Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 6:5ff.

Now we come to the Flood narrative and this is where things start to get kind of silly. I'm going to deal with this from the standpoint of those who take these passages literally. However, the question I have for Christians who don't take these passages literally is, what's the point of all this if it's just "metaphorical" and how do you know your metaphorical interpretation is the right one?

Again Yahweh comes across very human in this passage. He has to observe the wickedness as though he didn’t already know it was coming in the first place. He experiences regret and grief over his actions. Finally, in a rather petulant manner he decides to wipe out not only mankind, but also land animals and birds. Like a child who’s angry that his model airplane didn’t turn out exactly the way he wanted, he’s just going to pout about it and then smash the thing and go do something else.

This is Yahweh’s first recorded killing in the Bible and he appears determined to do it in grand fashion. He could have started with the fratricidal Cain, but instead he decided to actually protect him from retributive justice. He could have made an example of the proud and murderous Lamech, but he still withheld his justice. He could have struck down the violent, half-breed Nephilim. No, instead he waits until things get so bad he has to just kill absolutely everything in an incredibly overcomplicated manner. He appears to be under certain constraints when it comes to how he can accomplish this. It would seem that he can’t merely make all the bad people just disappear. He can't just magic all the wicked people straight to hell and make everything over again. No, he apparently has to put on a show, allowing theologians to later make guesses about why.

In the Sumerian Eridu Genesis and the Babylonian Atrahasis as well as Gilgamesh, the gods become disturbed by how noisy the growing population of mankind has become and Enlil decides to destroy them in a flood. In this respect, Yahweh is only slightly different from the gods in other flood myths in that his concern is declining morality rather than increasing noise. His solution, however, is the same and equally unsuccessful in its goal.

It’s noteworthy that Enlil’s solution would’ve worked if it hadn’t been for another god, Ea, warning Atrahasis of the impending disaster. Yahweh becomes his own foil in the Genesis story by warning Noah. One can’t help but observe that by having several gods with competing interests and limited knowledge and power, polytheism has the distinct advantage of being able to construct a consistent narrative while avoiding the notion of a single god with schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder, afflictions from which Yahweh often appears to suffer.

The narrative abruptly switches divine names from “Yahweh” (LORD) back to “Elohim” (God) in this section before returning again to “Yahweh” in 7:1, even though verse 18 explicitly invokes covenantal language. I’ve been told that the reason why the presumed author, Moses, switches between the two names is that “Yahweh” invokes a personal and covenantal side of God while “Elohim” suggests his transcendent, universal aspects. At least, this is the reason given for the differences in use between Genesis 1 and 2. Here, however, we have a very personal and covenantal expression of God’s dealing with Noah, and yet it’s “Elohim” that is used. Moses doesn’t seem very consistent. Or maybe, just maybe, we're dealing with multiple sources who prefer different divine names.

Conservative Bible scholars seeking to preserve the notion of Mosaic authorship have come up with various complicated explanations for this switch and usually point to things like chiastic structures in Hebrew poetry, even though the genre in this passage, unlike the psalms put forward as examples, is pretty clearly narrative and in spite of the fact that these chiastic structures are not easily identified and often rely on the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. These folks say that Moses was somehow making really deep and complex theological points or making word play when he alternated names, repeated information and added new and often contradictory details to the narrative. It's ironic that those same people will turn around and criticize source critics for overcomplicating things by suggesting multiple authors. The whole thing comes across as a very elaborate way of saying, “We’re not exactly sure what it was, but we know Moses had a reason for doing it” in the face of all the obvious problems in the text. This approach has to be used over and over throughout all five books of the Pentateuch.

I don’t see why this explanation would be more preferable to some kind of multiple source theory that sees things like the Elohim passages as being from one source and the Yahweh passages as being from another with an editor/redactor weaving them together. Such a theory goes a long way in explaining much of the repetition and outright contradictions. I invite the reader to pay special attention to when the narrative shifts from God/Elohim to LORD/Yahweh.

The common way traditional interpreters try to undercut source critics is by showing how difficult it can be in many places to clearly identify the different sources with any degree of certainty. This is a red herring. Just because it can be difficult to collate the source material doesn’t in any way make multiple source theories less viable or more complex than single authorship when it comes to the basic assumptions involved. When one approaches a Bible passage with contradictions, repetitions, changes in details or a completely divergent theological viewpoint it’s much simpler to assume a different source with different views than to try to overcome the discrepancies with increasingly complex mental gymnastics that often amount to nothing more than portraying Moses as the theological equivalent of Pee Wee Herman.
"I meant to do that."
Sure you did, Moses.

Here Noah is said to be “blameless” (tamiym). This will be one of those times where Bible expositors will tell us that something the Bible says doesn’t really mean what it looks like it says. After all, we find out in Romans that there is none righteous. All have sinned. Every member of Adam’s posterity is utterly corrupt and sinful in their being. Only Jesus Christ was sinless. We’ll be told that “blameless” here and countless other places in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, doesn’t really mean blameless.

We’re told that these Old Testament saints like Noah are just as wicked and sinful and deserving of eternal hell as everyone else on earth. They just had faith and were covered by the blood of Jesus, and that is what makes them blameless, just, righteous, etc. Pay no attention to what the text is obviously saying about that person. That would seem to contradict the theology expressed in other passages of the Bible and since we know the Bible can’t contradict itself, it can’t possibly mean what it appears to mean.  The writer of Genesis must have the exact same understanding of what is required in order to find favor with God and be counted blameless before him and it is absolute perfection, not some general understanding of being good compared to everyone else who is utterly wicked. Right?

Moses apparently feels the need to remind readers of Noah’s three sons when we just read this information a mere nine verses back. Oh yeah, I forgot. It’s probably part of a chiastic structure.

And now Moses is repeating and adding to information already provided in 6:5. Another chiasm I presume?

While nobody really knows what the heck "gopher wood" is, we do know what pitch is. The question is, where did the pitch come from? Pitch or bitumen is a hydrocarbon like petroleum that is formed when organic material is buried and subjected to extreme pressure. How did Noah come across enough pitch to cover nearly 230,000 square feet of ark surface prior to the flood? I guess this is where two-flood gap theorists like to pop up and raise their hands as if their theory doesn’t create more problems than it solves. If one wants to stretch the semantic possibilities of the word kopher and make the argument that what is being referred to here is some kind of plant resin like pine tar, feel free. Just be sure to explain how the four of them went about the painfully tedious chore of extracting the thousands of gallons of plant resin they would've needed.

Also, those who try to get around the problems generated by the Flood account and the lack of supporting geological evidence by thinking that the flood was just a large localized flood should note that problems like this don't go away for you either.

The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. This would make it over 100 feet longer than some of the largest wooden vessels ever built and those vessels had to have iron supports and be constantly pumped. Why? The reason is that at such a size, the pressure on the keels was so great that it would crack. No wooden vessel that size without steel support could withstand that kind of force while just resting on its own weight in calm water, much less in the midst of a global flood while the whole world is getting thrashed. The ark is simply too big to be seaworthy.

How long would it take to build a vessel this size? Well if Noah and his sons had a hundred years that seems like sufficient time for four guys to engineer and build the largest floating wooden vessel in human history without the aid of the rigging, tools, techniques and manpower available to the nineteenth century shipyards that built vessels less than half its size, right? The problem with this is that the ark is a wooden structure. Parts of it would’ve begun falling into decay and disrepair well before construction could be completed. Even modern vessels wouldn’t survive the elements for a hundred years without regular repairs. In a dry climate the wood would warp and crack. In a humid one it would rot.

At some point during construction, progress would be virtually halted while they began going back over the previously constructed portions to make repairs on broken seals, rotted sections and warped wood in a never-ending battle with the elements. By the time they finished making the repairs it would be time to go back and make more repairs. This is why shipbuilders of wooden vessels would have to complete construction within a four or five year timeline.

Archaeologists recently discovered this pitch brush in the mountains of Ararat. 
Just as an example, remember that magic supply of thousands of gallons of water-proofing pitch from verse 14? Even if Noah and his three sons somehow managed to seal up 4,000 square feet of surface each and every day, by the time they finished the boat, two months later, they’d likely have to start going back over it again. Maybe they just outsourced it to a bunch of those giants mentioned in verse 4?

Again we see more problems that do not go away by merely suggesting this is just describing a large localized flood.

There are three 15 ft. decks and only the top deck has an 18 inch window. That really sucks for whatever has to be on the bottom deck over 30 feet below…for a year. Air circulation would be very poor with this construction. Almost no fresh air would reach the lower decks at that height. Toxic gases and carbon dioxide would accumulate over time. Microorganisms would multiply and concentrate at incredible rates. The poor ventilation would have greatly enhanced the rate of boat rot. Nineteenth century wooden ships would have to be inspected every two months from stem to stern to identify and repair boat rot. The ark was sitting in water for over five months with a microbial breeding ground inside. No amount of pitch is going to protect it from the inevitable, rapid decay.

Noah is instructed to take two of every kind of living creature: birds, cattle, creeping things. All of them will come to him so he can keep them alive. Additionally he must take every kind of food for them and for his family. This wouldn’t have seemed too far-fetched for someone living in the Middle East nearly three thousand years ago, given all the animals that were known to them at the time.

These days, in the face of modern zoology, people who take the story literally have to attempt everything imaginable to get the number of animals down as low as possible. It usually starts by defining “kind” in such a way that requires post-flood evolution from whatever a “kind” is into modern species at a rate more rapid than any evolutionary biologist could ever dream. Of course, this rapid speciation couldn’t have occurred in the centuries prior to the flood or else the genetic information would not be there. And yet we have all this fossil evidence of massive speciation in the strata supposedly deposited during the flood, meaning all those different species that sprang from those “kinds” existed prior to the flood. It’s quite the conundrum for the creationists performing all the armchair pseudo-science that goes on at AiG and ICR.

Even if we go with the most conservative numbers from creationists putting the load at around 16,000 or even a ridiculously low 2,500 animals, it still doesn’t solve the weight problem the ark now faces with respect to water displacement. The weight of all those animals and all that food is going to sink it, assuming it doesn’t tear itself apart from its own weight to begin with.

Food supply and preservation for all the animals for a year is going to be a nightmare and only further compound the weight issue. All that food means a whole lot of pooping, which brings us back to that 18 inch window on the third deck. Recall that there will be eight people to feed, care for and remove the feces of thousands of animals. Many animals have highly specialized diets. This would be a problem not only for Noah, but also for the animals themselves as they migrate to the ark and away from the ecosystems that contain their special sources of nourishment.

While the drinking water issue seems simple given that it’s falling from the sky, this only happens for forty days, so they will presumably have to collect silt-laden floodwaters full of heaven knows what and somehow distill or otherwise purify it and remove the ridiculously high mineral levels before giving it to the animals or drinking it themselves. With water consumption comes urine release. While the top deck could maybe have some kind of drain system that allowed the pee to go over the side, it’s hard to imagine how the poor suckers on the bottom fared with the hundreds of gallons of piss per day they would have to wallow in.

Then there is the problem of the instruction to carry two of every creature, male and female. This doesn’t really help animals like certain genera of lizards that have only females and reproduce parthenogenically. Hymenopterans like bees would likewise not be able to reproduce with only a single male and female representative. There are birds that will only mate in flocks and flies that will only reproduce in swarms.

What about parasites? There are thousands of host-specific organisms that would not survive the flood unless they were safely within their unwitting hosts. Which member of Noah’s family got to contract malaria for the entire trip? Which couple had the ignominious task of playing host to the five types of venereal disease that cannot survive outside of humans? Who was the poor shmuck who had hookworms and pinworms and had to endure raging diarrhea for the duration of the trip? And that’s just the humans. These poor other pairs of animals with only two representatives had to suffer through carrying all of the parasites for their “kind” themselves and somehow pass them on to some of their offspring but not all.

Fish and aquatic mammals must certainly be left out for space reasons, barring a giant aquarium; but the flood presents some insurmountable problems for them. Coral will not survive in anything other than shallow water depth. Some fish can only survive in cold, fresh mountain lakes. Others need brackish water in swamps. Some need highly oxygenated flowing water, while others live in sluggish water. Freshwater fish in salt water will shrivel up and die and likewise saltwater fish in fresh water will bloat and die. Of course, in a global flood environment, relative salinity is probably the least of concerns for a fish struggling to survive amid the muck and floating debris and violent fluctuations of temperature and force.

These are just a few of the problems associated with the details of the narrative given so far. Many more abound. Valliant efforts have been made by folks like AiG, ICR and Kent Hovind to try to deal with as many as they can and their creative attempts at overcoming these problems usually involve great leaps in the imagination, suspension of reality and imprecise figures, often at the expense of what is actually stated in the text.

One begins to wonder why they just don’t simply posit a miracle every time a difficulty arises. God miraculously kept the ark together even though it was structurally unsound. God made Noah and his sons work super-fast like the Flash and he magically kept the ark from rotting. God magically teleported the animals from around the world. God multiplied the food and fresh water aboard the ark as needed. He shrunk animals so they’d fit into Pok√© Balls. He re-created all the stuff outside the ark that couldn’t have survived afterward. He made all the piss and crap just vanish into nothing.

After all, is there really any problem that can’t be overcome with Yahweh's magic? Any issues associated with space, time and matter can be made irrelevant with miracles, right? It just seems to me that if you’ve got an omnipotent deity at your disposal available for explanatory purposes, you should use him. All those Creationist websites should quit wasting their time churning out pseudo-scientific articles defending the Flood and just simply repeat these three words over and over: God did it. Of course, that raises the question of why he would go through all that trouble in the first place performing so many miracles when he could just magic all the wicked people straight to hell anyway right from the start.


  1. Good stuff. Regarding El and Yahweh, I read somewhere (Evolution of God, maybe) that originally they were treated as two different gods, with El being Yahweh's boss before Yahweh took over and hooked up with Asherah. This pantheon of gods in the Jewish tradition can be seen most clearly in the book of Job. And with this in mind it seems to me that this could likely have been a case of the story originally being of two gods discussing the flood etc, as opposed to one god being called two different names.
    Whatever the case my be, your painstakingly precise research continues to astound me.

    1. Yes. While I have not read Wright’s book, I am familiar with the notion that Yahweh was at one time just one of the many gods of the pantheon under the Canaanite high god, El or El Most High. Deuteronomy 32 has the so-called “Song of Moses” which, like most of poetic verse found in the Torah, likely predates the rest of Deuteronomy considerably. Verses 8 & 9 are highly suggestive that Yahweh was merely assigned the people and territory of Israel as his portion by the Most High god, along with his “brothers.”

      “When Elyon gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided up the sons of man, he set the boundaries of the peoples, according to the number of the divine beings. For Yahweh’s allotment is his people, Jacob is his special possession.”

      There are other lines of evidence to support this, usually found in the other preserved poetic traditions like Numbers 21:9, which refers to the Moabites as the “people of Chemosh.” The view seems to have been that these tribal gods had rival power that may have been tied to the land. Consider that when the king of Moab offers his son up to Chemosh in 2 Kings 3 as a last-ditch effort in the midst of what appears to be certain defeat, Chemosh actually responds by sending forth “great wrath against Israel” and the Israelite armies are forced to retreat to their own land.

    2. This is interesting stuff and the more I read of your postings the more I realized I wasn't telling you anything new. (I always forget to click on 'notify me' which is why I only stumbled back on your reply the now.) I haven't had the time to get through all your postings yet, but continually finding things of interest in them. Thanks for taking the time to put this stuff out there. I still think your Genesis series would make a great book when it's done. Cheers

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