When translating Genesis, I took pains to preserve the implied flat-Earth cosmology that a naive reading suggests. One of the places where this made a big difference is in the story of Noah. Noah is instructed to build the ark 30 cubits high.

Later, when the flood comes, we find out why (Gen 7:19-20), Wikisource translation

And the water intensified so so much, on the land. And covered every high mountain under the entire sky. Fifteen cubits from above, the waters built, and the mountains were covered.

The actual Hebrew for "Fifteen cubits from above" is:

חֲמֵשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה אַמָּה מִלְמַעְלָה

And this is literally "fifteen cubits from above", as in, fifteen cubits from the top of the dome of the sky.

This is the natural Hebrew reading (at least, I can't by any stretch read it any other way). This reading is consistent with the ordinary interpretation of other words, "Abyss" (tehom), which is the infinite ocean on which the world floats, the "Firmament" (raqia'), which is a malleable substance beaten sky-dome that covers the world, and "Tavel" which is the world-plate. These only make sense in the standard Babylonian flat-Earth cosmology, where the Tavel floats on the Abyss and is covered by the Raqia' which is then covered by more water.

In this context, "fifteen cubits from above" means "fifteen cubits from the top", and this is a fine Hebrew way to express this sentiment. The problem is I can't see any other reading for this. The way you would say "fifteen cubits above the mountains" would be completely different, the mountains would either be embedded or there would be a reference to what you were above.

So the only reading I can see is that the water built up to 15 cubits of the top of the dome of the sky. It seems that other translations go to pains to disguise the flat-Earth cosmology.

How do you read the Hebrew otherwise? How do other people parse this sentence?

  • It's no stretch to see that "from on top" can refer to the top of the mountains below the surface of the water and not the top of the world. "Above" settles on the latter reading but is more than the Hebrew says: from (מ) at (ל) the top (מעלה), the latter being a substantive מ + עלה "on, over". Dec 14, 2023 at 13:18

8 Answers 8


The NET Bible notes:

  1. tn Heb “rose fifteen cubits.” Since a cubit is considered by most authorities to be about eighteen inches, this would make the depth 22.5 feet. This figure might give the modern reader a false impression of exactness, however, so in the translation the phrase “fifteen cubits” has been rendered “more than twenty feet.”
  2. tn Heb “the waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward and they covered the mountains.” Obviously, a flood of twenty feet did not cover the mountains; the statement must mean the flood rose about twenty feet above the highest mountain.

The Septuagint reads:

δέκα πέντε πήχεις ἐπάνω ὑψώθη τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ ἐπεκάλυψεν πάντα τὰ ὄρη τὰ ὑψηλά

I can't read Greek myself, but the key words seem to be:

ἐπάνω <1883>—above

ὑψώθη <5312>—to lift up on high, to exalt

To me, this seems like the measurement is from the ground (or rather the peaks of the mountains) to the surface of the water. The sky is introduced in 7:19, but that seems to imply that all the mountains were covered, not as a point from which to begin the measurement.

But let's take a step back and consider what's going on here. From God's perspective, the important thing is to destroy everything with the breath of life on the earth except for Noah, his family, and the contents of the ark. (See Genesis 6:9-22.) A flood 15 cubits above the mountains for 6 months is more than enough to accomplish that. There's no particular need to flood to within 15 cubits of the dome of the sky. If the translation in the question is correct in the face of the weight of scholarship, it doesn't really tell us anything radically different than the standard reading.

From Noah's perspective, all he could see was water. There were no mountain peak to be seen and soundings showed the flood was deeper than his measuring device. I'm not sure how he might have detected the dome of the sky, but it seems unlikely that he could have measured the distance as 15 cubits. I suppose he might have noticed the top of the ark rubbing against the dome of the sky (the ark was 30 cubits high, but probably rode half that tall), but we surely would have gotten a more detailed report if so. It's hard to see how there would be an observable difference between 15 cubits measured from above or from below.

Thinking about it from the perspective of a sailor, there's really no need to make any cosmological assumptions. The way people measure the depth of the water from a boat is with a sounding line. If Noah had a line of 15 cubits and could not find the ground, and if he could not see the peaks of any mountain, it would be natural to say that the water covered the mountains by 15 cubits. It could be considerably more, of course, but unless a longer line could be produced, the 15 cubit sounding is all that he could report.

  • 3
    A translation of the LXX into English has "19 And the water prevailed exceedingly upon the earth, and covered all the high mountains which were under heaven. 20 Fifteen cubits upwards was the water raised, and it covered all the high mountains." I read that as it went up the side of the ark 15 cubits (as they could easily tell that from the deck looking down) and that they didn't drag over the mountains.
    – Frank Luke
    Sep 20, 2012 at 18:42
  • @FrankLuke: That's allowed gramatically, 15 cubits from the top of the ark, but it doesn't make sense for a floating object-- the degree of the water rising has nothing to do with how much water there is, so it's no good in context (it really doesn't read well). The correct reading is still 15 cubits from the top of the dome of the sky, but at least these are passable alternatives, better than the rubbish in most translations.
    – Ron Maimon
    Sep 21, 2012 at 7:04
  • 1
    Looking ahead to Genesis 8:5, the correct answer would be the second observation: that the waters covered the tops of the mountains an additional 22.5 feet. By the 10th month after the flood, the mountaintops were already seen, meaning they had been submerged by water as Genesis 7:20 notes.
    – Philip
    Jan 29, 2019 at 5:35

Fifteen cubits above: Above the peaks of all the mountains, after the waters were equal to [at the same level as] the mountain peaks. — [from Gen. Rabbah 32:11] - Rashi

Gen Rabbah is said to be from the third century, long before anyone would have objected to or attempted to cover up a supposed flat earth cosmology.

  • 2
    I'm betting the Septuagint will also have "above the mountains," and it comes from ca. 200 BC.
    – Frank Luke
    Sep 18, 2012 at 20:52
  • 1
    I found the Greek of the Septuagint and copied it to my answer. Could you help me determine if it could be translated the way Ron suggests? Sep 19, 2012 at 17:20
  • 1
    The word in question is used Ex 25:21, 26:14, 36:19 39:31, 40:19-20, and many more which only make sense in the conventional rendering.
    – Bob Jones
    Nov 16, 2012 at 18:47

Yours is the only view that states that the waters must have been to within 15 cubits of the top of the sky from a "flat earth cosmology".

No other English translation gives anything of the kind:

New International Version (©1984)
The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet.

New Living Translation (©2007)
rising more than twenty-two feet above the highest peaks.

English Standard Version (©2001)
The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.

King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995)
It rose 23 feet above the mountaintops.

King James 2000 Bible (©2003)
Fifteen cubits above did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

American King James Version
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

American Standard Version
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

Douay-Rheims Bible
The water was fifteen cubits higher than the mountains which it covered.

Darby Bible Translation
Fifteen cubits upward the waters prevailed; and the mountains were covered.

English Revised Version
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

Webster's Bible Translation
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail: and the mountains were covered.

World English Bible
The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered.

Young's Literal Translation
fifteen cubits upwards have the waters become mighty, and the mountains are covered;

Wycliffe Bible
(yea,) the water was higher, by fifteen cubits, over (all) the hills which it covered.

Orthodox Jewish Bible
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters rise; and the harim were covered.

Lexham English Bible
The waters swelled fifteen cubits above the mountains, covering them.

Easy-to-Read Version
The water continued to rise above the mountains. The water was more than 20 feet[a] above the highest mountain.

Complete Jewish Bible the water covered the mountains by more than twenty-two-and-a-half feet.

Amplified Bible
[In fact] the waters became fifteen cubits higher, as the high hills were covered.

Compared to the work of thousands of scholars across hundreds of years, I would state that your view, the "naive reading" of an "implied flat-Earth cosmology", is suspect.

  • 5
    Excellent point. If a diverse population of translators agree on one rendering, the "odd man out" has probably gone wrong somehow. Sep 18, 2012 at 16:38

Later, when the flood comes, we find out why (Gen 7:19-20)...

חֲמֵשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה אַמָּה מִלְמַעְלָה

And this is literally "fifteen cubits from above", as in, fifteen cubits from the top of the dome of the sky.

The Hebrew word [מִלְמַעְלָה] is often translated 'from...' If this were the correct translation there would be a dagesh forte in the lamed. There isn't. And since the word is used again and again throughout the Scriptures, it obviously wasn't omitted in error. My guess is that it is a word in its own right, related to its root עָלָה.

  • Thanks Monica. The dagesh forte is a dot in the middle of the following consonant. If the first mem of the word [ מִלְמַעְלָה] was 'from' [mem-nun] it would have the lamed in the middle of the lamed, doubling the consonant when the nun merges with the lamed. Apr 1, 2013 at 6:20
  • 1
    I did some furthur research, comparing what I could find in my books and on the internet. It looks to me like the word is an adverb meaning 'atop.' Apr 1, 2013 at 6:55
  • -1: The original Hebrew had no dots at all, these were added in the Middle ages. The word "Milema'la" is not obscure, and no other construction of this form has any special thing associated with it. The construction is straightforward, and it doesn't seem like a contraction of "min lema'la" which is what is implied by this answer, which doesn't even sound grammatical and certainly doesn't appear anywhere.
    – Ron Maimon
    Apr 3, 2013 at 5:50
  • 2
    @KimMcCooeye I'll echo what Monica said. Welcome! Also, when you do elaborate on an answer, please just edit the answer itself so that it becomes a well-rounded response and not a forum thread. :). Thanks again, and welcome!
    – swasheck
    Apr 5, 2013 at 14:58

Rashi, citing the Midrash at Genesis Rabbah 32:11, explains that "fifteen cubits above" refers to 15 cubits of water above the top of the mountains.


The Bible says that the ark came to rest on the top of Mt. Ararat in Turkey. The elevation of that mountain is 16,845 feet, so the waters at one time had to be that high.

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    – agarza
    Jul 6, 2021 at 17:41

I thought it meant the dome of the sky because Genesis 7:17 (KJV) And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth. This reading made me think the ark was lifted up supernaturally by the winds and water in a hurricane above the waters safely. Then, the waters became so high as right under the dome of the sky to still breath oxygen to stay alive. But, after reading this, it also makes sense that they could have meant it was 15 cubits above the highest mountains. I have learned a lot by reading your comments. Thanks.

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    Jan 4, 2022 at 3:47

The main reason for the flood was to rid the nephlim an their doings.. There where giants,, 450 feet tall an taller.(.300 cubits.).. Enoch says 3000 ells.. which is ridiculous tall.. But probably not too crazy due to the massive trees,, that where miles tall.. Devils tower for example and many others .. Anyhow I think the waters would have to be higher than twenty feet above the mountains.. The giants easily could survive..we are a very small species compared to what was originally here..You can see the evidence in Rock formations..the sleeping woman mountain,, the mammoth an its baby,,now a rock island,,and many more .All petrified...And that would have been from the flood..Fifteen from the dome would sound ideal... I believe we live in a dome.. It says in Jubilees that seven ( think seven maybe ten )flood gates were opened from heaven an water shot up from the ground .. How are gates opened if we're an orbiting earth.. Thanks for this read tho ,, very interesting an knowledgeable ..

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