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Are there really hundreds of flood legends giving credence to the Genesis flood?

flood legends

The book of Genesis tells of a worldwide flood sent as God’s judgment on the world long ago. The memory of that flood has been preserved in cultures all over the globe, as acknowledged by ancient writers such as Flavius Josephus, who wrote almost 2,000 years ago, “All writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood and of this ark. Among whom is Berosus the Chaldean, Hieronymous the Egyptian, also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same. Nay, Nicolaus of Damascus [as well]” (Antiquities of the Jews 1.3.6).

Josephus is correct. All nations around the world possess historical texts or traditions of a global flood in ancient times, and those narratives match the Genesis account in general outline and many specific details (Genesis 6—9). Some of the recurring details in flood narratives around the world are as follows:
God sends the flood in judgment of human evil and violence
a righteous man or prophet is forewarned by God
the preparation of an ark or “great canoe”
the gathering of animals aboard the ark
a global flood covers mountains and drowns all but a few survivors
the “great canoe” comes to rest on a high mountain
the sending of a raven and a dove
the dove returns with something in its beak as a sign of the flood coming to an end
exiting the ark and repopulating the world
a burnt offering sacrifice
a rainbow
the confusion of languages afterward

The existence of such stories is a stunning but undeniable fact, and one that demands an explanation.

We find Native American legends confirming the Genesis flood, for example. The Apache people refer to the ancient flood and the tus, a gigantic floating vessel, provided by God, which was sealed watertight with gum from the pinion tree. A few people entered the tus and thus escaped the flood that “completely submerged the earth for twelve days.” The Apaches remember the vessel landing on a hill and the sending of birds, including a pigeon (named Agocho) to inspect the flooded world (Curtis, E. S., The North American Indian, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, 1907, pp. 27–28).

In what is now North Dakota, the Mandan tribe, of the Sioux language family, held a sacred annual ceremony memorializing the flood. The ceremony featured an old man (Nu-mohk-munk-a-nah, “the only man”), who survived in a “big canoe” that he constructed upon a prophetic warning. The “big canoe” landed somewhere at a mountain far to the west, according to the Mandan. This tribe also held the turtle dove in highest honor. Even their dogs were forbidden to harm it, on account of its having returned to the Nu-mohk-munk-a-nah carrying a willow twig in its beak, a sign that the flood had ended (Catlin, G., The North American Indians, vol. 1, Jon Grant, 1926, pp. 178–184, 201–205). Similar traditions can be found among other Sioux-language tribes and other language families.

In the American Northwest, the Spokanes, Nez Perces, and Cayuses had their own flood tradition: “One man and wife were saved on a raft. Each of those three tribes also, together with the Flathead tribes, has their separate Ararat in connection with this event” (Eells, M., “Traditions of the Deluge Among the Tribes of the North-West,” The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, vol. 1, 1878, p. 70). Numerous other tribes from the Pacific Northwest remember Noah’s flood as well.

In the Southwest, the Hualapai people of Arizona left ancient pictographs bearing witness to the flood. These are preserved at Spirit Mountain, a site considered sacred by neighboring tribes as well. One carving shows eight people being carried across the waters of the flood, departing from Wikahme Mountain where they had found refuge from the flood that destroyed the rest of humanity. Another drawing shows a bird being sent on two flights and returning on the second flight to the old man with a blade of grass in its peak (Liguori, N., Echoes of Ararat: A Collection of Over 300 Flood Legends from North and South America, Master Books, 2021). The Havasupai, Yima, Cochiti, Maricopa, Zia, and many other tribes of the Southwest also have flood traditions matching Genesis in several particulars.

We learn of the global flood from the Dene tribes, the Ottawa, the Ojibwe, the Inuit, and dozens of other tribes of Canada and Alaska. In Mexico we find that the Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans, Purepecha, and other peoples had clear traditions and pre-colonial paintings depicting the flood.

Alexander de Humboldt, a German geographer and naturalist, wrote, “The people of Mechoacan preserved a tradition, according to which Coxcox, whom they called Tezpi, embarked in a spacious ‘acalli’ with his wife, his children, several animals, and grain, the preservation of which was of importance to mankind. When the great spirit, Tezcatlipoca, ordered the waters to withdraw, Tezpi sent out from his bark a vulture. . . . This bird, which feeds on dead flesh, did not return on account of the great number of carcasses, with which the earth, recently dried up, was strewed. Tezpi sent out other birds, one of which, the hummingbird alone, returned, holding in its beak a branch covered with leaves.” Humboldt adds that “Tezpi, seeing that fresh verdure began to clothe the soil, quitted his bark near the mountain of Colhuacan” (Researches Concerning the Institutions & Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America, trans. Helen Maria Williams, vol. 2, Longman, 1814, p. 23).

In Central and South America, the earliest records of the European explorers preserve flood traditions narrated by the native peoples. Those narratives include clear similarities to the Genesis flood account. The Tupinamba of Brazil told the early Portuguese that “before the flood arrived, there was a man of great knowledge,” a prophet named Tupa. God warned Tupa of the coming flood and provided a place of refuge, where Tupa fled with his family. The flood covered the entire earth for a great length of time. “When the flood ended, they came down, multiplied, and again inhabited the land” (De Vasconcellos, S., Noticias Curiosas do Brasil Lisbon: Ioam da Costa, 1668, pp. 78–79).

George Catlin, a widely traveled American painter and author, summarized these findings this way: “Amongst one hundred and twenty different tribes that I have visited in North and South and Central America, not a tribe exists that has not related to me distinct or vague traditions of such a calamity, in which one, or three, or eight persons were saved above the waters, on the top of a high mountain” (O-Kee-Pa: A Religious Ceremony and Other Customs of the Mandans J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1867, pp. 1–2).

The above examples all come from the Western Hemisphere, but that hemisphere alone contains over 300 people groups possessing flood traditions. The Eastern Hemisphere has even more. To be sure, some traditions are better preserved than others. As a result, some flood narratives parallel Genesis more closely than others. However, there are specific details in all these accounts—such as the landing of a “great canoe” on a high mountain or the sending of a raven and a dove—that clearly match the biblical record. It is important to note that it is the Genesis flood account that they confirm, not some alternate text such as a Babylonian flood tradition. This is one of several indicators that Genesis is the authentic, original historical account that explains all the others.

All of these flood legends and histories told around the world are exactly what we should expect if Genesis is true. If Genesis were not true, then hundreds of matching flood legends are the last thing we should expect to find.

Secularists typically try to explain the abundance of global flood traditions in one of two ways: 1) the traditions are not referring to a global flood like that in Genesis but to a local flood or a purely mythical flood; or 2) Christian missionaries influenced the tribes and changed their traditions.

However, the secular explanations of flood stories do not really fit the data. The similarities of other flood accounts to Genesis are too specific and too multi-faceted to be describing a different flood. The sources are also too ancient, too well attested, and too consistent with one another within language families. In addition to oral traditions recorded very early, we have written histories, rock carvings, and ancient paintings that predate the arrival of Europeans in the New World. Many of the flood traditions form part of annual ceremonies and songs commemorating the flood. These are difficult to attribute to “missionary influence.” And if “missionary influence” were the cause, where are all the traditions of other famous biblical events like the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, the Red Sea crossing, and David and Goliath?

We maintain that the best explanation for the hundreds of flood legends around the world is that tribes and nations remember the flood because it actually happened, just as Genesis says it did.

The existence of flood legends around the world should give us great encouragement that we can trust the Bible. God did indeed judge the world with water, and there is another judgment by fire still to come. The sinfulness of mankind is one of the foundational truths of the gospel and points us directly to our need for Jesus Christ, the ultimate ark of our salvation.

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Are there really hundreds of flood legends giving credence to the Genesis flood?
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This page last updated: August 3, 2022