At the scientific level, the object of Flood geology is to demonstrate that the global Flood described in Genesis 7-8 is reflected in the Earth’s rock record. However, before that can be done, we must know what sort of event the Flood was. To the extent that it was pure destruction, the event might not be reflected in the geological record at all: the old might have passed away, replaced by a completely new earth or crust, just as happened (we know from geological evidence) with the crust underneath the oceans. Similarly, we need to know whether the earth was flooded by water coming in from the seas, encroaching upon the land little by little, or by water from underneath the earth, all at once. If the former, we might expect the flooding event to be associated with marine fossils. If the latter, then the waters would have tended to flow off the land, and any fossils associated with the Flood would be of terrestrial animals. However, should we expect any fossils of animals from the pre-Flood world? All such questions are fundamental to the enterprise of Flood geology. Since the historical record must have priority, it is vital that we examine the record in Genesis to see what it has to say.

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.


1. machah (‘blot out’)

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 [1997] 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:

  1. Nu 5:23 (erasing ink from a book); II Ki 21:13 (wiping a dish, which symbolises Jerusalem being wiped clean of its inhabitants).
  2. Deut 25:19 (wiping out remembrance of, not necessarily all material remains or evidence of), cf. Ps 9:5; Ex 32:33; Ezek 6:6 (blotting out works/deeds).
  3. Neh 4:5; Isa 25:8.
The basic meaning is ‘wipe (out, away)’, whether used literally or metaphorically.

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.

2. tehom (‘deep’)

As in ‘fountains of the deep’ – Gen 7:11 and 8:2.

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.
The key verse here is 7:17. ‘The mabbul was 40 days upon the earth.’ After verse 7:17, the term is not used again until 9:11, when the narrative looks back, and it is not used at all in describing events after the fortieth day; instead the author chooses the term ‘waters’: the waters prevailed, were assuaged, decreased, were abated, were dried up.

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.


Commentators who follow the ‘documentary hypothesis’ regard the three chronological discrepancies listed below as evidence that the Flood narrative derives from two different sources.
  1. The Flood is said in 7:17 to have lasted 40 days, in keeping with the warning to that effect in 7:4, whereas the recorded calendar dates suggest a duration of up to 370 days.
  2. In 7:12 the rain is said to have lasted 40 days and nights, whereas 8:2 suggests that the rain was not restrained until after 150 days.
  3. 8:13 says that the earth became dry on the 1st day of the 1st month, whereas 8:14 states that it was dry on the 27th day of the 2nd month.

  4. In addition, one might also perceive a fourth:

  5. The birds were sent out ‘to see if the waters had abated from the face of the ground’ after the hill tops had already become visible.
These discrepancies disappear if one recognises that the narrative is organised according to ‘paragraphs’ (not visibly identified in the Hebrew text), each beginning with a statement that outlines the chronology of what is to follow. These units are:

Paragraph A

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.

Paragraph B

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.

Paragraph C

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.

Paragraph D

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.

Paragraph E

8:13. A statement that the waters had now disappeared from the land round about (‘the mountains of Ararat’).

Paragraph F

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.


  1. All pre-Flood terrestrial life was blotted out, ‘wiped’ from the face of the earth. No fossils should remain of that life, either on the face of the then earth (which was destroyed – 6:13, 9:11) or on the face of the present earth.
  2. The fountains of the deep were terrestrial springs which watered the earth before the Flood. When they erupted, the deep surged from underneath the land and inundated all the earth simultaneously. We are not therefore to imagine a gradual invasion of the land from the surrounding oceans.
  3. The mabbul or Cataclysm lasted 40 days. The flooding was combined with destruction of what was flooded. By contrast, the 330 days after the mabbul describe the beginnings of restoration, i.e. receding of the waters from a new earth. Complete geophysical and ecological recovery may have taken much longer.

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 sjr@juvenal.plus.com

© Randall Hardy, 1999.

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