Changes in Coastline, Climate and Human Settlement
The Netherlands: Springer, 2007, xxvii + 971 pp., 246 figs.
Reviewed by A.J.(Tom) van Loon
Sagas about natural events that have had an enormous impact on human cultural heritage are common in many societies. Noah’s flood is surely one such saga.
The events described in these sagas are often so incredible that they are considered concoctions of a remote past, told by parents to their children for countless generations, like fairy tales.
The truth is different, at least in some cases. What happened in the past—and here I speak of thousands of years—often leaves traces. Recent developments in the natural sciences, supported by new analytical technologies, now allow us, in some cases, to “read” these traces. Although the interpretation is often difficult and rarely unambiguous, it becomes clear every now and then that there must be a truth in many of the ancient sagas.
One of the sagas found in ancient civilizations all over the world involves a giant flood that meant the end of civilization. The Biblical flood is one such legend. A similar story is found in the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, from which the Biblical flood story is derived. Native Indians in America also tell such a story. The legend of the lost continent of Atlantis is another. It has now become clear that the background of the American Indian flood story is a devastating tsunami that destroyed the northwest Pacific coast on January 28, 1700—not so long ago. The legend of the lost continent of Atlantis probably originated in Crete, when Minoan civilization was devastated about 3,500 years ago by a tsunami caused by a volcanic eruption on the island of Thera (modern Santorini).
The Biblical flood, we are told, came from the “fountains of the great deep” (Genesis 7:11) and also from “the windows of heaven”; that is, continuous rain for 40 days (Genesis 7:12). There appears to be some discrepancy about the cause of the flood as between Genesis 7:11 and 7:12. Perhaps, in the telling, more than one causal event became confused with another.
Recent climate changes make it likely that the time will come when heavy rains will last for days and maybe even weeks. So the heavy rains of Genesis are not so exceptional (apart from the water mass involved).
This leaves the question of whether a truly huge flood ever happened. This question has engendered heated debates among scientists. Within the last few years, the theory has been proposed that the Genesis story refers to a flooding that occurred when the then-small lake in the center of what is now the Black Sea rapidly became a large sea. This happened when waters from the Mediterranean found a pathway to the much lower Black Sea area (the Black Sea is more than a mile [2 km] deep). This change from a lake into a sea has been known since the 1920s. Since then, it has become clear that the flooding occurred about 7,500 years ago and that about 40,000 square miles (more than 100,000 square km) of the coastal areas of the lake became part of the sea in a relatively short time. Human settlements were destroyed, and the impact on society must have been enormous.
A recently translated Old Babylonian flood tablet describes how to build a circular ark. Read The Animals Went in Two by Two, According to Babylonian Ark Tablet in Bible History Daily.
In 1998, the possible relationship of this event with Noah’s flood was put forward by Columbia University’s earth and environmental scientists William B.F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman in their book Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event That Changed History.1
Ryan and Pitman studied the scientific literature carefully. But some things remained unclear. Did the rise in the sea level occur rapidly or slowly? Did it occur in a series of steps, possibly with phases of a lowering of sea level at times between the steps? The book under review, edited by Yanko-Hombach et al., deals primarily with these questions, although other matters are also discussed. It is a scientific book with chapters written by different authors. The authors disagree about how the rise in the sea level occurred, and even about where the water came from.
But that, I guess, is science: Each new finding raises new questions. For those who are not afraid of an often quite complicated text, and who want to know more about the event that possibly inspired the Genesis flood, this will be an interesting book.
1. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
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