Latest Bible battle: Three evangelical experts carefully go revisionist on Noah's flood

For Protestants who interpret the early chapters of the biblical Book of Genesis literally, Noah’s flood is a major test of faith.

Witness Kentucky’s Ark Encounter with its 170-yard-long watercraft on display. Witness Hollywood explorations of the topic that fold in bizarre non-biblical myths or multiplex-level humor. Such popular interest commends news coverage when something flood-wise erupts.

Something just has.

Journalists will find story potential in reactions to the eyebrow-raising book “The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate” (InterVarsity Press). The co-authors are evangelical Old Testament Professors Tremper Longman III of Westmont College and John H. Walton of Wheaton College (Illinois).

They contend that the narrative in Genesis: Chapters 6–9 is not a fable or “myth” but stems from some actual catastrophe during primeval human history. However, they dismantle the literal interpretation.

That's interesting, in terms of academics. Note that Wheaton faculty members affirm that all the Bible’s books “are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing.” Moody Bible Institute, where Walton previously taught for two decades, believes the biblical texts “were verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Longman’s Westmont proclaims the Bible to be “God-breathed and true, without error in all that it teaches.”

In the book, Longman and Walton say “the Bible is indeed inerrant in all that it intends to teach,” but analysis of intent allows room for their flood revisionism. They theorize about what the ancient scriptural writer meant to communicate and what long-ago readers would have understood, based partly on parallels in other writings from the ancient Mideast. On that basis, they consider the flood narrative “theological history” that freely employs “figurative language” and rhetorical devices, especially hyperbole.

Some Bible defenders think the flood was localized, but described in Genesis as worldwide because that’s how the deluge seemed to those who experienced it. Instead, Longman-Walton say scripture purposely depicted a local flood as though it was global in order to convey the universal “impact and significance” of humanity’s sinfulness and God’s resulting judgment.  

Wheaton geology professor Stephen O. Moshier adds a technical chapter arguing that scientific evidence rules out a deluge that literally inundated the entire planet. The book contends that the biblical ark’s enormous size was another exaggeration because it would have greatly exceeded the largest wooden boats humans have ever built, and those were not seaworthy.    

Since the authors think an actual flood underlies the account, they cite three candidates.

* Geologists tell us a huge flood filled a desert basin to form the Mediterranean Sea. But Longman-Walton assert this wasn’t the biblical flood because it occurred 5 million years ago so no humans experienced it.

* In 1928-29, archaeologists led by Sir Leonard Wooley worked at the site of Abraham’s hometown of Ur in southern Iraq and unearthed a thick layer of silt containing no artifacts, deposited around 3,500 B.C. Wooley proposed this as evidence of Noah’s flood, but further excavations found no more deposits and the claim faded.  

*  In their 1998 book “Noah’s Flood,” Columbia University geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman reported evidence that 5,600 years ago a massive flood burst through the Bosporus strait in present-day Turkey to create the Black Sea. They figure the cataclysmic death and destruction that resulted would have been well remembered across future centuries. Longman-Walton find this tantalizing but stop short of endorsing the theory.

The Guy has offered only a quick sketch of what kinds of information journalists will find to explore -- and your fundamentalist sources to deplore -- in this very intriguing book. 

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