Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Science and spiritual intuition

In this essay, I engage with the question: Is spiritual awareness or intuition possible? I argue that such an awareness may be conceived of as a real possibility within the context of quantum physics. This continues my presentation of a Christian worldview which ascribes a spiritual dimension to our world. 

The ancients believed in spirits and gods as well as some kind of spiritual intuition or awareness which connects humans with such entities. In ancient societies, spiritual guides were assigned the role of establishing contact with that world [1]. Within the Judaeo-Christian view, the Spirit of God, as well as all sorts of spirits, are operative in that world. Although communication with all spirits, including the spirits of the dead, were prohibited, they believe that God's Spirit through some kind of spiritual intuition was able to "move" the Hebrew prophets in their writing of the divine Scriptures. Traditional Christians also believe that God "speaks" to them through His Spirit in their daily lives. In general non-religious people and atheists do not believe in the spiritual world (spirit world), soul (spirit) or spiritual intuition.

The basic question seems to be: How would we know whether the spiritual realm, spirits and spiritual intuition (awareness) exist? Since these are outside the reach of our sensible intuition (and by extension, empirical confirmation), there is no way to "prove" the existence of any of these. What is possible, however, is that in the progress of science these would in time become accessible in the context of indirect empirical studies within the context of quantum physics.

Although scientists do not have empirical access to the (pre-measurement) quantum realm - once measurement takes place the entities no longer exist in that kind of quantum mode which belongs to the "quantum realm" - they have various ways to indirectly establish whether particular things exist in that realm and one may suggest that all of the above may in time come within the reach of scientific inquiry. Although there would be various metaphysical interpretations regarding such observations, the view presented here would at least have the advantage that such predictions were made beforehand. This implies that we may develop this conceptual framework into a viable hypothesis that can be brought within the scientific domain.

In my view, the existence of the spiritual realm, spirits and spiritual intuition together present the basic ingredients of a spiritual worldview in which about all religious people believe (although I work from a Christian perspective, these concepts are not particular to Judaeo-Christianity). I previously suggested that we use the Kantian metaphysical conception as the point of departure - using it as a theoretical model or hypothesis that may be tested insofar as the study of such things becomes possible in the framework of science [2].

In this regard, I showed that Kant's noumenal realm, which was based on the corresponding Platonic conception, originally went back to the spiritual realm [3]. In line with this perspective on the noumenal realm, Kant situates the soul in that realm and calls it the "noumenal self" [4]. I showed that all the characteristics of this realm have been confirmed in the context of quantum physics [3] and also that we may conceptualize the Kantian soul in this context as a quantum body (existing outside proper space-time) [4].

In this essay, I proceed in showing how another aspect of that ancient spiritual worldview, namely spiritual intuition, may be conceptualized in the context of quantum physics. Again, I use the Kantian metaphysics as the point of departure. Now, however, I move beyond the Kantian position which only incorporates sensible intuition (and not spiritual intuition) in his philosophy. I show how Kant's philosophical system may be expanded to include spiritual intuition and also how (as before) that may find an application in the context of quantum physics. As such I present a viable conception of such intuition which is in line with contemporary quantum physics. This may serve as working hypothesis guiding scientific research in this regard.

Spiritual intuition in philosophical tradition

The idea of spiritual intuition or awareness entered Greek philosophical tradition as early as the 6th century BC in the time of the Pythagoreans (maybe even earlier). In their view, the "higher soul" is the seat of the intuitive mind and the "rational soul", which they considered secondary, is the seat of discursive reason (they also distinguished the non-rational soul, responsible for the senses, appetites and motion). For the Pythagoreans, the word "nous" ("mind") referred to an ability of the soul. As such it did not only had reference to an intellectual ability but also - and even more importantly - to some kind of intuitive apprehension or awareness of the invisible world.

Plato also understood the soul in such terms. Although Plato's view is often taken as merely referring to our intellectual understanding of the "invisible world" of our thoughts, he seems to have had a more basic kind of perception of such a world in mind. One should not forget that Plato mentions in the Phaedo - in the context of the dialogues between Socrates and his friends - that he takes the view of the mystic Orphics regarding such an invisible world as the point of departure for his own view of that world. In fact, one may assume that this was how the "invisible world" entered Greek philosophical thinking in the first place, i.e. as originating from the idea of the spiritual world [3]. As such Plato mentions that our perception of the invisible world is through the "eye of the soul", which seems to go beyond a mere conceptualization of such a world.

What happened in Platonic philosophy (even though the neo-Platonists always accentuated this mystic side), especially in later Western tradition, is that the noumenal world and the intuition that we as humans may have of it was collapsed into an intelligible world that is grasped intellectually in some way (through an intelligible intuition). Rationalists such as Rene Descartes (1596-1650) believed that our concepts originate in the Platonic forms that exist in that intelligible world. As such concepts were considered to be the only things that are truly real. That is why the rationalists discarded empirical data as untrustworthy.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), however, rejected this rationalist view. In his philosophical system, no intellectual intuition of that world is allowed for humans. In his thinking, only God can have such an intellectual intuition of things existing in the noumenal world. Humans only have access to the phenomenal world through their senses. They may think about things that may exist in a noumenal realm, but there is no way in which they may know that such things exist because they do not have an intuition that allows for that. Kant writes in his famous Critique of Pure Reason (called the first Critique) in a section called "Phenomena and Noumena": "room thus remains for some other sort of intuition... [but] we are acquainted with no sort of intuition other than our own sensible one" (B343). For Kant, all concepts must be synthesized with sensible intuitions for knowledge to become possible - and since humans do not have an intellectual intuition, the noumenal or supersensible world (if it exists) is totally unknown to them.

I showed in another essay [5] how the move in Western philosophy to collapse the noumenal into the intellectual and taking the noumenal intuition of early Greek tradition merely as an intelligible intuition has led to a divorce between the phenomenal and intelligible realms. When reason became enthroned, the possibility of some noumenal awareness of a supersensible realm was discarded. But is this correct? I argued that this was a reductionist move which did not allow for the extreme complexity of our human existence. As such I proposed that we may actually conceptualize how such an intuition is possible - even within the Kantian conceptual framework.

Kant developed a problematic metaphysics in which we may conceptualize what the world beyond our senses may be like - even though his conceptual view was not a dogmatic metaphysics. Such a metaphysics is not established through our understanding but through reason (in its regulative role) as a hypothesis. Although Kant's purpose with the first Critique was also to establish the limits of reason (and therefore the futility of the dogmatic metaphysics as presented by the rationalists) he also allowed for the legitimate use of reason beyond our sensible reach insofar as that is only problematically considered - as regulative ideas (guiding ideas).

The question is how such noumenal intuition may be introduced within Kant's regulative conceptual system. Although Kant thought that we cannot conceive of such an intuition, he was not in principle against such a possibility. In fact, Kant mentions that we cannot assert that no such intuition exists (A255/B311). Kant just did not know how one may conceive of such an intuition in his philosophical system. Since then, our knowledge has increased a lot and another possibility that is compatible with his system did, in fact, open up. 

Noumenal intuition within Kantian philosophy

In Kant's philosophy, all our interaction with the world takes place through our senses in which empirical objects are presented within space and time. For Kant, space and time are the basic a priori "forms" of our human sensibility and all sensible intuitions are given within these forms. As such, space and time are also the "forms" of appearances, i.e. the form in which appearances (in the phenomenal world) are presented to us as humans. Insofar as we perceive the world around us, all perceptions are always within the framework of space and time. So, how would one introduce noumenal intuition in the Kantian system?

Kant distinguished between the space and time as the forms of intuition - through which we experience the world - and space and time as concepts. Insofar as (geometrical) space and time are concepts, they may be applied to "empirical space" and time in the same way that concepts (in general) are applied to empirical intuitions in his system (which allows us to make a determinate judgement whether something is such or not). Empirical space refers to the way in which empirical objects determine the form of space through their magnitudes and relations (A431/B459). The same principle applies to time. 

Many possible concepts of space may be constructed in this way and Kant did not restrict what he called "ideal" (conceptual) space/time in any way even though only Euclidean space was known to him. As such, there is no reason why his philosophy should not be compatible with non-Euclidean space (such as Riemannian geometry used in general relativity) or abstract Hilbert space used in quantum physics. In my view, we may rework the Kantian system to be compatible with general relativity or quantum physics (quantum field theory) when we introduce a space-time manifold in the context of his conception of ideal space/time. 

We may think without contradiction of any possible abstract mathematical space or space-time which may apply to the noumenal realm - which may be conceptualized in correspondence with the quantum realm. In this regard, the quantum realm corresponds with Kant's noumenal realm which is also beyond empirical reach (see [3]). In this context, the Kantian conception of ideal space/time (as mere concepts) may be applied to the quantum realm even though that realm is beyond empirical access in its pre-measurement phase. 

At this stage, I am only concerned with quantum mechanics. The unique feature of quantum mechanics is that abstract Hilbert space is combined with proper time. Within the Kantian system that would mean that ideal space (as an abstract space concept) is combined with proper time. Kant did not foresee this possibility, but there is no reason why such a concept cannot be introduced within the Kantian system. The question is: what are the implications of this for the Kantian way of thinking? How is the Kantian philosophy expanded through this reworking thereof? 

In the first place, this provides a way to bridge the gap between Kant's phenomenal and noumenal realms. The divide between these realms had always been a major drawback in Kant's philosophy since no human interaction with that realm is allowed in his system. The result was that this realm was reduced to a realm of belief - something that religious people believe in but which can never be confirmed or denied through science. In my reworking of the Kantian system, we do not only find a conceptual link between these realms (that they may be conceptualized as interwoven in certain contexts) but also that humans may have some kind of experience of that realm through noumenal intuition.

When we take the noumenal realm as the quantum realm, then from a quantum mechanical perspective this means that we may become aware of quantum entities insofar as these are presented within our time intuition (even though they are not presented in our space intuition). This would happen when our quantum bodies (souls) interact through quantum interactions with our natural bodies. We would be able to become conscious of such quantum interactions in proper time if humans have such an awareness.

Image result for god and man
God and man connecting: Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel (1508-12)
Although we do not know at this stage if humans do indeed have such a form of intuition in line with the suggestion given above, it may very well be the case. This would mean that humans have another kind of intuition than the sensible one, which would allow for some kind of spiritual experience over and above our sensible experience. Insofar as we take the noumenal realm as our first interaction with the spiritual realm [3], this would constitute a spiritual intuition. 

Although I do not prove that such a quantum or spiritual intuition exists, I show how it may be conceptualized as a real possibility. In the Kantian conceptual framework, this may serve as a regulative idea (hypothesis) that may guide scientific research into this matter. Although this idea has to be presented within a detailed conceptual framework that includes both physical and quantum bodies, the basic idea underlying such interaction is quite clear. As such this kind of intuition is no longer merely a vague idea that religious people believe in, but a philosophical concept that is consistent with contemporary science.

Within the Judaeo-Christian worldview, this opens the door for an understanding of God's revelation in Scripture that is consistent with our scientific worldview. Although the details of God's working through his Spirit in the hearts and minds of humans would probably forever be beyond our human understanding, we may at least grasp how that is possible. 

Conclusion

In this essay, I focus on spiritual intuition. If we allow that our engagement with the quantum realm is, in fact, our first scientific step in exploring the spiritual realm and that humans may have a quantum body which compliments their physical bodies and which may continue existing after death, then it seems very likely that we as humans would have some kind of spiritual intuition that allows for some kind of communication between these two spheres. Although I did not present any proof at this stage that such intuition (or even spiritual bodies) exist, I do show how we may conceive thereof in the context of contemporary science. 

Science has progressed a lot over the last two hundred years. Many of the things which Kant included in his metaphysics which was originally rejected as untenable - such as a noumenal realm governed by spontaneity instead of mechanism - have been confirmed in the context of quantum physics where determinism had been proven to break down. I believe it is just a matter of time before the existence of the soul as a quantum body which is somehow interwoven with our physical body, is also confirmed (albeit only indirectly - just like any quantum entity in its pre-measurement phase - since it is beyond the possibility of direct empirical confirmation). 

In the same way that the possible existence of a quantum aspect to our human existence (i.e. a soul) has become a viable scientific hypothesis, the possibility of quantum (spiritual) intuitions may be so the presented. Although the existence of such intuitions would be extremely difficult to establish, they would nonetheless in time come within scientific reach.

Notes
[1] Today such persons are called "mediums". In my view, they, in general, do not interact with the dead but with the psyche of those who knew such persons. In this regard, they may actually use the kind of spiritual intuition that I discuss, but only in connection with living persons.
[2] Part 3 of this series
[3] Part 4 of this series
[4] Part 5 of this series
I previously argued in essays on this blog (before 2014) that Kant's noumenal realm finds its conceptual application in the framework of the higher dimensional realm theorized by theoretical physicists. Since then I have reworked that hypothesis into a more substantial position in which the quantum realm itself is taken as confirmation of Kant's noumenal realm. The second position is much stronger because it does not only involve the quantum realm as a reality (instead of the mere theoretical possibilities presented by quantum theorists) but also because higher dimensions are just one way among others in which the quantum realm may be conceptualized. 
[6] Prof. Brian Josephson has proposed that quantum entanglement may explain telepathy. Although this is by no means confirmed to be the case, it is nonetheless an example where a form of spiritual intuition is understood in the context of quantum mechanics. My reworking of the Kantian metaphysical framework provides a philosophical framework within which these things may be understood and studied.  

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
Dialoguer

The author is a scientist and philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy and science.

Science and God. Part 4: Science and the spiritual realm
Science and God. Part 5: In defence of the soul

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Rapture: The different views

As so many times before, we are again hearing that the Rapture is about to take place! As such, it is appropriate at this time to reconsider what Biblical scholars mean when they refer to the "Rapture". There are various views regarding the timing of the Rapture within the broader framework of eschatological events, which I discuss. The important question is: Which view, if any, is correct? This the fifth essay in the series on Christian eschatology.

Christians who are interested in eschatology (the study of the last things), usually have strong feelings about their own position. As such, it is not easy to discuss a topic such as the Rapture without some people taking exception. The purpose of this essay is, however, not to belittle other views but to present all the main views on the topic and then critically discuss them. Although some Christians may think that they "do not believe in the Rapture", they may be surprised to find that such an event (albeit without using this word) is indeed mentioned in Scripture. The question is, however, how do we understand such passages?

The word "rapture" is derived from the Latin "rapere", which means "to take away". The most important Biblical passage about the Rapture is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 where we read: "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (King James Translation).

The Rapture refers to an eschatological event when the Church will be taken away from earth to meet the Lord in the air during his Second Coming. The rapture involves three aspects, namely 1) the living saints will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17), 2) these saints will be transformed when they are "clothed" with "incorruption" and "immortality" (1 Cor. 15:52-3) and 3) those saints who have died in Christ and whom he will bring with him during his Coming, will be resurrected with glorious bodies (corresponding with those of the transformed living saints) (1 Thess. 4:16: 1 Cor. 15:35, 42).

Now, if the Rapture is so clearly taught in Scripture, why all the fuzz? The reason is simple: The Rapture is often associated primarily with those who believe that this event can happen at any moment and who make predictions about the date when it will take place. They, however, represent only one group in the greater Christian community who believe in the Rapture. Others who also believe in the Rapture, see things differently. Christians have very different views regarding the meaning of Scriptural passages such as the one quoted above.

There are, very generally speaking, two distinct views regarding the Rapture [1], which concerns the place of this event in the larger picture of future eschatological events. The first group of Christians believe that the Rapture will be a distinct event which will take place sometime before Jesus Christ comes during the great battle of Armageddon (seven years or three-and-a-half years or some days earlier). The second group believes that the Rapture would be part of one single glorious event when Jesus Christ returns. In some way, the first group believes in two Second Comings and the others in only one [2].

Many of the Christians who believe in the Rapture, also believe that there will be a Great Tribulation in the period directly preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. That would be the time when the final Antichrist appears, who would persecute the true believers. In this context, the first view is usually called the "Pre-Tribulation" Rapture View and the second the "Post-Tribulation" Rapture View. The first group believes that the Church will be raptured before the Great Tribulation whereas the second group believes that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation.

In this essay, I discuss these two views. I present the textual evidence which is used by the different schools to support their view. Obviously, one cannot present all possible arguments in a short essay such as this but I do discuss the most important ones. I also present some criticism - insofar as applicable - of the way in which the Biblical verses are sometimes understood.

A Pre-Tribulation Rapture?

The proponents of the Pre-Tribulation View present various arguments in support of their view, namely that Scripture teaches that the Rapture will happen when Jesus appears for the Church to take her with Him to heaven for a period before returning with them later during the great battle of Armageddon to establish his Messianic rule on earth. The period between the Rapture and the Second Coming (as these two eschatological events would henceforth be called) is determined by their understanding of a prophecy in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 9) which mentions a final period of seven years which they (and even many who hold to the Post-Tribulation View) take as referring to the final seven years before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I discuss all the views on this prophecy elsewhere [3].

The relevant prophecy in the Book of Daniel (henceforth, the prophecy of Daniel) is the one about the 70 "weeks" of years (i.e. 70 x 7 = 490 years) in Daniel 9. According to this understanding of the prophecy of Daniel, God had determined a period of 490 years over the people of Israel. This period is divided into two parts, namely one of 483 years (69 "weeks" of years) and one of 7 years (1 "week" of years) [4]. The first part commenced with the royal command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem after Israel had returned from their exile to Babylon and ended when the Messiah revealed himself as King to Israel (on Palm Sunday). This had been remarkably fulfilled [5]. The last part consisting of seven years has, however, not yet been fulfilled and will only be at the end of this era before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ during the battle of Armageddon.

The classical Pre-Tribulation View believes that the Rapture will take place at the beginning of the final seven years. The Second Coming will happen only after that period has passed. In their view, this final period of seven years concerns God's plan with Israel and not the Church. The Church will, therefore, be raptured before the commencement of the final seven years. Another, more recent view, which is sometimes called the Mid-Tribulation View [6], believes that the Rapture will happen in the middle of this final seven years, i.e. 3 1/2 years before the end. Their arguments are also concerned with things mentioned in the prophecy of Daniel as well as their understanding of St. Paul's interpretation of that prophecy (in 2 Thess. 2).

I start the discussion with arguments particular to the classical view and then proceed with other Scriptures which are used more generally by proponents of the Pre-Tribulation View.

1) The final seven years and Israel

The classical Pre-Tribulation View takes the prophecy of Daniel 9 not merely as referring to events concerning Israel in the same sense as so many other such prophecies; they believe that this prophecy has dispensational significance. In the larger context of God's plan, he has established various dispensations of grace in accordance with his progressive revelation throughout the ages. Without going into too much detail, we can distinguish between the Adamic (both before and after the Fall), Noachite, Abramaitic, Mosaic, Church and Millennial dispensations during which God entered (or will enter) into various covenants with his people.

In their view, the gap between the first 69 weeks of years (483 years) and final week of years (7 years) should be understood in terms of the Church era which commenced when Israel rejected Jesus as the Messianic King (in crucifying him) and God, as a result, postponed the Messianic Kingdom to the time after the Second Coming. In this view, Jesus presented himself as the Messianic King to Israel when he entered Jerusalem on the donkey of Palm Sunday. Israel, however, did not accept him as such and the Messianic Kingdom, therefore, did not realize.

God, who in his wisdom had foreseen this outcome, then postponed the Messianic Kingdom and replaced Israel with the Church as his instrument on earth who would henceforth proclaim the Good News of his salvation. In this view, the Church did, however, not inherit the promises made to the people of Israel. The Mosaic Covenant was now replaced with the New Covenant with the Church [7].

If the gap between the first 69 weeks of years and the final seven years coincides with the Church era, then it makes sense that the Church be raptured before the final seven years, which concerns Israel (and not the Church). In that case, the first 69 weeks, as well as the final seven years, belong to the Mosaic dispensation. The final seven years would, therefore, be a return to the Mosaic dispensation (some view the last seven years as a special dispensation).

Although this scheme seems quite neat, it is not. In the first place, the first 69 weeks obviously do not coincide with the Mosaic dispensation which commenced nearly a thousand years before the seventy weeks of years of Daniel. The end of the first 69 weeks also do not coincide with the end of the Mosaic dispensation (with the crucifixion) or the beginning of the Church dispensation on Pentecost - it ended on Palm Sunday [5]. Then there is the question regarding the final seven years: Is it not strange that God would have us return to the Mosaic dispensation in the larger context of his "progressive" revelation? And: Does not such a return to an old dispensation undermine the salvation which became available through the Cross of Jesus Christ?

It seems much better to take the prophecy of Daniel as referring to events concerning Israel without trying to force it into some dispensational framework [8, 9]. And then the whole argument for the Rapture taking place seven years before the Second Coming collapses.

2) The Church in the Apocalypse

The classical Pre-Tribulation View presents a reading of the Book of Revelation in which the Church is in heaven before all the cataclysmic events described in that book begins. In their view, the twenty-four elders who are shown before God's throne in Revelation 4-5, which precedes the seals, trumpets and vials (Rev. 6-18), represent the Church in heaven before the Great Tribulation commences. Although there is no mention in the Apocalypse that the period of the Great Tribulation would last for seven years, they believe that this would be the period mentioned in the prophecy of Daniel. A period of 3 1/2 years, which may correspond to the second part of the seven years, is mentioned.

When one considers the outline of the Book of Revelation - without trying to present a detailed discussion - one finds that the order in which things are presented in the first part of the book is as follows: 1) Jesus appears to St. John (traditional Christians usually identify the "John" who wrote the book (Rev. 1:1) with St. John), 2) Jesus dictates seven letters to churches in Asia Minor which stood under St. John's pastoral care (Rev. 2-3), 3) St. John is taken in a vision to heaven where he sees God on the throne, the four heavenly beasts, the seven lamps of fire (the seven-fold Spirit of God), the Lamb (Jesus) who opens the sealed scroll and the 24 elders (Rev. 4-5).

In the view of these scholars, the seven letters to the churches should be read as a prophecy which refers to seven eras into which the Church dispensation is divided. The characteristics of the churches to whom these letters were directed are then applied to corresponding eras which belong to the Church dispensation through the ages. St. John's experience in which he had a vision of heaven (after he heard the voice of Jesus which sounded like a trumpet), represents the Rapture. The 24 elders, who are then observed at the throne of God, represent the Church in heaven. All of this happens before the seals, trumpets and vials - which means that the Church will not be on earth during that terrible period.

Again, although this interpretation seems quite neat, it is not. The scholars who belong to this school often assert the importance of a "literal" reading of prophecy but in this case, they employ an allegorical reading (although they call it a "secondary" reading, it stands central to their project). They interpret the seven letters as referring to seven Church eras even though these are merely letters similar to those which, say, St. Paul wrote to various churches.

In fact, the characteristics of all seven letters belonged to the early Church period (!), in the same way that they belonged to the Church throughout the ages as well as our own time (the Church in the West is very different from the Church in China!). Although the word "church" appears only in this part of Revelation due to the structure of the book (except for Rev. 22:16), there is no reason to believe that this signifies the Church dispensation before the Rapture takes place - the appearance of the word "church" in this part of the book merely reflects the content of the letters to the seven churches. The word "church" is never used in Revelation to denote the whole Church!

These scholars interpret Jesus's loud voice (which St. John heard twice; Rev. 1:10; 4:1) as the trumpet of the Rapture and his heavenly vision as the Rapture itself even though this is described in similar terms to those of other Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah (Is. 6). In actual fact, no trumpet is sounded and the Church is not described as being raptured - it was merely St. John's own experience!

The 24 elders can obviously represent something other than the Church since St. John himself is not included among them (say, believers who partook in the resurrection of Jesus, Matt 27:52-3). As the sealed scroll in the hand of the Lamb clearly contains the prophecies, these things preceding the opening of that scroll and the revelation of its content must be viewed as part of St. John's present and not "the things which shall be hereafter" (Rev. 1:19).

It seems much simpler to take the things mentioned in Revelation 1-5 merely as they are presented in the book, namely as events concerning St. John himself. In that case, the idea of a Rapture before the Great Tribulation again collapses.

3) Differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming

Those who hold to the Pre-Tribulation View believes that the New Testament makes a clear distinction between the Rapture and the Second Coming insofar as these are described very differently. In their view, the major difference is that passages which focus on the Rapture (John 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Th. 4:13-17) do not mention the signs which precede the Second Coming whereas passages that focus on the Second Coming usually do (the Prophetic Discours; 2 Thess. 2). According to them, this implies that the Rapture would not be preceded by those signs. Many take this as implying that the Rapture can take place at any moment.

Although this seems to be correct, there is the question regarding the Rapture in the Prophetic Discours. We read in that well-known Scriptural passage which concerns events during the Second Coming that some would be taken away whereas others would be left: "Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch, therefore for you know not at what hour your Lord doth come" (Matt. 24:40-41). Scholars from this school, however, do not take this passage as referring to the Rapture but instead applies it to God's wrath - that those persons would be taken "away" by God's wrath. As such it is not the Rapture that is spoken of in their opinion.

There is, however, some scholars from this school who find the Rapture in St. Luke's version of the Prophetic Discours. In that case, we read: "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luk. 21:36). These scholars justify the Rapture in this passage by taking St. Matthew's version of the Prophetic Discours as applying to the Jews in end time context and St. Luke's version as applying to Christians. As such, this passage is merely a general challenge to the Church to be ready at all times since the Rapture can come at any time.

Again, one should be careful not to come to conclusions too fast. The mentioned passages in St. Matthew and St. Luke appear in the about the same place in the Prophetic Discours! This means that they most probably refer to the very same things. In fact, it seems much better to accept that since the same discourse which is recounted in St. Matthew and St. Luke was given at the same time to the same people (the disciples), that it applies to the same people, namely the Church living in Jerusalem when these things happen [10].

When one accepts that these two versions refer to the same things insofar as the Second Coming is concerned, then you find that the very same people who will go through the Tribulation according to St. Matthew's version (Matt. 24:21) will also be the ones who escape all that come to pass at the end of days in St. Luke's version, which in this case would refer to the signs concerning sun, moon and stars when God pours out his wrath on earth (Luk. 21:25, 26, 35). In this case, those who are "taken" would be participating in the Rapture which would enable them to escape God's wrath during the battle of Armageddon.

So, it seems that one may find the Rapture in the Prophetic Discours after all. In fact, the similarities between typical Rapture passages and others about the Second Coming is quite substantial: In both cases do we read that the Lord comes in the air, in both cases are angels present, in both cases are a trumpet blown (the "last" trumpet) and in both cases are the elect gathered from the ends of the earth and heaven.The reason why the signs of the Second Coming are not discussed in typical Rapture passages may be merely due to the fact that the theme in those passages is the resurrection and not the signs (Th. 4:13; 1 Cor. 15:12).

Believers who distinguish between the Rapture and the Second Coming often refers to the image of a thief which comes unexpectedly as applying uniquely to the Rapture. They argue that Jesus says that this is how the Rapture would be (Matt. 24:43). The problem for their view is that this warning in the Prophetic Discours appears in the context of the Second Coming during Armageddon! We find the same in the Apocalypse where we read in the middle of the discussion of Armageddon that the Lord would come as a thief:

"For they [the three unclean spirits which look like frogs] are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walks naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon" (Rev. 16:14-16).

Clearly, the image of the thief is applied to Jesus's Coming during Armageddon. As such, one should maybe understand it in the terms mentioned by St. Paul: "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day would overtake you as a thief" (1 Thess. 5:4-5).

Image result for left behind
The 2014 film "Left Behind" depicts a Pre-Tribulation Rapture
4) The Church escapes God's wrath

Those who hold to the Pre-Tribulation View often identifies the Great Tribulation - either the whole period of seven years or that of 3 1/2 years - with the time of God's wrath. As such, they argue that God would not expose the Church to his wrath, which is why she will be raptured before that happens.

It is true that Scripture teaches that the Church would not come in God's wrath: "For God had not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9). We also find that the examples that Jesus gives in the Prophetic Discours to elucidate the time of his Coming, namely that of Noah and Lot, also involved the physical removal of his people from the place on which God poured out his wrath. The question is, however, when is the time of God's wrath? Does it coincide with the final seven years or with the last 3 1/2 years or does it happen during the battle of Armageddon? If the last is the case, then this argument does not work.

The only place where we find any clue in this regard, is in the Book of Revelation. The problem is, however, that this book is interpreted so differently. Take the seals, trumpets and vials. Do they all concern God's wrath? The breaking of the seals merely concern the revealing of the prophetic part of the book and they include the seven trumpets (under the seventh seal) as well as the seven vials (under the seventh trumpet).

One may take the events described after the first six seals were broken as a broad summary of what is to come (Rev. 6). That includes the four horsemen, the martyrs seen before the throne as well as the destruction of the world when the sun will become black as a sackcloth of hair, the moon will become red as blood, the stars of heaven will fall on the earth and the heavens will be rolled together like a scroll (Rev. 6:12-17). That means that the destruction of heaven and earth in the day of God's wrath would only take place at the end even though it is mentioned already at this early stage in the book.

Furthermore, although the seven trumpets lead to destruction on various levels, one does find that the images used (such as the description of the locusts; Rev. 9) appear elsewhere in Scripture as a symbol associated with invading armies (Joel 2:1-10). Consistent with such a view - that the trumpets describe a war and related events - we do, in fact, read that Jerusalem will be tread under foot during that time for a period of 3 1/2 years. This means that these things refer to God's indirect wrath (i.e. war) which Christians of all ages had been exposed to.

It is only in the context of the seven vials that explicit mention is made of God's wrath. Now, as these seven vials are closely identified with the great battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16), one may propose that they do, in fact, refer to the final events of this era. If the wrath of God is only poured out during the great battle of Armageddon, then there is no reason why the Church should be raptured years (or even days) before that time.

The words "great tribulation" used in St. Matthew's version of the Prophetic Discours (Matt. 24:21), as well as in Revelation (Rev. 7:14), obviously means that millions (?) of Christians would be severely persecuted during that time. It is, after all, the "Great" Tribulation! These martyrs are mentioned throughout Revelation (Rev. 6:9-11; 7:9-17; 15:2-3; 20:4). They are accorded a very special place even though they are not part of the Church, who will be raptured before that time, according to these scholars! In fact, we read that God's wrath is exactly to avenge the death of these Christians (Rev. 19:1-2)! So, it seems that the "great tribulation" concerns Christians and is not part of God's wrath.

Although scholars from this school of thought interprets the passage in the Letter to the Church in Philadelphia that they would be kept from "the hour of temptation" (Rev. 3:10) as applying to the Great Tribulation, it seems more sensible to apply this to the particular circumstances of that church during the Roman persecutions. On the whole, it seems that there is no real Scriptural support for conflating the Great Tribulation with God's wrath.

5) A Mid-Tribulation Rapture?

We can now focus more particularly on the view that the Rapture will occur in the middle of the final seven years. According to this view, the Church will be raptured 3 1/2 years before the end. Of particular importance to this view is that which will happen in the middle of the final seven years, namely an "abomination" which will occur in the temple and which will leave it desolate (see Dan. 9:27). In their view, the Rapture will happen directly after this event. They base their arguments on their interpretation of St. Paul's discussion of this future event in his second epistle to the church of Thessalonica.

According to Jesus, the "abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, (which will) stand in the holy place" (Matt. 24:15) will signal that the end is at hand. The "great tribulation" will follow directly after this event (Matt. 24:21). Then, immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened, the moon will not give her light and the stars will fall from heaven. Then will the "Son of man" (Jesus) appear in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30-31).

St. Paul also discusses this event in 2 Thessalonians 2. He says that a very wicked person will appear at that time whom he calls the "man of sin" and the "son of perdition". He will oppose God and exalt himself above all gods or forms of worship. As such, he will sit in the temple and present himself as the manifestation of God. Clearly, this refers to the final Antichrist who will appear at the end of days. Obviously, Christians (and Jews) will not worship him in this way, which explains why the Great Tribulation will follow.

How does this relate to the Rapture? St. Paul says that the day of the Coming of the Lord and of our "gathering together unto him" (the Rapture) shall not happen except there come a falling away first (i.e. from the worship of the true God) and this evil person be revealed in the way described above (2 Thess. 2:1-3). This means that the Rapture will only happen after the Antichrist has revealed himself as such through an abomination in the temple.

Although this passage by St. Paul implies that the Rapture will happen after the abomination in the temple (in the middle of the final seven years), it does not necessarily mean that it will happen immediately thereafter. In fact, we read in the same passage that Jesus Christ will destroy the Antichrist with his Coming, which may mean that this is also when the Church will be united with their Lord: "And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy with the brightness of his coming" (2 Thess. 2:8).

There is, however, one more issue regarding this passage to be discussed, namely the reference to one who (and that which) will withhold the Antichrist from revealing himself before the appointed time (2 Thess. 2:6, 7). A lot had been written about this. Few other Biblical passages are so unclear and had been interpreted so divergent. As such, this is not a passage that should take a central place in any eschatological view.

Nonetheless, Pre-Tribulational scholars often interpret the one who will withhold the Antichrist as the Church (or the Holy Spirit) which means that the Antichrist will only be revealed after the Church had been raptured. This, however, does not make sense for the simple reason that St. Paul refers to something as well as someone who withholds the revelation of the Antichrist. The first is referred to as something ("what") which withholds and the second as "one" who withholds the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:6, 7). Neither the Church nor the Holy Spirit is ever referred to in the Bible as something (a "what"). The Church is always "she" and the Holy Spirit "he". This means that St. Paul does not have the Church in mind in this passage!

What did he have in mind? This can obviously not be answered for sure. We do, however, know how the early Church understood this passage. They believed that the one who will withhold the revelation of the Antichrist is the Cesar (as he occupies his place) and that that which will withhold him is the Roman empire, which will be replaced by the empire of the Antichrist (for a detailed discussion, see [11]).

A Post-Tribulation Rapture?

This brings us to the view that the Rapture will happen during the Second Coming. In this view, there are not two distinct events called the Rapture and the Second Coming which will happen some time apart. Rather, the Rapture happens when the saints will meet the Lord in the air at his Second Coming during the battle of Armageddon. Jesus will take them away before pouring his wrath on the nations gathered against Jerusalem. Their arguments are the following:

1) The Greek words used

Scholars from the Post-Tribulation View mention that there are three Greek words used in the New Testament by St. Paul for the Second Coming, namely "parousia" (coming), "apokalupsis" (revealing) and "epiphaneia" (appearance). If he made a clear distinction between the Rapture and the Second Coming, then one expects that he would have used one term exclusively for the Rapture and another for the Second Coming. This is not the case. What we find, is that all three terms are used for the Rapture as well the Second Coming, which implies that he did not view them as two different events.

Parousia: 1 Thess. 4:15 (Rapture); 2 Thess. 2:8 (during Armageddon)
Apokalupsis: 1 Cor. 1:7 (Rapture); 2 Thess. 1:7, 8 (during Armageddon)
Epiphaneia: 1 Tim. 6:14 (Rapture); 2 Thess. 2:8 (during Armageddon)

We also find in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-6, that well-known passage about the Rapture quoted above, that the word which is used to describe our meeting with the Lord in the air is "apantesis" which denotes a going forth to meet someone and then return from where one came. We also find the word used in Matthew 25:6 and Acts 28:15 (and extra-Biblical papyrus texts) where it has this meaning. In Acts, this word is used to describe the going forth of the brethren from Rome to meet St. Paul after which they returned with him to that city. This meaning of the word implies that the Church will meet the Lord in the air and then return with him to stand on Mount of Olives during the great battle of Armageddon (see Zechariah 14:3-5).

2) The Rapture in the Apocalypse

The Post-Tribulation View asserts that there is only one passage in Revelation where the Rapture is clearly depicted. That depiction is similar to the description in the Prophetic Discours, namely that the Son of Man will come with the clouds of heaven and send his angel(s) to gather the elect from all over the earth (Rev. 14:14-16). In Revelation, the image used for the gathering of the elect during the Second Coming is the grain harvest. This is also how Jesus depicts the gathering of the saints in the parable of the tares and wheat (Matt. 13:24-30).

The grain harvest seems to include both the gathering of the living saints (Rapture) and those who had died. The reason for thinking so is that the cutting of the first sheaf of barley early on the first day of the week directly following the Passover (and waving it before God in the temple) symbolized the resurrection of Jesus Christ - who was joined with other resurrected saints on that occasion (Matt 27:52-3). In St. Paul's discussion of the order of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he says that this will happen as follows: first Christ as the firstfruits (the first sheaf) and then the general resurrection of the just which will take place at his coming (1 Cor. 15:23).

Now, in Revelation, we read about two harvests which are depicted one after the other, namely the grain harvest and the grape harvest (Rev. 14:14-20). These are depicted towards the end of the book and seems to be a forewarning of things that will happen towards the end. The first is clearly the gathering of the saints. The second refers to events during the battle of Armageddon which is compared to a wine press: "[the angel] gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city [Jerusalem], and the blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs" (Rev. 14:15-16). The same image is repeated in Revelation 19:11-21 where the Second Coming of Jesus Christ during the battle is described in some detail.

It seems that in the Book of Revelation the Rapture is depicted as happening at the time of the great battle of Armageddon.

3) The first resurrection

Throughout Scripture, we read that there will be two general resurrections, namely that of the just and that of the unjust (Dan. 12:2; Joh. 5:29). In the Book of Revelation, these are called the "first resurrection" and the "second death" (Rev. 20:4-6). The first resurrection is so called because there will be no general resurrection before that and the second one is so called since it would be a resurrection unto eternal damnation (called the "second death").

In Revelation, the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6) is described directly after the great battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11-21). We read that the martyrs who have died at the hands of the "beast" during the period of severe persecution which preceded the Second Coming will be among those resurrected during the "first resurrection". They will reign with Jesus Christ after his victory over the "beast" (which seems to refer to the final Antichrist) during the great battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11-21). Clearly, the "first resurrection" cannot happen before the Second Coming as these martyrs are included at that event. This means that the Rapture, during which the first general resurrection is to take place, cannot happen before the Second Coming.

4) The Church in the Great Tribulation

There are two important passages used by Post-Tribulation scholars in support of their view that the Church will indeed be in the Great Tribulation, namely Revelation 14:13 and 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8.

In Revelation 14 we read about various angels who appear to make announcements. The first announces that the "hour of the judgment of God has come" (Rev. 14:7). The second announces that the great Babylon is fallen (Rev. 14:8) (see [12] for a detailed discussion). The third announces God's wrath upon those who worship the "beast" and his image. Then a voice was heard saying: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. Yes, sayeth the Spirit: that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them" (Rev. 14:13). This is followed by the depictions of the grain and grape harvest discussed above.

Now, this passage clearly refers to those Christians who will die during that period of severe persecution when the "beast" will kill many. They will receive a special reward or crown for their heroic faith and deeds during the reign of the beast. Now, we read that they die "in the Lord". This is a technical term, first introduced by St. Paul, which is used to refer to those who belong to the Church. They are "in the Lord" in the sense of belonging to his body, the Church. So, here we find an explicit reference to saints belonging to the Church who will be in the Great Tribulation.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:4-8 we read: "So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer; Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble [persecute] you; And to you who are troubled rest [relieve] with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking revenge on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ".

In this passage St. Paul speaks in the expectation that the Second Coming could have taken place during his own lifetime. As such, he viewed the persecution that the Church was suffering at that time as possibly being the last and final one before the Lord returns. This means that he is talking of the Great Tribulation which will precede the Second Coming of Jesus Christ when he will pour his wrath on those who persecuted the Church. Furthermore, he is clearly thinking that the Church will be in that tribulation as they will only be saved from that by the return of the Lord. And since he includes himself among those who will be so saved (clearly through the Rapture) there cannot be any doubt that he had thought that the Church will be in the Great Tribulation.

The thrust of this passage is that the Church will get relief from the Great Tribulation by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Church will, therefore, be in the Great Tribulation.

Conclusion

In this essay, I discuss the main views on the Rapture. Clearly, Christians have very different views regarding the time of the Rapture. What is, however, important, is that one should not to defend any particular view merely for the sake of defending it but should rather have an openness to be convinced by the Scriptures. Obviously, we will have only a partial knowledge of these things until the time of the fulfilment of the prophecies.

In my critical analysis of all the main arguments of the various views, I have not found any passage in support of the Pre-Tribulation View. Although one may read some passages in that way, closer scrutiny seems to suggest that such readings are not convincing. In contrast, there are some passages that explicitly place the Church in the Great Tribulation (Rev. 14:13; 2 Thess. 1:6-7). It seems that the outpouring of God's wrath at Armageddon is, in fact, in retribution for the killing and persecution of the saints who suffered so much during the Great Tribulation.

We should take heed of St. Paul's words that persecution renders the Church "worthy" of the kingdom of God. Clearly, the Christian martyrs have a very special place in God's plan. This makes the idea that the Church will escape persecution an unworthy one.

[1] The view which distinguishes between the Rapture and the Second Coming (during Armageddon), includes various schools of thought regarding the length of the period between these events. Some believe that this in-between period will last 7 years, others 3 1/2 years and still others 50 or some other number of days. There are also those who think that the Church as a whole will not be raptured, but only a selected groups of saints. The rest will be "left behind" to face the Great Tribulation on earth.
[2] Those Christians who use the word Rapture, usually believe that the Second Coming during the battle of Armageddon will lead to the Messianic reign of Jesus Christ on earth for one thousand years (called the Millennium). Christians who do not believe in the Millennium usually steer clear of the term "Rapture". Insofar as they, however, believe that the saints will be "caught up" in the clouds to meet Christ in the air during the Second Coming, they do, in fact, believe in this eschatological event. As such, the Rapture is something that all traditional Christians believe in.
[3] The period is actually divided into three parts, namely seven, sixty-two and one, weeks of years. As the first two parts are consecutive, one may treat them together as one period.
[4] The final seven years: The different views
[5] A very remarkable prophecy
[6] The term Mid-Tribulation implies that the Great Tribulation will last for seven years and that the Rapture will happen in the middle thereof. Most of the proponents of this view, however, do not think that the Great Tribulation will last for seven years but only for the last three-and-a-half years. As such their view is actually Pre-Tribulational. Their version of the Pre-Tribulation View differs from the classical one in that they regard the duration of the Tribulation differently.
[7] The close association of the classical Pre-Tribulation View with Dispensationalism (the theory about the various dispensations) has led some scholars (especially from Covenant Theology circles) to think that this view is, in fact, what Dispensationalism teaches. It is not. It is merely one particular reading of Dispensationalism. A much more streamlined view of Dispensationalism would merely take the current dispensation as continuing until the end of this era with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
[8] In this case one would reject the idea of a "postponed Messianic Kingdom". You would merely take the replacement of the Mosaic dispensation with the Christian one (in which the Mosaic Covenant is replaced with the New Covenant) as having been God's plan all along.
[9] Insofar as one excepts that God still has a plan for Israel (see Rom. 11:25-32) you cannot adhere to a "replacement theology" which replaces Israel with the Church even within the context of Bible prophecy. Replacement theology sees no further role for Israel in God's plan.
[10] One may view the Prophetic Discours as a multiple prophecy concerning both the events of 70 AD and those happening at the Second Coming. In that case, one may furthermore take St. Matthew's version as primarily concerned with the latter and St. Luke's version as also being concerned with the first.
[11] When can the Second Coming of Jesus Christ be expected?
[12] The final Antichrist: the different views

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
The author has written a few books on eschatology including Op pad na Armageddon, 31 bepeinsinge oor Openbaring en ander Bybelprofesieë (1995). He has a Masters in Philosophy (University of Cape Town) as well as a PhD in Physics (University of Natal). He writes and lectures on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

If readers find the essay important for current debate, they are welcome to share it or forward it to others.

Read also
Bible prophecy: predicting the distant future?
The rise of the final world empire: the different views
The final seven years: the different views
The final Antichrist: the different views
When can the Second Coming of Jesus be expected?



Monday, 7 August 2017

The Great Flood: Did it really happen?

The Biblical story of the deluge has been a bone of contention for a long time. Conservative Christians often believe that the Biblical story should be taken literally as saying that the whole earth was inundated during the Great Flood. Biblical Criticism scholars often think that it is nothing but a myth. So, what is the truth? What does the evidence tell us?

There are few Biblical stories that generate so much debate as the one about the deluge. This cataclysmic event still grabs the attention of large audiences as can be seen in the numbers who viewed the recent epic drama Noah (2014). In the Netherlands, one person even built an ark according to the specifications given in the Bible. Others search for the remains of the Ark on Mt Ararat in northeastern Turkey. Still others find evidence for the Great Flood all over the world.

People have widely divergent views on this topic. Some believe that we should read the Biblical narrative as saying that the waters covered the whole earth – Mt. Everest included. They read all archaeological evidence regarding cataclysmic events in the context of the Great Flood. Others believe that it is merely a myth – in their view, this is a typical myth which originated either in some way in the various great floods throughout the long history of mankind going back many millennia or from our collective unconscious (if you are a Jungian). The question is: who is right?

Giving a balanced account of the Biblical story of the deluge is a great challenge – not the least because some people are so fired up about it and are not open to any discussion that differs from their dogmatic position. One should, however, remember that the deluge is said to have happened long before the earliest Biblical text was written down. Traditional Christians believe that Moses wrote the story down in about 1400 BC which is (depending on the Biblical text used) a millennium or more after the event itself. This forces us to consider the question: Where did the author get the information used in this story? Where did that tradition originate?

At this point it is important to accentuate that the story of the Great Flood cannot be viewed in isolation; we should consider it within the context of the “ancient history” of Genesis 2-11. If we want to understand the story of the Biblical flood, we have to consider the background of the “ancient history”. I previously argued that this tradition was handed down within Abraham’s family since the time when they migrated from Ur in Sumer (part 8 of this series). I call it the Sumerian hypothesis. I showed that about everything in the ancient history – the deluge included – go back to persons and events that are also mentioned in ancient Sumerian tradition. As such it seems reasonable to begin our discussion by considering the Sumerian tradition in this regard.

The origin of the Biblical story of the deluge

The deluge made a very distinct impression on Sumerian tradition. As such it was remembered as a universal flood that did not merely change the Sumerian world but also that of humanity. We find this tradition in the Sumerian King List although the story of the deluge is also told in other literary works. What I show in this section is that 1) the Sumerian tradition about the deluge places it solidly within the framework of ancient Sumerian history and 2) archaeological data is consistent with that tradition.

There was a time when Sumerologists thought that the Sumerian deluge should be identified with one of the occasional floods which happen when the Mesopotamian rivers breach their walls such as the Kish flood of ca. 2800 BC which is attested at Kish and Surrupak. The problem is that this was a local flood and it is difficult to see why it would have been remembered in such exceptional terms even though it might have been a dramatic event. The scholar Benjamin R. Foster wrote: “A major defining event in the Mesopotamian view of the history of the human race was the deluge, known from several Akkadian versions [Akkadian was the language of the eastern Semites living in Sumer]. This was considered a one-time, universal flood that changed human history forever” [1].

When we consider the historical context in which the Sumerian King List places the deluge, we can pin down the flood more accurately in accordance with archaeological data. According to the King List, the antediluvian kings ruled for the most part in the southernmost city of Eridu whereas the first postdiluvian kings ruled in Uruk. This is consistent with the archaeological evidence, namely that Eridu, which was considered to be the oldest city in Sumer, existed since early in the so-called Ubaid period whereas Uruk was built in the subsequent Uruk period.

These periods, which have distinct material cultures that are attested throughout ancient Mesopotamia, are separated by evidence of a great flood that has been found at various places in Sumer and beyond [2]. One of these is the clay deposit of 2.7-3.7 meters which was discovered by Sir Leonard Woolly (1880-1960) at Ur. This archaeological data is consistent with the flood tradition in the Sumerian King List, not only insofar as its place in Sumerian history is concerned (i.e. regarding the rulers of Eridu and Uruk), but also in showing that this flood covered the whole of that ancient land since it divides Mesopotamian history into two very distinct material cultures, namely one before and one after the mentioned flood. 

In accordance with this correspondence between the Sumerian tradition and the archaeological data, the Sumerologist Theresa Howard-Carter wrote: “The reference to a [Sumerian] flood is more than casual and is remarked in a number of epic tales… recent research in the geomorphology of the Gulf area now forces us to think in larger terms. That research documents what appears to have been a major inundation just before 3500 BC, at which time the waters of the Gulf reached a point north of Amara… [It] was a massive movement of the sea which is not to be confused with later small floods… the geologic land tilt caused by the folding and faulting of the Zagros Mountains… covered effectively the cities of Sumeria… This giant of all floods occurred just at the middle of the fourth millennium at a point already distinguished archaeologically as the beginning of the Uruk Period. This is stratigraphically demonstrable at Eridu, Ur and Warka [Uruk]” [3].

There was a time when geologists thought that the layers of clay at Ur may be merely due to tectonic activity [4]. That has since changed. Geologists now think that the sea actually inundated the land and that the current meander patterns of the Mesopotamian rivers came into existence when that happened [5]. We are therefore not looking at a local flood where the river overflowed its walls but a massive flood during which the Persian Gulf overflowed the land.

The post-deluge period in Sumer

Before I proceed to discuss the questions about the extent of the flood and its date in more detail, it is important to first consider the evidence regarding the post-deluge period in Sumer and see how that corresponds with the story in the Bible. The important thing is to show that the Sumerian flood that I discussed above, is indeed the one mentioned in the Biblical tradition. As such one may mention that the Biblical Noah corresponds with the Sumerian Ziusudra, the last antediluvian king in Sumer mentioned in the Sumerian King List who was also the hero of the Sumerian flood epic (remembered in the Akkadian tradition as Atrahasis). Both are said to have built a boat/ark after being advised to do so by God or a god, which resulted in them surviving the deluge.

There are, however, more detailed correspondences between the two traditions. As such, there is an important Sumerian family who features in both traditions insofar as they ruled that ancient land directly after the deluge – which strengthens the case that the stories go back to the same original tradition. This is the Biblical Cush family, who corresponds with that of Meshkiagkasher (Kash for short) in Sumerian tradition (see part 8).

According to the Sumerian King List, Meskiagkasher was the founder of the House of Uruk who ruled over Sumer in the period directly after the deluge. His son was Enmerkar, who corresponds with the Biblical Nimrod. The consonants in the first part of the name Enmerkar, namely nmr, may be vocalized as Nimrod, and the “kar” at the end of the name may be read as “hunter”. It is not only the names that correspond: in both traditions Nimrod/Enmerkar was remembered as a great Sumerian ruler from the postdiluvian period whose kingdom included not only cities such as Uruk in Sumer but also cities in the distant north (for a detailed discussion, see part 8 of this series).

In the Sumerian tradition Meskiagkasher is remembered as migrating from the land of Aratta in the north [6] to settle at the temple of An in the land of Sumer. When he came to the southern plains of Sumer the city of Uruk did not yet exist – according to the Sumerian King List it was built by his son Enmerkar. This tradition is in accordance with archaeological data which shows not only a dramatic drop in the overall population density at the end of the Ubaid period (consistent with the flood), but also clear signs of large numbers of new settlers who then came to live in the area of the temple of An where the future city of Uruk was built [7]. This is consistent with the Sumerian tradition that Meskiagkasher came to this area after the deluge.

Where was the land of Aratta from where Meskiagkasher originated? According to the Sumerian tradition about Enmerkar, the land of Aratta was reached after crossing seven mountain ranges. These seven mountain ranges were obviously a well-known landmark in ancient times. It is also mentioned in later Mesopotamian tradition when the Assyrian king Sargon II travelled over these mountain ranges to the northern land of Urartu. When he came to the area south of Lake Urmia (in the northwestern part of present-day Iran) he is said to have crossed the Aratta river – the only authentic mentioning of this name outside the Sumerian tradition. In my view, the land of Aratta is merely that of Urartu, which was remembered in the Biblical tradition as the land of Ararat (Jer. 51:27; 2 Ki. 19:37).

What we now find is that the Biblical land of Ararat is none other than the ancient land of Aratta mentioned in Sumerian sources as the homeland of Meskiagkasher (Cush). According to the Biblical tradition, the Ark landed somewhere on the mountains of Ararat from where some of the descendants of Noah, such as the Cush-dynasty, came to live in the southern plains of Sumer. This means that the relevant mountain is not Mt. Ararat in present-day Turkey, but some range in the Zagros to the north of Mesopotamia. The reason why the current Mt. Ararat got that name is that the Urartians, with whom it is closely identified (taking its name from their own) – especially after their conversion to Christianity in the beginning of the fourth century AD – migrated northwards over the centuries to their current location.

So, what we find is that the Biblical story about the deluge and the family of Cush who migrated from Ararat/Aratta to Sumer in the subsequent period corresponds with the Sumerian tradition. I previously showed that the “ancient history” in the Book of Genesis corresponds to a remarkable degree with persons and events in ancient Sumerian tradition. This includes not only the story of the deluge but the whole outline of that ancient period – which is also consistent with a viable reconstruction of ancient Sumerian history (see part 8 of this series). I now conclude that the Biblical deluge is the very one that was remembered in ancient Sumer. In my view, that story was part of the Semitic tradition that was handed down from generation to generation within the Abrahamic family since they first migrated from Ur in Sumer to the land of Canaan.

Dating the deluge

There is, however, one problem, namely that the Biblical and Sumerian traditions date the flood differently. According to the Masoretic mother text used for most translations of the Bible, the deluge happened in about 2400 BC. The Sumerian tradition – when one reads it together with archaeological data – places the deluge way back in the fourth (or even fifth) millennium BC. In this case, the date is obtained from dendrochronological data which is extrapolated from the established Egyptian chronology. A few decades ago this date was calculated as c.a. 3500 BC; nowadays it is placed in c.a. 4200 BC.

The Flood (1616-1618) by Antonio Carracci (1581-1618)
The difference between these dates is substantial. Some readers think that we should just trust the Masoretic text. The problem is, however, that the date derived from the Masoretic text is in radical conflict with all archaeological evidence! The date 2400 BC falls within a period that is very well understood, namely in the middle of the Old Kingdom in Egypt and during the late Early-Dynastic period in Mesopotamia. Although some Biblical students are adamant about this date, there is absolutely no doubt that it cannot be correct! We find a much more realistic date in the Septuagint, the Greek version of an early Hebrew mother text that was translated during the third to second centuries BC in Egypt [8]. According to the Septuagint, the deluge happened in about 3300 BC.

I previously presented a detailed outline for a new chronology of the ancient Middle East in which I argued that the so-called “high” chronology of Mesopotamia should be correlated with the “low” chronology of K.A Kitchen for the Twelve Dynasty in Egypt [9]. This reconstruction of events explains many things that are otherwise difficult to understand (this goes beyond the current essay); it is also perfectly in line with the dates for Abraham given in the Septuagint. Since this new chronology brings the beginning of dynastic Egypt down to 2781 BC, the corresponding dates for early Sumer also come down (dendrochronologically arrived dates are not absolute and have to be adapted accordingly). In this case, we arrive at a good fit between Biblical and archaeological data, namely that the deluge happened in about 3300 BC.

A worldwide flood?

One of the most important questions about the deluge is: Was it something that happened only in the Persian Gulf area or do we have reason to believe that it was a worldwide flood? Traditional Christians have always believed that it was a worldwide flood. The reason for this is that the Biblical author (as well as the ones who wrote the Sumerian and Akkadian versions) depict the flood as an extraordinary event that nearly led to the extinction of the human race.

When we read the Bible, we should always keep in mind that the Biblical authors did not have a scientific understanding of the world and did not describe events in such terms. When the author, for example, says that “all flesh died that moved upon the earth” (Gen. 7:21), one should ask: Is this statement to be taken in a scientific sense or as an observational statement within the context of delivered tradition? I believe that it is the latter. And for good reason, which is consistent with other aspects of Biblical tradition. We find something similar in the story of Joseph where we read that the famine was "over all the face of the earth" (Gen. 41:56). This statement was obviously not intended to include South America! 

When we consider the peoples who are said to have been descended from the Biblical Noah, they include Semites, Japhetites (usually interpreted as the Germanic peoples) and Hamites (usually interpreted as the Kushite peoples). But what about the aborigine peoples who do not belong to this classification (the American Indians, Bushmen and others) or the Chinese and Japanese peoples? It is obvious that these peoples are not descended from the Biblical Noah. Not only do they not feature in the Biblical genealogies; they were far removed from the context of the ancient Middle world where the tradition originated. This means that the deluge did not lead to the extinction of all flesh – people and animals included – in any final sense but only within the context of the world in which this tradition originated.

This observation is supported by basic science. If the waters of the deluge covered all the earth – Mt. Everest included – where did it come from? We know that there is not enough water on earth to even remotely cover the earth to about 8 km above sea level! So, the Great Flood did not cover all the earth. This, however, does not mean that the flood was merely a local phenomenon. It might still have been a worldwide event in accordance with the exceptional description thereof as nearly destroying humanity.

When we consider this question regarding the extent of the flood, it is important that all evidence of the flood be taken within the correct archaeological context! Although some people go to great lengths to prove the historicity of such a Great Flood, using data from all over the world that in some way shows that some cataclysmic event involving a flood happened, it is of no use if it is not found within the right period. So, what is necessary is to find other evidence of such a flood consistent with the Biblical dating of the flood. In this regard, we have to work with the currently accepted dendrochronological dates even though we might believe that these are too early. Dendrochronologically obtained dates are a good measure for relative dating, i.e. when events from different regions are compared (but not for absolute dating).

In my view, there is some evidence for inundations happening all over the world at that time. When visiting the city of Varna on the Black Sea coast, I found that a large deluge also destroyed an important civilization in this part of the world at the same time that the early Sumerian civilization was destroyed (both floods are dated to about 4200 BC). Archaeologists believe that the civilization centred at Varna was comparable with those of later times in Sumer and Egypt. This civilization was destroyed at the end of the so-called Eneolithic Age and the ruins thereof are today about 3-8 meters under the sea. What is also interesting, is that others towns in the wider area had also been abandoned at this time, such as one near Provadia-Solnitsata (5500-4200 BC) in Bulgaria [10]. Although the cause is uncertain (we know that floods are very difficult to prove in the archaeological record), it may have been due to the widespread destruction caused by the Varna flood.

In this very same period, we find some dramatic changes throughout Europe that may be related to the Varna flood. In about that time the farmers associated with the linear pottery culture (LBK) which had spread all over Europe to become the first “Pan-European culture”, suddenly disappeared with the arrival of newcomers on the scene who seems to have been the direct ancestors of the people living in modern Europe since they are genetically close to about 50% of them. It is unclear how the previous population became extinct – it may have been disease, climate change or one may suggest that it was due to the very same event that destroyed the Varna civilization.

In an article in the National Geographic, News Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, says in this regard: "All we know is that the descendants of the LBK farmers disappeared from Central Europe about 4,500 [B.C.], clearing the way for the rise of populations from elsewhere, with their own unique H signatures." [11] This is consistent with archaeological changes at about that time (c.a. 4000 BC) when the long house associated with the LBK farmers as well as their kind of stone tools disappeared [12].

Insofar as this may be due to a massive flood, I found some evidence for that in western Europe. Archaeologists found a mysterious black layer of organic material covering the oldest archaeological site found in Clare in southeastern Ireland which they identified with the remains of a tsunami. The layer is about 2-3 inches thick and disappears when it comes into contact with air [13]. The tsunami which inundated these remains may have been part of a larger one. At about 4200 BC, “Doggerland” [14], which refers to the landmass in the North Sea between Britain and the Continent, was finally inundated with water [15].

This data is quite diverse and as far as I know, there is no scholar that has argued that they all belong together as I do. We find inundations in c.a. 4200 BC which are as far apart as the Persian Gulf, the Black Sea, the North Sea and the Irish Coast. This is the time when the LBK farmers mysteriously disappeared from Europe only to be replaced by newcomers. I do not argue that one massive flood inundated the whole ancient world; rather, I suggest that something happened that impacted the whole world where many areas were inundated by massive floods. It is possible that the axis of the earth for some reason tilted (maybe due to a passing comet or something) and that this caused catastrophic events all over the world. This is as far as the evidence allows us to go at this stage.

Conclusion

In this essay, I discuss the Great Flood of Biblical tradition. I show that the details of this story do not belong exclusively to the Biblical tale; we find it also in Sumerian tradition. In fact, the detailed correspondences between the two traditions show that the Biblical tradition about the deluge came originally from Sumer. I argued elsewhere (see part 8) that it was brought from there by the Abrahamic family.

In my view, we should accept the Septuagint dating for the deluge as correct. The date obtained from the Masoretic text is impossible to defend. It is in conflict with everything that we know about that period – which is very well established through astronomical dating and king lists. Insofar as the Biblical Flood is said to have led to the near destruction of all flesh – just as we find in the Sumerian and Akkadian traditions – we should accept that this was part of the accepted ancient Middle Eastern tradition. The Bible, however, gives us good reason to think that the deluge did not destroy all people in any literal sense – the Biblical genealogies enable us to establish which peoples survived that period even though they were not in the ark. The Biblical tradition is consistent with the fact that the deluge did not inundate all the earth as we know from archaeological data.

What is important to the Biblical tradition, is that the descendants of the people with whom God established a relationship survived the deluge. As such, they were the heirs of the divine promise that had been made to their forefathers regarding the coming of Messiah, according to the Biblical tradition. Although others around the globe also survived the events associated with the deluge, the Bible is primarily concerned with the survival of the people with whom God established a relationship. This is the main theme of the Biblical story of the deluge.

[1] Foster, Benjamin R. 2007. Mesopotamia, in John R. Hinnells (ed.). Mari in Retrospect. Fifty years of Mari and Mari studies. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns. P187
[2] A “dislocation” of people of “regional significance” at the time of the end of the Ubaid period is also attested in the Elamite plains (Algaze 1986:6).
[3] Howard-Carter, Theresa. 1981. The Tangible Evidence for the Earliest Dilmun. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 33(3/4):210-223.
[4] Lees, G. M. & Flacon, N. L. 1952. The Geographical History of the Mesopotamian Plains. The Geographical Journal 118(1):24-39.
[5] Nützel, Werner. 1979. On the Geographical Position of as Yet Unexplored Early Mesopotamian Cultures: Contribution to the Theoretical Archaeology. Journal of the American Oriental Society 99(2):288-296.
[6] Vanstiphout, Herman. 2003. Epics of Sumerian Kings. The Matter of Aratta. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. P67.
[7] Akkermans, Peter M. M. G. 1989. Tradition and Social Change in Northern Mesopotamia during the Later Fifth and Fourth Millennium BC, in Elizabeth F. Henrickson & Ingolf Thuesen. Upon this Foundation – The Ubaid Reconsidered. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum. P346-7.
The city of Susa in Elam was also built at this time on virgin soil. See the “Concluding Remarks” by Mcc Robert Adams & Henry Wright in the same volume.
[12] The dates of 4500 BC and 4000 BC are derived from different methods (genetic and dendrochronological dating). Although these methods use different presuppositions, they are probably linked in that the last is used to calibrate the first. When studying events from that epoch, such differences are well without the scope of accepted error.
[14] The inundation of Doggerland is currently believed to have commenced with a tsunami in ca. 5800 BC. This also the date that is currently associated with the inundation of large parts of the Mediterranean Sea when the Black Sea may have overflowed into that area (i.e. 5600 BC). If it ever happens that these dates are lowered to ca. 4200 BC, then the scope of events associated with the Biblical deluge would increase substantially.
[15] A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Artic, Peter Wadhams (2016).

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a scientist (PhD in Physics; MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Read also the other parts of the series on the Book of Genesis:
Intro: The Book of Genesis - the Sumerian hypothesis
Part 7: Who is Elohim?

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