Critics of the literal interpretation of the Bible have argued that the Genesis flood was a local flood. This interpretation has been vehemently oppos
Critics of the literal interpretation of the Bible have argued that the Genesis flood was a local flood. This interpretation has been vehemently opposed by Biblical literalists and fundamentalists, who maintain that the flood was global. But the skeptics have a point; at the very least, the proponents of a global flood have failed to come up with a convincing scientific explanation for a flood truly universal in extent. The theories that have been proposed, such as the vapor canopy theory and the hydroplate theory contradict known geological theories and facts. And while the flood could be explained by the intervention of a supernatural force or deity, such explanations are unscientific and are inadmissible in the empirical sciences.
There’s No Flood Like a Biblical Flood
Those who believe the Genesis flood was a local flood have reached a tentative consensus that it was caused by overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers following an unusually heavy rainstorm. But it is difficult to imagine, for instance, how the flooding of rivers could cause such widespread devastation. The magnitude and scale of the flood, which seemed to have been characterized as a singular event, is strikingly inconsistent with a river flood, which occurs repeatedly over time. Sufficient time has passed since the Genesis flood for even floods as rare as thousand-year floods to have recurred, and yet the Biblical flood is clearly described as a singular event.
What alternative causes of a local flood can account for the particular details of the Genesis flood, if river floods do not suffice? Extensive scientific research conducted over the last two decades has revealed that the Black Sea was once a much smaller freshwater lake that was isolated from the Mediterranean Sea until 5700 BC, when the Mediterranean burst through the Dardanelles, raising the level of the Black Sea by at least hundreds of feet.
Map of the Black Sea (Giorgi Balakhadze/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Robert Ballard, an underwater archaeologist and oceanographer who discovered the wreckage of the Titanic, believes that the Biblical flood was inspired by this very flood. This hypothesis, known as the Black Sea Deluge hypothesis, has gained acceptance among the scientific community and certainly qualifies as a local flood. In the remainder of this article, I shall present a somewhat circuitous argument in favor of the general hypothesis that the Biblical flood involved the flooding of some below sea level basin and the consequent formation of a sea, as opposed to arguing in favor of the Black Sea Deluge hypothesis in particular.
Black Sea today (light blue) and in 5600 BC (dark blue) according to the hypothesis. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Creation of the World
To begin, I shall take the argument of the skeptics of a global flood even further and suppose that not only was the flood a local event, but that the creation preceding the flood was as well . The creation story of Genesis has been acknowledged to concern itself with the creation of the entire world—even by those who disbelieve in the narrative. Biblical scholars who interpret the Bible literally would oppose, but at least understand what is meant by those who claim that the Genesis flood was local in its extent. But the notion of a “local creation” seems to be utterly nonsensical at worst and confusing at best. After all, why would a creation narrative limit itself to a specific part of the earth rather than its entirety? One explanation is that people simply did not conceptualize that the world was as large as it actually is, and therefore limited the scope of the creation narrative to simply the part of the world that they were familiar with, out of ignorance.
But why would a people who were fully aware of the true size of the earth construct a creation narrative concerning itself with only a part of the earth as opposed to its whole? The most plausible reason, in my view, is that there once was a land that was unlike all other lands of the earth in its history and mode of origin, and thus merited its own creation story.
Joseph Mallord William Turner – The Morning after the Deluge ( Public Domain )
The word “Earth” has two distinct meanings, the first being the planet on which we live and the world as a whole, and the second being the substance of the land surface. So if the creation narrative is reimagined as the creation of earth in the sense of the second definition as opposed to the creation of the Earth in the sense of first definition, one can make sense of the notion of a local creation in which land that was previously uninhabitable for whatever reason was transformed into land that was habitable. What geological processes can result in such a transformation? Some examples include but are not limited to the melting of an ice sheet, a global drop in sea levels, and the isolation of a marginal sea and its subsequent transformation into a dry basin. As we shall see, the first two of these examples can be excluded because they are inconsistent with the rest of the creation narrative, but the third example is strikingly consistent with the Seven-day creation story, if certain key words and phrases are reinterpreted.
Heaven and Earth
In traditional Biblical cosmology, the firmament has been understood to be a structure above the atmosphere, conceived as a vast solid dome. In other words, the firmament is a celestial structure rather than a terrestrial one.
Colored version of 1888 black-and-white Flammarion engraving called “Universum” wherein a man pokes his head through the firmament of a flat Earth to view the mechanics of the spheres. (Raven/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )
But while older English versions of the Bible, such as the King James version, translate the Hebrew word raqiya as firmament, newer versions such as the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) and the English Standard Version (ESV) translate it to expanse. Unlike the firmament, which has been identified lexicographically as a celestial dome, expanse is a more ambiguous term open to interpretation, requiring a qualifier (an expanse of what). If this qualifier is taken to be land instead of a celestial dome, then the creation narrative resembles the unfolding of a real geological process that has occurred in the distant past, namely the isolation of a marginal sea from the world ocean by the formation of a physical barrier (which is the firmament) cutting the former off from the latter, and the marginal sea’s subsequent evaporation and transformation into a dry basin.
Before the similarities between the Biblical creation narrative and the formation of a below sea level basin are discussed in detail, I will provide a general overview of the processes involved in the transformation of the seafloor of a marginal sea into dry land. First, let us define an important term: marginal sea. A marginal sea is any sea that is connected to an ocean via some waterway(s). This may be a single strait, for example, in the case of the Mediterranean Sea, which is connected to the ocean via only the Straits of Gibraltar. Or it may be several waterways, as is the case with the Caribbean Sea and the South China Sea.
The Straits of Gibraltar seen near the bottom of the photo connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. ( Public Domain )
What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a marginal sea to transform into dry land? First, it must become isolated from the ocean. That is, all the waterways that connect the sea to the ocean must become closed so that water cannot flow from the ocean to the sea or vice versa. For example, in the case of the Mediterranean Sea, the closure of the Strait of Gibraltar would suffice to isolate the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean. However, in the case of the Caribbean Sea, all of the many waterways connecting the Caribbean with the Atlantic would have to close.
Imagine the situation in which an intense and sustained period of volcanic activity throughout the entire length of the Caribbean archipelago raises the entire region above sea level, much like the Central American isthmus is today (save for the Panama Canal), thus resulting in the isolation of the Caribbean from the Atlantic. In that event, the Caribbean would evaporate away since (1) evaporation exceeds the sum of precipitation and runoff over it, and (2) this negative water balance over this body of water cannot be replenished by the Atlantic Ocean, as it has been cut off from the Atlantic.
Ocean drainage at the American Mediterranean Sea ( Wikimedia Commons )
If one interprets the word raqiya to mean a terrestrial expanse of land rather than a celestial structure, Genesis 1:7 reads as follows: “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse [of land, namely the Caribbean archipelago raised entirely above sea level] in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters [Atlantic Ocean’s waters] from the waters [Caribbean Sea’s waters]” (ESV). Then, in Genesis 1:8, God called the expanse Heaven, and in in Genesis 1:9, God said “Let the waters under the heavens [the expanse of land] be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”This passage in Genesis parallels how the Caribbean Sea would have evaporated away were it to have become isolated and landlocked – the seawater under the expanse would have indeed gathered into the lowest reaches of the Caribbean Basin, and dry land would have appeared in its place, just as the Bible says.
Brad Yoon is a software engineer and writer. He completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Mathematics and a minor in anthropology at UCLA. He researches and writes about lost civilizations and other ancient mysteries.
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Top Image: Creation of Adam and deluge (Public Domain/Deriv).
By Brad Yoon