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The Date of Noah's Flood:
Literary and Archaeological Evidence

by Dr. David Livingston

Considerable interest in the Flood has been generated by recent attempts to find the Ark in the Mt. Ararat area of easternmost Turkey. At the same time, those who date the Flood within known Near Eastern ancient history - about 3000 BC - have long been derided by many Bible scholars. Even some who believe the Bible to be historically true feel the date cannot be later than 10,000 - 12,000 BC, placing it well beyond the reach of any related archaeological or literary data for which dates are known.

There are important reasons for reexamining the evidence which points to a date closer to 3000 BC.

Genesis Genealogies

Unfortunately, many still accept William Henry Green's out-of-date interpretation of the patriarchal genealogies:

On these various grounds we conclude that the Scriptures furnish no data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either of the Flood or of the creation of the world (1890:303).

Green plainly says he has allowed for great genealogical gaps in order to accomodate scientific "facts" which seem to indicate a very old earth (1890:286). And his view has captured the fancy of several generations of theistic evolutionists. But Green's study is considerably flawed.

One study on the weaknesses of an approach like Green's begins on page 18 of Archaeology and Biblical Research, Vol. 6, #1, Winter 1993, under the title "The Bible, Science and the Ages of the Patriarchs" by Bert Thompson. (Contact Associates for Biblical Research for back issues of the magazine.)

Mesopotamian Evidence

Before we look at the evidence itself, the following by an eminent Assyriologist is significant:

There is, it is true, considerable vagueness and contradiction in cuneiform literature about the antediluvian traditions. This is not unexpected, even in the light of the latest discoveries. These now make it seem possible that a specific historic flood provided the original inspiration for the Mesopotamian versions of the deluge, and that this particular flood occurred about 2900 BC. At the same time, the beginnings of Sumerian literature (and thus of all literature) can now be traced back as far as the finds from Fara and Abu Salabikh, which I am inclined to date no later than 2600 or 2500 BC. Fara is the site of ancient Shuruppak, last of the antediluvian cities and home of the hero of the flood story. Abu Salabikh has not yet been identified with any ancient city, but its many literary tablets include a version of the "Instructions of Shuruppak" in which the father of the flood-hero appears under the name of his city. Thus the gap between the antediluvian period and its first reflexes in cuneiform literature has been narrowed down to three or four hundred years. This is no small achievement if we recall the three or four millennia that separated earlier estimates of the date of the Flood from the first limitations -- Hellenistic and Neo-Assyrian -- of native traditions about it (Hallo 1970:61-62).

Biblical "Cush" Is Sumerian "Kish"

In this section it will be important to realize that Egyptian history begins after 3000 BC. Egyptian prehistory, then, is probably very short, again substantiating little time since the great Flood.

Hebrew "Cush" of Genesis 10:6f. may be transliterated "Kish," which links this passage with well-known extrabiblical Sumerian history. In earliest times, the Hebrew letter vav was evidently interchangeable with yod. This is evidenced by the writer's explanation in Genesis 3:20 that hevah, Eve, means hayah, the "mother of all living" (Keil and Delitzsch 1975:106). Thus Biblical "Cush" or Kush with a vav, can be equated with Sumerian "Kish" with a yod.

That the name Cush was also to be found in Africa by Isaiah's time (Isaiah 20:3-5) is not questioned. In fact, that very movement may be tied to the genesis of the dynastic period in Egypt.

However, that Cush or Kish was first located in Mesopotamia is well attested (Genesis 2:13,14; 10:6-10). All of Cush's descendants lived in Mesopotamia, seat of the Sumerian kingdom of Kish.

Cush is presented first and originally was connected with Babylonia and only later with Egyptian Kosh or Nubia. The Babylonian connection is very likely to be sought in the exceedingly ancient city-kingdom of Kish in lower Mesopotamia, resurrected by modern archaeology. From Kish the Babylonian emperors of the third millenium BC took their royal title as kings of the world. The home of the original Cushites was clearly on the lower Tigris and Euphrates, where Nimrod raised them to great power. Thence they spread into the southern peninsula of Arabia and eventually crossing the Red Sea, colonized African Nubia and Abyssinia. Original Asiatic Cush, however, was watered by the Gihon River in Babylonia (Unger 1954:83; also 1967:53).

The Sumerian King List (listing in order the earliest kings of Sumer) begins with Kish immediately after the Flood, and both the List and the Bible speak of several cities with the same names as having come from "Kish" and "Cush" respectively. George Roux says the kingdom of Kish began in approximately 2700 BC (1966:120). It is important, as H.W.F. Saggs points out, that when the city of Kish was excavated, the earliest level was only from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca 2800-2400 BC; 1962:51,60). M.E.L. Mallowan in "Noah's Flood Reconsidered" concluded the date must have been about 2700 BC (1964:82). Although Mallowan believed the flood to be only a local event, he nevertheless established its date from the available literature, which is exactly what we are trying to do.

The epic hero Gilgamesh was king of Uruk at about this time (ca 2700 BC) and, as the legend goes, was actually able to speak with a survivor of the Flood who had been on the Ark. (This would be impossible with a 10,000 BC date.) The experiences of Gilgamesh, coupled with the Sumerian King List (in which he is mentioned), suggest a Flood date close to the one we propose.

There are problems with our date, however. At several sites there was occupation, apparently, which preceded 3000 BC. Several so-called "flood levels" (at Ur, Jemdet Nasr, Fara, el-Obeid and other sites) were earlier thought to be the evidence for Noah's Flood. However, they can hardly be related to the great Flood (Bright 1942:32).

Some of the archaeological evidence is puzzling. However, it may be explained by the fact that, (as so often has been done), in the first place, dates that were much too high were assigned for early civilizations. George Roux describes the situation:

Proto-history has been divided into five great periods, each of them characterized by a distinctive cultural assemblage and named after the site where this assemblage was first identified. They are in order: The Hassuna-Samarra period; The Halaf period; The Ubaid period; The Uruk period; and The Jemdat-Nasr period. As we shall presently see, these divisions do not actually apply to the whole country under study. The first two cultures are restricted to the north, the last two are predominant in the south. Moreover, the reader should be warned that all is not as clear in practice as it is on paper, and that scholars are still divided on the question of the exact limit between the Uruk and the Proto-literate periods and even on the name which should be given to the latter (1966:61).

The chronology of early periods rests upon more fragile foundations. In theory, it should be possible to work out from king lists and dynastic lists, but these have often proved to be misleading. Not only do they show significant differences, but they contain a number of gaps or scribal errors, or they give as successive dynasties which, in fact, partly overlapped or were contemporaneous. One should not therefore be surprised to find different figures in different textbooks and occasional changes of opinion (1966:40).

Egyptian Evidence

There is no known Egyptian flood tradition in literature. However, there is important evidence from other literary indications and archaeology.

The First Dynasty of pharaohs, after 3000 BC, apparently corresponds to the arrival of a group of people from Mesopotamia who in a short time established a complete civilization. Arts, crafts, architecture, etc. of a high level suddenly (possibly in less than a hundred years) appeared all over Egypt. Was this from Mesopotamia? Many scholars think so (Edwards 1964:35-40; Emery 1961: 30-3; Frankfort 1956:124-37; Gardiner 1966:395-8; Kantor 1952; Roux 1966:80; Wilson 1956:37-41).

More important, much of lower Egypt at the founding of the First Dynasty was marshland, and today's deserts were pasturelands. This was true as late as the 5th and 6th Dynasties (Frankfort 1948:16, Kees 1961:17-24). None of the land north of Lake Moeris was above water (Herodotus 1954:104). This includes the whole Delta, meaning the shore was at least 150 miles inland (near Cairo) compared to its present position.

The first Pharaoh, Menes, is famous for making embankments, draining swamps and establishing Memphis, which became for millennia the capital of Egypt. As founder, he was its "Creator" and was deified in the person of the god "Ptah." The story of this is found in the Memphite Theology (Frankfort 1948:17-20, 24f., Wilson 1956:58-60). Indications of Lower (northern) Egypt as marsh is taken from tombs. This may have been during the period after the Flood while the remaining waters were drying up.

Radiocarbon Dating

Although the equipment used to date radioactive materials has become more sophisticated, basic problems originally discovered by Willard Libby, inventor of the C14 dating method, still pertain. Radiocarbon (C14) dating, calibrated using known dates of Egyptian artifacts, has proved accurate back to only about 2000 BC, according to the discoverer (Libby 1965:ix; for an application to Mesopotamia, see Mallowan 1968:7-8). This has created problems for radio carbon dating older than 4000 BP (Before Present). Dates earlier than that cannot be calibrated since there is no known historical material older than 5000 BP. Dr. Libby himself said:

The first shock Dr. Arnold and I had was that our advisors informed us that history extended back only 5000 years. We had initially thought that we would be able to get samples along the curve back to 30,000 years, put the points in, and then our work would be finished . . . We learned rather abruptly that these numbers, these ancient ages are not known; in fact, it is about the time of the first dynasty in Egypt that the last [earliest] historical date of any real certainty has been established (1958:531).

Further, dendrochronologically dated wood, when compared with C14 dates, has shown that C14 dates are about 500 years too low at 3900 BP; before that time, there is no accurate way to calibrate C14 dates (Pearson and Stuiver 1986).

River Deltas Begin Forming Worldwide About 3000 BC

One more important point needs to be mentioned. There was only one event in the history of man which was such a stupendous catastrophe as to make it possible for rivers worldwide to all begin flowing at about the same time -- 3000 BC. That event was the worldwide Flood in the time of Noah. When the waters on the landmass finally subsided into the deepened oceans, and rain began to fall, the rivers could commence to flow and begin depositing the sediments which now form their deltas.

Problems with an Early Date (10,000 BC)

  1. If the Flood occurred as early as 10,000 BC, where is the 7000 year gap (10,000-3000 BC) in Scripture or, for that matter, in any of the literature of the Ancient Near East?
  2. The descendants of "Cush" built actual cities (Genesis 10) whose foundations date less than 3000 BC in most cases. Cush was the grandson of Noah.
  3. The ziggurats (the Tower of Babel?) are later than 3000 BC. There is no trace of anything like them in earlier civilizations. A little time obviously elapsed between the Flood and when they were built. But 7000 years? That is longer than the entire history of man. Look at the accomplishments of man and the population growth in only 5000 years! We have no basis for imagining a 7000 year gap.
  4. The genealogies of Genesis 10 may be "stretched" one or two generations, but 7000 years makes them meaningless for genealogical purposes. They cease to be genealogies if huge gaps exist.


When literary documents are present to date an event, these must have precedence over and control scientific observations and dating which conflicts with the literary evidence. This is so in that ancient documents are eyewitness observations of the events recorded. And isn't this what science is all about?

Better to Doubt the Scholars Than to Doubt God's Word!

[Author's note to the reader: if you have evidence refuting or corroborating this article, we would like to hear from you.]


Bright, J.,
1942 Has Archaeology Found Evidence of the Flood? Pp.32-40 in Biblical Archaeology Reader I
         (Garden City NY: Doubleday).

Edwards, I.E.S.,
1964 The Early Dynastic Period in Egypt. Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. I, chap. 11.
         (Cambridge: University Press).

Emery, W.B.,
1961 Archaic Egypt (Baltimore: Penguin).

Frankfort, H.,
1948 Kingship and the Gods (Chicago: University Press).
1956 The Birth of Civilization in the Near East (Garden City NY: Doubleday).

Gadd, C.J.,
1962 Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. I, chap. 9 (Cambridge: University Press).

Gardiner, A.,
1966 Egypt of the Pharaohs (New York: Oxford University Press).

Green, W.H.,
1890 Primeval Chronology. Bibliotheca Sacra 48:286-303.

Hallo, W.,
1970 Antediluvian Cities. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 23/3:61-62.

1954 The Histories (Baltimore: Penguin).

Kantor, H.J.,
1952 Further Evidence for Early Mesopotamian Relations with Egypt.
         Journal of Near Eastern Studies 11:239-50.

Kees, H.,
1961 Ancient Egypt (Chicago: University Press).

Keil, C.F. and Delitzsch, P.,
1975 Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. I. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmam).

Libby, W.F.,
1958 Chemistry and the Atomic Nucleus. American Journal of Physics 26:528-41.
1965 Radiocarbon Dating (Chicago: University Press).

Mallowan, M.E.L.,
1964 Noah's Flood Reconsidered. Iraq 26:62-82.
1968 The Early Dynastic Period in Mesopotamia. Cambridge Ancient History,, Vol. I, chap. 16.
         (Cambridge: University Press).

Pearson, G.W. and Stuiver, M.,
1986 High-Precision Calibration of the Radiocarbon Time Scale, 500-2500 BC. Radiocarbon 28:839-62.

Roux, G.,
1966 Ancient Iraq (Middlesex, England: Penguin).

Saggs, H.W.F.,
1962 The Greatness That Was Babylon (New York: Mentor).

Unger, M.F.,
1954 Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
1967 Unger's Bible Hand Book (Chicago: Moody).

Wilson, J.A.,
1956 The Culture of Ancient Egypt (Chicago: University Press).

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© 2003 David Livingston