Gen 6:1-7 The Bible narrative tells us that after many generations during which the inhabitants of Mesopotamia worship the sun and the moon and numerous local deities, God’s heart is filled with pain at the violence and wickedness of mankind. In c.3100BC, God decides to send a flood that will destroy much of what he has created.
Gen 6:8-22 Noah, however, is a righteous man who works hard and worships God. He has probably learnt how to build ditches to drain the alluvial floodplain at the mouth of the Euphrates and has turned the marshland into productive grazing land. God decides to save Noah and his family. He instructs him to build a boat (an ‘ark’) out of cypress wood and to cover it with tar (bitumen) to make it watertight.
Gen 7:1-10 Noah is instructed to take seven pairs of each kind of ‘ritually clean’ animal from his herds and one pair of each ‘unclean’ animal into the ‘ark’. ‘Ritually clean’ animals were those considered to be perfect in God’s eyes (see Leviticus 11:1-47), while the number seven represented completion and God’s particular blessing (see Genesis 2:3 & Joshua 6:4-5).
Gen 7:11-24 Noah and his family enter the boat. Then it rains for forty days and forty nights and every living creature outside the boat is drowned by the floodwater.
The Bible describes ‘Noah’s Flood’ quite graphically in terms of a long torrential downpour with the floodwaters unable to percolate down into the saturated ground: “The underground springs split open, and the clouds in the sky poured out rain" (Genesis 7:11). The rain fell continuously for forty days and forty nights and was supplemented by spring water coming up from the groundwater ‘reservoir’ beneath the earth (see Fig. 10). The resulting floodwaters covered every piece of land in the Mesopotamian floodplain, and every living creature in the world known to Noah was drowned.
The catastrophic Mesopotamian flood in the fourth millennium BC is recorded not only in the Bible but also in earlier Sumerian and Babylonian epic poems. In the Atrahasis Epic, all human beings apart from Atrahasis and his family were destroyed by the storm. In the Gilgamesh Epic, Utnapishtim was instructed by the god of water, Enki, to build an ark to ride out the floods. After seven days of rain, the flood overwhelmed the land, and when the occupants looked out across the vast sea, all was quiet. A small cuneiform tablet on display in the British Museum in London contains part of the text of the Gilgamesh Epic.
Tablet from the Royal Library of Nineveh relating the Gilgamesh Epic
(now displayed in the British Museum, London)
Flooding in Mesopotamia was not uncommon, and evidence for a catastrophic flood which wiped out most of the contemporary civilisation in the fourth millennium BC has been found during the archaeological excavation of several Sumerian cities including Ur and Eridu.
Gen 8:1-3 After forty days, God sends a strong wind and the waters recede as “the underground springs stopped flowing, and the clouds in the sky stopped pouring down rain” (Genesis 8:2). The water subsides for 150 days as the boat is blown steadily northwards by a southerly breeze (see 5 on Map 35).
Gen 8:4-5 The boat eventually comes to rest in Aratta, on the lower slopes of the mountains of the Ararat range, at the northern end of the Mesopotamian floodplain.
The area to the north of Mesopotamia was called the Kingdom of Aratta by the ancient Sumerians. By the time the Book of Genesis was written, the area had become known as the mountains of Aratta or ‘the mountains of Ararat’. The boat in which Noah and his family escaped the flood came to rest at the northern end of the Mesopotamian floodplain, on the lower slopes of the Ararat range.
For centuries, this was believed to be north of Mosul, at Mount Judi (Judi Dagh, in the Zagros Mountains of modern-day Turkey) (see 6 on Map 35). Local Assyrian Nestorian Christians from the 5th century AD venerated this as a holy place – the ‘Place of the Descent’ where Noah and his family left the ‘ark’ and began their new life.
Only more recently, in the 13th century AD, did European travellers begin to claim that the 16,945 feet / 5165 metre volcanic peak of Agri Dagh (Mount Ararat) – near Dogubeyazit, some 130 miles / 200 km to the north of the Judi Dagh – was the final resting place of ‘Noah’s Ark’.
Kohr Virap Monastery and Mount Ararat (Andrew Behesnilian)
Gen 8:6-11 After a further forty days, Noah sends out a raven, but it cannot find any dry land. Later, Noah lets a dove loose, but it also returns. Seven days later, the dove returns with a fresh olive leaf, indicating that the floodwaters are receding.
Gen 8:12-22 The ground gradually dries out and Noah is told to disembark with all the animals and birds.
Gen 9:1-17 God blesses Noah and establishes a covenant agreement with him. The rainbow in the sky is to be the sign of God's everlasting promise that the earth will never again be destroyed.
Gen 9:18-29 Noah has three sons. He is recorded as the first man to plant a vineyard on the south facing slopes overlooking the Mesopotamian plain.