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IT is a singular confirmation of the Deluge as a great historical event, that it is thus found engraven in the memories of all the great nations of antiquity; but it is still more striking to find it holding a place in the traditions of the most widely spread races of America, and indeed of the world at large. Thus Alfred Maury, a French writer of immense erudition, speaks of it as "a very remarkable fact, that we find in America traditions of the Deluge coming infinitely nearer those of the Bible and of the Chaldean religion than the legends of any people of the old world."
The ancient inhabitants of Mexico had many variations of the legend among their various tribes. In some, rude paintings were found representing the Deluge. Not a few believed that a vulture was sent out of the ship, and that, like the raven of the Chaldean tablets, it did not return, but fed on the dead bodies of the drowned. Other versions say that a humming bird alone, out of many birds sent off, returned with a branch covered with leaves in its beak. Among the Cree Indians of the present day in the Arctic circle, in North America, Sir John Richardson found similar traces of the great tradition. "The Crees," he says, "spoke of a universal Deluge, caused by an attempt of the fish to drown one who was a kind of demigod, with whom they had quarrelled. Having constructed a raft, he embarked with his family, and all kinds of birds and beasts. After the flood had continued some time, he ordered several waterfowls to dive to the bottom, but they were all drowned. A musk rat, however, having been sent on the same errand, was more successful, and returned with a mouthful of mud." From other tribes in every part of America, travellers have brought many variations of the same world-wide tradition, nor are even the scattered islands of the Great Southern Ocean without versions of their own. In Tahiti, the natives used to tell of the god Ruahatu having told two men, "who were at sea, fishing—Return to the shore, and tell men that the earth will be covered with water, and all the world will perish. To-morrow morning go to the islet called Toamarama; it will be a place of safety for you and your children. Then Ruahatu caused the sea to cover the lands. All were covered, and all men perished except the two and their families." In other islands we find legends recording the building of an altar after the Deluge; the collection of pairs of all the domestic animals, to save them, while the Fiji islanders give the number of the human beings saved, as eight.
The precise shape of the ark has been the subject of no little controversy. The Hebrew word for it is apparently Egyptian, and is translated in the Greek version by the word for a wooden box, chest, or coffer, while in the Vulgate it is called an ark; that is, a chest. The Egyptian word means a chest, or coffer, or sarcophagus; so that all agree in the idea of a vessel four cornered, like a box; if we are to understand them literally. J. D. Michaelis, however, with his delight in new opinions and his vivid acuteness, was very unwilling to think it could have been a mere chest, "which could hardly float on the sea, and stood in imminent danger of being whirled round and round by the waves." "Kibotos —the Greek word"—says he, "had, assuredly, various meanings at Alexandria. For example, a part of the harbour bore that name, but in common Greek it especially means a coffin or sarcophagus. Could it have meant in Alexandria, first a sarcophagus, and then a Nile-boat of about the proportions after which Noah's ship was built? The old Egyptians bore corpses on boats to the place of burial; the boatman was called Charon, and the fable of Charon's boat is in some degree of Egyptian origin, while the name—Charon's Sea—still survives in Egypt. Still more, whoever has seen a mummy knows that the coffin or chest in which it lies is like a long boat, though from the thickness of the wood in the middle it has not the exact proportions of Noah's ark. Perhaps the Greek translators meant by Kibotos, a Nile boat, named from such a mummy coffin."
He then goes on remark, that, "In the beginning of the previous century—the seventeenth—a ship had been built with a rounded hull, after the proportions given in the sixth of Genesis, and it had been found, to the astonishment of all, that these proportions, given in the oldest book in the world, were precisely the most advantageous for safety, for stowage, and even for swiftness!" "George Horn," he continues, "Professor of History at Leyden in the last century, in his 'Compendium of Universal History,' gives the name of a person who had seen this ship, which was called Noah's Ark. At the time of the truce between the Spaniards and the Dutch, in 1609, there lived at Hoorn, in North Holland, a Mennonist, Peter Jansen, who took the notion that he would build a ship of the same proportions as Noah's ark, only smaller; that is, 120 feet long, 20 feet broad, and 12 high. While it was building every one laughed at him; but, Dutchman-like, he kept sturdily on, and found, in the end, that it justified his expectations. For when launched, it proved to be able to bear a third more freight than other ships of the same measurement, required no more hands to manage it than they, and sailed far faster. The result was that the Dutch built many others like it, calling them Noah's Arks, and they only ceased to be used after the close of the truce, in 1621, because they could not carry cannon, and thus were not safe against privateers or pirates."
The ark is said, in Genesis, to have rested on the mountains of Ararat; not on a mountain called Ararat, as we generally assume. The word, in the Assyrian inscriptions, is a name for Armenia, but there is no hint of any particular mountain bearing the name. The special district meant, which, indeed, still bears the ancient name, is one bounded, on the south, by a high chain of mountains on the middle course of the Araxes, a river flowing into the Caspian. In later times the name was given to the mountains themselves, and especially to their highest summit, which rises 16,254 feet above the sea, and has long been known as the Greater Mount Ararat, while another peak close by, 4,000 feet lower, is called the Lesser Ararat. This, however, is an incorrect transference of the name; arising no doubt from the translation of the Hebrew words in the Bible, by "the mountains of Ararat." instead of "the mountains of the country of Ararat." In Isaiah xxxvii. 38, the Hebrew words, "the land of Ararat" are translated, "land of Armenia," and so, in 2 Kings xix. 37.
The mountain now known as Ararat is an almost isolated volcanic cone, and has been ascended by Europeans at various times; the last who reached its summit being Professor Bryce, of Oxford, who found the upper parts often difficult to climb, from the softness of the ashy rock. There is, however, no crater. Strange to say, the mountain has considerably altered in shape since 1840; an earthquake having loosened part of it and hurled it down. Its name in Armenia is Massis, not Ararat. Snow lies on the top, but it is not at all necessary to suppose that the ark rested on any but a comparatively low point of the range of which it forms apart. The Syrian tradition places the spot in Kurdistan, in the same region, though more to the south-west; but the texts of Isaiah and Kings already quoted are opposed to this being the locality.
It is a curious fact that the oleaster, which may well have supplied the "olive leaf" of Noah's dove, grows profusely in the district of Ararat.
The Extent of the Deluge has long been a subject of keen discussion. Until within the last generation its strict universality was hardly questioned. Thus we find even so lately as in the notes to Bagster's "Comprehensive Bible;" written, it may be, within the last thirty or forty years, that "the evidence of its universality is most incontestable. The moose deer, a native of America, has been found buried in Ireland; elephants, natives of Asia and Africa, in the midst of England; crocodiles, natives of the Nile, in the heart of Germany; and shell-fish, never known in any but the American seas; with the entire skeletons of whales; in the most inland counties of England." It needs hardly be said that the least tincture of geological knowledge explodes the whole of this string of illustrations. The date of all these remains is inconceivably more remote than that of the Flood. The Irish elk is not the American moose and the evidence is perfect that the great quadrupeds found in the more recent formations, or in the superficial drift in England, lived as well as died where they are found, and that the climate, as well as the flora and fauna, have been changed, again and again, over all the earth. The argument of the writer of this note would seek to demonstrate the universality of the flood from all the fossil remains discovered; but these range through whole miles of rock, of many kinds, slowly deposited during successive geological ages, at the bottom of ancient oceans or other waters. Surely it will not be maintained that a flood which left the leaf on an olive-tree, could have formed beds of rock to the thickness of mile upon mile; or have seen the creation of successive types of animal and vegetable life, from the corals of the lowest rocks, through every upward stage, to the highest. But the idea needs no refutation. It is at best a curious antiquarian reminiscence. The sketch of the age of the world, given in an earlier chapter, will show its complete untenableness.
In 1823 Professor Buckland published his "Reliquiae Diluvianae," to vindicate the Scripture narrative, by a study of the present surface of the earth. The existence of huge beds of gravel in positions to which no rivers or torrents now in existence could have borne them, and the fact that masses of rock carried far from their original site, are found strewn over and through them, were thought proofs of the passage of a flood like that of Noah over the regions where they occur. It has been shown, however, that this gravel, or drift, is of no one age, but of all ages; and that the boulders in it have evidently been transported to their present positions, not by a sudden rush of water, but by icebergs or glaciers; their surfaces being scratched exactly like those of the stones frozen into such, masses of moving ice, and the rocks over which they pass. The retreat of the ice sheets that at various times covered most of Britain, and the melting of icebergs; with the consequent dropping of the boulders frozen into them—sometimes, even now, amounting to 20,000 tons in the case of a single iceberg— sufficiently and convincingly explained all the phenomena met with, and led Dr. Buckland himself to admit that his argument could not be maintained.
The theories that have at different times been proposed to explain the Mosaic deluge, on the supposition of its being universal, form a curious chapter in the history of literature. Dr. Burnet, in his "Theory of the Earth," published in 1680-1689, supposes that, before the Deluge, the surface of the earth was perfectly flat, without mountains, valleys, or seas, and that its interior was filled with water. The outer crust, he conceives, became so heated by the sun, after a time, as to be split into fissures through which the waters within, expanded by the heat, burst out with tremendous force, drowning all the race, and leaving the crust so unsupported that it fell together in dire confusion, creating on the one hand the vast hollows of the present oceans, and on the other, raising the hills and mountains of the world; the surplus waters flowing back into the hollow central abyss. By such a theory he hoped to account for the vast quantity of water required for a universal deluge; which he reckoned would be eight times as much as is contained in our present oceans and seas.
John Ray, (or Wray) a naturalist eminent in his day, adopted this theory, with the slight change of supposing the final catastrophe to have risen from a shifting of the earth's centre. Dr. Halley, the astronomer, however, while also adopting it, supposed—-astronomer-like-—that the shock of a comet was the disturbing force. But all these theorists forgot that such agencies as they suggested would have caused an instantaneous deluge, not a gradual one like that of Genesis; nor did they explain how Noah could be saved in a convulsion which literally tore the earth in pieces. Whiston, in his "New Theory of the Earth," published in 1696, went, indeed, even so far, after calculating that the comet of 1680 had appeared on "the 28th Nov., B.C. 1349, as to publish a tract with the title, 'The Cause of the Deluge Demonstrated.'"
The Rev. William Kirby, the eminent entomologist, in his old age, astonished the world by propounding a theory still more extravagant. Not only did he believe in an abyss of waters within the earth; he held also that there was a subterranean "metropolis of animals," where the huge saurians of the oolite and lias still survive.
Two writers, Mr. Granville Penn and Mr. Fairholme, were amongst the last of the long list of worthy men who thought fit to put in print their theories of a universal deluge. They supposed that between the Creation and the Flood—-a period reckoned as 1656 years—-all the fossiliferous rocks, that is, a depth of six miles of various rock-systems, were deposited at the bottom of the ocean. By the Flood, they fancied, these were raised above the level of the waters and became the present dry land; the original surface, including the Garden of Eden, having been submerged.
Thoughtful men of all shades of religious opinion have, meanwhile, come to the opposite conclusion; that the Noachian Deluge was only a local one, though sufficiently extensive in its area to destroy all the then existing race of men. In support of this view many arguments have been offered, of which a few may be briefly stated.
The stupendous greatness of the miracle involved in a universal deluge, seems a strong reason to doubt the likelihood of God having resorted to a course wholly unnecessary to effect the end mainly in view—-the judgment of mankind for their sins. There could certainly be no apparent reason for submerging the vast proportion of the world which was then uninhabited, or of raising the waters above the tops of mountains to which no living creature could approach. It is to be remembered, moreover, that the addition of such a vast mass of water to the weight of the earth-—eight times that contained in the ocean beds-—would have disarranged the whole solar system, and even the other systems of worlds through the universe; for all are interbalanced with each other in their various relations. Then, this immeasurable volume of water, after having served its brief use, must have been annihilated, to restore the harmony of the heavenly motions: the only instance in the whole economy of nature of the annihilation of even a particle of matter. Nor could any part of either the animal or vegetable worlds have survived a submersion of the planet for a year; and hence everything, except what the ark contained, must have perished; including even the fish; of which many species would die out if the water were fresh, others, if it were brackish, and ethers, again, if it were salt.
Men of the soundest orthodoxy have further urged that physical evidences still exist which prove that the Deluge could only have been local. Thus Professor Henslow supports De Candolle's estimate of the age of some of the baobab trees of Senegal as not less than 5,230 years, and of the taxodium of Mexico as from 4,000 to 6,000; periods which carry still living trees beyond that of the Flood. There is, moreover, in Auvergne, in France, a district covered with extinct volcanoes, marked by cones of pumice stone, ashes, and such light substances as could not have resisted the waters of the Deluge. Yet they are evidently more ancient than the time of Noah; for since they became extinct, rivers have cut channels for themselves through beds of columnar basalt, that is, of intensely hard crystallized lava, of no less than 150 feet in thickness, and have even eaten into the granite rocks beneath. And Auvergne is not the only part where similar phenomena are seen. They are found in the Eifel country of the Prussian Ehine province; in New Zealand, and elsewhere.
Nor is the peculiarity of some regions in their zoological characteristics less convincing. Thus, the fauna of Australia is entirely exceptional; as, for example, in the strange fact that quadrupeds of all kinds are marsupial, that is, provided with a pouch in which to carry their young. The fossil remains of this great island continent show, moreover, that existing species are the direct descendants of similar races, of extreme antiquity, and that the surface of Australia is the oldest land, of any considerable extent, yet discovered on the globe-—dating back at least to the Tertiary geological age; since which it has not been disturbed to any great extent. But this carries us to a period immensely more remote than Noah.
Nor is it possible to conceive of an assemblage of all the living creatures of the different regions of the earth at any one spot. The unique fauna of Australia—-survivors of a former geological age-—certainly could neither have reached the ark nor regained their home after leaving it; for they are separated from the nearest continuous land by vast breadths of ocean. The Polar bear surely could not survive a journey from his native icebergs to the sultry plains of Mesopotamia; nor could the animals of South America have reached these except by travelling the whole length, northwards, of North America, and then, after miraculously crossing Behring's Straits, having pressed, westwards, across the whole breadth of Asia, a continent larger than the moon. That even a deer should accomplish such a pedestrian feat is inconceivable, but how could a sloth have done it—-a creature which lives in trees, never, if possible, descending to the ground, and able to advance on it only by the slowest and most painful motions? Or, how could tropical creatures find supplies of food in passing through such a variety of climates, and over vast spaces of hideous desert?
Still more—how could any vessel, however large, have held pairs and sevens of all the creatures on earth, with food for a year, and how could the whole family of Noah have attended to them? There are at least two thousand mammals; more than seven thousand kinds of birds; from the gigantic ostrich to the humming bird; and over fifteen hundred kinds of amphibious animals and reptiles; not to speak of 120,000s kinds of insects, and an unknown multitude of varieties of infusoria. Nor does this include the many thousand kinds of mollusca, radiata, and fish. Even if the ark, as has been supposed by one writer, was of 80,000 tons burden, such a freightage needs only be mentioned to make it be felt impossible.
Look which way we like, gigantic difficulties meet us. Thus, Hugh Miller has noticed that it would have required a continuous miracle to keep alive the fish for whom the deluge water was unsuitable, while even spawn would perish if kept unhatched for a whole year, as that of many fish must have been. Nor would the vegetable world have fared better than the animal, for of the 100,000 known species of plants, very few would survive a year's submersion.
That a terrible catastrophe like that of the Flood—-apart from the all-sufficient statements of Scripture-—is not outside geological probability, is abundantly illustrated by recorded facts. The subsidence and upheaval of large extents of country has already been noticed. Nor can we justly measure the quiet of the present, though it is only comparative, with the violence of periods in the past. The vast chains of the Himalayan, the Caucasus, the Jura mountains and the Alps, for example, were all upheaved in the Pliocene period, which is one of the most recent in geology. A subsidence or elevation of a district, as the case might be, would cause a tremendous flood over vast regions. Nor are such movements of the earth's surface on a great scale unknown even now. Darwin repeatedly instances cases of recent elevation and depression of the earth's surface. On one part of the Island of St. Maria, in Chili, he found beds of putrid mussel shells still adhering to the rocks, ten feet above high-water mark, where the inhabitants had formerly dived at low-water spring tides for these shells. Similar shells were met with by him at Valparaiso at the height of 1,300 feet. And at another place a great bed of now-existing shells had been raised 350 feet above the level of the sea.
"I have convincing proofs," says he, "that this part of the continent of South America—Northern Chili—has been elevated, near the coast, at least from 400 to 500, and in some parts from 1,000 to 1,300 feet since the epoch of existing shells; and further inland the rise possibly
may have been greater." Wallace shows that a vast portion of the South of Asia-—from the east coast of Cochin China, to the west coast of Sumatra, and thence round the outside of Borneo, itself nearly twice as large as Great Britain and Ireland together—-has sunk beneath the ocean since the creation of the present forms of vegetation and animal life. This vast area embraces 27 degrees from north to south, and 21 from east to west; including a region of over 2,000,000 square miles. In all parts of this the sea is still so shallow-—never exceeding 50 fathoms in depth-—that ships can anchor in any part of it. Elevations also are as marked as this amazing subsidence. "In many places," says he, "I have observed the unaltered surfaces of the elevated reefs, with great masses of coral standing up in their natural position, and hundreds of shells so fresh-looking that it was hard to believe that they had been more than a few years out of the water; and, in fact, it is very probable that such changes have occurred within a few centuries." No difficulty on geological grounds can therefore be urged against such a catastrophe having happened, in the early ages of our race, as would have swept the whole seat of human habitation with a deluge in whose waters all mankind must have perished.
The great cause, without question, of the belief that the Flood was universal, has been the idea that the words of Scripture taught this respecting that awful visitation. But it by no means does so. The word translated "earth" in our English version has not only the meaning of the world as a whole, but others much more limited. Thus it often stands for Palestine alone [1 Joel i. 2. Ps. xxxvii. 9, 11, 22, 29; xliv. 3. Prov. ii. 21; x. 30.], and even for the small district round a town [Josh. viii. 1], or for a field or plot of land [Gen. xxiii. 15. Exod. xxiii. 10.]. Besides, we must not forget that such words are always to be understood according to the meaning attached to them by the age or people among whom they are used. But what ideas the ancient Hebrews had of the world has been already shown, and the limited sense in which they used the most general phrases-—just as we ourselves often do when we wish to create a vivid impression of wide extent or great number-—is seen from the usage of their descendants, in the New Testament. When St. Luke speaks of Jews dwelling at Jerusalem out of "every nation under heaven," [Acts ii. 5] it would surely be wrong to press this to a literal exactness. When St. Paul says that the faith of the obscure converts at Rome was spoken of "throughout the whole world," [Rom. i. 8] he could not have meant the whole round orb, but only the Roman empire. And would any one think of taking in the modern geographical sense his declaration that already, when he was writing to the Colossians, the gospel had been preached to every creature under heaven? [Col. i. 23.]
A striking passage in "The Testimony of the Rocks," may fittingly close this subject. "There is a remarkable portion of the globe," says Hugh Miller, "chiefly on the Asiatic continent, though it extends into Europe, and which is nearly equal to all Europe in area-—whose rivers, the Volga, the Oural, and others, do not fall into the ocean or into any of the many seas which communicate with it. They are, on the contrary, turned inwards, if I may so express myself; losing themselves in the eastern parts of the tract, in the lakes of a rainless district, in which they only supply the waste of evaporation; and falling, in the western parts, into seas such as the Caspian and the Aral. In this region there are extensive districts still under the level of the ocean. The shore line of the Caspian, for example, is rather more than 83 feet beneath that of the Black Sea; and some of the great flat steppes which spread out around it have a mean level of about 30 feet below that of the Baltic. Were a trench-like strip of country communicating between the Caspian and the Gulf of Finland to be depressed beneath the level of the latter sea, it would so open the fountains of the great deep as to lay under water an extensive and populous region, containing the cities of Astrachan and Astrabad, and many other towns and villages. Nor is it unworthy of remark that part of this peculiar region forms no inconsiderable portion of the great recognised centre of the human family." Read in connection with what is said elsewhere of the movements of the earth's surface over the Baltic region even at this day, this passage is very striking.