Board index Noah's Ark & the Flood

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby Spinner » Thu Aug 16, 2018 2:20 pm

How did the Ark come to rest on top of Mt. Ararat after the floodwaters started to recede? Also, how would the tops of the tallest mountains covered in water by multiple cubits? This seems awful specific to be a non-literal metaphor.
Spinner
 

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Aug 16, 2018 2:35 pm

Great question, but remember that I said the text is distinctly NOT a non-literal metaphor. It's historical narrative using rhetorical devices, one of which is hyperbole, to express both the historical event and the theological interpretation the Bible gives the event.

So let's talk about the tops of the mountains covered in water by multiple cubits. First of all, in the ancient world, the high mountains (what we call the Himalayas and the Alps, for instance) were not considered "mountains" but pillars holding up the firmament. These pillars were the abode of the gods. It's very possible that what the text is talking about when it speaks of the mountains is the lesser mountains, the hills, and such, not things like Everest, Ararat, and K2.

But still, what about the terminology of "covering the mountains"? Well, it depends what one means by covered. A few days ago I said my lawn was covered with starlings, because there were about 30 out there. It wasn't COVERED, but I used that word because of the quantity. And the people who heard me understood exactly what I was talking about. It's no different with the Bible.

Numbers 22.11 says "a people so vast they covered the land." It means they populated the region, not that they were wall-to-wall. Prov. 24.31 speaks of weeds covering the land. 1 Ki. 1.1 talks about clothing covering someone, and something can even be covered in the sense of being overshadowed (2 Chr. 5.8). So "covered" can certainly be used with different nuances and senses. But what about covering with water? In Job. 38.34, Jer. 46.8, and Mal. 2.13, covering with water is used figuratively. If we were to take the Flood account in the the same way, it suggests that the mountains were drenched with water or coursing with flash floods, but it does not demand that they were totally submerged under water. The point is that it is not as easy as sometimes imagined to claim that the Bible demands that all the mountains were submerged.

But in Gn. 7.20 in says the waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than 20'. But as I said, "covered" can mean different things. The Hebrew term can mean "above"; it can mean "upward" or "upstream." If this were the case in Genesis, it could suggest that the water reached 15 cubits upward from the plain, covering at least some part of the mountains.

In 8.5 it says "the waters continued to recede until ... the tops of the mountains became visible." But remember that the Mesopotamians didn't consider the mountains at the fringes of the world to be part of their geography. These mountains were the places of the gods and would be impervious to floodwaters sent by the gods. The local mountains are what are inundated, and the ark drifts to rest against the foothills of Ararat.

If we try to understand the ancient mindset and worldview, and try to get at what the author intended by his terminology and figures, we can still see that the the story can be historical without the earth having to have 2.608e gallons of water, 8 times the known quantity of water on the planet. Quantities like that would have altered the world's weight and disturbed the earth's orbit around the sun, as well as the moon's orbit around the earth. And where did that water come from? And where did it go?

Instead, the writer is using the rhetorical device of hyperbole to speak of God's judgment on his region. It's just very possible that he meant his "specifics" as we use language: "Everybody was there!"; "Mosquitoes were all over my arm!"; "It was a mile high."
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Aug 20, 2018 3:09 pm

> But Genesis 8 specifically says that it was Mt. Ararat.

The ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat, probably down towards the base. It doesn't say it came to rest on the top of Ararat. The Ararat Mountains are a range, for one. "Ararat," along with "Minni" and "Askenaz," is found extensively in cuneiform sources. These names are the modified names of three political entities in the mountainous north of Mesopotamia that correspond to the realms of Urartu, Manna, and of the Schtyhians. "Ararat" is the Bible's transcription of the cuneiform spelling of "Urartu." When the Bible speaks of the mountains of Ararat, it refers to a region and a state, not simply to a mountain. All attempts to identify the specific mountain and the specific location have to date failed.

Secondly, he sent out birds to test the waters. Ravens and doves can't fly at the altitudes of the high mountains. The dove, in particular, is a valley bird and wouldn't survive at high altitudes. We know the ark came to rest fairly low on the slopes somewhere on the mountain range. If the dove flew down into a valley to get an olive leaf (only growing in low elevations, how did it manage to fly back up to 17,000' to the ark? Doves can't do that. Instead, we know the ark settled low on the slopes.

> Gen. 17.19-20, ... "the text says that every single mountain...were covered."

Yeah, this is a case of hyperbole, a rhetorical device to make a theological point. A local but cataclysmic flood is intentionally described as a global flood for rhetorical and theological purposes, which were (1) an act of judgment marred out by God in response to oral degradation, and (2) God uses the flood to reestablish a modicum of order to obliterate disorder (evil and violence). Though it doesn’t eliminate disorder (8.21), it resets the ordering process, and God indicates that the established order will not again be reset by a flood. He establishes order by using nonorder (the flood waters) to wipe out disorder. In this way the flood is a re-creation (mirroring Genesis 1). This is why the narrator includes the story. He is showing how God had worked to bring about order in the past (creation and flood). This serves as an introduction to YHWH’s strategy to advance order yet again through the covenant (Gn. 12). The covenant is an order-bringing strategy.

> If you were being metaphorical, you might say "My lawn is covered in leaves!", but not "My lawn is covered in leaves up to fifteen feet deep!". If you were being metaphorical, you might say "That guy is filled to the brim with pie!", but not "That guy currently contains 4.8 pies."

Seriously? You've never said, "There were a million leaves on my lawn," or "I've told you 100 times"? Numbers in the Bible are often symbolic. A lot of numerological studies have been done on biblical texts. Some people think, for instance, that the depth of Gn. 7.20 refers to the draught of the ark (the ark sank into the water to a depth of more than 20' [15 cubits]) when fully laden, so that whatever "covering" the author is talking about, the ark cleared what was below because it had a draught of 20'. Numbers are pretty tough in the Bible.

"40" usually denotes a time of judgment or trial, and doesn't necessarily mean "40". We use "100" in the same way to describe a lot. "I had 100 mosquito bites on my arm." No one counted the bites, it's the way we talk. "40" was like that for them. 40 days, 40 years, 400 years—symbolic.

You've been using the word "metaphorical." I've never said the story or the elements of the story were metaphorical. I've said rhetorical, symbolic, and hyperbolic. It's different. It's not a metaphor.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Aug 20, 2018 3:13 pm

> I find it hard to imagine how Noah’s flood could have been continent wide, with waters higher than the highest mountains, and those waters taking months and months to recede, and yet the rest of the globe was unaffected?

In the ancient world, the "high mountains" were the temples of the gods, the pillars of the Earth, holding up the firmament and holding back the cosmic ocean, and were not considered truly part of Earth's geography. They were more cosmic geography. The text is not necessarily claiming that the Alps and the Himalayas were submerged.

Second, when Gn. 7.19 refers to the mountains being covered, it uses the Pual form of the verb *ksh*. This verb is used for a wide variety of "covering" possibilities.

* A people so vast they cover the land (Nu. 22.11)
* Weeds covering the land (Prov. 24.31)
* clothing covering someone (1 Ki. 1.1)
* something can be covered in the sense of being overshadowed (2 Chr. 5.8 * the cherubim over the ark; clouds in the sky, Ps. 147.8)

So what does the author mean by "covered"? It doesn't necessarily mean "submerged."

Third:

* Job 38.34; Jer. 46.8; Mal. 2.13: in these verses "covered" is figurative!
* If Genesis 7:19 is taken the same way, it suggests that the mountains were drenched with water or coursing with flash floods, but it does not demand that they were totally submerged under water. One can certainly argue that the context does not favor this latter usage, and I am not inclined to adopt it. The point is that it is not as easy as sometimes imagined to claim that the Bible demands that all the mountains were submerged.
* See also Ex. 1.7, where the Israelites "filled" the land (a different Hebrew word, but the same concept). It speaks of their great number, not literally meaning that they filled the country.

Fourth: "Fifteen cubits above." In Gn.7:20, the Hebrew text says, "15 cubits from above [milme’la] rose the waters, and the mountains were covered." It is therefore not at all clear that it is suggesting the waters rose 15 cubits higher than the mountains. It can mean "above"; it can mean "upward" or "upstream". If this were the case in Genesis, it would suggest that the water reached 15 cubits upward from the plain, covering at least some part of the mountains. It's pretty difficult to know, but we shouldn't just jump to modern conclusions (what you were taught in Sunday School).

Fifth: "tops of the mountains visible". Again, it's possible the author wasn't speaking of the "pillar" mountains, but the local ones. The logic of not including the fringe mountains is that they were believed to support the heavens, and the waters are not seen as encroaching on or encountering the heavens.

> Furthermore, a continent-wide flood ought to have left behind geological markers which are not found in the continents unaffected by the flood.

It's hard to say. There are things we know and things we don't, but not everything leaves behind geological evidence. Some we know about:

* The geology of the Black Sea suggests a flooding that occurred when the then-small lake in the center of the Sea rapidly became a large sea. This happened when waters from the Mediterranean found a pathway to the much lower Black Sea area. This change in the lake has been known since the 1920s. Since then, it has become clear that the flooding occurred about 7500 years ago (5500 BC) and that about 60,000 square miles (more than 100,000 square km) of the coastal areas of the lake became part of the sea in a relatively short time.
* Recent disclosures concerning the geological background of Lower Mesopotamia claim that not very long ago, as geological ages are reckoned, waters from the Persian Gulf submerged a large coastland area, owing probably to a sudden rise in the sea level. If that rise was precipitated by extraordinary undersea eruption, the same phenomenon could also have brought on extremely heavy rains, the whole leaving an indelible impression on the survivors.

Since we don't know when the Flood was (most educated guesses are before 10,000 BC, and possibly before 20,000 BC), and the further back we go the harder it is to get at evidence.

Did the tsunami that happened in Japan and Indonesia about 10 years ago leave any geological trace? Not that I believe the Flood was a tsunami, but just that geological evidence doesn't necessarily tell us *everything*.

> I reject interpretive methods that rely on obscure historical assertions to materially alter the meaning of a passage, as it would be understood from the language alone.

I'm not referring to obscure historical assertions, but to the ancient worldview that is apparent from material remains.

> Would you expect the author to plainly deny that he was using hyperbole? “No really, you guys. The WHOLE world. No joke!” Thus, the alleged historical context which you offered results in a material change in the meaning of the passages.

The REAL question is: How did the ancients understand this story? And for that we don't have record. Did they read it as order and disorder, as hyperbolic rhetoric, and as historical narrative? Since no records of that in particular remain, we are left with jigsaw pieces. We have other Mesopotamian flood accounts enough to motivate us to conclude something happened there, and we are getting different theological interpretations of it.

> John 20.7, folded face cloth, "if you are unfamiliar."

I'm quite familiar with it. Thanks for the consideration, though.

The face cloth at least speaks of no haste and no wild confusion, probably not the way a corpse-thief would have left it. And the disciples probably would have taken it with them if they stole the body. A thief defying Rome would not have taken time to fold the thing.

> I am not so sure that our own culture is so uninterested in order and disorder as to materially skew our understanding of the scope of a flood.

But it was the primary world view of the ancient Near East. Our paradigms are things like information, technology, precision, and science.

> I don’t see how that contributes to your justification for an interpretation of the global language as hyperbole.

The Bible uses hyperbole to describe historical events, such as the conquest of Canaan in Joshua 1-12. We know the ancient culture (Egyptian, Sumerian, Mesopotamian) often spoke in hyperbole. It was a prominent literary genre of the era. And since we know the bible is not at all averse or slow to use hyperbole in its writings, it's plausible to think it's hyperbolic. Also, as everyone well knows, there is no geology that tells us there was a global flood, and we believe that God speaks in both science and Scripture, so we listen to both when we figure things out. We muster as much knowledge as we can from as many different areas. Since nature also reveals God's truth, it will never contradict the Bible and the Bible will never contradict science when both are rightly understood.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby Spinner » Mon Aug 20, 2018 3:16 pm

> So let's talk about the tops of the mountains covered in water by multiple cubits. First of all, in the ancient world, the high mountains (what we call the Himalayas and the Alps, for instance) were not considered "mountains" but pillars holding up the firmament. These pillars were the abode of the gods. It's very possible that what the text is talking about when it speaks of the mountains is the lesser mountains, the hills, and such, not things like Everest, Ararat, and K2.

But Genesis 8 specifically says that it was Mt. Ararat.

"4 And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat." - Genesis 8:4

> But still, what about the terminology of "covering the mountains"? Well, it depends what one means by covered. A few days ago I said my lawn was covered with starlings, because there were about 30 out there. It wasn't COVERED, but I used that word because of the quantity. And the people who heard me understood exactly what I was talking about. It's no different with the Bible.

But if you said your lawn was covered in starlings up to 3 feet, then people would think you are actually saying that the total amount of starlings measured 3 feet deep.

"19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.
20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered." - Genesis 7:19-20

The text says that every single mountain under the whole heavens (ie: the atmosphere, or space) were covered. Even if you want to argue that the mountains weren't entirely covered, and that covered here simply means that some water was around it, then there would still be a global flood because the water would have to get to all the mountains. Also, the Bible is specific about the the measurements about how high the water went. If you were being metaphorical, you might say "My lawn is covered in leaves!", but not "My lawn is covered in leaves up to fifteen feet deep!". If you were being metaphorical, you might say "That guy is filled to the brim with pie!", but not "That guy currently contains 4.8 pies.". Why would the text be specific about the measurements of the water if it was only being metaphorical or hyperbolic?
Spinner
 

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Aug 20, 2018 3:17 pm

> But Genesis 8 specifically says that it was Mt. Ararat.

The ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat, probably down towards the base. It doesn't say it came to rest on the top of Ararat. The Ararat Mountains are a range, for one. "Ararat," along with "Minni" and "Askenaz," is found extensively in cuneiform sources. These names are the modified names of three political entities in the mountainous north of Mesopotamia that correspond to the realms of Urartu, Manna, and of the Schtyhians. "Ararat" is the Bible's transcription of the cuneiform spelling of "Urartu." When the Bible speaks of the mountains of Ararat, it refers to a region and a state, not simply to a mountain. All attempts to identify the specific mountain and the specific location have to date failed.

Secondly, he sent out birds to test the waters. Ravens and doves can't fly at the altitudes of the high mountains. The dove, in particular, is a valley bird and wouldn't survive at high altitudes. We know the ark came to rest fairly low on the slopes somewhere on the mountain range. If the dove flew down into a valley to get an olive leaf (only growing in low elevations, how did it manage to fly back up to 17,000' to the ark? Doves can't do that. Instead, we know the ark settled low on the slopes.

> Gen. 17.19-20, ... "the text says that every single mountain...were covered."

Yeah, this is a case of hyperbole, a rhetorical device to make a theological point. A local but cataclysmic flood is intentionally described as a global flood for rhetorical and theological purposes, which were (1) an act of judgment marred out by God in response to oral degradation, and (2) God uses the flood to reestablish a modicum of order to obliterate disorder (evil and violence). Though it doesn’t eliminate disorder (8.21), it resets the ordering process, and God indicates that the established order will not again be reset by a flood. He establishes order by using nonorder (the flood waters) to wipe out disorder. In this way the flood is a re-creation (mirroring Genesis 1). This is why the narrator includes the story. He is showing how God had worked to bring about order in the past (creation and flood). This serves as an introduction to YHWH’s strategy to advance order yet again through the covenant (Gn. 12). The covenant is an order-bringing strategy.

> If you were being metaphorical, you might say "My lawn is covered in leaves!", but not "My lawn is covered in leaves up to fifteen feet deep!". If you were being metaphorical, you might say "That guy is filled to the brim with pie!", but not "That guy currently contains 4.8 pies."

Seriously? You've never said, "There were a million leaves on my lawn," or "I've told you 100 times"? Numbers in the Bible are often symbolic. A lot of numerological studies have been done on biblical texts. Some people think, for instance, that the depth of Gn. 7.20 refers to the draught of the ark (the ark sank into the water to a depth of more than 20' [15 cubits]) when fully laden, so that whatever "covering" the author is talking about, the ark cleared what was below because it had a draught of 20'. Numbers are pretty tough in the Bible.

"40" usually denotes a time of judgment or trial, and doesn't necessarily mean "40". We use "100" in the same way to describe a lot. "I had 100 mosquito bites on my arm." No one counted the bites, it's the way we talk. "40" was like that for them. 40 days, 40 years, 400 years—symbolic.

You've been using the word "metaphorical." I've never said the story or the elements of the story were metaphorical. I've said rhetorical, symbolic, and hyperbolic. It's different. It's not a metaphor.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby Less Wrong » Mon Aug 20, 2018 3:28 pm

> The all-knowing, wise and caring creator chose a very straight-forward way to transmit his message to his people.

Here is a claim. Let's examine it. We see that His followers, who want deeply to understand it, can't agree on what it is. They can't even agree on whether the Bible is literally factually true, or mostly metaphors and parables. For centuries they slaughtered each other as a way to try to resolve these differences. If people can't agree on what it means, it cannot be straight-forward or clear.

> nor that the flood is a myth. Instead, the flood was a historic event, written in a rhetorical way using hyperbole to express a theological point

This, for example, is your interpretation. Millions believe that it was real, as described. Millions more believe the whole thing is a parable. So confusing.
Less Wrong
 

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Aug 20, 2018 3:29 pm

> Here is a claim. Let's examine it. We see that His followers, who want deeply to understand it, can't agree on what it is.

The clarity of the communication (the locution) sometimes has little to do with the agreement of the perlocutors (the interpreters). Sometimes I tell people, "Put the blue bowl next to the red plate in the 2nd cabinet from the right by the kitchen door." It hardly gets more clear. And then they put it somewhere else. Makes ya tear your hair out, it does. How could they get it wrong, and yet they do. It's astounding. Again, I will tell something to a high school kid and they do different from what I say. When I question them, they say, "Well, it didn't seem sensible to me, so I..." Whatever. That's not what I told you, and I couldn't have said it any more clearly. My point is that you can't always judge the quality and the clarity of the communication by the actions of those who interpret it.

> This, for example, is your interpretation. Millions believe that it was real, as described. Millions more believe the whole thing is a parable. So confusing.

Yes, it is my interpretation. After all, this is a debate forum. "Millions believe it was real as described." Yep, they do. I believe it was real, but we have to interpret it. The thing is, this writing is ancient, not modern. It comes from a culture thousands of years before our own, in a different language, and a different world view. We have to interpret the text to get back to the intent of the author. We can't just read it shallowly in English and expect that we have it, especially a complex text like this one. Some texts in the Bible are very straight forward. This is an ancient narrative, and we have to worm our way back to the ancient mindset, and also consider its context in Genesis, to get at what the author was meaning. Too many people are just lazy readers. They take it at face value, in English, in 2018, without thinking there is more to it than meets the eye. I'll agree it's a big problem. But I wouldn't agree that the writer is to blame.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby Less Wrong » Tue Aug 21, 2018 11:02 am

> The clarity of the communication (the locution) sometimes has little to do with the agreement of the perlocutors (the interpreters).

I think if the communication is clear, people agree on what it was.

> Sometimes I tell people, "Put the blue bowl next to the red plate in the 2nd cabinet from the right by the kitchen door." It hardly gets more clear.

I think if you told a few million people that, most of them would get it.

> It comes from a culture thousands of years before our own, in a different language, and a different world view.

Exactly. A way no all powerful and wise being who cared and wanted to communicate His message would use.

> We have to interpret the text to get back to the intent of the author.

No we don't. We can read something else entirely.

> This is an ancient narrative, and we have to worm our way back to the ancient mindset, and also consider its context in Genesis, to get at what the author was meaning.

Yes, as I say, not a good way for someone who actually wanted us to understand His message to communicate.

> Too many people are just lazy scholars. They take it at face value, in English, in 2018, without thinking there is more to it than meets the eye. I'll agree it's a big problem. But I wouldn't agree that the writer is to blame.

Well, had He wanted us to understand it, He could express it in English in 2018. Also 12th century Japanese, 8th century Inuktitut and 17th century Swahili. That is, if He actually existed and was those things.
Less Wrong
 

Re: Noah's Ark: literal/metaphor?

Postby jimwalton » Tue Aug 21, 2018 11:03 am

You seem to have the mistaken idea that the deepest knowledge of the universe, of God, and of spiritual realities should be expressed in simple, child-like English, translatable to other cultures and other languages without any prospect of cultural misinterpretation or erred translation. If that's what you require, then you understand neither the nature of God, the capacities of human understanding, or the nature of communication. Terminology for these concepts barely exists. Cultures differ in how they use and understand terms. Languages have words that are untranslatable in other languages. Even 2nd grade English can be misunderstood. Even the simplest phrases need to be translated. For example, a girl walks past a guy and says hi. Now he wonders what that meant and has to interpret it: being friendly or making a pass? It was ONE WORD. And you expect the Bible not to require interpretation? It's absurd and lacking a grasp on the realities of communication.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

PreviousNext

Return to Noah's Ark & the Flood

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests


cron