Monday, January 23, 2012

Will The Real Noah Please Stand Up?

While it has long been known to many that the biblical account of Noah was based on the far older Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, it might be startling to learn that the story of a man who speaks to god and survives a great deluge by building an enormous boat that comes aground on a mountain has wacky identical cousins in the New World.

Long before the arrival of the Spaniards, in the Valley of Mexico, tales had been told of a great flood that inundated the whole world. The Aztecs recount that only two survived: Coxcoxtli and his wife, Xochiquetzal. Commanded by a god to build a huge boat, the two escaped the wrath of the flood, coming aground atop a mountain. They went on to have many children who were mute uuntil a dove came to give them the gift of languages. But each spoke a different tongue and could not understand each other.

A tale from Central America is even more remarkable in its similarities:

The god Tezcatilpoca set out to destroy the world with a great flood, but spared one man, Tezpi. After having build a great vessel, Tezpi loaded his family and as many types of plants and animals as he thought would benefit their future survival. When the flood finally receded, Tezpi found himself aground atop a mountain and sent out a vulture to see if the flood had ended. But a vulture feasts upon carrion and there was much to be had in the aftermath of Tezcatilpoca's watery wrath. So, Tezpi sent out a hummingbird, which returned with a leafy branch in its mouth—a sign the waters were gone.

In the Popal Vuh, wooden figures that resembled men and spoke their languages were destroyed in a great flood by the Mayan creator. Only the great father and mother survived to repopulate the world.

According to the myths of the Chibcas of Colombia, they had once lived as savages without law, religion, or agriculture. One day, a bearded man named Bochica came and taught the Chibcas to build a society. His wife, Chia, was a wicked woman who wanted to thwart his efforts. With magic, she conjured a great flood, killing many. Angered, Bochica banished his wife to become the moon. Bochica then brought down the survivors from the mountaintops and taught them civilization.

The Canarians of Ecuador have flood tales similar to these, as do the Tupinambas of Brazil, Araucnaians of pre-Colombian Chile, and the Yamanas of Tierra del Fuego. The Inuits of the icy reaches of North America have their version and so do the Luisenos of California. The Iroquois, Dakotas, Chicasaws, and Sioux chime in with even more.

While the story King Gilgamesh recounts was written down some 5,000 years ago, it is seemingly built upon legends that were even then so old they seemed to be passing from myth. Is it from a time when, as many Diffusionists believe, a great but forgotten culture once regularly circumnavigated the globe, influencing disparate cultures with elements of one another?

According to some sources, more than 500 such tales exist throughout the world; and more than half of those are completely independent of the Mesopotamian and Hebraic accounts. How do we reconcile this if we don't give at least some credence to the belief that in millennia past, our far-flung ancestors were considerably more cognizant of each other that our Colombian model suggests?

It is true that Science has supported that several great floods caused by tsunamis occurred within the geographical influence of the Sumerian legend, and we can assume that similar events likely happened to most all cultures at some points in their histories, but we still face the problem of this Noah figure who speaks to god, builds a boat, lands on a mountain, and often sends some sort of bird out to see if it safe before repopulating the planet.

1 comment:

InfoBrarian said...

Three possibilities...

1. They all refer to one central story, spread through migrating cultures. Even the most isolated of native populations - who often hold their corpus of stories sacred - fail to understand that at one time in their past sharing of stories was considered a duty and a necessity.

2. Several similar events - following logical steps in theme, method, and results - occurred at the same time or within an era of the distant past.

3. Scientific theories of human development are way off...people were alive to experience some great natural disaster: a comet, asteroid, breaking up of Pangea, global climate change, etc. They also survived to tell the tale...