Panning for Traces of the Flood

Young children often play a game called “Gossip.” The rules to the game are very simple. Several people get in a circle or a straight line. The person at the beginning of the circle or line thinks of a sentence like, “the red horse fell into the water.” That person whispers the sentence into the ear of the person next to him. He cannot repeat the sentence once it is whispered, and he must speak very softly. The next person in line listens carefully and then whispers the sentence she heard into the ear of the person next to her. After the sentence has gone through every person in the line or circle, the last person repeats the sentence as he thinks he heard it. Almost every time, the sentence at the end of the game is not the same one that was whispered at the beginning. For instance, the last person might have heard something like “the dead house turned into the otter” instead of the original sentence, “the red horse fell into the water.” The game does a good job of showing that words and sentences can get confused when they are passed from one person to another. Yet, invariably the final sentence has some traces of the original weaved into it. The same often is true of legendary stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Often, these stories are a tangled mishmash of facts and fiction that originated from a story based on truth.

Anthropologists who study legends and folktales from different geographical locations and cultures consistently have reported one particular group of legends that is common to almost every civilization. Legends have surfaced in hundreds of civilizations that tell of a huge, catastrophic flood that destroyed most of mankind, and was survived by only a few individuals and animals. In fact, over 250 such legends have been reported from nations such as China, Babylon, Mexico, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Persia, India, Norway, Ireland, Wales, Indonesia, Romania, and the list could go on for many pages (Perloff, 1999, p. 167).

And although the vast number of such legends is surprising, the similarity between much of their content is equally amazing. James Perloff writes:

In 95 percent of the more than two hundred flood legends, the flood was worldwide; in 88 percent, a certain family was favored; in 70 percent, survival was by means of a boat; in 67 percent, animals were also saved; in 66 percent, the flood was due to the wickedness of man; in 66 percent, the survivors had been forewarned; in 57 percent, they ended up on a mountain; in 35 percent, birds were sent out from the boat; and in 9 percent, exactly eight people were spared (1999, p. 168).

One deluge legend from China tells the story of a man named Fuhi who, along with his wife and three sons and three daughters, was saved from a great flood. One ancient temple in China has a painting that depicts Fuhi’s boat in the water and a dove with an olive branch in its beak (Gish, 1992, p. 74).

Possibly the most famous flood account (besides the biblical record of Noah and the Flood) comes from the ancient Babylonian empire. The Gilgamesh Epic, written on twelve clay tablets that date back to the seventh century B.C., tells of a hero named Gilgamesh. In his search for eternal life, Gilgamesh seeks out Utnapishtim, a person who was granted eternal life because he saved animals and humans during a great flood. On the eleventh tablet of this epic, a flood account is recorded that parallels the Genesis account in many areas. To illustrate, in both stories the flood is brought on because of wickedness, an ark is built for the preservation of a select group, a raven and a dove are sent out to verify the safety of the post-flood world, and sacrifices are offered on the safe exit of the people in the ark (Roth, 1988, pp. 303-304)

Of course, the next question to be asked is, “So what?” What is the significance of the various flood legends? The answer to that question seems fairly obvious: (a) we have over 250 legends that tell of a great flood; (b) many of the legends come from different ages and civilizations that could not possibly have copied any of the similar legends; (c) the legends were recorded long before any missionaries arrived to relate to them the Genesis story of Noah; and (d) almost all civilizations have some sort of flood story. The immediate conclusion to be drawn from these facts centers on the idea that some time in the distant past there was a colossal flood that forever affected the history of all humans and civilizations. The inspired Moses put it like this: “And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:12).


Gish, Duane (1992), Dinosaurs By Design (Colorado Springs, CO: Creation Life Publishers).

Perloff, James (1999), Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of Darwinism (Arlington, MA: Refuge Books).

Roth, Ariel (1988), Origins: Linking Science and Scripture (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing).


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