« FöregåendeFortsätt »
[Additional Observations on the Account of the Flood,
compiled by JAMES HEYWOOD, F.R.S. EXTRAORDINARY ideas were generally prevalent in ancient times with respect to atmospherical phænomena. Whatever oriental writers were unable to explain, they attributed to supernatural agency. The rainbow, which owes its origin to the refraction of light, and must have been visible after every shower of rain from the creation of the world, was supposed by the Hebrews to have made its first appearance subsequent to the deluge, and was poetically imagined to be the sign of a covenant between God and his creatures, that no universal flood should ever again overwhelm the earth.
Of the air or atmosphere, properly so called, the Israelites had no conception; hence there was no word in the Hebrew language to express this essential support of life. “ Their nearest approaches,” observes Dr. Pye Smith, “ were made with words that denoted condensed, and so visible, watery vapour, whether floating around them or seen in the breathing of animals; they also used words for smoke arising from substances burning, and for air in motion, such as the wind, a zephyr whisper, or a storm'; but of elastic fluids they had no idea!.” Meteorology was indeed very imperfectly known even to the wisest of their writers: the earth was regarded by them as an immoveable plain, on the outer edges of which rested the solid concave vault of heaven, studded with stars. Above this overarching dome or firmament were vast reservoirs of rain and snow, forming the upper ocean, from which showers descended on the earth, by the opening of the “ windows of heaven.” Any increase of clouds might be imagined by the exertion of miraculous power in this remote and unknown region, and consequently the earth might at any time be deluged by incessant torrents of rain.
1 On the Relation between the Holy Scriptures and some parts of Geological Science : by the Rev. J. Pye Smith, D.D., F.R.S., p. 272.
Modern science clearly demonstrates these imaginative speculations to be incorrect. Rain owes its origin to aqueous vapours rising originally from the waters of the earth in a light and often transparent form carried along by aërial currents, and only condensed into clouds by the diminution of temperature, which causes them to assume a more visible form at a considerable height above the ground. It then frequently happens, that by the intermingling of different currents or by electrical agency the temperature of the clouds is again lowered, when a further condensation of the watery particles takes place, and the rain descends in showers upon the earth. The extent of the atmosphere itself is only thirty or forty miles, and the higher regions are in so cold and rarefied a state, that they are unable to sustain rain-clouds. A large portion also of the rain which falls on the ground is again raised into the air by evaporation, and the capacity of the atmosphere for the supply of rain is so limited, that, according to the calculations of Berghaus and Johnston in their rain map of the world, the total average fall of rain in a year over the whole globe is only five feet in depth.
Dr. Pye Smith remarks, with respect to the supply of rain, that if we “were to imagine the air to be first saturated with moisture to the utmost extent of its capacity, and then to discharge the whole quantity at once upon the earth, that whole quantity would bear a very inconsiderable proportion to the entire surface of the globe; a few inches of depth would be its utmost extent. It is indeed the fact,” continues the same learned divine, “ that upon a small area of the earth's surface, yet the most extensive that comes within experience or natural possibility, heavy and continued rain for a few days often produces effects fearfully destructive, by swelling the streams and rivers of that district; but the laws of nature as to evaporation, and the capacity of atmospheric air to hold water in solution, render such a state of things over the whole globe not merely improbable, but absolutely impossible.”
Tidal action is not mentioned in the account of the flood in Genesis, but any reference to it, even in theory, to account for the deluge is fully answered by Baron Humboldt in his great work on the universe, where he states as the result of his own researches, as well as of those of Laplace and Bessel, that “tides caused by the action of the sun and moon can never overflow the elevated portions of the dry land; nor can they have transported the remains of marine animals to the summits of the mountains where they are now found 3.”
Geology explains the occurrence of fossil strata on mountains by the volcanic and other upheaving forces in the interior of the earth, owing to which strata containing shells and other marine remains have been, and still are, raised from the bed of the sea to an elevated position. The results of such movements may be observed at the present day near Naples, and in other volcanic districts, and the coasts of Chili and of the Baltic may be instanced as exhibiting proofs of the decided elevation of large tracts of country by the action of subterranean forces.
1 Seven inches, according to Mr. Rhind, in his Age of the Earth, p. 100 : Edinb. 1839, quoted by Dr. Smith.
2 The Rev. Dr. Pye Smith on Geology and Scripture, p. 156.
3 Humboldt's Cosmos (edited by Lieut.-Col. Sabine, p. 298.), and Prof. Bessel, there referred to, on the flow and ebb of the tide, “ Ueber Fluth und Ebbe, in Schumacher's Jahrbuch für 1838," p. 225.
It is well known that the occurrence of shells on the mountains of Egypt, and of saline substances in the soil, formerly influenced Herodotus? to adopt the belief that that country had once been covered by the sea; and as such memorials occur in almost all countries, it has been well observed, that the reflecting mind of Herodotus cannot be supposed to have been the first to speculate on the origin of these remains ?.
Mr. Kenrick refers on this subject to Ovid's Metamorphoses, xv. 2598, where he considers that the opinions of Pythagoras may possibly be correctly given; and, while he allows that there would have been few in ancient times capable of combining these and similar phænomena into a narrative which should appear to explain them, he also alludes to the circumstance, that the multitude “ would be ready to receive a tradition of this kind, when framed, because the imagination and curiosity even of the vulgar are excited by such marks of unusual agencies in nature. “We know not indeed,” continues Mr. Kenrick, “ how far the belief of the literary and sacerdotal class, from whom our accounts of the Deluge in various countries are derived, may
1 Herod. ii. 12.
2 Kenrick on Primæval History, p. 39.
Ovid, Metam. xv. 259, &c.
have corresponded with the popular belief; such accounts are usually found in sacred books, the knowledge of which, if not forbidden to the people, cannot have been much diffused among them. To allege that the time which intervened between the Deluge and the distinct existence of the nations among whom we find the traditional belief in it, was too short for the growth of a speculative explanation, assumes that we have a real chronology of this period. A similar assumption is involved in the objection that mankind were too rude and ignorant to occupy themselves in such speculations. It is because we take for granted that, a little more than 2000 years before Christ, mankind were reduced to a family of eight persons, that we attribute to times preceding history this incapacity for reflection."
It is a remarkable circumstance, which is subsequently noticed by the same learned critic, that “the Egyptian monuments and records carry us to the beginning of the third millenium before the birth of Christ2.” Indeed, according to the profound and accurate inquiries of the Chevalier Bunsen into early Egyptian history, the epoch of Menes, the great founder of the kingdom of Egypt, was s.c. 3643, and from this time their annals may be traced until the conquest of Egypt under Darius Ochus, about B.C. 340, without the slightest reference to any general flood. The Chevalier Bunsen very properly observes, that the Egyptian people must have existed for a long period, probably at the least for five centuries, in their early less settled state, before they reached the point of civilization at which Menes consolidated them into a great united empire. This brings us
* Kenrick's Essay on Primæval History, p. 39. 2 Ibid. p. 57.