THE DELUGE: ITS TRADITIONS IN ANCIENT NATIONS
[Extracted from The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, November 1879, pp. 463-500.]
Of all traditions relating to the history of primitive humanity, by far the most universal is that of the Deluge. Our present purpose is to pass under review the principal versions of it extant among the leading races of men. The concordance of these with the Biblical narrative will bring out their primary unity, and we shall thus be able to recognize the fact of this tradition being one of those which date before the dispersion of peoples, go back to the very dawn of the civilized world, and can only refer to a real and definite event.
But we have previously to get rid of certain legendary recollections erroneously associated with the Biblical Deluge, their essential features forbidding sound criticism to assimilate them therewith. We allude to such as refer to local phenomena, and are of historic and comparatively recent date. Doubtless the tradition of the great primitive cataclysm may have been confused with these, and thus have led to an exaggeration of their importance; but the characteristic points of the narrative admitted into the Book of Genesis are wanting, and even under the legendary form it has assumed these events retain a decidedly special and restricted character. To group recollections of this nature with those that really relate to the Deluge would be to invalidate, rather than confirm, the consequences we are entitled to draw from the latter.
Take, for instance, the great inundation placed by the historic books of China in the reign of Yao. This has no real relation, or even resemblance, to the Biblical Deluge; it is a purely local event, the date of which, spite of the uncertainty of Chinese chronology previous to the eighth century B.C., we may yet determine as long subsequent to the fully historic periods of Egypt and Babylon.1 Chinese authors [p.466] describe Yu, minister and engineer of the day, as restoring the course of rivers, raising dykes, digging canals, and regulating the taxation of every province throughout China. A learned Sinologist, Edouard Biot, has proved, in a treatise on the changes of the lower course of the Hoang-ho, that it was to one of its frequent inundations the above catastrophe was due, and that the early Chinese settlements on its banks had had much to suffer from this cause. These works of Yu were but the beginning of embankments necessary to contain its waters, carried on further in following ages. A celebrated inscription graven on the rocky face of one of the mountain peaks of Ho-nan passes for contemporaneous with these works, and is consequently the most ancient specimen of Chinese epigraphy extant. This inscription appears to present an intrinsically authentic character, sufficient to dispel the doubts suggested by Mr. Legge, although there is this rather suspicious fact connected with it, that we are only acquainted with it through ancient copies, and that for many centuries past the minutest research has failed to re-discover the original.
Nor is the character of a mere local event less conspicuous in the legend of Botchica, such as we have it reported by the Muyscas, the ancient inhabitants of the province of Cundinamarca, in South America, although here mythological fable is mingled much more largely with the fundamental historic element.
Huythaca, the wife of a divine man, or rather a god, called Botchica, having practised abominable witchcraft in order to make the river Funzha leave its bed, the whole plain of Bogota is devastated by its waters; men and beasts perish in the inundation, and only a few escape by flight to the loftiest mountains. The tradition adds that Botchica broke asunder the rocks inclosing the valley of Canoas and Tequendama, in order to facilitate the escape of the waters, next reassembled the dispersed remnant of the Muyscas, taught them Sun-worship, and went up to heaven, after having lived 500 years in Cundinamarca.
Chaldean and Biblical Narratives.—Of the traditions relating to the great
cataclysm the most curious, no doubt, is that of the Chaldeans. Its influence
has stamped itself in an unmistakable manner on the tradition of India; and, of
all the accounts of the Deluge, it comes nearest to that in Genesis. To whoever
compares the two it becomes evident that they must have been one and the same up
to the time when Terah and his family left Ur of the Chaldees to go into
We have two versions of the Chaldean story—unequally developed indeed, but exhibiting a remarkable agreement. The one most anciently known, and also the shorter, is that which Berosus took from the sacred books of Babylon and introduced into the history that he wrote [p.467] for the use of the Greeks.2 After speaking of the last nine antediluvian kings, the Chaldean priest continues thus:—
"Obartès Elbaratutu being dead, his son Xisuthros (Khasisatra) reigned eighteen sares (64,800 years). It was under him that the Great Deluge took place, the history of which is told in the sacred documents as follows:—Cronos (Êa) appeared to him in his sleep, and announced that on the fifteenth of the month of Daisios (the Assyrian month Sivan—a little before the summer solstice), all men should perish by a flood. He therefore commanded him to take the beginning, the middle, and the end of whatever was consigned to writing,3 and to bury it in the City of the Sun, at Sippara; then to build a vessel, and to enter into it with his family and dearest friends; to place in this vessel provisions to eat and drink, and to cause animals, birds, and quadrupeds to enter it; lastly, to prepare everything for navigation. And when Xisuthros inquired in what direction he should steer his bark, he was answered, 'towards the gods,' and enjoined to pray that good might come of it for men.
"Xisuthros obeyed, and constructed a vessel five stadia long and five broad; he collected all that had been prescribed to him, and embarked his wife, his children, and his intimate friends.
"The Deluge having come, and soon going down, Xisuthros loosed some of the birds. These finding no food nor place to alight on returned to the ship. A few days later Xisuthros again let them free, but they returned again to the vessel, their feet full of mud. Finally, loosed the third time the birds came no more back. Then Xisuthros understood that the earth was bare. He made an opening in the roof of the ship, and saw that it had grounded on the top of a mountain. He then descended with his wife, his daughter, and his pilot, worshipped the earth, raised an altar, and there sacrificed to the gods; at the same moment he vanished with those who accompanied him.
"Meanwhile those who had remained in the vessel not seeing Xisuthros return, descended too and began to seek him, calling him by his name. They saw Xisuthros no more; but a voice from heaven was heard commanding them piety towards the gods; that he, indeed, was receiving the reward of his piety in being carried away to dwell thenceforth in the midst of the gods, and that his wife, his daughter, and the pilot of the ship shared the same honour. The voice further said that they were to return to Babylon, and conformably to the decrees of fate, disinter the writings buried at Sippara in order to transmit them to men. It added that the country in which they found themselves was Armenia. These, then, having heard the voice, sacrificed to the gods and returned on foot to Babylon. Of the vessel of Xisuthros, which had finally landed in Armenia, a portion is still to be found in the Gordyan Mountains in Armenia, and pilgrims bring thence asphalte that they have scraped from its fragments. It is used to keep off the influence of witchcraft. As to the companions of Xisuthros, they came to Babylon, disinterred the writings left at Sippara, founded numerous cities, built temples, and restored Babylon."
By the side of this version, which, interesting though it be, is, after all,
second hand, we are now able to place an original Chaldeo-Babylonian edition,
which the lamented George Smith was the first to decipher on the cuneiform
tablets exhumed at Nineveh and now in the British Museum. Here the narrative of
the Deluge appears as an episode in the eleventh tablet, or eleventh chaunt of
the great epic of the town of Uruk. The hero of this poem, a kind of Hercules,
whose name has not as [p.468] yet been
made out with certainty,4 being attacked by disease (a kind of leprosy),
goes, with a view to its cure, to consult the patriarch saved from the Deluge, Khasisatra, in the distant land to which the gods have transported him, there to
enjoy eternal felicity. He asks Khasisatra to reveal the secret of the events
which led to his obtaining the privilege of immortality, and thus the patriarch
is induced to relate the cataclysm.
By a comparison of the three copies of the poem that the library of the palace of Nineveh contained, it has been possible to restore the narrative with hardly any breaks.5 These three copies were, by order of the King of Assyria, Asshurbanabal, made in the eighth century B.C., from a very ancient specimen in the sacerdotal library of the town of Uruk, founded by the monarchs of the first Chaldean empire. It is difficult precisely to fix the date of the original, copied by Assyrian scribes, but it certainly goes back to the ancient empire, seventeen centuries, at least, before our era, and even probably beyond; it was therefore much anterior to Moses, and nearly contemporaneous with Abraham. The variations presented by the three existing copies prove that the original was in the primitive mode of writing called the hieratic, a character which must have already become difficult to decipher in the eighth century B.C., as the copyists have differed as to the interpretation to be given to certain signs, and in other cases have simply reproduced exactly the forms of such as they did not understand. Finally, it results from a comparison of these variations, that the original, transcribed by order of Asshurbanabal, must itself have been a copy of some still more ancient manuscript, in which the original text had already received interlinear comments. Some of the copyists have introduced these into their text, others have omitted them. With these preliminary observations I proceed to give integrally the narrative ascribed in the poem to Khasisatra:—
"I will reveal to thee, O Izdhubar, the history of my preservation—and tell to thee the decision of the gods.
"The town of Shurippak, a town which thou knowest, is situated on the Euphrates—it was ancient and in it [men did not honour] the gods. [I alone, I was] their servant, to the great gods—[The gods took counsel on the appeal of] Anu—[a deluge was proposed by] Bel—[and approved by Nabon, Nergal and] Adar.
"And the god [Êa] the immutable lord,—repeated this command in a dream.—I listened to the decree of fate that he announced, and he said to me:—'Man of Shiruppak, son of Ubaratutu—thou, build a vessel and finish it [quickly].—[By a deluge] I will destroy substance and life.—Cause thou to go up into the vessel the substance of all that has life.—The vessel thou shall [p.469] build—600 cubits shall be the measure of its length—and 60 cubits the amount of its breadth and of its height.—[Launch it] thus on the ocean and cover it with a roof.'—I understood, and I said to Êa, my lord:—'[The vessel] that thou commandest me to build thus—[when] I shall do it,—young and old [shall laugh at me.]'—[Êa opened his mouth and] spoke.—He said to me, his servant:—'[If they laugh at thee] thou shalt say to them: [shall be punished] he who has insulted me, [for the protection of the gods] is over me.— ... like to caverns ... —— ... I will exercise my judgment on that which is on high and that which is below ... —— ... Close the vessel ... —— ... At a given moment that I shall cause thee to know,—enter into it and draw the door of the ship towards thee.—Within it, thy grains, thy furniture, thy provisions,—thy riches, thy men-servants, and thy maid-servants, and thy young people—the cattle of the field and the wild beasts of the plain that I will assemble—and that I will send thee, shall be kept behind thy door.'—Khasisatra opened his mouth and spoke;—he said to Êa, his lord:—'No one has made [such a] ship.—On the prow I will fix....—I shall see ... and the vessel ...—the vessel thou commandest me to build [thus]—which in....6
"On the fifth day [the two sides of the bark] were raised.—In its covering fourteen in all were its rafters—fourteen in all did it count above.—I placed its roof and I covered it.—I embarked in it on the sixth day; I divided its floors on the seventh;—I divided the interior compartments on the eighth. I stopped up the chinks through which the water entered in;—I visited the chinks and added what was wanting.—I poured on the exterior three times 3,600 measures of asphalte,—and three times 3,600 measures of asphalte within.—Three times 3,600 men, porters, brought on their heads the chests of provisions.—I kept 3,600 chests for the nourishment of my family,—and the mariners divided among themselves twice 3,600 chests.—For [provisioning] I had oxen slain;—I instituted [rations] for each day.—In [anticipation of the need of] drinks, of barrels and of wine—[I collected in quantity] like to the waters of a river, [of provisions] in quantity like to the dust of the earth.—[To arrange them in] the chests I set my hand to.— ... of the sun ... the vessel was completed.— ... strong and—I had carried above and below the furniture of the ship.—[This lading filled the two-thirds.]
"All that I possessed I gathered together; all I possessed of silver I gathered together; all that I possessed of gold I gathered—all that I possessed of the substance of life of every kind I gathered together.—I made all ascend into the vessel; my servants male and female,—the cattle of the fields, the wild beasts of the plains, and the sons of the people, I made them all ascend."
"Shamash (the sun) made the moment determined and——he announced it in these terms: 'In the evening I will cause it to rain abundantly from heaven; enter into the vessel and close the door.'——The fixed moment had arrived, which he announced in these terms: 'In the evening I will cause it to rain abundantly from heaven.'——When the evening of that day arrived, I was afraid,——I entered into the vessel and shut my door.——In shutting the vessel, to Buzur-shadi-rabi, the pilot——I confided this dwelling, with all that it contained.
"Mu-sheri-ina-namari7—rose from the foundations of heaven in a black cloud;—Ramman8 thundered in the midst of the cloud—and Nabon and Sharru marched before;—they marched, devastating the mountain and the plain;—Nergal9 the powerful, dragged chastisements after him;—Adar10 advanced, overthrowing before him;—the Archangels of the abyss brought destruction—in their terrors they agitated the earth.—The inundation of Ramman swelled [p.470] up to the sky—and [the earth] became without lustre, was changed into a desert.
"They broke ... of the surface of the earth like ...;—[they destroyed] the living beings of the surface of the earth.—The terrible [Deluge] on men swelled up to [heaven].—The brother no longer saw his brother; men no longer knew each other. In heaven—the gods became afraid of the water-spout, and—sought a refuge; they mounted up to the heaven of Anu.11—The gods were stretched out motionless, pressing one against another like dogs.—Ishtar wailed like a child,—the great goddess pronounced her discourse:—'Here is humanity returned into mud, and—this is the misfortune that I have announced in the presence of the gods.—So I announced the misfortune in the presence of the gods,—for the evil I announced the terrible [chastisement] of men who are mine.—I am the mother who gave birth to men, and—like to the race of fishes, there they are filling the sea;—and the gods by reason of that—which the archangels of the abyss are doing, weep with me.'—The gods on their seats were seated in tears—and they held their lips closed, [revolving] future things.
"Six days and as many nights passed; the wind, the water-spout, and the diluvian rain were in all their strength. At the approach of the seventh day the diluvian rain grew weaker, the terrible water-spout—which had assailed after the fashion of an earthquake—grew calm, the sea inclined to dry up, and the wind and the water-spout came to an end. I looked at the sea, attentively observing—and the whole of humanity had returned to mud; like unto seaweeds the corpses floated. I opened the window, and the light smote on my face. I was seized with sadness; I sat down and I wept;—and my tears came over my face.
"I looked at the regions bounding the sea; towards the twelve points of the horizon; not any continent.—The vessel was borne above the land of Nizir—the mountain of Nizir arrested the vessel, and did not permit it to pass over.—A day and a second day the mountain of Nizir arrested the vessel, and did not permit it to pass over;—the third and fourth day the mountain of Nizir arrested the vessel, and did not permit it to pass over;—the fifth and sixth day the mountain of Nizir arrested the vessel, and did not permit it to pass over.—At the approach of the seventh day, I sent out and loosed a dove. The dove went, turned, and—found no place to light on, and it came back. I sent out and loosed a swallow; the swallow went, turned, and—found no place to light on, and it came back. I sent out and loosed a raven; the raven went and saw the corpses on the waters; it ate, rested, turned and came not back.
"I then sent out (what was in the vessel) towards the four winds, and I offered a sacrifice. I raised the pile of my burnt offering on the peak of the mountain; seven by seven I disposed the measured vases,12—and beneath I spread rushes, cedar, and juniper wood. The gods were seized with the desire of it—the gods were seized with a benevolent desire of it;—and the gods assembled like flies above the master of the sacrifice. From afar, in approaching, the great goddess raised the great zones that Anu has made for their glory (the gods).13 These gods, luminous crystal before me, I will never leave them; in that day I prayed that I might never leave them. 'Let the gods come to my sacrificial pile!—but never may Bel come to my sacrificial pile! for he did not master himself, and he has made the water-spout for the Deluge, and he has numbered my men for the pit.'
"From far, in drawing near, Bel—saw the vessel, and Bel stopped;—he was filled with anger against the gods and the celestial archangels:—
"'No one shall come out alive! No man shall be preserved from the abyss!'—Adar opened his mouth and said; he said to the warrior Bel:—'What other than Êa should have formed this resolution?—for Êa possesses knowledge and [p.471] [he foresees] all.'—Êa opened his mouth and spake; he said to the warrior Bel:—'O thou, herald of the gods, warrior,—as thou didst not master thyself, thou hast made the water-spout of the deluge.—Let the sinner carry the weight of his sins, the blasphemer the weight of his blasphemy.—Please thyself with this good pleasure and it shall never be infringed; faith in it never [shall be violated.]—Instead of thy making a new deluge, let lions appear and reduce the number of men; instead of thy making a new deluge, let hyenas appear and reduce the number of men;—instead of thy making a new deluge, let there be famine and let the earth be [devastated];—instead of thy making a new deluge, let Dibbara14 appear, and let men be [mown down]. I have not revealed the decision of the great gods;—it is Khasisatra who interpreted a dream and comprehended what the gods had decided.'
"Then, when his resolve was arrested, Bel entered into the vessel.—He took my hand and made me rise.—He made my wife rise and made her place herself at my side.—He turned around us and stopped short; he approached our group.—'Until now Khasisatra has made part of perishable humanity;—but lo, now, Khasisatra and his wife are going to be carried away to live like the gods,—and Khasisatra will reside afar at the mouth of the rivers.'—They carried me away and established me in a remote place at the mouth of the streams."
This narrative follows with great exactness the same course as that, or rather
as those of Genesis, and the analogies are on both sides striking. It is well
known, and has long been critically demonstrated, that chapters vi., vii., viii.
and ix. of Genesis contain two different narratives of the Deluge, the one taken
from the Elohist document, the other from the Jehovist, both being skilfully
combined by the final editor. Reverencing their text, which he evidently
considered sacred, he omitted no fact given by either, so that we have the whole
story twice narrated in different terms; and, in spite of the way the verses are
mixed up, it is easy so to disentangle the two versions as that each should form
a continuous and unbroken narrative. Some critics have recently pretended that,
with regard to the stories of the Creation and Deluge, both cuneiform documents
disproved the distinction between the two sources of Genesis, and proved the
primitive unity of its composition; that the same repetitions, in effect, were
to be found there. This was a premature conclusion, drawn from translations very
imperfect as yet, and requiring thorough revision; and, indeed, confining
ourselves to the story of the Deluge, such revision, carried on according to
strict philological principles, does away with the arguments that had been based
on the version of George Smith. None of the repetitions of the final text of
Genesis are observable in the Chaldean poem; which, on the contrary, decisively
confirms the distinction made between the two narratives, the Elohist and
Jehovist, interwoven by the last compiler of the Pentateuch. It is with each of
these separately—when disentangled and compared—that the Chaldean narrative
coincides in its order—it is not with the result of their combination. And
nothing could be easier than to demonstrate this by a synoptic table, in which
the three narratives were collated.
Such a table would at once show their agreement and their difference, [p.472] what the three records have in common, and what each has added of its own to the primitive outline. They are certainly three versions of the same traditional history, and with the Chaldeo-Babylonians on the one hand, and the Hebrews on the other, we have two parallel streams proceeding from one source. Nevertheless, we must note on both sides divergences of certain importance which prove the bifurcation of the two traditions to have taken place at a very remote era, and the one of which the Bible affords us the expression to be not merely an edition of that preserved by the Chaldean priesthood, expurgated from a severely monotheistic point of view.
The Biblical narrative bears the impress of an inland people, ignorant of navigation. In Genesis, the name of the ark, têbâh, signifies "coffer," and not "vessel." Nothing is said about the launching of the ark; there is no mention made of the sea, or of navigation; there is no pilot. In the Epic of Uruk, on the contrary, everything shows it to have been composed amidst a maritime population; every circumstance bears a reflex of the manners and customs of people living on the shore of the Persian Gulf. Khasisatra enters a vessel, properly so called; it is launched, undergoes a trial trip, all its seams are caulked with bitumen, it is entrusted to a pilot.
The Chaldeo-Babylonian narrative represents Khasisatra as a king, who goes up into the ship surrounded by a whole population of servants and companions; in the Bible, we have only Noah and his family who are saved; the new human race has no other source than the patriarch's three sons. Nor is there any trace in the Chaldean poem of the distinction (in the Bible peculiar indeed only to the Jehovist) between clean and unclean beasts, and of each kind of the former being numbered by sevens, although in Babylonia the number seven had a specially sacramental character.
As to the dimensions of the ark, we find a disagreement not only between the Bible and the tablet copied by order of Asshurbanabal, but between the latter and Berosus. Both Genesis and the cuneiform documents measure the ark's dimensions by cubits, Berosus by stadia. Genesis states its length and breadth to have been in the proportion of 6 to 1, Berosus of 5 to 2, the tablet in the British Museum of 10 to 1. On the other hand, the fragments of Berosus do not treat of the relative dimensions of height and breadth, and the tablet gives them as equal, while the Bible speaks of thirty cubits of height and fifty of breadth. But these differences as to figures have but a secondary importance; nothing so liable to alterations and variations in different editions of the same narrative. We may observe, however, that in Genesis it is only the Elohist—always much addicted to figures—who gives the dimensions of the ark. And, on the other hand, it is the Jehovist alone who tells of the sending forth of the birds, which occupies a considerable place in the Chaldean tradition. As to the variations here between the Biblical story and that in the poem of Uruk, the latter [p.473] adding the swallow to the dove and the raven, and not attributing to the dove the part of a messenger of good tidings, I do not think they go for much. The agreement as to the main point is, in my eyes, of far more importance.
But what is, on the contrary, of very decided importance, is the absolute disagreement as to the duration of the Deluge between the Elohist and Jehovist, as well as between the two and the Chaldeo-Babylonian narrator. Here we have a manifest trace of different systems applying to the ancient tradition calendrical conceptions, dissimilar in each record, and yet all seeming to have proceeded from Chaldea.
By the Elohist the periods of the Deluge are indicated by the ordinal numbers of the months, but these ordinal numbers relate to a lunar year, beginning on the 1st of Tishri (September-October), at the autumnal equinox. This is admitted by Josephus, and by the Author of the Targum of the pseudo-Jonathan, as well as by Rashi and Kimchi, among the Jewish commentators of the Middle Ages; and proved, as I conceive, by Michaelis among the moderns. The rain begins to fall, and Noah enters into the ark the 17th day of the second month—i.e., Marcheshvan. The great force of the waters lasts 150 days, and the 17th of the seventh month—i.e., Nisan (March-April)—the ark grounds on Mount Ararat. The 1st day of the tenth month, or Tammuz (June-July), about the summer solstice, the mountains are laid bare. The 1st day of the first month of the following year—that is, of Tishri, at the autumnal equinox—the waters have completely retired, and Noah leaves the ark on the 27th of the second month. Thus the Deluge lasted a whole lunar year, plus eleven days—that is to say, as Ewald well remarks, a solar year of 365 days. Now, under the climatic conditions of Babylonia and Assyria, the rains of late autumn begin towards the end of November, and at once the level of the Euphrates and Tigris rises. The periodic overflow of the two rivers occurs in the middle of March, and culminates at the end of May, from which time the waters go down. At the end of June they have left the plains, and from August to November are at their lowest level. Now the dates of the Deluge, given by the Elohist, and re-stated as we have been doing according to Michaelis and Knobel, accord perfectly with these phases of the rising and falling of the two Mesopotamian rivers. They accord even better in the primitive system which served for starting-point to that of the Elohist, and which has been so ingeniously restored by M. Schræder,15 a system attributing to the Deluge 300 days in all, or a ten months' duration: 150 days for its greatest height and 150 for its decrease. According to this system, the leaving of the ark must have taken place on the first day of the 601st year of Noah's life—that is to say, on the 1st of Tishri, at the autumnal equinox. Thus the deliverance of the father of the new [p.474] humanity, as well as the Covenant made by God with him and his race, were fixed on the very day to which an ancient opinion which has maintained itself among the Jews assigned the creation of the world. As to the beginning of the Deluge, it occurred, according to the same system, on the 1st day of the third month—that is to say, at the commencement of the lunation whose end coincided with the Sun's entry into Capricorn, when the conjunction of planets brought about periodic deluges according to an astrological conception of Chaldean origin, which does not indeed appear a very ancient one; but must have been based on data adopted by some of the sacerdotal schools of Babylonia as to the epoch of the cataclysm.
It is also with the winter rains, and not with the swelling of the Euphrates and Tigris in spring, that the calendrical construction, according to which the antediluvian kings or patriarchs have been placed in relation with solar mansions (a construction followed in Uruk's Epic poem), causes the commencement of the Deluge to coincide. It connects, in point of fact, the tradition of the cataclysm with the month of Shabut (January-February), and with the sign of Aquarius. Accordingly, I find great difficulty in admitting the exactness of the date, 15th of Daisios, given in the extract of Alexander Polybister, as that assigned by Berosus to the Deluge, for this would make the event occur in the middle of the Assyrian month Sivan, at the beginning of July, in a season of complete drought, when the rivers have reached their lowest level. I hold this to be an evident error, due not to the author of the Chaldean History himself, but to his transcriber. Berosus must have written μηνὸς ὀγδόυ· πέμπτῃ καὶ δεκάτῃ the 15th of the eighth month, translating into Greek the Assyrian name of the Arakh-Shanina. And by a readily explicable error Cornelius Alexander must have turned it into Daisios, which was the eighth month of the Syro-Macedonian Calendar, forgetting the difference between the initial point of its year and that of the Chaldeo-Assyrian. In reality, then, the date given by Berosus only differed by two days from that adopted by the Elohist compiler of Genesis. Besides, as Knobel rightly insists, in placing the commencement of the Deluge at the 15th or 17th of a month, we place it always at the full moon, for it is also with this phase of the light that lights the night that popular belief in Egypt and Mesopotamia links the periodic rise of Nile or Tigris.
The system of the Jehovist is quite a different one. According to him, Jahveh announces the Deluge to Noah only seven days beforehand. The waters are at their height for forty days, and decrease during forty more. After these eighty days Noah sends out the three birds at intervals of seven days, and thus it is on the 21st day after he has opened the window of the ark for the first time that he, too, goes out of the ark and offers his sacrifice to the Lord. Here the phases of the cataclysm are evidently calculated on those of the annual spring outflow of the Euphrates and Tigris, so that we need not hesitate to [p.475] assign the origin of the very form of the tradition received by the Jehovist writer, to the cradle of the race of the Terahites in Chaldea. The overflow of the two rivers of Mesopotamia lasts, in fact, for an average of seventy-five days from the middle of March to the end of May; and twenty-six days later—that is, at the end of the 101 in all (80 + 21 = 75 + 26 = 101), when the Jehovist makes Noah leave the ark—the lands which have been inundated become once more practicable.
What, moreover, in the Jehovist narrative bears a very marked impress of Chaldean origin is the part played in it by septennial periods; seven days intervening between the announcement and the beginning of the Deluge, seven between each sending forth of the birds. That religious and mystic importance attached to the heptade which gave rise to the conception of the seven days of creation, and to the invention of the week, is an essentially Chaldean idea. It is among the Chaldeo-Babylonians that we discover its origin and find its most numerous applications. The story of Khasisatra, in the poem of Uruk, invariably proceeds hebdomadally. The violence of the Deluge lasts seven days, and so does the stay of the vessel on Mount Nizir when the waters begin to go down. It is true, indeed, that the building of the vessel occupies eight instead of seven days; but we must add the time necessary for the embarkation of provisions, animals, passengers, and this will enable us to calculate the whole duration of Khasisatra's preparations between the vision sent him by Êa and the moment when he closes the vessel at the approach of the rain, as consisting of fourteen days or two hebdomades. This being granted, if the poem does not state precisely the intervals at which the three birds were sent forth, we are justified in applying here the figures used by the Jehovist in Genesis, and counting seven days between the first and second sending forth, seven between the second and third, and seven, lastly, between the departure of the bird which does not return, and the leaving the vessel. The whole interval, then, between the warning of Êa and the sacrifice of Khasisatra, amounts to seven hebdomades—plainly a number intentionally assigned. And the whole duration of the Deluge is doubled by the sacred writer, who was the author of the Jehovist document, 7 × 2 × 7, instead of 7 × 7; that is, fourteen weeks with just three days over, owing to the writer having employed the round numbers 40 + 40 = 80 days, instead of the precise number seventy-seven days or eleven hebdomades (7 + 4 × 7), to indicate the interval between the beginning of the diluvian rain and the sending forth of the first bird. And now, if we keep count of the time between the announcing of the cataclysm by Jahveh and its commencement, the figures of the Jehovist are in all 7 × 2 × 7 + 7 days, and those of the system of the Chaldean poem 7 × 7. But they are on both sides combinations of seven.
Where the Chaldeo-Babylonian narrative and that of the Bible absolutely diverge, is in their statement of what, after the Deluge, [p.476] befell the righteous man saved from it. According to the figures of the Elohist, Noah lives on among his descendants for 350 years, and dies at the age of 950. Khasisatra receives the privilege of immortality; is carried away "to live like the gods," and transported into "a distant place," where the hero of Uruk goes to visit him in order to learn the secrets of life and death. But in the Bible we have something of the same kind told us of Noah's great-grandfather Enoch, who "walked with God, and was not, because God took him." We see, then, that the Babylonian tradition united in the person of Khasisatra facts which the Bible distributes between Enoch and Noah, the two whom Holy Scripture equally characterizes as having "walked with God."
The author of the treatise "On the Syrian Goddess," erroneously attributed to Lucian, acquaints us with the diluvian tradition of the Arameans, directly derived from that of Chaldea, as it was narrated in the celebrated Sanctuary of Hierapolis or Bambyce.
"The generality of people, he says, tell us that the founder of the temple was Deucalion Sisythes, that Deucalion in whose time the great inundation occurred. I have also heard the account given by the Greeks themselves of Deucalion; the myth runs thus:—The actual race of men is not the first, for there was a previous one, all the members of which perished. We belong to a second race, descended from Deucalion, and multiplied in the course of time. As to the former men, they are said to have been full of insolence and pride, committing many crimes, disregarding their oath, neglecting the rights of hospitality, unsparing to suppliants, accordingly they were punished by an immense disaster. All on a sudden enormous volumes of water issued from the earth, and rains of extraordinary abundance began to fall; the rivers left their beds, and the sea overflowed its shores; the whole earth was covered with water, and all men perished. Deucalion alone, because of his virtue and piety, was preserved alive to give birth to a new race. This is how he was saved:—He placed himself, his children, and his wives in a great coffer that he had, in which pigs, horses, lions, serpents, and all other terrestrial animals came to seek refuge with him. He received them all, and while they were in the coffer Zeus inspired them with reciprocal amity which prevented their devouring one another. In this manner, shut up within one single coffer, they floated as long as the waters remained in force. Such is the account given by the Greeks of Deucalion.
"But to this which they equally tell, the people of Hierapolis add a marvellous narrative:—That in their country a great chasm opened, into which all the waters of the deluge poured. Then Deucalion raised an altar and dedicated a temple to Hera (Atargatis) close to this very chasm. I have seen it; it is very narrow, and situated under the temple. Whether it was once large and has now shrunk, I do not know; but I have seen it, and it is quite small. In memory of the event the following is the rite accomplished:—Twice a year sea water is brought to the temple. This is not only done by the priests, but numerous pilgrims come from the whole of Syria and Arabia, and even from beyond the Euphrates, bringing water. It is poured out in the temple and goes into the cleft which, narrow as it is, swallows up a considerable quantity. This is said to be in virtue of a religious law instituted by Deucalion to preserve the memory of the catastrophe and of the benefits that he received from the gods. Such is the ancient tradition of the temple."
It appears to me difficult not to recognize an echo of fables popular [p.477] in all Semitic countries about this chasm of Hierapolis, and the part it played in the Deluge,—in the enigmatic expressions of the Koran respecting the oven tannur which began to bubble and disgorge water all around at the commencement of the Deluge. We know that this tannur has been the occasion of most grotesque imaginings of Mussulman commentators, who had lost the tradition of the story to which Mahomet made allusion. And, moreover, the Koran formally states that the waters of the Deluge were absorbed in the bosom of the earth.
Indian Traditions.—India, in its turn, affords us an account of the Deluge, which by its poverty strikingly contrasts with that of the Bible and the Chaldeans. Its most simple and ancient form is found in the Çatapatha Brâhmana of the Rig-Veda. It has been translated for the first time by M. Max Müller.
"One morning water for washing was brought to Manu, and when he had washed himself a fish remained in his hands. And it addressed these words to him:—'Protect me and I will save thee.' 'From what wilt thou save me?' 'A deluge will sweep all creatures away; it is from that I will save thee.' 'How shall I protect thee?' The fish replied: 'While we are small we run great dangers, for fish swallow fish. Keep me at first in a vase; when I become too large for it dig a basin to put me into. When I shall have grown still more, throw me into the ocean; then I shall be preserved from destruction.' Soon it grew a large fish. It said to Manu, 'The very year I shall have reached my full growth the Deluge will happen. Then build a vessel and worship me. When the waters rise, enter the vessel and I will save thee.'
"After keeping him thus, Manu carried the fish to the sea. In the year indicated Manu built a vessel and worshipped the fish. And when the Deluge came he entered the vessel. Then the fish came swimming up to him, and Manu fastened the cable of the ship to the horn of the fish, by which means the latter made it pass over the mountain of the North. The fish said, 'I have saved thee; fasten the vessel to a tree that the water may not sweep it away while thou art on the mountain; and in proportion as the waters decrease thou shalt descend.' Manu descended with the waters, and this is what is called the descent of Manu on the mountain of the North. The deluge had carried away all creatures, and Manu remained alone."
Next in order of date and complication, which always goes on loading the
narrative more and more with fantastic and parasitical details, comes the
version in the enormous epic of Mahâbhârata. That of the poem called
Bhâgavata-Purâna is still more recent and fabulous. Finally, the same tradition
forms the subject of an entire poem of very low date, the Matsya-Purâna, of
which an analysis has been given by the great Indian scholar, Wilson.
In the preface to the third volume of his edition of Bhâgavata-Purâna, Eugene Burnouf has carefully compared the three narratives known at the time he wrote (that of the Çatapatha Brâhmana has been since discovered), with a view to clearing up the origin of the Indian tradition of the Deluge. He points out in a discussion that deserves to remain a [p.478] model of erudition and subtle criticism, that it is absolutely wanting in the Vedic hymns, where we only find distant allusions to it that seem to belong to a different kind of legend altogether, and also that this tradition was primitively foreign to the essentially Indian system of Manvantaras, or periodic destructions of the world. He thence concludes that it must have been imported into India subsequently to the adoption of this system, which is, however, very ancient, being common to Brahmanism and Buddhism, and therefore inclines to look upon it as a Semitic importation that took place in historic times, not, indeed, of Genesis, but more probably of the Babylonian tradition.
The discovery of an original edition of the latter confirms the theory of the French savant. The leading feature which distinguishes the Indian narrative is the part assigned to a god who puts on the form of a fish, in order to warn Manu, to guide his vessel and save him from the flood. The nature of the metamorphosis is the only fundamental and primitive point, for different versions vary as to the personality of the god who assumes this form—the Brâhmana leaves it uncertain, the Mahâbhârata fixes on Brahma, and the compilers of the Purânas on Vishnu. This is the more remarkable that this metamorphosis into a fish Matsyavatara remains isolated in Indian mythology, is foreign to its habitual symbolism, and gives rise to no ulterior developments: no trace being found in India of that fish-worship which was so important and widespread among other ancient people. Burnouf rightly saw in this a sign of importation from without, and especially of its Babylonian origin, for classic testimony, recently confirmed by native monuments, shows us that in the religion of Babylon the conception of ichthyomorphic gods held a more prominent place than elsewhere. The part played by the divine fish with regard to Manu in the Indian legend, is attributed both by the Epic of Uruk and by Berosus to the god Êa, who is also designated Schalman, "the Saviour." Now this god, whose type of representation we now know certainly from Assyrian and Babylonian monuments, is essentially the ichthyomorphic god, and his image almost invariably combines the forms of fish and man. In astronomical tables frequent mention is made of the catasterism of the "fish of Êa," which is indubitably our sign Pisces, since it presides over the month Adar. It is to a connection of ideas based on the diluvian record, that we must attribute the placing of Pisces—primarily of the "fish of Êa"—next to Aquarius, whose relation to the history of the Deluge we have already pointed out. Here we have an evident allusion to the part of Saviour attributed by the people who invented the Zodiac, to the god Êa in the flood, and to the idea of an ichthyomorphic nature especially belonging to this aspect of his personality. Êa is, moreover, the Oannès, lawgiver of the fragments of Berosus, half-man, half-fish, whose form, answering to the description given by the Chaldean history, has been discovered [p.479] in the sculptures of Assyrian palaces and on cylinders, the Euahanès of Hygin, and the Oès of Helladios.16
Whenever we find among two different peoples one same legend, with as special a circumstance which does not spring naturally and necessarily from the fundamental facts of the narrative, and when, moreover, this circumstance is closely connected with the whole religious conceptions of one of these peoples, and remains isolated and alien from the customary symbolism of the other, criticism lays it down as an absolute rule that we must conclude the legend to have been transmitted from the one to the other in an already fixed form, to be a foreign importation, superimposed, not fused with the national, and as it were genial, traditions of the people, who have received, without having created it.
We must also remark that in the Purânas it is no longer Manu Vaivasata that the divine fish saves from the Deluge, but a different personage, the King of the Dâsas—i.e., fishers, Satyravata, "the man who loves justice and truth," strikingly corresponding to the Chaldean Khasisatra. Nor is the Puranic version of the Legend of the Deluge to be despised, though it be of recent date and full of fantastic and often puerile details. In certain aspects it is less Aryanized than that of Brâhmana or than the Mahâbhârata, and above all it gives some circumstances omitted in these earlier versions, which must yet have belonged to the original foundation, since they appear in the Babylonian legend; a circumstance preserved no doubt by the oral tradition—popular and not Brahmanic—with which the Purânas are so deeply imbued. This has been already observed by Pictet, who lays due stress on the following passage of the Bhâgavata-Purâna: "In seven days," said Vishnu to Satyravata, "the three worlds shall be submerged." There is nothing like this in the Brâhmana nor the Mahâbhârata, but in Genesis the Lord says to Noah, "Yet seven days and I will cause it to rain upon the earth;" and a little further we read, "After seven days the waters of the flood were upon the earth." And we have just pointed out the parts played by hebdomades as successive periods in that system of the duration of the flood, adopted by the author of the Jehovist documents inserted in Genesis, as well as by the compiler of the Chaldean Epic of Uruk. Nor must we pay less attention to what the Bhâgavata-Purâna says of the directions given by the fish-god to Satyravata for the placing of the sacred Scriptures in a safe place in order to preserve them from Hayagrîva, a marine horse dwelling in the abyss, and of the conflict of the god with this Hayagrîva, who had stolen the Vedas and thus produced the cataclysm by disturbing the order of the world. This circumstance too is wanting in the more ancient compositions, even in the Mahâbhârata, but it is a most important one, and cannot be looked on as a spontaneous product of [p.480] Indian soil, for we recognize in it under an Indian garb the very tradition of the interment of the sacred writings at Sippara by Khasisatra, such as we have it in the fragments of Berosus.
It is the Chaldean form, then, of the tradition that the Indians have adopted owing to communications which the commercial relations between the countries render historically natural, and they afterwards amplified it with the exuberance peculiar to their imagination. But they must have adopted it all the more readily because it agreed with a tradition, which under a somewhat different form had been brought by their ancestors from the primitive cradle of the Aryan race. That the recollection of the flood did indeed form part of the original groundwork of the legends as to the origin of the world held by this great race, is beyond all doubt. For if Indians have accepted the Chaldean form of the story, so nearly allied to that of Genesis, all other nations of Aryan descent show themselves possessed of entirely original versions of the cataclysm which cannot be held to have been borrowed either from Babylonian or Hebrew sources.
Traditions of other Aryan Peoples.—Among the Iranians, in the sacred books
containing the fundamental Zoroastrian doctrines, and dating very far back, we
meet with a tradition which must assuredly be looked upon as a variety of that
of the Deluge, though possessing a special character, and diverging in some
essential particulars from those we have been examining. It relates how Yima,
who in the original and primitive conception was the father of the human race,
was warned by Ahuramazda, the good deity, of the earth being about to be
devastated by a flood. The god ordered Yima to construct a refuge, a square
garden, vara, protected by an enclosure, and to cause the germs of men, beasts,
and plants to enter it, in order to escape annihilation. Accordingly, when the
inundation occurred, the garden of Yima with all that it contained was alone
spared, and the message of safety was brought thither by the bird Karshipta, the
envoy of Ahuramazda.17
A comparison has also been made, but erroneously as I think, between the Biblical and Chaldean Deluge and a story only found complete in the Bundahesh-pahlavi;18 though, as a few of the older books contain allusions to some of its circumstances;19 it must date further back than this edition of it, which is recent. Ahuramazda determines to destroy the Khafçtras—i.e., the maleficent spirits created by Angrômainyus, the spirit of evil: Tistrya, the genius of the star Sirius, descends at his command to earth, and, assuming the form of a man, causes it to rain for ten days. The waters cover the earth, and all maleficent beings are drowned. A violent wind dries the earth, but some germs of the evil [p.481] spirit's creation remain, and may reappear, therefore Tistrya descends again under the form of a white horse, and produces a second Deluge by another rainfall of ten days. To prevent him accomplishing his task, the demon Apusha assumes the appearance of a black horse, and engages in combat; but he is struck with lightning by Ahuramazda, as well as the demon Çpendjaghra, who had come to his aid. Finally, to bring about the complete destruction of evil, Tistrya descends the third time under the form of a bull, and produces a third Deluge by a third rainfall of ten days, after which the waters divide to form the four great and the twenty-four small seas. Now all this relates to a cosmogonic fact, anterior to the creation of man. The Khafçtras, from which Tistrya undertakes to purge the earth, are the hurtful and venomous beasts created by Angrômainyus which fervent Mazedans make it a duty to destroy in our actual world—such as scorpions, lizards, toads, serpents, rats, &c. There is no allusion here to humanity, or the punishment of its sins. If we were bent on finding in our Bible any parallel to this first rain falling on the surface of the earth—which both destroys the hurtful creatures by which it was infested and renders it productive of a fertile vegetation—we should turn, not to the account of the Deluge, but to what is said in Gen. ii. 5, 6.
The Greeks had two principal legends as to the cataclysm by which primitive humanity was destroyed. The first was connected with the name of Ogyges, the most ancient of the kings of Bœotia or Attica; a quite mythical personage, lost in the night of ages, his very name seemingly derived from one signifying deluge in Aryan idioms, in Sanscrit Ângha. It is said that in his time the whole land was covered by a flood, whose waters reached the sky, and from which he, together with some companions, escaped in a vessel.
The second tradition is the Thessalian legend of Deucalion. Zeus having worked to destroy the men of the age of bronze, with whose crimes he was wroth, Deucalion, by the advice of Prometheus, his father, constructed a coffer, in which he took refuge with his wife, Pyrrha. The Deluge came, the chest or coffer floated at the mercy of the waves for nine days and nine nights, and was finally stranded on Mount Parnassus. Deucalion and Pyrrha leave it, offer sacrifice, and according to the command of Zeus re-people the world by throwing behind them "the bones of the earth"—namely, stones, which change into men. This Deluge of Deucalion is in Grecian tradition what most resembles a universal Deluge. Many authors affirm that it extended to the whole earth, and that the whole human race perished. At Athens, in memory of the event, and to appease the manes of its victims, a ceremony called Hydrophoria was observed, having so close a resemblance to that in use at Hierapolis in Syria, that we can hardly fail to look upon it as a Syro-Phœnician importation, and the result of an assimilation established in remote antiquity between the Deluge of Deucalion and that of Khasisatra, as described by the author of the treatise "On the Syrian [p.482] Goddess."20 Close to the temple of the Olympian Zeus a fissure in the soil was shown, in length but one cubit, through which it was said the waters of the Deluge had been swallowed up. Thus, every year, on the third day of the festival of the Anthestéria, a day of mourning consecrated to the dead,—that is, on the thirteenth of the month of Anthestérion, towards the beginning of March—it was customary, as at Bambyce, to pour water into the fissure, together with flour mixed with honey, poured also into the trench dug to the west of the tomb, in the funereal sacrifices of the Athenians.
Others, on the contrary, limit Deucalion's flood to Greece, even declare that it only destroyed the larger portion of the community, a great many men saving themselves on the highest mountains. Thus the Delphian legend told how the inhabitants of that town, following the wolves in their flight, had taken refuge in a cave on the summit of Parnassus, where they built the town of Lycorea, whose foundation is, on the other hand, attributed by the Chronicle of Paros to Deucalion, after the reproduction by him of a new human race. Later mythographers necessarily adopted this idea of several points of simultaneous escape from a desire to reconcile the local legends of several places in Greece, which named some other than Deucalion as the hero saved from the flood. For instance, at Megara it was the eponym of the city Megaros, son of Zeus and of one of the nymphs Sithnides, who, warned by the cry of cranes of the imminence of the danger, took refuge on Mount Geranien. Again, there was the Thessalian Cerambos, who was said to have escaped the flood by rising into the air on wings given him by the nymphs, and it was Perirrhoos, son of Eolus, that Zeus Naios had preserved at Dodona. For the inhabitants of the Isle of Cos the hero of the Deluge was Merops, son of Hyas, who there assembled under his rule the remnant of humanity preserved with him. The traditions of Rhodes only supposed the Telchines, those of Crete Jasion, to have escaped the cataclysm. In Samothracia the same character was attributed to Saon, said to be the son of Zeus or of Hermes; he seems only to have been a heroic form of the Hermès Saos or Sôcos, the object of special worship in the island, a divinity in whom M. Philippe Berges recognizes with good reason a Phœnician importation, the Sakan of Canaan identified elsewhere with Hermes Dardanos, supposed to have arrived in Samothracia immediately after these events, being driven by the Deluge from Arcadia.
In all these flood stories of Greece we cannot doubt that the tradition of a cataclysm fatal to the whole of humanity—a tradition common to all Aryan peoples—was mixed up, as Knobel rightly observes, more or less precisely with local catastrophes produced by extraordinary overflows of lakes or rivers, or the rupture of their natural [p.483] embankments, the sinking of some portions of the sea-coast, or tidal waves consequent upon earthquakes or sudden upheavals of the ocean bed. Such events were frequent in Greece, in the district between Egypt and Palestine, near Pelusium and Mount Casius, as well as in the Cimbric Chersonese. The Greeks used to relate how often their country had in primitive ages been the theatre of such catastrophes. Istros numbered four of these, one of which had opened the Straits of the Bosphorus and Hellespont, when the waters of the Euxine, rushing into the Ægean, submerged the islands and neighbouring coasts. This is evidently the Deluge of Samothracia; where the inhabitants who succeeded in saving themselves did so only by gaining the highest peak of the mountain that rises there; then, in gratitude for their preservation, consecrated the whole island by surrounding its shores with a belt of altars dedicated to the gods. In like manner the tradition of the Deluge of Ogyges seems connected with the recollection of an extraordinary rise of the Lake Capaïs, inundating the whole of the great Bœotian Valley, a recollection amplified later—as is ever the case with legends—by applying to the local disaster all the details popularly told of the primitive Deluge which had taken place before the separation of the ancestors of the two races, Semitic and Aryan. It is also probable that some event that had occurred in Thessaly, or rather in the region of Parnassus, determined the localization of the legend of Deucalion. Nevertheless, it always retained, as we have seen, a more general character than the others, whether the Deluge be extended to the whole earth or limited to the whole of Greece.
Be that as it may, the different narratives were reconciled by admitting three successive Deluges, those of Ogyges, Deucalion, and Dardanos. The general opinion pronounced the former the most ancient, placing it 600 or 250 years before that of Deucalion. But this chronology is far from being universally accepted; and the inhabitants of Samothracia maintain their Deluge to have been the earliest. Christian chronographers of the third and fourth century, as, for instance, Julius Africanus and Eusebius, adopted the Hellenic dates of the Deluges of Ogyges and Deucalion, and inscribed them in their records as different events from the Mosaic Deluge, which, for their part, they fixed at 1000 years before that of Ogyges.
In Phrygia the diluvian tradition was as natural as in Greece. The town of Apamea derived thence its surname Kibotos, or ark, and claimed to be the place where the Ark had stopped. Iconium had the like pretensions. In the same way the people of Milyas, in Armenia, showed the fragments of the Ark on the top of the mountain called Baris; and these were also exhibited in early Christian times to pilgrims on Ararat, as Berosus tells us that in his day the remnants of the vessel of Khasisatra were visited on the Gordyan range.
In the second and third centuries of our era, by means of the syncretic infiltration of Jewish and Christian traditions even into minds [p.484] still attached to Paganism, the sacerdotal authorities of Apamea and Phrygia had coins struck bearing an open ark, in which the patriarch and his wife were seen receiving back the dove with the olive branch, and side by side were the two same personages, having left the Ark to retake possession of the earth. On the Ark is inscribed the name ΝΩΕ, the very form the name assumes in the Septuagint. Thus, at this time the Pagan priesthood of the Phrygian city had, we see, adopted the Biblical narrative, even down to its names, and had grafted it on the old native tradition. They related that a short while before the Deluge there reigned a holy man called Annacos, who had predicted it, and occupied the throne more than 300 years, an evident reproduction of the Enoch of the Bible, who walked with God for 365 years.
As to the branch of the Celts—in the bardic poems of Wales, we have a tradition of the Deluge, which, although recent under the concise form of the Triads, is still deserving of attention. As usual, the legend is localized in the country, and the Deluge counts among three terrible catastrophes of the island of Prydain, or Britain, the other two consisting of devastation by fire and by drought.
"The first of these events," it is said, "was the irruption of Llyn-llion, or 'the lake of waves,' and the inundation (bawdd) of the whole country, by which all mankind was drowned with the exception of Dwyfan and Dwyfach, who saved themselves in a vessel without rigging, and it was by them that the island of Prydain was re-peopled."21
Pictet here observes—
"Although the triads in their actual form hardly date further than the thirteenth or fourteenth century, some of them are undoubtedly connected with very ancient traditions, and nothing here points to a borrowing from Genesis.
"But it is not so, perhaps, with another triad22 speaking of the vessel Nefydd-naf-Neifion, which at the time of the overflow of Llyn-llion, bore a pair of all living creatures, and rather too much resembles the ark of Noah. The very name of the patriarch may have suggested this triple epithet, obscure as to its meaning, but evidently formed on the principle of Cymric alliteration. In the same triad we have the enigmatic story of the horned oxen (ychain bannog) of Hu the mighty, who drew out of Llyn-llion the avanc (beaver or crocodile?) in order that the lake should not overflow. The meaning of these enigmas could only be hoped from deciphering the chaos of bardic monuments of the Welsh middle age; but meanwhile we cannot doubt that the Cymri possessed an indigenous tradition of the Deluge."
We also find a vestige of the same tradition in the Scandinavian Ealda.23 But
here the story is combined with a cosmogonic myth. The three sons of Borr, Othin,
Wili, and We, grandsons of Buri, the first man, slay Ymir, the father of the
Hrimthursar or Ice giants, and his body serves them for the construction of the
world. Blood flows from his wounds in such abundance that all the race of giants
is drowned in it, except Bergelmir, who saves himself, with his wife, in a boat,
and reproduces the race. "Thus," Pictet again observes, "the myth only [p.485]
belongs to the general tradition through these last features, by which, however,
we trace it up to a common source."
Of all European peoples the Lithuanians were the last to embrace Christianity, and their language remains nearest to the original Aryan. They have a legend of the Deluge, the groundwork of which appears very ancient, although it has assumed the simple character of a popular tale, and some of its details may have been borrowed from Genesis at the time of the first Christian missions. According to it24 the god Pramzimras, seeing the whole earth to be full of iniquity, sends two giants, Wandu and Wêjas (fire and wind), to lay it waste. These overthrew everything in their fury, and only a few men saved themselves on a mountain. Pramzimras, who was engaged in eating celestial walnuts, dropped a shell near the mountain, and in it the men took refuge, the giants respecting it. Having escaped from the calamity, they afterwards disperse, and only one very aged couple remain in the country, greatly bewailing their childless condition. Pramzimras, to console them, sends his rainbow and bids them jump "on the bones of the earth," which curiously recalls the oracle to Deucalion. The two old people jump nine times, and nine pairs are the result, who became the ancestors of the nine Lithuanian tribes.
Egyptian Traditions.—While the tradition of the Deluge holds so considerable a
place in the legendary memories of all branches of the Aryan race, the monuments
and original texts of Egypt, with their many cosmogonic speculations, have not
afforded one, even distant, allusion to this cataclysm. When the Greeks told the
Egyptian priests of the Deluge of Deucalion, their reply was that they had been
preserved from it as well as from the conflagration produced by Phaëton; they
even added that the Hellenes were childish in attaching so much importance to
that event, as there had been several other local catastrophes resembling it.
According to a passage in Manetho, much suspected, however, of being an
interpolation, Thoth or Hermes Trismegistus had himself, before the cataclysm,
inscribed on stelæ in hieroglyphical and sacred language the principles of all
knowledge. After it the second Thoth translated into the vulgar tongue the
contents of these stelæ. This would be the only Egyptian mention of the Deluge,
the same Manetho not speaking of it in what remains to us of his "Dynasties,"
his only complete authentic work. The silence of all other myths of the
Pharaonic religion on this head render it very likely that the above is merely a
foreign tradition, recently introduced, and no doubt of Asiatic and Chaldean
origin. "Thus," says M. Maury, "the Seriadic land, where the passage in question
places these hieroglyphic columns, might very well be no other than Chaldea.
This tradition, though not in the Bible, existed as a popular legend among the
Jews at the beginning [p.486] of our era, which confirms our supposition; as
the Hebrews might have learnt it
during the Babylonian captivity. Josephus tells us that the patriarch Seth, in
order that wisdom and astronomical knowledge should not perish, erected, in
prevision of the double destruction by fire and water predicted by Adam, two
columns, the one in brick, the other in stone, on which this knowledge was
engraved, and which subsisted in the Seriadic country." This history is
evidently only a variety of the Chaldean legend of the terra-cotta tables
bearing the divine revelations, and the principles of all sciences which Êa
ordered Khasisatra to bury before the Deluge, "in the city of the Sun at Sippara,"
as we have had it above in the extracts from Berosus.
Nevertheless, the Egyptians did admit a destruction by the gods of primal men on account of their rebellion and their sins. This event was related in a chapter of the sacred books of Thoth, those famous Hermetic books of the Egyptian priesthood which are graven on the sides of one of the inmost chambers of the funereal hypogeum of Seti the First at Thebes. The text has been published and translated by M. Edouard Naville.25
The scene is laid at the close of the reign of the god Râ, the earliest terrestrial reign, according to the system of the priests of Thebes, the second, according to that of the priests of Memphis, which is the one followed by Manetho, who placed at the very origin of things the reign of Phtah, previous to that of Râ. Irritated by the impiety and crimes of the men he has made, the god assembles the other gods to hold counsel with them in profound secrecy, "so that men should not see it, nor their heart be afraid."
"Said by Râ to Nun:26 'Thou, the eldest of the gods, of whom I am born, and ye ancient gods, here are the men who are born from myself; they speak words against me, tell me what you would do in the matter; lo, I have waited, and have not slain them before hearing your words.'
"Said by the Majesty of Nun: 'My son Râ, a greater god than he who has made him and created him, I stand in great fear of thee; do thou deliberate alone.'
"Said by the Majesty of Râ: 'Lo, they take to flight through the country, and their hearts are afraid....'
"Said by the Gods: 'Let thy face permit, and let those men be smitten who plot evil things, thine enemies, and let none [of them remain.]'"
A goddess, whose name has unfortunately disappeared, but who seems to have been Tefnut, identified with Hathor and Sekhet, is then sent to accomplish the sentence of destruction.
"This goddess left, and slew the men upon the earth.
"Said by the Majesty of this God: 'Come in peace, Hathor; thou hast done [what was ordained thee.]'
"Said by this Goddess: 'Thou art living; for I have been stronger than men, and my heart is satisfied.'
"Said by the Majesty of Râ: 'I am living, for I will rule over them [and I will complete] their ruin.'
"And lo, Sekhet, during several nights, trod their blood under-foot as far as the town of Hâ-klinen-su (Héracléopolis.)"
But the massacre ended, the anger of Râ was appeased; he began to repent of what he had done. A great expiatory sacrifice succeeded in finally calming him. Fruits were gathered throughout Egypt, bruised, and their juice mingled with human blood, 7000 pitchers being filled with it and presented to the god.
"And lo, the Majesty of Râ, the god of Upper and Lower Egypt, comes with the gods in three days of sailing to see these vases of drink, after he had ordered the goddess to slay men.
"Said by the Majesty of Râ: 'This is well; I will protect men because of it.' Said by Râ: 'I raise my hand concerning this, to say that I will no more destroy men.'
"The Majesty of Râ, the god of Upper and Lower Egypt, commanded in the middle of the night to overthrow the liquid in the vases, and the fields were completely filled with water by the will of this god. The goddess arrived in the morning, and found the fields full of water. Her face grew joyous, and she drank abundantly and went away satisfied. She no more perceived any men.
"Said by the Majesty of Râ to the goddess: 'Come in peace, gracious goddess.'
"And he caused the young priestesses of Amu to be born.
"Said by the Majesty of Râ to this goddess: 'Libations shall be made to her at each of the festivals of the new year, under the superintendence of my priestesses.'
"Hence it comes that libations are made under the superintendence of the priestesses of Hathor by all men since the ancient days."
Nevertheless, some men have escaped the destruction commanded by Râ, and renewed the population of the earth. As for the solar god who reigns over the world, he feels himself old, sick and weary; he has had enough of living among men, whom he regrets not to have completely annihilated, but has sworn henceforth to spare.
"Said by the Majesty of Râ: 'There is a smarting pain that torments me; what is it then that hurts me?' Said by the Majesty of Râ: 'I am living, but my heart is weary of being with them [men], and I have in no way destroyed them. That destruction is not one that I have made myself.'
"Said by the gods who accompany him: 'Away with lassitude, thou hast obtained all thou didst desire.'"
The god Râ decides, however, to accept the help of the men of the new human race who offer themselves to him to combat his enemies, and a great battle takes place, out of which they come victorious. But in spite of this success the god, disgusted with earthly life, resolves to quit it for ever, and has himself carried into heaven by the goddess Nut, who takes the form of a cow. Then he creates a region of delight, the fields of Aalu, the Elysium of Egyptian mythology, which he peoples with stars. Entering into rest, he assigns to different gods the government of different parts of the world. Shu, who is to succeed him as king, is to administer celestial matters with Nut; Seb and Nun receive the charge of the things of earth and water. Finally, Râ, a sovereign who has voluntarily abdicated, goes to dwell with Thoth, his favourite son, on whom he has bestowed the superintendence of the under-world.
Such is this strange narrative, "in which," as M. Naville has well said, "in the
midst of fantastic and often puerile inventions, we do nevertheless find the two
terms of existence as understood by the ancient Egyptians. Râ begins with earth,
and passing through heaven stops in the region of profundity, Ament, in which he
apparently wishes to sojourn. This then is a symbolic and religious
representation of life, which for every Egyptian—and especially for a royal
conqueror—had to begin and end like the sun. This explains the chapter being
inscribed in a tomb."
Hence it was the last portion of the narrative—which we can analyse but very briefly—the abdication of Râ and his retreat, first, in heaven, next in the Ament, a symbol of death which is to be followed by resurrection as the setting of the sun by its rising—it is this which constituted its interest in the conception of the doctrine of a future life, illustrated in the decoration of the interior of the tomb of Seti I. For our present purpose, on the contrary, it is the beginning of the story which constitutes its importance, it is that destruction of primal humanity by the gods of which no mention has been hitherto found elsewhere. Although the means of destruction employed by Râ are quite dissimilar, although he does not proceed by submersion but by a massacre in which the lion-headed goddess Tefnut or Sekhet, the dreadful form of Hathor, is the agent, the other sides of the story bear a sufficiently striking analogy to that of the Mosaic or Chaldean Deluge to show that it is the special and very individual form assumed in Egypt by that tradition. In both we have human corruption exciting divine wrath, and punished by a divinely ordained annihilation of the race, from which there escapes but a very small number destined to give birth to a new humanity. Finally, after the event an expiatory sacrifice appeases the celestial anger, and a solemn covenant is made between men and the deity, who swears never so to destroy them again. To me, the agreement of these principal features outweighs the divergence in detail. And we have also to observe how singularly akin is the part ascribed by the Egyptian priest to Râ with that assigned in the epic poem of Uruk to the god Bel, in the deluge of Khasisatra. The Egyptians believed, as did other nations, in the destruction of mankind; but as inundation meant for them prosperity and life, they changed the primitive tradition; the human race, instead of perishing by water, was otherwise exterminated; and the inundation—that crowning benefit to the valley of the Nile—became in their eyes the sign that the wrath of Râ was appeased.
American Stories of the Flood.
"It is a very remarkable fact," says M. Alfred Maury, "that we find in America
traditions of the Deluge coming infinitely nearer to that of the Bible and the
Chaldean religion than among any people of the Old World. It is difficult to
suppose that the emigration that certainly took place from Asia into North
America by the Kourile and Aleutian islands, and [p.489] still does so in our
day, should have brought in these memories, since no
trace is found of them among those Mongol or Siberian populations,27 which
were fused with the natives of the New World.... No doubt certain American
nations, the Mexicans and Peruvians, had reached a very advanced social
condition at the time of the Spanish conquest, but this civilization had a
special character, and seems to have been developed on the soil where it
flourished. Many very simple inventions, such as the use of weights, were
unknown to these people, and this shows that their knowledge was not derived
from India or Japan. The attempts that have been made to trace the origin of
Mexican civilization to Asia have not as yet led to any sufficiently conclusive
facts. Besides, had Buddhism, which we doubt, made its way into America, it
could not have introduced a myth not found in its own Scriptures.28 The cause
of these similarities between the diluvian traditions of the nations of the New
World and that of the Bible remains therefore unexplained."
I have particular pleasure in quoting these words by a man of immense erudition, because he does not belong to orthodox writers, and will not therefore be thought biassed by a preconceived opinion. Others also, no less rationalistic than he, have pointed out this likeness between American traditions of the Deluge and those of the Bible and the Chaldeans.
The most important among the former are the Mexican, for they appear to have been definitively fixed by symbolic and mnemonic paintings before any contact with Europeans. According to these documents, the Noah of the Mexican cataclysm was Coxcox, called by certain peoples Teocipactli or Tezpi. He had saved himself, together with his wife Xochiquetzal, in a bark, or, according to other traditions, on a raft, made of cypress wood (Cupressus disticha). Paintings retracing the deluge of Coxcox have been discovered among the Aztecs, Miztecs, Zapotecs, Tlascaltecs, and Mechoacaneses. The tradition of the latter is still more strikingly in conformity with the story as we have it in Genesis and in Chaldean sources. It tells how Tezpi embarked in a spacious vessel with his wife, his children, and several animals, and grain, whose preservation was essential to the subsistence of the human race. When the great god Tezcatlipoca decreed that the waters should retire, Tezpi sent a vulture from the bark. The bird, feeding on the carcases with which the earth was laden, did not return. Tezpi sent out other birds, of which the humming-bird only came back with a leafy branch in its beak. Then Tezpi, seeing that the country began to vegetate, left his bark on the mountain of Colhuacan.
The document, however, that gives the most valuable information as to the cosmogony of the Mexicans is one known as "Codex Vaticanus," from the library where it is preserved. It consists of four symbolic pictures, representing the four ages of the world preceding the actual [p.490] one. They were copied at Chobula from a manuscript anterior to the conquest, and accompanied by the explanatory commentary of Pedro de los Rios, a Dominican monk, who in 1566, less than fifty years after the arrival of Cortez, devoted himself to the research of indigenous traditions as being necessary to his missionary work.
The first age is marked with the cipher 13×400+6, or 5206, which Alexander von Humboldt understands as giving the number of years of the period, and Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg as the date of its commencement, from a proleptic era going back from the period of the execution of the manuscript. This age is called Tlatonatiuh, "Sun of Earth." It is that of the giants, or Quinames, the earliest inhabitants of Anahuac, whose end was destruction by famine.
The number of the second age is 12×400+4, or 4804, and it is called Tlatonatiuh, "Sun of Fire." It closes with the descent on Earth of Xiuhteuchli, the god of fire. Mankind are all transformed into birds, and only thus escape the conflagration. Nevertheless, one human pair find refuge in a cave, and repeople the world.
As to the third age, Ehécatonatiuh, "Sun of Wind," its number is 10×400+10, or 4010. Its final catastrophe is a terrible hurricane raised by Quetzalcoatl, the "god of the air." With few exceptions, men are metamorphosed into monkeys.
Then comes the fourth age, Atonatiuh, "Sun of Water," whose number is 10×400+8, or 4008. It ends by a great inundation, a veritable deluge. All mankind are changed into fish, with the exception of one man and his wife, who save themselves in a bark made of the trunk of a cypress-tree. The picture represents Matlalcueye, goddess of waters, and consort of Tlaloc, god of rain, as darting down towards earth. Coxcox and Xochiquetzal, the two human beings preserved, are seen seated on a tree-trunk and floating in the midst of the waters. This flood is represented as the last cataclysm that devastates the earth.
All this is most important, as a mind of the order of Humboldt's did not hesitate to acknowledge. However, M. Girard de Realle wrote quite recently:
"The myth of the deluge has been met with in several parts of America, and Christian writers have not failed to see in it a reminiscence of the Biblical tradition, nay, in connection with the pyramid of Chobula, they have found traces of the Tower of Babel. We shall not waste time in pointing out how out of a fish-god, Coxcox, among the Chichimecs, Teocipactli among the Aztecs, and a goddess of flowers, Xochiquetzal, it was easy to concoct the Mexican figures of Noah and his wife by joining on to them the story of the ark and the dove. It is enough to observe that all these legends have only been collected and published at a relatively recent period.29 The first chroniclers, so cautious already despite their honest simplicity, such as Sahagun, Mendieta, Olmos, and the Hispano-indigenous authors, such as the Tezcucan Ixthilxochitl and the Tlascaltec Camargo, never breathe a word of stories they could not have failed to bring to light, had they existed in their days. Lastly, we find in Mr. Bancroft's30 work a criticism of these legends, due to Don José Fernando Ramirez, keeper of the National Museum, [p.491] which proves incontestably that all these stories spring from all too ready and tendency-fraught interpretations of old Mexican paintings, which according to him only represent episodes in the migration of Aztecs around the central lakes of the plateau of Anahuac."
I much fear that the tendency here is not on the side of writers who are looked
on as ground to powder by the epithet Christian; which, indeed, be it said in
passing, might well surprise a few among them. And this tendency, when resolved
at any cost to attack the Bible, is as anti-scientific as when grasping at any
uncritical argument in its defence. No doubt the identical character of
Xochiquetzal or Maciulxochiquetzal, as goddess of the fertilizing rain and of
vegetation, with that of Chalchihuitlicué or Mallalcuéyé, is a well-known fact,
more certain even than the character of fish-god of Coxcox or Teocipactli. But
the transformation of gods into heroes is a very common fact in all polytheisms,
and most common in the kind of unconscious euhemerism from which infant peoples
never free themselves. There is therefore nothing here to contradict the fact
that these two divine personages, contemplated as heroes, may be taken as the
two survivors of the Flood, and the ancestors of the new humanity. As to the
theory of Don José Ramirez, about the symbolic pictures that have been
interpreted as expressing the diluvian tradition, it is very ingenious and
scientifically presented, but not so absolutely proved as M. Girard de Realle
considers. But even granting its incontestability, it only removes part of the
evidence which may have been unintentionally forced by those naturally disposed
to see in it a parallel to Genesis; as for instance, with regard to the sending
out the birds by Tezpi. Still the existence of the tradition among Mexican
peoples would not be shaken, for it rests upon a whole of indubitable testimony,
confirming in a striking manner the interpretation hitherto given of the "Codex
The valuable work in the Aztec language, and in Latin letters, compiled by a native, subsequently to the Spanish conquest, called Codex Chimalpopoca by Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, who gives an analysis and partial translation of it in the first volume of his "Histoire des Nations Civilisees du Mexique," contains in its third portion a history of the suns, or successive ages of the world. Each takes its name from the way in which humanity is destroyed at its close. The first is the age of jaguars, who devour the primordial giants;31 the second, the age of wind; at its close men lost themselves, and were carried off by the hurricane, and transformed themselves into monkeys. Houses, woods, everything was swept away by the wind. Then comes the age of fire, whose sun is called Tlalocan-Teuctli, "Lord of the lower regions," the usual appellation of Mictlanteuctli, the Mexican Pluto, which seems to point to the idea of an age of special volcanic activity. At its close, mankind is destroyed by a rain of fire, and such as do not perish escape under [p.492] the form of birds. Finally, the fourth age is that of water, which immediately precedes our present epoch, and closes with the Deluge.
Here is the narrative according to Abbé Brasseur's version, held correct by Americanists:—
"This is the sun called Nahui-atl, '4 water.'32 Now the water was tranquil for forty years, plus twelve, and men lived for the third and fourth times. When the sun Nahui-atl came there had passed away four hundred years, plus two ages, plus seventy-six years. Then all mankind was lost and drowned and found themselves changed into fish. The sky came nearer the water. In a single day all was lost and the day Nahui-xochitl '4 flower,' destroyed all our flesh.
"And that year was that of cé-calli, '1 house,'33 and the day Nahui-atl all was lost. Even the mountains sank into the water, and the water remained tranquil for fifty-two springs.
"Now at the end of the year the god Titlacahuan had warned Nata and his spouse Nena, saying: 'Make no more wine of Agave, but begin to hollow out a great cypress, and you will enter into it when in the month Tozontli the water approaches the sky.'
"Then they entered in, and when the god had closed the door he said: 'Thou shalt eat but one ear of maize and thy wife one also.'
"But as soon as they had finished they went out, and the water remained calm, for the wood no longer moved, and on opening it they began to see fish.
"Then they lit a fire, by rubbing together pieces of wood, and they roasted fish.
"The gods Citlallinicué and Citlalatonac instantly looking down said: 'Divine Lord, what is that fire that is making there. Why do they thus smoke the sky?' At once Titlacahuan-Tezcatlipoca descended. He began to chide, saying, 'Who has made this fire here?' And seizing hold of the fish he shaped their loins and heads, and they were transformed into dogs (chichime)."
This last touch is a satire on the Chichimecs, or "barbarians of the North,"
founders of the kingdom of Tezcuco. It proves the decidedly indigenous character
of the story, and removes any such suspicion of a Biblical imitation, as the
date might have led to.
The manuscript, written in Spanish by Motolina, who belonged to the generation of the "conquistadores," has hitherto only been known by extracts given from it by Abbé Brasseur in his "Recherches sur les Ruines de Palenque," a work containing many useful documents, though already pervaded by the delusions which towards the end of his career so strangely misled this learned pioneer of Mexican antiquarianism. Here, too, we find the theory of the four suns, or four ages, given in the same order as by the author of the "Codex Chimalpopoca."
The first is called "age of Tezcatlipoca," because that god had then added on a half to the sun, which was only half luminous, or had "made himself sun in its place." This was the age of the Quinames, or giants, who were almost all exterminated by famine. After this, Quetzlcoatl, the god of the air, having armed himself with a great stick, struck Tezcatlipoca with it, threw him into the water, and "and made himself sun in his place." The fallen god, transforming himself into a jaguar, [p.493] devoured such of the Quinames as had escaped from the famine. The statements of the "Codex Vaticanus" and the "Codex Chimalpopoca" as to the final catastrophe of the world's first age, are thus reconciled by this last narrative.
Motolina calls the two next ages those of wind and fire; they are closed in the way we have seen.
The fourth is the age of the "Sun of Water," placed under the patronage of the goddess Chalchihuitlicué. The Deluge terminates it, and after this last cataclysm, we enter upon our present era.
We come next to the "History of the Chichimecs," by Don Fernando d'Alva Ixtlilxochitl, descendant of the old pagan kings of Tezcuco, whose pretended silence on the subject we have seen appealed to as disproving the authenticity of these Mexican diluvian traditions. In the first chapter of his first book, Ixtlilxochitl relates the story of the cosmic ages according to the traditions of his native city. He only gives four in all, including the actual period. The first is the Atonatiuh, or "Sun of Waters," which begins with the creation, and ends with a universal deluge. Then comes the Thlachitonatiuh, or "Sun of Earth," when the giants called Quinametziu-Tzocuilhioxime lived, descendants of the survivors of the first epoch. A frightful earthquake, overthrowing the mountains, and destroying the greater part of the dwellers on earth, closes this age. It is in the third age, Ehecatonatiuh, "Sun of Wind," that Olmecs and Xicalanques came from the east to settle in the south of Mexico. At first they were conquered by the remnant of the Quinames, but ended by massacring these. Quetzalcoatl next appears as a religious reformer, but is not listened to by men, whose indocility is punished by the appalling hurricane during which such as escaped became monkeys. Then begins the present age, Tlatonatiuh, or "Sun of Fire," thus called because it is to end by a rain of fire. We see, therefore, that Ixtlilxochitl was perfectly acquainted with the diluvian tradition, and if he does not enter into its details, he assigns it an important place in his series of ages.
Therefore we must needs acknowledge the diluvian tradition to be really indigenous in Mexico and not an invention of missionaries. We may doubt as to some particulars in some of the versions, though this arises chiefly from a preconceived idea, because they too much resemble the story in Genesis; but as to the fundamental tradition it is unassailable, and intimately connected with a conception not drawn from the Bible—and universally admitted to have existed—that, namely, of the four ages of the world. Between this conception, and that of the four ages or Yugas of India, and of the manvantaras where the destruction of the world and the renewals of humanity alternate, there is an analogy which appeared very significant to Humboldt, MacCulloch, and M. Maury. It is one that justifies us in asking whether the Mexicans devised it independently or borrowed it more or less directly from India. The system of the four ages, inseparable in Mexico from that of the [p.494] diluvian tradition, confronts us with the problem—ever recurring with regard to American civilization—of how far these are spontaneous and how far derived from Asia through Buddhist or other missionaries. In the present state of our knowledge we can as little solve this problem negatively as affirmatively, and all attempts made to come to a positive conclusion are premature and unproductive. Before discovering whence American civilizations came, we must thoroughly know what they were, nor attempt the arduous and obscure question of their origin till we frame a real American archæology on the same scientific basis and by the same methods as other archæologies. And in this respect Messrs. T. G. Müller and Herbert Bancroft appear to me greatly in advance of their precursors in this field of inquiry.
For the present, all that can be done is, as I have attempted with Flood stories, to determine facts without pretending to draw inferences. Hence I should no longer boldly write, as I did eight years ago: "The Flood stories of Mexico positively prove the tradition of the Deluge to be one of the oldest held by humanity—a tradition so primitive as to be anterior to the dispersion of human families and the final developments of material civilization; which the Red race peopling America brought from the common cradle of our species into their new home, at the same time that the Semites, Chaldeans, and Aryans respectively carried it into theirs."34 The fact is that among American peoples this tradition may not be primitive. We may indeed affirm that it was not borrowed from the Bible after the arrival of the Spaniards, but we cannot be equally confident that it was not the result of some previous foreign importation, the precise date of which we have no means of fixing.
Be that as it may, the doctrines of successive ages, and of the destruction of the men of the first age by a Deluge, is also found in the curious book of Popol-vuh that collection of the mythological traditions of Guatemala, written after the conquest in the native tongue, by a secret adept of the old religion; discovered, copied, and translated into Spanish in the beginning of the last century by the Dominican Francisco Ximenez, curé of St. Thomas of Chiula. His Spanish version has been published by M. Schelzer, the original text with a French translation by Abbé Brasseur. Here we read that the gods, seeing that animals were neither capable of speaking nor of adoring them, determined to make men in their own image. They fashioned them at first in clay. But those men had no consistency, could not turn their heads; spoke, indeed, but understood nothing. The gods then destroyed their imperfect work by a Deluge. Setting about it for the second time, they made a man of wood and a woman of resin. These creatures were far superior to the former; they moved and lived, but only like other animals; they spoke, but unintelligibly; and gave no thought to the gods. Then Hurakan, "the heart of heaven," the god of storm, caused a rain of burning resin to fall, while the ground was shaken by a fearful earthquake. [p.495] All the descendants of the wood-and-resin pair perished, with a few exceptions, who became monkeys of the forest. Finally, out of white and yellow maize, the gods produced four perfect men: Balam-Quitze, "the smiling jaguar;" Balam-agab, "the jaguar of the night;" Mahuentah, "the distinguished name;" and Igi-Balam, "the jaguar of the moon." They were tall and strong; saw and knew everything, and rendered thanks to the gods. But the latter were alarmed at this their final success, and feared for their supremacy: accordingly, they threw a light veil, like a mist, over the vision of the four men, which became like that of the men of to-day. While they slept the gods created for them four wives of great beauty, and from three of these pairs the Quichés were born—Igi-Balam and his wife Cakixaha having no children. This series of awkward attempts at creation is sufficiently removed from the Biblical narrative to do away with any suspicion of Christian missionary influence over this indigenous quadrennial legend, where, as usual, we find the belief in the destruction of primal mankind by a great flood.
We meet with it in Nicaragua as well. Oviedo relates that Pedsarias Davila, governor of the province in 1538, charged F. Bobadilla, of the Order of St. Dominic, to inquire into the spiritual condition of those Indians whom his predecessors boasted of having converted in great numbers to Catholicism, which he, Davila, with good reason, doubted. The monk accordingly examined the natives, and Oviedo has transmitted several dialogues which show us the creed of the Nicaraguans a few years after the Spanish conquest. The following bears directly on our subject:—
"Question by Bobadilla. Who has created heaven and earth, the stars and moon, man and all else?
"Answer (by the Cacique Avogoaltegoan). Tamagastad and Cippatoval, the one is a man, the other a woman.
"Q. Who created that man and woman?
"A. No one. On the contrary, all men and women descend from them.
"Q. Did they create Christians?
"A. I do not know, but the Indians descend from Tamagastad and Cippatoval.
"Q. Are there any gods greater than they?
"A. No; we believe them to be the greatest.
"Q. Are they gods of flesh or wood, or any other substance?
"A. They are of flesh; they are man and woman, brown in colour like us Indians. They walked on earth dressed like us, and ate what Indians eat.
"Q. Who gave them to eat?
"A. Everything belongs to them.
"Q. Where are they now?
"A. In heaven, according to what our ancestors have told us.
"Q. How did they ascend thither?
"A. I only know that it is their home. I do not know how they were born, for they have no father nor mother.
"Q. How do they live at present?
"A. They eat what Indians eat, for maize and all food proceeds from the place where dwell the teotes (gods).
"Q. Do you know, or have you heard tell, whether since the teotes created the world it has been destroyed?
"A. Before the present race existed, the world was destroyed by water and all became sea.
"Q. How did that man and woman escape?
"A. They were in heaven, for that was their dwelling, and afterwards they came down to earth and re-made all things as they now are, and we are their issue.
"Q. You say the whole world was destroyed by water. Did not some individuals save themselves in a canoe, or by some other way?
"A. No. All the world was drowned, according to what my ancestors told me."
The great god Tamagastad, of whom mention is made in this dialogue, is evidently
the same as Thomagata, the awful-visaged spirit of fire, whose cultus was
anterior among a portion of the Muyscas at Tunga and Sogamosa to that of
Botchica. This, therefore, brings us back to the religious and cosmogonic
traditions of the very advanced civilization in the high table-land of
Cundinamarca, and we are led to recognize in the Flood-legend of Botchica a
certain echo of the so universally spread tradition of the Deluge of early ages,
mingled with the memory of a local event, from which the ancestors of the
Muyscas had suffered at the time of their first settlement. Neither must we
forget that Botchica and his wicked spouse, who brought about the inundation of
Cundinamarca, are no other than personifications of the sun and moon, as were
the pair Manco-Capac and Mama-Oello in the empire of the Incas. "The moon of
Peru is gentle and beneficent," well observes M. Girard de Realle, "she helps
her brother and husband in the work of civilization; on the plateau of
Cundinamarca, on the contrary, she is a witch, a veritable deity of night and of
evil, worthily represented by the lugubrious owl."
Some have believed themselves to have discovered the Flood-tradition among the Peruvians, but careful criticism disproves this. For it only arises from an unintelligent interpretation of the myth of Viracocha or Con, god of waters, or more precisely, the personification of the element, as shown by the legend which represents him as having no bones, and yet stretching himself out afar, lowering the mountains and filling up the valleys in his course. He was the chief god of the Aymaras, who, according to them, had created the earth; and who, issuing from Lake Titicaca, to manifest himself on earth, had assembled the earliest men at Tiahuanaco. Later, the official cosmogony of the Incas led to his undergoing an euhemeristic transformation diminishing his religious importance; and he is represented as one of the sons of the Sun, come upon earth to dwell among and civilize mankind, a younger brother of Manco-Capac. Now it is under the government of Viracocha that the Deluge is placed by the writers of very recent date, who mention this event, of which the native tradition was unknown to the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, to Montesinos, Balboa, Gomara, F. Oliva, and, in short, to all authorities of any weight in Peruvian matters. MacCulloch does indeed quote Acosta and Herrera, but these authors never speak of a Deluge involving all humanity; they only say that [p.497] Viracocha gave laws to the earliest men at the close of a primordial period anterior to their creation, when the whole surface of the earth had been under water.
Numerous legends of the great inundation of earliest times have been found among the savage tribes of America. But by their very nature these leave room for doubt. They have not been committed to writing by the natives, we only know them by intermediaries who may, in perfectly good faith, have altered them considerably in an unconscious desire to assimilate them to the Bible story. Besides, they have been only collected very lately, when the tribes had been for a long time in contact with Europeans, and had often had living among them more than one adventurer who might well have introduced new elements into their traditions. They are therefore very inferior in importance to those we have found existing in Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, previous to the arrival of the Spanish conquerors.
The most remarkable of them, as excluding by its very form the idea of European communication, is that of the Cherokees. It seems a childish version of the Indian tradition, only that it is a dog instead of a fish who plays the part of deliverer to the man who escapes the catastrophe; but this brings us back to a myth special to America—that of the transformation of fish into dogs, as we have seen in the Flood-story of the "Codex Chimalpopoca."
"The dog," says the legend of the Cherokees, "never ceased for several days to run up and down the banks of the river, looking fixedly at the water and howling as in distress. His master was annoyed by his ways and roughly ordered him to go home, upon which he began speaking and revealed the impending calamity, ending his prediction by saying that the only way in which his master and his family could escape was by throwing him at once into the water, for he would become their deliverer by swimming to seek a boat, but that there was not a moment to lose, for a terrible rain was at hand which would lead to a general inundation in which everything would perish. The man obeyed his dog, was saved with his family, and they repeopled the earth."
It is said that the Tamanakis, a Carib tribe on the banks of the Orinoco, have a legend of the man and woman who escaped the flood by reaching the summit of Mount Tapanacu. There they threw cocoa-nuts behind them, from which sprung a new race of men and women. If the report be true, which, however, we cannot affirm, this would be a very singular agreement with one of the distinctive features of the Greek story of Deucalion and Pyrrha.
Russian explorers have reported a childlike narrative of the flood in the Aleutian Islands, forming the geographical link between Asia and North America, and at the extremity of the north-east of America among the Kolosks. Henry the traveller gives the following tradition as current among the Indians of the Great Lakes:—
"In former times the father of the Indian tribes dwelt towards the rising sun. Having been warned in a dream that a deluge was coming upon the earth, he built a raft, on which he saved himself with his family and all the animals. He floated thus for several months. The animals, who at that time spoke, loudly [p.498] complained and murmured against him. At last a new earth appeared, on which he landed with all the animals, who from that time lost the power of speech as a punishment for their murmurs against their deliverer."
According to Father Charlevoix, the tribes of Canada and the valley of the
Mississippi relate in their rude legends that all mankind was destroyed by a
flood, and that the good spirit, to repeople the earth, had changed animals into
men. It is to J. S. Kohl we owe our acquaintance with the version of the
Chippeways—full of grotesque and perplexing touches—in which the man saved from
the deluge is called Menaboshu.35 To know if the earth be drying he sends a
bird, the diver, out of his bark; then becomes the restorer of the human race
and the founder of existing society. Catlin relates a story, current among the Mandans, of the earth being a great tortoise borne on the waters, and that when
one day, in digging the soil, a tribe of white men pierced the shell of the
tortoise, it sank, and the water covering it drowned all men, with the exception
of one, who saved himself in a boat; and when the earth re-emerged, sent out a
dove, who returned with a branch of willow in its beak. Here we have Noah's
dove, as in the story of Tezpi and Menaboshu we have other birds substituted for
it. But the native originality of this detail, as of the whole diluvian
tradition among the Mandans, may well be doubted when we remember that the
physical peculiarities of this curious tribe on the banks of the Missouri led
Catlin to consider it of mixed blood, and partly white origin.
In the songs of the inhabitants of New California allusion was made to a very remote period when the sea left its bed and covered the earth. The whole race of men and animals perished in this deluge, sent by the supreme god Chinigchinig, with the exception of a few who had taken refuge on a high mountain which the water failed to reach. The Commissioners of the United States who explored New Mexico before its annexation, tell of the existence of a similar tradition among the different native tribes of that vast territory. Other travellers give us kindred narratives, more or less strikingly resembling the Bible record. But for the most part they are too vaguely reported to be entirely trusted.
Polynesian Traditions.—In Oceania even, and not among the Pelagian negroes or Papoos,36 but the Polynesian, racenatives of the archipelago of Australasia, the diluvian tradition has been traced, mingled with recollections of sudden rises of the sea, which are one of the most frequent scourges of those islands. The most noted is that of Tahiti, which has been specially referred to the primeval tradition. Here it is as [p.499] given by M. Gaussin,37 who has published a translation of it, as well as the Tahitian text, written by a native named Maré:—
"Two men had gone out to sea to fish with the line, Roo and Teahoroa by name. They threw their hooks into the sea, which caught in the hair of the god Ruahatu. They exclaimed, 'A fish!' They drew up the line and saw that it was a man they had caught. At sight of the god they bounded to the other end of their bark, and were half dead with fear. Ruahatu asked them, 'What is this?' The two fishermen replied, 'We came to fish, and we did not know that our hooks would catch thee.' The god then said, 'Unfasten my hair;' and they did so. Then Ruahatu asked, 'What are your names?' They replied, 'Roo and Teahoroa.' Ruahatu next said, 'Return to the shore, and tell men that the earth will be covered with water, and all the world will perish. To-morrow morning repair to the islet called Toa-marama; it will be a place of safety for you and your children.'
"Ruahatu caused the sea to cover the lands. All were covered, and all men perished except Roo, Teahoroa, and their families."
This story, like all in this part of the world currently referred to the memory
of the Deluge, has assumed the childish character peculiar to Polynesian
legends, and moreover, as M. Maury justly observes, it may be naturally
explained by the recollection of one of those tidal waves so common in
Polynesia. The most essential feature of all traditions properly called diluvian
is wanting here. The island, observes M. Maury, has no resemblance to the
Ark.38 It is true that one of the versions of the Tahitian legend states that
the two fishermen repaired to Toa-marama, not only with their families, but with
a pig, a dog, and a couple of fowls, which recalls the entry of the animals into
the Ark. On the other hand, some details of a similar story among the Fijis,
especially one in which, for many years after the event, canoes were kept ready
in case of its repetition, far better fit a local phenomenon, a tidal wave, than
a universal deluge.
However, if all these legends were exclusively related to local catastrophes, it would be strange that they should appear and be almost similar in a certain number of localities at a great distance from each other, and only where the Polynesian race has taken root, or left indubitable traces of its passage;—this race, indigenous in the Malay Archipelago, not having migrated thence till about the fourth century of the Christian era—i.e., at a time when, in consequence of the communication between India and a portion of Malaysia,39 the Flood-tradition under its Indian form might well have entered in. Without, therefore, deciding the question one way or other, we do not think that that opinion can absolutely be condemned which finds in these Polynesian legends an echo of the tradition of the Deluge, much weakened, [p.500] much changed, and more inextricably confused than anywhere else with local disasters of recent date.
The result, then, of this long review authorizes us to affirm the story of the Deluge to be a universal tradition among all branches of the human race, with the one exception, however, of the black. Now a recollection thus precise and concordant cannot be a myth voluntarily invented. No religious or cosmogonic myth presents this character of universality. It must arise from the reminiscence of a real and terrible event, so powerfully impressing the imagination of the first ancestors of our race, as never to have been forgotten by their descendants. This cataclysm must have occurred near the first cradle of mankind, and before the dispersion of the families from which the principal races were to spring; for it would be at once improbable and uncritical to admit that at as many different points of the globe as we should have to assume in order to explain the wide spread of these traditions—local phenomena so exactly alike should have occurred, their memory having assumed an identical form, and presenting circumstances that need not necessarily have occurred to the mind in such cases.
Let us observe, however, that probably the diluvian tradition is not primitive but imported in America; that it undoubtedly wears the aspect of an importation among the rare populations of the yellow race where it is found; and lastly, that it is doubtful among the Polynesians of Oceania. There will still remain three great races to which it is undoubtedly peculiar, who have not borrowed it from each other, but among whom the tradition is primitive, and goes back to the most ancient times; and these three races are precisely the only ones of which the Bible speaks as being descended from Noah, those of which it gives the ethnic filiation in the tenth chapter of Genesis. This observation, which I hold to be undeniable, attaches a singularly historic and exact value to the tradition as recorded by the Sacred Book, even if, on the other hand, it may lead to giving it a more limited geographical and ethnological significance. In another paper I propose to inquire whether, in the conception of the inspired writers, the Deluge really was universal, in the sense customarily supposed.
But as the case now stands, we do not hesitate to declare that, far from being a myth, the Biblical Deluge is a real and historical fact, having, to say the least, left its impress on the ancestors of three races—Aryan or Indo-European, Semitic or Syro-Arabian, Chamitic or Kushite—that is to say, on the three great civilized races of the ancient world, those which constitute the higher humanity—before the ancestors of those races had as yet separated, and in the part of Asia they together inhabited.
1 The date of the termination of the works undertaken by Yu, in order to repair the damage done by this flood, lies between 2278 and 2062 B.C. according to the chronological system adopted.
2 This work of Berosus was already out of existence in the fourth century of our era, when Eusebius of Cesarea, to whom we owe such fragments as we possess, wrote. Only two abridgments remained, due to later polygraphers, Abydenus and Alexander Polybistor. Eusebius gives the version of each editor, the one I quote is that of Alexander.
3 Abydenus says, "all that composed the scriptures."
4 He is provisionally called Izdhubar or Ghirdhubar, transcribing for want of a more certain method, according to their phonetic value, the characters composing the ideographic spelling of his name.
5 The text is published in "Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia," vol. iv. pp. 50 and 51. The two principal translations hitherto given are those of George Smith and M. Oppert. The one we now offer contains a large share of personal work. We avail ourselves of the labours of our illustrious precursors, but believe that we have also added some important steps towards a precise understanding of the text.
6 Here several verses are wanting.
7 "The water of the twilight at break of day," one of the personifications of rain.
8 The god of thunder.
9 The god of war and death.
10 The Chaldeo-Assyrian Hercules.
11 The superior heaven of the fixed stars.
12 Vases of the measure called in Hebrew Seäh. This relates to a detail of the ritualistic prescriptions for sacrifice.
13 These metaphorical expressions appear to designate the rainbow.
14 The god of epidemics.
15 Studien zur Kritik und Erklarung der Biblischen Urgeschichte, p. 150.
16 Oannès and Euahanès belong to an Accadian form: Êa-Khan, "Êa the fish;" Oès to the simple Êa, as the Aos of Damascus.
17 Vendidâd, ii. 46.
18 Chapter vii.
19 See especially Yesht viii., 13 Vendidâd, xix. 135.
20 It is in virtue of this assimilation that Plutarch (De Solert anim. 13) speaks of the dove sent out by Deucalion to see if the Deluge had ceased, a circumstance mentioned by no other Greek mythographer.
21 "Myvyrian Archæology of Wales," vol. ii. p. 50, triad 13.
22 Ibid. p. 71, triad 97.
23 Vafthrudnismal, st. 29.
24 Hanwsch, Slawischer Mythus, p. 234.
25 "Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archæology," vol. iv. pp. 1-19.
26 Personification of the primordial abyss.
27 Nevertheless, the Deluge holds an important place among the cosmogonic traditions—decidedly original in character—which Reguly has found among the Voguls. We also hear of a diluvian story among the Eulets or Kalmuks, where it seems to have come in with Buddhism.
28 We must, however, observe that Buddhist missionaries appear to have introduced the diluvian tradition of Judea into China. Gutzlaff, "On Buddhism in China," in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1st series, vol. xii. p. 78), affirms that he saw its principal episode represented in a very fine painting of a temple to the goddess Kivan-yin.
29 Recently published, not recently collected. The date of Pedro de los Rios shows this.
30 "The Native Races of the Pacific States," vol. iii. p. 68.
31 By a singular alteration of the text it is said that the jaguars "were devoured," instead of "they devoured."
32 From the day of the year when the final cataclysm was supposed to have occurred.
33 This designation of the year accords with the system of Mexican cycles, containing four groups of years, each named after some object or animal.
34 "Essai de commentaire des fragments de Berose," p. 283.
35 This name looks like a corruption of that of the Indian Manu Vaivasvata.
36 Except in the Fiji Islands, where the Polynesians have been for some time settled among the Melanians, and have only been destroyed by these after having infused into the population an element sufficiently marked to render the Fijis a mixed rather than a purely black race.
37 Gaussin: "Du Dialecte de Tahiti et de la Langue polynésienne," p. 235. See also Ellis's "Polynesian Researches."
38 We may, however, observe that in the Iranian myth of Yima, which we have reported above, a square enclosure (vara) miraculously preserved from the deluge, holds the place of the Biblical Ark and of the vessel of Chaldean tradition.
39 The date of the first establishment of Indian Brahmanists in Java remains uncertain, but from the end of the second century B.C. the Greek Iambulos (Diod. Sicul. ii. 57) very exactly described as the way of writing in this island the syllabic system Kavi, borrowed from India.