By Babatunde Jose
The story of the Deluge, the Great Flood, is part of human lore and communal memory virtually in all parts of the world. Its main elements are the same everywhere, no matter the version or the epithet-names by which the tale’s principals are called: An angry deity decide to wipe Mankind off the face of the Earth by means of a global flood, but one couple is spared and saves the human line.
Except for an account of the Deluge written in Greek by the Chaldean priest Berossus in the third century B.C., the only record of that momentous event was in the Hebrew Bible and later in the Quran. But in 1872 the British Society of Biblical Archaeology was told in a lecture by George Smith that among the tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh discovered by Henry Layard in the royal library of Nineveh, the ancient Assyrian capital, some contained a Deluge tale like that in the Bible.
By 1910 parts of other recensions (as scholars call versions in other ancient Near Eastern languages) have been found. They helped reconstruct another major Mesopotamian text, the Epic of Atrahasis, that told the story of Mankind from its creation until its near annihilation by the Deluge.
The Bible introduces Noah, the hero of the Deluge tale, who was singled out to be saved with his family, as a righteous man, of perfect genealogy. The Mesopotamian texts paint a more comprehensive picture of the man, suggesting that he was the off- spring of a demigod and possibly (as Lamech his father had suspected) a demigod himself. It fills out the details of what walking with the God; had really entailed. Among the many details that the Mesopotamian texts provide, the role played by dreams as an important form of Divine Encounter becomes evident.
In the biblical version it is the same deity who resolves to wipe Mankind off the face of the Earth and, contradictorily, acts to prevent the demise of Mankind by devising a way to save the hero of the tale and his family. In the Sumerian original text and its subsequent Mesopotamian recensions, more than one deity is involved; and as in other instances, which is beyond the scope of this narrative.
The embarkation of pairs of animals has been a favorite subject in the narration. It has also been one of the eyebrow raisers of the tale, deemed a virtual impossibility and thus more of an allegorical way to explain how animal life continued even after the Deluge. It is therefore noteworthy that the Deluge recension in the Epic of Gilgamesh offers a totally different detail regarding the preservation of animal life: It was not the living animals that were taken aboard—it was their seed (DNA) that was preserved!
Taking on board the seed of living beings rather than the animals themselves not only reduced the space but also implies the application of sophisticated biotechnology to preserve varied species—a technique being developed nowadays by learning the genetic secrets of DNA. This should not surprise us, for if the ancients can build the pyramids, which still astounds us, we should not doubt them to clone and toy with DNA.
How global was the Deluge? Was every place upon our globe inundated? The human recollection is almost global and suggests an almost-global event. What is certain is that the Ice Age that had held Earth in its grip for the previous 62,000 years abruptly ended.
It happened about 13,000 years ago. One result of the catastrophe was that Antarctica, for the first time in so many thousands of years, was freed of its ice cover and this raised the seas to astronomical level. The true continental features of Antarctica became visible. Amazingly (but not to our surprise again), the existence of maps showing an ice-free Antarctica became available. In modern times the very existence of a continent at the south pole was not known until A.D. 1820, when British and Russian sailors discovered it. It was then, as it is now, covered by a massive layer of ice; we know the continent’s true shape (under the ice cap) by means of radar and other sophisticated instruments used by many teams during the 1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY).
Yet Antarctica appears on World Maps from the fifteenth and even fourteenth centuries A.D.—hundreds of years before the discovery of Antarctica—and the continent, to add puzzle to puzzle, is shown ice-free!
Of several such maps, ably described and discussed in ‘Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings /Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age by Charles H. Hapgood, the one that illustrates the enigma very clearly is the 1531 Map of the World by Orontius Finaeus, whose depiction of Antarctica is compared to the ice-free continent as determined by the 1958 IGY. An even earlier map, from 1513, by the Turkish admiral Piri Re’is, shows the continent connected by an archipelago to the tip of South America.
But as many who have studied these maps had concluded, no mortal seamen, even given some advanced instruments, could have mapped these continents and their inner features in those early days, and certainly not of an ice-free Antarctica. Someone viewing and mapping it from the air could have done it. Yet, another puzzle for us to ponder over. Do we also know that seashells are found on mountain tops (even on Everest), Sahara Desert and such impossible places? Evidence of sea inundations or deluge.
Did the flood occur? Was Noah a historical figure? These are the questions. Fortunately, recent scientific evidence of the occurrence of the flood are now available. In a book named “Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History,” Walter Pitman and William Ryan, describe a flood that took place 7000 years ago, before the Biblical story was written by the ancient Hebrews .
There is also archaeological evidence of the Great Flood. One such significant piece of evidence was provided by the world-famous underwater archaeologist Robert Ballard. Only after 7000 BC when the ocean levels finally began stabilizing, did human life once more began to return to normal. Is it a mere coincidence that our “recorded” history happens to start around this time? After all, it seems that as soon as the adverse climatic conditions receded, it did not take long for humans to thrive once again. Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” It has come to pass and we are today 7 billion plus on Earth.
Our takeaway from the foregoing is that Noah was a historical figure who walked with God. He was a messenger sent to his people who refused to listen to him. This is contained in the Bible and the Quran. ‘We sent Nuh to his people and he said, ‘My people, worship Allah! You have no other god than Him. I fear for you the punishment of a dreadful Day.’ (Quran 7:59) And Noah told his people: ‘I am a clear warner to you. Worship none but Allah. I fear for you the punishment of a painful day.’ (Quran 11:25-26) See also 71:1; 71:10; 23:23; 29:14; 26:105-110.
On the attitude of unbelievers towards the Prophet Nuh (as) see, 26:111-115; 23:24-25. ‘Nuh, if you do not desist you will be stoned.’ (Quran 26: 116). But he replied to them in these verses 71:2-20; 11:27-31; 7:60-63; 11:32-34; 10:71: 11:36-39.
Allah opened the gates of heaven with torrential water and made the earth burst forth with gushing springs…… a reward for him who had been rejected. (Quran 54:11-14)
So, We rescued him and those with him in the loaded ship. (Quran 26:119); 29:15. We left the later people to say of him: ‘Peace be upon Nuh among all beings!’ (Quran 37:75-79).
And say: “O my Lord! Enable me to disembark with Thy blessing: For Thou art the Best to enable (us) to disembark.” Verily in this there are Signs (for men to understand); (thus) do We try (men). Then We raised after them another generation. (Quran 23:29-31)
Noah’s contemporaries had all sorts of chances and warnings. But they refused to believe and perished. But Allah’s Truth survived, and it went to the next and succeeding generations. Will not mankind understand? We need to deeply reflect and contemplate. May Allah guide us and not let our ways lead us to perdition.
Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend.