Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Deluge

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1697127Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Volume VII — DelugeThomas Kelly Cheyne

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. I. Among the Semitic races the seniority belongs to the Babylonians. Till lately, the only version of their story known to us was that of Berosus (Miiller, Fragmenta, ii. 501), who relates that the god Kronos appeared to Xisuthrus, tenth king of Babylon [cf. Noah, tenth patriarch] in a dream, and warned him of the coming deluge. The details remind us a good deal of the biblical narrative, ex cept that Xisuthrus is also accompanied by a steersman and by his near friends. Even the thrice repeated letting-out 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 cf. 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 llth 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 cautious Assyriologue, Dr Schrader) have been composed between lOOOand 2000 B.C., while the myths the in selves will of course be much older. The hero of the deluge bears the name of Tam-zi (" the sun of life, " cf. Tammuz), for so, with Mr Sayce, the signs should most probably be read. He is called the son of Ubara-tutu, an Accadian name meaning " the splendour of sunset " (Lenormant, Sayce). This version of the story differs in several respects from that of Berosus. The deity who warns Tamzi is Hea (god of know ledge 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 fieli. 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 " (?), than a swallow, both of which returned, and a raven which did not return. Then he left the ship and made a libation ; Mr Smith s " altar " is uncertain. Finally, Hea intercedes with Bal 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 besn 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 ex pressions, 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 remark able 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 ono 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 COSMOGONY). 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 degenera tion 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 ] 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 pro nounce 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 in pass ing 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 so emphatically given to the catas trophe, 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 prede cessor.

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 in undation. 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 develop ment ; 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.

IV. The deluge-story exists in several forms in Indian literature. It does not, however, appear to be a genuine Aryan myth, for there is no clear reference to it in the Rig Veda. The SatapatJia Brahmana, where it first occurs, was written (Weber) not long before the Christian era. Another version, in which the lacunae of the earlier one are filled up, is given in the Makdbhdrata, but this poem, though it existed in part before the Christian era, did not assume its present form till Long afterwards. A third version, still more decidedly Indian in character, is given in the Bhdgavata Purdtia, but the earliest possible date of this work is the 12th century A.D., which deprives its account of the deluge of all claim to originality. It is worth noticing, however, that it agrees with the biblical narrative in two subordinate points the introduction of animals into the ark or box, and the interval of seven days between the warning and its fulfilment. The principal feature of the oldest fiood-story is the part assigned to the fish, which warns Manu of the deluge, and ultimately saves him by drawing his ship to a northern mountain. The selection of the fish (which is clearly divine) is so out of character with the most genuine portions of Aryan mythology that it proves the foreign origin of the Indian narrative, perhaps we may even say, the Semitic origin. Not that the fish-god is peculiar to the Semitic world, but that he is un-Indian, and can so easily have reached India from a Semitic source. If the Indians sent apes, sandal- wood, and purple (both names and things) to Assyria, why should not the flood-story have been sent in exchange with other products of Mesopotamia 1 True, the fish does not appear in the present form of the Mesopotamian story, but it probably did appear in the original myth, for among the titles of the god who warned Tamzi (see abovo) are " fish of the abyss," " beneficent, saviour fish." We admit the strong local colouring of the Indian story, which deceived even Weber (but not Burnouf), but this is exactly paralleled by the Hottentot colouring (Bleek) of several South African stories of Christian origin. Whether the early Iranians had a flood-story is perhaps uncertain, since the Avesta gives but little information respactitig mythology, and it has not come down to us complete. But none was known to the Persians about 1030 A.D. (al-Birun().

V. In Gredce 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 man, and even in their least original forms they still contain many peculiar features which can only have arisen from an independent exercise of the mythopoeic faculty. The mast famous of them is that of Deucalion, and of this the earliest and simplest form is ia 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. Apullodorus (about 100 B.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.

VI. America, which abounds in cosmogonies, is naturally not deficient in deluge-stories. Mr Catlin says, that "amongst 120 different tribes that he has visited in North and South and Central America, not a tribe exists that has not related to him distinct or vague traditions of such a calamity, in which one, or three, or eight persons were saved above the waters on the top of a high mountain " (Okeepa, p. 2). It is extremely difficult to tell how far Christian influences may have determined the form of these stories. When, for instance, we find such a peculiar point as the sending out of the birds to see whether the flood had abated, we are disinclined to build any argument on the circumstance. We do find, it is true, strange points of agreement between the Greek and the Polynesian myths, yet considering the vast extent of Christian missionary activity in America, we are bound to special caution. 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. 282. 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 main tain 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 con sideration of the non-biblical forms of the narrative, we now inquire, what was their original significance ] A provi sional 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 elemen tary 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 reconstruc tions " 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 sub stratum of the deluge-stories 1 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 inun dations 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 denaturalization 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 Raiatea, 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 mythic mountain of the Babylonians (see below) and other nations. At Hawaii the flood was even called " flood of the moon," and at New Zealand " flood of day'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 canoes, 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-god voyages in the sea of ether. The mountain on which the survivors come to land was originally (as in Polynesia) the great mythic mountain (cf. 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 Mahabhdrata, 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 Berosiau Cannes. (See also Schirren, Wanderungen der Neuseellinder, 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 MaJidbhdrata (line 12,774) it takes the form not of retribution but of purification, which agrees with Plato's view (Timceus, p, 22). We find it in America among the Quiches, but this may perhaps be a later addition, as is certainly the case in one of the forms of the Tahitian myth (Waitz, 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. 29, 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.—Babylonian story: Mr George Smith's papers in Transactions of Biblical Archaeological Soc., ii. 213-34, iii. 530-96; Lenormant, Lcs premieres Civilisations, torn. ii. 3-146; Delitzsch, George Smith's Chald. Genesis, 318-21. Biblical narrative: Com mentaries on Genesis, by Knobel and Dillmann, Delitzsch, Kalisch; Ewald, Billische Jahrbilclier, vii. 1-23. Indian: Muir Sanskrit Texts, i. 196-201; Burnouf, Bhdgavata furdna, ii. 191, Weber, Jndische Studien, i. 161-232; Tumour, Mahavanso, i. 131 (referring to a local flood in its present form). Greek: Preller, Aufsdtze, 165-7. Vogul (Altaic): Hunfalvy, summarized by L. Adam, Revue de pliilologie, i. 9-14. Lap: Friis, Laflrisk Mylhologie, reviewed in Lit. Ccntralblatt, March 1, 1873. America: Bancroft, Native Races, &c., v. 12-16; Schoolcraft, Notes on the Iroquois, p. 358. Polynesia: Schirren, Wanderungen der Neuseeldnder (Riga, 1856); Gerland, Waltz's Anthropologie, vi. 296-73. General works: Pictet, Origincs Indo-curopecnnes, ii. 620, &c.; Liiken, Die Traditional dcs Menschengeschlechts (Wiinster, 1869). (T.K.C.)