Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Two Evidences for Noah's Flood: Fossil Graveyards and Extrabiblical Accounts

The Bible tells us that God judged sinful humanity about 2500 years before Christ with a flood that covered "all the high hills under the whole heaven" (Genesis 7:19). [1] This was a cataclysmic flood that devastated the planet. If this event happened as Moses said, and as Jesus and Peter affirmed (Matthew 24:39; 2 Peter 3:6), surely there should be some evidence for it. Is there? Yes.

Everywhere geologists dig on all seven continents, they find billions of dead animals and plants buried and fossilized inside sedimentary rock made up of sand, mud, and lime that were deposited rapidly by water. Billions of animal remains inside rocks? That’s odd. Animals that die natural deaths rapidly decompose and disappear. Consider the buffalo. Invertebrate paleontologist, Carl Dunbar, points out:

The buffalo carcasses strewn over the plains in uncounted millions two generations ago have left hardly a present trace. The flesh was devoured by wolves and vultures within hours or days after death, and even the skeletons have now largely disappeared, the bones dissolving and crumbling into dust under the attack of the weather.[2]

When animals die today, their carcasses fall to the ground and within months their bones are dragged off by scavengers or, if left alone, they begin to decay under the wear and tear of the elements.

But something different happened with the billions of creatures we find in the fossil record. Their bones are preserved, many of them wholly intact with very little evidence of decay. This has led many paleontologists, geologists and archaeologists to conclude that these creatures were killed during a flood. Their bodies were caught in the mudflow, rapidly buried in the sediment while it was still wet and soft, and then preserved. 

The fossils of billions of dead creatures encased in sedimentary rock all over the world are a powerful reminder of the Flood described in the Book of Genesis.[3]

One of the tablets making up the "Gilgamesh Epic"
In addition to the widespread fossil evidence, archaeologists have unearthed a number of ancient extrabiblical writings describing a catastrophic flood. The Greeks, Hindus, Chinese, Mexicans, Algonquins and Hawaiians all have flood stories.[4] Although there are some differences among the accounts, the parallels are striking. Consider this list of similarities between Noah’s flood and the flood account known as the “Gilgamesh Epic,” found 150 years ago in the ancient ruins of a library at Nineveh. In both accounts:

•  the flood was divinely planned
•  the flood was connected with the defection of the human race from God/the gods
•  advance notice of the flood was given to one individual
•  there was instruction to build a boat
•  the building of a boat, pitched inside and out
•  a storm brings on the flood
•  preservation of the hero’s family and the animals aboard the boat
•  everyone not on the boat is destroyed
•  the boat coming to rest atop a mountain
•  the sending out of the birds after the flood to determine if the world was habitable
•  the offering of sacrifices after the flood [5]

With so many points in common between the Gilgamesh Epic and the Biblical account, it’s not difficult to conclude that both accounts recall a common event. But some critics of the Bible look at the similarities in the accounts and argue that Moses must have stolen his idea for a flood from an earlier source. They have no evidence that this occurred except the similarities in the accounts. But similarities in different reports of historical events don’t prove plagiarism. It is very possible that witnesses with similar details in their stories are looking back to an actual event–in this case the Flood.

The more witnesses who tell a similar story, the more likely the core of the story is actually true. Think this through with me. Let’s suppose you have two books by two different authors lying before you on the coffee table. They are both first hand accounts of surviving Auschwitz, Hitler’s infamous death camp. One of the books was released ten years after Nazi Germany was defeated; the other was released forty years later. As you read the books, you see quite a few similarities in the accounts of what life was like in that dreadful place. Descriptions about the guards, rules, cruelty, lack of food, labor, clothing, all match. Do you tear up the newer book and conclude that the author plagiarized from the other author because there are some similarities? I wouldn’t. I think it would be wiser to conclude that some of the details are similar because both accounts look back to and report on the same event (life at Auschwitz). And so it is with the similarities in the flood accounts. They exist because the accounts look back to the same event, the catastrophic Flood.

But other critics of the Bible aren’t concerned with the similarities in the accounts. They are concerned about the differences between the accounts. And there are differences:

•  the Genesis version is monotheistic
•  the Gilgamesh Epic is polytheistic
•  the God of Genesis is holy
•  the Gilgamesh gods act in unholy ways
•  the arks are shaped differently
•  the names of the boat builders are different [6]

These differences aren’t surprising. As Noah’s descendants spread out from the mountains of Ararat (c. 2400–2300 BC) to the four corners of the planet [7] and the story was told and retold over the centuries, conflicting details crept into different strains of the story. Some critics point to these differences and conclude, “All the flood stories are myths, including the Bible’s!”

But do differences in the stories mean that all of the accounts are myths and that we can’t be confident in any of them? Not at all. Imagine for a moment you are sitting in a courtroom observing a trial. As the day progresses, you notice that the witnesses taking the witness stand are giving some conflicting details of an event. What would you think if the judge threw up his hands and said, “Everyone’s lying!” laid down his gavel, declared a mistrial, and walked out of the courtroom for an early lunch? What would you think about his assessment that everyone was lying? They could all be lying; it’s possible that is the case. But I think it would be wiser to assume that even though there are some conflicting details, one or more of the people on the witness stand is likely giving a more accurate account than others. The goal of the jury is to figure out whose story is most trustworthy.

Critics who discover the differences in the flood accounts and then throw down the gavel and declare them all to be myths are making the same mistake that the judge makes in the scenario above. They are failing to give serious consideration to the possibility that one of the accounts is a more accurate account of what actually happened.

Christians and Jews believe that the Genesis account of the Flood is an accurate account of what happened. Why? Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks offer a succinct overview of the reasons:

The other versions [of the Flood] contain elaborations that display corruption. Only in Genesis is the year of the Flood given, as well as dates for the whole chronology relative to Noah’s life. In fact, Genesis reads almost like a diary or ship’s log of the events. The cubical Babylonian ship could not have saved anyone from the Flood. The raging waters would be constantly turning it over on every side. However, the biblical ark is rectangular––long, wide, and low––so that it would ride the rough seas well. The length of the rainfall in the pagan accounts (seven days) is not enough time for the devastation they describe…The idea that all of the floodwaters subsided in one day is equally absurd…in the other accounts, the hero is granted immortality and exalted, while in the Bible, we see Noah sinned. Only a version that seeks to tell the truth would include this. [8]

To these differences the Holman Bible Handbook adds:

"In the Bible, God is morally outraged by humanity’s perversity. The gods in the Gilgamesh Epic are sophomoric, perturbed, and sleepless at humanity’s noisiness. In Genesis, God’s gracious will is to save those in the ark. The hero in the Gilgamesh epic discovered the coming flood despite the will of most of the gods. [9]

The explanations above coupled with the fossil record are some of the reasons I believe the Genesis account is a superior, more accurate, retelling of the actual event. And ensuring that Moses’ account of the Flood was perfectly accurate would not be a difficult task at all for a sovereign omnipotent God. God may have providentially ensured that one strain of the story, that strain that was passed down through the Jewish people and ultimately given to Moses to compile, edit and write down as Scripture, was kept free from contamination. Another possibility is that although all the stories may have eventually taken on legendary encrustations by the time of Moses (c. 1446 BC), God straightened out the truth of the matter by direct, special revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. However God accomplished an accurate preservation of the details surrounding the Flood is fine with me.

For those of us who believe God is sovereign and can watch over His Word in order to preserve it (Jeremiah 1:12, Isaiah 40:8), for those of us who trust that Jesus knew the truth about the Flood (Matthew 24:37–39), for those of us who believe that “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16), we confidently affirm with Peter that “the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:6) even if the rest “willfully forget” (2 Peter 3:5). [10]


1. There are good reasons to believe that the Flood covered the whole Earth. Genesis 7:20–21 says, “The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the Earth.” If the flood was only local as some claim, then God’s promise to not flood the Earth again (Genesis 9:11) is broken every time a severe local flood occurs.
2. Carl Dunbar, Historical Geology, 39. Cited in “Questions About Genesis 1–11,” number 37, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, retrieved on QuickVerse software (version 2.0.2).
3. I anticipate some of you may have questions at this point: Why don’t we find fossils of people if they were killed during the Flood? Isn’t it possible that all of the animals we find in the fossil record were killed in local floods rather than a global flood? How could rain falling for 40 nights cover the top of the Himalayan Mountains? How could all of the animals fit on Noah’s ark? You can find answers to these kinds of questions at Click on “Flood.”
4. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, 182.
5. Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible: Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums, 21. Also see Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 195–196.
6. Noah is called Ziusudra by the Sumerians and Utnapishtim by the Babylonians. I think differences like this actually help fight off the charge that Moses was guilty of plagiarism.
7. I hope you won’t label me a flat-Earther because of my use of this term. The apostle John used it in Revelation 7:1 and critics have accused the Bible of teaching a flat Earth. Ridiculous! He was using a figure of speech to describe the extremities of the land in the four cardinal directions: North, South, East and West.
8. Geisler and Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, 183.
9. David S. Dockery, general editor, “Creation and Flood Stories,” Holman Bible Handbook (1992), retrieved on QuickVerse software (version 2.0.2).
10. For further reading see: “The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh” by Frank Lorey at; “A Comparative Study of the Flood Accounts in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis” by Nozomi Osanai at