Science in the Torah
Questions and Answers about Noah and the Flood
י״ז במרחשון ה׳תש״פ (15 בNovember 2019)
1. Is there any scientific or historical evidence of Noah's flood and the Ark?
The flood should be viewed as a scientific fact for the following reasons:
A. Marine fossils such as shells and fish skeletons have been found all over the world, even in barren deserts and on the tops of the highest mountains like the Rocky Mountains and Mount Everest. This proves that all the continents were covered previously by water.
B. The remains of entire populations of animals that became extinct including the dinosaurs were found all over the world,. This proves a natural disaster occurred on a global scale that wiped out the animals on Earth.
C. A scientific evaluation of Earth’s mighty mountains, valleys and canyons, proves that the Earth endured natural disasters on a global scale, a state described as the movement of tectonic plates, which is completely compatible with an explicit verse in the Torah describing the flood, “and all the fountains of the great deep broke forth” (Genesis 7:11).
The Flood is also a worldwide historical fact, after it was discovered that all cultures throughout the world have passed down historical traditions and legends about an ancient flood that wiped out all living things. Many of them describe Noah and one family’s rescue in an Ark that survived the flood. How could cultures that were continents and oceans apart relate a similar story about a global flood and Noah's Ark, unless they had heard the story from their fathers — Shem, Ham and Japheth — the sons of Noah, who had survived the flood?
The following Hebrew web sites go more into detail in explaining these ideas:
Scientific sources in Hebrew:
Historical sources in Hebrew:
2. How was there room in the Ark for so many animals? Considering the vast number of animals in the world (millions of species and varieties) and the dimensions of the Ark, how could they put so many animals in the Ark?
Noah did not have to put millions of species into the Ark, but only the original progenitor of each species, from which later developed all the specie varieties that we now have in nature. (Variations among the species is not evolution, because there is no new creation or evolution of that species. These are only genetic variations within the family) Our sages say in the tractate of Chullin (63b): “There are one hundred and twenty species of unclean birds in the East, and they are all a kind of Aya.” Aya is a species of bird. The sages are explicitly teaching us that more than 120 varieties of birds came out of a single species of birds called Aya.
The Radal (Rabbi David Luria) was a close disciple of the Gaon of Vilna who lived 200 years ago, and wrote a commentary on the Talmud. In his commentary, the Radal notes how the Talmud and Jewish law explain how species change. He explains that Noah only brought into his Ark the “roots of species”, i.e. the original ancestor of each species of animal, and these evolved and reproduced into many different varieties only after they have left the Ark, and dispersed around the world.
The Radal writes in his commentary on Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 23, page 25): “The many species that we see which appear as separate and different species, were actually created and came from one species … and their environment, food and experiences caused them to become different and evolve into separate varieties, such as the domesticated goose and the wild goose which is mentioned in Bava Kama (55a), and an ox and buffalo.
There is nothing surprising about this, since only one person was created in the world, but we find all over the earth many different kinds — whites, blacks, red-skinned … this is all due to their different environments and the food they ate, similar to what Hillel wrote in the tractate of Shabbat about the feet of the Africans being wide”, etc … “In any event, the Ruler of the world who is familiar with His creations, commanded Noah to take the root species, for He knew well that once this root would be dispersed over the world, they would return and evolve into the many diverse species that we see today.”
According to the Radal’s explanation, animals actually change based on their living environment. Therefore, Noah did not have to put millions of animals in the Ark. He only had to put in the Ark the original progenitor of each species. This means the hundreds or thousands of animal progenitors which the Creator made in the six primordial days of creation, which spread out and changed into sub-species and varieties in the world only after they departed the Ark.
For example, Noah did not have to put all dog varieties in the Ark, but only one type (since most kinds of dogs today were created by artificial selection). Noah did not have to put in the Ark millions of varieties of butterflies, but only one variety. Therefore, there may not have been more than a thousand species in the Ark, and possibly less.
3. How did Noah bring the animals into the ark? After all, it is not easy to hunt wildlife.
A. As the Bible relates, Noah was commanded a hundred years before the onset of the flood to build the Ark and learn the needs of all animals. This means that Noah had decades to learn the most important needs of each animal, how to capture it and make him a suitable living environment in the Ark.
B. It is also stated explicitly in the Torah that G-d sent the animals into the Ark by divine order, so they arrived obediently and Noah didn’t have to hunt them (Genesis 7:8-9): “Of the clean beasts and of the beasts that are not clean, and of the fowl, and all that creeps upon the earth. Two by two they came to Noah to the Ark, male and female, as G-d had commanded Noah.”
4. How was there enough food for the animals in the Ark for a whole year, particularly because meat rots, and where did they keep all that food?
– Most wild predators eat rarely, sometimes once every few weeks.
– Do not forget that many animals hibernate for up to six months, and either do not require food, or can make do with very little food during this time.
– The animals probably weren’t too active in the Ark, so they could exist on even smaller amounts of food.
– Today, we know that animals in the wild are able to survive for a very long time even on small amounts of food, or from eating only once or twice a month.
– Even in ancient times they knew how to preserve meat. However, according to many commentaries, all animals were vegetarians until after the flood.
– As stated in the Torah, Noah's Ark was a three-story edifice with an entire floor being used for food storage. If we put all the stories of the Ark in one row, we find that Noah’s Ark was the size of one and a half Titanics. As the Torah states, the Ark was completely sealed and airtight, as opposed to those popular paintings which depict it with an open roof and penthouse. So there was plenty of room to store food in the Ark.
– Let's not forget that the Torah says that Noah prepared for the flood for over 100 years. During this period he studied the ways of animals and their needs, and spent decades preparing the right food and living conditions for each type of animal which would enable their existence in the Ark.
5. What did the animals eat when they left the Ark? Since there was only two of each in the Ark, if predator animals would eat other animals, they would wipe out that entire species. So what did the tiger or lion eat? The flood also annihilated all the plants, so the herbivores had nothing to eat either.
This is indeed an interesting question, which Noah and his sons probably had to think about when taking care of the animals. The Midrash Rabbah on the story of Noah also testifies: “Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Elazar the son of Rav Yossi the Galilean: when Noah went out of the Ark, he was bitten by the lion and suffered a fracture and became unqualified to offer sacrifices.” It certainly makes sense that Noah continued to take care of the animals even after they left the Ark, at least until they managed to multiply. (Keep in mind that according to the size of Noah's Ark described in the Torah, the food stored away on the entire bottom floor would have fit inside a quarter of the Titanic, and could probably have fed the animals for several years.)
Concerning the herbivores, the Torah explicitly says that the dove returned with an olive leaf in her mouth. This explicit verse teaches us that the first thing that G-d renewed in His world after the flood was the vegetation. Noah did not come out of the Ark before the vegetation had sprouted on earth.
6. How did the animals end up everywhere in the world? We also find that every continent has its creatures that are indigenous to it.
A. This is indeed an important question, which our answer to question 2 above touches on. Consider the polar bear. This bear’s dispersion is limited to the Arctic region, but physiologically it is not significantly different from a non-polar bear on another continent. This means that a completely normal bear migrated to the Arctic, may change into the polar bear that we see today. Noah did not have to bring into the Ark every different type of animal, it was sufficient to gather into the Ark the progenitor of the various subspecies, and its descendants migrated after the flood to various places around the world, and received their unique properties from the environment and climate. In conclusion, after the animals went out of the Ark, they changed depending on the different living environments where they arrived.
B. About specific animals not found anywhere else — we must assume that the animals migrated to their various places in the world by divine providence, just as they came to the Ark through Divine providence. This is also explicitly written in the Torah (Genesis 7:8): “Of the clean beasts and of the beasts that are not clean, and of the fowl, and all that creeps upon the earth. Two by two they came to Noah to the ark, male and female, as G-d had commanded Noah.” This means that after the flood, G-d made sure to send each group of animals to its right place by divine providence, and the animals roamed to these various places instinctively.
C. How did they reach separate continents? Apart from Australia and some isolated islands, all the continents on earth have regions that connect between them, and this is also why we find the Incas and Mayans in the Americas – despite its distance from the continent of Asia and Europe. It was technically possible to wander from place to place, and people and animals did so even without ships. We must also remember that continental drift is an process that has been going on for thousands of years, and continues to occur even today.
This means that 4000 years ago, the continents were closer to each other, or at least the regions that connected the various continents were wider, allowing for easy and continuous passage from one continent to another, passage that nowadays would be difficult and maybe even impossible. The Torah tells us that the continents became separate after the Flood, during the days of the Tower of Babel. It seems to be a gradual process that took place during the Flood and continued in the centuries after in several stages. The first chapter of Genesis describes the creation of only one continent, “And G-d said, ‘Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear,’ and it was so. And G-d called the dry land earth…” (1:9-10I).
After the Flood, the verse relates about the son of Eber the son of Shem: “one was named Peleg, because in his days the earth was divided” (Genesis 10:25). The Zohar that was published 700 years ago mentions as a fact: “One country ejected its water and seven countries came into being” (Zohar, Bereshit, page 21a).
This explanation may also explain the distribution of animals all over the world. Perhaps all the animals migrated by divine providence to certain places on one continent, and remained there when the land split over hundreds or thousands of years into the various continents that we are familiar with today. There is an implausible explanation that I saw in some book in the past, offering the unlikely possibility that the Flood did not submerge distant islands or remote continents that were unpopulated by humans, but only hit Asia where all humans were concentrated before the Flood. It is difficult to find evidence for this implausible explanation.
7. If the Flood water and the Ark reached to the top of mountains, weren’t the animals in danger of having insufficient oxygen or freezing to death?
This is an interesting question, but we do not have enough data about the Earth’s atmosphere before the flood. The Malbim mentions that the rainbow came into being due to the atmospheric changes which occurred in the wake of the flood. The Torah relates that the Ark was completely airtight (unlike in most paintings), apart from one upper opening to allow in oxygen.
Since the rain downpour continued for many days, and the rise in sea-level took place in slow rather than abrupt stages, the occupants of the Ark gradually became used to the changing atmospheric pressure and decreased oxygen in the air (as do mountain climbers and even scuba divers who train their bodies to gradually get used to changes in pressure). The situation is not dangerous when there is no need for physical exertion. We can also assume that the Ark afforded some protection from atmospheric change.
Concerning the cold weather: they may have had means of heating and warming up the Ark. The Sages also describe the Flood waters as being hot. (The Bible states: “springs broke through the great deep.” If this is referring to shifting tectonic plates, this means that the flood included volcanic eruptions that warmed the sea surface, so the water was probably lukewarm instead of frozen.) This is just speculation, because we do not have enough scientific data to answer the question accurately.
Readers are invited to send in additional questions.
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