The Lost World of the Flood (Walton)

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RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Walton, John. The Lost World of the Flood.

As in all of his Lost World books, we see all of the strengths and weaknesses of John Walton. We might not like many of his conclusions. Some of his argumentation is rather specious, but he has a knack for getting to the heart of the matter. The way he presents his argument--by means of a series of propositions--is about as good as one could possibly find.

I read this a year ago. I postponed the view because at that time my own personal view was misrepresented (e.g., I believe the plain reading of the text suggests a worldwide flood. I was accused of not believing that).

I’ll go ahead and answer the main question. Walton and Longman believe a) the text implies a universal flood. However, b) they reject that a universal flood actually happened. They do not seem themselves in rebellion to Scripture, as they understand--and argue that the audience would have understood--Scripture to use hyperbole to teach theological truths. I’ll come back to this in the conclusion.

Part I: Method: Perspectives on Interpretation
Proposition 1: Genesis Is an Ancient Document
Proposition 2: Genesis 1–11 Makes Claims About Real Events
Proposition 3: Genesis Uses Rhetorical Devices
Proposition 4: The Bible Uses Hyperbole to Describe Historical Events
Proposition 5: Genesis Appropriately Presents a Hyperbolic Account of the Flood
Proposition 6: Genesis Depicts the Flood as a Global Event

The first series of propositions remind us that the Bible is written for us, but not to us. Did God intend to teach the science that there is a cosmic ocean above the sky? Our standard response is that such language is poetic. That’s true to an extent. Here is the problem: do we have any reason to believe a pre-Copernican reader would have thought such language was poetic?

Or take another example: do you really think with your intestines? Again, literary metaphors could save us, but I think the language is a bit stronger than mere poetry. We still get “gut feelings” today and we don’t dismiss it as literary theory.

Walton deals with this problem by means of speech-act theory. There is a difference between “locution” and “illocution.” Locution is the meaning. Illocution is the saying of the meaning. God’s truth, the interpretation of the facts given in Genesis 1-11, is the locution. The three-tiered universe is the illocutionary manner. That's fine as far as it goes, but I suspect that's more of a red herring. He really doesn't work that into the larger argument.

On one level this is fine. The danger is that we can then apply Occam’s razor to any supernatural stuff we don’t like. Walton’s later language on “mythology” doesn’t help, either. He says ancient man didn’t make a hard and fast distinction between myth and history. I’m not so sure. The NT warns us against following clever fables. And protestations notwithstanding, you cannot rescue “myth” from the connotations of Greek mythology today. He is on better ground when he refers to such language as “supernatural” or “the invisible realm.”

I give this section a B-. He makes numerous good points about ancient literature, but he hamstrings his project with sloppy epistemology.

Part II: Background: Ancient Near Eastern Texts
Proposition 7: Ancient Mesopotamia Also Has Stories of a Worldwide Flood
Proposition 8: The Biblical Flood Story Shares Similarities and Differences with Ancient Near Eastern Flood Accounts

These two propositions shouldn’t be that controversial. No, Walton does not say that Genesis borrowed from Babylon. Genesis is not indebted to Babylon. Rather, both Genesis and Babylon are embedded in the same cultural river. In any case, to prove x borrowed from y, we should have one dominant ur-text to show the borrowing. We do not have that. Walton and Longman score huge points in this section.

Part III: Text: Understanding the Biblical Text Literarily and Theologically
Proposition 9: A Local Cataclysmic Flood Is Intentionally Described as a Global Flood for Rhetorical Purposes
Proposition 10: The Flood Account Is Part of a Sequence of Sin and Judgment Serving as Backstory for the Covenant
Proposition 11: The Theological History Is Focused on the Issue of Divine Presence, the Establishment of Order, and How Order Is Undermined

Walton and Longman argue that the goal is order against nonorder/disorder. I suppose those elements are there, and it certainly echoes the Gen. 1 account, but I don’t think that is actually the main idea here. Moreover, it's not entirely clear that Genesis 1-2 is mainly focused on the move from disorder to order.

Proposition 12: The “Sons of God” Episode Is Not Only a Prelude to the Flood; It Is the Narrative Sequel to Cain and Abel

He goes through the option of who the Sons of God are. He dismisses the Sethite thesis since there is no evidence for it. Another option identifies them as super-kings who took many women in marriage. Although that was true of Gilgamesh, the Bible doesn’t say that, either. In fact, I am not sure what this section had to do with his larger argument.

Proposition 13: The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) Is an Appropriate Conclusion to the Primeval Narrative

Part IV: The World: Thinking About Evidence for the Flood
Proposition 14: The Flood Story Has a Real Event Behind It
Proposition 15: Geology Does Not Support a Worldwide Flood (Steve Moshier)
Proposition 16: Flood Stories from Around the World Do Not Prove a Worldwide Flood
Proposition 17: “Science Can Purify Our Religion; Religion Can Purify Science from Idolatry and False Absolutes”

These are the most controversial propositions. I’ll be honest, the geological section was a bit too sciency for me. I was familiar with Walton’s claim that if a universal flood happened, where would the water drain off to? He writes,

If the sea level rose for 150 days until it covered the tops of the mountains, and the sea level rose 16, 946 ft to the top of Ararat, then it was logically 16, 946ft across the earth. This requires about 630 million cubic miles of additional water weighing 3,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. Here is the problem: the oceans had to triple in volume in 150 days and then shrink quickly back to normal. Where did the 630 million cubic miles of water go? There is no ocean to drain to because the oceans are already filled.

If you hold a worldwide flood, there is a way to salvage it. The main problem is where did the water go in so short a time? The solution is cosmic geography. The ancient world understood (as in Genesis 1) that were the Great Deeps (tahom). It’s real but you can’t dig there to find it. God probably opened the Great Deep at the end of the flood. Granted, that’s speculation and ad hoc, but it makes the best sense of the problem. I actually think that salvages the case for a worldwide flood. Walton doesn't address.

Conclusion

I think they make numerous good points on the difficulties in a universal flood. These cannot simply be dismissed. I think their epistemology, however, is fatally flawed. Let’s grant both (a) and (b) mentioned in the introduction to this review. If we reject a global flood and the audience understood that to be the case, then it’s hard to see how they can maintain that the Bible is teaching a global flood. God (and/or the human prophets) spoke in a way to be understood. If the audience would have understood, for all practical purposes, that the flood was local, then Walton and Longman cannot seriously claim the text teaches it was global.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
If you hold a worldwide flood, there is a way to salvage it. The main problem is where did the water go in so short a time? The solution is cosmic geography. The ancient world understood (as in Genesis 1) that were the Great Deeps (tahom). It’s real but you can’t dig there to find it. God probably opened the Great Deep at the end of the flood. Granted, that’s speculation and ad hoc, but it makes the best sense of the problem. I actually think that salvages the case for a worldwide flood. Walton doesn't address.
That is part of the solution in modern Creationist thought. The other parts of the solution are: a) the flood changed world geography, carving mountains and canyons, so the water might not have had to have been so high before these features formed, and b) after the flood, the land rose and pushed itself above sea level.


Even secular geologists admit that Mount Everest and other mountains were underwater at one point. This is a phenomenon seen all over the globe. The evidence is undeniable: https://www.tripsavvy.com/geology-of-mount-everest-755308#:~:text=The peak of Mount Everest,over 400 million years ago.

Secular scientists acknowledge vast quantities of water in crystal form deep in the Earth: https://www.newscientist.com/articl...-water-in-earths-mantle-as-in-all-the-oceans/


Secular scientists acknowledge the phenomenon of geological uplift in the formation of mountains and other geological features: https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/nature/grca-geology.htm


While there isn't one single rock layer that stretches across the globe (which is one reason why the rock layers are seen as evidence of multiple periods of sea level rising and falling, rather than a global flood; a short-sighted and biased conclusion, I would say), even the secular scientists admit that some of the rock layers that were formed by water stretch even across continents.
 
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reformed grit

Puritan Board Freshman
I find one unknown variable often discounted when considering the layered Earth is a possibility of an Earth created fully developed - just as recorded of every other aspect of Creation. That is, an Earth created with layers present from the start.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks for the review. I read this book a while ago and haven't come back to think about it lately.
 
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