The Flood Traditions and Their Relation to the Bible -- By: Arthur C. Custance

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 096:384 (Oct 1939)
Article: The Flood Traditions and Their Relation to the Bible
Author: Arthur C. Custance


The Flood Traditions and Their Relation to the Bible

Arthur C. Custance

[Editor’s Note: This paper was read before the 1939 opening meeting of the Kelvin Institute of Toronto.]

So numerous among the nations and tribes of the world are the traditions of a deluge that a treatment of such a theme in so small a compass as this is likely to suffer from two rather serious faults. It may be uninteresting because it approaches too closely to being merely a catalogue of sources. And it may become of little permanent value by concentrating for the sake of interest on too few of these records to make it in any sense a treatment of flood traditions in general. What I propose to do, therefore, is to discuss some of the more surprising common factors which are embedded within by far the greater number of these stories, and having pointed these out to show that their diversity is of a nature which makes the Biblical record of peculiar importance. At the end of the paper I propose to list, so that the article may be used subsequently as a key to a wider study if desired, a catalogue of the nations which have such stories, and the sources where I personally have found references made by authorities, detailed or otherwise, to these ancient records. If this paper awakens your interest in the general question and leads you to make further investigations, it will provide a key for such study. At the same time any student may find it valuable to have such a source catalogue behind him, if he has occasion to disagree with teaching which maintains that the flood was of no great significance and the Hebrew record a mere borrowing from pagan sources that had recorded only an unusual abnormal river flood.

At this point certain considerations might be remarked upon in regard to the possibility of borrowing on the part of the Bible and on the part of pagan traditions. The only case where borrowing from the Bible might be suggested is

in the case of the Syrian story referred to by Lucian, the source of which I have added at the end of the paper. Apart from this one tradition three important considerations apply to them all. First, other Biblical events such as the passage of the Red Sea, the crossing of the Jordan, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha, the standing still of the sun and the story of Jonah are sufficiently remarkable and supernatural to be taken over by the various peoples into their mythology and made their own. No trace of these however is found except in two cases, and both of these in the Latin traditions. It is only what would be expected, if the flood traditions are relics of an experimental fact in which the world of men was involved. Secondly, if the flood story is the result of very early mis...

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