GNOSIS OF MYTH: Noah’s Ark

Introduction

There are numerous debates surrounding the story of Noah’s Ark.  Many are working feverishly to prove that it could have actually been a historical event, while others remain steadfastly convinced that it was a mythological tale intended to teach the universal truths about the human experience and condition.  Instead of throwing another hat into the ring, the intention of this article is to present the historical facts, allowing the truth to reveal itself.  It’s surprisingly easy to believe in something as adults that was taught to us in our youth and presented as fact, and it’s equally easy for us to believe something as fact when we have only a few details regarding it.

In other words: on the surface, Noah’s Ark doesn’t seem that unbelievable when we casually look at the general idea of the story.  Humans had become so evil that god needed to start over.  So, he enlisted a man named Noah to build a giant ark and put two of every animal on it in order to survive the deluge that God caused in order to wipe out life on planet Earth, so it could start again. Without looking too closely at this story, it doesn’t seem entirely impossible.  But, when we actually start to take a look up close, it becomes clear that the laws of physics would have made this an impossible event.

When we argue smaller details and overlook the bigger picture, it can be easy to get caught up in very misleading arguments.  For example:  When we spend our energy arguing over whether or not Noah could have actually built a wooden boat 450 feet long, or whether he took 30 million species or just 260 species, we overlook the much larger impossibilities such as the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that life on planet Earth was wiped out at any point in history, and especially from a worldwide flood, and that it began anew on Mount Ararat about 4,000 years ago and then spread to the rest of the world. Yet that kind of obfuscation is the exact tactic that has been used in these kinds of arguments throughout history, and often purposely, in order to cloud essential issues.

In fact, as you will soon see, the story of Noah’s Ark has its roots in a mythological tale that came long before, in a story called “The Epic of Gilgamesh”. I explain this in detail in my “GNOSIS OF MYTH: Epic of Gilgamesh” article.  Besides that, though, let’s arm you with the basic scientific knowledge that will empower you to take back a religious tradition that’s literally been highjacked by a power hungry elite bent on maintaining control over a populace.  The power of mythological stories are lost when such severe mistakes in reading happen (intentionally or not), and at this point many, including scholars feel that the only way to validate the stories and the whole of the Old Testament is by proving that it is based on historical events.

As has happened with every mythological tale since the first mythological tale was recorded, humans like to embellish.  The Epic of Gilgamesh, the original Noah’s Ark story (which came long before the Noah’s Ark story most are familiar with, and was likely used as a basis for the Noah’s Ark story in the Old Testament), was based on a real historical king named Gilgamesh.  But the historical Gilgamesh was not really two-thirds god and one-third human, nor did he battle gods or visit their Garden of Paradise.

But that’s not really the point of the Epic of Gilgamesh; its intent is to describe the Hero’s Journey as an allegory for the human journey we take from being asleep in our lives to awakening to our greater purpose.  It talks about our fall from grace and our birth into this linear, imperfect reality where we all share one inescapable common experience; we’re mortal and will face death.  It’s the original story of nonduality. It single-handedly created an archetype simply by making universal truths within our subconscious minds visible and relatable.  And to me, being able to identify and share in that experience is where the power of mythology lies; not in whether or not they can be proven to be historical events.

So, speaking of historical events, these are simply the facts we have to work with when examining the tale of Noah’s Ark:

The age of Noah

Noah would have been 600 years old when he built the boat, and according to the Old Testament timeline, he lived 350 years after the flood.  Not only has no human in history ever lived to be 950 years old, imagine building a boat when one is 600 years old, with a 98 year old son helping you.  This is some of the clearest evidence that the story was not meant to be historical fact, but was another mythology in a world steeped in mythological stories.  Many apologists and literalists argue that before the time of Noah, humans lived much longer lives, but again, there is absolutely no evidence to support that theory.

Size & Technology of the Ark

The ark is described as having three decks, a roof, and a door. The ark would be 300 cubits long and 30 cubits wide by 50 cubits high.  At 450 feet long, it would have been almost as big as a modern supertanker.  The catch is that the writers of this story weren’t engineers, and didn’t realize that it would be physically impossible to build a boat this size only of wood.  Furthermore, the only way modern engineers know how to build a boat of that size is to use metal framing as a key element.  At the time Noah’s Ark would have been built, there was no such technology.

As Tom Vosner, an expert on ancient boats explains, the ark would not have been able to hold its shape, and would simply have sunk like a stone into the ocean.

Number of Animals

Noah had just seven days to gather the estimated 30 million species of animals on earth. Even at 50 pairs of animals it would have taken him 30 years to complete this task.  Also, there would be no way to cram 2 of each animal into the ark.  Even with a fleet of arks, there wouldn’t be enough room.  And that’s not accounting for microscopic plant and animal life, the fact that the food required to feed these animals would have taken another fleet of boats, the fact that there’s no way to prevent any of the animals from eating each other, and the list goes on.

Sometimes the argument is that there were actually only 260 pairs of animals in total, due to comments in Genesis 7:2 and two other passages where Noah’s ark is mentioned.  In these places the verse specifies that “seven pairs of clean animals” were to be taken.  But it takes a misreading of the verse to come to the above conclusion.  Since “clean” animals were used as sacrifices as well as food, there needed to be be more of them on the ark than just the one pair of each.  The command was to take seven pairs of those animals instead of one (like all the others), not to take only clean animals. The Old Testament god seemed to like birds as well; he also commanded that, unlike unclean animals that only get one pair of every kind, birds, to “keep their kind alive” got a whopping seven pairs each, too!

If there WERE only 260 pairs of animals, the argument goes, the ark could have been much smaller.  But this argument not only directly contradicts Genesis 6:15, where the dimensions of 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide by 30 cubits tall for the ark are given, it also contradicts Genesis 6:19 which states; “And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.”

Moses must have been under a bit of pressure:  Not only did he have to herd 30,000,000 species into his ark at a pace of 50 pairs per second, roll call must have been an astounding feat. When I was checking in animal 24,000,000, I probably would have forgotten all about animal 50, and with 300,000 pages of animals to sift through…what a clerical nightmare.  Even if Moses kept the names of 100 species per page (perhaps he was also incredible skilled with a pen), that’s 300,000 pages of animal names he had to keep track of.  Since ancient papyrus weighs far more than an average sheet of modern paper (.15 ounces per page), he would have been lugging around well over 2,500 pounds of paper on his clipboard!

Worldwide Flood Signature

The Bible claims it rained until the entire world was covered in water.  There would be a very clear signature of such a massive flood, but geologists have not only found no evidence supporting that theory, they have found overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  A geologist (Ian Plimer) who’s actually searched the world over for this signature has clearly concluded that there is no evidence for the great flood at all.  He considered the sediment layers in Australia from 4000 years ago, at the time when the great flood was supposed to have happened, and he found no evidence of any massive flooding or the erosion it would have caused at that point in time (Plimer 1994).

Some say that perhaps it was only the known world that was flooded, and not the entire world, which would account for the lack of evidence in Australia.  Now, surely, the god who made the world with his own hand would know that the area around the Black Sea wasn’t the whole world.  Regardless, why would this all-powerful god have flooded only a small area of the world? Again, though, it only takes a cursory look at the actual text of the scripture to see what was actually said. In Genesis 7:4, God states: “I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.”  And later, in Genesis 7:19-23 we see: “And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.  And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.  And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.”

These passages do not indicate that the all-powerful God was only flooding a small part of the world.  They indicate that God was flooding the ENTIRE world, and that he killed every living being in that world other than those that were on the ark.  In light of these passages, to suggests that God only flooded the known world would indicate that he was only the God of a small part of the world!

Amount of Water

Water is a non-renewable resource.  To reach the top of the Himalayas, there would have to be more water than there is on, in, or above the planet earth, even if all the ice in the world were to melt. In fact, as Ian Plimer explains, we know how much water Earth has in total.  It’s definitely not enough to flood the continents.

Forty days and forty nights of rainstorms isn’t enough to cover the world either way, no matter how hard it was raining.

So, apologists look to even more far-fetched examples: the Bible talks about “deep springs” (which conveniently, no one in Biblical times was able to disprove).  The only problem with this is that these alleged geysers would have to spew so much water that they would have spewed enormous amounts of sulfur at the same time, creating an atmosphere that would have destroyed any living creature on Earth.  At minimum, any living creature that relied on oxygen surely would have perished. Furthermore, Genesis does not talk about water coming out of the ground. It only talks about rain as the cause of the flood, and indeed, this is one of the reasons that Biblical apologists use to refute the claim that the Flood story in Genesis is based on the Flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Even if there were enough water, the atmosphere would have been so thick following such geyser eruptions that there would be no way to breathe the air, and there would be so much pressure from that water our lungs would have simply been crushed.  Just like divers who can only go so deep under the water’s surface before they would be crushed, the same is true if there were tons of water vapor in the earth’s atmosphere

And then…Biblical apologists suggest that the flood was caused by ice from space.  The only problem with this is that there would be geological evidence of such an event.  Beyond that, though, an event of such magnitude would be so cataclysmic, that it would have destroyed all life on earth simply because of its impact. Scientists estimate that a comet/meteor with enough water in it to cover the earth would be about 1000 miles wide.  That’s 200 miles wider than the state of Texas, half the width of Australia!

Furthermore, the friction and the impact of such an event would have global repercussions.  The entire atmosphere of the Earth would rise to 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit, vaporizing the flood waters and destroying any ark that might have been floating on top of those waters.  Life would be wiped out almost instantly, and it would continue as waves of devastation across the whole of the planet.  There would have been no ark, there would have been no life at all.

What I think is one of the obvious things that no one has touched upon is if there was such a great deluge, any historical evidence from prior to the flood would have been wiped out and (literally) billions (yes, billions) of years of evolution would have not only had to restart spontaneously and all at once, it would have had to have started from a single place on top of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark allegedly landed.

That great mystery of how life began…it would have had to begin all over again, completely from scratch, and if any of us have learned anything about evolution on planet Earth, whether or not we believe that it was guided by an intelligent hand, this is about 3.5 billion years too few to completely re-evolve and repopulate the entire Earth.  But again, that’s not even accounting for the fact that the entire planet would have been a veritable wasteland, devoid of life, perhaps not actually capable of sustaining life anymore, at least not for many more thousands of years than the time since the story took place.

It becomes obvious, when one takes more than a cursory look, how absolutely absurd this becomes.  And, one that can of worms is opened, an entirely new set of questions occurs, such as why there is immense historical evidence that still exists, worldwide from before the flood, and there’s not a shred of evidence that any of that history was under any kind of floodwaters for 150 days.  In a desperate grasping of straws by apologists, it’s been pointed out that papyrus documents would have dissolved under the floodwaters, especially under the conditions that would have existed if such a deluge occurred, and that the oldest papyrus scroll happens to be dated to about 2985 BCE, right around the time when the flood was said to have occurred.  This is as red a red herring as I’ve perhaps ever seen.

It’s also interesting to note that at the time in history when the story of Noah’s Ark unfolds (circa 3000 BCE according to Biblical apologists), science has evidence of plenty of life all over the world, not just in the middle east.  Please look to the TIMELINE OF RELIGIONS (created by A. Szostek) for a fun and detailed overview of what else was going on besides Noah allegedly building his ark.  The Indus Valley Civilization was flourishing in Northwestern India, Stonehenge was being built, the Cult of Dionysus was emerging in Greece, and countless other verifiable historical events.  None of these things would have been possible if the worldwide deluge as described in the story of Noah’s Ark actually had wiped out all but a very small amount of life on the planet.

Sightings of the Ark

Supposedly, Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat, which is located in Eastern Turkey.  And this is where the animals were let out of the ark to repopulate the world.  The problem with even this part of the story (suspending our disbelief for the fact that we couldn’t even have gotten to the point where Noah’s Ark is seaworthy) is that the geological and archaeological records do not support the idea that the entire world was populated from a single mountaintop in Turkey.  Overwhelming evidence shows a very clear path of humans out of Africa, many tens of thousands of years before the story of Noah’s Ark was supposed to have taken place.

If the entire planet was repopulated from the 30 million species that were impossible to fit on to an impossible ark, there would be some sort of evidence of this massive historical event taking place.  There would be a “clean slate” upon which we could see a clear path of migrations of people, plants and animals from Ararat to the rest of the world.  There’s not a shred of evidence that this occurred.  Although, after a 40 day and 40 night rain storm and a subsequent 150 day flood, there would be some very hungry animals on that ark, and at least a few of the species would have been eaten the moment they stepped off the ark until the world somehow magically repopulated its entire 30 million species in a few short years. Many species would have ended up in the belly of predators!

Timeline of the Story

Most scholars agree that the story of Noah’s Ark was written down in the 6th century BCE by using clues in the language the account was written in.  Scholars also agree that Jewish priests, in exile in Babylon (today’s Iraq), were the scribes who wrote the account.  This fact brings up the single-most important evidence regarding Noah’s Ark; a mythological tale known as “The Epic of Gilgamesh” that was mentioned at the top of this article.  Not only does this story have a flood tale that is uncannily like the story of Noah’s Ark, all evidence shows that it was written long before the story of Noah’s Ark.

Furthermore, if we look at a map of humans at that time in history, it becomes vividly clear that those Jewish scribes would have been intimately familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh.

As discussed in the “GNOSIS OF MYTH: Epic of Gilgamesh” article, the authors of the Flood story in Genesis would have been intimately familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh, and would have had a vested interest in creating their own uniquely Jewish myths based on this powerful story.  The land of Israel was of particular interest to ancient powers because it was a crossroads between Africa (especially Egypt) and Asia (especially Mesopotamia). “Armies would want garrisons along this route to provide a supply line.  Merchants would pass through selling and buying their wares…With the entire ancient world constantly passing through this region, it was also a strategic location in terms of communication” (Walton & Hill 2004).  This means that the people of Israel were constantly being exposed to other cultures and their mythologies.

Israel also faced many upheavals from other cultures during the period of the writing of Genesis. In 722 BCE, Israel was conquered by the Assyrians.  During this century, the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal had a very complete version of the Epic of Gilgamesh in his library, indicating that the myth was still very much in circulation at this time.  When Israel was conquered, many Assyrians moved to Israel, bringing with them their gods, many of which were installed in the Temple of Jerusalem!  So, it is clear that the myth of Gilgamesh would have been widely known in Israel during this period.

Then, in 598, the Assyrians, and Jerusalem along with it, were conquered by Babylon.  The Jews attempted to rebel against their new leaders, at which point the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar moved the nobility and upper class of Jerusalem to Babylon in exile in order to keep an eye on them.  The Temple of Jerusalem was then destroyed.

The Priestly writer of the Genesis Flood story probably ended up in Babylon in this way.  Prior to the Babylonian Exile, Judaism was a monotheistic religion with an invisible god and fairly diffuse practices.  Some Jews were happy to worship Yahweh along with other gods, such as Ashera and Baal, while others felt that this was wrong.  Some practiced circumcision, while others did not. There was no set ‘law’ that dictated how to be Jewish.  However, the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the priestly class necessitation the creation of a stable Jewish identity. If this had not been done, it would have been very easy for the Jewish people to convert to the religions of the foreigners that now surrounded them.

Therefore, practices such as circumcision and strict monotheism became NECESSARY aspects of Jewish identity. It was at this time that the Torah was also canonized, forming a concrete scripture for the Jewish people. This scripture borrowed from many neighboring religions, adding a Jewish twist to the myths of others in order to create a scripture that was uniquely Jewish but that also appealed to Jews who were attracted to the powerful myths of the conquering cultures. Thus, the flood story is clearly a borrowing from the Epic of Gilgamesh, designed to create a Jewish sense of identity in a confusing and fractured world.

A Plausible Theory

Now, there is a flood theory which offers some support for the concept of a massive regional flood that would have inspired both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the later Genesis flood story.  Indeed, many other cultures have flood stories as well.  For example, Irish legends speak of Queen Cesair and her court, who sailed seven years to avoid drowning when oceans overwhelmed Ireland.  In fact, European explorers in the Americas were startled by legends of the indigenous tribes that sounded very similar to the story of Noah.

One theory, posited by Columbia University geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman, suggests that there was a catastrophic flood around 7000 BCE in which the Black Sea overflowed its banks.  Archaeological evidence does seem to support this theory, and the flood would have been large enough to cover much of the middle east.  According to the theory, during the Ice Age, the Black Sea was an isolated freshwater lake.  Toward the end of the Ice Age, around 12,000 years ago, the Earth began to warm up.  Vast sheets of ice began to melt, and so oceans and seas grew deeper.  Around 7,000 years ago, the Mediterranean Sea swelled and water pushed north through Turkey. The water was funneled through the narrow Bosporus Strait, and hit the Black Sea with 200 times the force of Niagra Falls.  The sea would have risen six inches a day, flooding coastal farms rapidly.  This event would have been catastrophic, and would no doubt have been mythologized by survivors in a story such as the Epic of Gilgamesh (National Geographic 1999).

The Most Plausible Explanation

A mere 150 years ago, an incredible discovery was made in the mountains of Ninevah, in Iraq. This was the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Without question, this single discovery literally rewrites the books on religious traditions, especially the Christian tradition.  It reveals that Noah’s Ark was actually taken from a much earlier mythological tale.  Not surprisingly, just as happened with the Nag Hammadi Library, it has largely been dismissed, ignored, and outright denied, simply because it doesn’t the fit the paradigm that’s been overlaid onto what originally was a beautiful, mystical-based religious tradition, rich in mythological stories that continue to speak the same truths that are relevant to every one of us and our quest to find our own personal god and meaning in our lives.

History has repeatedly shown that the Christian Bible has an unparalleled flair for exaggeration and drama.  It’s shown that other religious traditions not only existed long before Judaism came to be (See “Jesus and Buddha” by for an unparalleled comparison of Buddhism and Christianity), but that countless elements of these earlier traditions are interspersed throughout the pages of the Bible.  The example of Noah’s Ark is perhaps one of the easiest bodies of evidence to show that much of the Bible is based on earlier mythologies, and not on actual historical events.  It puts to rest the continued debate of whether at least some of the stories of the Old Testament were meant to be a historical record or a powerful teaching tool of mythological proportions.  Again, this isn’t to say that mythological tales aren’t based on truths, many are based in fact, but are embellished and presented in a way that makes them larger than life, full of heroes and fantastical places and creatures, making them easy to remember and capable of holding our interest generation after generation.

So, by treating the mythological tale of Noah’s Ark as a historical event, it prevents us from understanding and grasping the true meaning of this beautiful allegory.  After all, this is the very essence and purpose of mythological tales; they speak to universal truths of the human experience that cannot be explained in any other way.  Myths truly are the transcendental link between the human and the Divine, and when we try to read them literally, that powerful message is lost completely.  The very essence of mythological tales is to help us understand and accept the human condition as well as our mutual search to find god and to find god within ourselves.

Joseph Campbell was a pioneer who empowered each one of us to discover the true meaning within stories like Noah’s Ark and the power of the metaphors contained within them. We all have the power to take back the religious traditions that disconnected every one of us from our own source of power and our direct and very personal connection with the Divine.  Mythological tales are about you, about me, and about every human that has ever lived.  The heroes aren’t anything more than an allegory of our own mutual human struggle, the fantastical creatures are the hurdles we need to overcome in our lives, and the fantastical places represent the landscape of our own minds; the stages upon which those struggles are played out.

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