Russell Crowe is playing Noah in a biblical epic due out in 2014 (see here). Regardless of whether you believe in Noah’s Ark or not, I’m interested in the history of the ancient world, particularly the antediluvian world. There are three very interesting ancient manuscripts:
- The Sumerian Atrahasis epic ca. 1800s BC
- The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic ca. 1700s BC
- Genesis of the ancient Hebrews ca 1400s BC
The first two, both translated in recent generations thousands of years after the Bible was already a pillar of western civilization, are Akkadian/Sumerian. Genesis is Egypto-Hebrew.
The first two clearly record a precise Flood legend identical in multiple respects to the Genesis account. Textual scholars and linguists agree that the two oldest show corruptions and changes to a core original source (probably an oral tradition) of which the Genesis account is structurally, and in its particular details, the more reliable and cohesive (there are detailed and technical reasons for this I won’t go in to here).
The accounts all suggest the Ark fetched up on a high mountain/s in Urartu (Ararat) essentially the extreme NW tip of the Zagros range in northern Mesopotamia (at the confluence of Turkey/Armenia/Iran) traditionally near Lake Van. Recent 2011 archaeology has uncovered very good artefacts dating from the calculated period of an historic Noah to dry caves in this area (of which more, in a later post).
As an aside, the Bible does not say the Ark landed on Mt Ararat, but the mountains of Urartu, an ancient later kingdom from about the time of Moses forward (first textual mentions are ca. 1250 BC). The reference is retrospective. “Ararat” is a much later naming to a specific mountain; expeditions there are probably misplaced and fanciful.
The Genesis account sources all future mankind and land animals in to a new post-Flood world from this Urartu/Zagros mountains location, from where they spread and repopulated the earth. What is indisputable, and intriguing, is:
1. The earliest known and attested human civilizations (the Ubaid and Sumerian) developed on the plains immediately below these mountains. This suggests that the generations following Noah migrated down the mountain rivers and onto these plains. This is exactly what Genesis says happened, into the so-called “Fertile Crescent.” Ur, Ebla and Nineveh are among the oldest known cities. Ur was Abraham’s hometown.
It is either a self-attested truth or a coincidence, that the geography where we have the earliest known (archaeologically supported) human urban development, farming, cities and culture is also the geography pinpointed by Genesis as the home of such things.
2. Modern gene analysis of ancient cereals, grains, wheat, barley, rye etc, the basic component of bread, have now been traced by various scholars, to an arc in this immediate location. Modern grain strains all descend from domesticated cereals first husbanded in this area. Genesis says Noah was a farmer, and that one of the first things he did after the Flood, was plant.Figure 5 | Geography of early domestication and of later events during crop differentiation. a | The map summarizes the two kinds of data (phytogeographical and archaeological) that support the existence in the Fertile Crescent (dashed red line) of a ‘core area’ of domestication (red circle) (see also Lev-Yadun et al.25). b | This panel summarizes the experiment of Badr et al.12, which shows that, from its domestication in the western Fertile Crescent, barley moved eastwards and diversified in the Himalayas. This last route was monitored by following the flow of haplotypes of the Barley knotted-like-3 (Bkn-3) gene from wild Hordeum spontaneum populations to cultivated germplasm. Haplotype I is pervasive in domesticated western varieties (present in 84% of varieties; lower red arrow), whereas haplotype III prevails in the Himalayan and Asian forms (present in 67% of varieties; upper arrow). The borders of the primary habitats of H. spontaneum are in the Fertile Crescent (dashed red line). Read the full academic piece here.
Human civilization and domesticated farming both scientifically originate (as far as we currently know) in the area the Genesis account says the Ark of biblical Noah – supported by earlier Mesopotamian epics – grounded. There is a corollary to this, not discussed here, about the geographic origin of most domesticated farm animals.
The archaeology of earliest human settlement (on the Fertile Plain) and scientific gene origin studies of domesticated cereals, represents two intriguing historic and literary coincidences, or evidence for the historicity of Genesis. Much older artefacts, human remains and architecture still exist in the archaeological record, but we must remember that Genesis explains there was an entire human world before the Flood of Noah, which was overthrown.