1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Deluge, The

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DELUGE, THE (through the Fr. from Lat. diluvium, flood, diluere, to wash away), a great flood or submersion of the earth (so far as the earth was known to the narrators), or of heaven and earth, or simply of heaven, by which, according to primitive and semi-primitive races, chaos was restored. It is, of course, not meant that all the current flood stories, as they stand, answer to this description. There are flood stories which, at first sight, may plausibly be held to be only exaggerated accounts of some ancient historical occurrences. The probability of such traditions being handed down is, however, extremely slight. If some flood stories are apparently local, and almost or quite without mythical colouring, it may be because the original myth-makers had a very narrow conception of the earth, and because in the lapse of time the original mythic elements had dwindled or even disappeared. The relics of the traditional story may then have been adapted by scribes and priests to a new theory. Many deluge stories may in this way have degenerated. It is at any rate undeniable that flood stories of the type described above, and even with similar minor details, are fairly common. A conspectus of illustrative flood stories from different parts of the world would throw great light on the problems before us; see the article Cosmogony, especially for the North American tales, which show clearly enough that the deluge is properly a second creation, and that the serpent is as truly connected with the second chaos as with the first. One of them, too, gives a striking parallel to the Babylonian name Ḫasis-andra (the Very Wise), whence comes the corrupt form Xisuthrus; the deluge hero of the Hare Indians is called Kunyan, “the intelligent.” Polynesia also gives us most welcome assistance, for its flood stories still present clear traces of the primitive imagination that the sky was a great blue sea, on which the sun, moon and stars (or constellations) were voyagers. Greece too supplies some stimulus to thought, nor are Iran and Egypt as unproductive as some have supposed. But the only pauses that we can allow ourselves are in Hindustan, Babylonia and Canaan. The peoples of these three countries, which are religiously so prominent in antiquity, have naturally connected their name equally with thoughts about earth production and earth destruction.

The Indian tradition exists in several forms.[1] The earliest is preserved in the Satapatha Brahmana. It is there related that Manu, the first man, the son of the sun-god Vivasvat, found, in bathing, a small fish, which asked to be tended, and in reward promised to save him in theIndian Tradition. coming flood. The fish grew, and at last had to be carried to the sea, where it revealed to Manu the time of the flood, and bade him construct a ship for his deliverance. When the time came, Manu, unaccompanied, went on board; the grateful fish towed the ship through the water to the summit of the northern mountain, where it bade Manu bind the vessel to a tree. Gradually, as the waters fell, Manu descended the mountain; he then sacrificed and prayed. In a year’s time his prayer was granted. A woman appeared, who called herself his daughter Idā (goddess of fertility). It is neither stated, nor even hinted, that sin was the cause of the flood.

Another version occurs in the great epic, the Mahābhārata. The lacunae of the earlier story are here supplied. Manu, for instance, embarks with the seven “rishis” or wise men, and takes with him all kinds of seed. The fish announces himself as the God Brahman, and enables Manu to create both gods and men. A third account is given in the Bhāgavata Purāna. It contains the details of the announcement of the flood seven days beforehand (cf. Gen. vii. 4) and of the taking of pairs of all kinds of animals (cf. Gen. vi. 19), besides the seeds of plants (as the epic; cf. Gen. vi. 21). This story, however, is a late composition, not earlier than the 12th century A.D. A first glance at these stories is somewhat bewildering. We shall return, however, to this problem later with a good hope of mastering it.

The Israelite (Biblical) and the Babylonian deluge-stories remain to be considered. Neither need be described here in detail; for the former see Gen. vi. 5-ix. 17, and for the latter Gilgamesh. As most students are aware, the Israelite and Babylonian. Biblical deluge-story is composite, being made up of two narratives, the few lacunae in which are due to the ancient redactor who worked them together.[2] The narrators are conventionally known as J. (= the Yahwist, from the divine name Yahweh) and P. (= the Priestly Writer) respectively. It is important to notice that P., though chronologically later than J., reproduces certain elements which must be archaic. For instance, while J. speaks only of a rain-storm, P. states that “all the fountains of the great ocean were broken up, and the windows of heaven opened” (Gen. vii. 11), i.e. the lower and the upper waters met together and produced the deluge. It is also P. who tells the story of the appointment of the rainbow (Gen ix. 12-17), which is evidently ancient, though only paralleled in a Lithuanian flood-story, and near it we find the divine declaration (Gen. ix. 2–6) that the golden age of universal peace (cf. Gen. i. 29, 30), already sadly tarnished, is over.[3] Surely this too has a touch of the archaic; nor can we err in connecting it with the tradition of man’s first home in Paradise, where no enemy could come, because, in the original form of the tradition, Paradise was the abode of God. (See Paradise.)

The Babylonian tradition exists in two main forms,[4] nor can we affirm that the shorter form, due to Berōssus, is superseded by the larger one in the Gilgamesh epic, for it communicates four important points: (1) Xisuthrus, the hero Berōssus: four points. of the deluge, was also the tenth Babylonian king; cf. Noah, in P., the tenth patriarch as well as the survivor from the deluge; (2) the destination of Xisuthrus is said to be “to the gods,” a statement which virtually records his divine character. In accordance with this, the final reward of the hero is declared to be “living with the gods.” This suggests that Noah (?) may originally have been represented as a supernatural man, a demigod. True, Gen. ix. 20, 21 is not consistent with this, but it is very possible that Noah was substituted by a scribe’s error for Enoch,[5] who, like Xisuthrus, “walked with God (learning the heavenly wisdom) and disappeared, for God had taken him” (Gen. v. 22, 24); (3) the birds, when sent out by Xisuthrus the second time, return with mud on their feet. This detail reminds us of points in some archaic North American myths which probably supply the key to its meaning;[6] (4) in the time of Berōssus the mountain on which the ark grounded was considered to be in Armenia.

We pass on to the relation of J. and P. to the Babylonian story. (1) The polytheistic colouring of the latter contrasts strongly with the far simpler religious views of J. and P. Note the capricious character of the god Bel who sends the Details on relation of Israelite story to Babylonian. deluge, while at the end of the story the catastrophe is represented as a judgment upon human sins. It is the latter view which is adopted by J. and P. We cannot, however, infer from this that the narratives which doubtless underlie J. and P. were directly taken from some such story as that in the Gilgamesh epic. The theory of an indirect and unconscious borrowing on the part of the Israelitish compilers will satisfy all the conditions of the case. (2) In the general scheme the three accounts very nearly agree, for J. must originally have contained directions as to the building of the vessel, and a notice that the ark grounded on a certain mountain. P.’s omission of the sacrifice at the close seems to be arbitrary. His theory of religious history forbade a reference to an altar so early, but his document must have contained it. J. expressly mentions it (Gen. viii. 20, 21), though not in such an original way as the cuneiform text. (3) As to the directions for building the ship (epic) or chest (J. and P.). Here the Babylonian story and P. have a strong general resemblance; note, e.g., the mention of bitumen in both. Whether the Hebrew reference to a chest (tēbah) is, or is not, more archaic than the Babylonian reference to a ship (elippu) is a question which admits of different answers. (4) As to the material cause of the deluge. According to P. (see above) the water came both from above and from below; J. only speaks of continuous rain. The Gilgamesh epic, however, mentions besides thunder, lightning and rain, a hurricane which drove the sea upon the land. We can hardly regard this as more original than P.’s representation. (5) As to the extent of the flood. From the opening of the story in the epic we should naturally infer that only a single S. Babylonian city was affected. The sequel, however, implies that the flood extended all over Babylonia and the region of Niṣir. More than this can hardly be claimed. Similarly the earlier story which underlies J. and P. need only have referred to the region of the myth-framers, i.e. either Canaan or N. Arabia. (6) As to the duration of the flood the traditions differ. P. reckons it at 365 days, i.e. a solar year, which is parallel to the 365 years of the life of Enoch (who, as we have seen, may have been the original hero of the flood). It is probable (see below) that P.’s ultimate authority, far back in the centuries, represented the deluge as a celestial occurrence. The origin of J.’s story is not quite so clear, owing to the lacunae in the narrative. If the text may be followed, this narrator made the flood last forty days and nights, after which two periods of seven days elapse, and then the patriarch leaves the ark. The epic shortens the duration of the flood to seven days, after which the ship remains another seven days (more strictly six full days) on the mountain of the land of Niṣir (P., the mountains of Ararat; J., unrecorded). (7) As to the despatch of the birds. J. begins, the epic closes, with the raven. Clearly the epic is more original. Besides, one of the two missions of the dove is evidently superfluous. Dove, swallow, raven, as in the epic, must be more primitive than raven, dove, dove.

That the Hebrew deluge-story in both its forms has been at least indirectly influenced by the Babylonian is obvious. We cannot indeed reconstruct the form either of the Canaanitish (or N. Arabian) story, which was recast partly at least under the influence of a recast Babylonian myth, nor can we conjecture where the sanctuary was, the priests of which, yielding to a popular impulse, adopted and modified the fascinating story. But the fact of the ultimate Babylonian origin of the Israelitish narratives cannot seriously be questioned. The Canaanites or the N. Arabians handed on at least a portion of their myths to the Israelites, and the creation and deluge stories were among these. That the Israelitish priests gradually recast them is an easy and altogether satisfactory conjecture.

It remains to ask, What is the history and significance of the deluge-myth? The question carries us into far-off times. We have no version of the Babylonian myth which goes back to about 2100 B.C., while its text was apparently derived from a still older tablet. But even this is not History and significance of deluge-myths. primitive; behind it there must have been a much shorter and simpler myth. The recast represented by the existing versions of the myth must have been produced partly by the insertion, partly by the omission or modification, of mythic details, and by the application to the story thus produced of a particular mythic theory respecting the celestial world. The shorter myth referred to may—if we take hints from the very primitive myths of N. America—have run somewhat thus, omitting minor details: “The earth (a small enough earth, doubtless) and its inhabitants proved so imperfect that the beneficent superhuman Being, who had created it, or perhaps another such Being, determined to remake it. He, therefore, summoned the serpent or dragon who controlled the cosmic ocean, and had been subjugated at creation, to overwhelm the earth, after which the creator remade it better,[7] and the survivor and his family became the ancestors of a new human race.”

This, however, is only one possible representation. It may have been said that the serpent of his own accord, not having been killed by the creator, maliciously flooded the earth (cf. the Algonquian myth), but was again overcome in battle, or that the serpent, after filling the earth with violence and wrong, was at length slain by the Good Being, and that his blood, streaming, out, produced a deluge.[8] In any case it is unnatural to hold that the first flood (that which preceded creation) had a dragon, but not the second. An old cuneiform text, recopied late, however, appears to call the year of the deluge (i.e. of what we here call the second flood) “the year of the raging (or red-shining) serpent,”[9] and certainly the N. American myths distinctly connect serpents with the deluges.

Among the probable minor details (omitted above) of the presumed shorter and older myth we may include: (1) the warning of “Very-Wise,”[10] either by friendly animals or by a dream; (2) the construction of a chest to contain “Very-Wise,” his wife and his sons, together with animals;[11] (3) the despatch of three birds with a special object (see below); (4) the landing of the survivors on a mountain. As to (1), Berōssus suggests that the notice came to Xisuthrus in a dream; in the Indian myth it is the sacred fish which warns Manu. In the archaic N. American myths, however, it is some animal which gives the notice—an eagle or a coyote (a kind of wolf). As to (2), nothing is more common than the story of a divine child cast into the sea in a box.[12] The ship-motive is also found,[13] but it is not too rash to assume that the box-motive is the earlier, and, in accordance with the parallels, that the hero of the deluge was originally a god or a demigod. The translation of the hero to be with the gods is a transparent modification of the original tradition. As to (3), the original object of sending out the birds was probably not to find out where dry land was, but to use them as helpers in the work of re-creation. Take the story of the Tlatlasik Indians, where the diving-bird (one of three sent out) comes back with a branch of a fir-tree, out of which O’meatl made mountains, earth and heaven;[14] so, too, the Caingangs relate[15] that those who escaped from the flood, as they tarried on a mountain, heard the song of the saracura birds, who came carrying earth in baskets, and threw it into the waters, which slowly subsided. As to (4), the mountain would naturally be thought of as a place of refuge even in the old, simple flood-story. But when Babylonian mythology effected an entrance, the mountain would receive a new and much grander significance. It would then come to represent the summit of that great and most holy mountain, which, save by the special favour of the gods, no human eye has seen.

That a didactic element entered the deluge-tradition but slowly, may be surmised, not only from the genuinely old N. American stories, but from the inconsistent statements, to which Jastrow has already referred, in the Babylonian story. We may imagine that between the creation and the deluge some great and wise Being had initiated the early men, not only in the necessary arts of life, but in the “ways” that were pleasing to the heavenly powers. The Babylonians apparently think of neglected sacrifices, the Australians of a desecrated mystery as the cause of the flood. Some such violation of a sacred rule is the origin that naturally occurs to an adapter or expander of primitive myths.

And now as to the application of the celestial mythic theory to the early deluge-story. In the agricultural stage it was natural that men should take a deeper interest than before in the appearance of the sky, and especially of the sun and moon, and of the constellations, even though an Celestial myth
astrological science or quasi-science would very slowly, if at all, grow up. That the Polynesian myths (which show no vestige of science) originally referred to the supposed celestial ocean, seems to be plain. Schirren[16] regarded the New Zealand cosmogonies as myths of sunrise, and the deluge-stories as myths of sunset. We may at any rate plausibly hold, with the article “Deluge” (by Cheyne) in the ninth edition of this work[17] (1877), that the deluge-stories of Polynesia and early Babylonia (we may now probably add India) were accommodated to an imaginative conception of the sun and moon as voyagers on the celestial ocean. “When this story had been told and retold a long time, rationalism suggested that the sea was not in heaven but on earth, and observation of the damage wrought in winter by excessive rains and the inundations of great rivers suggested the introduction of corresponding details into the new earthly deluge-myth.” “This accounts for the strongly mythological character of Par-napishti (Ut-napishti) in Babylonia and Maui in New Zealand, who are in fact solar personages. Enoch, too, must be classed in this category, his perfect righteousness and superhuman wisdom now first become intelligible. Moreover, we now comprehend how the goddess Sabitu (the guardian of the entrance to the sea) can say to Gilgamesh (himself a solar personage), ‘Shamash the mighty (i.e. the sun-god) has crossed the sea; besides (?) Shamash, who can cross it?’ For though the sea in the epic is no doubt the earth-circling ocean, it was hardly this in the myth from which the words were taken.”[18] And, what is still more important, we can understand better how, in the Gilgamesh epic (lines 115–116), the gods, after cowering like dogs, go up to the “heaven of Ana.” They, too, fear the deluge, and only in the highest heaven can they feel themselves secure.

Such an explanation seems indispensable if the wide influence of the Babylonian form of the deluge-myth is to be accounted for. As Gunkel well remarks,[19] neither the tenacity and self-propagating character of this myth, nor the solemn utterance of Yahweh (who corresponds to the Babylonian Marduk) in Gen. viii. 21b (J.) and ix. 8-17 (P.) can be understood, if the deluge-story is nothing more than an exaggerated account of a historical, earthly occurrence. We, therefore, venture to hold that it is an insufficient account to give of the story in the Gilgamesh epic that it is a combination of a local tradition of the destruction of a single city with a myth of the destruction of mankind—a myth exaggerated in its present form, but based on accurate knowledge of the yearly recurring phenomenon of the overflow of the Euphrates.[20] There are no doubt points in the story as it now stands which indicate a composite origin, but it is probable that even the tradition which apparently limits the destruction to a single city, equally with many other local flood-stories, has a basis in what we may fairly call a celestial myth.

We can now return with some confidence to the Indian deluge-story. It is unlikely that so richly gifted a race as the Aryans of India should not have produced their own flood-story out of the same primeval germs which grew up into the earliest Babylonian flood-story,Indian myth recon-sidered.[21] and almost inconceivable that in its second form the Indian story should not have become adapted to what may be called the celestial mythic theory. The phrase “the northern mountain” for the place where the ship grounded may quite well be the name of an earthly substitute (the epic has “the highest summit of the Himalaya”) for the mythic mountain of heaven. Nor is it unimportant that Manu is the son of the sun-god, and that the phrase “the seven rishis” in classical Sanskrit is a designation of the seven stars of the Great Bear. For such problems all that we can hope for is a probable solution. The opposite view[22] that the deluge is a historical occurrence implies a self-propagating power in early tradition which is not justified by critical research, and leaves out of sight many important facts revealed by comparative study.

For a conspectus of deluge-stories see Andree, Die Flutsagen, ethnographisch betrachtet (1891), by a competent anthropologist; E. Suess, Face of the Earth, i. 17 (1904); also Elwood Worcester, Genesis in the Light of Modern Knowledge (New York, 1901), Appendix ii., in tabular form, from Schwarz’s Sintfluth und Völkerwanderungen. Dr Worcester’s work is popular, but based on well-chosen authorities. The article “Flood” in Hastings’ D. B. is comprehensive; it represents the difficult view that flood-stories, &c., are generally highly-coloured traditions of genuine facts.  (T. K. C.) 

  1. See Muir, Sanscrit Texts, i. 182, 206 ff.
  2. Cf. Carpenter and Harford-Battersby, The Hexateuch, ii. 9, where the documents are printed separately in a tabular form.
  3. Isa. xi. 6-8 prophesies that one day this idyllic state shall be restored.
  4. For a discussion of the Babylonian version of the Deluge Legend, recently discovered among the tablets from Nippur, see Nippur.
  5. The genealogy in Gen. v. is hardly in its original form. Enoch is probably misplaced, and Noah inserted in error.
  6. Cf. Cosmogony, and Cheyne’s Traditions and Beliefs of Ancient Israel (on deluge-story).
  7. Cf. the myths of the Pawnees and the Quichés of Guatemala.
  8. See the cuneiform text described in KAT3, pp. 498-499.
  9. Zimmern, KAT3, p. 554.
  10. i.e. Atraḫasīs (Xisuthrus).
  11. To have omitted the animals would have been an offence against primitive views of kinship.
  12. Usener, Die Sintflutsagen, pp. 80-108, 115–127.
  13. Ib. p. 254.
  14. Stucken, Astralmythen, pp. 233–234.
  15. Amer. Journ. of Folklore, xviii. 223 ff.
  16. Schirren, Wandersagen der Neuseeländer (1856), p. 193.
  17. Referring for Polynesia to Gerland in Waitz-Gerland, Anthropologie der Naturvölker, vi. 270–273 (1872). After a long interval, this theory has been taken up by Zimmern, KAT3, p. 355, and by Jensen, Das Gilgamesch-Epos (1906), p. 120; Winckler (AOF, 3rd series, i. 96) also speaks of the deluge as a “celestial occurrence.” For other forms of this view see Jeremias, ATAO, pp. 134–136; Usener, p. 239.
  18. Cheyne, Ency. Bib. cols. 1063-1064.
  19. Genesis, p. 67.
  20. Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1898), pp. 502, 506.
  21. The view here adopted is that of Lindner and Usener. On the opposite side are Zimmern, Tiele, Jensen, Oldenberg, Nöldeke, Stucken, Lenormant.
  22. Held by Franz Delitzsch, Dillmann and Lenormant.