforts have indicated that the Temple was still standing in Jerusalem when this book was written, since there was no indication of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  In fact, 2 Enoch emphasized the importance of sacrificial practices and pilgrimages to this Temple itself.  2 Enoch is also known as “The Book of the Secrets of Enoch”, with its many descriptions of multiple heavens and accounts of battles between angels and devils.  In the first section (chapters 1–22), Enoch, at the age of 365, is taken by two angels through the ten heavens, one by one.  The first heaven is just above the firmament.  The second heaven is where the fallen angels are in prison.  The third heaven is the Garden of Eden.  The fourth heaven is the place of the movements of the sun and the moon.  The fifth heaven is where soldiers of Satan look like human giants.  In the sixth heaven, he sees the angels in charge of governing the cosmos and people.  In the seventh heaven is where the Lord is on his throne.  The eighth heaven is just below the upper firmament in the sky with the constellations.  The ninth heaven is where the change of seasons come from.  The tenth and final heaven is where God’s throne resides and people see God face to face.  In the second section (chapters 23–37), Enoch, now guided by Gabriel, speaks with God in the tenth heaven face to face.  The third section (chapters 38–68) is a list of doctrinal and ethical instructions given by Enoch to his sons.  The last section (chapters 69-73), is sometimes referred to as the Exaltation of Melchizedek.  Thus, some have seen a connection between the Book of Hebrews, chapters 6-8, and this work.  The theological universe of 2 Enoch is deeply rooted in the Jewish Apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period.  What do you know about apocalyptic literature?

1 Enoch

Three books have been ascribed to this Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah, the seventh generation after Adam.  1 Enoch is an ancient Hebrew religious work, attributed to Enoch, but probably dates from about the third century BCE, with the last part belonging to the first century BCE, written in either Aramaic or Hebrew.  Enoch occupied an important position among the Old Testament men of God.  When removed from the earth, Enoch and the prophet Elijah were carried directly to heaven because of their contact with God.  Thus, this apocalyptic writing appeared, purporting to have been composed by Enoch himself, around 200 BCE.  This Book of 1 Enoch was already known to the author of the Book of Jubilees and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, as it became a great favorite in the Christian Church, even quoted in the Epistle of Jude.  Many of the early Christian Fathers used it without hesitation as the genuine production of Enoch, containing authentic divine revelations, although it has never been officially recognized as part of the Hebrew Bible or the canonical New Testament by the Christian Church.  In the twentieth century, Aramaic and Hebrew fragments from four of the five sections of this book were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  This book was arranged in five sections, just like the Psalms and the Pentateuch.  Section I (chapters 1-36) is mainly concerned with pronouncing God’s judgment on the angels who fell, through their love for the daughters of men in Genesis, 6:1-4, with Enoch’s intercession for them.  There also is a weird description of Hades in this section.  Section II (chapters 37-71) has three parables, or apocalyptic revelations, together with the story of Enoch’s transportation into heaven.  Section III (chapters 72-87) is primarily concerned with furnishing a treatise on astronomy, the secrets of the movement of the stars as revealed to Enoch, who sees with his own eyes their very course, transmitting this information to future generations.  Section IV (chapters 88-90) runs along lines laid down in the first two portions dealing with the problem of sin and the suffering of Israel.  Enoch relates to Methuselah his visions of the deluge, the fall of the angels, and their punishment in the underworld, the deliverance of Noah, the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the conquest of Canaan, the time of the judges, the establishment of the United Kingdom, the building of the Temple, the story of the two kingdoms, the fall of the Northern Kingdom, and the Exile.  This was followed by four periods of angelic rule up to the time of the Maccabean Revolt, the last assault of the gentiles, and the great Judgment.  The last part of Section IV (83-90) contains the prediction of the foundation of the new Jerusalem, the conversion of the gentiles, the resurrection of the righteous, and the coming of the Messiah.  Section V (chapters 91-107) is without any account of the origin of sin but seems to be mainly devoted to the problem of suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the oppressing sinners.  It denounces evil and utters woes on sinners and promises blessings to the righteous.  Within this section is an older work “The Apocalypse of Weeks”.  Have you ever heard of Enoch?