The flood story is one of the best-known Biblical narratives. The Book of Genesis describes God’s call to Noah to build an ark for his family and two of every animal. In time, the earth would be flooded and the world would begin anew. Questions surrounding the historicity of the Biblical narrative, however, have plagued historians and archaeologists. What do textual and archaeological sources actually tell us about Noah and the flood story? In this BAS Library Special Collection, BAS editors have hand-selected articles from Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review that examine the Genesis flood, its interpretations and what the similar Babylonian flood stories can teach us.
Scroll down to read a summary of these articles.
BAR 4:04, Nov/Dec 1978
by Tikva Frymer-Kensky
BAR 31:03, May/Jun 2005
by Ralph K. Pedersen
Bible Review 19:03, Jun 2003
by Ronald S. Hendel
BAR 40:04, Jul/Aug 2013
by Ronald S. Hendel
The story of a great flood can be found not only in the Book of Genesis, but also in three Babylonian sources: the Sumerian Flood Story, the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic and the Atrahasis Epic. In many ways, these Babylonian flood stories are very similar to the flood story from Genesis, but in many ways they are also very different. In “What the Babylonian Flood Stories Can and Cannot Teach Us About the Genesis Flood,” Tikva Frymer-Kensky explains what we can learn from comparing the Babylonian and Genesis flood stories.
What did Noah’s ark look like? A short passage in Genesis gives us just a general description. In “Was Noah’s Ark a Sewn Boat?” Ralph K. Pedersen examines a passage on boat construction in the Epic of Gilgamesh and considers a boat type used in the western Indian Ocean for two millennia—the sewn boat. These examples provide a new understanding of what Noah’s ark may have looked like.
One of the most popular theories relating to the Genesis flood associates the Biblical event with a historical event in the Black Sea. If there was a massive flooding of the Black Sea around 5500 B.C.E., what does this have to do with Noah’s flood? In “The Search for Noah’s Flood,” Ronald S. Hendel suggests that since the Biblical narrative is associated with earlier stories from ancient Mesopotamia, the Black Sea might be a red herring.
The story of Noah and the Genesis flood has recently made it to the big screen in a special effects-laden Hollywood blockbuster called Noah. Some critics lamented that the movie doesn’t portray the Biblical account accurately. In “Biblical Views: Noah, Enoch and the Flood: The Bible Meets Hollywood,” Ronald S. Hendel points out that the Genesis flood has always had conflicting interpretations. Its Pentateuchal sources differ in a number of details, and Christian and Jewish texts have reimagined the flood story for millennia. What can we learn from these interpretations?