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Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History Hardcover – January 13, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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The Deluge of Noah has long been one of the points of tension between geology and Christianity. Scientific diluvianism--the theory that the earth's history was shaped by a universal flood--collapsed in the early 19th century, well before Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. Since that time, scientists and historians have assumed that the flood story derived from local events in Mesopotamia.

In 1997, geologists Walter Pitman and William Ryan proposed the first truly novel interpretation of the flood in over 150 years. Their studies of sediments in the Black Sea convinced them that the body had been a freshwater lake until about 5600 B.C. When the rising waters of the Mediterranean broke through the Bosporus, "ten cubic miles of water poured through each day, two hundred times what flows over Niagara Falls."

With great intellectual daring, Pitman and Ryan have moved outside of their academic niche to suggest that this event had enormous consequences for human history. They marshal evidence from archeology, mythology, linguistics, and agriculture to describe a flood-driven diaspora of early farmers. Subsets of these people became (variously) proto-Indo-Europeans, Sumerians, Beaker People, Vincas, Tocharians--the founders of the early cultures of Europe and western Asia. --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Publishers Weekly

Archeologists have long sought to prove that the great flood described in Genesis and in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh was a historic event. Columbia University geologists Ryan and Pitman weigh in with a highly conjectural theory that seems as good as any other, if no better. Around 5600 B.C., they maintain, Noah's flood occurred when rising Mediterranean waters roared through the narrow Bosporus Strait, transforming the Black Sea, then a freshwater lake, into a bloated saltwater body. Taking a cue from Australian prehistorian Gordon Childe, who posited that Europe's first farmers came from Asia, the authors contend that the Black Sea at the time of the alleged flood was a fertile oasis, a cultural magnet where diverse peoples?farmers, animal breeders, artisans?exchanged techniques and possibly genes. They point to the sudden appearance in Europe, shortly after 5600 B.C., of "outsider" tribes, advanced farmers who, the theory goes, were fleeing the flooded Black Sea region. Other flood refugees, in this scenario, migrated to Russia's steppes, Anatolia, Mesopotamia and the Middle East, preserving memory of the catastrophe in mythic and oral traditions later enshrined on clay tablets and ultimately in the Bible. Ryan and Pitman base their theory partly on radiocarbon dating of marine sediments that they collected in 1993 during a Black Sea expedition and partly on Ice Age climatic patterns, modern linguists' quest for a proto-Indo-European mother tongue and genetic studies of population migrations over the millennia. Their complicated detective tale is intriguing, but much more solid evidence would be required to convince skeptics. Illustrated with drawings by Anastasia Sotiropoulos and maps by William Haxby. Agent, Roger Jellinek.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; New edition edition (January 13, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684810522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684810522
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #922,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on April 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Imagine standing on a the crest of a long hill. To one side is a broad, deep valley, a lake glistening in the morning sun. On the other side is the sea, the wind whipping the surf against the hill. One large wave sweeps up the beach into a cleft. Seawater pushes over the top, cascading into the valley, 150 metres below. Following waves enlarge the opening - within hours there's a steady flow of seawater. In days, the cascade is a deafening roar and the distant lake is rising 15 cm per day. People are fleeing as villages and fields are swept away or drowned forever. It's an event you will recount to your grandchildren.

This is the scenario postulated by Ryan and Pitman that transpired less than seven thousand years ago. The Ice Age, they remind us, tied up immense amonts of sea water, dropping coastlines and leaving lowlands isolated. The cold, dry air spilling off the glaciers swept over a freshwater lake northeast of the Mediterranean Sea. The lake evaporated faster than the rivers feeding it could replace. Ultimately, the lake's surface was far below sea level, but the sea was restrained by a land barrier. Once breached, the salty ocean water poured through what is now the Bosphorus to flood the lake's basin. At its height, the flow must have been ten times that of Niagra Falls and gushed through the break at over 70 kph. Evacuation of settlements scattered populations in many directions. The Tigris-Euphrates valley provided one major refuge. There, people settled and the story of the great flooding would have been paramount in their legends.

The revelation of how a flood myth became so important in the arid lands of Mesopotamia and Palestine was slow in exposure. The authors narrate the explorations of early researchers in these areas.
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Format: Hardcover
For a long time now, linguistics has recognized that languages throughout a broad region of the world, from India through Western Europe, all shared a common root language. What was missing was a decent explanation for how this commonality came about.
Ryan & Pitman begin decades ago with a friend's suggestion that there might be an actual cataclysmic event behind the story of Noah's flood. No event known at that time seemed to fit the known facts. The first two-thirds of this book relates their story of how decades of seabed research by numerous scientists from several nations leads to the inescapable conclusion of just the right sort of cataclysmic flood of the Black Sea occurring about 7,500 years ago.
In the final third of this book, Ryan & Pitman collect the work of a diverse group of scientists far outside of their own areas of specialization. Taken together, the body of work summarized by Ryan & Pitman provides a convincing first theory of how the population dispersal caused by this flood could have led to the broad distribution of various common cultural elements, like the Indo-European language group, styles of pottery, methods of farming, and so forth.
Ryan & Pitman clearly indicate that this last third of their book is collected from the works of other scientists. Accordingly, it is totally unfair to criticize this part of their book as either "outside of their areas of expertise" or even "totally lacking in any scientific foundation." The scientists whose work is presented in this last third of this book are all well-respected experts in their own specialties.
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Format: Hardcover
This book addresses one of the oldest mysteries in the world, the "flood" story from the Bible. Some people view the Bible quite literally, while others see the writings as metaphore or allegory. As a social scientist and former church school teacher, I have come to believe Bible stories have a mythical quality (in the sociological sense -- designed to instill a code of behavior and promote the cohesion of a people), but also have a basis in fact, however altered by time.
Archeologists have discovered evidence that many events depicted in the Bible do indeed have a basis in reality. Historians and linguists have shown written text reflects the writers' beliefs and interpretation of events, as well as the constraints of language. For example, it seems the city walls fell as a result of the 'Battle of Jerico' but they may have been demolished when the city was sacked. Those who told the story (likely scribes and priests, not soldiers) saw the hand of God at work and reflected this in their depiction of the events.
Many have searched for the remains of Noah's Ark, but the flood story has always seemed one of the most tenuous and least likely of Bible events to have left a material record. Evidence of past floods and shifting land masses, that might have formed a basis for the Bible story, reflect events that happened before humans were around to act as witnesses.
William Ryan and Walter Pitman tell the story of how they inductively arrived at their hypothesis, and then assembled a great deal of evidence to support it -- that a very big flood occurred in the area of the Black Sea about 7,5000 years ago (within the memory of humankind) and this flood may be the basis for the Noah story.
This book reads like a mystery novel.
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