Volume 1, Issue 9
October 9,  2011
  Is Noah's Flood borrowed myth?
Examining the "assured results of two centuries of biblical scholarship"

It seems that all the nations of the ancient world preserved accounts of the Flood: the Egyptians, Greeks, Assyrians, Babylonians, Chinese, and Indians. Why have scholars seen what now appears as the one accurate account as deriving from borrowed myth? For generations, colleges and seminaries have taught children and the aspiring faithful these "assured results of two centuries of biblical scholarship." Learning that the Bible is not true, the brightest abandon childhood faith. Those embracing these results and continue in the "faith" discover a new kind of "truth."

Historical criticism requires some comparative historiography: an understanding of the past for making critical judgments. Until modern times, the Bible was the touchstone for judging the myths of pagans. By what account of man's past have modern scholars judged the Bible and how do they know that is reliable? Biblical scholars in the English speaking world scarcely know this historiography, much less its origins. They might find it embarrassing. 

The eighteenth century Enlightenment arising in England and France had no history. Philosophers had replaced history deriving from the Bible with the timeless world of the classical philosophers. German Neo-Pietists J.G. Hamann and J.G. Herder resented the Enlightenment Emperor Frederick the Great imposing this view along with the French language on Germans. They championed the German volk (folk), whose virtues they supposed due to German language and culture, formerly an agriculture term that Herder applied to the man plant. Poetic history replaced philosophy as the Romantic Era replaced the Enlightenment.

Herder taught a concept of nation as all those speaking the same language. It was a collectivist vision in which the very identity of individuals depend on their nation. According to Herder, truth cannot be translated. Similar assertions were made for the Masoretic, Arabic Quran, and King James texts but these did not become the basis for the modern historiography. Modern historiography would not be the history of men and nations as in the Bible and as ordinarily understood, but rather an imagined history of languages.

Its mythical histories would however create nations and inspire wars. Professionals and businessmen in rural Central Europe believed their military power and industrial development were being held back by the lack of a centralized State, an idea opposed by German princes who wished to be subject neither to Protestant Prussia nor Catholic Austria. In the wake of Napoleon's invasion, J.G. Fichte electrified the German-speaking people by proposing a nation based on the German language. 

Nations need a glorious history, but w
ritten German was chiefly from Luther's Bible. Germans had scarcely any history but the Bible. One way to discover a German history was through the history of languages and ancient texts. A clue was the recent discovery by Sir William Jones that Indian Sansrkit was related to the European languages, including German. Jones called these Japhetic languages, descendants of the second son of Noah. This family differed from languages related to the Hebrew Bible called Semitic, the German name of Shem. 

Germans sought ancestors among ancient Aryans (Iranians, Indians), for whom they would rename the family of Japhetic languages. Linguists like the Brothers Grimm collected oral folk tales believed to have come from Germany's pagan past. There were no ancient texts either of German folk tales or Aryan religion, but these scholars declared oral tradition as ancient and reliable as written literacy! Absent ancient texts that is impossible to refute, but disparate Flood traditions dispute the premise upon which modern "critical" scholarship greatly depends.

Due to its slight mention of Gomer, father of the Germans, the Bible was only a problem for a glorious German history. Anti-Semitism arising at just the time that Fichte proposed the new language-rooted nation shows German anger was not what Jews thought or did but in fact the Bible. The mere name and presence of Jews testified to the threat that the Bible posed to Germany's Aryan history. In their eyes, the Bible had to be seen as a product of the inferior Semitic language. It was not Hitler or the Nazis but their teachers who invented these anti-Semitic myths.  

Friedrich Schleiermacher answered these 'cultural despisers of Christianity' by severing German Christianity from the Old Testament. Grounding Christianity in religious feeling, he freed liberal Christians to say bad things about the Old Testament. As I explain below, German scholars sought origins of the Bible in a way that would could be explained instead of threatened by Germany's new historiography. It would become known as the German biblical criticism. A more detailed summary can be found in Part III of the
Archaeological Evidence.

Best regards to all,

Philip Williams
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In this issue
Borrowed myth?
Mainline scholarship
Theory of biblical composition
Bible versus Babel

Mainline scholarship

"Progress" means uncritical acceptance of a scholarship rooted in German nationalism 


While not the most powerful and richest nation, the America of the early nineteenth century that Alexander de Tocqueville visited was the world's most literate, equitable, progressive, and admired. From universities to primary schools, education was almost entirely in the hands of churches, the Bible the chief text. Thomas Jefferson explained America's exceptionalism as due to the nation being a republic of farmers. Most Americans explained it by the Bible, their aspirations for the coming Kingdom of God. They were not nationalistic, sending missionaries to the whole world as ambassadors for a Heavenly King.  


The nation rapidly prospered, but worldly advantages could be obtained by studying in Europe. England's leading universities closed to non-Anglicans, wealthy Americans sent their sons to be educated in Germany. They returned to assume positions in America's leading universities, but discovered resistance to their learning among Americans who grounded their identity in the Bible.


Their German teachers had another explanation for resistance to their new teachings. Industry for which cause they sought a centralized state could be explained by scientific principles. The exceptional history in the Bible could not. However poetical (mythical) the basis for the German scholarship, it lacked the exceptional history as found in the Bible. These teachers identified resistance to the German biblical criticism as opposition to progress (modernity or science). Their arguments would be  used in the Fundamentalist controversy early in the twentieth century and the Scopes trial that followed. 


Germans opposed their rural provincials through teachings sponsored by a new centralized state. Their American students would likewise teach Americans to champion their identity in nationalism instead of their faith. They would explain American exceptionalism as due to science and an economic system rather than the embarrassing Bible. As in Germany, state supported schools would soon counter teachings and values learned in homes and churches. Now the most powerful and richest nation, America is no longer the most literate, progressive, equitable, or admired.

Hegel's dialectic, Wellhausen's JEPD composition criticism
Explaining the evolution of religion from desert sheiks to the Christianity of modern Germany
               Hegel                   Wellhausen

The great German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz introduced a view of progress as the development of morality. Despite its evils, the world was developing towards the best of all possible world. G.W.F. Hegel showed how the divine manifested in free men had been marching forward according to the rules of his dialectic until the Absolute becomes conscious of itself among free men of the current Prussian State. 

Julius Wellhausen used Hegel's dialectic to explain the development of the Old Testament. Israel's history began with the patriarchs whose religion and way of living was not unlike the happy-go-lucky Bedouin sheiks that Carsten Niehbuhr had observed in Arabia. The next stage in Israel's religion was established by the prophets, who worshipped a single tribal god and developed a strict morality. The third stage occurred when the Jews encountered an elaborate legal system during their Babylonian captivity and became fully monotheistic.
In Babylon, a P editor composed the book of Genesis from accounts of Israel's history written by a J source from Judah and an E source from ancient Israel. According to Germany's leading anti-Semitic activist William de Witte, the historical books beginning with Deuteronomy had been composed by a D editor at the time of King Josiah when centralized worship was first imposed on Israel. Thus developed the JEPD theory of biblical composition.
The potential of literary criticism is limited only be the imagination. However much recent scholarship may dispute its validity, the JEPD composition remains the foundation of Old Testament biblical criticism in America's leading schools.  
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Delitzsche's Babel vs Bible and 
Gunkel's Legends of Genesis
Inventing form criticism to mind the history of the Bible from oral traditions and foreign legends.  
DelitzscheGunkel            Delitzsche                     Gunkel


Friedrich Delitzsche was the son of Germany's foremost scholar of the Old Testament. His lecture before Kaiser William II shocked conservatives when he declared that the the writers of the Bible were inferior to Babylonian from whom they borrowed. Proof was the "Aryan" features of the Queen depicted on Assyrian monuments and the fact that the Assyrians left the more magnificent ruins. Pleasing the German Emperor, he promised to free "true religion as we know it from the Prophets, from Jesus, from human additions - whatever their poetic value - constitute an intolerable burden for the conscious of modern man." From his exile in Holland, the Kaiser would later declare that Jesus had been Aryan. He called for reform of German religion based on the formula: "Out with the Jews and their Yahweh!"


Delitzshe's friend and colleague Hermann Gunkel declared that the Israelites had rather turned Babylonian dross into gold. Gunkel saw the Israelite's problem as one of illiteracy. As he explain in his influential Legends of Genesis, the remarkable early Hebrew events  cannot be history because:


"Uncivilized races do not write history, they are incapable of reproducing their experiences objectively and have not interest in leaving to posterity an authentic account of the events of their time...The objection is raised that Jesus and the Apostles clearly considered these accounts to be fact and not poetry. Suppose they did. The men of the New Testament are not presumed to be exceptional men in these matters, but shared the point of view of their time. ... It is not possible for oral traditions could preserve an authentic an authentic record of such details so vividly and for so long a time."


About the last matter, Gunkel is certainly right. Contrary to his conceited bigotry, the history of literacy can be traced precisely through the times and places found in the Bible all the way back and including the time before the Flood! This explains the detailed and accurate history found in the Bible. 


Gunkel's conclusions depended on his new way of mining history from the biblical text, which he called form criticism. His friend Rudolph Bultmann used the technique to rid the New Testament of its "embarrassing" miracles. Gunkel's form criticism has become the stable of modern biblical criticism even in conservative seminaries of America.

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Christian Leaders & Scholars is the newsletter and publication site of Philip Ernest Williams, author of The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood (2011). The site is also a ministry not only to Christian leaders and scholars but all who are interested in the more difficult issues pertaining to the Bible and its implications for science and history. (Read more)