When the Great Abyss Opened: Classic and Contemporary Readings of Noah's Flood

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The story of Noah's flood is one of the best-loved and most often retold biblical tales, the inspiration for numerous children's books and toys, novels, and even films. Whether as allusion, archetype, or literal presence--the American landscape is peppered with "recreations" of the ark--the story of Noah's animals and the ark resonates throughout American culture and the world.

While most think of Noah's ark as a dramatic myth, others are consumed by the quest for geological and archeological proof that the flood really occurred. Persistent rumors of a large vessel on the mountain of Ararat in Turkey, for instance, have led many pilgrims and explorers over the centuries to visit that fabled peak. Recent finds suggest that there may have been a catastrophic flood on the shores of the Black Sea some 7,600 years ago. Is this then the reality behind the ancient tale of Noah? More to the point, why does it matter?

What does the story of the Flood mean to us and why does it so stir the collective imagination? When the Great Abyss Opened examines the history of our attempts to understand the Flood, from medieval Jewish and Christian speculation about the physical details of the ark to contemporary efforts to link it to scientific findings. Unraveling the mythical dimensions of the parallel Mesopotamian flood stories and their deeper social and psychological significance, J. David Pleins also considers the story's positive uses in theology and moral instruction. Noah's tale, however, has also been invoked as a means of justifying exclusion, racism, and anti-homosexual views. Pro-slavery advocates, for example, used the story of Noah's Curse on Ham's son Canaan to rationalize the enslavement of Africans.

Throughout this expansive and lively book, Pleins sheds new light on our continuing attempts to understand this ancient primal myth. Noah's Flood, he contends, offers a unique case study that illuminates the timeless and timely question of how fact and faith relate.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Pleins has written a stimulating book. His writing is lucid, his arguments are cogent, and his interpretations are insightful. The book deserves to be read by those interested in the history of interpretation, creation and flood myths, the relationshiop of religion and science, and hermeneutics." --The Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"This book is enjoyable and thought-provoking. One can recommend it to biblical scholars, archaeologists, theologians, and scientists-all who are interested in a lively discussion about human culture and religion."-- RBL

"This fascinating book opens up a completely new light on a topic about which we all think we know something and about which we learn we knew very little. One of the great myths of Western culture is seen in a completely fresh light, thanks to the labors of J. David Pleins. I urge everyone to read this volume."--Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University; author of Can a Darwinian be a Christian? and Darwin and Design

"Pleins provides the first book on Noah and the Flood that has really caught my attention and interest. He deftly traces many of the modern searches for Noah's Ark and contextualizes them with wit and wisdom, then offers a perceptive look at the ancient texts which assist our understanding of the Flood narrative in Genesis. Enlightening reading."--John C. Endres, S.J., Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley

"All aboard for the cruise of your life on the S.S. Ark, under the expert guidance of a latter-day Noah, J. David Pleins. In a well-written, fast-paced book, Pleins deals with all the major and many of the minor aspects of this eternally-fascinating topic. He describes four different approaches to the issues--ranging from fundamentalist-literalist to no-nonsense scientific-naturalist--and uses them all to explore deep matters of the mind and heart. He shows that, apart from geological-historical-archaeological matters at one end and literary-mythical-legendary questions at the other, at the center or bottom we find ourselves and what matters most to our inner lives. At the end, we know that the search will go on, and whether we will ever find the ark or some piece of it (unlikely), along the way we will find out so many other things as to make the voyage immensely valuable and enjoyable.--David Noel Freedman, editor, The Anchor Bible Dictionary

"A book for everyone, the clergy, scientists, believers and non-believers, seeking truth in the connections between geology, archaeology, myth, literature, and the Bible. Wonderfully engaging, accessible, factual, balanced and scholarly."--William B. F. Ryan, co-author, Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event That Changed History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199733637
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/19/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 260
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

J. David Pleins is Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University, where he teaches courses in biblical studies and comparative ancient Near Eastern literature and mythology. He is the author of The Social Visions of the Hebrew Bible: A Theological Introduction (2001) and Psalms: Songs of Tragedy, Hope, and Justice (1993).

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Table of Contents

1 Of Angels, Mangers, and Arks: Black Sea Flooding and Mountain Mania 3
2 For the Bible Tells Me So!: Competing Ways to Read Genesis 15
3 Not as Seamless as It Seems: The Literalist's Lens 23
4 Just after Breakfast on Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C.: Fundamentalist Literalism and Creation "Science" 43
5 From Sarcophagus to Ship: Traditional and Early Scientific Visions of the Flood 67
6 Weather Reports?: Adopting the Mythic View 95
7 Diverting the Stream of Tradition: Reinventing the Flood Myth 115
8 Race, Sex, and the Curse: When Myths Go Wrong 129
9 Simone de Beauvoir aboard the Ark: Male Hero Fantasies and the Second Sex 145
10 Can We Really Dig Up God?: Science, Myth, and the Flood Today 159
Conclusion. Telling Many Different Stories 183
App The J and P Versions of the Flood Story 189
Notes 197
Bibliography 219
Index 229
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