The story of the flood is universal, it is intertwined with our culture and grounded in our collective conscienceness.
Summary of Genesis VI-IX
A few generations after creating Adam and Eve God found an increasing number of people to be corrupted, and wanted to erase his creation. God spared the only just human, Noah, by warning him about the coming flood, which he unleashed in his wrath against the sins of humanity and the corruption of the earth. He asked Noah to build an ark that would carry two of all species of animal in the world. Noah obeyed the Lord and he, his family and the animals survived the flood. After 150 days God remembered Noah, stopped the rain and sent a wind that landed the ark on Mount Ararat. Noah sent out birds to see if there was dry land out there. After the third try a dove returned with an olive branch. God commanded Noah to come out of the ark and bring his family and the animals. Noah built an altar for the Lord and sacrificed some of the animals. God then blessed Noah and his sons and told them to reproduce. He gave them a set of rules to follow but also promised them that never again would the earth be destroyed by a flood. As proof of their covenant he made a rainbow appear.
Koran, Mesopotamia and ancient Greece
Beside the biblical story of Noah, there are many other flood myths found in all parts of the world. Mesopotamian stories of a great flood are between 2000 and 2500 years old. They all have the same plot: A god or goddess sends a deluge to destroy the world, but one wise man is warned to build a ship, so that he and his family can survive. After the flood the water goes downs and the earth is repopulated.
The most famous flood myth from Mesopotamia was found in the epic of Gilgamesh, where Utnapishtim builds a boat that resembles a chest. As the water descends, the boat lands on Mount Nimush (close to Mount Ararat). Utnapishtim sends out a dove, a swallow, and a raven, to find proof of dry land. (Dalley, 2008.)
The tablets that the Gilgamesh epic was written on, were translated in 1857. The discovery of the deluge myth on the tablets gave great excitement, especially its resemblance to the well-known biblical version.
The Koran also tells of a deluge, in the story of Nuh. The narrative is virtually the same as in Noah’s story, with a few exceptions: Nuh has a son that doesn’t want to board the ark, and consequently drowns. The legend also describes how another son is punished for having intercourse onboard the ark: He and his offspring are turned black. The devil survives the flood by hiding on the Ark in the form of a snake.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we find one of the most famous ancient Greek stories concerning a flood. Hermes and Zeus, who are disguised as strangers, visit the old couple Philemon and Baucis. After Zeus and Hermes have been refused at a thousand doors, the old couple lets them in and offers them a meal. Afraid that it is not enough, they also attempt to slaughter their only animal, a goose. Afterwards, the gods decide to flood the whole neighbourhood, but to spare Baucis and Philemon and to grant them a wish. Philemon and Baucis want to become priests in the temple of the gods and express the wish to die within an hour of each other. When the time was right, they died together and turned into an oak and a lime tree. (Calder, 1988.)
Another story in the Metamorphoses speaks of Deucalion and Pyrrha, who play the roles of Noah and his wife. The outline of the story is pretty much the same as in the bible. Zeus sends a flood to punish mankind, but Deucalion is warned by his father Prometheus. Deucalion builds an ark, and he survives the flood together with Pyrrha. They then create the new human race.
Other examples of the flood story
Many Irish flood tales attribute an important role to women. They involve water that bursts forth due to a woman’s negligence, an attack on a woman dwelling in a well, and queen Cesair, who is said to be the granddaughter of Noah. In some of the versions of the stories, Cesair was denied entry into the ark and therefore fled to Ireland in a boat with fifty women and only three men. When two of the men die, the last man doesn’t know how to cope with all the women, and decides to flee. Queen Cesair dies of sorrow, whereupon Ireland is flooded. (Breatnach, 2004.)
A great birthplace of flood stories is Mesoamerica. In Aztec and Totonac stories, a man and (often) a woman, are warned by god/ Tezcatlipoca and hide in a hollow tree to survive the flood. After the flood, the survivors become hungry and decide to cook fish. The gods smell the fish and go down to earth to punish the survivors, by turning them into dogs or monkeys (the stories vary).
In Otomí and Yucatán, a small group of people survive the flood with an ark. In Quito and Tlapanecs, the repopulation of the earth is done by human survivors and animal survivors, respectively a macaw and a dog. They animals are discovered through the smell of their cooking.
A noticeable difference with deluge stories from other parts of the world is that the preparation of food plays a big role in a great deal of the Mesoamerican flood myths. (Horcasitas, 1953.)
The list of flood stories is endless, containing origins like India, Cameroon, Kenya, the Philippines, China, South America and many more. All stories carry the theme of redemption, but more trivial themes, such as the release of the dove, are also recurrent.
The story of the deluge is so widely spread, and found in so many different cultures, that Hungarian psychologist Geza Roheim claimed that the archetypical myth was to be explained through unconscious dreams about drowning, which he contributed to sleeping with a full bladder.
Roheim believed that the primary source for folktales and myths are dreams.
Nowadays, it is commonly presumed that a giant flood actually took place. In 1997, scientists William Ryan and Robert Pitman published evidence that around 5600 BC, a massive flooding of the Black Sea took place. As glaciers melted, the amount of water pouring into the Mediterranean Sea increased. Changes in hydrology made the overall water level rise further. At a certain moment the water from the Mediterranean broke through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea. Every day, forty cubic kilometers of water poured through. According to Ryan and Pitman, the event flooded 155,000 square kilometers of land and expanded the Black Sea shoreline to the north and west for the course of thirty to ninety days. While it is agreed that the sequence of events described occurred, there is debate over the suddenness, dating and magnitude of the events. (Lipworth, 2002.)