9th Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica - free ninth edition online encyclopedia Britannica » Volume 7 [DEA - ELD]: 01'1110permitime to Dorogobush


story flood babylonian stories myths myth genesis world original ship

DELUGE, a, submersion of the world, related by various nations as having taken place in a primitive age, and in which all, or nearly all, living beings are said to have perished. By this definition we exclude all partial floods, and also the theory which would account for deluge-stories as exaggerations of traditions of local inundations. Upon a low level of culture, as Von Hahn has shown, the memory of the most striking events is hardly preserved even for a few generations. It is best therefore to regard the story of the deluge as a subdivision of the' primitive man's cosmogony. The problem with which he had to deal was a complicated one, - given the eternity of matter to account for the origin of the world. The best solution which pre-sented itself (and. that only to the shrewder races) was to represent creation as having taken place repeatedly, and the world as having passed through a series of demolitions and reconstructions. (See COSMOGONY). This explains the confusion between the creation and the deluge noticed by various travellers, e.g., among the Iroquois and the Santals - a confusion, however, which is only apparent, for the deluge is, when thoroughly realized, practically a second creation. Thus Manui the hero of the Indian flood-story, was, by permission of Brahma, the creator of the present human race. Noah is called by Arabic writers " the second Adam," and Maui might with as good a right be called the Noah as the Adam of New Zealand. We, in the adult age of the world, have renounced those mythical forms of expression, but we still retain much of the feeling which prompted them. The wonder of creation is even to us constantly renewed in spring ; to primitive man it was renewed in a special sense in each of the great world-cycles of mythology. We may lay it down, then, as a canon at the outset, that the various deluge-stories must be viewed in combination, and explained on a common principle. At the same time we must be careful not to confound different " deposits " of tradition, and must regard primarily the earliest and most original forms of myths. As in the case of the cosmogonies, a few typical specimens will be all that can here be described.

of the birds is mentioned. At last the ship (as it is called) grounded "on a certain mountain," where Xisuthrus erected an altar and sacrificed ; after which both he and his companions disappeared the " translation " of Enoch]. The duration of the deluge is not stated, and its cause is left to be inferred from the special commendation of Xisuthrus for his piety. Berosus has evidently drawn from cuneiform sources, but those sources have not yet been discovered. Our most valuable authority for the Babylonian deluge-story is the portion of the 11th lay of the great mythological epic, discovered by Mr George Smith. It came from the library of King Assurbanipal, and dates from about 660 B.c., but the Accadian original from which it was translated may well (says the cautions Assyriologne, Dr Schrader) have been composed between 1000 and 20D0 B. c., while the myths themselves will of course be much older. The hero of the deluge bears the name of Tam-zi (" the sun of life, " ef. Tammuz), for so, with Mr Sayce, the signs should most probably be read. Ile is called the son of Ubara-tutu, an Accadian name meaning " the splendour of sunset " (Lenorrnant, Sayee). This version of the story differs in several respects from that of Berosus. The deity who warns Tamzi is Hea (god of knowledge and of the waters), who orders him to build a ship, and to put into it his household and his wealth and the beasts of the field. All this is related by Tamzi to the (solar) hero " Izdabar." He tells how he coated the ship within and without with bitumen (cf. Gen. vi. 14), how he intrusted all to a " seaman," how Samas, the sun-god, and other gods (Hea is not now mentioned) sent rain, and how the rain-flood " destroyed all life from the face of the earth." (Why the deluge was sent is a little uncertain, owing to the mutilated condition of the tablets.) On the seventh day there was a calm, and the ship stranded on the mountain Nizir. Another seven days, and Tamzi let out" a dove" (1), then a swallow, both of which returned, and a raven which did not return. Than he left the ship and male a libation ; Mr Smith's " altar " is uncertain. Finally, Hea intercedes with Bel that there be no second deluge, after which " Tamzi and his wife, and the people, were carried away to be like the gods." Such are the leading authentic features of the Babylonian narrative, or rather narratives, for its inconsistencies and repetitions are such as to force upon us the hypothesis that two documents originally existed, which have been welded together by an editor.

II. The Jewish narrative, like the Babylonian, has been thought to consist of two documents, an Elohistic and a Yahvistic, which have been connected by an editor. They appear to differ in various details, - e.g., in the duration of the flood (the Elohist extends it to a whole solar year), and in the description of the introduction of the animals into the ark (the Elohist alludes to the legal distinction between clean and unclean). But they have certainly the same origin, for they entirely coincide in the main outlines (e.g., in ascribing the flood to the depravity of mankind, in the mode of Noah's rescue, and in the promise that the catastrophe should not recur), and even in not a few expressions, among which are the names for the flood and the ark. They agree, further, in this important point, that some expressions point to a universal deluge, others to one which only affected a level inland region like that of Mesopotamia. We naturally ask, therefore, are the former involuntary exaggerations ? or " survivals " of a primeval myth 1 Both views are held by respectable critics ; but the latter is more favoured by analogy and by the remarkable parallelism between both the biblical narratives (especially the Yahvistic) and the Babylonian.

These two - the Babylonian and the Jewish - are the only fully developed deluge-stories told by any of the Semitic nations. In. what relation, then, do they stand to each other 1 Was the Babylonian borrowed from the Jewish (or from some earlier form of the story, of which the Jewish is an abridgment), or vice versa ? On the one hand, the Babylonian story as a whole perhaps produces an impression of greater originality than the Jewish ; for (not to mention other points) in the former the order in which the birds are sent out is much more natural. On the other, the " ark," or rather " chest," of the Jewish narrative sounds more archaic than the " ship " of the Babylonian. The word for " deluge " in Genesis is also evidently archaic, as appears from the facts that it only occurs once again (Psalm xxix. 3), and that the editor in Genesis needed to explain it by the word " water " (Gen. vi. 17, "the flood, viz., water "). It is possible, therefore, to hold that the Jewish story is a distinct offshoot of a common Semitic tradition. Bolder critics will maintain that the account in Genesis must be taken in connection with the other narratives which can be explained by, and are therefore possibly dependent upon, parallel Babylonian narratives. (See BABYLONIA and CosatocoleY). They will urge that " chest " may have been substituted for " ship " to avoid an anachronism, mankind in Noah's time not having perhaps reached the sea ; and that the archaic word for " deluge " does not prove the antiquity of a developed deluge-story ; also that there are traces in Genesis (see iv. 17-24, vi. 1-3) of another and presumably native Hebrew view, according to which the moral degeneration of man was explained without a deluge. The question is a large one, but may perhaps be reduced to this - Can the Yahvistic narrative in Genesis be safely broken up into several 1 There is some evidence, both internal and (see the prophetic references to Genesis) external to show that it can, but it would be premature in this place to pronounce whether the evidence is sufficient. It will hardly be possible, however, to derive the Yahvistic flood-story from Babylonia, and not the Elohistic, as has been suggested ; for though the former is nearest to the Babylonian story (e.g., it ascribes the flood entirely to a rain-storm, whereas the latter introduces also the waters below the firmament), the latter agrees with it in all essential points, and even in the minor point of the bitumen. Let it be remarked iu passing that, even if the material of the biblical narratives be taken from the Babylonian, the former have received a peculiar and original stamp; both by their monotheism and by the moral significance go emphatically given to the catastrophe, just as by the addition of the lovely story of the rainbow the Elohist has produced a conclusion far superior, artistically speaking, to that of his Babylonian predecessor.

III. Another of the great countries by which the Israelites might have been influenced was Egypt ; but in this, even more than in a former, case a direct Egyptian influence is out of the question. The deluge-story was entirely unknown in the Nile-valley. It is commonly said, but erroneously, that this was owing to the absence of sudden catastrophes of the nature of an inundation. But if the terrestrial deluge is really (see below) only a transformation of the celestial, there is no reason why the story should not have grown up in Egypt, if the imagination of its inhabitants had invited such a development ; for the germs of the deluge-story certainly existed in Egypt. The Book of the Dead constantly refers to the sun-god, Ra, as voyaging in a boat on the celestial ocean ; and a story in an inscription of the archaic period (Seti I.) embodies a conception altogether analogous to that of the narrative in Genesis. According to this myth - which is described by M. Naville - Ra, the creator, being disgusted with the insolence of mankind, resolves to exterminate them. The massacre causes human blood to flow to Heliopolis, upon which Ra repents, and swears with uplifted hand not to destroy mankind again.

In Greece there appear to have been several floating flood-stories, which in time became localized and attached to the names of heroes. They all represent the flood as destroying all but a few men, and even in their least original forms they still contain many peculiar features which can only have arisen from an independent exercise of the mythopceic faculty. The most famous of them is that of Deucalion, and of this the earliest and simplest form is in Pindar (Olymp. ix. 64), who identifies the mountain where Deucalion and Pyrrha landed, and where without marriage they "gat themselves a race from stones" (not a late Greek etymological fancy, for it recurs among American tribes), with Mount Parnassus. ApalIodorns (about 100 n.c.) has infused fresh life into this story, perhaps from a Semitic source ; he extends the range of the flood to " most parts of Greece," and states that Deucalion (like Noah and Xisuthrus) offered sacrifice after the flood. Lucian (160 A.D.), laughing in his sleeve, gives a still more conspicuously Semitic account (De dea Syria,' c. 12, 13), in which we hear for the first time of a " great box," and of " children and wives," "swine and horses, and the kinds of lions and serpents, &c., all by pairs," as entering the ark. It was a confusion of this kind which led to the charge of Celsus, that the authors of the books of Moses had "put a new stamp on the story of Deucalion ; " - reason sufficient for confining ourselves as much as possible to primitive versions of mythic narratives.

In addition to this, the American deluge-stories convey an impression that they have lost much of their original accuracy. The Polynesian myths, on the contrary, are still almost as transparent as ever. But we shall have occasion to speak of these presently.

Instead of proceeding further with a detailed examination of myths, let us briefly touch on three general questions arising out of the subject. (1.) Is the deluge-story found among all nations The Egyptians and (probably) the Persians had none ; and it is doubtful whether it exists in non-Mahometan Africa. Probably, too, large deductions should be made from the myths of savage tribes, on the ground of Christian influences, even when related by well-informed travellers. (2.) Was the deluge-story propagated from a single centre ? An affirmative answer has often been returned, e.g., by Hugh Miller, Testimony of the Rocks, p. 2S2. It is impossible, however, to justify this from the mere fact of the superficial resemblance of the different narratives. These may be accounted for (on the ordinary historical theory of the flood-story) from the similarity of the circumstances of partial floods everywhere ; or (if we regard it as based on a nature-myth) from the fact that, by a fundamental law of psychology, the universal wonders of nature everywhere receive (within certain limits) a similar mythic expression. Granting, therefore, in its fullest extent the non-originality of many deluge-stories, we maintain that the evidence points on the whole to the existence of several independent centres from which these stories were propagated. (3.) Restricting ourselves to the consideration of the non-biblical forms of the narrative, we now inquire, what was their original significance ? A provisional answer, it is true, has already been given, but one which does not account for the peculiar details of the most original deluge-stories. The only explanation of these which has yet been offered is derived from comparative mythology. It is agreed by mythologists that the exclusive subjects of really primitive traditional stories are frequently recurring natural phenomena. Consequently the elementary mythic descriptions or pictures of these phenomena were the most available material when, at a later period of mental growth, the attempt was made to construct a rude cosmogonical theory. Those "demolitions and reconstructions " of the world of which we spoke at the outset could only be narrated on the basis of these earliest, simplest, most primitive myths. What then was the natural phenomenon which, in a mythic dress, formed the substratum of the deluge-stories ? Not merely an annually recurring river-flood, such as those of the Euphrates, for the phenomenal basis of myths must be something strikingly wonderful as well as frequently recurring. This the inundations of a river are not, neither could they be regarded as calamities. But the phenomena of the sky and especially of the sun are, to the primitive man, daily miracles. Hence the theory (Schirren and Gerland) that the deluge of the stories we are considering has been transferred from the sky to the earth, that it is in a word an ether-myth. This mode of explanation is not set aside by referring to quasi-historical detaiLs in the deluge-stories. For.as soon as the mythic stage begins to be outgrown, rationalism appears. In this transitional period. (commonly of long duration) the old nature-myths are modified. Some mythic elements remain, others are turned into prose. The attempt to explain the existence of the world on the basis of an ether-myth was an early symptom of the denaturaliza-tion of which we have spoken. At a still more advanced stage of the process, the flood often ceased to be universal, and was restricted to the home of those who related the story, or to the region from which they supposed themselves to have migrated. At last the shrewder intellects (e.g., among the Tahitians and some of the American Indians) even clutched at phenomena like those of fossil-shells found on hills to prove the literal truth of their deluge.

The most plausible arguments for the celestial deluge-theory are derived from the Polynesian mythology. In the flood-story of Ilaiatea, given by Ellis (Polynesian Researches, ii. 58-9), the flood rose "as the sun approached the horizon ;" and the island where the fisherman found refuge is called Toa-marama, i.e., moon-tree (tree reaching up into the moon), which reminds us of the Teutonic world-ash-tree, Yggdrasil, and the mfthic mountain of the Babylonians (see below) and other nations. At Hawaii the flood was even ealled " flood of the moon," and at New Zealand " flood of clay's eye " (i.e., the sun). Schirren explains all these myths as pictures of sunset, just as he derives the cosmogonies from myths of sunrise. But most of them are more easily explained, with Gerland, as ether-myths. The sun and moon were imagined as peaks emerging out of a flood - sometimes as CallOeS, sometimes as a man and his wife--the sole survivors (except perhaps the stars, their children) from the inundation. There was, however, no fixity of meaning. The stars were sometimes regarded as ships ; but so too were the clouds, " Tangaloa's ships." The Babylonian story, as represented in the llth Izdubar lay, suggests a similar theory. The names of the hero and his father mean " the (morning) sun" and " the evening-glow." The flood is a rain-flood, and the " father of the rain " (cf. Job xxxviii. 28) is the celestial ocean, which in the original myth must have been itself the deluge ; and the " ship " is like that in which the Egyptian sun-goci voyages in the sea of ether. The mountain on which the survivors come to land was originally (as in Polynesia) the great mythic mountaiu (c.f. the Accadian kharsak kurra," mountain of the east "), which joins the sky to the earth, and serves as an axis to the celestial vault. Traces of an ether-myth have also been discovered in the Indian deluge-story, as indeed is only natural if it be based on the Babylonian. In the Maldibhdrata, the divine fish has a horn issuing from his head, which reminds us of other horned deities, whose solar origin is admitted, such as Baal and the Berosian °alines. (See also Sehirren, IVander- , ungen, der Neaseeleincler, p. 193, who is, however, too fanciful to be, a safe guide).

Two points should be mentioned in conclusion. (1.) Though a moral significance is by no means always attributed to the deluge, it is more common than might have been expected. In the illaheiblairata (line 12,774) it takes the form not of retribution but of purification, which agrees with Plato's view (Tiniceus, p. 22). We find it in America among the Quiches, but this may perhaps be a later addition, as is certainly the ease in one of the forms of the Tahitian myth (Weitz, vi. 271). And (2.) the deluge is not always the last of those periodical destructions alluded to at the beginning of this article. A few races suppose the last link in the series to be a great fire which swept every living thing from the earth, except (as some American Indians say) a few who took refuge in a deep cave. This last feature, however, has a. slightly suspicious resemblance to Gen. xix. 20, and, to say the least, the conflagration is not a myth of such proved antiquity and spontaneity as the deluge. It is too sugges-tive of artificial systems like that of the Stoics.

Authorities.-13abylonian story : lir George Smith's papers in Transactions of Biblical Areluvological Soc., ii. 213-34, iii. 530-96 ; Lenormant, Les premieres civilisations, tom. ii. 3-146 ; Delitzsch, George Smith's Chald. Genesis, 318-21. 13iblical narrative Com-mentafies on Genesis, by Iinobel and Dilhuanu, Delitzsch, Kahn]) ; Ewald, Biblische Jahrbiieher, 3-23. Indian : Muir Sanskrit Tea:ts, i. 196-201 ; Burnout', Bhdgavata Pardna, ii. 191 , Weber, Indisehe Studien, i. 161-232 ; Tumour, kahavanso, i. 131 (referring to a local flood in its present form). Creek : Preller, Aufstitze, 165-7. Vogul (Altaic) : Hanfalvy, summarized by I,. Adam, Revue dephilologie, i. 9-14. Lap Lappisk Mythologic; reviewed in Lit. Centralblatt, March 1, 1873. Arnerica : Bancroft, Native Races, &c., v. 12-16 ; Schoolcraft, Notes on the Iroquois, p. 358. Polynesia : Scbirren, Wanderungen der Neuseelander (Riga, 1856) ; Cerland, Waitz's Anthropologic, vi. 296-73. General works : I'ictet, Origines Lulo-otropeennes, ii. 620, &c. ; Liiken, Die Traditionen dcs Menschengeschlechts (Munster, 1869). (T.K.C.)

Demades [next] [back] Deluc, Jean Andrl

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or