“And the waters assuaged (cooled down).” (Genesis 8:1)
Samuel Martin (www.facebook.com/byblechyld)
Note: I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about some research I did about fifteen years ago. I hope you find it interesting and I am definitely looking for feedback (or feed forward) on this subject.
The book of Genesis is one of my favourite books in the whole Bible. When I first began to do serious research into the Bible, Genesis was the place I started and the things that I have learned about Genesis, particularly in the early sections, really amazed me (and continue to do so today). I hope someday in the near future to be able to bring out more of my own research on the early sections of Genesis even beyond the subject of the Mark of Cain (which was first published in 1996 in association with the ministry of my late father) that I have already published (contact me for details of how you can get a copy if you are interested - firstname.lastname@example.org). (Note: I am working now on publishing some new research on showing how it was the ancient Patriarchs lived in some cases to be almost one thousands years old. Stay tuned.)
One of the most interesting subjects in the Bible is that of the Flood of Noah. This event is really a mystery to many people about the details of how it happened. No doubt, people are really interested in this issue. If you do any research at all, you will find hundreds of opinions on the Flood and how it happened and these opinions will cover a whole range of different opinions. Numerous books, articles and websites are devoted to this important issue.
The title of this section is “And the waters assuaged.” (Genesis 8:1) So let’s talk about this seemingly unimportant passage because it is in this passage that much interesting information is contained. Honestly, when we study Genesis or other sections of the Bible where we have very little information, we have to take what we do have seriously and look very carefully and closely at the information provided and do our best to understand what it meant to the writer who wrote it, who in this case was Moses. We want to know the meaning that Moses wished to convey if we can.
We in the modern world have been influenced wrongly by epic films and artistic depictions about biblical subjects concerning many issues including the Flood
Now, what difference does it make? The point is, films (and by extension photographs, television and paintings) influence dramatically people’s opinions about all kinds of things and the Bible is no exception. Look at the Hollywood films about the Flood. They seemingly follow the Biblical narrative and you see people climbing up to the tops of mountains to escape the Flood; you see the ark floating on huge oceans of water and torrential downpours; you see rain for forty days and forty nights; you see the water covering the tops of the mountains and so on. However, are these really accurate descriptions? According to Hollywood, yes; but according to the Bible, no!
However, there is one verse which I am focusing on in this short paper which seems to indicate this idea pretty clearly. It is the following which are the last few words of the passage in question: “And the waters assuaged.” (Genesis 8:1)
When you read this passage, you get the feeling that the waters that were submerging the whole mountains were somehow miraculously removed from the earth by a divine agency. This is what you feel on the surface when you read the last section of Genesis 7 and the first verse of Genesis 8. It seems so clear that this is what it means. But is it?
When we look at the Hebrew word for “assuaged” which is ישכו - yascu, this word needs some defining. Yes, it can mean “assuaged” or “receded,” however in this context many ancient commentators point out something else.
Rabbi Raphael Hirschinson in his excellent commentary on Genesis says the following: “וישכו – vayascu (root שכך) The use of this expression indicates that the action of the water of the flood was not merely mechanically destructive but also chemically dissolving. According to one remark in Sanhedrin 108b (quoting here from the Babylonian Talmud – one of the ancient authoritative works on Jewish law and Bible interpretation – see http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_108.html), they were רותחין, seething. שכך is the reverse of boiling and bubbling up of a torrent.” (pg. 155). Continuing, Rabbi Hirschinson shows that to understand this verse it is essential to refer to a passage in the book of Esther chapter 7, verse 10, which says:
“Then the king’s wrath was pacified.”
The word for “pacified” in Esther 7:10 and the word for “assuaged” in Genesis 8:1 come from the same root. The point that arises out of these passages when we begin to dig deeper is that the Floodwaters themselves were boiling hot. Rabbi Hirschinson references a key passage in the Babylonian Talmud in this regard and it is good to show here what those ancient commentaries said about this verse. Note if here:
R. Hisda said: With hot passion they sinned (speaking about those in the pre-Flood period), and by hot water they were punished. [For] here it is written, And the water cooled; (Genesis 8:1) whilst elsewhere it is said, Then the king's wrath cooled down. (Esther 7:10) (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 108b)
You can see that this ancient commentator clearly understood that the waters of the Flood were hot water and he even translated the word as “cooled.” When we think about it, depending on our perspective, it could very easily mean that the waters indeed “cooled off” rather than “assuaged” or “run off” from a higher point to a lower point. What we find here is that those individuals who translated the word “assuaged” may have been influenced by their opinion of what took place in the Flood through means other than looking at the ancient sources (like religious art, paintings in churches, stained glass windows or icons) and comparing the information we find in the Biblical texts.
Hot water during the Flood? Yes. In fact, we have many ancient nations producing Flood type narratives and “a Finnish story of the Deluge (the Flood) is of hot water.” (Hastings: Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. IV, p. 548)
What has to be understood is the whole conception of what took place in the Flood needs to be reexamined. Even the word for “flood” (מבול - mabul) does not always specifically mean “flood.” Note that in passages in the New Testament where the Flood is referenced, the Greek word used is kataklusmos (kataklusmos), from which we get the English word cataclysm or cataclysmic. The point is, while all floods to one degree or another can be cataclysmic in effect, not all cataclysmic events are necessarily floods. It is important to note that the Hebrew word (מבול - mabul) only appears in the Hebrew Bible 12 times, 11 of which are in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. (the remaining time is in Psalm 29:10) We even find in the first passage where this word in referenced that the Lord says: “I do bring a flood (מבול – mabul – “a cataclysmic event”) of waters …” (Genesis 6:17) It seems to indicate that to limit the description of this event to that of a “flood” is to miss the intent and power of this word. What took place in the early chapters of Genesis was a complete destruction of everything alive on earth and it looks like that while water was involved, that water was not only very hot, but that it also had corrosive qualities to it. [Much more to say on this later.]
What I hope to show through this short article is that there is much to learn in these early sections of Genesis. While the language is terse and brief, we have to remember that this is what the Lord has provided for us to know about the early earth. Let us take these passages, believe them and be willing to study them carefully asking the Lord to guide our path. There is still much teaching to be had from that good old Book.
Closing comment: As time permits, I hope to bring out more research on this interesting subject in the future as what I have given here is a summary of more research to be published later.