October 24, 2020

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, Part 1- Propositions 4 and 5

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, Part 1- Propositions 4 and 5

We are blogging through the book: The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton.  Today we will look at Proposition 4- The Bible Uses Hyperbole to Describe Historical Events and Proposition 5- Genesis Appropriately Presents a Hyperbolic Account of the Flood.  The dictionary.com definition of hyperbole is: 1. Obvious and intentional exaggeration. 2. An extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”  It is a subset of rhetorical device as was discussed last week, but Walton and Longman feel its importance in use in the Bible is worth its own discussion.  They claim that the Bible is not hesitant to describe historical events hyperbolically to produce and effect in the reader in order to make a theological point.

The description of the conquest of the Promised Land in Joshua 1-12 is a case in point.  Joshua 1-12 presents a complete conquest of all the land.  Joshua 11:16-17 says:

16 So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same; 17 Even from the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baalgad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and slew them.

So if we read Joshua 1-12 as a straightforward, dispassionate report, we would have to conclude that all Canaan was conquered and not a single Canaanite survived unless they, like Rahab, came over to the Israelite side.  But in Joshua 13:1-6 we read:

When Joshua had grown old, the Lord said to him, “You are now very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.  2 “This is the land that remains: all the regions of the Philistines and Geshurites, 3 from the Shihor River on the east of Egypt to the territory of Ekron on the north, all of it counted as Canaanite though held by the five Philistine rulers in Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron; the territory of the Avvites 4 on the south; all the land of the Canaanites, from Arah of the Sidonians as far as Aphek and the border of the Amorites; 5 the area of Byblos; and all Lebanon to the east, from Baal Gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo Hamath.

6 “As for all the inhabitants of the mountain regions from Lebanon to Misrephoth Maim, that is, all the Sidonians, I myself will drive them out before the Israelites. Be sure to allocate this land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have instructed you…

A close look at a Bible atlas would show the conquest to be, roughly, 50% complete, with major cities like Jerusalem and Hebron still firmly in the hands of the Canaanites.  In point of fact, Canaan was not completely subdued until the time of David, centuries later.  The simplest and most concise resolution to the seemingly disparate accounts is to view Joshua 1-12 as the use of hyperbole for affect in order to communicate an important theological method.  The conquest narratives are interested in the successes of the conquest since they showed God was fulfilling his promise made in Genesis 12:1-3 regarding the land.

The authors note the work of K. Lawson Younger (Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing, Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press 1990, 190-92) who presents many examples of hyperbole as an expected feature of battle accounts from Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia.  Lawson says:

Just like other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts, the biblical narrative utilizes hyperbolic, stereotyped syntagms [a linguistic unit consisting of a set of linguistic forms (phonemes, words, or phrases) that are in a sequential relationship to one another] to build up the account.

Walton and Longman recognize that some of their readers will have difficulty acknowledging this use of hyperbole; seeing it as an attack on the inerrancy of scripture.  But they note that the biblical author’s use of hyperbole was expected to be recognized by their intended audience as making a theological point.  As stated earlier, we are to remember that the event is not inspired, it’s the interpretation of the event that is inspired, because that interpretative theological point is what scripture affirms.  Walton and Longman also note that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states in Article 13:

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

So there you go, conservative evangelical, BOO-YAH, right there in the Chicago Freaking Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, ain’t no stinking liberals up in here.  Walton and Longman:

Thus we can see the Bible is not at all averse or slow to utilize hyperbole to communicate its important theological message, and the most recent articulation of the doctrine of inerrancy fully recognizes this use and affirms that it in no way compromises the truthfulness of Scripture.  There are historical events behind these hyperbolic statements, but it is hard if not impossible to reconstruct these events in detail because the biblical authors are not so interested in the event itself as their significance for God’s relationship with his people.

Walton and Longman, based on this discussion of rhetorical hyperbole, move on to apply that understanding to the flood account.  They contend that employing universalistic rhetoric to portray the impact and significance of the flood as cosmic cataclysm does not mean that the ancient Israelites considered the physical scope or geographical range to be universal.

Other uses of universalistic language used rhetorically as hyperbole would be Lamentations 2:22, where the lament over the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem indicates there were no survivors; whereas we know that some actually remained on the land and others were taken into exile. Based on the understanding of Genesis 1-11 as a whole, we can expect at least two things: 1) the flood story is based on a real event, and 2) that historical event would be described using figurative language, showing more interest in the theological significance of the event than in giving us raw data with which to reconstruct the event itself.

Hyperbole is a common form of figurative language that exaggerates for effect.  Longman gives an example of his wife picking up his luggage and saying “it weighs a ton” (all those theological books don’t you know).  They both know it doesn’t literally weight 2,000 lbs. but her point is made.  She is not lying or misleading him, and he would be an obtuse jerk to reply, “It does not.  It weighs 70 pounds.”  In Walton and Longman’s opinion the flood account is permeated with hyperbole from the get go.  Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”  If we take that statement as bare fact then how do we explain, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9).  But the hyperbole makes the point that wickedness had risen to such unprecedented levels that God was obligated to take action.

Secondly, hyperbole extends to the dimensions of the ark itself.  Based on the assumption a cubit was 18”, the ark as described in Genesis 6:15, would be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.  Although Ken Ham and the Ark Encounter project attempted to duplicate these dimensions and claimed, according to their website:

Ark Encounter is the largest timber frame structure in the world, built from standing dead timber, in part by skilled Amish craftsmen. The Ark is an architectural and engineering wonder containing three decks of world-class exhibits… The real Noah’s Ark, the one described in the Bible, was huge. It was amazingly seaworthy—a ship that kept the occupants safe during a worldwide flood.

The fact of the matter, as I described in a previous post, is that such a wooden structure COULD NOT HAVE LASTED A DAY ON A CALM OCEAN.  Even if pumps had been installed and all hands worked round the clock pumping, the Ark certainly would have leaked catastrophically, filled with water, and capsized. As said in the previous post:

Schooner Wyoming in 1917

If there was even the gentlest of currents, sufficient pressure would be put on the hull to open its seams. Currents are not a complete, perfectly even flow. They consist of eddies and slow-moving turbulence. This puts uneven pressure on the hull, and Noah’s Ark would bend with those eddies like a snake. Even if the water itself was perfectly still, wind would expose the flat-sided Ark’s tremendous windage, exerting a shearing force that might well crumple it.  How do we know that?  Well, once upon a time people built large wooden ships.

There was an “upper limit, in the region of 300 feet, on the length of a wooden ship; beyond such a length the deformation due to the differing distributions of weight and buoyancy becomes excessive, with consequent difficulty in maintaining the hull watertight.  The largest wooden ships ever built were the six-masted schooners, nine of which were launched between 1900 and 1909. These ships were so long that they required diagonal iron strapping for support; they “snaked,” or visibly undulated, as they passed through the waves, they leaked so badly that they had to be pumped constantly, and they were only used on short coastal hauls because they were unsafe in deep water.

Not to mention, if you watch videos of Ham’s Ark being built, that it took hundreds of workers using power tools, cranes, and steel scaffolding to accomplish the task that Noah, and his family, using only crude hand tools, were supposed to be able to do.  Ancient Phoenician and Egyptian boats from the time period Noah supposedly lived in were, at the most, a quarter of the size of the Ark.  No, the ancient authors and their intended audience would have understood that hyperbole was being employed in the Genesis description of the Ark.  Longman and Walton note:

And then the flood itself is described in what to ancient readers would have been seen as hyperbolic language. The waters come from the “springs of the great deep” and flow from the “floodgates of the heavens” (Gen. 7:11), reflecting an ancient cosmology where under the flat earth were the subterranean waters and above the firmament were waters (not the blue sky) that could be released by opening the gates of heaven.

As the water flowed from deep within the earth and from the sky, “they lifted the ark high above the earth” (Gen. 7:17).  Even the “high mountains” were covered (Gen. 7:19), and not just covered but with water to more than fifteen cubits (twenty-three feet) above the mountains.  The description truly is that of a worldwide flood, not a local flood.  Though some modern readers don’t see it, the original audience would have understood that such a description is hyperbole.

Comments

  1. john barry says

    Mike the G Man, again thanks for the information so well presented. As I only have a five minute attention span when you summarize so well it helps me .

    I am awash with emotions as I soak up the ocean of thoughts you open up, producing a sea level change in my viewpoint. Wave after wave of ideas produce a tsunami of change but it does not dampened my faith. I feel an outpouring of gratitude as I am inundated with an overflow of good information that flows though your post and I am swept away by the current of good thinking presented and I am floating on the torrent of info introduced. To some this could be a watershed moment.

    I must go now as I am drained emotionally as I have almost drowned in a whirlpool of new thoughts, I do not want to become totally saturated and become all wet.

    Thanks for you input, I enjoy it and I have to go turn on my sprinklers, we have not had rain for over 2 weeks.

  2. Stephen says

    Mike the G what you’re forgetting is that Noah had the assistance of the Watcher Rock Angels! Did anybody but me enjoy Aronofsky’s wacky epic? (I was very moved when the Rock Angels got to go back to heaven.) A stowaway on the Ark? Well, yeah!

    • Burro (Mule) says

      I loved Aronofsky’s Noah. Aronofsky used a lot of Jewish apocryphal material as source material that gave it a lot of ballast that it would have otherwise lacked. I’m surprised this was almost entirely overlooked by critics.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        He was at least mining the original traditions (including that of Midrash) for his “ballast”.

        (Now imagine if Noah had been done by Ken Ham instead of Aronofsky…)

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Walton and Longman recognize that some of their readers will have difficulty acknowledging this use of hyperbole; seeing it as an attack on the inerrancy of scripture.

    There IS no hyperbole in SCRIPTURE.
    There can be NO hyperbole in SCRIPTURE.
    Only FACT, FACT, FACT.
    (Remember the Four Spiritual Laws tract with the little train of FAITH pulled by FACT?)

    “God Said It, I Believe It, THAT SETTLES IT.
    DO YOU DOUBT GOD’S WORD?????”

    The fact of the matter, as I described in a previous post, is that such a wooden structure COULD NOT HAVE LASTED A DAY ON A CALM OCEAN.

    Already anticipated you, Geology Man:
    “AND THEN GOD PERFORMED (another) MIRACLE!!!!!
    DO YOU DOUBT GOD’S WORD?????”

    They both know it doesn’t literally weight 2,000 lbs. but her point is made. She is not lying or misleading him, and he would be an obtuse jerk to reply, “It does not. It weighs 70 pounds.”

    “Obtuse jerk” or “Great FAITH”?
    ” DO YOU DOUBT GOD’S WORD?????”

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Based on the assumption a cubit was 18”, the ark as described in Genesis 6:15, would be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Although Ken Ham and the Ark Encounter project attempted to duplicate these dimensions and…

    … had to use steel framing, concrete block, and rebar.

  5. Christiane says

    “So there you go, conservative evangelical, BOO-YAH, right there in the Chicago Freaking Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, ain’t no stinking liberals up in here.”

    LOL,
    Mike-The-Geologist, this is FUNNY!

  6. Burro (Mule) says

    It sounds to me as though the Bible didn’t make the transition from being a mostly orally transmitted document to a widely-distributed printed text very well.

    Most “conservative evangelicals” wouldn’t be able to make hide or hair out of a pre-Gutenberg Bible without a healthy dollop of despised Tradition pointing the way. My wife gets grumpy when I tell her that the Bible isn’t journalism and shouldn’t be held to the same standards.

    • Rick Ro. says

      “It sounds to me as though the Bible didn’t make the transition from being a mostly orally transmitted document to a widely-distributed printed text very well.”

      VERY WELL said!

      And you know what else just struck me? Much of it was VISUAL (witnessed) before it was ORAL (witness account shared), which preceded even the WRITTEN (witness account put into words on paper)!

      So who doesn’t think there might a little wobble from VISUAL to ORAL to WRITTEN?

      • Burro (Mule) says

        I’m a firm believer that people witness what they deserve to witness. (See John 12:28-29), so the existence of “wobble” doesn’t concern me.

        My wife says that people are always looking for wobble so that they can misbehave. I tell her that horse left the barn (people using the Bible as a rulebook for behavior) about 230 years ago. That makes her grumpy too

        • Burro (Mule) says

          You have to understand that my wife comes from South America. According to her, Bibles were not widely distributed by the Catholic Church, so she’s kind of a first generation Protestant. American Catholics reading and studying the Bible is a novelty for her, but I keep telling her that Catholic here is a choice, not a default state.

        • Rick Ro. says

          –> “I’m a firm believer that people witness what they deserve to witness. (See John 12:28-29), so the existence of ‘wobble’ doesn’t concern me.”

          Oh, I agree. And I’m a FIRM BELIEVER of not denying a person their testimony. So I wasn’t talking “wobble” in the sense of what they witnessed, more in the DESCRIPTION of what they witnessed. You know, like the telephone game or Rashomon. Stuff gets lost in translation or the repeating and retelling.

          • Rick Ro. says

            Case in point…

            Good friends of mine experienced something while driving on the freeway leading them to believe an angel saved their lives. They were driving along one night and the husband distinctly heard a voice tell him, “Pull over to the side of the road.” It was such a distinct voice that he did it. Moments later a wrong-way driver went by them in the lane they’d been in.

            This testimony was first experienced “visually” (if you will) by them, then orally shared with me. Now in me recounting it, I probably have screwed up several of the details while getting the gist of the encounter correct.

            For me, KNOWING the couple, KNOWING their character, KNOWING they’re not the type of people that make this kind of thing up, pretty much believes they indeed experienced this.

            YOU, on the other hand, have a few elements to work through.
            1) “I don’t know these people, not sure I can trust this happened.”
            2) “I don’t know the person TELLING me this happened – happened not to them but to someone they know – so now I question the experience even more.”
            3) “Hmm…are all these details as written exactly correct? Did it happen just as it is written here? Did the person who is writing about this encounter, someone ELSE’S encounter, get all the details right?”

            In other words, these people witnessed something they deserved to witness, but there’s some wobble in it getting from them to me to you.

          • Burro (Mule) says

            …and added, but then, if you believe that process is superintended, then it matters little. It’s not like you can get to the TRVTH unaided anyway.

            People who eat sausage and respect the law should watch neither being made, and all that.

            • Rick Ro. says

              –> “People who eat sausage and respect the law should watch neither being made, and all that.”

              LOL. Yes, I’m not sure I want to see my ground beef being made from the first step in the process.

            • StuartB says

              People who eat sausage and respect the law should watch neither being made, and all that.

              Makes you wonder how many drafts the 10 commandments went through, or what situations and circumstances led to them being needed to be defined as they were.

              • Burro (Mule) says

                If you’re going to have any kind of social fabric beyond killing everyone you see before they can kill you, the last 6 commandments are pretty a priori.

                If you’re going to have any kind of deity worth worshiping, the first and third commandments are also a priori

                The Second and Fourth have undergone extensive modifications by the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                  If you’re going to have any kind of social fabric beyond killing everyone you see before they can kill you…

                  Like barbarian tribesmen in any one of a dozen Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp adventures.

                  (In one of his novels, there’s a tribe whose traditional greeting in “I Can Kill You!”, followed immediately by an attempt to prove it.)

                  P.S. Check out a copy of the movie “John Carter” on DVD. It’s a reasonably-good adaptation of Burroughs’ “Barsoom” series that tanked because the I’m-an-MBAs and their Focus Groups didn’t know how to title and market it. (It’s “John Carter of MARS! By the creator of Tarzan!”)

  7. Rick Ro. says

    –> “…if you watch videos of Ham’s Ark being built, that it took hundreds of workers using power tools, cranes, and steel scaffolding to accomplish the task that Noah, and his family, using only crude hand tools, were supposed to be able to do.”

    Well, what do you expect!? Ham’s Ark contains three decks of world-class exhibits, provides park visitors with a unique experience in Bible history, allows visitors to meet Noah, his family, and the animals on the Ark, and includes the family-friendly Ark Encounter theme park nearby, featuring a zoo, zip lines, and timber-framed restaurant!

    All that slacker Noah had to do was build a boat to house pairs of every animal on earth for a few months. Geez!

    (sarcasm off)

    • Noah also had almost a hundred years to build it. And no zoning codes or building inspectors. 😉

      • But he also didn’t get millions of tax dollars (one way or the other) to help him along. 🙂

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Are you sure? I hear their reporting and auditing regulations were pretty lax back then.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      …and includes the family-friendly Ark Encounter theme park nearby, featuring a zoo, zip lines, and timber-framed restaurant!

      And a “First Century Village” where the Gospel Presentation and Altar Call will take place.

      “You’ve seen the presentation, now time to buy the condo.”
      — Chaplain Mike, “The Disney-ization of Faith”
      https://internetmonk.com/archive/the-disney-ization-of-faith

  8. Christiane says

    I wonder if fundamentalist-evangelical believers, who are stridently claiming that their INTERPRETATIONS of sacred Scripture are ‘inerrant’, realize that other Christians, they may sound irreverent about the Bible ?

    For example:
    saying that Our Lord is NOT the focus of all Scripture and the lens through which all Scripture must be read

    down-playing the importance of the four Holy Gospels in the whole of sacred Scripture

    choosing an arbitrary way to interpret what is to be taken literally or not in sacred Scripture

    placing others in the role of emphasis instead of Jesus Christ when interpreting passages

    Another problem altogether: What on Earth are fundamentalist-evangelicals doing by accepting the ‘canon’? On what authority do they do this? It doesn’t make sense if they are ‘sola Scriptura’ and the canon is honored also

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Another problem altogether: What on Earth are fundamentalist-evangelicals doing by accepting the ‘canon’? On what authority do they do this?

      The Direct WORD OF GOD, word-for-word from God’s Lips to Kynge Jaymes like the Koran to Mohammed.

  9. “1) the flood story is based on a real event”

    Maybe an earlier part that I missed explains, but, why is that a necessary conclusion or expectation?

  10. Robert F says

    It’s a crying shame that so much time and energy has to be spent debunking and deprogramming wooden and distorting approaches to interpreting and understanding scripture, before Jesus can be gotten to. I’m sure some people just throw in the towel after a while, and that’s sad.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > I’m sure some people just throw in the towel

      Yep. Much of this that I have endured is the effort of people who DESPERATELY need some real problems to solve.

  11. As awful as much of your theology has become in an over-reaction to your fundamentalist upbringing, what you are referring to is not foreign to conservative evangelicals. It may be for many fundamentalists but to conservative evangelicals, historically speaking, it is not. Dr. Michael Heiser, today, has a great deal to offer and is doing so to the Christian Community and specifically the conservative Evangelical Community by way of his expertise in ancient Middle Eastern languages and the nature of the way things are communicated and how Biblical narratives were formulated, especially to combat the competing narratives from those worshipping false Gods. It is true that the most vocal of conservative evangelicas may have issues with what you are saying but by far and easily not all, so booyah, your simplistic boogie man has once again disappeared.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Sorry, Dude, but the Fundys have hijacked and redefined both the words “Evangelical” and “Christian” to mean Fundy and Fundy alone.
      “GOD SAID IT, I BELIEVE IT, THAT SETTLES IT! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!”

    • Rick Ro. says

      –> “As awful as much of your theology has become in an over-reaction to your fundamentalist upbringing…”

      You missed the “unhealthy” part of “your unhealthy fundamental upbringing.”

      Look, posts like this are intended for people who struggle with and wrestle with the logic of Biblical events. Our theology is thus being shaped by that struggle and wrestle.

      If you are NOT struggling, then please move along and keep your airtight theology to yourself.

      • Robert F says

        Hey, guys, if you follow the link in his name, you will find that the first post that comes up on Alex G’s blog is one supporting the plausibility of Holocaust denial. He’s worried about iMonk’s “unhealthy” theology, when he should be worried about his own “unhealthy” historical revisionism. Toxic stuff.

        • Rick Ro. says

          Reading some of his posts makes me want to vomit. And he has the cajones to criticize OUR theology…?

          • Robert F says

            The attempt to deny the Holocaust is not just “unhealthy” history, but is actually rooted in a demonic theology. Toxic theology results in toxic posts.

  12. Okay Rick you’re good at whining now what specifically about my theology upset you?

    Per the Holocaust, I made my position clear in the blog article:

    “Let me be clear, I am not a denier nor a revisionist, I am a factualist. Give me the facts. It is requisite that one be willing to entertain ideas which are not their own and with which there may be controversy, even outright error claimed by experts.”

    Somehow all of you leftists or left his sympathizers missed that or simply ignored it since paying attention to it would have denied you the opportunity to make the accusations you did, in your criticism and claims of my being a holocaust denier or supporting Holocaust deniers.

    And that is the problem with leftists, you live in a bubble of mutual admiration and have disdain for anyone who thinks outside of your circles. You are the mirror image of the fundies to which you object.

    You leftists are now 1984 realized.