The Internal Chronology of Noah’s Flood, Part 1: An Overview

Ask someone who is biblically literate how long Noah’s Flood lasted and the usual answer will be forty days and forty nights. But that is not quite right. The problem is that the Flood story consists of the intermingling of two different sources with different chronologies, tightly integrated by a subsequent redactor who may have made some additional changes. Scholars refer to these two sources as J (for Jahwist) and P (for Priestly). Unless otherwise indicated, I will rely on Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible for the identification of J and P texts within the Genesis Flood account.

One problem is that the Flood story consists of three phases, rising water, receding water, and drying of the earth, and there appear to be inconsistencies between J and P as to how these three events unfold. Let’s look at an example of some of the problems that have to be solved.

Genesis 7:4 says, “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights.” Note here only rain is the source of the flooding. This verse belongs to the J source.

Genesis 7:6 says the Flood occurred during Noah’s six hundredth year but remains vague as to when in the six hundredth year the rain started. Genesis 7:11 says that on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year “the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened [emphasis added].” This verse belongs to P. Note here that the same day as the rain starts, there is both a downpour and the oceans burst open, a secondary source of the flooding.

Immediately after this last verse, Genesis 12–13 says, “The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark [emphasis added].” This is a J passage. On what day did Noah and the family enter the ark? It could be argued that, given the narrative sequence, the family didn’t enter the ark until after the forty days of rain. But let’s put that issue aside. There are other problems.

The narrator is trying to give the impression that on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year the rains started and Noah’s family entered the ark. Most scholars would probably agree that the J source flood story and the P source flood story commence at the same point in time. But is this the case?

The problem is when did Noah get the seven-day warning. If we add the seven-day warning to the forty days of rain in the J source and count from the first day of Noah’s six hundredth year, the elapsed time of 47 days falls on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year, the same day that the P source sets as the start of its version of the flood story. (This would be true with solar or lunar calendars.)

So do we have one story where rain falls for forty days (J) and a separate story where rain falls and the oceans erupt on the same day (P) and did the redactor attempt to align them so that they started on the same day, or did he mean for the rains to fall for forty days, after which the oceans erupted and the rains continued beyond forty days?

There is no simple answer to this question and we have to do a deep dive into all of the chronological data in the Flood story to make sense out of the ways J and P interact. An important detail that helps us resolve the problem is that J and P use different time descriptions to move the story along.

J uses relative chronology and P uses fixed chronology. That is, in the J source, things happen after “D” number of days; in P, events happen precisely on specific dates, i.e., on day “D’ in month “M” in year “Y” thus and thus happened. In P you have to calculate to determine how many days elapsed between events and J tells you how many days elapsed between events. J, on the other hand, is not anchored to specific dates and P is anchored to specific dates. (Here, I would add that, in a couple of instances, Friedman assigns a couple of chronological references to the P source even though they have a J format. I will argue later that these references were added by the redactor in order to further the integration of the  two sources.)

Over the next few posts on this topic, I will be looking at the J chronology in isolation from P; the P chronology in isolation from J; and the integration of the two. The chronological data will lead to interesting indications that the authors of J and P relied on differing aspects of the Egyptian calendar system for framing their narratives.

Jesus and Samson: The Remarkable Parallels

A number of Christian commentators have recognized that there are several parallels between the story of Samson and the story of Jesus. In Christian circles, it is often argued that these similarities point to Jesus. Given the strength of several of the parallels, I think an argument could be made that the influence worked in the other direction, with the story of Jesus pointing to the story of Samson as a literary source.

The story of Samson can  be found in Judges 13–16. Here is my list of parallels. See what you think. At the end of the listing, I’ll discuss another parallel that Christians overlook. Samson was almost certainly a deity figure.

Similarities between the Samson and Jesus stories

  • Israel is under the domination of a foreign power. In Samson it is the Philistines. With Jesus it is the Romans.
  • An angel appears to the hero’s mother-to-be and announces she will be the bearer of a child through a miraculous birth, apparently without benefit of sexual activity. In the Samson story, the mother is barren and unable to have children.
  • The angel tells the mother that the child will be the savior of Israel.
  • The spirit of the Lord is involved in the birth of the child.
  • At some point, the spirit of the lord enters into the hero.
  • The hero likes to speak in riddles.
  • The hero has been given authority by God to act as a Judge over Israel.
  • The Jews bind the hero and hand him over to the foreign power ruling over them. In the Samson story, he manages to escape but is re-arrested later.
  • Someone close to Jesus is bribed in order to find a way to take him into custody.
  • After the hero is arrested, his sight is impaired. In the Samson story he is blinded. In the Jesus story he is blindfolded.
  • After the hero is arrested, he is mocked.
  • The hero knows that he will die pursuant to God’s plan.
  • Just before the hero dies, his arms were stretched out in a cross-like fashion.
  • Upon his death a temple is damaged. In Samson’s story, he brings down the Philistine temple. In the Jesus story, the curtain in the Jewish Temple is torn in two.

While the details in each of the two narratives aren’t identical, they are similar and abundant. As to the Samson story, if it did serve as a literary source, it existed in a contextually different situation. It wouldn’t be surprising, therefore, to see modifications made to the literary template to fit in with the later context.

Samson as deity

The name Samson, Shimson in Hebrew, literally means “sun man” or man of the sun.” This is not the kind of name one would expect from an Israelite. It suggests that Samson originates as a solar deity for a non-Israelite cult. This is reinforced by the fact that he has extremely long hair, which serves as the basis of his strength. Long hair frequently has solar implications in mythology as a symbol of the sun’s rays. Horses and Lions, having long manes, are frequently depicted as solar symbols. The Samson story also takes place close to the city of Beth Shemesh, which translates as House of the Sun.

In the story, Samson is identified with the tribe of Dan, which is located on the Mediterranean coast, in Philistine territory. Shortly after the Samson story, Judges tells the story of the Danites moving to the north of Israel, and in later times Dan was considered the northern boundary of Israel.

In the Song of Deborah, she asks “Dan, why did he abide with the ships?” Dan didn’t aid Israel in this particular battle, and Dan appears as a seafaring nation. Some scholars believe that the tribe of Dan may have been the Dnyn, one of the Greek Sea People tribes that entered Canaan at about the time of the Judges setting. Homer used the name Danoi for the Greek nations that fought at Troy.

The Philistines were another one of the Sea Peoples that entered Canaan during the Judges era. In the Samson story, despite being an Israelite and a Judge, Samson seems to spend all of his time with the Philistines, marrying a Philistine woman and socializing with the Philistines and taking up with various Philistine women..

Many scholars recognize at least a similarity between Samson and the Greek hero Herakles, who became a deity upon his death. Portions of the Herakles cycle, such as his sailing through the sky in a golden cup, suggest that he had aspects of a solar deity. In my 101 Myths of the Bible, I explore the connection between Samson and Herakles in more detail. I suggested that the Sea Peoples brought the Herakles myths with them into Canaan and they became the basis of a local solar cult with “sun man, ” i.e., Samson, as the local deity.

My ASOR 2020 Annual Meeting Presentation

I am presenting a paper at the ASOR 2020 (virtual ) Annual Meeting titled “Noah’s Flood: Babylonian or Egyptian in Origin?” Almost all scholarship on the Genesis story of Noah’s Flood sees the origins of the story in some version of the Babylonian flood myths. These include some version of the Gilgamesh epic or an early ancestor to the Flood story contained within the Gilgamesh epic.

While there can be little doubt that some sort of literary connection exists between the Genesis version and some version of the Babylonian Flood traditions, scholars see this as the starting point for studying the story. In my paper I will be arguing that the story originates with Egyptian Creation myths. At a much later time, however, the original version of the story was redacted in order to harmonize it with the Gilgamesh epic.

Because the meeting is virtual, I will not be doing a live presentation. All presenters are submitting video versions of the paper that will be available to registrants for up to six months. However, members of my panel, Archaeology in Egypt, will all be available for an online live session to take questions and engage in discussions of the papers presented by the panel members. That session will be on November 20th, from 12:30 to 1:30.

Shortly after the live panel, I will add the paper to my Writings page on this blog (and perhaps make the video version available also.) In the meantime, over the next couple of weeks, I am planning a series of posts on the very problematic nature of the internal chronology of the Noah’s Flood story in Genesis, i.e., how long did the Flood last, what happened when in the course of the story, and what conclusions can we draw. There should be a few interesting revelations in the analysis.

Was Mary the Name of Jesus’ Mother? A Source-Critical Perspective

I previously mentioned the publication at the Bible and Interpretation site of my essay titled “Was Mary the Name of Jesus’ Mother: A Source Critical Perspective.” I am now making it available here and through a link on my Selected Writings page. Here is the opening paragraph. Click on the link to read the rest of the article.

If we had no reliable written sources mentioning the name of Jesus’ mother, a good guess would be Mary. Statistically, it was one of the most popular, if not the most popular, name for Jewish women in the first century. In the Christian scriptures, more women have the name Mary than any other name. The question I wish to raise here is whether we have any reliable written evidence that Mary was the name of Jesus’ mother. Click here to read the rest

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