Thursday 31 March 2016

Gen 7:6 dating Noah's fire

Yes, the fire, not the flood. The source material says we should be looking for a fire in the city of Shuruppak, and that is exactly what archeology finds.

Noah's flood is a great example of Bible Goggles, because it works on two levels.

1. Global or local?

Bible Goggles make us read a local flood as a supernatural global flood. When the Bible says the "whole world" it can only mean the world they knew e.g. in Luke "all the world should be taxed" meant the Roman empire. Noah did not know what was beyond his horizon. Why else did he send out a dove to find out?

2. Scholars look in the wrong place

Scholars wear Bible Goggles when they accept the supernatural idea that people can foretell global catastrophes. That is not in the text. Most of the story of Noah (e.g. most of Genesis chapters 5 and 6) is about how the lord god foresaw the flood, but as we saw in the documentary hypothesis fiasco, the lord-gods are human rulers and so they can only make human predictions. They are not supernatural. Yet most scholars assume the text requires supernatural powers.

Scholars link Noah's flood to memories of gigantic flooding events in history. For example, the Black Sea may have flooded spectacularly in 5600 BC, Leonard Woolley famously discovered that Abraham's city of Ur had a massive flood around 3500 BC, and others found evidence of major floods in other Sumerian cities in 3000 and 2600 BC. One was in Noah's city of Shuruppak (around 3000 BC) so this looks like a direct hit. But this presupposes that either (a) the lord-gods had supernatural abilities to see the future, or (b) the text is a lie, completely made up much later. Because the text is about how the gods caused the flood and prepared for it.

So scholars either believe the supernatural or they reject the text. So supernatural Bible Goggles destroy the Bible. Again.

What the text actually says

The text is all about foreseeing the flood. Flooding could to some extent be foretold: it would always happen at the time of the spring melting in the mountains. No doubt the rulers had some idea of natural cycles so could say this year's flooding was likely to be heavier or lighter than usual. And if they saw some storm clouds rolling across the plain you could predict the flooding would be worse the next day. So it is perfectly reasonable to say the lord-gods foretold a larger than average flood one year, and pinpoint the worst day just before it happened. But they do not have modern science or supernatural abilities to say "this would be the biggest flood for a thousand years".

So the question becomes, why were the lord-gods so certain that this flood would kill everybody?

The answer is in the source material. It was not just a flood. The earlier Gilgamesh and Atrahasis versions adds crucial details. The lord-gods destroyed the dams, making the flood much worse. They had prepared the people by withholding grain to ensure a famine, and finally they burnt everything just to make sure.

The context

It is important to see the flood in context, as it is a natural extension of what went before. All human history shows conflict between the rulers and those they rule: when pushed too hard the people rebel. Gilgamesh is no exception: Gilgamesh himself is a brutal ruler, killing and raping whoever he wants. Genesis speaks of great violence, sparked by the sons of god (i.e. the younger generation of lord gods) taking whoever they wanted.

Enoch and other later texts describe a long series of conflicts between the lord-gods, their sons, and the poor people, often involving burning of cities. Eventually the lord gods decided to wipe out the whole troublesome city and start again. Tyrants have always used genocide as a last resort. This is how they did it:

They waited for the worst floods

The text talks about a 120 year build up, and the final event taking place when storm clouds approached. 120 years may be an exaggeration, but naturally they would await the best possible moment in the normal flood cycle.

The lord gods starved the people

The lord gods had arranged an artificial famine, so the people were already on the brink of starvation. From the Atrahasis account:
Cut off food supplies to the people,
let plant-life to feed them be scarce;
The lord gods destroyed the dams and river banks

Sumerian life depended on constant irrigation, both to "divide the land from the waters" and provide fresh water for crops. Gilgamesh and Atrahasis both record how the minister of canals was a key figure. The people who planned the flood was the top leader, his number one fixer, the chamberlain (i.e. the inner circle) and one other person: the minister of canals. From Gilgamesh tablet 11:
The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood.Their Father Anu uttered the oath (of secrecy),Valiant Enlil was their Adviser,Ninurta was their Chamberlain,Ennugi was their Minister of Canals.
So they told Utnapishtim, their friend, to build a big boat to escape. The boat was not lifted up by the flood, but had to be lowered with great difficulty into the river:
The launching was very difficult.They had to keep carrying a runway of poles front to back,until two-thirds of it had gone into the water
This must have been a year when they expected greater than normal natural floods (Genesis says they had planned something like this for 120 years). So when they saw rain clouds as well they decided this was the moment to destroy the canals and make it much worse:
there arose from the horizon a black cloud. Adad rumbled inside of it,before him went Shullat and Hanish,heralds going over mountain and land. Erragal pulled out the mooring poles, forth went Ninurta and made the dikes overflow.
Since the lord gods were the human rulers, their heralds would be their servants. Naturally they did all this in the name of their gods, as kings always did. Pulling out mooring poles and making dikes overflow sounds like general destruction of the canal infrastructure. This interpretation is supported by their use of fire:

The lord gods burnt everything

Immediately after destroying the dikes we read this:
The Anunnaki lifted up the torches,setting the land ablaze with their flare.Stunned shock over Adad's deeds overtook the heavens,and turned to blackness all that had been light.
So the smoke of burning buildings filled the sky.

The aftermath

What the lord-gods did was so shocking that Utnapishtim (Noah) decided to live as far away as possible. And when Sumerian king lists record that the rulers then abandoned the city (Shuruppak) and moved their base of operations further upstream to Kish. The destruction was so shocking that it was seen as a turning point in history ever after. It no doubt contributed to the rise of monotheism: these are not the kind of lord-gods you want to worship, the only lord should be God himself (i.e. logic)

Dating the fire

In conclusion, when looking for the flood we are not looking for something so big that it could not be predicted: we are looking for the kind of flood that would happen every few years and probably be hard to spot archaeologically. But something else would stand out: the burning of the city. So let us look at what we know about Utnaphishtim's city of Shuruppak:
Shuruppak became a grain storage and distribution city and had more silos than any other Sumerian city.  ...
At the end of the Uruk period [4100-2900 BC] there was an archaeologically attested river flood in Shuruppak.  ...
The city expanded to its greatest extent at the end of the Early Dynastic III period (2600 BCE to 2350 BCE) when it covered about 100 hectares. At this stage it was destroyed by a fire which baked the clay tablets and mudbrick walls, which then survived for millennia.
To summarise:
  1. It was the number one city that provided food to the others. This agrees with the king list's statement that overall kingship was there. it also agrees with the above account that the lord gods had their seat there, and were in a position to starve everybody else.
  2. it did have a great flood, which many believe could be Noah's flood. But would the rulers have known enough about this in advance?
  3. It was finally destroyed in fire, in about 2350 BC.
Open an old Bible, one with the dates in the chapter headings (as calculated from the Bible itself by Archbishop Ussher). And what do we see? The flood is dated to 2348 BC.

How accurate are the dates?

Obviously the dates could be inaccurate for a number of reasons I have seen a spread of dates for the end of the Early Dynastic III period (the time when Shuruppak burnt), and a single new discovery could shift it again by hundreds of years. Plus, I argue elsewhere that the compilers of Genesis simply made their best guesses to fit dates to events. I am not stupid enough to enter the minefield of Biblical dating. My point is simply that the Bible text tends to agree with history, as far as we can tell. We only have problems when we put on supernatural goggles and read things that it does not say. No, the flood was not global, and no, the rulers were not supernatural beings with power to foresee unexpected floods.

In short, take off the supernatural goggles and history suddenly makes sense.

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