New evidence of climatic changes in the ancient Near East lend historical support to the biblical account of the Flood and other stories from the Book of Genesis.
Popular belief among scholars has held that the climate of the Near East has changed little since 9,000 B.C. But now there is mounting evidence of alternating wetter and drier periods that correspond with some of the earliest biblical accounts, says researcher James A. Sauer.
Evidence of floods in Mesopotamia dating to 3,500 B.C. likely supports the biblical tradition, indicating the account in Genesis has a historical source and that some traditions may have been recorded earlier than the 10th century B.C., according to Sauer, former curator of the Harvard Semitic Museum’s archaeological collections.
“My own idea about the Flood was that it did not contain any historical memory,” Sauer said in an interview. “Yet, in my research as a scientist, I came up with this evidence that supports the Bible.”
Looking at the desert land throughout the biblical region today, it is hard to imagine that there once were areas of rainfall heavy enough to inspire the biblical account of Noah and the Flood.
However, in an article in the July-August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Sauer cites a growing amount of evidence that there was a lengthy wet period in the ancient Near East.
In his research in Yemen, Sauer found areas of dark soil nearly 10 feet thick. This soil, in contrast to the light, dry soil associated with arid climates, was full of decayed organic matter such as roots, a product of wetter conditions. Tests showed the wetter period extended to the end of the Chalcolithic period, around 3,500 B.C.
Evidence from Hula Lake in Israel also indicated wetter phases in the Chalcolithic period and in the Early Bronze Age 1, from about 3,500 to 2,850 B.C., Sauer said. In Saudi Arabia, until around 3,500 B.C., lakes existed in the Empty Quarter, today the world’s largest desert, Sauer notes in the magazine.
In Mesopotamia, Sauer said, the evidence of local floods during the middle of the fourth millennium B.C. probably supports the biblical tradition. The floods were local and not global catastrophes, but several floods from this period have been found, according to Sauer. Further, Sauer said a period of great aridity late in the third millennium B.C. may be reflected in the accounts of the famines described in Genesis at Joseph’s time.
“The famine reported at the time of Joseph is probably another accurate fragment of climatic memory reflected in the early biblical traditions,” Sauer writes.
Sauer said he does not mean to imply that the earliest biblical accounts are literally true.
“What I’m saying is there was a flood in the Middle East that became recorded as the Flood of the Old Testament,” Sauer said. “And that is not a piece of mythology.”