Friday, May 20, 2022


hello and welcome to the catholic challenge i'm your host luke lancaster and today we're going to be talking about noah and the flood so this account is found in genesis chapters 6 7 8 and 9. .

Where a lot of christians have been told have been taught that explicitly from what the bible says that there was a massive worldwide flood due to sin and that noah was chosen by god as a righteous man and that god told them to build a massive wooden ark structure that was just like the size of a football stadium .

And then that ark went through the waters for 40 days and 40 nights during which the entire world was flooded however is that to be interpreted literally or is that more figuratively .

To joining the show today is dr tremper longman tremper logman is a biblical scholar i've read a number of his works through my studies in scripture and i've i've really grown to appreciate his work and he co-authored a book titled the lost world of scripture the .

Lost world of the flood so dr longman how are you doing today uh great luke um nice rainy day here in alexandria virginia where i live but it's good to be here with you yes thank you thank you all right so jumping into this question of noah in the flood in this book you .

Really go through how often times we try to we we frequently interpret scripture like very literally um but sometimes that's not actually the intended meaning or the genre of the text itself so how would you .

View genesis 6 through 9. yeah thanks luke that's a great way of posing the question because it's really really important to understand the genre of the text or what the author is intending to communicate because as i often say genre triggers reading strategy .

Once you recognize the genre of a text it tells you how to take the words of the author and uh and i i you know genesis 6 through 9 obviously occurs within the context of genesis 1 to 11 which we often refer to as the primeval history it's talking about the .

Deep deep past and it's telling us things that are important for us to know to understand the call of abraham why god calls abraham and gives him the promises that he gives him including uh to bring a blessing to uh many nations all the nations of the world and so .

Um so genesis 1 to 11 like genesis 12 and following is talking about things that really really happened okay it's talking about things that happened god created everything and everyone including human beings .

Uh it's uh talking in terms of god sending a flood but my contention in reading genesis 1 to 11 is that it's talking about these historical events using figurative language uh and we're not we're not intended to read it literally .

There's a lot of signals early on in the text to signal that says saint augustine recognized you know the days of of genesis 1 aren't to be taken literally even though they're described .

As days with evenings and mornings but he said these aren't solar days uh origen said much the same around 300 a.d so uh and their point was hey look you don't even have a sun and moon and stars till day four and .

And therefore these must be a figurative use of a week and we could go on and i'm sure we'll talk about where the figurative language uh emerges or becomes recognizable in genesis 6 through 9 as well yeah yeah i think that's that's so key in particular to emphasize how you know .

Just from the very beginning genesis 1. it goes through in the morning and in the evening morning then evening at seven literal days is what it's describing um yet the sun is normally the .

That's the scientific thing that causes morning and day and night like the sun rising and setting the earth's rotation around the sun at the tilt of the earth so how could how could there be day and night for three days and then the sun getting created on the fourth day that's that's very difficult to try .

And claim that that is then a literal explanation but more of a figurative explanation or a way of theologically explaining the universe um yeah so what are what are some signs within genesis six to nine in particular noah and the flood that indicate that this is more of a hyperbolic uh description of a flood .

Maybe a local flood event yeah so uh and you've named the main type of figurative language there which is hyperbole and uh and and you see it in many places throughout the narrative including like in 6'5 when .

Human sin is being described as every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time now i would say that's a hyperbolic statement but it's a true statement uh hyperbole you know is true it's basically saying these people are pervasively sinful and evil .

Uh or 612 all the people on earth had corrupted their ways uh of course i would also highlight um the dimensions of the ark which you were referring to earlier in chapter 6 verse 15 it talks about this boat being 300 .

Cubits long and 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high it's particularly the length that i i think is hyperbolic that's 450 feet that's a football field and a half and no wooden boat has ever been built in the .

History of humanity that comes close to those dimensions and uh and so i think that's hyperbole i remember once walking with four or five of my fellow biblical scholars uh and we were actually there for a panel discussion we had different perspectives on how to .

Take genesis 1 2. but we were on the campus of bryant college in tennessee who was hosting this and they had built their administration building along the dimensions of the arc and um as we all looked at it we kind of go wow it does seem like a hyperbolic .

Hyperbolic description of the dimensions of the the ark and we could go on you know um 7 19 all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered the waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than 15 cubits so even if you take the mountain on which are on which the ark ultimately settles .

Mount ararat which is near lake van uh it's over 16 000 feet high and so you can imagine another 23 feet above that that it just uh strikes one and i would say that the original readers would have understood this as a hyperbolic uh description and this is very common throughout the bible like using .

Hyperbole i mean and hyperbole doesn't mean you can't interpret it literally like if somebody says you know the it was raining cats and dogs right like interpreting that phrase literally would mean that not that there was literal cats and dogs raining but actually that it was raining .

Really heavily the truth that you're trying to convey in this hyperbolic way so there are other places in the bible that use hyperbolic language could you share some of those with us well the one that i'd really like to highlight is found in the first .

Joshua and you know i asked listeners to read through joshua 1 through 12 and particularly the summary statements in joshua 12 you know so we hear about joshua's battles and then in joshua 12 it gives this summary of .

Of the kings defeated and the land taken and it basically is the entire land of the promised land but if you turn to chapter 13 and following where the high priest the lots various territories to .

The different tribes there also large paragraphs within that that say and these this is the land that's not taken and if you sit down with the map and work it out uh when you read joshua 13 i'm following very closely it is um .

It's saying that well joshua actually controlled about 50 of the land but joshua 1 through 12 is typical of battle reports in the ancient air east that uh that have a lot of hyperbole in it and then we have to remember that joshua 1 through 12 is not some kind of .

Dry statistical um presentation of the details of the battle but it's a celebration it's a celebration of the beginning of the fulfillment of the uh abrahamic promise that god would give israel land .

Yeah i think that's that's so key there when i was going through your book biblical history of israel um i was really like intrigued by that about how it basically describes like joshua had decimated the whole land like it uses this language kind of like if we were playing basketball and if i beat somebody in basketball and i said i .

Decimated him i just abolished him i destroyed him he's gone his existence and like if you were to take that literally that's not what i actually intended the literal truth was hyperbole there um and like that's so common in the ancient near east i remember uh you quoted younger .

Who uh did a study of the whole ancient near east uh which is just the context of where israel was writing the hebrew bible and it describes how the conquest accounts are always explained in universalistic terminology is that right yeah a matter of fact maybe a good example is .

The first extra biblical uh that is mentioned of israel outside the bible is on something called the mernepta stila sometimes called the israel stila mernepto was the son of ramesses and .

It's dated to 1208 bc and it was written after bernepta had done a kind of plundering military incursion into into palestine and now he was from egypt right yeah yeah he's from egypt and this stila was found in egypt but and this was during the period of the judges so there were lots of canaanites around too but .

But when uh merdeka talks about israel it says this israel's seed is no more in other words just like your basketball analogy i completely decimated israel but of course he didn't he surely defeated them but he didn't eradicate every single israelite .

Yeah so and then you know the book the book of joshua describes it as if it was like total decimation like joshua just defeated everybody um but then like you said like the rest of the book of joshua and then the whole book of judges describes how all these nations are still around all these peoples that joshua supposedly wiped out extinguished .

Decimated um were still there yeah so i mean it was hyperbolic language there yeah and then there are other like instances of hyperbole like one of the ancient near eastern kings sargon i remember him how like he conquers the whole known world .

Uh yes right yeah or um like the exile from jerusalem where the people of israel are defeated by babylon and then they're exiled they leave their land but it's described in this universalistic yeah yeah terminology there um i think that's just so fascinating to consider so i guess that can just lead into our next question of um how does .

The story of the flood compare to the ancient near east yeah so so it is interesting that we do have other ancient near eastern flood stories that go back to sumerian times the sumerians being the ones who basically invented writing for the first time around 3100 bc though these uh .

Examples are going to come from from the end of the third millennium into the second millennium bc but um there's a a brief mention of the flood in something called the sumerian king list and there it says the flood swept there .

Over after the flood had swept there over when kingship was lowered from uh from there so at least eight uh kings who ruled in southern mesopotamia before the flood and then and then goes on after the flood uh then there's something called the .

Irredu genesis eradu being a sumerian city and this dates to about 1600 bc so it's after the sumerian period but sumerian's still being used as a written text and there the god enki tells zia sudra which is the name of the flood .

Hero in this text to build an ark and he obeys it and then after the uh flood he walks out and offers sacrifices very reminiscent of the basic structure of the genesis flood story but the most detailed flood story that we have comes from the lengthy gilgamesh epic .

Which is written in acadian and um written early in the second millennium though the the acadian text that is most often translated is from the first millennium bc though it's containing a story that goes way way way back and .

Just real quickly it it it talks about this king gilgamesh who wants to find a man named utnapishtam because utnapishtim is the only human being who ever achieved eternal life and gilgamesh is kind of worried after he sees his friend enkidu about mortality and the meaning of life so he goes and searches out episteme to find out .

How he got eternal life and that leads to pishnam to tell gilgamesh the story of the flood when the god end lil gets so upset that he decides to destroy all of humanity and he makes all the gods swear not to tell human beings .

Not to warn them but the god of wisdom aya also known as enki he uh craftily doesn't talk directly to utnapishm but to his reed house and says build an ark and he builds an ark unlike the in the flood story in the bible this ark .

Is a big cube uh but then he gathers all the animals on board takes his whole family takes a whole bunch of other people on board too so there are differences but the basic plot is very similar and then the flood waters come and he .

Rides it out and after the flood waters recede on a mountain named nitsir uh he opens up the doors he first thing well first of all before he opens up the doors he sends out three birds in in an interestingly different order than in the bible in the bible noah sends out a raven then a dove then .

A dove a second time whereas bhutan piston sends out a dove a dove and then a raven but once they determine the waters have dried enough to go out uh utena piston then goes out offers a sacrifice to the gods and one of the fascinating things about this particular .

Flood story is the kind of uh sort of negative sarcastic portrayal of the gods because it says when he offered the sacrifices the gods gathered around it like flies you know like uh picnic bbq where the flies come because they're so hungry yeah .

And uh and then but basically what a piston is telling gilgamesh is sorry my friend but i got eternal life through this one-off event it's not for you and so gilgamesh eventually goes back to his hometown a chastened and more mature king hmm there you go yeah so it's very comparable to genesis six to nine so .

It's just the context of which israel is developing within and writes this uh description of noah we're gonna take a quick break and get back into this so i will see you in just a moment oh .

b b i'm supposed to be b .

We're back to the catholic challenge continuing to go over the flood account in genesis 6 to 9. so some there are a few different details that you give in this book uh that i found very interesting one of which was the name of noah itself was there a was there a literal .

Noah figure uh and this is his name truly noah um that that's a good question and uh and i would say uh yes uh but we can't be absolutely certain because it is a figurative depiction of .

A historical event i do think that there is a historical event behind the flood story which leads me to believe there is a noah-like figure involved in the historical background of it but whether he literally rode out the flood in a boat or .

Observed this rather drastic regional flood i'm i'm not sure i can say with great certainty nor can i um nor can i um nor do i think it's important for the the the theological significance of the story .

Yeah yeah i know one thing that um your colleague john walton emphasizes how there's like the name the hebrew language itself like developed after this right yes yes that's right yeah like that his name probably wouldn't have been noah because the language didn't exist uh during the time that that local flood would have .

Occurred um that's a good that's a very good point uh and i should have picked up on it earlier uh and so but you're exactly right about that mm-hmm yeah and then another thing you guys mentioned in the book is uh the wood um which the ark would have been made out .

Of uh could you expand a bit more on whether or not it was literal wood that was utilized to build this massive arc structure yeah i um again i'm i'm you know one of the things as as we talk about in the book the event itself is not theologically significant it's the presentation of the event which is .

Theologically significant so to try to reconstruct some of the details with historical events uh would be um i think sometimes you you can't be dogmatic about it but it's a lot of wood and yeah i think um .

You think that it might not have been literal wood but like read uh read something like that yeah so so we do know that boats were constructed from uh papyrus reeds in antiquity and again you know we're we're probably talking about an event that took place so long ago .

Uh like 7 000 years ago at the end of the last ice age so our contention in the book is that there was a massive massive regional flood .

That so imprinted its self on human memory that it was passed down from generation to generation and and took different shape depending on the religion of the people handing it down and of course john and i .

Uh believe that the biblical account is the theologically true account not the babylonian account that if you compare the two the biggest difference has to do with the conception of the gods you know their polytheistic kind of pagan ideas about religion are .

Being used to interpret this flood event whereas we would argue that the israelite or biblical portrayal of the flood is interpreting the flood in the light of true religion yeah there's one god the lord alone um so yeah we we have that .

So then what would be the the deeper like theological significance of uh the flood event itself i would think more generally would be like god punishes or like there was a flood event and israel is saying like this was a punishment from god due to sin right yeah absolutely and i think uh .

Luke that if you study genesis 6 to 9 in the context of genesis 3 to 11 you see four stories that have the same sort of literary pattern that has great theological significance cain and abel the um well first of all sorry genesis 3 .

Uh the fall with adam and eve then kane and abel and then the flood story and then the tower of babel has a slightly different um slightly different structure but uh but so um .

and that and that structure is they're stories of sin uh followed by a judgment speech by god which ends with the execution of that judgment on the sinners but there's always a token of grace there's always a token of grace so so you know the beginning of the blood .

Story starts out by talking about the pervasive sin the violence of that generation and then god announces that he's going to bring a flood bond sinful human beings and then of course the flood story itself is the execution of that .

Announced judgment but then the token of grace is the preservation of noah and his family and the fact and what this is saying theologically uh is human beings are uh sort of sort of uh addicted to sin .

And god doesn't let sin slide he judges sin but on the other hand the tokens of grace are indications that god will stay involved with his sinful people to pursue them to .

Uh to achieve reconciliation with them and the variation in the tower of babel story is that is that there's no token of grace within the story itself genesis 11 1 to 9. though some scholars i think there's some merit to this .

See the creation of languages as it's described in genesis 10 as a kind of token of grace uh but but i think the reason why there's not a token of grace in this final story is because it's moving now to the abraham story god will now pursue reconciliation through the choice of .

Abraham and his descendants to to bring a blessing to the whole world yeah all of just all of genesis 1 to 11 is just leading up to abraham the very beginning of the israelite religion who was given these promises by god they would have .

The land of israel that would be their land and he'd have numerous descendants he'd be blessed by god this is all just leading up to that and demonstrating how god judges sin i think that's just that's just so key to the entire bible right that's just a constant theological point of god uh judges sinfulness uh one example .

That i you know i think of is david you know where king david had been you know living a good life he's a man after god's own heart he writes all these psalms to god uh the king of israel considered to be like one of the most one of the greatest kings of israel um but then he falls into two sins adultery and murder and then god .

Punishes him with the death of his firstborn son and of course he had some other punishments as well but like just god judges sin it gives him that temporal punishment or for zachariah when uh he is going to have his son john the baptist the lead up to jesus um he had doubted the angel gabriel's message .

About having a son having john the baptist and then he was struck mute temporal punishment immediately uh punishment another another good example that springs to mind is uh moses himself i mean in numbers 20 he rather than speaks to the rock he strikes it and he presumptuously says .

May do you want me or aaron and me to bring water forth rather than you know attributing it to god and it isn't as if god sort of damns him forever but he says no because of this you won't go into the promised land so so the good news is i i think it's good .

News that god judges sin uh i think this is something that 21st century including our own he just doesn't let it slide i think this is something a lot of 21st century westerners forget about when they get all upset about god's judgment but i think you know maybe witnessing what's going .

On in ukraine now you know people can see the type of evil that was kind of commonplace in the ancient near eastern world the kind of raw aggressive uh kind of sin .

Yeah yeah exactly so it's just uh and we just constantly need to be reminded of this message of like we're going to be judged uh for our sins so that's a message the world needs to hear and that's why we have that story of noah in the flood um and this story of noah and the flood i mean i imagine there was floods very calm i imagine floods were .

Very common in in the ancient world because they were always there their communities would have been you know stationed near a water source yeah yeah no i i think so but just real quickly if i may uh yeah i also became a christian back in when i was in high school 50 years ago .

When uh somebody gave me the late great planet earth by hal lindsey and even though i disagree with the interpretation of uh of end time uh prophecies that lindsey gibson there he got one thing right and that is jesus is coming back and he is going to .

Judge the wicked and he's going to save his people and i knew i was on the wrong side at that time so the message of judgment is can you know bring people to uh god too yeah yeah you're right you're .

Right getting back to your point luke you're exactly right they there were a lot of floods um indeed like in the 1920s the leonard woolley had discovered a pretty significant evidence of flooding that would have been i think toward the end of the third .

Millennium bc and then he thought he saw the same significa the same evidence of flooding uh you know pretty far away and so he at that point posited that that might be evidence for a big regional local flood that could have led to the flood tradition it turned out .

Later that he had his dating off on a couple of uh and they weren't exactly at the same time but as john and i think about it and we're not saying this is definitely the flood that um imprinted itself on the minds of people that led to the various flood traditions .

But archaeologists have have pretty conclusively shown that there was this massive flood around asia minor around 7000 bc when with the melding of the at the last ice age the waters of the mediterranean what we call .

The mediterranean now rose to the point that they just kind of rushed across what today is turkey to form the black sea which previously had been a smaller sort of freshwater lake so um so there's a lot of really great writing about this uh there was a archaeological .

Team from harvard and the smithsonian that discovered this evidence when they were able to do some underwater archaeology and find a uh the ancient coastline where there were actually the remnants of human habitation 60 or 70 miles off the coast and the .

Reason why these wooden the remnants of these wooden structures survived is because the water is so deep apparently in the black sea at that point that there's no oxygen so so it's a fascinating story i i forget the name of the book that they wrote to describe their discovery but i we cited in um in our .

Book lost world of the flood yeah i think that's so fascinating being able to i learned about that in my old testament class as well of that of uh wooly's archaeological excavations of i think it was like eight feet of sediment in mesopotamia or something like that it just demonstrated there was some type of local flood i mean floods happen you .

Know i imagine the nile river would would flood in egypt or maybe the jordan river close to israel sometimes would flood or not flooding a curse and so um yeah the fact that israel though always just you know commonly describes things in hyperbolic terminology leads us to believe that you .

Don't have to interpret genesis 6 to 9 in a strictly like literalistic whole world flooded there all right we're going to take another quick break and we will be back in just a moment so i will see you then uh .

Uh we're back to the catholic challenge going over noah and the flood so one thing that i wanted to bring up is how there are a lot of people who .

Will interpret genesis 6 and 9 the flood account with noah as a literalistic history and they'll try to emphasize that this it has to mean that and that if anybody in geology tries to rebut that uh that just a lot of geologists are just wrong and .

That there definitely was a worldwide flood and something that you uh you guys demonstrate in this book is uh that you don't necessarily have to interpret it that way and that geology doesn't really support um a notion of a universal flood you have this uh section in the book by dr stephen mosher who's a geologist at wheaton .

College expand a little bit more on on his contribution to the book yeah sure uh without going into too much detail because i'm not a uh i'm not a scientist myself though we then that's why we recruited uh stephen to to add the chapter uh if i could maybe i'll just um .

Preface that by saying that um that at least well i think in christian tradition not just protestant but also catholic tradition there's this idea that uh science and the bible are not ultimately in conflict if they're both interpreted correctly in protestant tradition and you may use .

This language too in catholic we talk about the two books you know the book of scripture and the book of nature and god speaks to us through both of them i love a quote by john paul ii uh who said something to the effect of science can refine religion while religion can can keep science from .

Idolatry and false absolutes so so i guess basically what i would say is christian shouldn't fear science it and and that christian should take seriously the you know a uh when when a vast vast majority of scientists come to a certain .

Conclusion especially when this includes christian scientists like steve mosher uh then we should definitely pay attention to what they're saying um i don't think i have to go into all the details of the galileo moment to illustrate that but but .

Um but the but what what stephen and other geologists say is that there is no evidence of a global flood and in this case the lack of evidence is significant it's not um it's not irrelevant .

Because you would expect you would expect evidence and a lot of evidence of a catastrophic flood and stephen does a really great job talking about what that would look like in the chapter and and also there's a reference in that chapter .

Uh from him to a a number of christian a book by a number of christian geologists about the grand canyon because and their contention is that so-called young earth creationists who use the grand canyon as the prime example of evidence for the flood .

Are misrepresenting the evidence there yeah so yeah yeah i find that very interesting i'm really glad that you guys uh had dr mosher you know join in there and give his thoughts there as a a geology professor because there are a lot of people like for example ken ham and the answers in .

Genesis uh crew there who are very committed to the idea that genesis 6 and 9 is straight literal history it's not like a hyperbolic description of a regional flood um but like truly was worldwide and so they'll point to the grand canyon as being evidence for .

A worldwide flood or the point to mount st helens trying to emphasize that that as well uh indicates that you know there's some things that go on there that must have indicated a massive worldwide flood according to them um and you know dr mosher just refutes .

Those arguments and shows like no that's not a that's not exactly what the evidence is showing um that you know mor and most likely it was a illegal or not legal local regional flood um hey that's key and i love how you emphasize there like there's no contradiction between faith and science that um god is the .

Author of those two books of uh the natural and the supernatural that god is the author of all truth he's the source of all truth and so there cannot be a conflict together and so if there appears to be a conflict then it could be that you might have misidentified the genre of the literature you might have misidentified what genesis 6 to 9 is .

Telling us that it's not necessarily a literal worldwide flood just as the conquest accounts were not literally you know massive and total utter destruction annihilation so i think that's that's just so key for us to understand so that this basically covers um everything that i was very interested in .

Regards to to this idea of noah and the flood do you have any concluding thoughts for us i i think we pretty much covered it i was thinking while you were talking at the end about this famous quote from saint augustine which talks about when .

People start claiming that the bible teaches something that is ridiculous in the eyes of psy i mean people that we would call scientists these days who know what they're talking about it brings embarrassment to the gospel and so .

Um so yeah so i think i think it's really important to not have a conflict model of the relationship between that doesn't mean we can't question scientific conclusions particularly if .

They're new theories or they're not supported by the vast majority of scientists including christian scientists and if i might just a helpful resource on this topic is an organization that i have worked with and have written some articles for called the biologos .

Foundation and and people can find information at on yeah yeah i think that's that's perfect there i've benefited greatly from that biologos so i'll just about conclude this program so check out dr longman's book the lost world of the flood .

Mythology theology and the deluge debate so grace and peace to you the listener thank you for watching i thank you so much dr longman for coming on the show today thank you luke for inviting me yes all right have a blessed day and i'll see you next week .

my foreign so .

dear children today i am carrying my son jesus to you for him to give you his peace .


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