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Literary analysis of the Flood

Author's Bias: Interpretation: conservative
Inclination: dispensational
Seminary: none

On the surface, the Flood Narrative appears to have some duplications and contradictions such as the number of animals taken on the Ark and the timetable of the Flood. To explain this and deny Mosaic authorship, source critics have proposed that the Flood Narrative was composed of many small textual units from two different sources (J and P), which were woven together by later redactors. Each source wrote with the objective of promoting their own religious views. To understand how the Flood Narrative is divided by hypothetical sources by source critics, see Example 1 and Example 2. Source critics expect duplication, contradictions, and mythological material from the combining of two different sources dated 400 years apart (P was hypothetically dated 400 years later than J).

Literary analysis of Genesis 6-9 would indicate otherwise.

The literary structure of the Flood Narrative is a detailed and organized chiasm. Furthermore, the contradictions pointed out by skeptics are not contradictions at all and instead fit into this designed narrative. The structure of the Flood Narrative exhibits the following:

1. The literary unit has symmetrical inclusios, which designate a beginning and an end.

A. The primary genealogy (Noah) sets the boundaries of the whole literary unit.

B. The narrative has a prologue and epilogue, and

C. The secondary genealogy (Noah’s sons) encapsulates the body of the narrative.

2. The whole literary unit has a symmetry that is parallel in concept and equivalent in number.

3. The chiasm ascends towards doom and recedes from it.

4. A general summary of the literary structure can be seen in this form:

a. Primary genealogy (Gen 5:32)

b. Prologue (Gen 6:1-8)

c. Secondary genealogy (Gen 6:9-10)

d. Before the Flood (Gen 6:11 – Gen 7:10)

x. The Flood (Gen 7:11- Gen 8:19)

d'. After the Flood (Gen 8:20 – Gen 9:17)

c'. Secondary genealogy (Gen 9:18-19)

b'. Epilogue (Gen 9:20-27)

a'. Primary genealogy (Gen 9:28-29)

The following is a more detailed example (1) (2) of how the structure of the Flood Narrative can be examined. This example is presented so that the ascent and decent of the narrative can be seen. If you click the verses, explanations of the structure will show in a page that will slide on your right:

But God remembered Noah (Gen 8:1-5)

The Flood rises
(Gen 7:17-24)

The Flood subsides
(Gen 8:6-12)

Entering the ark
(Gen 7:11-16)

Leaving the ark
(Gen 8:13-19)

God’s second decree to Noah:
The preservation and primary
purpose of animals (Gen 7:1-10)

God’s third decree to Noah:
Sacrificing to God
(Gen 8:20-22)

The preservation and second
purpose of animals (Gen 6:21-22)

The second purpose of animals:
Food for man (Gen 9:1-7)

God’s first "My covenant with you":
A resolution to destroy life
(Gen 6:11-20)

God’s last "My covenant with you":
The Noahic Covenant: blessing and
preservation of life (Gen 9:8-17)

The secondary genealogy:
Shem, Ham, and Japheth
(Gen 6:9-10)

The secondary genealogy:
Shem, Ham, and Japheth
(Gen 9:18-19)

Prologue: The sin of man
(Gen 6:1-8)

Epilogue: The sin of man
(Gen 9:20-27)

The primary genealogy: The beginning
of the genealogy formula where the
age and descendants are listed (Gen 5:32)

The primary genealogy: The ending of
the genealogy formula where the age
of death is listed (Gen 9:28-29)


A detailed analysis of the chronological dating of the Flood is also revealing. The supposed contradictions that destructive critics point out do not exist when examined carefully:

The Chronology of the Flood (3)

Summary Event Date Genesis
Waiting in the ark 7 days (Gen 7:7, 10) 1. Noah entered the ark Month 2, day 10 7:7-9
2. 7 days later: Rain began falling Month 2, day 17 7:10-11
Water continued for 150 days (Gen 7:24) 3. 40 days later: Heavy rains stopped Month 3, day 27 7:12
4. 110 days later: Prevailing waters receded and the ark rested on an Ararat mountain Month 7, day 17 7:24; 8:4
Water receded in 150 days (Gen 8:3) 5. 74 days later: Tops of mountains visible Month 10, day 1 8:5
6. 40 days later: Raven sent out, and a dove sent out and returned Month 11, day 11 8:6-9
7 days later: Dove sent out again and returned with a leaf Month 11, day 18 8:10
7 days later: Dove sent out a third time and did not return Month 11, day 25 8:12
22 days later: Water receded Month 12, day 17 8:3
Earth dried in 70 days Noah saw dry land Month 1, day 1 8:13
Land completely dry, and Noah exited the ark Month 2, day 27 8:14-19
Total: 377 days Noah and his family spent 1 year and 17 days in the ark

The days that are mentioned are themselves a literary design. (4) For each numbered day, there is an ascending and descending parallel which point to the apex in a chiastic fashion. This precise and purposeful design cannot be explained by destructive critics.

The Flood crests, the ark rests, God remembers Noah (Gen 8:1)

150 days prevail (7:24)

150 days waters abate (8:3)

40 days of the Flood (7:12, 17)

40 days first birds sent out (8:6)

7 days till the Flood (7:10)

7 days next bird sent out (8:10)

7 days till 40 day storm (7:4)

7 days last bird sent out (8:12)


Furthermore the chronological dates themselves are paired and have a literary design. (5)

The complete date is given when Noah enters the Ark.

Now Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of water came upon the earth. (Gen 7:6)

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. (Gen7:11)

The month and day is given when God remembers Noah.

In the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. (Gen 8:4)

The water decreased steadily until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible. (Gen 8:5)

The complete date is given when Noah leaves the ark.

Now it came about in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the water was dried up from the earth. Then Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the surface of the ground was dried up. (Gen 8:13)

In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. (Gen 8:14)


It is highly doubtful that destructive critics, who believe that the narrative was the synthesis of fragments from principally two sources, J and P written 400 years apart, can explain the beauty, preciseness, and organization of the literary structure of the Flood narrative. Destructive source critics never considered the literary unity of the narrative in their hypothesis. When read within its context and literary structure, the apparent contradictions and supposed doublets do not exist.

Destructive critics have long considered the Flood a myth or perhaps a local flooding in the Tigris-Euphrates valley that grew into a legend and associate the biblical account with other ancient Mesopotamian flood accounts. Two of the earliest writings discovered are the Atra-hasis Epic (1646-1626 BC) and the Gilgamesh Epic (650-700 BC). There is an earlier Sumerian version (2000 BC) but only 1/3 of the fragments are in possession. All three ancient accounts appear to be variations of the same account.

While the extra-biblical ancient Mesopotamian flood accounts are similar, they do not resemble the biblical account of the Flood. The biblical account differs obviously by:

1) The Flood was motivated by a judgment of mankind’s morality.

2) The dates of the Flood were specified with complete dates.

3) The length of the Flood was significantly longer and detailed.

4) The size of the ark was significantly larger and had a seaworthy design.

In addition, the biblical account differs significantly in the portrayal of God. In the biblical account:

1) There is only one monotheistic Creator God who is omniscient and omnipotent. Other accounts feature polytheism.

2) God has a supreme concern for humanity. Other accounts toy with and have little concern for mankind.

3) God lives and judges by an impeachable moral standard. Other accounts do not demonstrate any moral standard; gods break their own vows.

Yet Mesopotamia was not the only culture that had a legend of a catastrophic flood that destroyed all of mankind except a few who escape in a boat. Other cultures had their Noahic hero: Manu for the Hindus, Fah-he for the Chinese, Nu-u for the Hawaiians, Tezpi for the Mexican Indians, and Manabozho for the Algonquins. A diverse variety of cultures had a flood legend: aborigines of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, the Battaks of Sumatra, the Kurnai – a tribe of Australian aborigines, the Fuji Islanders, the natives of Polynesia, Micronesia, New Guinea, New Zealand, New Hebrides, the ancient Celts of Wales, the tribesmen of Lake Caudie in Sudan, and the Greenlanders. (6)

There is great debate whether the Flood was a worldwide or local catastrophe. In light of the number of legendary stories across diverse cultures and geography, would a local flooding in the Tigris-Euphrates valley explain this?

If Moses authored the Pentateuch, then the Flood narrative is dated around 1440 BC. The Mesopotamian flood accounts are therefore the earliest accounts of a flood. Destructive critics believe that the author of Genesis rewrote the Mesopotamian account with a Jewish theological interpretation. The details of the Flood account suggests otherwise: either the two accounts are of different events or the Mosaic account is an accurate narrative of the original catastrophic event that predates and gives rise to the Mesopotamian and worldwide legends.

When studied in its context, the Flood Narrative is a complete and whole literary unit; it is difficult, if not impossible to identify any fragments let alone fragments from disparate sources.

References:

1. Cassuto U, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Jerusalem: Magnes (1961).

2. Shea W, "The Structure of the Genesis Flood Narrative and Its Implications", Origins 6 (1979): 8-29.

3. Walvoord JF, Zuck RB, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, Wheaton, IL: Victor, (1978) p. 39.

4. Shea W, "The Structure of the Genesis Flood Narrative and Its Implications", Origins 6 (1979): 8-29.

5. Ibid.

6. Archer GL, An Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan (1982).

7. Kaiser WC, Davids PH, Bruce FF, Brauch MT, Hard Sayings of the Bible, Chicago, IL: Inter-Varsity Press (1996).

8. Kitchen K, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, Chicago, IL: Inter-Varsity Press (1996).

9. Leupold HC, Exposition of Genesis, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker (1942).



Return to: Parallel or Duplicate Accounts (Doublets)

See the common Doublets:

1. The Creation Narrative (Genesis 1-2)

2. Literary analysis of the Flood (Genesis 6-8)

3. The Selling of Joseph (Genesis 37:25-28, 36)

4. Abraham's Half-Truth: passing Sarah off as his sister (Genesis 12: 10-20; 20:1-18; 26:6-11)


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Series: Did Moses author the Pentateuch?
Historical Evidence of Post-Mosaic Authorship

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Series: Did Moses author the Pentateuch?
Variations in Diction and Style


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