Historicity of The Flood

Paolo Magnone p.magnone at AGORA.STM.IT
Wed Jun 2 23:43:44 UTC 1999

In reply to Brian Akers's message of 2 Jun 99, 15:48:

> Has anyone on the list read this book?
> Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed
> History. William Ryan and Walter Pitman. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1998
> ($25).
> The June issue of Scientific American has a review on page 99 that
> includes the following:
> "The tale of a massive, devastating flood appears not only in the Bible
> but also in other ancient writings, often in similar terms, suggesting
> that it records a real and singularly memorable event. . . . the event
> might have been a huge and prolonged cascade of water from the
> Mediterranean that broke through a natural dam in the Bosporus Strait and
> plunged into what was than a freshwater lake and is now the Black Sea. . .
> . dating it about 5600 B.C. 'The Bosporous flume roared and surged at full
> spate for at least three hundred days,' . . . . The cascade inundated
> 60,000 square miles of land, forcing the people in the region to
> disperse."
> This was news to me. Is this theory widely known and accepted? Have any
> members of the list made a study of flood accounts?

I have devoted some study to the comparison of the three main
traditions dealing with the flood myth, i. e. the Near-Eastern, the
Classical and the Indian ones. I was not interested, however, in the
problem of the historicity of the deluge, but in the relationship
between these different traditions

Some tentative results are summarized in my paper read at the IX
Italian Conference of Sanskrit Studies (1977) about
"Matsyaavataara: scenari indiani del diluvio" [Matsyaavataara:
Indian flood scenarios], which, however, is still waiting for
publication in the proceedings.

Briefly, the Near-Eastern tradition is represented by a Sumerian
fragment, Paleo-Babylonian (18 cent. BCE), Neo-Assyrian (7 cent.
BCE) and Hellenistic (3 cent. BCE) versions and the Hebrew
biblical Jahvist and Elohist accounts, to which a number of Arabic
quranic references may further be added. The survivor's name is
variously Atra-hasIs, Uta-napishtim, Xisuthros, and of course Noah.
The flood appears to be universal.

The Classical tradition is represented mainly by passages by
Pindar, Apollodorus, Horace and Ovid, plus a host of scattered
references of a more casual nature. This tradition lacks unity. At
least three main lines can be detected: the well-known myth of
Deukalion and Pyrrha, and two lesser ones where the survivor is
Ogygos, resp., Dardanos. The flood appears to be of a local nature.

The Indian tradition is represented chiefly by passages of the
Zatapatha BraahmaNa, Mahaabhaarata, Matsya,
ViSNudharmottara, Bhaagavata, GaruDa, Agni, Skanda and
Kaalikaa PuraaNa -- as well as the well known BhaviSya PuraaNa
passage referring to the Nyuuha (i. e., Noah) myth! To these,
poetical elaborations may be added such as KSemendra's in his
Dazaavataracarita, and other more casual references of which I am
aware. By the way, I should be grateful for any addition to this list.
Of course, the survivor is Manu Vaivasvata, and the flood is

A comparison of the distinctive traits of these traditions shows that,
while the biblical accounts are undoubtedly dependent on (or at
least related to) the Akkadian and Sumerian versions (and again
the basis of the later quranic accounts) such is not the case with
the other two traditions. More particularly, the Indian accounts
appear to share with the Near-Eastern versions only such very
generic traits as must needs belong to any flood myth, whereas
they widely differ in detail as well as in structure.

This means that it is at least improbable that all three traditions
should refer to one and the same historical occurrence -- if they at
all point to a real event.

Paolo Magnone
Catholic University of Milan
pmagnone at mi.unicatt.it
Jambudvipa - Indology and Sanskrit Studies

Paolo Magnone
p.magnone at agora.stm.it

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list