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I am trying to look for hints in the text of Genesis regarding Noah's account. There has been plenty of debate on whether the flood described is local or global. The usual line of thought is that the Hebrew word for 'land' can mean country or some localized area.

I would like to understand if the rest of the wording in Hebrew even allow the option of a regional flood. The English translation I am reading (NET) sounds like a global phenomenon only.

  • Genesis 8:22b "I will never again destroy everything that lives, as I have just done." - אסף עוד להכות את כל חי כאשר עשׁיתי
  • Genesis 7:21-22 "And all living things that moved on the earth died, including the birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all humankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died." - ויגוע כל בשׁר הרמשׁ על הארץ בעוף ובבהמה ובחיה ובכל השרץ השרץ על הארץ וכל האדם כל אשר נשמת רוח חיים באפיו מכל אשר בחרבה מתו
  • Genesis 6:17 "I am about to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy from under the sky all the living creatures that have the breath of life in them. Everything that is on the earth will die," - ואני הנני מביא את המבול מים על הארץ לשחת כל בשׁר אשר בו רוח חיים מתחת השמים כל אשר בארץ יגוע
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I have scanned a few commentaries of Genesis that reject the global flood belief but they do not try to argue it from the Hebrew text. Rather they say it was until recently believed by all that is was a global flood and then list non biblical reasons why they think a global flood is illogical and that this story must therefore be a legend. But maybe someone will still answer this question. you might need to wait a little while. cheers – Mike May 27 '14 at 14:44

Since our goal is to understand what the author of the text meant by what he wrote, it is more helpful to look at how the event is described by the author, in the text than to get hung up on semantic possibilities, ANE discoveries, or personal beliefs.

The author clearly meant it to be understood as a global event. In addition to the evidence you already presented in your question, there is also the following statement by the author, in the text of the pericope which makes it abundantly clear that a global flood was intended:

The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. -Genesis 7:19-20

Clearly the author was trying to emphasize that the entire earth under the whole heaven was covered. This was not meant to be understood merely as a flooded valley or heavy rain.

The only reason anyone has ever taken this to be a local flood is that they have presupposed (as post-Enlightenment Christians) that (A) the text provides an accurate account of history, and (B) science has eliminated the possibility that a global flood took place at this point in history. (Personally I find it humerus that such Christians insist that the text is true, but then refuse to believe what it clearly says.)

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Bless you for making the endeavor to make this issue, at least biblically, air tight. Genesis unequivocably declares the flood to be worldwide. Add the following to your above list of declarations:

the whole of genesis 6-8 pictures a catastrophic global flooding

Genesis 9:11 11 I solemnly promise never to send another flood to kill all living creatures (flesh, as in gen 6:17) and destroy the earth." NLT

Isaiah 54:9 9 "For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; For as I have sworn That the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, So have I sworn That I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. NKJV

Matthew 24:37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. NKJV

Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. NKJV

2 Peter 2:5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; NKJV

As believer that scripture is God-breathed and unerring, I would be fully satisfied that the flood was indeed global. However, for those who have not yet gained that understanding and confidence in the word of God, he provides physical evidence that archeology continually unearths.

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I am well aware of that branch of reasoning, but that's not what I am asking. My question was specifically on the Hebrew phraseology. – malaverdiere Jul 29 '14 at 17:02

It is doubtful that you will find any wording which would be indicative of a local flood or hints thereof. This however does not mean that local flooding is not what occurred. What you need to remember is that the ancient middle-eastern view of "the whole world" was very limited. It is not as if these people visited, knew about, or even had legends of north and south America for example. So if these continents never flooded, would they have ever known?

The fact is, so long as flooding occurred as far as the eye could see in all directions and for as long as any of these Hebrew people traveled, then it appeared to them that the whole world was flooded. This is not them lying or getting anything wrong per se, it is simply that their concept of the universe was very limited. For example, this would have been their view of their universe: enter image description here

This image is particularly helpful when considering the imagery used in the flood account in Genesis 7:11 when the author says "the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened."

To me, this evokes imagery similar to that which was seen in the Tsunami in Japan. Videos I watch this and think that this certainly looks like water is bubbling up from fountains of the deep.

Furthermore, a Tsunami is certainly capable of generating this kind of devastation. For example, in 365 AD in Alexandria, there was a tsunami that deposited boats over two miles inland. In 1607, in Bristol Channel, England there was a tsunami which flooded over 200 square miles of land. This could certainly seem like the whole earth.

The fact of the matter is that science indicates that even if the ice caps melted completely, sea levels would only rise about 200 feet - not enough to cover the whole earth. This means that a bunch of water would have to have come from somewhere and have disappeared to somewhere without leaving any evidence of this activity. God is God and he certainly could do this, the question is would he create a flood and then leave no archaeological and paleontologist evidence of this behind?

It is also important to remember that The Bible is not a science text book and it was not written with the goal of journalistic accuracy. It is a narrative written with the goal of theological accuracy. Should the flood have been a local one, the writer of Genesis most certainly believed it was a global one. We should therefore read this story not for what it tells us about archaeology and paleontology, but for what it tells us about Yahewh and His relationship to His people - in this regard it will always be 100% true, accurate, inerrant and infallible. In this vein, even if the original event was a local flood, it is entirely possible that the details were exaggerated in order to bring glory to God. He is certainly powerful enough and worthy enough to be worshiped in this way and giving him this glory and honor is in no way lying or inaccurate.

This flooding doesn't have to be either/or. It can be both/and.

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This is an interesting bit of context on ancient Hebrew Cosmology. Yet, it is slightly off wrt my question. Here is a related question though: are there examples of local events described with global language elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible? – malaverdiere Aug 14 '14 at 14:32

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