d) Gen 6:17: Here we learn exactly why the Lord commanded Noah to build a gigantic boat in response to the Lord’s plan to destroy all flesh (Gen 6:6–7, 13–16).[1]

God said, “And I, behold, I am bringing the flood of water on the earth to ruin all flesh which [has the] breath of life from under the heavens. All which is on the earth shall perish.”

By repeating the pronoun “I,” for emphasis,[2] the Lord asserted that the deluge was neither an accident nor a force outside of his control.[3]

Since a definite article (“the”) almost always occurs with the Hebrew word for “flood” in Gen 6–11, this likely points to the renown of that particular deluge. The only exceptions come when the Lord promised to never again send a flood to destroy all life (Gen 9:11, 15).[4]

“Flood” (mabbul) seems to derive from a form of the verb meaning “to rain hard.”[5]

Akin to Egyptian and Babylonian ideas, Israelites viewed the sky as a solid dome (Job 37:18),[6] possibly of glass (Ezek 1:22; Dan 12:3).[7]

In the Sumerian tale Enki and the Ordering of the World, the author described the sky as a “well-established roof [which] reaches like the rainbow to heaven.”[8]

Overall, people in the Ancient Near East (ANE) believed that the cosmos consisted of three tiers:[9] the heavens; the earth; and the underworld.[10]

Between the heavens and the earth stood “the vault (raqia) of heaven” (Isa 40:22),[11] which some translations call the “firmament.”[12]

Ancient people thought this layer of the sky separated one type of water from another,[13] isolating the vapor which formed rain from the waters upon the earth (Gen 1:6–8).[14] Furthermore, this intermediate expanse regulated humidity and sunlight.[15]

Enuma Elish contains an interesting account of the creation of this layer. In this Babylonian text, the god Marduk formed the vault from the corpse of a rebellious water goddess. Even so, he needed restraints to prevent Tiamat from unleashing her waters.[16]

Using a word related to the Hebrew verb “to separate,” (badadh) it says, “Then the lord [Marduk] paused to view [Tiamat’s] dead body, that he might divide the monster and do artful works. He split her like a shellfish into two parts. Half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky, pulled down the bar and posted guards. He bade them to allow not her waters to escape.”[17]

People believed that rain consisted of water leaking from the upper half of Tiamat’s body,[18] which the vault normally kept in place.[19]

Consequently, the flood equated to a heavenly ocean which poured upon the earth.[20] The release of that celestial sea caused the deluge.[21]

Aside from twelve occurrences in Gen 6–11, elsewhere in the bible the word “mabbul” (flood) occurs only in Ps 29:10,[22] where it sits at Yahweh’s feet.[23]

Akkadian texts call the god Nergal, “king of the battle, lord of strength and might, lord of the Deluge (abūbu) (weapon).” They denote the god Ninurta as the “exalted lord who rides upon the Deluge.” Thus, inhabitants of the ANE personified floods as destructive cosmic events.[24]

Yet, even the gods did not always remain in control of such power.

According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, after unleashing their weapon, “The gods were frightened by the deluge, and, shrinking back, they ascended to the heaven of Anu. The gods cowered like dogs crouched against the outer wall. Ishtar cried out like a woman in travail, the sweet-voiced mistress of the [gods] moans aloud.”[25]

In the Hebrew account, God announced that the breath (ruach) of life which he had given, he would take away (Gen 2:7; Ps 104:24–30).[26]

By saying, “all which was on earth shall perish,” the possibility remained that aquatic creatures would survive.[27] However, the sudden change in salinity would likely prove fatal.

“All on the earth shall perish” suggests a world-wide scope for the coming deluge. Yet, similar language occurs in Scripture depicting more limited events (Gen 41:56–57; Deut 2:25; 1 Ki 10:24; Dan 2:36–38).[28]

Therefore, the lack of convincing archaeological evidence for a world-wide deluge occurring in one time period does not disprove that Noah’s flood actually took place in the ANE.[29]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 6:17. How is the biblical account similar to other ANE versions? In what ways do they differ? Why doesn’t the lack of archaeological evidence disprove the historicity of Noah’s flood?





Go to God Establishes a Covenant


[Related posts include God Separates the Waters (Gen 1:6–8); The Lord Breathes Life (Gen 2:7); God Grieves (Gen 6:5–6); Wiping Out Everyone (Gen 6:7); The End was Near (Gen 6:13); Specifications for an Ark (Gen 6:14–16); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 6: The Promise of a Covenant (Genesis 6:9–22)]


[1]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 174.

[2]Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 437, https://archive.org/stream/geseniushebrewgr00geseuoft#page/436/mode/2up.

[3]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 174.

[4]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 283.

[5]P. Stenmans, “םַבּוּל” (mabbul), TDOT 8:60–5, 61.

[6]Paul H. Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above, Part 1: The Meaning of ‘Raqia’ in Gen1:6–8,” WTJ 53, no. 2: 227–40, 235, https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/01-genesis/text/articles-books/seely-firmament-wtj.pdf.

[7]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 20.

[8]W. Beyerlin, trans., “Enki and the Ordering of the World,” Pages 19–20 in RANE (ed. Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 20.

[9]Annalee Newitz, “A Scientific Diagram of the Hebrew Cosmology,” http://io9.com/5586362/a-scientific-diagram-of-the-ancient-hebrew-cosmos.

[10]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:8.

[11]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 122.

[12]Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “רָקִיעַ” (raqia), BDB, 956, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/956/mode/2up.

[13]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 122.

[14]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 62.

[15]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:8.

[16]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 123.

[17]“Enuma Elish (The Creation Epic),” ANET, 4.135–40, 67. Italics mine, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n91/mode/2up.

[18]Min Suc Kee, “A Study on the Dual Form of Mayim, Water,” JBQ 40, no. 3 (1 July 2012): 183–89, 186, http://jbqnew.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/403/jbq_403_mayim.pdf.

[19]Walton, Genesis, 113.

[20]P. Stenmans, “םַבּוּל” (mabbul), TDOT 8:60–5, 63.

[21]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 136.

[22]P. Stenmans, “םַבּוּל” (mabbul), TDOT 8:60–5, 61.

[23]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 283.

[24]Ignace J. Gelb, et al eds., “Abubu,” in The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (CAD) (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1964), 77–81, 77, 80, https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/cad_a1.pdf.

[25]Speiser, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, 11:113–7, 94, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n119/mode/2up.

[26]Note that the Hebrew word ruach means “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit/Spirit,” https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/924/mode/2up.

[27]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 174.

[28]Waltke, and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 136.

[29]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 6:17.