The Great Flood and Population Migrations

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Max Pfingsten

Max has an MA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Behavioral Genetics, a Master of Education, and a BA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Evolutionary Psychology.

For thousands of years, there has been a myth about The Great Flood. Learn about how there may be some truth to the Great Flood, as well as what may have caused the flood and the effects that it may have had on humans and their migration. Updated: 08/13/2021

The Story of Noah and the Ark

Most of us are familiar with the tale of Noah and the flood. For those of you who aren't, here's a quick recap.

God decides to flood the earth. He warns Noah of the impending flood. God orders Noah to build an ark, providing specific instructions about the dimensions and materials to be used. In the ark, Noah is to gather his family and two of every animal.

Noah does as he is told. He builds the ark, gathers his family and marches all the animals on board two by two. Then, it starts to rain.

God makes it rain for 40 days and 40 nights, flooding the earth. Noah, his family and the animals he gathered are the only survivors.

After the rains had stopped, Noah released a raven, which never returned. Seven days later, Noah released a dove, which returned having found nothing to land on. Seven days after that, Noah released the dove again. This time it returned with a sprig of olive. Another seven days and Noah released the dove. It never returned. Another seven days and Noah released the dove one last time. It never returned.

Noah knew this meant the dove had found land. The waters subsided and the ark landed on a mountain. Noah, his family and the animals left the ark, and God promised never to flood the earth again. And he left us the rainbow as a sign of this covenant.

Neat story, yes?

But what if it's not just a story?

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  • 0:06 The Story of Noah and the Ark
  • 1:46 Other Flood Myths
  • 4:40 Historical Accounts of…
  • 5:44 Indo-European Diaspora
  • 7:48 Benefits of the Great Flood
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Other Flood Myths

What if I were to tell you that this story shows up across numerous cultures, spaced across much of the world?

We find a similar tale in one of the oldest myths recorded, the Atra-Hasis, a Sumerian myth written on clay tablets more than 1,000 years before the story of Noah, around 1800 BCE.

Stories of a great flood similar to the biblical story of Noah are seen across other cultures
Other flood stories

The myth tells how Atrahasis, the hero of the story, was warned by the God Enki of the Goddess Enlil's plan to flood the earth. In this version, it was not man's wickedness that drove the gods to flood the earth. It was simply an attempt to control the human population, which they thought was growing out of control.

Enki also tells Atrahasis to build an ark, and gives him almost the exact same instructions even down to the materials and dimensions. Atrahasis builds the ark, boards it with his family and a bunch of animals, and survives the flood.

This story is found again in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, written eight centuries later, also on clay tablets. Here, the similarities to Noah run even deeper. Like before, a god, Ea this time, tells the hero, Utnapishtim, to build a massive ark and bring into it his family and all the animals of the field. The gods then flood the earth to punish humans for their sinful ways. The storm lasts for six days and six nights, and wipes out the rest of the human race.

Like Noah, Utnapishtim gets stuck on a mountain. Like Noah, he releases birds - first a dove, then a sparrow, then a raven. The first two return quickly. When the raven does not return, he knows it is safe to leave the ark. The goddess, Enlil, promises never to flood the earth again and rewards Utnapishtim with eternal life.

Thus, it seems that we've been telling the story of the flood as a species for almost 4,000 years. Most interpret this similarity as evidence that Noah's story is very old and was borrowed from earlier cultures.

This is probably true.

But that does not explain the fact that a great flood is featured in the mythology of almost every ancient culture. The Greek author, Hesiod, wrote of the flood, and it is mentioned in several ancient Hindu texts. Even the distant Mayans had their own, unique flood myths. Now, I can understand Greeks and Indians retelling a story they heard from a Babylonian, but how on earth would the Maya, on the other end of the world, have known the story as well?

That returns us to our earlier question. What if it's not just a story?

What if there actually was a flood some time in our history, but so long ago that the accounts survive only in myth? Some scholars believe they have found such a flood.

Historical Accounts of the Real 'Flood'

When we look back in the geological record, we find that around 8,200 years ago (6400 BCE), global temperatures dropped drastically. Scientists believe this sudden drop in temperature occurred when Lake Agassiz - a vast, prehistoric glacial lake that covered much of North America - finally melted out of the glacial walls that contained it and poured into the world's oceans. Sea levels may have risen by as much as two meters.

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