Bible, Quran, and Interpretations: Noah’s Flood

December 10, 2021

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It has been asserted that the Story of Noah’s Flood or Deluge is widely known all over the world among the followers and believers of different faiths. In general, the story of the Flood relates to tree main religions of the world: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

In fact, their sacred books, Quran and Bible, give people what they consider to be a true version of the event. They also believe that the Flood, which was particularly catastrophic, destroyed all forms of being which had become evil and wicked, except for Noah and his family, along with the animals he had taken with him on the Ark. These religions believe in God’s intervention into punishing the evil and rewarding the good. Moreover, there are other interpretations of the Flood in the religions and documents, such as the Greek or Mesopotamian interpretation, etc.

Most of the Biblical followers support the idea that the Flood was universal and touched all parts of the planet. However, Quran followers, as well as some historians and scholars, who conduct research works on this topic, do not support this idea of Flood universality, and claim that the Flood only took place in some particular parts of the Earth. Therefore, this paper seeks to analyze the interpretations of the Flood by the Bible, Quran, and Mesopotamian parallels, in order to define the differences between their interpretations, especially the differences between the Christian and Muslim views of the Flood.

Biblical Interpretation of the Flood

The Biblical story of the Flood is a component story of the First book of Old Testament, Genesis, and is represented in Gen. 6-8, (2) Gen 2:5-6, and Gen. 8:4. Hence, in the Biblical story of the Flood, God himself wants to destroy all people on earth, as they have become evil and violent. Noah, on the contrary, was righteous in his generation. Therefore, God informs Noah of His plan, and the man builds the Ark, in order to save himself.

The Ark was made of Gopher wood and had three compartments. Noah with his family took pairs of all animals they could find; birds, reptiles, insects, etc. and took them on the Ark. Those were the only survivors of the Flood.

The Ark, as described in the Bible, was a large timber boat which was built by Noah. All the instructions as to the boat’s size and design were given to Noah by God himself. Therefore, the Biblical story persists in the theory that all people who are now living on the Earth are Noah’s descendants. All the creatures living on the Earth are the descendants of the pairs which were on the Ark (Cohen 121).

According to the Bible, the flood was caused by rainwaters and deep fountains. It is described that it submerged every place on the Earth, even the highest mountains. In in 40 days, the rain stopped. Noah sent a raven, and then a dove to bring him the evidence of life. One of the doves brought him a leaf of an olive branch.

The water prevailed on the land for 150 days. Then, God sent the wind to dry the earth. After the Flood, God commanded Noah to bring all the animals on the land, to let them feed and multiply. Noah then burnt all the clean animals, and God was pleased with this offering. He said he would never again curse the ground, nor destroy every living creature on earth (Louath 13).

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The further details of the story are, however, not found in either the Old Testament or New Testament, but available in an extra-biblical literature. For centuries, the main theory of the world creation was influenced by the Primeval Part of the Genesis. The story gave information about the world creation in seven days and the evolution of civilization until the Flood. The Post-Flood stories in this part of Genesis also explain the spread of animals and humans, existence of many nations and languages. Genealogies also give the years of significant events, such as Abraham’s migration and the Flood.

Nevertheless, the Biblical theory of the Flood raised many questions among scientists. There have been attempts to resolve the management of animals on the boat using modern advanced scientific theories. Therefore, the scientists started searching the archeological proof of the Flood and Noah’s Ark by arranging archeological excavations, collection of books, manuscripts, and other artifacts.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the layers of clay in the excavation of Ur were found. This discovery was important owing to the Mesopotamian connections of Biblical people – Abraham, Noah’s descendants, and the location of Ararat. However, the same layers were later found in other different parts of the world, though they were formed in different time periods. Therefore, they did not give any evidence of being formed during the Flood, but during the small floods in different parts of the world and in different periods of time.

The time and place of the Flood as to where and when Noah built his boat are also not clarified in the Bible. However, it is still possible to use parts of the story for locating time and place of the event, despite the changes and alterations in the Primeval Part. The chronology of Biblical events was worked out from genealogies in Genesis. According to this chronology, the Creation was more than 6000 years ago (Cohen 125).

One of the basic statements of the Biblical interpretations of the Flood is that it was a universal phenomenon; water covered the whole planet up the at least 5000 m high. Counter position to this view is the position of geologists that sedimentary fossils and rocks of the Earth must have been deposited during the Flood described in Genesis. In order to explain the universal Flood, geologists imply the canopy theory, which states that water was held in immense subterranean deep and atmospheric canopy between the time of Noah’s Flood and Creation. In the time of the Flood, these water resources where somehow released in enormous proportions. Except for the catastrophic floods, there was a geologic change in the Earth’s crust: sea bottom splits opened, modern mountain ranges rose, and the continents were split apart with amazing speed.

All forms of living organisms died, and these fossil-bearing sediments were compacted together into sedimentary rock. Although there are some modifications of the canopy theory, such as the greenhouse, ice-lens, visible and invisible canopies, the theory claims that the water, which was released during the Flood, resulted in most geomorphic and sedimentary features of the planet one can witness nowadays.

The best argument for the evidence of the worldwide Flood is the universality of the language used in the Gen. 6-8. This is the main reason why people for many centuries have believed in the story of Genesis and why this view is prevalent nowadays. Nevertheless, the Hebrew word used to describe the earth in Gen. 6-8 and in Gen. 2:5-6. Both of words mean “ground, land, earth, dirt, country, or soil”. However, there is no way that the term “earth” was in Noah’s time understood as the Earth, as people had no concept of the Earth as a planet. As a matter of fact, their world mostly encompassed the land of Mesopotamia – a plain surrounded by mountains of Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the Biblical facts must be interpreted with regards to the narrow limit of knowledge about the world at the time, but not with what is known today (Louath 141).

Quran’s Interpretation of the Flood

Another crucial version of this story is given in Quran. It also contains a story of the Flood and Ark, although these stories are slightly different form the Biblical ones. Quran mentions the same name Noah, but its main figure differs from Biblical and other stories.

As a matter of fact, the story of the Noah, his family, and the Flood in Quran is spread in 21 surahs. Unlike in the Bible, the stories in Quran are written not in the chronological order. In Quran’s story, the Flood destroys only those people who were warned by Noah. In Quran, Noah is God’s profit and apostle who preached and warned people to mend their evil ways and save themselves from Allah’s punishment. He encouraged them to worship one Allah, and not to worship idols. Quran provides long between Noah and his people. Despite his warnings, people did not believe him and rejected him. Consequently, the man prayed to Allah to help him and punish those who did not believe (Gaetje 103).

Noah, with his family and some of his followers found some pairs of animals and took them into the Ark, which was built under the instructions of Allah. In the end, the Flood destroyed those who rejected him. In Quran’s story, the place of Ark landing was named not Ararat, but Judi. The Flood was resulted in by rains and springs and was followed by an earthquake. Later, earth absorbed all the water, and the Flood ended. Quran’s version of the Flood addressed the people who knew about the Flood, such as Jews, descendants of Ishmael, Christians, and the Abraham followers.

One can examine the correcting and verifying of the story given in the Books of Moses studying the Quran. In fact, Quran’s story of the Flood has many details about geography, social structure, beliefs and customs, and the type of boat, which can be very helpful in the search of the Ark location. The Genesis, on the contrary, does not contain that much information about the people of the time and the land. This can be explained by the fact, that Islam is a relatively young religion, as compared to early Christianity (Gaetje 104).

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Noah in Islam is considered a highly important figure and one of the most crucial prophets of all. His narrative gives the prototype for many well-known prophetic stories, which usually begin with the prophet’s warning his people, community rejecting the prophet’s message, and punishment. According to the Quran, Noah is not the first prophet of Allah on the Earth. The first prophet was Adam, the first man on earth.

Unlike the Flood story described in the Bible, which says that such punishment will not be repeated and that God promised he would never destroy all beings, Quran says that “punishment overtook them in justice”. So, people will be punished again in the future. In Quran, there is no difference in post-flood and pre-flood policies with dealing with the wicked. However, before punishing people, Allah will send another prophet, and those who follow him will be saved (Gaetje 104).

The main and most important difference between the Biblical story of the Flood and Quran’s interpretation is that, according to Quran, it was not a universal Flood. Only Noah’s people who were warned by him and those who rejected him were punished.

Another important difference between the Bible and Quran’s interpretations of the Flood was who were saved during the Flood. Noah prayed to Allah and wanted to punish those who rejected him, but he did not pray for the destruction of the entire population. In the Genesis, it is evident that all human population died, “all the flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven: everything that is on the earth shall die… (Yusuf; Quaran 17:16)” Only Noah and his family managed to survive. However, according to the perception of the “earth” at the time, this difference may not exist.

Moreover, Islam and Christianity have different views on the account of the animals that were taken on the Ark. According to Quran, Noah’s Ark was a flat construction made of logs, bind together with ropes, and the animals taken on the boat were domesticated. According to Bible, there were all kinds of animals on the boat, and the Ark looked like a big box.

Mesopotamian Interpretation of the Flood

The Mesopotamian interpretation of the Flood was also found during the excavations in Mesopotamia. The XI Gilgamesh tablet contained the information about the Flood and some additional materials. In these stories, the divine information and boat saves a human and his family. However, the name of the central figure is not Noah.

In the epic of Gilgamesh, the hero’s name is Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim and his family were blessed by gods, which made them immortal and made them reside in other place. However, there is no information as to if his family survived with him. The epic of Gilgamesh was discovered at the time when people started to question the Biblical stories (Foster 458).

All mankind was intended to be destroyed, but Ea informs Utnapishtim of flood. He tells him to make a boat to save his family and himself, the seeds of living things, and artisans. The intention of Gods was to kill all the mankind, but only the cult-centers of their land were destroyed. Their lands included Melluha, Dilmun, Magan, etc.

The epic of Gilgamesh was composed in the form of a poem. The main actual figure of the poem is Gilgamesh, who was an actual historical person. Gilgamesh then wants to find immortality, as he is afraid of death. Then he meets Utnapishtim, who received immortality from Ea and saved all the species from death. That is when he told Gilgamesh about his adventures, his landing on the mountain Nizir. The flood, according to Utnapishtim, lasted for six days and nights (Foster 459).

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One can conclude that, having analyzed the Biblical, Quran, and Mesopotamian interpretations of the Flood, there are a lot of similarities in these stories. For instance, in both Biblical and Quran descriptions, the prophet’s name is Noah. The prophet receives the guidelines from God as to how to build an Ark and save those who are righteous. However, a lot of details are different.

In the Christian traditions, God Himself decides to punish humans for their wickedness, but in Muslim traditions, Noah asks God to punish those who rejected him. The names of the mountain where the Ark rested after the Flood are different. Moreover, there are many differences as to the universality of the Flood. Quran states that the Flood remained on the land where Noah lived, and punished and killed those who were warned, but rejected Noah and monotheism. In the Bible, the Flood was universal and killed all human beings and animals on the land, except for Noah and his family. The Mesopotamian interpretation of the Flood is very similar to that of the Christian one. However, the name of the prophet here is different.