The following notes are divided into two sections. The first focuses on four keywords: machah (‘blot out’), tehom (‘the deep’), mayan (‘fountain’ or ‘spring’) and mabbul (‘cataclysm’). The second outlines the structure according to which the narrative is organised. This analysis shows that the discrepancies which are often alleged as evidence for the ‘documentary hypothesis’ – the idea that the story was stitched together by an editor who had two versions of the story in front of him and, not knowing which to choose from, chose incompatible elements from both – are the illusory products of mis-paragraphing.
The word appears in Gen 6:7, 7:4, 7:23.
Issue: should we associate terrestrial fossils (which occur from the mid Palaeozoic onwards) with the Flood?
The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis  defines the meaning of machah as follows:
1. … Erasing from a scroll was normally effected by washing, and this action appears to be a basic meaning of mhh. Since wiping off or out implies the complete removal of whatever is in view, mhh is often used with great effect for both Yahweh’s judgment and salvation.
2. In terms of judgment, the vb. is employed to described the complete removal (and thus destruction) of life by the Flood (Gen 7:4; 7:23), the complete obliteration of the memory of Amalek (Exod 17:14), and the total removal of the name of the wicked generally. …
3. In terms of salvation, mhh is used in the promise of God’s wiping away tears from all faces (q., Isa 25:8) and the assurance that sins have been wiped out (Isa 44:22; 43:25; Ps 51:1, 9).’
Further examples are:
In Gen 6:7 and 7:4 the word is coupled with the phrase ‘from the face of the ground’ and in Gen 7:23 with the phrase ‘from the earth’. The nearest grammatical parallels in the Old Testament are therefore passages which include a phrase stating that something was blotted out ‘from’ or ‘out of’ something. These are Ex 17:14, Deut 9:14, 25:19 and 29:20 (from under heaven), Ju 21:17 (from Israel), Ex 32:32f and Ps 69:28 (out of a book), Neh 4:5 and Jer 18:23 (from God’s sight), and Isa 25:8 (from the face). These are also the nearest semantic parallels, where the object of the verb is the thing wiped away, not the thing wiped. (The English language works in the same way: contrast "he wiped her face", for example, with "he wiped the tears from her face".) In no case is there the slightest suggestion that we should be entertaining the possibility that traces might remain.
Issue: from where did the waters of the Flood originate?
The first point is that the world as originally created was different from that which exists now (II Pet 3:5-7). The earth (= dry land of Gen 1:10) subsisted ‘out of and through water’. One would not describe the present earth in these terms.
Ps 24:2, 136:6 – The dry land originally lay over water. The ‘seas’ of Ps 24:2 are the seas of Gen 1:10, and the ‘one place’ into which they are gathered is a place under the dry land, the open seas of Gen 1:22 having already been created on Day 2. Hence the creation of aerial and marine creatures on Day 5 corresponds with the formation of the heavens and of the open seas on Day 2, and the creation of terrestrial creatures on Day 6 corresponds with the formation of the dry land on Day 3.
The land was watered by moisture from below – Gen 2:6. There was probably no rain before the Flood (hence the sign of the rainbow). Rivers flowed in Eden before there was rain. Cf. Ezek 31:4 (with vv 8-9).
Ezek 31:15 – the deep and its rivers (cf. Ps 24:2 and Isa 44:27), where Sheol also is located (cf. Ps 71:20 ‘deeps of the earth’ and Job 38:16-17 discussed below).
Gen 49:25, Deut 8:7 and 33:13, Ps 42:7 and 78:15, and Amos 7:4 also refer unambiguously to the deep underneath the land.
Prov 8:24-30. The ‘fountains of the deep’ were part of the original creation. In v 24 ‘deeps’ parallel ‘springs’. In v 27 ‘heavens’ parallels ‘skies’ (v. 28) and ‘circle on the face of the deep’ (= dry land, as in Isa 40:22) parallels ‘fountains of the deep’: the ideas are closely related. Springs are an aspect of the deeps, skies an aspect of the heavens, and fountains of the deep an aspect of the dry land.
3. mayan (‘spring’ or ‘fountain’)
Issue: were the fountains of the deep terrestrial or located in the sea? [as for tehom]
The word occurs 23 times in the OT. In all cases it refers to terrestrial springs. It has been suggested that Job 38:16 refers to hydrothermal vents on the floor of the oceans, but this is poor exegesis. Each of the stanzas in chapter 38 is thematically homogeneous (enlarging upon one topic). The theme of vv 16-18 is whether Job knows anything about the underworld. Since vv 17-19 refer to the depths of the earth, one naturally takes v 16 as also referring to the depths of the earth.
To summarise, it is clear from the study of (i) tehom separately, (ii) mayan separately and (iii) the two words in conjunction that the ‘fountains of the deep’ were terrestrial springs, deriving their water from the deep beneath the land. Their eruption released the waters of the deep from below, so that the whole earth was engulfed simultaneously. It was through the waters of the heavens above and an earth subsisting ‘out of water and through water’ that the then world was deluged and perished (II Pet 3:6).
As Gordon Wenham puts it, Gen 7:11 describes ‘water gushing forth uncontrollably from wells and springs which draw from a great subterranean ocean’. [Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary, 1987 – probably the best in-depth commentary on Genesis.]
4. mabbul (‘flood’ in most translations)
This word occurs 13 times in OT: 12 times in Gen 6-9 and once in Ps 29:10. It appears to refer uniquely to the ‘flood’ in Noah’s day. The occurrences in Genesis may be analysed as follows:
|Warning of the Flood||6:17|
|The Flood described||7:6, 7, 10, 17|
|Retrospect||9:11 (twice), 15, 28; 10:1, 32; 11:10.|
If we think of mabbul as being simply a flood, the semantic distinction may not seem significant, since in English ‘waters’ and ‘flood’ can be very close in meaning. However, because of its uniqueness, the Hebrew term has a different resonance. Likewise, the Greek term (as in the New Testament and the Septuagint version of Genesis) is ‘cataclysm’, a word which connotes a sudden and violent outbreak of waters.
The omission of the word mabbul from the rest of the narrative supports the view that by Day 40 the Cataclysm was largely spent. The continual rain, which was the most perceptible expression of the mabbul (7:4, 12), had ceased.
In addition, one might also perceive a fourth:
7:11-7:16. The first day of the Flood, introduced by the date and the statement that on that day all the fountains of the deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened.
7:17-7:23. The Cataclysm itself, introduced by the forward-looking statement that the Cataclysm lasted forty days. The floating of the ark, the inundation of all the mountains, and the blotting out of all terrestrial life took place within these forty days.
7:24-8:4. The turning point, when the waters began to abate, introduced by the statement that the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days (including the first 40 days already described). Within this period the rain was restrained, the fountains of the deep stopped and the waters began to subside.
8:5-8:12. The emergence of dry land, introduced by the statement, ‘And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.’ Thus Noah sends out the birds to see if there is land beyond his range of vision before the hilltops become visible.
8:13. A statement that the waters had now disappeared from the land round about (‘the mountains of Ararat’).
8:14-19. The last day in the ark, introduced by the date and by the statement that on that day the land was dry. That is, it was now dry enough for walking on, and so Noah is commanded to disembark.
Thus the sequence of events runs as follows:
|Days 1-40||The Cataclysm|
|Day 151||The ark runs aground.|
|Day 191||A raven is sent forth|
|Day 198||A dove is sent forth|
|Day 205||The dove sent forth again|
|Day 212||The dove sent forth a third time|
|Day 225||The hilltops appear|
|Day 315||The surface of the ground is dry|
|Day 371||The earth is dry; animals released.|
This study was presented by Steven J. Robinson, at the ‘Creation
Link North’ seminar,
Saturday 13 February 1999.
To contact Steven please send an email to email@example.com
© Randall Hardy, 1999.
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