"The Deluge", frontispiece to Gustave Doré's illustrated edition of the Bible

A flood myth or a deluge myth is a myth in which a great flood, usually sent by a deity or deities, destroys civilization, often in an act of divine retribution. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primeval waters which appear in certain creation myths, as the flood waters are described as a measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth. Most flood myths also contain a culture hero, who "represents the human craving for life".[1]

The flood-myth motif occurs in many cultures, including the manvantara-sandhya in Hinduism, Deucalion and Pyrrha in Greek mythology, the Genesis flood narrative, the Mesopotamian flood stories, and the Cheyenne flood story.


One example of a flood myth is in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Many scholars believe that this account was copied from the Akkadian Atra-Hasis,[a] which dates to the 18th century BCE.[3][b] In the Gilgamesh flood myth, the highest god, Enlil, decides to destroy the world with a flood because humans have become too noisy. The god Ea, who had created humans out of clay and divine blood, secretly warns the hero Utnapishtim of the impending flood and gives him detailed instructions for building a boat so that life may survive.[5][6] Both the Epic of Gilgamesh and Atra-Hasis are preceded by the similar Eridu Genesis (c. 1600 BCE)[7]—the oldest surviving example of such a flood-myth narrative, known from tablets found in the ruins of Nippur in the late 1890s and translated by assyriologist Arno Poebel.[8]

George Smith, who discovered and translated the Epic of Gilgamesh

Academic Yi Samuel Chen[9] analyzed various texts from the Early Dynastic III Period through to the Old Babylonian Period, and argues that the flood narrative was only added in texts written during the Old Babylonian Period. With regard to the Sumerian King List, observations by experts have always indicated that the portion of the Sumerian King List talking about before the flood differs stylistically from the King List Proper. Essentially Old Babylonian copies tend to represent a tradition of before the flood apart from the actual King List, whereas the Ur III copy of the King List and the duplicate from the Brockmon collection indicate that the King List Proper once existed independent of mention of the flood and the tradition of before the flood. Essentially, Chen gives evidence to prove that the section of before the flood and references to the flood in the Sumerian King List were all later additions added in during the Old Babylonian Period, as the Sumerian King List went through updates and edits. The flood as a watershed in early history of the world was probably a new historiographical concept emerging in the Mesopotamian literary traditions during the Old Babylonian Period, as evident by the fact that the flood motif did not show up in the Ur III copy and that earliest chronographical sources related to the flood show up in the Old Babylonian Period. Chen also concludes that the name of "Ziusudra" as a flood hero and the idea of the flood hinted at by that name in the Old Babylonian Version of "Instructions of Shuruppak" are only developments during that Old Babylonian Period, when also the didactic text was updated with information from the burgeoning Antediluvian Tradition.[10]

In the Hebrew Genesis, the god Yahweh, who had created man out of the dust of the ground,[11] decides to flood the earth because of the corrupted state of mankind. Yahweh then gives the protagonist, Noah, instructions to build an ark in order to preserve human and animal life. When the ark is completed, Noah, his family, and representatives of all the animals of the earth are called upon to enter the ark. When the destructive flood begins, all life outside of the ark perishes. After the waters recede, all those aboard the ark disembark and have Yahweh's promise that he will never judge the earth with a flood again. Yahweh causes a rainbow to form as the sign of this promise.[12]

In Hindu mythology, texts such as the Satapatha Brahmana[13] (c. 6th century BCE)[14] and the Puranas contain the story of a great flood, "manvantara-sandhya",[15][16] wherein the Matsya Avatar of the Vishnu warns the first man, Manu, of the impending flood, and also advises him to build a giant boat.[17][18][19] In Zoroastrian Mazdaism, Ahriman tries to destroy the world with a drought, which Mithra ends by shooting an arrow into a rock, from which a flood springs; one man survives in an ark with his cattle.[20] Norbert Oettinger[who?] argues that the story of Yima and the Vara was originally a flood myth, and the harsh winter was added in due to the dry nature of Eastern Iran, as flood myths did not have as much of an effect as harsh winters. He has argued that the mention of melted water flowing in Videvdad 2.24 is a remnant of the flood myth, and mentions that the Indian flood myths originally had their protagonist as Yama, but it was changed to Manu later.[21]

In Plato's Timaeus, written c. 360 BCE, Timaeus describes a flood myth similar to the earlier versions. In it, the Bronze race of humans angers the high god Zeus with their constant warring. Zeus decides to punish humanity with a flood. The Titan Prometheus, who had created humans from clay, tells the secret plan to Deucalion, advising him to build an ark in order to be saved. After nine nights and days, the water starts receding and the ark lands on a mountain.[22]

The Cheyenne, a North American Great Plains tribe, believe in a flood which altered the course of their history, perhaps occurring in the Missouri River Valley.[23]


Floods in the wake of the Last Glacial Period (c. 115,000 – c. 11,700 years ago) are speculated to have inspired myths that survive to this day.[24] Plato's allegory of Atlantis is set over 9,000 years before his time, leading some scholars to suggest that a Stone Age society which lived close to the Mediterranean Sea could have been wiped out by the rising sea level, an event which could have served as the basis for the story.[25]

Archaeologist Bruce Masse stated that some of the narratives of a great flood discovered in many cultures around the world may be linked to an oceanic asteroid impact that occurred between Africa and Antarctica, around the time of a solar eclipse, that caused a tsunami.[26] Among the 175 myths he analyzed were a Hindu myth speaking of an alignment of the five planets at the time, and a Chinese story linking the flood to the end of the reign of Empress Nu Wa. Fourteen flood myths refer to a full solar eclipse.[27] According to Masse these indications point to the date May 10, 2807 BC.[28] His hypothesis suggests that a meteor or comet crashed into the Indian Ocean around 3000–2800 BCE, and created the 18-mile (29 km) undersea Burckle Crater and Fenambosy Chevron, and generated a giant tsunami that flooded coastal lands.[29]


Mesopotamia, like other early sites of riverine civilisation, was flood-prone; and for those experiencing valley-wide inundations, flooding could destroy the whole of their known world.[30] According to the excavation report of the 1930s excavation at Shuruppak (modern Tell Fara, Iraq), the Jemdet Nasr and Early Dynastic layers at the site were separated by a 60-cm yellow layer of alluvial sand and clay, indicating a flood,[31] like that created by river avulsion, a process common in the Tigris–Euphrates river system. Similar layers have been recorded at other sites as well, all dating to different periods, which would be consistent with the nature of river avulsions.[32] Shuruppak in Mesopotamian legend was the city of Uta-napishtim, the king who built a boat to survive the coming flood. The alluvial layer dates from around 2900 BC.[33]

Earth's sea level rose dramatically in the millennia after the Last Glacial Maximum.

The geography of the Mesopotamian area changed considerably with the filling of the Persian Gulf after sea waters rose following the last glacial period. Global sea levels were about 120 m (390 ft) lower around 18,000 BP and rose until 8,000 BP when they reached current levels, which are now an average 40 m (130 ft) above the floor of the Gulf, which was a huge (800 km × 200 km, 500 mi × 120 mi) low-lying and fertile region in Mesopotamia, in which human habitation is thought to have been strong around the Gulf Oasis for 100,000 years. A sudden increase in settlements above the present-day water level is recorded at around 7,500 BP.[34][35]

Mediterranean Basin

The historian Adrienne Mayor theorizes that global flood stories may have been inspired by ancient observations of seashells and fish fossils in inland and mountain areas. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all documented the discovery of such remains in such locations; the Greeks hypothesized that Earth had been covered by water on several occasions, citing the seashells and fish fossils found on mountain tops as evidence of this idea.[36]

Speculation regarding the Deucalion myth has postulated a large tsunami in the Mediterranean Sea, caused by the Thera eruption (with an approximate geological date of 1630–1600 BCE), as the myth's historical basis. Although the tsunami hit the South Aegean Sea and Crete, it did not affect cities in the mainland of Greece, such as Mycenae, Athens, and Thebes, which continued to prosper, indicating that it had a local rather than a region-wide effect.[37]

Black Sea deluge hypothesis

The Black Sea deluge hypothesis offers a controversial account of long-term flooding; the hypothesis argues for a catastrophic irruption of water about 5600 BCE from the Mediterranean Sea into the Black Sea basin. This has become the subject of considerable discussion.[38][39] The Younger Dryas impact hypothesis offered another proposed natural explanation for flood myths. However, this idea was similarly controversial[40] and has been refuted.[41]


Painting from 1840 depicting a comet causing the Great Flood
The Eve of the Deluge, by John Martin, 1840. Depicts a comet causing the Great Flood.[42]

The earliest known hypothesis about a comet that had a widespread effect on human populations can be attributed to Edmond Halley, who in 1694 suggested that a worldwide flood had been the result of a near-miss by a comet.[43][44] The issue was taken up in more detail by William Whiston, a protégé of and popularizer of the theories of Isaac Newton, who argued in his book A New Theory of the Earth (1696) that a comet encounter was the probable cause of the Biblical Flood of Noah in 2342 BCE.[45] Whiston also attributed the origins of the atmosphere and other significant changes in the Earth to the effects of comets.[46]

In Pierre-Simon Laplace's book Exposition Du Systême Du Monde (The System of the World), first published in 1796, he stated:[47]

[T]he greater part of men and animals drowned in a universal deluge, or destroyed by the violence of the shock given to the terrestrial globe; whole species destroyed; all the monuments of human industry reversed: such are the disasters which a shock of a comet would produce.[48][49]

A similar hypothesis was popularized by Minnesota congressman and pseudoarchaeology writer Ignatius L. Donnelly in his book Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel (1883), which followed his better-known book Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882). In Ragnarok, Donnelly argued that an enormous comet struck the Earth around 6,000 BCE to 9,000 BCE,[c] destroying an advanced civilization on the "lost continent" of Atlantis. Donnelly, following others before him, attributed the Biblical Flood to this event, which he hypothesized had also resulted in catastrophic fires and climate change. Shortly after the publication of Ragnarok, one commenter noted, "Whiston ascertained that the deluge of Noah came from a comet's tail; but Donnelly has outdone Whiston, for he has shown that our planet has suffered not only from a cometary flood, but from cometary fire, and a cometary rain of stones."[52]


See also



  1. ^ The Atra-Hasis flood myth contains some material that the Gilgamesh flood myth does not.[2]
  2. ^ Andrew R. George points out that the modern version of the Epic of Gilgamesh was compiled by Sîn-lēqi-unninni, who lived sometime between 1300 and 1000 BC.[4]
  3. ^ In Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel (1883) Donnelly suggested that the flood of Noah "probably occurred somewhere from eight to eleven thousand years ago" (6,117 BCE to 9,117 BCE);[50] in his previous book Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882) Donnelly followed Plato's timeline and gave a date of 9,600 BCE (11,550 BP) for the destruction of Atlantis.[51]


  1. ^ Leeming, David (2004). Flood | The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195156690. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  2. ^ George 2003, p. xxx.
  3. ^ Tigay, Jeffrey H. (2002) [1982]. The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. pp. 23, 218, 224, 238. ISBN 9780865165465.
  4. ^ George 2003, pp. ii, xxiv–v.
  5. ^ Finkel, Irving (2014). The Ark Before Noah. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385537124.
  6. ^ Pritchard, James B. (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955, 1969). 1950 1st edition at Google Books. p.44: "...a flood [will sweep] over the cult-centers; to destroy the seed of mankind; is the decision, the word of the assembly [of the gods]."
  7. ^ Black, Jeremy A.; Cunningham, Graham; Robson, Eleanor; Zólyomi, Gábor, eds. (2004). "The Flood story". The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford: Oxford University Press (published 2006). p. 212. ISBN 9780199296330. Retrieved 5 February 2021. The Sumerian story of the universal Flood [...] resembles the longer version preserved in the Babylonian poems Atra-hasis and the Epic of Gilgamesh.
  8. ^ Black, Jeremy, Cunningham, G. Robson, E. Zolyomi, G. The Literature of Ancient Sumer, Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-926311-6[full citation needed]
  9. ^ "YI SAMUEL CHEN". University of Hong Kong. Archived from the original on 28 March 2023. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  10. ^ Chen, Yi Samuel (2013). The Primeval Flood Catastrophe. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199676200.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-967620-0.
  11. ^ Davidson, Robert (1973). Genesis 1–11. Cambridge University Press. p. 30. ISBN 9780521097604.
  12. ^ Cotter, David W. (2003). Genesis. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical press. pp. 49–51. ISBN 0814650406.
  13. ^ Eggeling, Julius (1882). Satapatha Brahmana, Part 1. pp. 216–218 (1:8:1:1–6).
  14. ^ Witzel, Michael (1995). "Early Indian history: Linguistic and textual parametres" (PDF). In George Erdosy (ed.). The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia:Language, Material Culture, and Ethnicity. Boston: De Gruyter. p. 136.
  15. ^ Gupta, S. V. (2010). "Ch. 1.2.4 Time Measurements". In Hull, Robert; Osgood, Richard M. Jr.; Parisi, Jurgen; Warlimont, Hans (eds.). Units of Measurement: Past, Present and Future. International System of Units. Springer Series in Materials Science: 122. Springer. pp. 7–8. ISBN 9783642007378. Paraphrased: Mahayuga equals 12,000 Deva (divine) years (4,320,000 solar years). Manvantara equals 71 Mahayugas (306,720,000 solar years). Kalpa (day of Brahma) equals an Adi Sandhya, 14 Manvantaras, and 14 Sandhya Kalas, where 1st Manvantara preceded by Adi Sandhya and each Manvantara followed by Sandhya Kala, each Sandhya lasting same duration as Satya yuga (1,728,000 solar years), during which the entire earth is submerged in water. Day of Brahma equals 1,000 Mahayugas, the same length for a night of Brahma (Bhagavad-gita 8.17). Brahma lifespan (311.04 trillion solar years) equals 100 360-day years, each 12 months. Parardha is 50 Brahma years and we are in the 2nd half of his life. After 100 years of Brahma, the universe starts with a new Brahma. We are currently in the 28th Kali yuga of the first day of the 51st year of the second Parardha in the reign of the 7th (Vaivasvata) Manu.
  16. ^ Krishnamurthy, V. (2019). "Ch. 20: The Cosmic Flow of Time as per Scriptures". Meet the Ancient Scriptures of Hinduism. Notion Press. ISBN 9781684669387. Each manvantara is preceded and followed by a period of 1,728,000 (= 4K) years when the entire earthly universe (bhu-loka) will submerge under water. The period of this deluge is known as manvantara-sandhya (sandhya meaning, twilight).
  17. ^ Matsya Britannica.com
  18. ^ Klostermaier, Klaus K. (2007). A Survey of Hinduism. SUNY Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-7914-7082-4.
  19. ^ Sehgal, Sunil (1999). Encyclopaedia of Hinduism: C–G, Volume 2. Sarup & Sons. pp. 401–402. ISBN 81-7625-064-3.
  20. ^ Smith, Homer W. (1952). Man and His Gods. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. pp. 128–29.
  21. ^ Oettinger, Norbert (2013). Jamison, S.W.; Melchert, H.C.; Vine, B. (eds.). "Before Noah: Possible Relics of the Flood-Myth in Proto-Indo-Iranian and Earlier". Proceedings of the 24th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference. Bremen: 169–183.
  22. ^ Plato's Timaeus. Greek text: http://www.24grammata.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Platon-Timaios.pdf Archived 2018-10-24 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Seger, John H. (1934). Early Days Among the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians. pp. 147–148.
  24. ^ "Biblical-Type Floods Are Real, and They're Absolutely Enormous". DiscoverMagazine.com. 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  25. ^ "Legends of Atlantis". Drain the Oceans. Season 1. Episode 5. 2018. 42–45 minutes in. National Geographic.
  26. ^ Alan Boyle (Feb 24, 2000). "Adding up the risks of cosmic impact". MSNBC. Archived from the original on 2006-02-03.
  27. ^ Sandra Blakeslee (Nov 14, 2006). "Did an Asteroid Impact Cause an Ancient Tsunami?". The New York Times. The New York Times.
  28. ^ Scott Carney (Nov 15, 2007). "Did a Comet Cause the Great Flood?". Discover. Archived from the original on 2023-02-09.
  29. ^ "Ancient Crash, Epic Wave". The New York Times. 14 November 2006.
  30. ^ Compare:Peloubet, Francis Nathan (1880). Select Notes on the International Sabbath School Lessons. Boston: W. A. Wilde and Company. p. 157. Retrieved 29 April 2021. ... the flood ... extended to all the then known world.
  31. ^ Schmidt, Erich (1931). "Excavations at Fara, 1931". University of Pennsylvania's Museum Journal. 2: 193–217.
  32. ^ Morozova, Galina S. (2005). "A review of Holocene avulsions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and possible effects on the evolution of civilizations in lower Mesopotamia". Geoarchaeology. 20 (4): 401–423. Bibcode:2005Gearc..20..401M. doi:10.1002/gea.20057. ISSN 1520-6548. S2CID 129452555.
  33. ^ William W. Hallo and William Kelly Simpson (1971). The Ancient Near East: A History.
  34. ^ "Lost Civilization Under Persian Gulf?", Science Daily, December 8, 2010
  35. ^ Rose, Jeffrey I. (December 2010), "New Light on Human Prehistory in the Arabo-Persian Gulf Oasis", Current Anthropology, 51 (6): 849–883, doi:10.1086/657397, S2CID 144935980
  36. ^ Mayor, Adrienne (2011). The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times: with a new introduction by the author. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691058634.
  37. ^ Castleden, Rodney (2001) "Atlantis Destroyed" (Routledge).
  38. ^ "'Noah's Flood' Not Rooted in Reality, After All?" National Geographic News, February 6, 2009.
  39. ^ Sarah Hoyle (November 18, 2007). "Noah's flood kick-started European farming". University of Exeter. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  40. ^ Boslough, Mark (March 2023). "Apocalypse!". Skeptic Magazine. 28 (1): 51–59. plagued by self contradictions, logical fallacies, basic misunderstandings, misidentified impact evidence, abandoned claims, irreproducible results, questionable protocols, lack of disclosure, secretiveness, failed predictions, contaminated samples, pseudoscientific arguments, physically impossible mechanisms, and misrepresentations
  41. ^ Holliday, Vance T.; Daulton, Tyrone L.; Bartlein, Patrick J.; Boslough, Mark B.; Breslawski, Ryan P.; Fisher, Abigail E.; Jorgeson, Ian A.; Scott, Andrew C.; Koeberl, Christian; Marlon, Jennifer; Severinghaus, Jeffrey; Petaev, Michail I.; Claeys, Philippe (2023-07-26). "Comprehensive refutation of the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis (YDIH)". Earth-Science Reviews. 247: 104502. Bibcode:2023ESRv..24704502H. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2023.104502. ISSN 0012-8252.
  42. ^ "John Martin (1789-1854) - The Eve of the Deluge". Royal Collection Trust. Archived from the original on 2021-04-29. Retrieved 2021-07-15.
  43. ^ Levitin D (4 September 2013). "Halley and the eternity of the world revisited". Notes and Records. 67 (4): 315–329. doi:10.1098/RSNR.2013.0019. ISSN 0035-9149. PMC 3826193. Wikidata Q94018436. However, [Edmond Halley] returned to the subject a year later in a lecture 'About the Cause of the Universal Deluge' read to the Society on 12 December 1694. Halley advanced a theory of periodic catastrophism; specifically, he suggested—two years before a similar idea was put forward by William Whiston—that the Flood was caused by a comet.
  44. ^ Halley E (31 December 1724). "VII. Some cosiderations about the cause of the universal Deluge, laid before the Royal Society, on the 12th of December 1694". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 33 (383): 118–123. Bibcode:1724RSPT...33..118H. doi:10.1098/RSTL.1724.0023. ISSN 0261-0523. Wikidata Q108458886.
  45. ^ Strauss M (2016-12-30). "Why Newton Believed a Comet Caused Noah's Flood". National Geographic. Archived from the original on 2021-09-20. Retrieved 2021-11-14. Working backward, Whiston noted that one such cosmic encounter occurred in 2342 B.C., which, at the time, was believed to be the date of the great Deluge.
  46. ^ Meehan RL (1999). "Whiston's Flood". Archived from the original on 25 January 2021. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  47. ^ May A (2019). Cosmic impact: understanding the threat to Earth from asteroids and comets. London: Icon Books, Limited. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-78578-493-4. OCLC 1091996674. In his book The System of the World, first published in 1796, Laplace speculated that cometary impacts might result in global extinctions.
  48. ^ Laplace PS (1796). Exposition Du Systême Du Monde (in French). Paris, France: Cercle social. pp. 61–62. [U]ne grande partie des hommes et des animaux, noyée dans ce déluge universel, ou détruite par la violente secousse imprimée au globe terrestre; des espèces entières anéanties; tous les monumens de l'industrie humaine, renversés; tels sont les désastres que le choc d'une comète a dû produire.
  49. ^ Laplace PS (1809). The System of the World. Translated by Pond J. p. 64. [T]he greater part of men and animals drowned in a universal deluge, or destroyed by the violence of the shock given to the terrestrial globe; whole species destroyed; all the monuments of human industry reversed: such are the disasters which a shock of a comet would produce.
  50. ^ Donnelly IL (1883). Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel. New York, D. Appleton and Company. p. 404. The Deluge of Noah probably occurred somewhere from eight to eleven thousand years ago. Hence, about twenty thousand years probably intervened between the Drift and the Deluge. These were the 'myriads of years' referred to by Plato, during which mankind dwelt on the great plain of Atlantis.
  51. ^ Donnelly IL (1882). Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. p. 29. Plato states that the Egyptians told Solon that the destruction of Atlantis occurred 9000 years before that date, to wit, about 9600 years before the Christian era.
  52. ^ Winchell A (1887). "Ignatius Donnelly's Comet". The Forum. IV: 115.


Further reading

  1. ^ Quoted in: Lindell, Kristina; Swahn, Jan-Öjvind; Tayanin, Damrong (1988). "The Flood: Three Northern Kammu Versions of the Story of Creation". In Dundes, Alan (ed.). The Flood Myth. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 279. ISBN 9780520063532. Retrieved 5 February 2021. A 1021.0.2 [...] Escape from deluge in wooden cask (drum)