Mysteries of the Global Flood Revealed!

Posted on by Brooke

In a culture where writing on the Bible will always be too secular for some people and too prone to apologetics for others, published works in biblical history might seek to more carefully emulate Caesar’s wife, avoiding even the appearance of (fideistic) impropriety.

Yesterday, I called attention to an infelicitous phrase in King and Stager’s Life in Biblical Israel (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001). Writing about a Pre-Pottery Neolithic olive processing site on the sea floor off modern ʿAtlit (that’s south of Haifa, or south of Mount Carmel), King and Stager had written that the site was

…inundated in the mid-sixth millennium, probably by a world-wide flood.

The paragraph referenced Ehud Galili, “Prehistoric Site on the Sea Floor,” New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 1:120-122. There, I find this ’graph (emphasis mine):
About twenty thousand years ago, the last Ice Age reached its peak. Soon afterward, the melting ice caused a rise in sea level that resulted in a significant reduction of coastal plains throughout the world. By the beginning of the Holocene, however, in about 8000 BCE, the Mediterranean was about 30 m lower than its present self.

In other words:

  1. About 20,000 years ago, the most recent glaciation event (not an “ice age,” which are longer, such that we may well still be between glaciation events in a single Ice Age) peaked, with sea levels rising between then and now (on average, that is, with relatively short term accelerations and decelerations set aside).

  2. By 10,000 years ago (around 8,000 BCE), waters had risen nearly, but not yet, to a then-coastal site settled by folks who press olives.

  3. By about 7500 years ago (ca. 5500 BCE), waters had risen enough that the increasingly-sodden coastal site was abandoned, though not necessarily precipitously (King and Stager will note that no olives are left unprocessed at the site). Today, it is under water.

In King and Stager, this 15,000+ year rising of sea levels, with coastal sites gradually shifting landward, is collapsed into a “world-wide flood” that “inundates” the site “in the mid-sixth millennium.”

This choice of words obviously, and unfortunately, evokes the biblical story of an instantaneous and cataclysmic global flood (Gen 6–8). This evocation is equally damaging for biblical studies, whether the audience is those who read Gen 1–11 as history, or those who suspect with dismay that all biblical historians will do so.

This confusion, about whether the biblical narrative is being uncritically accepted, is compounded by a habit that King and Stager share with other biblical historians, whereby biblical narrative episodes are presented in language that presupposes their historicity. For just one example, (page 109),
The terebinth…gave its name to the Valley of Elah, where David slew Goliath (1 Sam. 17:19).

Not, “where David is said to have slain Goliath,” but “where David slew Goliath.” It is as if a writer on ancient Greece were to say, “Troy archaeological level VIIa is topped with a destruction layer, including burn marks to the walls outside of which Achilles slew Hector.”

This writerly habit could be explored further in another post. Here, I simply offer it as the kind of thing that makes it hard to know what to do with a cursory reference to “a world wide flood” in an academic, peer-reviewed work on the history of ancient Israel.

What would you say, reader? Do I make too big a deal over nothing? Or, in the context of larger conversations about isolating the fideistic from the evidentiary in biblical studies, does every molehill deserve scrutiny?

[Mysteries of the Global Flood Revealed! was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/03/10. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]