The Creation and Flood Myths

The Creation and Flood Myths

The opening eleven Chapters of the Old Testament provide a formidable challenge before one gets to the heart of the Good New, the cross that brought about our salvation. The great theologian of antiquity, Augustine, wrestled with the first eleven chapters of Genesis and concluded they were not to be taken in a literal sense. He wrote: “Those seven days exhibit a certain variance from others.”

We are more fortunate because the Holy Father, John Paul II, stated that evidence now clearly supports the idea that the human species developed over an evolutionary line. At the same time he said, this also leaves room for God the Creator to breathe spiritual life, the soul, into each person.  In view of this, how are we to deal with the creation story and Genesis?

Where Did These Stories Originate?

The ancient nations of the Mesopotamian area left us a rich heritage of their stories of the creation and other myths dealing with beginnings. They gave us the stories of the Gilgamesh Epic, Enuma Elish and the Atrahasis story. All contained variations of the flood story. The plot of Atrahasis is basically the outline of Genesis 2-9. The story begins with a rebellion of the lower class gods against a higher class, which is solved by the creation of humans to do the servant work that the rebels refused to do.

The gods slaughter one of the rebels and form seven of each sex from his blood mixed with clay. The human race multiplies and their noise offends the gods.  The gods send a series of plagues to reduce the population. Humankind still multiplies. So the gods send a great flood which wiped out all humans except Utnapishtim and his family who build an ark.

It’s interesting to note that the details in these stories, such as placing the animals in the ark, its landing on a mountain, and the sending forth of the same birds to see whether the waters had receded, indicated that the biblical account was clearly dependent on the Babylonian stories.

There also was a garden, serpent and immortality. A tower is built. There was an emphasis on the seventh day.

The Yahwist (“J” cf; Did Moses write the Pentateuch?) chose these myths as the vehicle for presenting the theological truths he felt compelled to convey.  The writer intends this to be a correction of the errors present in the creation stories of his neighbors.

What Do These Passages Teach?

First, there is only one God. That the seventh day (Sabbath) is holy and is to be a day of rest. That humans were not created as the lackey of the gods.  Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and were to have dominion over all living things. They possessed dignity and had a free will. Their home was in an ideal garden with the warning not to eat of the forbidden fruit. However the serpent tempted them and they ate which brought sin into the world (original sin).  The writer with great insight tells us that the serpent is to be an enemy of humanity, woman is to suffer in childbirth, and humanity must labor for a living. It also explains the human sex drive by pointing out that it has been present from time immemorial. It is presented without embarrassment as a divinely given impulse.  It also presents the first promise for a Redeemer for fallen humanity (Genesis 03:15). The sin in Eden is only the beginning of the human rebellion against the Creator. The Cain and Abel story presents the first fratricide. It also shows the age-old conflict between the semi-nomadic and agrarian life style (in western films the conflict between rancher and farmer which still exists).

The long life spans of the pre-flood patriarchs is to be considered symbolic rather than historical. The kings of the near east nations before the flood were presented as living tens of thousands of years.

The flood story is the combination of two traditions (J & P) which accounts for the narrative’s inconsistencies.  The tower of Babel answers two questions:
1) Why do so many languages exist?  and
2) Why do we have a geographical distribution of people?
God intended that people populate the world, but they stayed together speaking one language. Yahweh came down and confounded their language and scattered them around the world.

Isn’t the Bible Inspired?

The document on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum, Chapter 3 paragraph 11)  states that “those things contained in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that the church holds that the books of the Old and New Testaments with all their parts, are sacred and canonical…” The author wrote according to the knowledge of his era.

The author (J) who was the principal storyteller of chapters 2-11 refashioned these myths for the purpose of presenting his concepts of the one true God and creator.  On Biblical inerrancy, the Vatican II document on Divine Revelation specifically states that only those “truths necessary for our salvation” are free from error (Chapter 3 paragraph 11). Baronius, an ancient theologian said; “the Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go!”

"The Creation and Flood Myths" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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