There are quite a few flood myths in cultures all around the globe. While all that I’ve read about are really interesting in their own right, I’d like to talk about the similarities between flood myths that have a Judeo-Christian (although definitely older, more on this in later posts) leaning.
If you grew up in a Jewish or Christian household you’re most likely familiar with the biblical account of Noah in the Pentateuch. If not, the basic plot of the Judeo-Christian flood story was most likely told in a fashion similar to this (disregarding discrepencies in various biblical translations).
- God’s (יהוה, Yahweh, Jehovah) creation grew increasingly wicked
- God decided to kill all of his creation in retribution for their wickedness
- Noah was one of the only righteous men on earth, so god decides to spare his family
- God instructs Noah to build an ark and gather up 2 of each “clean” animal
- Noah spends several years (~20-40, although this figure depends on interpretation) following god’s instructions
- Once safely in the ark, god flooded the earth for 40 days and 40 nights, wiping out his creation
- Noah, after sending a dove to check for dry land ends up on Mt. Ararat
- Upon reaching land Noah sacrifices to Yahweh burnt offerings (קָרְבַּן עוֹלָה) to Yahweh
Looking at this story and quite a few others in the bible, it’s easy to see the god of the old testament was prone to genocidal tyranny. This is a reocurring theme within the old testament. The personality displayed by Yahweh may have something to do with a tightening of controls by the priest class after leaving Egypt with their multiple gods. This would explain why Yahweh who is earlier in the bible referred to as Elohim (אֱלֹהִים, gods), which is plural, very quickly becomes a “jealous god”.
Nûh (نوح, Nûh ibn Lamech ibn Methuselah)
The account in the Quran is extremely similar to the account told in the Pentateuch. It’s interesting to note the practice of naming lineage in Islam being more prevalent that in Judaism or Christianity. Nûh ibn Lamech ibn Methuselah being Noah, son of Lamech (לֶמֶךְ), son of Methuselah (מְתוּשֶׁלַח). His story begins with the same theme of god becoming increasingly angered at the wickedness and sin of his creation. There are some key differences though.
Some of the differences in the Islamic account are:
- Allah (الله, god, Islamic equivalent to Yahweh or Jehovah) makes no distinction to Nûh of “clean” or “unclean” animals to be selected to board the ark
- Nûh does not build an altar after the flood to offer burnt sacrifices to god
- Other faithful followers of Allah were also spared, not just Nûh’s family
- The ark and it’s passengers land at Al Judy, not Mt. Ararat
I think I’ll end this post here but next in the series is going to dive into the similarities between the Judeo-Christian flood myth and the flood mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. If anyone has any suggestions on topics for this series, the contact page is right in the main navigation. Looking forward to dive into this topic further.