Forgetful history

A correspondent with whom I’ve been discussing the Genesis Flood mentioned the interesting case of the Umm al Binni Lake in Iraq, which appears to be a recent meteoric impact crater, dated on the basis of the sedimentary history of the region to historic times. This would mean between 3000 and 2000 BCE, and it possibly corresponds to evidence in the region of widespread wildfires and floods from a likely airburst c2350BCE, called the Middle East Anomaly.

I remarked on this presumed crater lake (the political situation prevents close scientific confirmation) back in 2017, where my focus was on the difficulty of distinguishing between “natural” and “supernatural” events.

Both my correspondent and I think that this event is unlikely to be the basis of the Flood story, either in its biblical form or in its Mesopotamian parallels. My friend mentioned its poor fit to any reconstructed chronology, but I would also stress the poor fit to the narratives themselves.

Assuming a 2350 date, the impact would have occurred out to sea from the ancient shoreline, which was far higer than the present one, but actually in quite shallow water. It would undoubtedly have caused a major tsunami in the low-lying Tigris-Euphrates plain, but one of relatively low height, and therefore of low penetration and short duration.

However, the Genesis Flood is described as lasting for months, and even the shorter time-frames of the cuneiform accounts attribute to it a significant duration. But also significantly, the major factor in these accounts is rain – only Genesis mentions “fountains of the great deep,” and that is most naturally understood as indundation by rivers in flood, fed ultimately by springs, rather than by a marine inundation.

The Wikipedia article cites a passage from the Epic of Gilgamesh that might be said to describe an asteroid event, but it must be remembered that this occurs within a longer decription not consistent with it, and also that the Epic is a secondary source derived from older tales like Atrahasis, and they contain no similar reference.

Wikipedia also points out the lack of any reference in early historians (such as Herodotus) to this event, and that’s what I want to consider today. 2350BCE was the period of the great city-states on the low-lying shoreline of the Persian Gulf. The ruins of Ur and Eridu, for example, are only around 60 miles from Umm al Binni Lake, and the cities formed part of an extensive and literate civilization. It is inconceivable that their inhabitants failed to see such a cosmic event as a 100m diameter asteroid or a 300m comet, producing an explosion estimated at well over four times the power of the 50 megaton Tsar Bomba nuclear test. Nor is it possible that they were left unimpacted by the resultant tsunami and the other events noted from the evidence for the “Middle East Anomaly.”

Yet neither later historians, nor any text from the Mesopotamian tablets, mentions it at all, aside from the dubious reference in Gilgamesh centuries later. Researchers have even suggested that the disaster was a major reason for the political change from Sumerian to Akkadian dominance – and yet that has to be pure speculation, because none of the texts even hint at it.

For this reason, Wikipedia says, it’s suggested by some that maybe the impact was much earlier, in the fourth millennium, perhaps accounting for the famous flood deposits Woolley found at Ur. Yet even at this early time, historically continuous with the literary culture of the Sumerians, one might expect some historical memory to be recorded in the tradition. But as I said, the Flood accounts are not compatible with such an event, and in any case they seem in all probability, if not conclusively, to reflect the Shuruppak flood of around 2900 BCE, too late for the revised dating.

It may turn out that further investigations show that the lake is not an impact crater after all, or did not occur in historical times. But meanwhile, that seems the most likely explanation, and yet history is absolutely silent on it. Besides, even if that geographical feature is a red-herring, The “Middle East Anomaly,” pretty securely dated, should surely have left some record in human writings, as well as in the soil. But it does not.

What this tells us is that even major events in history often leave no trace whatsoever in the records that come down to us. So to use the argument that, because biblical events are uncorroborated, they did not occur, is the worst kind of argument from silence. Indeed, it flies in the face of what we know about historical events. Most events and people in history are not recorded by surviving history, so that to have any record at all (including the Bible itself) is as strong evidence as history is likely to provide. Corroboration from archaeology or other records is the exception, not the rule, for ancient times.

That being so we’re even more fortunate that, in dribs and drabs, evidence for the essential historicity of the Bible’s historical records turns up. I dealt with the existence of King David earlier this year, for example.

But the Umm al Binni story adds plausibility to an historically uncorroborated biblical story like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. I have written before on the intriguing archaeological investigation that not only identifies Sodom with Tall el-Hammam in Jordan, but finds evidence consistent with a smaller meteoric air-burst associated with its destruction.

But even without that, or if the whole thing should prove false, the lack of mention of Sodom, or of its destruction, in the historical records is absolutely par for the pattern of other ancient cosmic events, like that in Iraq. Correction – one should rather say that Genesis is the only historical record in which it is mentioned. Anything more is a bonus.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to Forgetful history

  1. Peter Hickman says:

    I was recently re-reading some literature on preterism (including Russell’s The Parousia).
    Your words, ‘the argument that, because biblical events are uncorroborated, they did not occur, is the worst kind of argument from silence’, remind me that the main argument used by futurists against preterism is that there is no corroborative evidence that Jesus returned in AD 70 (although largely everything else he prophesied about events preceding his return are corroborated – by Josephus and others).
    Perhaps the most embarrassing verse in the Bible is not so embarrassing after all.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Ah, Peter – but was the prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem associated with his return (unfulfilled, as per Schweitzer, or hidden), or about his vindication as the “Son of Man” coming before the Father “on the clouds of heaven” (as per Daniel 7 and Tom Wright), of which the Fall of Jerusalem was the vindication?

      The tragedy of Jersualem is corroborated in spades: I can sympathise with the guy who says that one would expect the return of Jesus to be corroborated by the entire world as every knee bows.

      Still your point stands – the preterists need to justify their contention that Jesius did not return, which is a theological exercise rather than a survey of the conrmporary newspaper reports.

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