The Biblical Narration of the Flood and the Criticism
Leveled at It- A Reminder.
The examination of the Old Testament description of the Flood
in the first part of this book led to the following observations:
There is not just one description of the Flood, but two, written at different times;
--the Yahvist version which dates from the Ninth century B.C.
--the Sacerdotal version dating from the Sixth century B.C., so called because it was the work of priests of the time.
These two narrations are not juxtaposed, but interwoven so that part of one is fitted in-between parts of the other, i.e. paragraphs from one source alternate with passage from the other.
The commentary to the translation of Genesis by Father de Vaux, a professor at the Biblical School of Jerusalem, shows very clearly how the paragraphs are distributed between the two sources. The narration begins and ends with a Yahvist passage. There are ten Yahvist paragraphs altogether and between each one a Sacerdotal passage has been inserted (there are a total of nine Sacerdotal paragraphs). This mosaic of texts is only coherent when read from a point of view which takes the succession of episodes into account, since there are blatant contradictions between the two sources. Father de Vaux describes them as "two accounts of the Flood, in which the cataclysm is caused by different agents and lasts different lengths of time, and where Noah receives into the Ark a different number of animals."
When seen in the light of modern knowledge, the Biblical description of the Flood as a whole is unacceptable for the following reasons:
a) The Old Testament ascribes to it the character of a universal cataclysm.
b) Whereas the paragraphs from the Yahvist text do not date the Flood, the Sacerdotal text situates it at a point in time where a cataclysm of this kind could not have occurred.
The following are arguments supporting this opinion:
The Sacerdotal narration states quite precisely that the Flood took place when Noah was 600 years old. According to the genealogies in chapter 5 of Genesis (also taken from the Sacerdotal text and quoted in the first part of this book), we know that Noah is said to have been born 1,056 years after Adam. Consequently, the Flood would have taken place 1,655 years after the creation of Adam. The genealogical table of Abraham moreover, taken from the same text and given in Genesis (11, 10-32), allows us to estimate that Abraham was born 292 years after the Flood. As we know that (according to the Bible) Abraham was alive in roughly 1850 B.C., the Flood would therefore be situated in the Twenty-first or Twenty-second century B.C. This calculation is in strict keeping with the information in old editions of the Bible which figures prominently at the head of the Biblical text.
This was at a time when the lack of human knowledge on the subject was such that the chronological data contained in the Bible were accepted without question by its readers-for want of any arguments to the contrary.
How is it possible to conceive today of a universal cataclysm in the Twenty-first or Twenty-second century B.C. which destroyed life on all the earth's surface (except for the people and animals in the Ark)? By this time, civilizations had flourished in several parts of the globe, and their vestiges have now come down to posterity. In Egypt at this time, for example, the Intermediate Period followed the end of the Old Kingdom and preceded the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. In view of our knowledge of the history of this period, it would be absurd to maintain that the Flood had destroyed all civilization at this time.
Thus It may be affirmed from a historical point of view that the narration of the Flood as it is presented in the Bible is in evident contradiction with modern knowledge. The formal proof of man's manipulation of the Scriptures is the existence of the two texts.
The Narration of the Flood Contained in the Qur'an.
The Qur'an gives a general version which is different from that contained in the Bible and does not give rise to any criticisms from a historical point of view.
It does not provide a continuous narration of the Flood. Numerous suras talk of the punishment inflicted upon Noah's people. The most complete account of this is in sura 11, verses 25 to 49. Sura 71, which bears Noah's name, describes above all Noah's preachings, as do verses 105 to 115, sura 26. Before going into the actual course taken by events, we must consider the Flood as described in the Qur' an by relating it to the general context of the punishment God inflicted on communities guilty of gravely infringing His Commandments.
Whereas the Bible describes a universal Flood intended to punish ungodly humanity as a whole, the Qur'an, in contrast, mentions several punishments inflicted on certain specifically defined communities.
This may be seen in verses 35 to 39, sura 25:
"We gave Moses the Scripture and appointed his brother Aaron with him as vizier. We said: Go to the people who have denied Our signs. We destroyed them completely. When the people of Noah denied the Messengers, We drowned them and We made of them a sign for mankind. (We destroyed the tribes) of Âd and Tamud, the companions of Rass and many generations between them. We warned each of them by examples and We annihilated them completely."
Sura 7, verses 59 to 93 contains a reminder of the punishments brought upon Noah's people, the Âd, the Tamud, Lot (Sodom) and Madian respectively.
Thus the Qur'an presents the cataclysm of the Flood as a punishment specifically intended for Noah's people: this is the first basic difference between the two narrations.
The second fundamental difference is that the Qur'an, in contrast to the Bible, does not date the Flood in time and gives no indication as to the duration of the cataclysm itself.
The causes of the flooding are roughly the same in both narrations. The Sacerdotal description in the Bible (Genesis 7, 11) cites two causes which occurred simultaneously. "On that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened." The Qur'an records the following in verses 11 and 12, sura 54:
"We opened the Gates of Heaven with pouring water. And We caused the ground to gush forth springs, so the waters met according to the decree which has been ordained."
The Qur'an is very precise about the contents of the Ark. The order God gave to Noah was faithfully executed and it was to do the following:
--sura 11, verse 40:
"(In the Ark) load a pair of every kind, thy family, save this one against whom the word has already gone forth, and those who believe. But only a few had believed with him."
The person excluded from the family is an outcast son of Noah. We learn (sura 11, verses 45 and 46) how Noah's supplications on this person's behalf to God were unable to make Him alter His decision. Apart from Noah's family (minus the outcast son), the Qur'an refers to the few other passengers on board the Ark who had believed in God.
The Bible does not mention the latter among the occupants of
the Ark. In fact, it provides us with three different versions of the Ark's
--according to the Yahvist version, a distinction is made between 'pure' animals and birds, and 'impure' animals (seven pairs, i.e. seven males and seven females, of each 'pure' species, was taken into the Ark and only one pair of each 'impure' species).
-according to a modified Yahvist verse (Genesis 7, 8) there was only one pair of each species, whether 'pure' or 'impure'. -according to the Sacerdotal version, there was Noah, his family (with no exceptions) and a pair taken from each species.
The narration in the Qur'an of the flooding itself is contained in sura 11, verses 25 to 49 and in sura 23, verses 23 to 30. The Biblical narrative does not present any important differences.
In the Bible, the place where the Ark comes to rest is in the Ararat Mountains (Genesis 8, 4) and for the Qur'an it is the Judi (sura 11, verse 44.) This mountain is said to be the highest of the Ararat range in Armenia, but nothing proves that the names were not changed by man to tally with the two narratives. This is confirmed by R. Blachère: according to him there is a peak in Arabia named Judi. The agreement of names may well be artificial.
In conclusion, it is possible to state categorically what major differences exist here between the Biblical and Qur'anic narrations. Some of them escape critical examination because objective data are lacking. When, however, it is possible to check the statements in the Scriptures in the light of the established data, the incompatibility between the Biblical narration-i.e. the information given on its place in time and geographical extent-and the discoveries that have contributed to modern knowledge is all too clear. In contrast to this, the narration contained in the Qur'an is free from anything which might give rise to objective criticism. One might ask if it is possible that, between the time of the Biblical narration and the one contained in the Qur'an, man could have acquired knowledge that shed light on this event. The answer is no, because from the time of the Old Testament to the Qur'an, the only document man possessed on this ancient story was the Bible itself. If human factors are unable to account for the changes in the narrations which affected their meaning with regard to modern knowledge, another explanation has to be accepted, i.e. a Revelation which came after the one contained in the Bible.