BC Volume 3 (1997)
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The Biblical Chronologist Volume 3, Number 1
Chronology of Noah's Flood
(The historical narrative of Genesis chapters 7 and 8 is used to produce a time chart of Noah's observations of the Flood. It is found that Noah's calendar was probably a lunar one and that Noah and his family were aboard the ark probably 365 days (i.e., one year).)
In the previous issue of The Biblical Chronologist I focused on sedimentary data from Elk Lake which seem to testify to the presence of Noah's Flood in North America at approximately 3520 B.C. This discovery adds to the already substantial mound of evidence that a millennium was accidentally dropped from the text of 1 Kings 6:1 in antiquity. It also launches the field of Biblical chronology into a search for additional evidences of Noah's Flood in other natural reservoirs of chronologically controlled, geophysical data. Potentially suitable reservoirs for searching include, for example, polar ice sheets, tree-rings, and additional lake sediments from around the world.
As this search begins it is important to have in mind the most accurate picture possible of what Noah's Flood was like. For this search one would like to know, for example, whether it is reasonable to expect the Flood to have been recorded by the bristlecone pine trees which have grown for millennia in the White Mountains of California. What would the Flood be expected to look like in the tree-ring chronology which has been derived from these trees? The answer to this question obviously depends on what the Flood was like in the White Mountains. Did the precipitation which accompanied the Flood fall as rain or snow in this high altitude region? How long would the bristlecones likely have been inundated by the Flood? During what season or seasons of the year would they have been inundated? Clearly, the more knowledge about the Flood we can take with us into the present search, the more successful the search for the Flood in these geophysical reservoirs is likely to be.
Many of the questions about the Flood which arise at the present time can not be answered with any degree of certainty. It is to be expected, in fact, that the present search will itself add significantly to our knowledge of the Flood. But a few questions about the Flood can be answered with a high degree of reliability even now, and at least a probable answer can be given to many others. This results mainly from the record of Noah's observations of the Flood which is preserved for us in the seventh and eighth chapters of Genesis.
The narrative of the Flood found in Genesis chapters 7 and 8 contains a number of very important time references. For example, in Genesis 7:11 we read (NASB):
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.
Such time references constitute the basis for the historical chronology of the Flood event. However, these are obviously not references to the Gregorian calendar which we now employ for keeping track of days, weeks, months, and years, since it was only in A.D. 1582 that the Gregorian calendar came into existence. There have been many different calendars in antiquity, and the fact is that we do not know what calendar Noah used. Most importantly for the present study, we do not know how many days were in each of its months, and we do not know how many months comprised a year.
These basic unknowns give rise to an unavoidable uncertainty in any attempt to fix the events of the Flood on the time line. However, variations in ancient calendar systems of the Middle East are sufficiently small to suggest that even in the worst case a cumulative error of only one or two weeks should be expected from any reasonable modern rendering of the chronology of the Flood.
While we do not know the lengths of a year or of the months in Noah's calendar, it seems highly probable that they were linked to observed natural phenomena. "Day" is naturally defined as a single period of light and darkness, caused by the rotation of the earth on its axis. "Month" finds its most natural definition in the revolution of the moon about the earth, a new month beginning with the first appearance of a crescent moon at dusk following its complete absence at night due to its close alignment with the sun (Figures 1 and 2). And similarly "year" finds its most natural definition in the revolution of the earth about the sun which gives rise to the observed annual cycle of seasons. ...
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
Will your research be primarily in the area of pre-Davidic history, or will you ever touch on other topics? I am thinking of more common historical debates such as the chronology of the life of Christ, early New Testament church, post-Davidic events, and the dating of when certain prophets wrote their books.
Some time ago I made a poster and hung it up by my desk in my office. It is designed to keep me on track. It looks like this:
To harmonize Biblical and secular historical and
scientific chronologies of earth history from the
present back to the beginning of the creation.
I will have reached the goal when there is no
longer any conflict between Biblical and secular
chronologies of earth history.
Because there is no real conflict between Biblical and secular chronologies in the post-Davidic period, my research into chronological matters from 1000 B.C. to the present is likely to be minimal for some time to come. ...
Research in Progress
(Radiocarbon data from Elk Lake sediments suggests the water of the Flood was sourced from the deep ocean basins, further supporting the pelagic Flood model.)
Where did the water which covered "all of the high mountains everywhere under the heavens" during the Flood come from?
I have read or heard, at one time or another, a number of different ideas designed to answer this question in whole or in part. For example, some have proposed that ice rings, similar to those which orbit Saturn at present, once orbited Earth and that these collapsed at the time of the Flood. Others have suggested that Earth's atmosphere once supported a thick, global blanket of water vapor which condensed and rained down at this time. Others have postulated that great underground reservoirs of water burst open at the start of the Flood and discharged their contents onto the surface of the globe. Still others have proposed that the principle sources---and sinks---of the Flood waters were the world oceans.
Most of the ideas mentioned above exhibit serious difficulties of one sort or another when analyzed quantitatively using known physical laws. But the fact is that an entirely satisfactory scientific explanation of the rise of the Flood waters and their eventual retreat has yet to be found. So for the present investigation I will ignore the relative merits or otherwise of these ideas and treat each as a viable possibility. The thrust of the present article is simply to point out that radiocarbon has something to say about this question, and to show what it is that radiocarbon says. ...
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The Biblical Chronologist Volume 3, Number 2
The Ark on Ararat?
Did Noah's ark come to rest on Mount Ararat?
Before delving into this question it is perhaps important to address another question: "What difference does it make to Biblical chronology where the ark landed?"
Actually, it makes quite a bit of difference at the present time.
Biblical chronology research over the past several years has repeatedly indicated that 3520+/-21 B.C. is the proper date for Noah's Flood. This is the date one calculates for the Flood from the Bible when allowance is made for an accidentally dropped "one thousand" years from the text of extant Old Testament manuscripts of 1 Kings 6:1. The evidence from Biblical archaeology and secular history is such that sane reasoning can only conclude that this "one thousand" has indeed been dropped. When no allowance is made for it, archaeological data are severely at odds with the Biblical narrative prior to the time of King David, and sacred and secular histories of all earlier periods prove irreconcilable. In sharp contrast, when allowance is made for this "one thousand" Biblical history immediately harmonizes with archaeology and secular history---as practically every issue of The Biblical Chronologist has shown.
I have previously shown that this is also the case with the Flood. While dates for the Flood in the third millennium B.C. (what one gets if the missing "one thousand" is ignored) range from preposterous to impossible when assessed relative to available archaeological data, 3520+/-21 B.C. (what one gets if the missing "one thousand" is taken into account) works out very well. Most importantly, it coincides with the sudden disappearance of Chalcolithic peoples in Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Please note that evidence for an abrupt termination of human civilization is the most fundamental requirement of the Biblical account of the Flood. That, after all, the Bible informs us, is what the Flood was fundamentally about. If no secular evidence of such a termination could be found near 3520 B.C. then either this Biblical date, or the historicity of the Biblical Flood account would necessarily be called into serious question.
But no such problem arises. Biblical archaeology immediately reveals a widespread discontinuity in human civilization within dating uncertainties of 3520 B.C.---in sharp contrast to the obvious continuity of civilization from that time to the present.
In addition, Biblical archaeology and secular history reveal that it is only subsequent to this date that political units such as kingdoms and city-states begin to be seen. This is of considerable significance. The Bible places the origin of human government in a Divine decree given to Noah following the Flood. Genesis 9:6. Thus, the Bible leads us to expect that human government will be a part of human societies only following the Flood. Kingdoms and city-states are very clear manifestations of human government. Their total absence before 3500 B.C., and ubiquitous presence by 3000 B.C. strongly support the 3520 B.C. date for the Flood and argue against the idea that the Flood should be dated to any other millennium.
Clearly, as far as archaeology and secular history are concerned, there are some solid reasons for accepting a date for the Flood near 3500 B.C.
But there is another requirement of a fundamental sort, in addition to an abrupt termination of human civilization and the origin of human government, which the Biblical account of the Flood places on any proposed date for the Flood. This requirement does not fall within the scope of archaeology, but rather geology. ...
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
Galatians 3:17 states that the law was introduced 430 years after the promise to Abraham. Isaac was born around 3070 B.C. so the promise would have had to be given before then. Adding 430 years to this date yields 2640 B.C. But the law was given sometime after the Exodus in 2447 B.C., creating a discrepancy of at least 193 years. Please advise me on how this can be rectified.
T. Basil Finnegan
Your question is a good one. The "430 years" of Galatians 3:17 has caused much perplexity for many Bible scholars and students. I think the answer is fairly simple, in fact, though it renders Paul's argument in Galatians 3 more profound than is generally recognized.
Galatians 3:16 and 17 read (NASB):
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.
The one clearly known point in Paul's reference to the 430 years in these verses is the giving of the Law at the end of it. This we know happened at Sinai shortly after the Israelites left Egypt. ...
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The Biblical Chronologist Volume 3, Number 3
The Depth of Noah's Flood
How many feet above the surface of the modern oceans did the water rise at the time of the Flood? Did the water cover Mount Everest, with its peak some five and a half miles above mean sea level today? What effect would the Flood have had on the great ice sheet that presently covers most of Greenland? Was the water deep enough to cause this massive ice sheet to float? At what rate did the water rise, and at what rate did it fall? How long was the maximum depth maintained? These are a few of the questions which have been raised by recent Biblical chronology research into the date of Noah's Flood.
In this article I seek to provide some quantitative answers to questions regarding the depth of the Flood. I discuss how the depth of the water at various times throughout the Flood can be determined, and I display a graph of the depth of the water of the Flood versus time.
The need for such a graph arose several months ago following the discovery of an anomalously thick sedimentary layer at Elk Lake in Minnesota. This anomalous layer was found to have been deposited within secular dating uncertainties of the Biblical date of Noah's Flood which results when an accidentally dropped millennium is included in 1 Kings 6:1 (i.e., 3520+/-21 B.C.).
This discovery immediately appeared to corroborate a global Flood, but it refuted the idea that the Flood was a great, geologic cataclysm. The obvious question following the Elk Lake discovery was whether it could be corroborated from other natural reservoirs having well controlled chronologies covering the period of interest. Might evidence of the Flood be expected in the stratified Greenland ice cores which have been drilled during the past several decades, or in long tree-ring sequences, for example? Preliminary consideration of such questions rapidly revealed that a knowledge of the depth of the Flood versus time was needed to aid in answering them.
The time axis for a graph of the depth of the Flood is simply the chronology of the Flood itself. This can be obtained from the Genesis account of the Flood. Depth of the Flood data can also be obtained from the Genesis narrative, providing the mountain the ark came to rest upon can be determined. A comprehensive search of modern mountains in the Ararat region was reported on in the previous issue. It revealed that Mount Cilo, a mountain to the southeast of Lake Van, best fulfilled the requirements of the Biblical text. It was singled out from over 1,400 competing mountains using a quantitative, probabilistic analysis. Mount Cilo was found to be over sixty times more likely to be the mountain the ark landed on than the traditional Mount Ararat, the next most likely candidate. The present study proceeds from and builds upon this basis.
It is normal in science for there to be an interaction between theory and experiment as new discoveries about God's creation are made. Experimental evidence which does not fit within an existing theoretical framework is usually the first indication that some new discovery may be just around the corner. This experimental evidence prompts new theoretical studies and ideas. These, in turn, prompt further experimental investigations. Thus theory and experiment grow up together, side by side.
This is the process we are currently involved in with the Flood.
The ruling theory of the Flood in modern academia is that the Biblical "story" of the Flood is largely or wholly mythological. This theory is rejected by conservative Christians because Christ treated the Flood as an historically factual event. Furthermore, Christians from the time of Christ on have consistently understood the Biblical Flood narrative to be simple, sober history.
The reigning theory of the Flood among conservative Christians at present is the cataclysmic Flood model made popular by Whitcomb and Morris in their book The Genesis Flood. This theory pictures the Flood as a highly energetic geologic cataclysm, responsible for the deposition of most of the geologic column, and accompanied by great earthquakes, tidal waves, unprecedented volcanism, movements up and down and around of whole continents and ocean floors, and general titanic upheaval of the crust of the earth.
This theory has been beset by severe chronological difficulties from its inception. For example, radiometric dating methods belie the claim that the geologic column was laid down all at one time a few thousand years ago. Such difficulties have been avoided by proponents of the theory by denying the cogency of radiometric dating methods and other chronological data---they have never been solved. Indeed, from the vantage point of several decades of research it seems fair to say that this model's chronological problems are unsolvable. This is just another way of saying that this theory is false---it does not correspond to what actually happened at the time of the Flood. ...
Biblical Chronology 101
On "Putting Science Above the Bible"
I received a letter recently from an obviously irate Christian brother. This brother serves on the faculty of a theological institute. He was upset because he felt, as another brother once put it, that I was "putting science above the Bible". He wrote, "Scripture is to hold sway. Science, whether radiometry or dendrochronology must serve Scripture, not vice-versa as in your method and principles".
Is my application of scientific data to problems in the field of Biblical chronology "putting science above the Bible"?
Let me state clearly that I hold to the inerrancy of Scripture in the autographs and to the authority of Scripture in all areas of life, including history and chronology. That is not at issue here. Let me also state clearly that I do not hold to any doctrine of the infallibility or authority of science. So it should be perfectly clear that I am not, in fact, "putting science above the Bible". What I am doing---what conservative Christians have always done---is insisting that science has a legitimate role to play in exposing faulty interpretations of the Bible.
Christians face the very real problem that the Bible can be made to say many things that God never intended it to say. Well-intentioned theologians can study the same Scripture passages and arrive at opposite conclusions regarding what these passages mean. Evidently it is possible to honestly believe the Bible teaches some things that it, in fact, doesn't teach. How is one to separate mistaken interpretations from correct ones?
This same problem has been faced throughout history. The ancient Israelites, for example, encountered the problem in regard to prophets. How were they to know whether a prophet was actually speaking for God, or whether he was merely claiming in God's name that which God had not spoken? ...
My purpose in publishing letters in this column is generally pedagogical. I try to address common questions so everybody benefits from the answer. I also try to correct misunderstandings so we can all move forward in harmony.
I realize that this purpose can lead readers to mistakenly conclude that everybody who writes to me either questions my research or misunderstands it! Such a perception is far from the truth. I get many letters which are just appreciative expressions of encouragement, which never show up here. (I am much more concerned that my readers have answers to their questions, and that misunderstandings be put right, than I am that everybody see how appreciated The Biblical Chronologist is by its readers.) So please don't read this column to try to get a feel for what everybody is thinking---the sample is severely biased. Read it to gain a better understanding of Biblical chronology today. That's why it is here.
Of Fact or Fiction
In the Volume 2, Number 3 issue of The Biblical Chronologist I presented three criteria which can be used to separate fact from fiction in the matter of attempting to harmonize Biblical and secular chronologies of earth history. My advice there was:
So before you bother to wade into yet another supposed synthesis of Biblical and secular historical data, ask yourself these simple questions:
Does this author have a positive and respectful attitude toward Biblical, secular historical, and physical (such as radiocarbon) chronological data?
Does this author give chronological data, of all sorts, precedence in his reconstruction of history (as opposed to the presentation of a mass of historical facts)?
Does this author exhibit knowledge of and competence in handling chronological data of all sorts?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, wade in only if you enjoy reading historical fiction.
Two issues later I used these three criteria in my review of a new book written by David M. Rohl called Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest. Pharaohs and Kings presented the radical chronological thesis that the late second millennium B.C. chronology of Egypt should be reduced by some 300 to 350 years. It claimed that such a reduction would bring the secular history of this period into better harmony with Biblical history.
I didn't give the book very high marks at the time---and still don't. I showed that the book failed to satisfy any of the three criteria above. My conclusion was, and is, "Pharaohs and Kings is a fine example of the historical delusions one is easily made prey to when legitimate chronological constraints are removed from any discussion of historical facts and archaeological artifacts".
Unfortunately, Rohl's book said some things which some conservative Christians would very much like to be true. It offered the easy thesis (for conservative lay Christians, that is) that traditional Biblical chronological scholarship has all been more or less sound, while secular chronological scholarship is all messed up. So I have not been surprised to see a number of reviews of Rohl's book by conservatives ranging in tone from happy applause to adulation---none of the reviewers being chronologists, of course.
Subsequent to my review a friend and subscriber, who was not altogether happy with my appraisal of Rohl's book, sent me a letter containing the following paragraph.
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
Concerning your three guidelines on page 3 of Volume 2 Number 5 for evaluating a book, please forgive me for having trouble with them. All three seem to have an underlying message that "chronological data" must have precedence. Number 1 says an author should have a positive attitude toward this data, 2 says he should give it precedence over a mass of historical facts, and 3 says he should be competent in handling it. Thus I see these three guidelines as one: rely on "chronological data," whatever that is. It's not clear to me what you mean by this term. I have a hard time understanding it as separate from a "mass of historical facts" or archaeological facts or any other knowledge, for that matter. My best guess as to your definition of the term is: the results of radiocarbon dating. I am not ready to hang my conclusions on such dating methods above all other considerations.
You are right that all three criteria have the same basis, and you are correct in identifying that basis as " `chronological data' must have precedence". You will recall that discussion of this basis was the central thrust of the "Biblical Chronology 101" article in which the three criteria were initially advanced. There I called this basic principle Rule #1 to stress its importance. Recall: Rule # 1 Chronology must precede history.
By this rule I mean one must get the chronology of events right before any attempt is made to reconstruct history from those events. The three criteria are simply three independent ways of evaluating whether an author is likely to have violated this important rule. They ask: 1) Does the author want to give chronological data proper precedence?, 2) Does the author try to give chronological data proper precedence?, and 3) Is the author able to give chronological data proper precedence?
So we agree on the cladistics of my three criteria; your confusion over the distinction between "chronological data" and "a mass of historical facts" is where the problem really lies. This is an important distinction which I have evidently gone over too quickly. Let me attempt to redress this fault by using the following example as a brief review. ...
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The Biblical Chronologist Volume 3, Number 4
Noah's Flood at Devon Island
Vast ice sheets, often over a mile thick, cover many land areas in the polar regions of the globe today. These are the result of the buildup of annual snowfall over thousands of years. The oldest ice in these ice sheets predates Noah's Flood by millennia. What impact would Noah's Flood have had on these ice sheets? What can these ice sheets tell us about the date and nature of Noah's Flood? The following article deals with these and related questions. It shows that Noah's Flood was a real historical event which occurred roughly 3500 B.C.
In the November/December 1996 issue of The Biblical Chronologist I introduced the pelagic Flood model. The conceptual basis for this model is summarized by the following three statements:
1. Noah's Flood was a real historical event.
2. Noah's Flood is accurately portrayed in Genesis.
3. Biblical chronology, properly done, dates Noah's Flood to 3520+/-12$ B.C.
In its present (infant) stage of development the model itself can be summarized by two statements:
1. Noah's Flood was characterized by the existence of a near-global ocean for a significant fraction of one year near 3500 B.C.
2. The surface of the Flood-ocean rose some two to three miles above the elevation of the surface of the present day oceans of the world.
This conception of the Flood stands in contrast to the nearly unanimous view of secular academia at present that the Genesis story of Noah's Flood is largely or wholly mythological. It also stands in contrast to the cataclysmic Flood model which pictures Noah's Flood as dominated by titanic upheaval within the crust of the earth, and massive sedimentation globally. Finally, it stands in contrast to the local Flood model which sees the Flood as a relatively mild, local inundation.
I was caused to advance the pelagic Flood model by sediment thickness data from the bottom of Elk Lake, Minnesota, in combination with archaeological data from the Middle East. The archaeological data revealed a sudden, widespread termination of civilization near 3500 B.C. in immediate harmony with the Biblical account of the Flood. But there was no evidence that this termination was accompanied by catastrophic upheaval within the crust of the earth. To the contrary, archaeological remains from before this termination were well preserved, and were generally found in the stratified sequences normal to archaeology.
The Elk Lake sedimentary data provided a geological counterpart to the archaeological data. They too failed to show any evidence of cataclysmic upheaval. What they did reveal was an apparently annual accumulation of sediment some 500 times thicker than normal at 3500 B.C. This seemed to provide geologic evidence that the Flood was indeed a world-wide phenomenon---that the earth was covered by a world-wide ocean at the time of the Flood.
The testimonies of these three sources of information regarding the Flood---the Genesis account, the archaeological data from the Middle East, and the geological data from Elk Lake---summed to produce an image of a global, non-cataclysmic, ocean-like Flood near 3500 B.C. Hence the pelagic Flood model was born.
But the possibility remained that the anomalously thick annual layer of sediment found at Elk Lake might have been caused by some unknown process which was unrelated to Noah's Flood. It was possible (though it did not seem probable) that this anomalously thick layer dated to the same time as Noah's Flood by mere coincidence. An independent check of this geologic evidence was clearly called for to settle this question.
The present article fills the need of this independent check. It investigates the thousands-of-years record of snow accumulation in Arctic ice sheets. It finds the pelagic Flood model to be strikingly confirmed by these ice sheets, and other views of the Genesis Flood to be demonstrated false. ...
Biblical Chronology 101
Is the Flood Missing at Oyster Pond?
David Neev of the Geological Society of Israel and K. O. Emery of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts recently coauthored a book purporting to give the geological, climatological, and archaeological background to the Biblical accounts of the destructions at Sodom and Gomorrah and at Jericho. My assessment is that they have failed rather badly in their purpose---an inevitable outcome of having given absolute chronology almost no attention---but that is another matter entirely. What I wish to discuss here, for its pedagogical value, is a claim found within their book. The claim is the following (square brackets indicate amplification by me):
Confirmation of the absence of a world-encircling flood [i.e., Noah's Flood] during Late Holocene [i.e., anywhere near the time it is usually expected] is provided by studies of sediments in other lakes of the earth---for example, a coastal lake of Late Pleistocene glacial origin in Massachusetts in the United States, where flora, fauna [i.e., plant and animal life], and delta 13C and delta 18O [i.e., carbon and oxygen isotope ratios] show no changes that could have been expected from intrusion of seawater at the biblical date of Noah's Flood (Emery, 1969).
This claim is somewhat interesting in that it is quite unusual anymore to find a scientific work even pretending that Noah's Flood should be taken seriously enough to deserve evaluation relative to real-life data---so badly lost is modern science with respect to Noah's Flood. But what really captured my attention was that this is a claim that lake sediments from around the world prove a global Flood to be false. My recent investigation of Elk Lake, Minnesota, revealed exactly the opposite. There the evidence in support of a global Flood was found to be really quite impressive. What gives?
The "(Emery, 1969)" reference is to a book entitled A Coastal Pond: Studied by Oceanographic Methods. It is a slender little book, packed with scientific data of all sorts regarding Oyster Pond in Massachusetts. It contains, for example, graphs and discussion on the rate of escape of methane bubbles from pond sediments. If you find abstract scientific measurements stimulating, then this is the book for you. But if you are enquiring seriously into the historicity of Noah's Flood, I recommend you look elsewhere---I quickly found that this little book contains nothing to allow an intelligent conclusion on that particular question. Worse yet, Oyster Pond hardly recommends itself even for investigation of the question.
Recall that the major thing which recommended Elk Lake was the fact that its bottom sediments showed clear annual layering. These layers showed that the sediments had not been mixed (by fish or clams or worms) and they permitted a detailed chronology of the sediments to be worked out. That is, we could be confident that whatever Noah's Flood had done to the sediments at Elk Lake had been preserved, rather than mixed together with the sediments from before or after the Flood. Furthermore, we could be reasonably confident we would be able to locate the portion of the sediment column which should correspond to the Flood because the sediments themselves provided a reasonable chronology.
This nearly essential property---annually layered sediments---does not exist at Oyster Pond. ...
2 Chronicles 15:3--6
I have been asked on several occasions why the Bible is so completely silent about the millennium which has been lost from 1 Kings 6:1. Why does the Bible provide no history to fill up this chronological gap?
There are a number of components to the answer to this question, but perhaps the most important is that the Bible isn't completely silent about this period. It is true that there is no deliberate historical narrative covering the 800 year interval between Samson and Samuel---just as there is none, for example, for roughly 400 years of the Israelites' stay in Egypt, and none for the centuries which separate the Old Testament from the New---but a number of allusions to this period do seem to appear within the Old Testament. ...
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The Biblical Chronologist Volume 3, Number 5
The Cause of Noah's Flood
William G. Dever: Most Biblical scholars regard most of the stories in Genesis as myths.
Hershel Shanks: It's true, I think, that the first 11 chapters of Genesis would be regarded as myths---the creation stories, the story of Noah and the flood ...
For the past several months I have been deeply immersed in an investigation of the physical cause of Noah's Flood. Nearly all else has been swept from my world as I have pursued this long-kept mystery---a fact which explains both the unusual, monolithic nature of this present issue of The Biblical Chronologist, and the small, stratified mound of correspondence in one corner of my office waiting silently, patiently, for excavation to begin.
As I now set about to communicate what I have found I am aware of several limitations. For one thing, my quest is not entirely complete. I would have liked several more weeks to tie up a few loose ends. But the publication deadline for this issue presses---I have already put it off longer than is strictly permissable. In consequence, you will need to regard the present article as an interim report on research still in progress rather than a final product.
How can I explain the other limitations I feel? I feel as if I have been tunneling through a previously impassible mountain range. I have been at it with pick and shovel for quite a spell. I have just now broken through the far side with my pick---daylight streams through a ragged hole. It is too small to squeeze through, but as I gaze about through it I see a bright, bounteous, unexplored country. Its features are foreign and some are wholly unexpected.... But I must go back. I have an appointment with my friends back at the entrance to the tunnel on the other side of the mountain and I must not be late. I must tell them what I have seen. I must bring them here. Will I be able to satisfy all of their questions? Will they be able to follow me back through the dark tunnels?
Should we look for a physical cause of the Flood? Isn't it somewhat impious to do so?
Yes, we should look for a physical cause of the Flood, and no, it is not impious to do so. In point of fact, given the present climate of rampant unbelief of the Bible among learned men and women world-wide, it is impious for Christians not to do so. Let me explain.
Genesis does not represent the Flood of Noah as a mythical saga. It presents it as sober, real-life history. So when a man or a woman concludes that Noah's Flood is mythological, they have automatically also concluded that Genesis is not a reliable historical witness. But if the Bible's historical witness in Genesis cannot be trusted, what basis is there for supposing that its historical witness in the Gospel of John can be trusted? If the Bible says the Flood happened when in fact it never did, should we trust the Bible when it says the Resurrection happened?
It will not help to try to separate the Old Testament from the New either, as if the Old could be mistaken but the New still sound, for the New Testament also treats the Flood as real-life history. It reads, "And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all."
If Noah's Flood is myth, then the New Testament as well as the Old cannot be trusted. Indeed, in that case, even Christ cannot be trusted (may it never be!) for those are is His words which we have just read above from Luke 17. He has then Himself mistaken a myth for real history. And how then can men and women be called to trust Him---to rest their eternal destiny in Him?
Is it not then the pious duty of every genuine Christian to exert themselves in whatever way they are able to show the historical factuality of Noah's Flood to the present, unbelieving generation?
As it turns out, there is no better way of doing this then by discovering the physical cause of the Flood. I will not try to explain why this is so here; it will, I hope, be abundantly clear by the time you have finished reading this article.
But I do not want my attempt to find the physical cause of the Flood to be misunderstood. I am a scientist and I will be bringing the tools of science to bear on this question as forcefully as I know how. But please do not suppose for even a moment that I am out to purge the Flood narrative of the supernatural by my effort to understand its physical cause. The Biblical narrative clearly portrays supernatural activity associated with the Flood, and I have no argument with the witness of the text. (Neither, for that matter, does true science, though many today, having imbibed deeply of the philosophical intoxicant called naturalism, would have us believe otherwise.) The timing of the Flood was clearly supernatural. The revelation of the impending judgment to Noah was clearly supernatural. Even the closing of the door of the ark was supernatural. It would be folly, in my opinion, and a denial of the word of God to attempt to find a natural, physical cause underlying any of these things.
But the Flood narrative also involves much which is not supernatural. God could have supernaturally taken Noah, his family, and the animals out of the earth entirely, and returned them only after the Flood was all over if He had wanted to do so, but He chose rather that Noah should build a boat. God could have supernaturally zapped every unbelieving, unrepentant sinner in Noah's generation out of earthly existence to stand then and there before the judgment seat if He had wished to---leaving Noah and His family safely behind---but He chose rather to send a flood.
The natural and the supernatural are both there side by side. To deny either is to miss the truth. The supernatural is there that we might know that God is. The natural is there as a verifiable witness to what He has done.
It is this witness which is the object of my present effort to discover the physical cause of Noah's Flood. ...
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The Biblical Chronologist Volume 3, Number 6
Radiocarbon Dating Noah's Flood
The day began as uneventfully as the thousands which had preceeded it. The sun, still hidden behind the hills of Moab, was slowly turning the dark sky a pastel pink. Viewed from the verdant oasis of En-Gedi, the intervening Dead Sea appeared a soft pink too. But then a line of gold appeared and slowly spread. The sun peeped above the hills at last, freely spilling its life-sustaining rays out across the land once again.
For the inhabitants of En-Gedi life was good---a pleasant succession of unclouded days filled with work and play. Soon the bleating of sheep and goats mingled with the happy shouts of children as friends and relatives went about their daily chores.
But just before noon a slight, yet prolonged tremoring of the earth began. People and animals could only stand with difficulty. For the better part of a minute they had to lean to the south to keep from falling over. But it let up at last, and with reassuring shouts of encouragement and light-hearted laughter the inhabitants resumed their activities. Earth tremors were frequent in this region and posed little threat to a people who lived mainly in tents.
But what began as just a suspicion slowly grew into a certainty over the next several hours---one felt that the whole face of the ground was slowly but inexorably tilting down toward the north. Work and play ground to a halt as the inhabitants watched in anxious amazement as the southern basin of the Dead Sea slowly went dry, its waters flooding the shoreline all along the North.
And then they heard a roar, like the roaring of a swollen desert stream after a cloudburst, yet obviously bigger. It was coming from the south end of the Dead Sea. And even as they watched, a wall of churning water, mud, foam, and debris one hundred feet high raged into the empty southern basin from the Arava valley beyond. Instinctively men and animals alike turned and fled west, away from the Dead Sea and up into the hills.
He watched the spontaneous evacuation of the oasis from his lookout atop the cliff six miles to the south. His family were all around him. He had ordered them out of the cave and to the top of the cliff following the earth tremor earlier in the day. The rock ceiling of their cave dwelling was too dangerous to remain inside at such times. They had griped at him for the inconvenience at first, but as the ground tilted and then the raging wall of water had entered the south basin they had fallen silent. He knew they were frightened and were looking to him for protection and direction.
But he was too excited to think much about that just now. As he had watched the fleeing crowd of oasis-dwellers, an idea had slowly formed in his mind. It would be risky, but he was no stranger to risk. Nature seemed to be going a bit weird just now, but the elders had told of freaky things in the past---a hundred to one all would be back to normal by morning. A little daring and a little ingenuity could pay big dividends at such times. If he succeeded in his plan he would be fabulously wealthy and his troubles would be over. With a command to his eldest son to take the family up into the hills where he would join them later he untethered the donkey and set out for the oasis.
He arrived just over an hour later and found the oasis completely deserted. But he paused at none of the empty tents, hurrying directly to the now unguarded temple. Quickly tethering the donkey at the entrance, he brashly entered the sanctuary, with sandals yet on his feet. With a feeling of exultation he snatched a beautifully worked, gleaming copper standard from its pole and then another and another until he could hold no more. Back outside he loaded these into goatskin sacks which hung down on either side of the donkey. Working quickly he added armload after armload, returning repeatedly to the temple to scoop up anything and everything of value inside, without care or concern for what he damaged or broke in the process. Finally, when the temple had been picked clean, he set out for his cave, leading the donkey once again.
The going was uphill this time, more uphill than usual with the crazy tilting of the earth. The weight of the hoard dictated a slow pace and gave him ample time to worry. Though the Dead Sea had already risen to an unbelievable height, water continued to pour into it from the Arava. Where was all that water coming from and when would it stop?
He reached the cliff top above his cave dwelling at last, hot and sweaty. He noticed that great clouds were now forming to the north---highly unusual for this season. But he had little time to wonder. The water had entered the gorge long ago and was already half way up the cliff.
He dumped the treasure roughly from the donkey's goatskin sacks into a reed mat---part of a simple reed and rope elevator system he had designed for lowering large loads to the cave entrance below. He tied the rim of the mat shut with its straw ropes, and then secured the entire bundle in a rope harness. Carefully he lowered his treasure over the rim and out of sight.
When the proper length of rope had been let out he fastened what remained to a stake driven into the ground for that purpose. Then he began his descent along the narrow goat path which led to the entrance of the cave, leaving the donkey tethered above. At least the tilt of the earth made the cliff a little less vertical, and the path a little less precarious than usual.
Once inside his familiar home he felt a little more relaxed. Still he worked quickly. After he had dragged the bundled hoard inside and removed the harness he began to dig in the dirt floor at the north wall of the cave. Eventually his digging exposed a natural crevice in the rock. It needed just a little widening to fit the hoard. He noticed that it was growing darker inside the cave as he labored---clouds must have begun to cover the late afternoon sun.
Finally he paused, sweating profusely. In the silence he could hear the water lapping against the cliff outside the entrance of the cave. It couldn't be too far below now---its rate of rise was obviously increasing. Hurriedly he dragged the bundle over to the hole he had dug and slid it down. With considerable effort he shuffled and stuffed it into the waiting crevice. In the process the reed mat broke open and lustrous copper items spilled out into the crevice. But he had no time to care. Quickly he leaned a flat rock over the entrance of the crevice, and shoved loose dirt back into the hole.
After he had disappeared out the mouth of the cave all was quiet and still inside. The only sound was the gentle whisper of lapping water, now at the threshold, echoing around the empty walls. Moments later, as the first small trickle of briny water began to probe the cave floor, a torrential downpour broke outside.
The Cave of the Treasure
The Cave of the Treasure is located high in the face of a sheer cliff in the Judean desert, to the west of the Dead Sea. It can only be reached with the aid of ropes today, though remnants of a narrow path to the cave, descending from above, can still be discerned across the face of the cliff. From the top of the cliff to the cave entrance is a drop of about 150 feet. The floor of the gorge is yet another 750 feet below.
The archaeological crew, under the direction of Pessah Bar-Adon, had already invested one two-week season in 1960 excavating the floor of the cave. They had found that it had been inhabited over five and a half thousand years earlier, during the Chalcolithic. They had already unearthed rich finds from this period---objects made of clay, bone, stone, straw, leather, and metal as well as food remains and hearths. Because of the extreme aridity of the desert the state of preservation of the archaeological finds was excellent.
The second season had begun March 14, 1961. It would only last two weeks once again, and was now into its second week. The crew, including soldiers from the Israeli army responsible for the safety of the team, continued their meticulous, methodical removal of the dirt floor of the cave, recording each new find as it was unearthed. Most of the floor had been excavated to a depth of over five feet when there came a most unexpected and remarkable discovery:
"It was our custom to relieve from time to time those who worked in a cloud of dust inside the cave, by others who were working near its mouth. On that day it fell to the lot of one of the students, Ruth Pecherski, and one of the soldiers, Freddy Halperin, to relieve those working inside. After a short while they came upon a sloping stone covering a crevice. With hands trembling with excitement they started to take out, through a crack, a number of copper objects, all the while muttering breathlessly "there are more"!
In spite of our excitement and curiosity, we had to curb our impatience and to proceed with caution, since before moving the stone we had to widen the excavation carefully and to photograph and register every detail. It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the site. We worked until nightfall, when we were forced to leave and to postpone the removal of the objects until next morning, as it was dangerous to undertake the difficult climb out of the cave in complete darkness. This was a sleepless night for us all. We waited, drawn and tense, for the morning, and the break of dawn found us back in the cave.
It took us three hours to remove all the articles from their hiding place. We stood thrilled and excited at the site of the growing heap of objects, whose number and quality, strangeness and beauty of design aroused our wonder and admiration."
The archaeological team had, in fact, discovered a hoard of 429 objects, weighing some 320 pounds total, most of which were beautifully crafted of a copper/arsenic alloy (Figure 1).
The discovery came as a great surprise to the archaeological world. Copper objects had previously been found in Chalcolithic strata, but nowhere near the abundance and artistic level of this hoard. The archaeologists had known for decades that man first learned to smelt copper during the Chalcolithic. Indeed, that is how the period had obtained its name: "chalco" referring to the earliest regular occurrence of copper implements in archaeological strata and "lithic" referring to the still abundant occurrence of stone implements. But what they had not known before the discovery of this hoard of objects was that the science of copper metallurgy had come to such an advanced stage within this period (Figure 2). David Ussishkin summarized the impact of the discovery this way:
The articles portray the mastery of the Ghassulian [Chalcolithic] artisans in the manufacture of copper objects, and their discovery drastically changes the earlier idea that the manufacture of metal was still in its infancy during that period.
How had this hoard come to be concealed in this nearly inaccessible cave in the desert? What had the copper objects been used for? Where had they come from? These questions obviously beg answers, and the archaeologists have made some helpful suggestions, as we will see below. Our knowledge of the proper relationship of Biblical and secular chronologies of earth history affords us an even greater insight into the answers to these questions. I have already shared my view regarding them in the piece of historical fiction which opens this article.
But we must turn our attention from this fascinating copper treasure to something apparently more mundane, though, in fact, equally fascinating---at least to the chronologist. We must fix our attention on the rude reed mat in which the treasure was bundled when it was thrust into its hiding place (Figure 1). And also worthy of note is a piece of wood protruding from one of the copper objects, apparently the broken end of a pole or staff upon which the object had been mounted. The fascination of these organic items lies in the fact that they allow us to radiocarbon date Noah's Flood. ...
Biblical Chronology 101
In the Volume 1, Number 6 issue of The Biblical Chronologist I summarized the "state of the subject" of Biblical Chronology at that time. Substantial progress has been made on significant Biblical chronology problems in the twelve issues of The Biblical Chronologist which have gone to press since that summary. The early portion of the route of the Exodus has been found, pinpointing the time of the Exodus to precisely that predicted by the missing millennium thesis. The traditional date of the Conquest of Jericho has been falsified by new radiocarbon results, leaving the new Biblical chronology date of that event as the only rational alternative. The idea that Noah's Flood was an earth-shattering cataclysm has been shown to be incorrect, while the Flood itself has been shown to have been a real event having world-wide geological impact. The historical reality of the Flood has been further confirmed through study of polar ice sheets, and the date of the Flood predicted by the missing millennium thesis has been overwhelmingly confirmed by one of these ice sheets. The physical cause of the Flood has been discovered, and, in the current issue, harmony between radiocarbon and Biblical chronology regarding the date of the Flood has been demonstrated. Clearly, it is time to update the state of the subject.
State of the Subject
I have included the time chart used in the earlier state of the subject summary as the leftmost column in Figure 4. This allows easy comparison. Once again: the "date" column on the left is purposely given in increments of 500 years; boundary lines between regions in the "state" columns are deliberately rounded to the nearest 500 years for the sake of simplicity; and regions are depicted as sharply bounded whereas there is some degree of gradation between them in actual practice.
The "KNOWN" region remains unchanged. By "KNOWN" I mean to imply that there is basic harmony between Biblical and secular chronology in this period, and also that reasonably accurate chronological information regarding this period is readily available in textbooks and standard reference works.
This region extends back from the present through Solomon, David, Saul, and Samuel. A tiny minority of academicians are currently trying very hard to demonstrate that the Biblical accounts of Solomon and David are mere fiction. They are, of course, being given high visibility in the liberal media. But they have yet to show any evidence which disturbs the basically "KNOWN" character of this period in any way. ...
Research in Progress
There are many available avenues for research at the present time. I am finding it necessary to skip over some things I would very much like to delve into. The present report gives one such example.
In Volume 3, Number 3 of The Biblical Chronologist I used the Genesis narrative of the Flood to produce a graph of the depth of the Flood versus time. (That graph is reproduced here as Figure 5.) There I noted:
It would be very nice if a theoretical functional form could be fit to these data points. Unfortunately, our present ignorance of the mechanism of the Flood leaves us without the necessary physical basis for such an attempt.
This limitation was removed with the publication of the hemispherical Flood model last issue. It is now possible to explain why this graph looks the way it does, and this is the purpose of the present report. While it is possible in principle to do this quantitatively and fairly rigorously via computer modeling, a very large investment of time would be required for me to do so. Hence the following discussion is largely qualitative. It is intended to provide some additional insight into how the Flood behaved and why it behaved the way it did.
Dynamics of the Inner Core of the Earth at the Time of the Flood
We now know that the fundamental mechanism controlling the depth of the water during the Flood was the displacement of the inner core of the earth. We have seen that there is a direct relationship between the displacement of the inner core from the center of the earth and the depth of the water at any point on the surface of the earth (provided only that the water is given sufficient time to come to its equilibrium configuration).
The first question which must be asked is, "How long did it take for the inner core to reach maximum displacement?" Last issue I found an initial speed of the inner core after the impact of the space rock of 1.2 kilometers per second. As the inner core climbed against gravity toward the mantle its speed would have reduced. To determine an approximate length of time for the inner core to have reached the mantle, assume the average speed of the inner core was one half its initial speed. The distance it needed to travel was 2,250 kilometers. These numbers yield a characteristic time of just one hour.
If we assume that the fluid outer core also participated in the motion (as seems likely) then the initial speed of the inner core may have been slower. I find a characteristic time of about five hours in that case. In either case it is clear that the inner core reached maximum displacement very quickly relative to the overall duration of the Flood.
This means that the water of the oceans was experiencing the maximum possible gravitational attraction toward the impact center due to displacement of the inner core within just a few hours of the space rock impact. It does not mean that the water reached maximum depth in that time, however. The reason for this is that the water would have to flow from the southern to the northern hemisphere, and it takes time for water to flow from one place to another. ...
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