Monday, November 24, 2014


Noah's Flood

Genesis 6-9 tells the story of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood. While some Christians interpret the text to mean that the flood covered the whole globe and try to explain the evidence of rocks and fossils in terms of this global flood, others don’t think the text requires a global flood, but one covering the region known to Noah. This reading of the text fits with the majority scientific opinion that ‘The scientific and historical evidence does not support a global flood, but is consistent with a catastrophic regional flood.’[i]

Christian writer Timothy Keller says:

‘I believe Noah’s flood happened, but that it was a regional flood, not a worldwide flood. On the one hand, those who insist on it being a worldwide flood seem to ignore too much the scientific evidence that there was no such thing. On the other hand, those who insist that it was a legend seem to ignore too much the trustworthiness of the Scripture… we should remember that the Bible often speaks of the “known world” as the “whole world” — compare Gen. 41:56,57; Acts 2:5,9-11; Col.1:23.’[ii]

While flood stories abound in ancient cultures from many parts of the world, this doesn’t prove that there was a global flood. Instead, different parts of the world may have suffered floods at various times in ancient history and may have recorded these events, or based stories upon them, from within the perspective of their own religious worldview.

The ancient Greeks and Romans had a story about Deucalion and Pyhrra, who saved their children and some animals in a giant box-shaped craft (such a craft would have been unstable in water; this contrasts with Noah’s ‘floating boxcar’, which would have been stable).

The recently discovered Babylonian ‘Ark Tablet’ was written during the Old Babylonian period, broadly 1900–1700 B.C. In this version a man called Atra-hasıs is instructed by the god Enki to ‘Draw out the boat that you will make on a circular plan.’ Atra-hasis’ Ark is effectively a 230 ft wide reed coracle. However, just as in the Noah story, so in this Babylonian version, the animals are said to enter the Ark ‘two by two’.[iii]

A recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review highlights the existence of several different Babylonian accounts of the flood story:

‘In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the god Enki tasks Utnapishtim to save the world from the flood… Later discoveries revealed that the account was an abridged and modified version of the Akkadian Atrahasis epic, a similar flood myth that was copied and adapted for centuries in the ancient Near East…’[iv]

According to archaeologist James F. Hoffmeier:

‘Given the fact that there were several different traditions from Mesopotamia, and that they have so many points in common with the Biblical story, it might be logical to conclude that all the stories recall a common event that was retold to reflect different social, cultural and theological contexts.’[v]

Noah’s story is related in ‘phenomenological’ terms, that is, from the limited viewpoint of the human observer. Roger Forster and Paul Marston note that: ‘to translate “the whole eretz” as “the whole earth” is really misleading to the modern reader, for we think of “earth” in terms of a “Globe”. To translate it “the whole land”, would much better convey the kind of concept in the mind of the writer – and often it does not even imply the whole of the then known world.’[vi] Moreover: ‘the term tebel, which translates to the whole expanse of the Earth, or the Earth as a whole, is not used in Genesis 6:17, nor in subsequent verses in Genesis… If the intent of this passage was to indicate the entire expanse of the Earth, tebel would have been the more appropriate word choice.’[vii] Indeed: ‘Although the geological record contains ample evidence of widespread, devestating local flooding, most geologists claim to see no evidence of a universal flood.’[viii] As Davies A. Young asks:

‘Given the frequency with which the Bible uses universal language to describe local events of great significance, such as the famine or the plagues in Egypt, is it unreasonable to suppose that the flood account uses hyperbolic language to describe an event that devastated or disrupted Mesopotamian civilization — that is to say, the whole world of the Semites?’[ix]

Davies A. Young concludes that ‘there may very well have been a catastrophic deluge in the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys that severely disrupted the civilization of that area — a civilization that represented the world to the biblical writer — and it may be that this is what the biblical story is all about.’[x]

Noah’s ark has not been found (no wooden structure would survive so long unless buried in glacial ice). Forster and Marston comment: ‘As for the various claims that the ark has been “found” on some or the other mountain… we remain very sceptical. Some are manifestly natural outcrops, others are not the shape described in Genesis, and none is convincing.’[xi] 

cf. Noah’s Ark Search @

On the basis that a biblical ‘cubit’ was probably about 18 inches, Noah’s Ark is described as being around 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Dutch carpenter Johan Huibers spent three years building what he thinks is a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark:

Michael Lahanas discusses some examples of giant ancient wooden ships in his article, ‘Giant Hellenistic Warships’

A recent article in The Telegraph (April 3rd, 2014) reported that scientists at the University of Leicester:

'have discovered that Noah's Ark could have carried 70,000 animals without sinking if built from the dimensions listed in the Bible. A group of master's students from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Leicester University studied the exact dimensions of the Ark, set out in Genesis 6:13-22. According to the Bible, God instructed Noah to build a boat which was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high... The students averaged out the Egyptian and hebrew cubit measurement to come up with 48.2 cm, making the Ark around 144 meters long... Using the dimensions, the Archimedes principle of bouyancy and approximate animal weights they were astonished to find out that the Ark would have floated.' cf.

That said, the ancient use of numbers in the Old Testament is often more symbolic/numerological than literal, and this may be the case with the dimensions of the Ark.

Recommended Resources

Noah Weiner, ‘The Animals Went in Two by Two, According to Babylonian Ark Tablet’
Lorence G. Collins, ‘Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth’
Answers in Genesis (global flood advocates) – Flood FAQ’s
Answers in Genesis (global flood advocates) – Noah’s Ark FAQ’s
Listen: Unbelievable?, ‘Does the rock and fossil evidence point to Noah’s Flood or Evolution?’{6DB9D833-41FD-4433-8549-853D56C3C8FB}
Irving Finkel, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood (Hodder, 2014)
Roger Forster & Paul Marston, Reason, Science & Faith (Monarch, 1999)
William B.F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman, Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event That Changed History (Touchstone, 2000)
Valentina Yanko-Hombach, Allan S. Gilbert, Nicolae Panin and Pavel M. Dolukhanov, The Black Sea Flood Question: Changes in Coastline, Climate and Human Settlement (Springer, 2007)
Ian Wilson, Before the Flood (St. Martin’s Press, 2004)
Ian Wilson, The Bible Is History (Weindenfeld & Nicolson,1999)
Davies A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995)

[ii] Timothy Keller, Genesis: What Were We Put in the World to Do? (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2006), p. 81)
[v] James F. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion, 2008), p. 38.
[vi] Roger Forster and Paul Marston, Reason, Science & Faith (Monarch, 1999), p. 297.
[viii] The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman, 2007), note for 6:17, p. 16.
[ix] Davies A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 312.
[x] Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 252.
[xi] Forster & Marston, ibid, p. 440.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Evidence for the Exodus

Both Egyptian chronology and the chronology of the Exodus are matters of ongoing scholarly dispute. Most scholars think the Exodus under Ramesses II in the 13th century B.C. (the ‘late date’ view). However, many scholars argue for dating the Exodus to c. 1446 BC (the ‘early date’ view - in which case the pharaoh of the Exodus was Amenhotep II) and a few argue for an even earlier date of c. 1525 BC. Archaeologist James K. Hoffmeir comments: ‘Until some firm archaeological or textual evidence emerges to support one of these theories, or an alternative, scholars will continue to disagree about the dating. An accepted time range for the exodus, then, is 1250-1447 BC, sometime during the New kingdom period.’ - The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion, 2008), p. 50.

Egyptologist Kenneth A. Kitchen points out that it is unreasonable to expect much by way of archaeological confirmation of the Exodus story: ‘The mud hovels of brickfield slaves and humble cultivators have long since gone back to their mud origins, never to be seen again. Even stone structures (such as temples) hardly survive… practically no written records of any extent have been retrieved from Delta sites… A tiny fraction of reports from the East delta occur in papyri recovered from the desert near Memphis. Otherwise, the entirety of Egypt’s administrative records at all periods in the Delta is lost… and monumental texts are also nearly nil. And, as pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of slaves (with loss of a full chariot squadron) would never have been memorialized by any king, in temples in the Delta or anywhere else.’  - On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 245.

Archaeology does demonstrate that, consistent with the Biblical story of Exodus: 1) Semitic people lived in Egypt in the 19th century BC, and that 2) the nation of Israel existed in the land of Canaan by 1208 BC:

Joseph’s Canal:

A canal running into lake Quarun has a traditional name that links it with the pre-Exodus story of Joseph in Egypt: ‘between 1850 and 1650 B.C. a canal was built to keep the branches of the Nile permanently open, enabling water to fill Lake Quaran and keep the land fertile. This canal was so effective that it still successfully functions today. There is no record of who built the canal, but for thousands of years it has only been known by one name. In Arabic it's the Bahr Yusef. This translates into English as The Waterway of Joseph.’ – BBC Religions,

Tomb of Rekh-mi-re (15th century BC): ‘A wall painting in an Egyptian tomb in the Valley of the Nobles at Thebes shows foreign slaves making mud bricks, recalling the enslaved Israelites’ forced brickmaking (Exodus 1:14:5:7).’ – cf. cf. Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 247.

The Soleb Hieroglyph: ‘Among ancient Egyptian designations for types of foreign peoples in the New Kingdom Period (1550–1070 BC), the term Shasu occurs fairly frequently. It is generally accepted that the term Shasu means nomads or Bedouin people, referring primarily to the nomadic peoples of Syria-Palestine. There are two hieroglyphic references in New Kingdom Period texts to an area called “the land of the Shasu of Yahweh.” Except for the Old Testament, these are the oldest references found in any ancient texts to the God Yahweh… The term Shasu is almost exclusively used in New Kingdom texts for semi-nomadic peoples living in parts of Lebanon, Syria, Sinai, Canaan, and Transjordan, and for people groups clearly identified as Semitic herders… The New Kingdom inscriptions which refer to “the Land of the Shasu of Yahweh” are found in two topographical lists. The lists are found inscribed on the walls of temples, one at Soleb and the second at Amarah-West. Soleb, a temple dedicated to the god Amon-Re, was built by the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III around 1400 BC… Amarah-West, which is also located in Sudan, is a construction of Ramses II in the 13th century. The section of the Amarah-West topographical list which contains the reference to “the land of the Shasu of Yahweh,” is not original with Ramses II, and was almost certainly copied from the earlier list at Soleb. Egyptologists in general do not question the appearance of the name Yahweh in these two ancient lists.  For example, Donald Redford writes of the reference to Yahweh at Soleb: For half a century it has been generally admitted that we have here the tetragrammaton, the name of the Israelite god "Yahweh;" and if this be the case, as it undoubtedly is, the passage constitutes the most precious indication of the whereabouts during the late 15th century BC of an enclave revering this god.’ - cf.

Israel Stele (13th century BC): ‘The name Israel is inscribed in hieroglyphs on a stone slab found in 1896 at Thebes. It is the only mention of Israel in all Egyptian records discovered so far, and the oldest evidence outside the Bible for Israel’s existence. Israel is listed as one of the peoples in western Asia during the reign of Ramses II’s son, Merneptah (c.1213-1203 B.C.), offering evidence that the Israelites were already settled in Canaan (the Promised Land) by that time.’ – cf.

External Evidence

Many details of the Exodus account ring true when compared to extra-biblical sources.

For example, ‘from the Louvre Roll it is evident that special religious holidays were granted to the workers, and work rosters from the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medineh report men being off work to “offer to their god.” This latter point seems to indicate that Moses’ request for the Israelites to have time off to worship Yahweh was not unprecedented and may have been standard procedure (Exod. 5:1).’ – James K. Hoffmier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 115.

Again, we know that ‘Egyptians regularly practices snake charming that allowed them to put snakes into a kind of catalepsy, whereby they would remain as stiff as a rod until wakened. This trick is still practised in Egypt today.’ – NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan, 2005), p. 96.

Internal Evidence

There is also internal evidence to take into consideration. The basic story of the Exodus seems to pass both the historical criteria of multiple testimony and the criteria of embarrassment. As Kenneth A. Kitchen argues: ‘the phenomenon of an exodus-deliverance recurs all over the biblical corpus… If there never was an escape from Egyptian servitude by any of Israel’s ancestors, why on earth invent such a tale about such humiliating origins? Nobody else in Near Eastern antiquity descended to that kind of tale of community beginnings.’ – Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 245.

The Miracles of Exodus

In his book The Miracles of Exodus (Continuum, 2003), Professor Colin J. Humphreys argues that ‘we have a natural scientific explanation for all ten plagues, which follow a logical, connected sequence… that is highly consistent with the biblical account.’ – p. 143.

Egyptologist Kenneth A. Kitchen observes that ‘the impact of various plagues can be understood as devaluing or denying Egyptian beliefs.’ – Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 253.

For example: ‘A massive unruly and destructive Nile flood, red in hue, bringing death, was the opposite of Hapi (deity of that flood), who was normally bringer of new life by its waters… Frogs were a symbol of abundance (…personified as Heqat), but here again they brought death… the deep darkness eclipsed the supreme sun god, Re or Amen-Re. Pharoah was traditionally entitled “Son of Re,” and his patron was made invisible… Death of so many throughout the land… would probably seem to Egyptians to have negated the power of the gods completely, and the king’s personal and official key role of ensuring their favour.’ – On the Reliability of the Old Testament, p. 253.

How the wind drove back the waters…

‘A new computer modeling study by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research… and the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) shows how the movement of wind as described in the book of Exodus could have parted the waters… a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea. With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in… Other researchers have focused on a phenomenon known as "wind setdown," in which a particularly strong and persistent wind can lower water levels in one area while piling up water downwind. Wind setdowns… have been widely documented, including an event in the Nile delta in the 19th century when a powerful wind pushed away about five feet of water and exposed dry land.’ – ScienceDaily.Com, 2010

Recommended Resources

‘Internal Evidence for the Historicity of Exodus’
‘The Exodus from Egypt, a Lecture with Dr James Hoffmeier’
Lecture - Dr James Hoffmeier – Egyptologist’
‘Lecture Q&A - Dr James Hoffmeier – Egyptologist’
(DVD) True U, Truth Project – 02 – Is The Bible Reliable? Building the historical case (Tyndale/Focus on the Family, 2011)
Gary Byers, ‘The Beni Hasan Asiatics and the Biblical Patriarchs’
ScienceDaily, ‘Parting the waters: Computer modeling applies physics to Red Sea escape route’
Rabbi Ken, ‘Archaeology and the Exodus’
Archaeologist Allan Millard, ‘How Reliable Is Exodus?’
Who Was Moses? (2003)
NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan, 2005)
Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology & The Old Testament (Baker Academic, 1998)
James K. Hoffmier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion, 2008)
James K. Hoffmier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2005)
James K. Hoffmier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1996)
Colin J. Humphreys, The Miracles of Exodus (Continuum, 2003)
Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003)


Sermon - Psalm 70

This is my Remembrance Sunday sermon from the 8 am service at Highfield Church, Southampton. Audio of the sermon is available here.

Psalm 70 (New Revised Standard Version)

To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering.

1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
2 Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
    who desire to hurt me.
3 Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’
    turn back because of their shame.
4 Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, ‘God is great!’
5 But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!

Psalm 70 claims to record a Psalm ‘of David’, King David that is. A decade or so ago scholars could truthfully claim that they didn’t know of any evidence for a historical King David outside the Bible. Given how little survives from the 10th century B.C, such a state of affairs really wasn’t surprising. Nevertheless, those with a bias against trusting the Biblical evidence in the absence of external corroboration made much of this absence – thereby ignoring British Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen’s famous maxim that ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’.

However, several artefacts have since been discovered that confirm the historicity of King David. For example:

1) The Tel Dan Stele - an inscribed monument erected by an Aramaic King in ancient Syria sometime before 800 B.C that makes reference to ‘Jehoram son of Ahab, King of Israel’ and ‘Ahaziahu son of Jehoram, king of the House of David’. Both Kings are biblically attested (2 Kings 9-10) and the language of the ‘House of David’ parallels biblical language about the Davidic Kingdom. (cf.

Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology WingDSCN5105.JPG
The Tel Dan Stele

2) The Mesha Stele - a Moabite monument found in 1868 that, it was later noticed, probably mentions ‘the house [of Da]vid.’ (cf.

P1120870 Louvre stèle de Mésha AO5066 rwk.JPG
The Mesha Stele
3) The Shoshenq Relief is a carving from the temple of Amun in Thebes that describes Pharaoh Shoshenq’s raid into Palestine in 925 B.C. In a list of places Shosenq says he captured a phrase appears that Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen translates as ‘heights of David’. (cf.

It is also interesting to note that ‘From the viewpoint of… textual preservation, Psalm 70 is one of the finest.’ (Harper Collins Bible Commentary, revised edition, p. 420.) Hence, there’s good reason to believe, when we read Psalm 70, that we are reading song-lyrics written by King David nearly three thousand years ago. Moreover, given what the Bible tells us of David’s adventurous life, it’s easy to see that in Psalm 70 David is writing out of personal experience.

Despite the obvious urgency of his situation, whatever that was, note how David asks God to be pleased to deliver him, rather than trying to demand or command God to deliver him. David rightly assumes that God may or may not deliver him.

It’s so very easy for us to lay expectations upon God that are rooted in our personal preferences rather than being rooted in the promises of God. We might wish it otherwise, but the promises of God concern our ultimate safety and fulfilment rather than our worldly comfort. Indeed, Jesus promises his disciples that: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33, NIV.) Those who build their lives upon the rock of Christ have a firm foundation to see them through the flood-waters, not a talisman to help them avoid the flood-waters (cf. Matthew 7:24). Indeed, Jesus himself asked if he could forego his own cup off suffering and was told that he could not.

David’s attitude in Psalm 70 puts me in mind of Daniel’s three friends: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Their lives are threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon when they won’t bow down to the golden idol he has set up. They declare: ‘If we are thrown into the flaming furnace, our God is able to deliver us; and he will deliver us out of your hand, Your Majesty. But if he doesn’t, please understand, sir, that even then we will never under any circumstance serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have erected.’ (Daniel 3:16-18, TLB.) Their confidence in God expresses itself in a confidence that God ‘is able to deliver’ them and, indeed, that on this particular occasion God ‘will deliver’ them; but their confidence in God does not depend upon God delivering them. If God does not rescue them, they will still worship God and no one else simply because of who God is.

This attitude towards God, of worshipping Him simply because He is God, is exhibited by David in Psalm 70 when he writes:

Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’

For David, rejoicing and being glad in God simply for being who He is comes before praising God for doing what He does, even though focusing upon God’s actions would be understandable under the pressure David feels bearing down upon him from those who ‘seek his life [literally, who seek his ‘soul’]’ and who ‘desire to hurt’ him.

It would be understandable, wouldn’t it, if David called upon God to give ‘an eye for an eye’, to take the lives of who seek his life, to hurt those who want to hurt him. But he does not.

Indeed, while David calls upon God to humiliate his enemies, he asks that his enemies thereby be brought to a turning point in their own lives:

Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
    who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!”
    turn back because of their shame.

The third clause here doesn’t seem to mean that David’s enemies should ‘turn back’ from harming him ‘because of their shame’ as the previous phrases describe their shame as resulting from their public failure to harm David. Rather, David’s prayer appears to be that the shame that will result from publically failing to harm him might lead his enemies to ‘turn back’ to God, such that they can be included in the rejoicing of verse 4. Indeed, the American Standard Version renders verse 3 as ‘Let them be turned back by reason of their shame.’ This is how focusing upon God and God’s nature first and foremost, despite his troubled circumstances, leads David to treat even his oppressors. As Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:43-48:

There is a saying, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (TLB)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?