An Example of What I'm Talking About

>> Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I said I'd be moving on to the Constitution but the thread on yesterday's post got me thinking about giving an example instead of just speaking in generalities. As did my sister's post. So, today, that's what I'm going to do.

Let's take the story of Noah. In a nutshell, people were going wild, but Noah was a good guy, still buds with God. So, according to the Bible, God told him, "I'm eradicating the race of men." And then told him to make a wooden vessel (approximately 135m x 22.5m x 13.5m) that would hold two (or seven) of every living thing and food for such (he ended up needing >300 days worth). And his family and their families. The water rose about 7m and covered the mountains (apparently the really short ones) for 150 days. Then God blew the water away over a period of months before (I'm not kidding) opening the single window. Weeks later, they opened up the ark and let everything repopulate the earth.

First, do I have to explain why this isn't physically possible? Skip the logic and the flood, it's not physically possible to put every animal even in a geographical (let alone the world) into a volume like that with enough food to sustain them for close on a year. Available data nixes (decisively) the worldwide flood possibility.

So, if it's categorically untrue as written, does that mean that this story is worthless?

Not necessarily.

It could be a version, embellished, likely over generations, of a man and his family that escaped a flood, perhaps a tsunami or a hurricane. Afterwards, perhaps, the survivors tried to make sense of the loss and destruction around them (as, no doubt, many did after the Boxing Day tsunami). In this case, much like The Illiad, factual events are given divine explanations and motivations.

But, what if, God (presuming he's the inspiration) wasn't providing history but allegory (as his reputed Son was prone to in the next Testament), telling a story to provide a lesson. What lesson? And, if God wasn't the inspiration, this is clearly a story that promotes piety as an amazing number of Old Testament stories are.

Well, and that's the part I didn't go into yesterday - because just as those writing down the Bible had their own mindset and prejudices that became part of the story, so those reading it pull things from the Bible depending on what they expect to see, what they want to see.

One could read that story and get the lesson that the pious will be protected by God and everyone else is at risk. One could also get the lesson that man has the responsibility to protect nature (animals) or that those that are prepared can weather even cataclysmic events.

I personally think that understanding how such a story originates can go a long way to help you figure out what, if anything, to get from it.


  • David

    The story of Noah is maybe the strangest story in the Bible. It makes no sense. How did the kangaroo get to Noah’s Ark? Did pre-flood kangaroos have wings? And the wings fell off after the flood, AFTER they flew back to Australia? Yet I recall reading that over half our population believes Biblical creationism, including the Noah story. That is a scary thought.

    Maybe Noah is a metaphor for something, but I can’t figure it out. Could the Noah legend symbolize the extinction of other early humanoids, leaving only modern man behind? Nah!

  • Roy

    The story of Noah shows the incorporation of foreign (i.e. non-Hebrew) texts into the Biblical text. This is basically the Babylonian flood tale, which is in turn a tale based on the annual flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a flooding which both destroys everything in its path and leaves behind a rich alluvial soil in which the years crops are grown. It's the classic archetypal tale of destruction and re-creation, like Shiva beating his drum signaling the destruction of the cosmos, which then allows it to be reborn.

    The Babylonian flood tale is one which is shared with other ancient cultures which developed around large rivers - Egypt, China (around the Yangtze), and the pre-Hindu Indian culture based along the Indus (Harrapa, Mohenjo Daro). I'll even be willing to bet that the Mound Builder culture along the Ohio River and their contemporaries along the Mississippi and its other tributaries had similar flood myths. As I said before, this is an archetypal tale and it's repeated around the world.

  • Stephanie B

    David, it would really not be challenging to demonstrate this is impossible, much like demonstrating that Santa Claus isn't going to be able to hit every house in one night. It can be toppled readily. Truthfully, it's not a story that works much for me. For me, it's easiest to explain as a believe or die allegory devised for people who benefit by that belief. But, then, I'm cynical.

    I was reading about other deluge stories, Roy. After all, there are few places where flooding doesn't occur. It's interesting that a similar or the same historical event can be twisted to fit so many differing ideologies. It was sort of my point.

  • Aron Sora

    This is why I like looking at the bible as a metaphor. I've heard that story cited as a reason one shouldn't sin and that's not the point of the story.

    "One could read that story and get the lesson that the pious will be protected by God and everyone else is at risk. One could also get the lesson that man has the responsibility to protect nature (animals) or that those that are prepared can weather even cataclysmic events."

    I think that interpretation is so much more spiritually significant then "sin and you die". In a way, it leads to less sin because it becomes your responsibility to do good in your interpretation. In the "sin and you die" interpretation doing good is like a job. It's like volunteering vs. working for a pay check. Maybe I'm off base here, but the fear causing interpretation is less pure then the responsibility interpretation. I've seen so many people follow the rules out of fear, not wanted to better them selves.

  • Stephanie B

    I agree and I don't think anyone's qualified to tell you that interpretation is off base. Even if they think they are, Aron.

  • Shakespeare

    This is so COOL! This myth is the very one I chose to use in my novel MARIAH'S ARK, for these very reasons. In it, Mariah and her family have to come to grips with the idea that they were spared from a flood, but so many other people who were no less worthy than they were not spared.

    Other mythic systems have floods as well. Several Native American tribes have passed down myths about a flood covering all the earth, and you might consider checking out the myth written down by Ovid about Pyrrha and Deucalion (look up the names, and you'll likely come up with the story). Talk about a story that couldn't possibly be true... but it has some of the same themes running through it.

    So glad you continued on in this vein.

  • The Mother

    I was all set to explain how the flood story of the Torah was swiped from ancient Babylonian lore, but Roy beat me to it.

    The first of the two creation stories is swiped from ancient lore, too. As are many of the other tales.

    Mythology is very similar, one culture to another. Try this one: the Greeks and Romans had LOTS of young virgins impregnated by gods. But, somehow, only one is still currently considered "true."


  • Stephanie B

    The Mother, that trend is bigger than just the Bible. Think of all the Pagan holidays that were snatched up and Christianized. Now, people who don't know better get their knickers in a twist if someone calls it the Holiday season instead of the Christmas season completely unaware that Christmas was put in place to commandeer the Winter Solstice and Yule.

    It's an unfortunate side effect of many devout that, at best, they look on the religious stories of other cultures (mythology) as whimsical stories just short of ridiculous (despite their similarities to their own tales) or, at worst, as dangerous Evil One propoganda. Neither are conducive to learning or critical thinking.

  • Doctor Faustroll

    A few thousand years from now, a buddy of mine probably named Osama or Mahmoud is going to write the story Sykeethia Lewis who attempted to ride out Katrina on a door God told her to remove from the attic of her house who ended up dying because she took on too many drowning people.

    It will be part of a collection of tall tales based on actual events designed to dissuade roving bands of savages from pursuing their animal urges and help them become civilized and blessed and tithed. Yeah, the planet will still demand tithing.

    He'll probably be a guy who departs on a space mission in 10 or 20 years traveling at a great rate of speed while kept in hibernation.

    When he returns, of course, the cyclical house of cards that the human species constantly rebuilds will be gone with a few pockets of intelligence and skill scattered in fortifications fighting off the zombie flu carriers.

    And then a leader will arise!

    Whenever I read religious crapola, I consider it simple-minded propaganda designed to fear-monger simple minds into self-repression and abnormal behavior.

    George W. Bush was God during Katrina, and He didn't give a shit about anyone in New Orleans, assuming that most of them never voted for Him and were worshipping liberal idols.

    He probably wouldn't have cut short His grueling vacation if Trent Lott had not lost an old plantation in GulfPort and needed immediate Heavenly aid.

    Has anyone here read much Joseph Campbell? Heroes have thousands of faces, while evil always has the same bland fearful expression of blind faith.

    You don't need God to exist to have a decent society. You need to have people who don't engage in God-like behavior.

  • The Mother

    Stephanie--you are so right about that, but it started WAY back. Even after Rome converted to Christianity, they needed the army. And the army was mostly Mitraists (the cult of the undying sun)--who, like most sun god believers, had their holy day on the winter solstice.

    So, since they couldn't do without the army, the Emperor fixed the date of the birth of Christ (which they had NO way of knowing, exactly), on the Mithras holiday, and just did their own version of "don't ask, don't tell."

    The early Christians HATED mithraism, because they saw it as a subversive parody of Christianity (gee, dead and resurrected God, I wonder why?), even though it predated Christianity by at least a few centuries. They destroyed Mithrea all over the empire, and persecuted as many of them as they could get their hands on.

  • Stephanie B

    They touched on mithraism in the Roman world in The Crystal Cave, but I'll admit I don't know diddly about that particular sect.

    If I recall correctly, there were many different pagan religions that had a special holiday around the Winter Solstice. It's no surprise that other Christian holidays happen to fall on other pagan holy days.

    Dr. Faustroll, I don't begrudge anyone their belief system. However, I take issue with the notion that religious belief is the cornerstone to moral behavior, especially given the horrible things that have, through the ages, been done in the name of religion.

    I don't know that that's a fault of religion or just the people who use religion to gain power. Nothing turns me off of any religion like preaching hatred and fear.

    I don't think I need religion to be a good person, that anyone really does (though some might disagree with me).

    Ironically, I don't know of any full up society without some sort of religion, so I don't have a control to prove that a society free from religion would be fine. But I do think history tells us that giving unlimited power to religious leaders is almost always a mistake.

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