Flood Legendsby Stephen Lawwell on July 21, 2014
Harold W. Clark revealed in his work, Fossils, Flood and Fire, that, "Preserved in the myths and legends of almost every people on the face of the globe is the memory of the great catastrophe. While myths may not have any scientific value, yet they are significant in indicating the fact that an impression was left in the minds of the races of mankind that could not be erased." 1
This is reiterated in Funk and Wagnall's 1950 Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, which describes "Deluge or Flood" as "A world cataclysm during which the earth was inundated or submerged by water: a concept found in almost every mythology in the world. The exceptions are Egypt and Japan." 2
Alexandra Aikhenvald, a world expert on the languages of the Amazon River region in South America, said, "every Amazonian society ever studied has a legend about a great flood." 3 Similar traditions were found to exist on the North American continent. H. R. Schoolcraft, who was commissioned by Congress in 1847 to study the Native American tribes, reported the following: "There is one particular in which the tribes identify themselves with general traditions of mankind. It is in relation to a general deluge, by which the races of men were destroyed. The event itself is variously related by an Algonquin, an Iroquois, a Cherokee, a Muscogee, or a Chickasaw; but all coincide in the statement that there was a great cataclysm, and that a few persons were saved." 4
Between 270 and 500 flood legends, both written and oral, have been collected from cultures around the world, each containing many common elements, suggesting that they have a common historical source. This cannot be said for other types of catastrophes, such as earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions, disease, famines, or drought. In many cases, these flood legends no longer resemble the truth of the historical event they were meant to describe. It is likely that they became more distorted as time and distance separated them from the Ararat region.
The Gilgamesh Epic
In 1853, the archaeologist Austen Henry Layard and his team excavated the palace library of the ancient Assyrian capital Nineveh. This library was founded by the great Assyrian king Assurbanipal, who attempted to gather all cuneiform literature available at that time. He wrote of his fascination with "inscriptions of the time before the Flood." Although no pre-Flood writings were discovered, archaeologists did make an incredible find - the record of a great epic preserved on twelve tablets in Akkadian poetic form. It is believed that the flood narrative, which is found on Tablet XI of the epic, once existed independently and was incorporated into the completed Gilgamesh Epic. The Babylonians, who produced this amazing epic, may have borrowed the flood narrative from the more ancient Sumerians, whose culture they adopted.
Portion of Tablet XI
As stated earlier, the legend describes Gilgamesh as having enormous intelligence and strength, but it also says that he had become a great oppressor of his people. The people called upon the gods, and the sky-god Anu, the chief god of the city, made a wild man called Enkidu with enough strength to match Gilgamesh. The ensuing fight between Gilgamesh and Enkidu results in a draw, mutual respect for each other, and eventually devoted friendship. The two new friends set off on adventures together, but eventually the gods kill Enkidu.
Shortly after losing his friend to death, Gilgamesh realizes that he too must eventually die. In his subsequent search to avoid death's cold grip, he learns of one who became immortal - Utnapishtim, the survivor of a global Flood. Gilgamesh travels across the sea to find Utnapishtim, who tells of his remarkable life. It is on Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh Epic that we learn of Utnapishtim's flood.
According to Utnapishtim, the council of gods decided to flood the whole earth to destroy mankind. But Ea, the god who made man, warned Utnapishtim, from Shuruppak, a city on the banks of the Euphrates, and told him to build an enormous boat:
"O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubartutu:
Tear down the house and build a boat!
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make all living being go up into the boat.
The boat which you are to build,
Its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
Its length must correspond to its width." 5
In the spirit of obedience, Utnapishtim began work on the vessel:
"One acre was her floor space,
Ten dozen cubits the height of each of her walls,
Ten dozen cubits each edge of the square deck.
I laid out the shape of her sides and joined her together.
I provided her with six decks,
Dividing her into seven parts."
Utnapishtim sealed his ark with pitch, took all the kinds of vertebrate animals, and his family members, plus some other humans. Shamash the sun god showered down loaves of bread and rained down wheat. Then the flood came:
"Six days and seven nights came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land.
When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding, the flood was at war -
struggling with itself like a woman writhing in labor."
As the floodwaters abated, the vessel lodged on Mount Nisir (Nimush), approximately 300 miles from modern-day Mount Ararat. Utnapishtim sent out a dove then a swallow, but neither could find land and returned to the boat. Then he sent out a raven, which did not return. This indicated that it was safe to exit the vessel, so Utnapishtim released the animals and sacrificed a sheep.
"The gods smelled the savor,
the gods smelled the sweet savor,
and collected like flies over a sacrifice."
The god Enlil then granted immortality to Utnapishtim and his wife, and sent them to live far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers. Here is where Gilgamesh found him, and heard the remarkable story.
It is common to make legends out of historical events, but not history from legends. As an example, let's contrast the dimensions of Noah's Ark with that of Utnapishtim. As we have already seen, Noah's Ark was built to be incredibly stable, using proportions that have withstood scientific scrutiny. The vessel constructed by Utnapishtim was a cube - "The boat which you are to build, Its dimensions must measure equal to each other: Its length must correspond to its width." It is inconceivable that Jewish scribes, who hardly possessed naval architectural skills, took the mythical cube of Utnapishtim and turned it into the most stable wooden vessel possible!
The Gilgamesh Epic is not the only Sumerian/Babylonian legend that alludes to the Genesis Flood. In Babylon, the deity Marduk was said to have defeated the chaos monster Tiamat, dividing her in two, and using half of her body to create the celestial ocean, and earthly ocean, which were to be kept apart. Many people taught that chaos returned when the celestial ocean fell (the Flood). When this occurred, the old sun god Marduk was replaced with Shamah, the new sun god. 7 This could possibly be a reference to the changed appearance of the sun after the Flood.
Other Legends of a Changed Sun
Other cultures have similar legends that speak of a change in the appearance of the sun, with the new sun commonly said to appear at the beginning of a new age. Many of these ancient legends speak of a water heaven that obstructed the power of the sun god. One day the water heaven was defeated and the "sun power" was unleashed.
The Greeks believed that Helios replaced Hyperion after the banishment of the water heaven. 8 The Persians believed that Ahura-Mazda was replaced by Mithras after the banishment of Varuna, the water heaven. 9 The Mayans called the first sun the "Water Sun". 10 In similar fashion, the South American Indians said the "Water Sun" was ended by a flood. 11
The Greeks, one of the more ancient cultures in world history, shares much in common with Sumerian and Babylonian flood legends. In Greek mythology the flood was first mentioned by the poet Pindar in the 5th century BC. Paralleling the Babylonian record of Marduk and Tiamat, Cronos, one of the Titans, was said to prevent a union between his father Ouranos (water heaven) and his mother (earth). During the reign of Cronos a golden age prevailed, but this time of prosperity and health came to an end when Zeus, the weather God, caused his father Cronos to fall. Zeus destroys the Earth with only King Deucalion and his family saved by taking refuge in an ark well stocked with provisions. 12
North American Indians
On the North American continent we find many flood legends, including those of the Havasupai Indians, who still live in the Grand Canyon. The Havasupai legend states:
"Before there were any people on earth there were two gods. Tochapa of goodness and Hokomata of
evil. Tochapa had a daughter name Pu-keh-eh, who he hoped would become the mother of all living.
Hokomata the evil was determined that no such thing should take place, and he covered the world with
a great flood. Tochapa the good felled a great tree and hollowed out the trunk. He placed Pu-keh-eh
in the hollowed trunk and when the water rose and flooded the earth she was secure in her improvised
boat. Finally the flood waters fell and mountain peaks emerged. Rivers were created; and one of them
cut the great gushing fissure which became the Grand Canyon. Pu-keh-eh in her log came to rest on the
new earth. She stepped forth and beheld an empty world. When the land became dry, a great golden sun
rose in the east and warmed the earth…"13
The Choctaw Indians tell the following story:
"Long ago, men became so corrupt that the Great Spirit destroyed them in a flood. Only one man was
saved - a prophet whose warning the people disregarded, and whom the Great Spirit then directed to build
a raft from sassafras logs. After many weeks, a small bird guided the prophet to an island where the
Great Spirit changed the bird into a beautiful woman who became the wife of the prophet. Their children
then repopulated the world."14
The Lenni Lenape Indians believed that there was a time when a powerful snake made all the people wicked. The snake caused water to destroy everything. But on an island there lived a man named Manabozho, the grandfather of all men, and he was saved from the flood by riding on the back of a turtle. 15
Central and South America
The Toltec Indians of ancient Mexico taught that the first world lasted 1716 years and was destroyed by a great flood. 16 Only one family named "Coxcox" survived. It is interesting to note that this pre-Flood time period is very close to the 1656 years taught in the Bible.
"When mankind was overwhelmed with the deluge, none were preserved
but a man named Coxcox…and a woman call Xochiquetzal, who saved
themselves in a little bark, and having afterwards got to land upon
a mountain called by them Colhuacan, had there a great many children;
these children were all born dumb, until a dove from a lofty tree
imparted to them languages, but differing so much that they could
not understand one another."17
The Incas of Peru detail how "the water rose above the highest mountains in the world, so that all people and all created things perished. No living thing escaped except a man and a woman, who floated in a box on the face of the waters and so were saved." 18
The Hawaiian natives tell the following:
"Long after the death of Kuniuhonna, the first man, the world became a wicked, terrible place to live.
There was one good man left; his name was Nu-u. He made a great canoe with a house on it and filled it with
animals. The waters came up over all the earth and killed all the people. Only Nu-u and his family were saved." 19
Some of the most detailed flood legends are found in the ancient cultures of China. Early Jesuit scholars were the first Europeans to gain access to the Chinese "book of all knowledge" from ancient times. This 4,320-volume collection told of the repercussions of mankind's rebellion against the gods:
"The Earth was shaken to its foundations. The sky sank lower towards the north. The sun, moon, and stars
changed their motions. The Earth fell to pieces and the waters in its bosom rushed upwards with violence and
overflowed the Earth."20
The Bahnars, a primitive tribe of Cochin, China, tell of how the rivers swelled "til the waters reached the sky, and all living being perished except two, a brother and a sister, who were saved in a huge chest. They took with them into the chest a pair of every sort of animal…"22
The Miao tribes (spelled in most encyclopedias "Miautso") at one time occupied most of inland China south of the Yangtzee River. The following poem, often recited as a record of ancestry at funerals and weddings, is learned by heart and transmitted from generation to generation.
"On the earth He created a man from the dirt.
Of the man thus created, a woman He formed.
Then the Patriarch Dirt made a balance of stones.
Estimated the weight of the earth to the bottom.
Calculated the bulk of the heavenly bodies.
And pondered the ways of the Deity, God.
The Patriarch Dirt begat Patriarch Se-the.
The Patriarch Se-The begat a son Lusu.
And Lusu had Gehlo and he begat Lama.
The Patriarch Lama begat the man Nuah.
His wife was the Matriarch Gaw Bo-lu-en.
Their sons were Lo Han, Lo Shen and Jah-hu.
So the earth began filling with tribes and families.
Creation was shared by the clans and the peoples."
"These did not God's will nor returned His affection.
But fought with each other defying the Godhead.
Their leaders shook fists in the face of the Mighty.
Then the earth was convulsed to the depth of three strata.
Rending the air to the uttermost heaven.
God's anger arose till His Being was changed;
His wrath flaring up filled His eyes and His face.
Until He must come and demolish humanity.
Come and destroy a whole world full of people."
"Since it poured forty days in sheets and in torrents.
Then fifty-five days of misting and drizzle.
The waters surmounted the mountains and ranges.
The deluge ascending leapt valley and hollow.
An earth with no earth upon which to take refuge!
A world with no foothold where one might subsist!
The people were baffled, impotent and ruined,
Despairing, horror stricken, diminished and finished.
But the Patriarch Nuah was righteous.
The Matriarch Gaw Bo-lu-en upright.
Built a boat very wide.
Made a ship very vast.
Their household entire got aboard and were floated,
The family complete rode the deluge in safety.
The animals with him were female and male.
The birds went along and were mated in pairs.
When the time was fulfilled, God commanded the waters.
The day had arrived, the flood waters receded.
Then Nuah liberated a dove from their refuge,
Sent a bird to go forth and bring again tidings.
The flood had gone down into lake and to ocean;
The mud was confined to the pools and the hollows.
There was land once again where a man might reside;
There was a place in the earth now to rear habitations.
Buffalo then were brought, an oblation to God,
Fatter cattle became sacrifice to the Mighty.
The Divine One then gave them His blessing;
Their God then bestowed His good graces." 23
Papua New Guinea
The Biami people, a small tribe that lives in the western province of Papua New Guinea, has detailed a fascinating and unusual flood account.
"Once a great flood came which covered the whole earth and wiped out everyone on earth except for the
ancestors of the Biami people. Those ancestors climbed up into the Gobia Tree. They took up into the tree
their planting materials for crops, all their animals, their dogs and their pigs and everything else necessary
for life. As the flood waters rose up on the face of the earth the people climbed further up the tree. They
were safe in the branches of this tree because the tree grew up above the waters as the waters rose up.
When the waters went down from the surface of the whole earth, the people were able to climb down the tree.
The ground was very muddy, but eventually they planted their crops and their animals began to reproduce. They
moved away from the tree and began to repopulate the earth. Those who had climbed down out of the tree were
the ancestors of the Samos, the Kubos, the Gobasis, and Etoro."24
One Australian Aboriginal story tells how, long ago, there was a flood that covered the mountains so that many of the Nurrumbunguttias, or spirit men and women were drowned. Others, including Pund-jil, were caught up by a whirlwind into the sky. When the waters receded, and the mountains appeared again, and the sea went back into its own place, the son and daughter of Pund-jil went back to earth and became the first of the true men and women who live in the world today. 25
An Aboriginal tribe from western Australia tells the following story:
"It came about that the earliest-time children tormented and ill-treated the Winking Owl, Dumbi. Ngadja,
the Supreme One, was inwardly grieved and felt deep sorrow for him. He instructed Gajara, "If you want to live,
take your wife, your sons and your son's wives and get a double raft. Because of the Dumbi affair, I intend to drown
everyone. I am about to send rain and a sea flood," he told them. "Put on the raft long-lasting foods that my be
stored, foods such as gumi, banimba, and ngalindaga, all these ground foods.
So Gajara stored all these foods. He also gathered birds of the air such as the cuckoo, the mistletoe-eater, the
rainbow bird, the helmeted friar bird and finches; these he took on the raft, and also a female kangaroo. Gajara
gathered his sons as the crew, and his own wife and sons' wives together.
Then Ngadja sent the rainclouds down, shutting the clouds in upon them. The sea-flood came in from the
north-north-east and the people were closed in by the salt-water flood and the tidal waters of the sea. Ngadja whirled
the flood waters and the earth opened, drowning and flattening them all. He finished them at Dumbey. Meanwhile, the
flood carried all those who were on the raft with Gajara along on the current far away to Dulugun.
At last, the floodwaters brought Gajara back in this direction. He sent some birds out from the raft, first the
cuckoo. The cuckoo found the land and did not return to him. Gradually the waters were going down. Later on, the
other birds returned to Gajara and he sent them out again the following day. The land was already drying the waters up
and the living creatures found a home and food. They killed a kangaroo after landing, and Gajara's wife, Galgalbirir,
put it in the earth oven and cooked it with other foods. The smoke rose slowly until it reached through into the sky.
Ngadja, the Supreme Being, could smell the steam and smoke rising from the female kangaroo as it was cooking and he
Ngadja, the Supreme Being, put the rainbow in the sky to keep the rain-clouds back. The rainbow protects us so that
the rainfall does not rise too high. Our people understand the significance of it. When we see the rainbow we say,
"There will not be any abnormally heavy rain." 26
The Karen of Burma believe that the water of the great flood came down from the "celestial vault". 27
The Persian sacred book Zend-Avesta describes how the world became overpopulated and God sent a flood to destroy them.
In the Hindu Bhagvat Geeta there is the account of a man named Satyaurata (or Manu), who was preserved from the flood by building a boat and boarding it with his seven companions. Satyaurata is said to have had three sons - Jyapeti, Sharma, and C'harma. After the flood, Satyaurata drank mead and became senseless and lay asleep naked. One of the three sons, C'harma, found him and called on his two brothers to witness the same, and said, "What has now befallen? In what state is our sire?"28
The stories of the Teutonic tribes of Scandinavia give the following account:
"the mighty wolf Fenrir shook himself and made the whole world trembled… Mountains crumbled or split from top to
bottom… the human race was swept from the surface of the earth…Flames spurted from fissures in the rocks;
everywhere there was a hissing of steam. All living things, all plant life, were blotted out…And now all the
rivers, all the seas rose and overflowed…The earth sank beneath the sea." 29
Flood stories from the continent of Africa are rare, but one from Egypt tells of an ancient creation god, Tem, who "was responsible for the primeval flood, which covered the entire earth and destroyed all of mankind except those in Tem's boat." 30
As you can see, the details of practically all of the flood legends can be reconciled with the historical events recorded in Genesis 6-9. They all mention the universal destruction of all life by water, the provision of some structure as a means of escape, and the subsequent repopulation of the world by the survivors. It is our prayer that this article will strengthen your faith in the Word of God and challenge you to do what so many other cultures have done since the days of Noah - teach the next generation of God's judgment on sin and His mercy to those that obey Him.
Footnotes1. Harold W. Clark, Fossils, Flood and Fire (Escondido, CA: Outdoor Pictures, June 1968), p. 45.
2. Funk & Wagnalls, Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend (1950)
3. A. Barnett, "For want of a word," New Scientist 181 (January 31, 2001), p. 44-47.
4. Henry R. Schoolcraft, Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the Indian Tribes of the United States (1851-1857).
6. "Documentary Hypothesis," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis.
7. John Ferguson, The Religions of the Roman Empire (Ithica, NY: Cornell University, 1970), p. 44.
8. Felix Guirand, Greek Mythology, translated by Delano Ames (London: Paul Hamlyn, 1963), p. 84.
9. “The Brahmanic Charma, India,” New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, p. 326.
10. Immaneul Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, Laurel Edition (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967), p. 50.
11. Ibid., p. 50-51.
12. “Deucalion,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deucalion.
13. “Grand Canyon Legend,” Creation 7(3) (March 1985), p. 11.
14. W. B. Morrison, Ancient Choctaw Legend of the Great Flood, http://www.tc.umn.edu/~mboucher/mikebouchweb/choctaw/flood1.htm.
15. Carrie de Voe, Legends of the Kaw (Franklin Hudson Publishing Co., 1904).
16. Duane T. Gish, Dinosaurs by Design (Master Books, 1992), p. 75.
17. J.G. Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testaments: Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend, and Law (Abridged Edition) (New York: Avenue Books, 1988), p. 107.
18. Ibid., p. 105-106.
19. Duane T. Gish, Dinosaurs by Design (Master Books, 1992), p. 74.
20. C. Berlitz, The Lost Ship of Noah (London: W.H. Allen, 1987), p. 126.
21. Duane T. Gish, Dinosaurs by Design (Master Books, 1992), p. 74.
22. J.G. Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testaments: Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend, and Law (Abridged Edition) (New York: Avenue Books, 1988), p. 82.
23. Edgar A. Truax, “Genesis According to the Miao People,” ICR Impact Article (April 1, 1991).
24. Tom Hoey, “The Biami legends of creation and Noah’s Flood,” Creation 7(2) (October 1984), p. 12-13.
25. Howard Coates and W.H. Douglas, “Australian Aboriginal Flood Stories,” Creation 4(1) (March 1981), p. 6-10.
26. Howard Coates, “Aboriginal Flood Legends,” Creation 4(3) (October 1981), p. 9-12.
27. J.G. Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testaments: Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend, and Law (Abridged Edition) (New York: Avenue Books, 1988), p. 208.
28. Ibid., p. 183.
29. The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (London: Chancellor Press, 1996), p. 275-277.
30. A.S. Mercatante, Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend (Child & Associates Publishing, 1988), p. 613.