Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What do We Make of this Mesopotamian Tablet?

Today's post is by Guest Author Zak Schmoll

Recently, there has been quite a bit of interest around Noah’s Ark, and that interest has only increased over the past few weeks. A 4000-year-old Mesopotamian tablet has been discovered with a similar flood story. Apparently, animals proceeded in a boat two by two, and this giant boat was supposed to be able to survive a catastrophic flood.

However, there is an interesting difference. The vessel described on the tablet is round. We are obviously used to the measurements prescribed in Genesis that create a giant box.
Of course, this has brought the skeptics out to play. The main reason for this is because the tablet is 4000 years old, which would obviously put the date around 2000 BC. It is traditionally believed that the Old Testament was written between 1400 BC and 400 BC, so when Genesis was written earlier in that time period, this tablet had already been in existence for perhaps 600 years.

The skeptics contend that this implies that the biblical record of Noah’s Ark was simply a later copy of an earlier legend. Obviously, this type of flood story was prevalent in Mesopotamia, so doesn’t it make sense that whichever one was written down first is most likely the base that was copied from?
I am not so worried about these concerns, and I actually think that this tablet helps affirm the reliability of the Biblical account.

I am excited when I see evidence that shows that the Hebrew Bible is not the only document that makes claims about a catastrophic flood. Sure, they all could have made up similar stories, or there could have been sharing among different tribal groups. However, that first concern is certainly not likely. If you and I each tried to create a fantastical story in our heads, what are the odds that we would each decide something as bizarre as animals being brought onto a giant boat in pairs? The facts are strikingly similar and incredibly unlikely based on random chance. I will not say it is impossible, but I would not place a bet on it.

The second one is obviously what is at stake here. Is it possible that there was sharing going on? Is it possible that the Hebrew people saw something that they liked in the Mesopotamian religion and decided to envelop it into their own belief system? That would certainly explain why key facts overlap that are far too similar to be a product of random chance.

However, I don’t know if this claim is satisfactory either. The first five books of the Bible are the basis of Hebrew Scripture, and as you read through them, you cannot help but notice that there is a lot of time spent discussing why the Jewish people are set apart. When Abraham was promised a great nation, you get the sense that this would not be an ordinary nation.

With all of this emphasis on being set apart, why then would you include something overtly stolen from another area religion? If you were creating a religion that spent so much time talking about how much different you are than the people around you, why would you start taking pieces of their stories? Everyone would recognize the similarities. Couldn’t you make your own and be much more differentiated if you just made up your own stories? What circumstance would drive you to not make up a story? What would you be forced to copy?

You would be forced to overlap in areas where the facts are true. If everyone at the time knew that there had been a flood, it certainly makes sense that if you are going to write any document about the history of the world, you would need to include what was known to have happened.
If you believe in Biblical inerrancy as I do, then you should not be surprised to see the world reflecting the reality outlined in the Bible. The fact that other cultures recognize that there was a global flood should be obvious.

However, even if you want to deny that and are skeptical of the Bible all together, you have a book that seems to desire to set apart with a group of people by establishing largely a religious difference. Judaism sets apart the Jewish people. However, you have this book sharing very similar claims with area religions that really could have been be avoided if the claims had no reason for belief. When Moses wrote Genesis, if nobody believed in the truth of any type of global flood, then why would he borrow from the religion he was trying to separate from? Even if that was some type of subjective belief without any type of legitimate evidence, he probably could have avoided it even if the majority accepted it. Perhaps he included it because everyone knew it was an objective fact, and it needed to be reconciled with the belief system he was creating.

Don’t be nervous about this if you are Christian. Multiple sources of evidence strengthen the case for the flood, and if there was a flood, that is a point in favor of the accuracy of the Bible and in favor of the Mesopotamian tablet. The next step would be to evaluate the relative claims of Mesopotamian religion at the time and the Bible and see which one holds up better to scrutiny. That way, we could see if the tablet or the Bible is more reliable. Either way, this is not a defeater for Christian belief in the Scriptures.

Zak Schmoll is a Christian blogger at “A Chapter Per Day” He is writing about one chapter of the Bible every day from beginning to end, and he has almost made it halfway!

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