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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

signifies, in general, any great inundation; but more particularly that universal flood by which the whole inhabitants of this globe were destroyed, except Noah and his family. According to the most approved systems of chronology, this remarkable event happened in the year 1656 after the creation, or about 2348 before the Christian aera. Of so general a calamity, from which only a single family of all who lived then on the face of the earth was preserved, we might naturally expect to find some memorials in the traditionary records of Pagan history, as well as in the sacred volume, where its peculiar cause, and the circumstances which attended it, are so distinctly and so fully related. Its magnitude and singularity could scarcely fail to make an indelible impression on the minds of the survivors, which would be communicated from them to their children, and would not be easily effaced from the traditions even of their latest posterity. A deficiency in such traces of this awful event, though perhaps it might not serve entirely to invalidate our belief of its reality, would certainly tend considerably to weaken its claim to credibility; it being scarcely probable that the knowledge of it should be utterly lost to the rest of the world, and confined to the documents of the Jewish nation alone. What we might reasonably expect has, accordingly, been actually and completely realized. The evidence which has been brought from almost every quarter of the world to bear upon the reality of this event, is of the most conclusive and irresistible kind; and every investigation, whether etymological or historical, which has been made concerning Heathen rites and traditions, has constantly added to its force, no less than to its extent.

And here, it were injustice to the memory of ingenuity and erudition almost unexampled in modern times, were we not to mention the labours of Bryant, the learned analysist of ancient mythology, whose patience and profoundness of research have thrown such new and convincing light on this subject. Nor must we forget his ardent and successful disciple, Mr. Faber, who, in his "Dissertation on the Mysteries of the Cabiri," has in travelling over similar ground with his illustrious master at once corrected some of his statements, and greatly strengthened his general conclusions. As the basis of their system, however, rests on a most extensive etymological examination of the names of the deities and other mythological personages worshipped and celebrated by the Heathen, compared with the varied traditions respecting their histories, and the nature of the rites and names of the places that were sacred to them, we cannot do more, in the present article, than shortly state the result of their investigations, referring for the particular details, to the highly original treatises already mentioned. According to them, the memory of the deluge was incorporated with almost every part of the Gentile mythology and worship; Noah, under a vast multitude of characters, being one of their first deities, to whom all the nations of the Heathen world looked up as their founder; and to some circumstance or other in whose history, and that of his sons and the first patriarchs, most, if not all, of their religious ceremonies may be considered as not indistinctly referring. Traces of these, neither vague nor obscure, they conceive to be found in the history and character, not only of Deucalion, but of Atlas, Cronus, or Saturn, Dionusos, Inachus, Janus, Minos, Zeus, and others among the Greeks; of Isis, Osiris, Sesostris, Oannes, Typhon, &c, among the Egyptians; of Dagon, Agruerus Sydyk, &c, among the Phenicians; of Astarte, Derceto, &c, among the Assyrians; of Buddha, Menu, Vishnu, &c, among the Hindus; of Fohi, and a deity represented as sitting upon the lotos in the midst of waters, among the Chinese; of Budo and Iakusi among the Japanese, &c. They discover allusions to the ark, in many of the ancient mysteries, and traditions with respect to the dove and the rainbow, by which several of these allegorical personages were attended, which are not easily explicable, unless they be supposed to relate to the history of the deluge. By the celebrated Ogdoas of the Egyptians, consisting of eight persons sailing together in the sacred baris or ark, they imagine the family of Noah, which was precisely eight in number, to have been designated; and in the rites of Adonis or Thammuz, in particular, they point out many circumstances which seem to possess a distinct reference to the events recorded in the sixth and seventh chapters of Genesis. With regard to this system, we shall only farther observe, that, after every reasonable deduction is made from it, which the exuberant indulgence of fancy occasionally exhibited by its authors appears to render necessary, it contains so much that is relevant and conclusive, that it induces the conviction that it has a solid foundation in truth and fact; it being scarcely possible to conceive, that a mere hypothesis could be supported by evidence so varied, so extensive, and in many particulars so demonstrative, as that which its framers have produced.

Beside, however, the allusions to the deluge in the mythology and religious ceremonies of the Heathen, to which we have thus concisely adverted, there is a variety of traditions concerning it still more direct and circumstantial, the coincidence of which, with the narrative of Moses, it will require no common degree of skeptical hardihood to deny. We are informed by one of the circumnavigators of the world, who visited the remote island of Otaheite, that some of the inhabitants being asked concerning their origin, answered, that their supreme God having, a long time ago, been angry, dragged the earth through the sea, when their island was broken off and preserved. In the island of Cuba, the people are said to believe that the world was once destroyed by water by three persons, evidently alluding to the three sons of Noah. It is even related, that they have a tradition among them, that an old man, knowing that the deluge was approaching, built a large ship, and went into it with a great number of animals; and that he sent out from the ship a crow, which did not immediately come back, staying to feed on the carcasses of dead animals, but afterward returned with a green branch in its mouth. The author who gives the above account likewise affirms that it was reported by the inhabitants of Castells del Oro, in Terra Firma, that during a universal deluge, one man, and his children, were the only persons who escaped, by means of a canoe, and that from them the world was afterward peopled. According to the Peruvians, in consequence of a general inundation, occasioned by violent and continued rains, a universal destruction of the human species took place, a few persons only excepted, who escaped into caves on the tops of the mountains, into which they had previously conveyed a stock of provisions, and a number of live animals, lest when the waters abated, the whole race should have become extinct. Others of them affirm, that only six persons were saved, by means of a float or raft, and that from them all the inhabitants of the country are descended. They farther believe, that this event took place before there were any incas or kings among them, and when the country was extremely populous. The Brazilians not only preserve the tradition of a deluge, but believe that the whole race of mankind perished in it, except one man and his sister; or, according to others, two brothers with their wives, who were preserved by climbing the highest trees on their loftiest mountains; and who afterward became the heads of two different nations. The memory of this event they are even said to celebrate in some of their religious anthems or songs. Acosta, in his history of the Indies, says, that the Mexicans speak of a deluge in their country, by which all men were drowned; and that it was afterward peopled by viracocha, who came out of the lake Titicaca; and, according to Herrera, the Machoachans, a people comparatively in the neighbourhood of Mexico, had a tradition, that a single family was formerly preserved in an ark amid a deluge of waters; and that along with them, a sufficient number of animals were saved to stock the new world. During the time that they were shut up in the ark, several ravens were sent out, one of which brought back the branch of a tree. Among the Iroquois it is reported that a certain spirit, called by them Otkon, was the creator of the world; and that another being, called Messou, repaired it after a deluge, which happened in consequence of Otkon's dogs having one day while he was hunting with them lost themselves in a great lake, which, in consequence of this, overflowed its banks, and in a short time covered the whole earth.

Passing from the more remote western to the eastern continent, nearer to the region where Noah is generally supposed to have lived, we find the traditions respecting the deluge still more particular and minute. According to Josephus, there were a multitude of ancient authors who concurred in asserting that the world had once been destroyed by a flood; "This deluge," says he, "and the ark are mentioned by all who have written barbaric histories, one of whom is Berosus the Chaldean." Eusebius informs us, that Melo, a bitter enemy of the Jews, and whose testimony is on this account peculiarly valuable, takes notice of the person who was saved along with his sons from the flood, having been, after his preservation, driven away from Armenia, whence he retired to the mountainous parts of Syria. Abydenus, after giving an account of the deluge from which Xisuthrus, the Chaldean Noah, was saved, concludes with asserting, in exact concurrence with Berosus, that the ark first rested on the mountains of Armenia, and that its remains were used by the natives as a talisman; and Plutarch mentions the Noachic dove being sent out of the ark, and returning to it again, as an intimation to Deucalion that the storm had not yet ceased.

This, however, is by no means all; Sir W, Jones, speaking of one of the Chinese fables says, "Although I cannot insist with confidence, that the rainbow mentioned in it alludes to the Mosaic narrative of the flood, nor build any solid argument on the divine person Niuva, of whose character, and even of whose sex the historians of China speak very doubtfully; I may nevertheless assure you, after full inquiry and consideration, that the Chinese believe the earth to have been wholly covered with water, which, in works of undisputed authenticity, they describe as flowing abundantly, then subsiding, and separating the higher from the lower age of mankind."

Still more coincident even than this with the Mosaic account, is the Grecian history of the deluge, as preserved by Lucian, a native of Samosata on the Euphrates; and its authority is the more incontrovertible, on account of his being an avowed derider of all religions. The antediluvians, according to him, had gradually become so hardened and profligate, as to be guilty of every species of injustice. They paid no regard to the obligation of oaths; were insolent, inhospitable, and unmerciful. For this reason they were visited with an awful calamity. Suddenly the earth poured forth a vast quantity of water, the rain descended in torrents, the rivers overflowed their banks, and the sea rose to a prodigious height, so that "all things became water," and all men were destroyed except Deucalion. He alone, for the sake of his prudence and piety, was reserved to a second generation. In obedience to a divine nomination, he entered, with his sons and their wives, into a large ark, which they had built for their preservation; and immediately swine, and horses, and lions, and serpents, and all other animals which live on earth, came to him by pairs, and were admitted by him into the ark. There they became perfectly mild and innoxious, their natures being changed by the gods, who created such a friendship between them, that they all sailed peaceably together, so long as the waters prevailed over the surface of the globe.

Scarcely less remarkable is the Hindoo tradition. It is contained in the ancient poem of the Bhavagat; and forms the subject of the first Purana, entitled Matsya, or "The Fish." The following is Sir William Jones's abridgment of it; and the identity of the event which it describes, with that of the Hebrew historian, is too obvious to require any particular illustration: "The demon Hayagriva, having purloined the Vedas from the custody of Brahma, while he was reposing at the close of the sixth Manwantara, the whole race of men became corrupt, except the seven Rishis, and Satyavrata, who then reigned in Dravira, a maritime region to the south of Carnata. This prince was performing his ablutions in the river Critimala, when Vishnu appeared to him in the shape of a small fish, and after several augmentations of bulk in different waters, was placed by Satyavrata in the ocean, where he thus addressed his amazed votary: ‘In seven days all creatures who have offended me shall be destroyed by a deluge, but thou shalt be secured in a capacious vessel miraculously formed; take therefore all kinds of medicinal herbs, and esculent grain for food, and, together with the seven holy men, your respective wives, and pairs of all animals, enter the ark without fear: then shalt thou know God face to face, and all thy questions shall be answered.' Saying this, he disappeared; and after seven days the ocean began to overflow the coasts, and the earth to be flooded by constant showers, when Satyavrata, meditating on the deity, saw a large vessel moving on the waters. He entered it, having in all respects conformed to the instructions of Vishnu; who in the form of a vast fish, suffered the vessel to be tied with a great sea serpent, as with a cable, to his measureless horn. When the deluge had ceased, Vishnu slew the demon, and recovered the Vedas, instructed Satyavrata in divine knowledge, and appointed him the seventh Menu, by the name of Vaivaswata."

When we thus meet with some traditions of a deluge in almost every country, though the persons saved from it are said, in those various accounts to have resided in different districts widely separated from each other, we are constrained to allow that such a general concurrence of belief could never have originated merely from accident. While the mind is in this situation, Scripture comes forward, and, presenting a narrative more simple, better connected, and bearing an infinitely greater resemblance to authentic history, than any of those mythological accounts which occur in the traditions of Paganism, immediately flashes the conviction upon the understanding, that this must be the true history of those remarkable facts which other nations have handed down to us, only through the medium of allegory and fable. By the evidence adduced in this article, indeed, the moral certainty of the Mosaic history of the flood appears to be established on a basis sufficiently firm to bid defiance to the cavils of skepticism. "Let the ingenuity of unbelief first account satisfactorily for this universal agreement of the Pagan world; and she may then, with a greater degree of plausibility, impeach the truth of the Scriptural narrative of the deluge."

The fact, however, is not only preserved in the traditions of all nations, as we have already seen; but after all the philosophical arguments which were formerly urged against it, philosophy has at length acknowledged that the present surface of the earth must have been submerged under water. "Not only," says Kirwan, "in every region of Europe, but also of both the old and new continents, immense quantities of marine shells, either dispersed or collected, have been discovered." This and several other facts seem to prove, that at least a great part of the present earth was, before the last general convulsion to which it has been subjected, the bed of an ocean which, at that time, was withdrawn from it. Other facts seem also to prove with sufficient evidence, that this was not a gradual retirement of the waters which once covered the parts now inhabited by men; but a violent one, such as may be supposed from the brief but emphatic relation of Moses. The violent action of water has left its traces in various undisputed phenomena. Stratified mountains of various heights exist in different parts of Europe, and of both continents; in and between whose strata, various substances of marine, and some vegetables of terrestrial, origin, repose either in their natural state, or petrified. To overspread the plains of the arctic circle with the shells of Indian seas, and with the bodies of elephants and rhinoceri, surrounded by masses of submarine vegetation; to accumulate on a single spot, as at La Bolca, in promiscuous confusion, the marine productions of the four quarters of the globe; what conceivable instrument would be efficacious but the rush of mighty waters? These facts, about which there is no dispute, and which are acknowledged by the advocates of each of the prevailing geological theories, give a sufficient attestation to the deluge of Noah, in which "the fountains of the great deep were broken up," and from which precisely such phenomena might be expected to follow. To this may be added, though less decisive in proof, yet certainly strong as presumptive evidence, that the very aspect of the earth's surface exhibits interesting marks both of the violent action, and the rapid subsidence, of waters; as well as affords a most interesting instance of the divine goodness in converting what was ruin itself into utility and beauty. The great frame-work of the varied surface of the habitable earth was probably laid by a more powerful agency than that of water; either when on the third day the waters under the heavens were gathered into one place, and the crust of the primitive earth was broken down to receive them, so that "the dry land might appear;" or by those mighty convulsions which appear to have accompanied the general deluge; but the rounding, so to speak, of what was rugged, where the substance was yielding, and the graceful undulations of hill and dale which so frequently present themselves, were probably effected by the retiring waters. The flood has passed away; but the soils which it deposited remain; and the valleys through which its last streams were drawn off to the ocean, with many an eddy and sinuous course, still exist, exhibiting visible proofs of its agency, and impressed with forms so adapted to the benefit of man, and often so gratifying to the finest taste, that, when the flood "turned," it may be said to have "left a blessing behind it."

The objections once made to the fact of a general deluge have, indeed, been greatly weakened by the progress of philosophical knowledge; and may be regarded as nearly given up, like the former notion of the high antiquity of the race of men, founded on the Chinese and Egyptian chronologies and pretended histories. Philosophy has even at last found out that there is sufficient water in the ocean, if called forth, to overflow the highest mountains to the height given by Moses,—a conclusion which it once stoutly denied. Keill formerly computed that twenty-eight oceans would be necessary for that purpose; but we are now informed "that a farther progress in mathematical and physical knowledge has shown the different seas and oceans to contain, at least, forty-eight times more water than they were then supposed to do; and that the mere raising of the temperature of the whole body of the ocean to a degree no greater than marine animals live in, in the shallow seas between the tropics, would so expand it as more than to produce the height above the mountains stated in the Mosaic account." As to the deluge of Noah, therefore, infidelity has almost entirely lost the aid of philosophy in framing objections to the Scriptures.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]


1. The Biblical story ,   Genesis 6:5 to   Genesis 9:17 [  Genesis 6:1-4 is probably a separate tradition, unconnected with the Deluge (see Driver, Genesis , p. 82)]. The two narratives of J [Note: Jahwist.] and P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] have been combined; the verses are assigned by Driver as follows: J [Note: Jahwist.]   Genesis 6:5-8 ,   Genesis 7:1-5;   Genesis 7:7-10;   Genesis 7:12;   Genesis 7:16 b,   Genesis 7:17 b,   Genesis 7:22-23 ,   Genesis 8:2-3 a,   Genesis 8:6-13 b,   Genesis 8:20-22; P [Note: Priestly Narrative.]   Genesis 6:9-22 ,   Genesis 7:6;   Genesis 7:11;   Genesis 7:13-16 a,   Genesis 7:17 a,   Genesis 7:18-21;   Genesis 7:24 ,   Genesis 8:1-2 a,   Genesis 8:3-5 ,   Genesis 8:13 a,   Genesis 8:14-19 ,   Genesis 9:1-17 . J [Note: Jahwist.] alone relates the sending out of the birds, and the sacrifice with which J″ [Note: Jahweh.] is so pleased that He determines never again to curse the ground. P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] alone gives the directions with regard to the size and construction of the ark, the blessing of Noah, the commands against murder and the eating of blood, and the covenant with the sign of the rainbow. In the portions in which the two narratives overlap, they are at variance in the following points. ( a ) In P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] one pair of every kind of animal (  Genesis 6:18-20 ) in J [Note: Jahwist.] one pair of the unclean and seven of the clean (  Genesis 7:2-3 ), are to be taken into the ark. (In   Genesis 7:9 a redactor has added the words ‘two and two’ to make J [Note: Jahwist.] ’s representation conform to that of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] .) The reason for the difference is that, according to P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , animals were not eaten at all till after the Deluge (  Genesis 9:3 ), so that there was no distinction required between clean and unclean. ( b ) In P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] the cause of the Deluge is not only rain, but also the bursting forth of the subterranean abyss (  Genesis 6:11 ); J [Note: Jahwist.] mentions rain only (  Genesis 6:12 ). ( c ) In P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] the water begins to abate after 150 days (  Genesis 8:3 ), the mountain tops are visible after 8 months and 13 days (  Genesis 7:11 ,   Genesis 8:5 ), and the earth is dry after a year and 10 days (  Genesis 8:14 ); in J [Note: Jahwist.] the Flood lasts only 40 days (  Genesis 7:12 ,   Genesis 8:6 ), and the water had begun to abate before that.

2. The Historicity of the story. The modern study of geology and comparative mythology has made it impossible to see in the story of the Deluge the literal record of an historical event. (The fact that marine fossils are found on the tops of hills cannot be used as an argument, for (i.) the same argument could be used and is actually used by native tribes to prove other flood-stories in various parts of the globe; and (ii.) though it proves that some spots which are now at the tops of hills were at one time submerged, that is not equivalent to asserting that a flood ever occurred which covered the whole planet apart from the extreme improbability that the submergence of mountains was within the period of man’s existence.) The difficulties in the story as it stands are immense. ( a ) All the water in the world, together with all the vapour if reduced to water, would not cover the whole earth to the height of Mt. Ararat. And if it had, it is impossible to imagine how it could have dried up in a year and 10 days (not to speak of 40 days), or whither it could have flowed away. ( b ) If only a single family survived, it is impossible to account for the wide variety of races and languages. ( c ) The means of safety is not a ship, but simply a huge chest, which would instantly capsize in a storm. It is popularly assumed that it had a hull, shaped like that of a ship; but of this nothing is said in the Heb. narrative. ( d ) The collection by Noah of a pair of every kind of animal, bird, and creeping thing, which would include species peculiar to different countries from the arctic regions to the tropics, is inconceivable. And no less so the housing of them all in a single chest, the feeding and care of them by eight persons, the arrangements to prevent their devouring one another, and the provision of the widely diverse conditions of life necessary for creatures from different countries and climates. From every point of view it is clear that the story is legendary, and similar in character to the legends which are found in the folk-lore of all peoples.

3. The Cause of the Deluge . This is stated to be rain (  Genesis 7:11 b,   Genesis 7:12 ), and the bursting forth of the subterranean abyss. It must be studied in connexion with other flood-stories. Such stories are found principally in America, but also in India, Cashmir, Tibet, China, Kamschatka, Australia, some of the Polynesian Islands, Lithuania, and Greece. In the great majority of cases the flood is caused by some startling natural phenomenon, which often has a special connexion with the locality to which it belongs; e.g. the melting of the ice or snow, in the extreme N. of America; earthquakes, on the American coastlands where they frequently occur; the submergence or emergence of islands, in districts liable to volcanic eruptions; among inland peoples the cause is frequently the bursting of the banks of rivers which have been swollen by rains. Sometimes the stories have grown up to account for various facts of observation; e.g. the dispersion of peoples, and differences of language; the red colour, or the pale colour, of certain tribes; the discovery of marine fossils inland, and so on. In some cases these stories have been coloured by the Bible story, owing to the teaching of Christian missionaries in modern times, and often mixed up with other Bible stories, and reproduced with grotesque details by local adaptation. But there are very many which are quite unconnected with the story of Noah. (For a much fuller discussion of the various flood-stories see the valuable art. ‘Flood’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ii.) It is reasonable, therefore, to treat the Hebrew story as one of these old-world legends, and to look for the cause of it in the natural features of the land which gave it birth. And we are fortunate in the possession of an earlier form of the legend, which belongs to Babylonia, and makes it probable that its origin is to be ascribed to the inundation of the large Babylonian plain by the bursting forth of one of the rivers by which it is intersected, and perhaps also, as some think, to the incursion of a tidal wave due to an earthquake somewhere in the South. This, among a people whose world was bounded by very narrow limits, would easily be magnified in oral tradition into a universal Deluge.

4. The Babylonian story . ( a ) One form of the story has long been known from the fragments of Berosus, an Egyptian priest of the 3rd cent. b.c. It differs in certain details from the other form known to us; e.g. when the birds return the second time, clay is seen to be attaching to their legs (a point which finds parallels in some N. American flood-legends); and not only the hero of the story, Xisuthros, and his wife, but also his daughter and the pilot of the ship are carried away by the gods.

( b ) The other and more important form is contained in Akkadian cuneiform tablets m the British Museum, first deciphered in 1872. It is part of an epic in 12 parts, each connected with a sign of the Zodiac; the Flood story is the 11th, and is connected with Aquarius, the ‘water-bearer.’ Gilgamesh of Uruk (Erech,   Genesis 10:10 ), the hero of the epic, contrived to visit his ancestor Ut-napishtim, who had received the gift of immortality. The latter is in one passage called Adra-hasis, which being inverted as Hasis-adra appears in Greek as Xisuthros. He relates to Gilgamesh how, for his piety, he had been preserved from a great flood. When Bel and three other gods determined to destroy Shurippak, a city ‘lying on the Euphrates,’ Ea warned him to build a ship. He built it 120 cubits in height and breadth, with six decks, divided into 7 storeys, each with 9 compartments; it had a mast, and was smeared with bitumen. He took on board all his possessions, ‘the seed of life of every kind that I possessed,’ cattle and beasts of the field, his family, servants, and craftsmen. He entered the ship and shut the door. Then Ramman the storm-god thundered, and the spirits of heaven brought lightnings; the gods were terrified; they fled to heaven, and cowered in a heap like a dog in his kennel. On the 7th day the rain ceased, and all mankind were turned to clay. The ship grounded on Mt. Nisir, E. of the Tigris, where it remained 6 days. Then Ut-napishtim sent forth a dove, a swallow, and a raven, and the last did not return. He then sent the animals to the four winds, and offered sacrifice on an altar at the top of the mountain. The gods smelled the savour and gathered like flies. The great goddess Ishtar lighted up the rainbow. She reproached Bel for destroying all mankind instead of one city only. Bel, on the other hand, was angry at the escape of Ut-napishtim, and refused to come to the sacrifice. But he was pacified by Ea, and at length entered the ship, and made a covenant with Ut-napishtim, and translated him and his wife to ‘the mouth of the rivers,’ and made them immortal.

The similarities to the Heb. story, and the differences from it, are alike obvious. It dates from at least b.c. 3000, and it would pass through a long course of oral repetition before it reached the Hebrew form. And herein is seen the religious value of the latter. The genius of the Hebrew race under Divine inspiration gradually stripped it of all its crude polytheism, and made it the vehicle of spiritual truth. It teaches the unity and omnipotence of J″ [Note: Jahweh.]; His hatred of sin and His punishment of sinners; but at the same time His merciful kindness to them that obey Him, which is shown in rescuing them from destruction, and in entering into a covenant with them.

5. It is strange that, apart from   Genesis 9:28;   Genesis 10:1;   Genesis 10:32;   Genesis 11:10 , there are only two allusions in the OT to the Flood,   Isaiah 54:9 and   Psalms 29:10 (the latter uncertain; see commentaries). In the Apocr. [Note: Apocrypha, Apocryphal.] :   Esther 3:9  Esther 3:9 f., Wis 10:4 , Sir 44:17 f. ( Sir 40:10 in LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , but not in Heb.). In the NT:   Matthew 24:38 f.,   Luke 17:27 ,   Hebrews 11:7 , 1Pe 3:20 ,   2 Peter 2:5 .

A. H. M‘Neile.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [3]

The flood which overflowed and destroyed the earth. This flood makes one of the most considerable epochas in chronology. Its history is given by Moses,  Genesis 6:7 : Its time is fixed by the best chronologers to the year from the creation 1656, answering to the year before Christ 2293. From this flood, the state of the world is divided into diluvian and ante-diluvian. Men who have not paid that regard to sacred history as it deserves, have cavilled at the account given of an universal deluge. Their objections principally turn upon three points:

1. The want of any direct history of that event by the profane writers of antiquity.

2. The apparent impossibility of accounting for the quantity of water necessary to overflow the whole earth to such a depth as it is said to have been.


3. There appearing no necessity for an universal deluge, as the same end might have been accomplished by a partial one. To the above arguments we oppose the plain declarations of Scripture. God declared to Noah that he was resolved to destroy every thing that had breath under heaven, or had life on the earth, by a flood of waters; such was the threatening, such was the execution. the waters, Moses assures us, covered the whole earth, buried all the mountains; every thing perished therein that had life, excepting Noah and those with him in the ark. Can an universal deluge be more clearly expressed? If the deluge had only been partial, there had been no necessity to spend an hundred years in the building of an ark, and shutting up all sorts of animals therein, in order to re-stock the world: they had been easily and readily brought from those parts of the world not overflowed into those that were; at least, all the birds never would have been destroyed, as Moses says they were, so long as they had wings to bear them to those parts where the flood did not reach.

If the waters had only overflowed the neighbourhood of the Euphrates and the Tigris, they could not be fifteen cubits above the highest mountains; there was no rising that height but they must spread themselves, by the laws of gravity, over the rest of the earth; unless perhaps they had been retained there by a miracle; in that case, Moses, no doubt, would have related the miracle, as he did that of the waters of the Red Sea, &c. It may also be observed, that in regions far remote from the Euphrates and Tigris, viz. Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, England, &c. there are frequently found in places many scores of leagues from the sea, and even in the tops of high mountains, whole trees sunk deep under ground, as also teeth and bones of animals, fishes entire, sea-shells, ears of corn, &c. petrified; which the best naturalists are agreed could never have come there but by the deluge. That the Greeks and western nations had some knowledge of the flood, has never been denied; and the Mussulmen, Chinese, and Americans, have traditions of the deluge.

The ingenious Mr. Bryant, in his Mythology, has pretty clearly proved that the deluge, so far from being unknown to the heathen world at large, is in reality conspicuous throughout every one of their acts of religious worship. In India, also, Sir William Jones has discovered, that in the oldest mythological books of that country, there is such an account of the deluge, as corresponds sufficiently with that of Moses. Various have been the conjectures of learned men as to the natural causes of the deluge. Some have supposed that a quantity of water was created on purpose, and at a proper time annihilated by Divine power. Dr. Burnet supposes the primitive earth to have been no more than a crust investing the water contained in the ocean; and in the central abyss which he and others suppose to exist in the bowels of the earth at the time of the flood, this outward crust broke in a thousand pieces, and sunk down among the water, which thus spouted up in vast cataracts, and overflowed the whole surface.

Others, supposing a sufficient fund of water in the sea or abyss, think that the shifting of the earth's centre of gravity drew after it the water out of the channel, and overwhelmed the several parts of the earth successively. Others ascribe it to the shock of a comet, and Mr. King supposes it to arise from subterraneous fires bursting forth with great violence under the sea. But are not most, if not all these hypotheses quite arbitrary, and without foundation from the words of Moses? It is, perhaps, in vain to attempt accounting for this event by natural causes, it being altogether miraculous and supernatural, as a punishment to men for the corruption then in the world. Let us be satisfied with the sources which Moses gives us, namely, the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the waters rushed out from the hidden abyss of the bowels of the earth, and the clouds poured down their rain incessantly. Let it suffice us to know, that all the elements are under God's power; that he can do with them as he pleases, and frequently in ways we are ignorant of, in order to accomplish his own purposes. The principal writers on this subject have been Woodyard, Cockburn, Bryant, Burnett, Whiston, Stillingfleet, King, Calcott and Tytler.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [4]

 Genesis 7,8

It began in the year 2516 B.C., and continued twelve lunar months and ten days, or exactly one solar year.

The cause of this judgment was the corruption and violence that filled the earth in the ninth generation from Adam. God in righteous indignation determined to purge the earth of the ungodly race. Amid a world of crime and guilt there was one household that continued faithful and true to God, the household of Noah. "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations."

At the command of God, Noah made an ark 300 cubits long, 50 broad, and 30 high. He slowly proceeded with this work during a period of one hundred and twenty years ( Genesis 6:3 ). At length the purpose of God began to be carried into effect. The following table exhibits the order of events as they occurred:

In the six hundredth year of his life Noah is commanded by God to enter the ark, taking with him his wife, and his three sons with their wives ( Genesis 7:1-10 ).

The rain begins on the seventeenth day of the second month ( Genesis 7:11-17 ).

The rain ceases, the waters prevail, fifteen cubits upward ( Genesis 7:18-24 ).

The ark grounds on one of the mountains of Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventh month, or one hundred and fifty days after the Deluge began ( Genesis 8:1-4 ).

Tops of the mountains visible on the first day of the tenth month ( Genesis 8:5 ).

Raven and dove sent out forty days after this ( Genesis 8:6-9 ).

Dove again sent out seven days afterwards; and in the evening she returns with an olive leaf in her mouth ( Genesis 8:10,11 ).

Dove sent out the third time after an interval of other seven days, and returns no more ( Genesis 8:12 ).

The ground becomes dry on the first day of the first month of the new year ( Genesis 8:13 ).

Noah leaves the ark on the twenty-seventh day of the second month ( Genesis 8:14-19 ).

The historical truth of the narrative of the Flood is established by the references made to it by our Lord ( Matthew 24:37; Compare  Luke 17:26 ). Peter speaks of it also ( 1 Peter 3:20;  2 Peter 2:5 ). In  Isaiah 54:9 the Flood is referred to as "the waters of Noah." The Biblical narrative clearly shows that so far as the human race was concerned the Deluge was universal; that it swept away all men living except Noah and his family, who were preserved in the ark; and that the present human race is descended from those who were thus preserved.

Traditions of the Deluge are found among all the great divisions of the human family; and these traditions, taken as a whole, wonderfully agree with the Biblical narrative, and agree with it in such a way as to lead to the conclusion that the Biblical is the authentic narrative, of which all these traditions are more or less corrupted versions. The most remarkable of these traditions is that recorded on tablets prepared by order of Assur-bani-pal, the king of Assyria. These were, however, copies of older records which belonged to somewhere about B.C. 2000, and which formed part of the priestly library at Erech (q.v.), "the ineradicable remembrance of a real and terrible event." (See Noah; Chaldea .)

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [5]

That universal flood which was sent upon the earth in the time of Noah, and from which there were but eight persons saved. Moses' account of this event is recorded in  Genesis 6:1-8:22 . See Ark Of Noah . The sins of mankind were the cause of the deluge; and most commentators agree to place it B. C. 2348. After the door of the ark had been closed upon those that were to be saved, the deluge commenced: it rained forty days; "the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened." All men and creatures living on the land perished, except Noah and those with him. For five months the waters continued to rise, and reached fifteen cubits above the highest summits to which any could fly for refuge; "a shoreless ocean tumble round the world." At length the waters began to abate; the highest land appeared, and the ark touched ground upon Mount Ararat. In three months more the hills began to appear. Forty days after, Noah tested the state of the earth's surface by sending out a raven; and then thrice, at intervals of a week, a dove. At length he removed the covering of the ark, and found the flood had disappeared; he came forth from the ark, reared an altar, and offered sacrifices to God, who appointed the rainbow as a pledge that he would no more destroy mankind with a fool.

Since all nations have descended from the family then preserved in the ark, it is natural that the memory of such an event should be perpetuated in various national traditions. Such is indeed the fact. These traditions have been found among the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Hindoos, Chinese, Japanese, Scythians, and Celts, and in the western hemisphere among the Mexicans, Peruvians, and South sea islanders. Much labor has been expanded in searching for natural causes adequate to the production of a deluge; but we should beware of endeavoring to account on natural principles for that which the Bible represents as miraculous.

In the New Testament, the deluge is spoken of as a stupendous exhibition of divine power, like the creation and the final burning of the world. It is applied to illustrate the long suffering of God, and assure us of his judgment on sin,  2 Peter 3:5-7 , and of the second coming of Christ,  Matthew 24:38 .

Webster's Dictionary [6]

(1): ( n.) Fig.: Anything which overwhelms, or causes great destruction.

(2): ( n.) A washing away; an overflowing of the land by water; an inundation; a flood; specifically, The Deluge, the great flood in the days of Noah (Gen. vii.).

(3): ( v. t.) To overwhelm, as with a deluge; to cover; to overspread; to overpower; to submerge; to destroy; as, the northern nations deluged the Roman empire with their armies; the land is deluged with woe.

(4): ( v. t.) To overflow with water; to inundate; to overwhelm.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [7]

Deluge. See Noah .

Holman Bible Dictionary [8]


Fausset's Bible Dictionary [9]

See Noah .

Morrish Bible Dictionary [10]


Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [11]

See Flood.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [12]

The narrative of a flood, given in the book of Genesis (Genesis 7-8), by which, according to the literal sense of the description, the whole world was overwhelmed and every terrestrial creature destroyed, with the exception of one human family and the representatives of each species of animal, supernaturally preserved in an ark, constructed by divine appointment for the purpose, need not here be followed in detail. The account furnished by the sacred historian is circumstantially distinct; and the whole is expressly ascribed to divine agency: but, in several of the lesser particulars, secondary causes, as rain, 'the opening of the windows of Heaven' , and the 'breaking up of the fountains of the great deep,' are mentioned, and again the effect of wind in drying up the waters . It is chiefly to be remarked that the whole event is represented as both commencing and terminating in the most gradual and quiet manner, without anything at all resembling the catastrophes and convulsions often pictured in vulgar imagination as accompanying it. When the waters subsided, so little was the surface of the earth changed that the vegetation continued uninjured; the olive-trees remained from which the dove brought its token.

We allude particularly to these circumstances in the narrative as being those which bear most upon the probable nature and extent of the event, which it is our main object in the present article to examine, according to the tenor of what little evidence can be collected on the subject, whether from the terms of the narrative or from other sources of information which may be opened to us by the researches of science.

Much, indeed, might be said on the subject in other points of view; and especially in a more properly theological sense, it may be dwelt upon as a part of the great series of divine interpositions and dispensations which the sacred history discloses. But our present object, as well as limits, will restrict us from enlarging on these topics; or, again, upon the various ideas which have prevailed on the subject apart from Scripture on the one hand, or science on the other. Thus, we need merely allude to the fact that in almost all nations, from the remotest periods, there have prevailed certain mythological narratives and legendary tales of similar catastrophes. Such narratives have formed a part of the rude belief of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Greeks, Scythians, and Celtic tribes. They have also been discovered among the Peruvians and Mexicans, and the South Sea Islanders. For details on these points we refer our readers to the work of Bryant (Ancient Mythology), and more especially to the treatise of the Rev. L.V. Harcourt on the Deluge, who appears to have collected everything of this kind bearing on the subject.

With reference to our present design the most material question is that of the existence of those traces which it might be supposed would be discovered of the action of such a deluge on the existing surface of the globe; and the consequent views which we must adopt according to the degree of accordance or discordance which such evidences may offer, as compared with the written narrative.

The evidence which geology may disclose and which can in any degree bear on our present subject must, from the nature of the case, be confined to indications of superficial action attributable to the agency of water, subsequent to the latest period of the regular geological formations, and, corresponding in character to a temporary inundation of a quiet and tranquil nature, of a depth sufficient to cover the highest mountains, and, lastly (as indeed this condition implies), extending over the whole globe; or, if these conditions should not be fulfilled, then, indications of at least something approaching to this, or with which the terms of the description may be fairly understood and interpreted to correspond.

The general result of the geological researches into this subject is briefly this: the traces of currents, and the like, which the surface of the earth does exhibit, and which might be ascribed to diluvial action of some kind, are certainly not the results of one universal simultaneous submergence, but of many distinct, local, aqueous forces, for the most part continued in action for long periods, and of a kind precisely analogous to such agency as is now at work. While, further, many parts of the existing surface show no traces of such operations; and the phenomena of the volcanic districts prove distinctly that during the enormous periods which have elapsed since the craters were active, no deluge could possibly have passed over them without removing all those lighter portions of their exuviæ which have evidently remained wholly untouched since they were ejected.

Upon the whole it is thus apparent, that we have no evidence whatever of any great aqueous revolution at any comparatively recent period having affected the earth's surface over any considerable tract: changes, doubtless, may have been produced on a small scale in isolated districts. The phenomena presented by caves containing bones, as at Kirkdale and other localities, are not of a kind forming any breach in the continuity of the analogies by which all the changes in the surface are more and more seen to have been carried on. But a recent simultaneous influx of water covering the globe, and ascending above the level of the mountains, must have left indisputable traces of its influence, which not only is not the case, but against which we have positive facts standing out. Apart from the testimonies of geology there are other sciences which must be interrogated on such a subject. These are, chiefly, terrestrial physics, to assign the possibility of a supply of water to stand all over the globe five miles in depth above the level of the ordinary sea—natural history, to count the myriads of species of living creatures to be preserved and continued in the ark—mechanics, to construct such a vessel—with some others not less necessary to the case. But we have no disposition to enter more minutely on such points: the reader will find them most clearly and candidly stated in Dr. Pye Smith's Geology and Scripture, etc. p. 130, 2nd edit.

Let us now glance at the nature and possible solutions of the difficulty thus presented. We believe only two main solutions have been attempted. One is that proposed by Dr. Pye Smith (ib. p. 294), who expressly contends that there is no real contradiction between these facts and the description in the Mosaic record, when the latter is correctly interpreted. This more correct interpretation then refers, in the first instance, to the proper import of the Scripture terms commonly taken to imply the universality of the deluge. These the author shows, by a large comparison of similar passages, are only to be understood as expressing a great extent; often, indeed, the very same phrase is applied to a very limited region or country, as in;; , etc. Thus, so far as these expressions are concerned, the description may apply to a local deluge.

Next, the destruction of the whole existing human race does not by any means imply this universality, since, by ingenious considerations as to the multiplication of mankind at the alleged era of the deluge; the author has shown that they probably had not extended beyond a comparatively limited district of the East.

A local destruction of animal life would also allow of such a reduction of the numbers to be included in the ark, as might obviate objections on that score; and here again the Oriental idiom may save the necessity of the literal supposition of every actual species being included.

Again, certain peculiar difficulties connected with the resting of the ark on Mount Ararat are combated by supposing the name incorrectly applied to the mountain now so designated, and really to belong to one of much lower elevation.

Lastly, this author suggests considerations tending to fix the region which may have been the scene of the actual inundation described by Moses, in about that part of Western Asia where there is a large district now considerably depressed below the level of the sea: this might have been submerged by the joint action of rain, and an elevation of the bed of the Persian and Indian Seas. And, finally, he quotes the opinions of several approved divines in confirmation of such a view, especially as bearing upon all the essential religious instruction which the narrative is calculated to convey.

Other attempts have been made with more or less probability to assign particular localities as the scene of the Mosaic deluge, if understood to have been partial. Some diluvial beds posterior to the tertiary formations have been occasionally pointed out as offering some probability of such an origin. Thus, e.g. Mr. W.J. Hamilton, secretary to the Geological Society, in his Tour in Asia Minor (vol. II, p. 386), found in the plains of Armenia, especially in some localities near Khorassan and on the banks of the Arpachai or Araxes, a remarkable thin bed of marl containing shells of tertiary (qu. recent?) species: these he attributes to a local deluge occurring (as the position of the bed indicates) after the cessation of the volcanic action which has taken place in that district. He expressly adds that he regards this deluge as probably coincident with the Mosaic; understanding the latter in a restricted or partial sense, and imagining it explained by physical causes which might have followed the volcanic action.

The only other mode of viewing the subject is that which, accepting the letter of the Scriptural narrative, makes the deluge strictly universal; and allowing (as they must be allowed) all the difficulties, not to say contradictions, in a natural sense, involved in it, accounts for them all by supernatural agency. In fact, the terms of the narrative, strictly taken, may perhaps be understood throughout as representing the whole event, from beginning to end, as entirely of a miraculous nature. If so, it may be said, there is an end to all difficulties or question, since there are no limits to omnipotence; and one miracle is not greater than another. Thus, Mr. Lyell (Principles of Geol. iv. 219. 4th ed.), after ably recapitulating the main points of evidence, as far as physical causes are concerned, remarks, 'If we believe the flood to have been a temporary suspension of the ordinary laws of the natural world, requiring a miraculous intervention of the divine power, then it is evident that the credibility of such an event cannot be enhanced by any series of inundations, however analogous, of which the geologist may imagine he has discovered the proofs. For my own part, I have always considered the flood, when its universality, in the strictest sense of the term, is insisted on as a preternatural event far beyond the reach of philosophical inquiry, whether as to the causes employed to produce it, or the effects most likely to result from it.'

In a word, if we suppose the flood to have been miraculously produced, and all the difficulties thus overcome, we must also suppose that it was not only miraculously terminated also, but every trace and mark of it supernaturally effaced and destroyed.

Now, considering the immense amount of supernatural agency thus rendered necessary, this hypothesis has appeared to some quite untenable. Dr. Pye Smith, in particular (whom no one will suspect of any leaning to skepticism), enlarges on the difficulty (p. 157, and note), and offers some excellent remarks on the general question of miracles (p. 84-89); and there can be no doubt that, however plausible may be the assertion that all miracles are alike, yet the idea of supernatural agency to so enormous an amount as in the present instance is, to many minds at least, very staggering, if not wholly inadmissible. In fact, in stretching the argument to such an extent, it must be borne in mind, that we may be trenching upon difficulties in another quarter, and not sufficiently regarding the force of the evidence on which any miracles are supported [MIRACLES].

In any point of view, it must be admitted that the subject involves difficulties of no inconsiderable amount; and if, after due consideration of the suggestions offered for their solution, we should still feel it necessary to retain a cautious suspense of judgment on the subject, it may be also borne in mind that such hesitation will not involve the dereliction of any material religious doctrine.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [13]

Bibliography Information McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Deluge'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [14]

Name given to the tradition, common to several races, of a flood of such universality as to sweep the land, if not the earth, of all its inhabitants, except the pair by whom the land of the earth was repeopled.