It is through this last association that the idea of Plato's texts as true witnesses of ancient oral tradition becomes a much more critical article, necessitating proof but also in itself providing proof for other things. For these scientists or natural philosophers, both before and after the discovery of the Americas, Atlantis is assumed to be a real historical datum, that both provides an independent witness for the Flood account, and is itself proved by biblical authority; this in turn allows various ways to connect the otherwise-inexplicable people of the Americas to both biblical narrative and to classical antiquity.
It should be noted, though Vidal-Naquet does not discuss this, that during the same period such thinkers were also postulating, with the same lack of empirical justification, a great southern continent which was, against all reason, actually discovered Australia. For the material of these chapters, much of the ground has been covered more systematically by other studies see notes in Cline, Pleins, and Cohn in fn.
Vidal-Naquet's study makes clear that Western thinkers faced an intellectual crisis over the historical authenticity of Plato, Herodotus and so forth, almost as stressful as that generated by historical-critical biblical scholarship. The book is written in a casual and conversational tone and reading it is rather like spending an afternoon with a great scholar, but with several brandies and in a state of total relaxation. If I were not already familiar with the natural philosophers and geographers discussed here, I am not sure I would have been able to follow the progression Vidal-Naquet makes, but, since I am in fact familiar with them, reading this book was like discussing new things about old friends.
For this reason, while on the one hand specialists in the history of science may have the greatest interest in the volume, it could also, with the help of an instructor, provide a good example of the transformations of classical literature in popular science and popular culture--a valuable resource and a tribute to a great scholar no longer with us.
To name only a few of these wonderful studies, see Eric H. The excursus Ch. Bryn Mawr Classical Review Translated by Janet Lloyd. ISBN As is often true in life, this relationship is rocky.
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The people are childlike and undependable. Pushed to the limit, God can be unpredictable and impulsive. But He always repents. Like after the flood. That was the first covenant.
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But before we get to repentance, we have the story. And the flood story is a good, rousing tale full of villains, a hero, a mistake, and a lesson learned. Everyone except Noah, and perhaps his family, is evil. God wants to destroy them all and start over again, but since Noah is so good, he agrees to let him and his family survive. Then, by listening to God and obeying His orders, by building the ark and taking care of all those animals that crowd into it with him, Noah saves the day. So they all get onto the ark, and the rains fall. The face of the Earth is covered with water. Everyone and everything that needs air to breathe and is not on the ark, drowns.
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Before the story ends, however, we have a moment of anxiety. The rain fall for so long. The raven goes out, the dove goes out, and neither find any trace of dry land. Will the food on the ark last long enough?
- Biblical tale of Noah, the ark still gets a flood of attention!
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Will God let Noah and his family perish? What is God thinking? But finally, as the dove flies is sent off yet again, she brings back an olive branch. We have hope. Everything will be all right.
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Except, everything is not all right. Later in the Bible, we see prophets rail against the injustice and the evil of the masses.
God smites us here and there, yet somehow we never stop misbehaving. Over and over, God despairs, wishing He could just wipe out everything He made. He would never destroy people that way again. We can read this as we read any story, or we can read it as a literal description of some past event.
While preparing to write this column, I discovered websites and books offering scientific data to prove that an overwhelming deluge swept across the land 7, or 10, years ago. I read mathematical explanations for how a multitude of animals could fit onto the ark God had Noah build. On the other hand, I saw how other people go to great lengths to prove the absurdity of the biblical flood story, as if this would somehow disprove the idea of a god.
Whether trying to justify the biblical text or refute it, to argue about such details is to take the Bible with a literalness never intended by its authors. This literal lens distresses David J. Even more, however, we lose the meaning. The people who told the stories were crafting tales resonant with wisdom. They meant to teach, to soothe, to challenge, and to raise questions of value and purpose and possibility. Many cultures tell flood stories, but they all have a slightly different spin and are told for a different purpose.
For instance, in the Maori flood story, a righteous man builds a raft, allows a few decent people to join him, then prays to Tane, the creator, to cause a rain that will destroy all the other, evil folk. In the Maori story, the righteous man drives the plot. In the biblical tale, God does. The flood story in the myth of Gilgamesh is even more like the one from the bible.
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Like Yahweh, the Mesopotamian gods plan to destroy all humans. They warn him that he must build a boat. On the boat, he must take all species of animal. We have a flood, a hero, and we even have birds sent out to find evidence of dry land. Like Noah, Utnapishtim builds an altar on which to make a sacrifice of gratitude to the gods. As Yahweh did, the god Enlil repents of his rash act of violence and agrees not to do it again. He blesses Utnapishtim and his wife just as Yahweh blesses Noah and his family.
There is an important difference, however. The Mesopotamian flood story is part told to show Gilgamesh that he, a human being, cannot have eternal life.
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Because of the disaster, Gilgamesh goes home wiser, but also sadder. Unlike in the Hebrew Bible, the Gilgamesh story is not about a relationship between a man and the gods, but the story of Noah is. For instance, God walks with Noah and talks to him. With his own hands, he closes the door and sets them on their way. What does this tell us about who God is and about how we relate to Him? What does it tell us about ourselves, about being in covenant?
Can we fulfill our side of the covenant? What does God really require of us? What do we owe one another? What about human nature?
Related When the Great Abyss Opened: Classic and Contemporary Readings of Noahs Flood
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