Infomotions, Inc.Evolution of Theology: an Anthropological Study / Huxley, Thomas Henry, 1825-1895

Author: Huxley, Thomas Henry, 1825-1895
Title: Evolution of Theology: an Anthropological Study
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): hasisadra; euphrates; hasisadra's adventure; euphrates valley; glacial epoch; jordan; alluvial; glacial; valley; epoch; caspian; tigris; mediterranean; deluge; flood; level; sea; gulf
Contributor(s): Bright, Mynors, 1818-1883 [Translator]
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Title:  Hasisadra's Adventure 
Title:  This is Essay #7 from "Science and Hebrew Tradition"

Author:  Thomas Henry Huxley

May, 2001  [Etext #2633]

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Hasisadra's Adventure
by Thomas Henry Huxley
This is Essay #7 from "Science and Hebrew Tradition"

Some thousands of years ago there was a city in Mesopotamia
called Surippak. One night a strange dream came to a dweller
therein, whose name, if rightly reported, was Hasisadra.
The dream foretold the speedy coming of a great flood; and it
warned Hasisadra to lose no time in building a ship, in which,
when notice was given, he, his family and friends, with their
domestic animals and a collection of wild creatures and seed of
plants of the land, might take refuge and be rescued from
destruction. Hasisadra awoke, and at once acted upon the
warning. A strong decked ship was built, and her sides were
paid, inside and out, with the mineral pitch, or bitumen, with
which the country abounded; the vessel's seaworthiness was
tested, the cargo was stowed away, and a trusty pilot or
steersman appointed.

The promised signal arrived. Wife and friends embarked;
Hasisadra, following, prudently "shut the door," or, as we
should say, put on the hatches; and Nes-Hea, the pilot, was left
alone on deck to do his best for the ship. Thereupon a hurricane
began to rage; rain fell in torrents; the subterranean waters
burst forth; a deluge swept over the land, and the wind lashed
it into waves sky high; heaven and earth became mingled in
chaotic gloom. For six days and seven nights the gale raged, but
the good ship held out until, on the seventh day, the storm
lulled. Hasisadra ventured on deck; and, seeing nothing but a
waste of waters strewed with floating corpses and wreck, wept
over the destruction of his land and people. Far away, the
mountains of Nizir were visible; the ship was steered for them
and ran aground upon the higher land. Yet another seven days
passed by. On the seventh, Hasisadra sent forth a dove, which
found no resting place and returned; then he liberated a
swallow, which also came back; finally, a raven was let loose,
and that sagacious bird, when it found that the water had
abated, came near the ship, but refused to return to it.
Upon this, Hasisadra liberated the rest of the wild animals,
which immediately dispersed in all directions, while he, with
his family and friends, ascending a mountain hard by, offered
sacrifice upon its summit to the gods.

The story thus given in summary abstract, told in an ancient
Semitic dialect, is inscribed in cuneiform characters upon a
tablet of burnt clay. Many thousands of such tablets, collected
by Assurbanipal, King of Assyria in the middle of the seventh
century B.C., were stored in the library of his palace at
Nineveh; and, though in a sadly broken and mutilated condition,
they have yielded a marvellous amount of information to the
patient and sagacious labour which modern scholars have bestowed
upon them. Among the multitude of documents of various kinds,
this narrative of Hasisadra's adventure has been found in a
tolerably complete state. But Assyriologists agree that it is
only a copy of a much more ancient work; and there are weighty
reasons for believing that the story of Hasisadra's flood was
well known in Mesopotamia before the year 2000 B.C.

No doubt, then, we are in presence of a narrative which has all
the authority which antiquity can confer; and it is proper to
deal respectfully with it, even though it is quite as proper,
and indeed necessary, to act no less respectfully towards
ourselves; and, before professing to put implicit faith in it,
to inquire what claim it has to be regarded as a serious account
of an historical event.

It is of no use to appeal to contemporary history, although the
annals of Babylonia, no less than those of Egypt, go much
further back than 2000 B.C. All that can be said is, that the
former are hardly consistent with the supposition that any
catastrophe, competent to destroy all the population, has
befallen the land since civilisation began, and that the latter
are notoriously silent about deluges. In such a case as this,
however, the silence of history does not leave the inquirer
wholly at fault. Natural science has something to say when the
phenomena of nature are in question. Natural science may be able
to show, from the nature of the country, either that such an
event as that described in the story is impossible, or at any
rate highly improbable; or, on the other hand, that it is
consonant with probability. In the former case, the narrative
must be suspected or rejected; in the latter, no such summary
verdict can be given: on the contrary, it must be admitted that
the story may be true. And then, if certain strangely prevalent
canons of criticism are accepted, and if the evidence that an
event might have happened is to be accepted as proof that it did
happen, Assyriologists will be at liberty to congratulate one
another on the "confirmation by modern science" of the authority
of their ancient books.

It will be interesting, therefore, to inquire how far the
physical structure and the other conditions of the region in
which Surippak was situated are compatible with such a flood as
is described in the Assyrian record.

The scene of Hasisadra's adventure is laid in the broad valley,
six or seven hundred miles long, and hardly anywhere less than a
hundred miles in width, which is traversed by the lower courses
of the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, and which is commonly known
as the "Euphrates valley." Rising, at the one end, into a hill
country, which gradually passes into the Alpine heights of
Armenia; and, at the other, dipping beneath the shallow waters
of the head of the Persian Gulf, which continues in the same
direction, from north-west to south-east, for some eight hundred
miles farther, the floor of the valley presents a gradual slope,
from eight hundred feet above the sea level to the depths of the
southern end of the Persian Gulf. The boundary between sea and
land, formed by the extremest mudflats of the delta of the two
rivers, is but vaguely defined; and, year by year, it advances
seaward. On the north-eastern side, the western frontier ranges
of Persia rise abruptly to great heights; on the south-western
side, a more gradual ascent leads to a table-land of less
elevation, which, very broad in the south, where it is occupied
by the deserts of Arabia and of Southern Syria, narrows,
northwards, into the highlands of Palestine, and is continued by
the ranges of the Lebanon, the Antilebanon, and the Taurus, into
the highlands of Armenia.

The wide and gently inclined plain, thus inclosed between the
gulf and the highlands, on each side and at its upper extremity,
is distinguishable into two regions of very different character,
one of which lies north, and the other south of the parallel of
Hit, on the Euphrates. Except in the immediate vicinity of the
river, the northern division is stony and scantily covered with
vegetation, except in spring. Over the southern division, on the
contrary, spreads a deep alluvial soil, in which even a pebble
is rare; and which, though, under the existing misrule, mainly a
waste of marsh and wilderness, needs only intelligent attention
to become, as it was of old, the granary of western Asia.
Except in the extreme south, the rainfall is small and the air
dry. The heat in summer is intense, while bitterly cold northern
blasts sweep the plain in winter. Whirlwinds are not uncommon;
and, in the intervals of the periodical inundations, the fine,
dry, powdery soil is swept, even by moderate breezes, into
stifling clouds, or rather fogs, of dust. Low inequalities,
elevations here and depressions there, diversify the surface of
the alluvial region. The latter are occupied by enormous
marshes, while the former support the permanent dwellings of the
present scanty and miserable population.

In antiquity, so long as the canalisation of the country was
properly carried out, the fertility of the alluvial plain
enabled great and prosperous nations to have their home in the
Euphrates valley. Its abundant clay furnished the materials for
the masses of sun-dried and burnt bricks, the remains of which,
in the shape of huge artificial mounds, still testify to both
the magnitude and the industry of the population, thousands of
years ago. Good cement is plentiful, while the bitumen, which
wells from the rocks at Hit and elsewhere, not only answers the
same purpose, but is used to this day, as it was in Hasisadra's
time, to pay the inside and the outside of boats.

In the broad lower course of the Euphrates, the stream rarely
acquires a velocity of more than three miles an hour, while the
lower Tigris attains double that rate in times of flood. The
water of both great rivers is mainly derived from the northern
and eastern highlands in Armenia and in Kurdistan, and stands at
its lowest level in early autumn and in January. But when the
snows accumulated in the upper basins of the great rivers,
during the winter, melt under the hot sunshine of spring, they
rapidly rise,<1> and at length overflow their banks, covering
the alluvial plain with a vast inland sea, interrupted only by
the higher ridges and hummocks which form islands in a seemingly
boundless expanse of water.

In the occurrence of these annual inundations lies one of
several resemblances between the valley of the Euphrates and
that of the Nile. But there are important differences. The time
of the annual flood is reversed, the Nile being highest in
autumn and winter, and lowest in spring and early summer. The
periodical overflows of the Nile, regulated by the great lake
basins in the south, are usually punctual in arrival, gradual in
growth, and beneficial in operation. No lakes are interposed
between the mountain torrents of the upper basis of the Tigris
and the Euphrates and their lower courses. Hence, heavy rain, or
an unusually rapid thaw in the uplands, gives rise to the sudden
irruption of a vast volume of water which not even the rapid
Tigris, still less its more sluggish companion, can carry off in
time to prevent violent and dangerous overflows. Without an
elaborate system of canalisation, providing an escape for such
sudden excesses of the supply of water, the annual floods of the
Euphrates, and especially of the Tigris, must always be attended
with risk, and often prove harmful.

There are other peculiarities of the Euphrates valley which may
occasionally tend to exacerbate the evils attendant on the
inundations. It is very subject to seismic disturbances; and the
ordinary consequences of a sharp earthquake shock might be
seriously complicated by its effect on a broad sheet of water.
Moreover the Indian Ocean lies within the region of typhoons;
and if, at the height of an inundation, a hurricane from the
south-east swept up the Persian Gulf, driving its shallow waters
upon the delta and damming back the outflow, perhaps for
hundreds of miles up-stream, a diluvial catastrophe, fairly up
to the mark of Hasisadra's, might easily result.<2>

Thus there seems to be no valid reason for rejecting Hasisadra's
story on physical grounds. I do not gather from the narrative
that the "mountains of Nizir" were supposed to be submerged, but
merely that they came into view above the distant horizon of the
waters, as the vessel drove in that direction. Certainly the
ship is not supposed to ground on any of their higher summits,
for Hasisadra has to ascend a peak in order to offer his
sacrifice. The country of Nizir lay on the north-eastern side of
the Euphrates valley, about the courses of the two rivers Zab,
which enter the Tigris where it traverses the plain of Assyria
some eight or nine hundred feet above the sea; and, so far as I
can judge from maps<3> and other sources of information, it is
possible, under the circumstances supposed, that such a ship as
Hasisadra's might drive before a southerly gale, over a
continuously flooded country, until it grounded on some of the
low hills between which both the lower and the upper Zab enter
upon the Assyrian plain.

The tablet which contains the story under consideration is the
eleventh of a series of twelve. Each of these answers to a
month, and to the corresponding sign of the Zodiac. The Assyrian
year began with the spring equinox; consequently, the eleventh
month, called "the rainy," answers to our January-February, and
to the sign which corresponds with our Aquarius. The aquatic
adventure of Hasisadra, therefore, is not inappropriately
placed. It is curious, however, that the season thus indirectly
assigned to the flood is not that of the present highest level
of the rivers. It is too late for the winter rise and too early
for the spring floods.

I think it must be admitted that, so far, the physical cross-
examination to which Hasisadra has been subjected does not break
down his story. On the contrary, he proves to have kept it in
all essential respects<4> within the bounds of probability or
possibility. However, we have not yet done with him. For the
conditions which obtained in the Euphrates valley, four or five
thousand years ago, may have differed to such an extent from
those which now exist that we should be able to convict him of
having made up his tale. But here again everything is in favour
of his credibility. Indeed, he may claim very powerful support,
for it does not lie in the mouths of those who accept the
authority of the Pentateuch to deny that the Euphrates valley
was what it is, even six thousand years back. According to the
book of Genesis, Phrat and Hiddekel--the Euphrates and the
Tigris--are coeval with Paradise. An edition of the Scriptures,
recently published under high authority, with an elaborate
apparatus of "Helps" for the use of students--and therefore, as
I am bound to suppose, purged of all statements that could by
any possibility mislead the young--assigns the year B.C. 4004 as
the date of Adam's too brief residence in that locality.

But I am far from depending on this authority for the age of the
Mesopotamian plain. On the contrary, I venture to rely, with
much more confidence, on another kind of evidence, which tends
to show that the age of the great rivers must be carried back to
a date earlier than that at which our ingenuous youth is
instructed that the earth came into existence. For, the alluvial
deposit having been brought down by the rivers, they must needs
be older than the plain it forms, as navvies must needs antecede
the embankment painfully built up by the contents of their
wheel-barrows. For thousands of years, heat and cold, rain,
snow, and frost, the scrubbing of glaciers, and the scouring of
torrents laden with sand and gravel, have been wearing down the
rocks of the upper basins of the rivers, over an area of many
thousand square miles; and these materials, ground to fine
powder in the course of their long journey, have slowly
subsided, as the water which carried them spread out and lost
its velocity in the sea. It is because this process is still
going on that the shore of the delta constantly encroaches on
the head of the gulf<5> into which the two rivers are constantly
throwing the waste of Armenia and of Kurdistan. Hence, as might
be expected, fluviatile and marine shells are common in the
alluvial deposit; and Loftus found strata, containing subfossil
marine shells of species now living, in the Persian Gulf, at
Warka, two hundred miles in a straight line from the shore of
the delta.<6> It follows that, if a trustworthy estimate of the
average rate of growth of the alluvial can be formed, the lowest
limit (by no means the highest limit) of age of the rivers can
be determined. All such estimates are beset with sources of
error of very various kinds; and the best of them can only be
regarded as approximations to the truth. But I think it will be
quite safe to assume a maximum rate of growth of four miles in a
century for the lower half of the alluvial plain.

Now, the cycle of narratives of which Hasisadra's adventure
forms a part contains allusions not only to Surippak, the exact
position of which is doubtful, but to other cities, such as
Erech. The vast ruins at the present village of Warka have been
carefully explored and determined to be all that remains of that
once great and flourishing city, "Erech the lofty."
Supposing that the two hundred miles of alluvial country, which
separates them from the head of the Persian Gulf at present,
have been deposited at the very high rate of four miles in a
century, it will follow that 4000 years ago, or about the year
2100 B.C., the city of Erech still lay forty miles inland.
Indeed, the city might have been built a thousand years earlier.
Moreover, there is plenty of independent archaeological and
other evidence that in the whole thousand years, 2000 to
3000 B.C, the alluvial plain was inhabited by a numerous people,
among whom industry, art, and literature had attained a very
considerable development. And it can be shown that the physical
conditions and the climate of the Euphrates valley, at that
time, must have been extremely similar to what they are now.

Thus, once more, we reach the conclusion that, as a question of
physical probability, there is no ground for objecting to the
reality of Hasisadra's adventure. It would be unreasonable to
doubt that such a flood might have happened, and that such a
person might have escaped in the way described, any time during
the last 5000 years. And if the postulate of loose thinkers in
search of scientific "confirmations" of questionable narratives
--proof that an event may have happened is evidence that it did
happen--is to be accepted, surely Hasisadra's story is
"confirmed by modern scientific investigation" beyond all cavil.
However, it may be well to pause before adopting this
conclusion, because the original story, of which I have set
forth only the broad outlines, contains a great many statements
which rest upon just the same foundation as those cited, and yet
are hardly likely to meet with general acceptance. The account
of the circumstances which led up to the flood, of those under
which Hasisadra's adventure was made known to his descendant, of
certain remarkable incidents before and after the flood, are
inseparably bound up with the details already given. And I am
unable to discover any justification for arbitrarily picking out
some of these and dubbing them historical verities, while
rejecting the rest as legendary fictions. They stand or
fall together.

Before proceeding to the consideration of these less
satisfactory details, it is needful to remark that Hasisadra's
adventure is a mere episode in a cycle of stories of which a
personage, whose name is provisionally read "Izdubar," is the
centre. The nature of Izdubar hovers vaguely between the heroic
and the divine; sometimes he seems a mere man, sometimes
approaches so closely to the divinities of fire and of the sun
as to be hardly distinguishable from them. As I have already
mentioned, the tablet which sets forth Hasisadra's perils is one
of twelve; and, since each of these represents a month and bears
a story appropriate to the corresponding sign of the Zodiac,
great weight must be attached to Sir Henry Rawlinson's
suggestion that the epos of Izdubar is a poetical embodiment of
solar mythology.

In the earlier books of the epos, the hero, not content with
rejecting the proffered love of the Chaldaean Aphrodite, Istar,
freely expresses his very low estimate of her character; and it
is interesting to observe that, even in this early stage of
human experience, men had reached a conception of that law of
nature which expresses the inevitable consequences of an
imperfect appreciation of feminine charms. The injured goddess
makes Izdubar's life a burden to him, until at last, sick in
body and sorry in mind, he is driven to seek aid and comfort
from his forbears in the world of spirits. So this antitype of
Odysseus journeys to the shore of the waters of death, and there
takes ship with a Chaldaean Charon, who carries him within hail
of his ancestor Hasisadra. That venerable personage not only
gives Izdubar instructions how to regain his health, but tells
him, somewhat <i>a propos des bottes</i> (after the manner of
venerable personages), the long story of his perilous adventure;
and how it befell that he, his wife, and his steersman came to
dwell among the blessed gods, without passing through the
portals of death like ordinary mortals.

According to the full story, the sins of mankind had become
grievous; and, at a council of the gods, it was resolved to
extirpate the whole race by a great flood. And, once more, let
us note the uniformity of human experience. It would appear
that, four thousand years ago, the obligations of confidential
intercourse about matters of state were sometimes violated--
of course from the best of motives. Ea, one of the three chiefs
of the Chaldaean Pantheon, the god of justice and of practical
wisdom, was also the god of the sea; and, yielding to the
temptation to do a friend a good turn, irresistible to kindly
seafaring folks of all ranks, he warned Hasisadra of what was
coming. When Bel subsequently reproached him for this breach of
confidence, Ea defended himself by declaring that he did not
tell Hasisadra anything; he only sent him a dream. This was
undoubtedly sailing very near the wind; but the attribution of a
little benevolent obliquity of conduct to one of the highest of
the gods is a trifle compared with the truly Homeric
anthropomorphism which characterises other parts of the epos.

The Chaldĉan deities are, in truth, extremely human; and,
occasionally, the narrator does not scruple to represent them in
a manner which is not only inconsistent with our idea of
reverence, but is sometimes distinctly humorous.<7> When the
storm is at its height, he exhibits them flying in a state of
panic to Anu, the god of heaven, and crouching before his portal
like frightened dogs. As the smoke of Hasisadra's sacrifice
arises, the gods, attracted by the sweet savour, are compared to
swarms of flies. I have already remarked that the lady Istar's
reputation is torn to shreds; while she and Ea scold Bel
handsomely for his ferocity and injustice in destroying the
innocent along with the guilty. One is reminded of Here hung up
with weighted heels; of misleading dreams sent by Zeus; of Ares
howling as he flies from the Trojan battlefield; and of the very
questionable dealings of Aphrodite with Helen and Paris.

But to return to the story. Bel was, at first, excluded from the
sacrifice as the author of all the mischief; which really was
somewhat hard upon him, since the other gods agreed to his
proposal. But eventually a reconciliation takes place; the great
bow of Anu is displayed in the heavens; Bel agrees that he will
be satisfied with what war, pestilence, famine, and wild beasts
can do in the way of destroying men; and that, henceforward, he
will not have recourse to extraordinary measures. Finally, it is
Bel himself who, by way of making amends, transports Hasisadra,
his wife, and the faithful Nes-Hea to the abode of the gods.

It is as indubitable as it is incomprehensible to most of us,
that, for thousands of years, a great people, quite as
intelligent as we are, and living in as high a state of
civilisation as that which had been attained in the greater part
of Europe a few centuries ago, entertained not the slightest
doubt that Anu, Bel, Ea, Istar, and the rest, were real
personages, possessed of boundless powers for good and evil.
The sincerity of the monarchs whose inscriptions gratefully
attribute their victories to Merodach, or to Assur, is as little
to be questioned as that of the authors of the hymns and
penitential psalms which give full expression to the heights and
depths of religious devotion. An "infidel" bold enough to deny
the existence, or to doubt the influence, of these deities
probably did not exist in all Mesopotamia; and even constructive
rebellion against their authority was apt to end in the
deprivation, not merely of the good name, but of the skin of the
offender. The adherents of modern theological systems dismiss
these objects of the love and fear of a hundred generations of
their equals, offhand, as "gods of the heathen," mere creations
of a wicked and idolatrous imagination; and, along with them,
they disown, as senseless, the crude theology, with its gross
anthropomorphism and its low ethical conception of the divinity,
which satisfied the pious souls of Chaldaea.

I imagine, though I do not presume to be sure, that any
endeavour to save the intellectual and moral credit of Chaldaean
religion, by suggesting the application to it of that universal
solvent of absurdities, the allegorical method, would be
scouted; I will not even suggest that any ingenuity can be equal
to the discovery of the antitypes of the personifications
effected by the religious imagination of later ages, in the
triad Anu, Ea, and Bel, still less in Istar. Therefore, unless
some plausible reconciliatory scheme should be propounded by a
Neo-Chaldaean devotee (and, with Neo-Buddhists to the fore, this
supposition is not so wild as it looks), I suppose the moderns
will continue to smile, in a superior way, at the grievous
absurdity of the polytheistic idolatry of these ancient people.

It is probably a congenital absence of some faculty which I
ought to possess which withholds me from adopting this summary
procedure. But I am not ashamed to share David Hume's want of
ability to discover that polytheism is, in itself, altogether
absurd. If we are bound, or permitted, to judge the government
of the world by human standards, it appears to me that
directorates are proved, by familiar experience, to conduct the
largest and the most complicated concerns quite as well as
solitary despots. I have never been able to see why the
hypothesis of a divine syndicate should be found guilty of
innate absurdity. Those Assyrians, in particular, who held Assur
to be the one supreme and creative deity, to whom all the other
supernal powers were subordinate, might fairly ask that the
essential difference between their system and that which obtains
among the great majority of their modern theological critics
should be demonstrated. In my apprehension, it is not the
quantity, but the quality, of the persons, among whom the
attributes of divinity are distributed, which is the serious
matter. If the divine might is associated with no higher ethical
attributes than those which obtain among ordinary men; if the
divine intelligence is supposed to be so imperfect that it
cannot foresee the consequences of its own contrivances; if the
supernal powers can become furiously angry with the creatures of
their omnipotence and, in their senseless wrath, destroy the
innocent along with the guilty; or if they can show themselves
to be as easily placated by presents and gross flattery as any
oriental or occidental despot; if, in short, they are only
stronger than mortal men and no better, as it must be admitted
Hasisadra's deities proved themselves to be--then, surely, it is
time for us to look somewhat closely into their credentials, and
to accept none but conclusive evidence of their existence.

To the majority of my respected contemporaries this reasoning
will doubtless appear feeble, if not worse. However, to my mind,
such are the only arguments by which the Chaldaean theology can
be satisfactorily upset. So far from there being any ground for
the belief that Ea, Anu, and Bel are, or ever were, real
entities, it seems to me quite infinitely more probable that
they are products of the religious imagination, such as are to
be found everywhere and in all ages, so long as that imagination
riots uncontrolled by scientific criticism.

It is on these grounds that I venture, at the risk of being
called an atheist by the ghosts of all the principals of all the
colleges of Babylonia, or by their living successors among the
Neo-Chaldaeans, if that sect should arise, to express my utter
disbelief in the gods of Hasisadra. Hence, it follows, that I
find Hasisadra's account of their share in his adventure
incredible; and, as the physical details of the flood are
inseparable from its theophanic accompaniments, and are
guaranteed by the same authority, I must let them go with the
rest. The consistency of such details with probability counts
for nothing. The inhabitants of Chaldaea must always have been
familiar with inundations; probably no generation failed to
witness an inundation which rose unusually high, or was rendered
serious by coincident atmospheric or other disturbances. And the
memory of the general features of any exceptionally severe and
devastating flood, would be preserved by popular tradition for
long ages. What, then, could be more natural than that a
Chaldaean poet should seek for the incidents of a great
catastrophe among such phenomena? In what other way than by such
an appeal to their experience could he so surely awaken in his
audience the tragic pity and terror? What possible ground is
there for insisting that he must have had some individual good
in view, and that his history is historical, in the sense that
the account of the effects of a hurricane in the Bay of Bengal,
in the year 1875, is historical?

More than three centuries after the time of Assurbanipal,
Berosus of Babylon, born in the reign of Alexander the Great,
wrote an account of the history of his country in Greek.
The work of Berosus has vanished; but extracts from it--how far
faithful is uncertain--have been preserved by later writers.
Among these occurs the well-known story of the Deluge of
Xisuthros, which is evidently built upon the same foundation as
that of Hasisadra. The incidents of the divine warning, the
building of the ship, the sending out of birds, the ascension of
the hero, betray their common origin. But stories, like Madeira,
acquire a heightened flavour with time and travel; and the
version of Berosus is characterised by those circumstantial
improbabilities which habitually gather round the legend of a
legend. The later narrator knows the exact day of the month on
which the flood began. The dimensions of the ship are stated
with Munchausenian precision at five stadia by two--say, half by
one-fifth of an English mile. The ship runs aground among the
"Gordaean mountains" to the south of Lake Van, in Armenia,
beyond the limits of any imaginable real inundation of the
Euphrates valley; and, by way of climax, we have the assertion,
worthy of the sailor who said that he had brought up one of
Pharaoh's chariot wheels on the fluke of his anchor in the Red
Sea, that pilgrims visited the locality and made amulets of the
bitumen which they scraped off from the still extant remains of
the mighty ship of Xisuthros.

Suppose that some later polyhistor, as devoid of critical
faculty as most of his tribe, had found the version of Berosus,
as well as another much nearer the original story; that, having
too much respect for his authorities to make up a <i>tertium
quid</i> of his own, out of the materials offered, he followed a
practice, common enough among ancient and, particularly, among
Semitic historians, of dividing, both into fragments and piecing
these together, without troubling himself very much about those
resulting repetitions and inconsistencies; the product of such a
primitive editorial operation would be a narrative analogous to
that which treats of the Noachian deluge in the book of Genesis.
For the Pentateuchal story is indubitably a patchwork, composed
of fragments of at least two, different and partly discrepant,
narratives, quilted together in such an inartistic fashion that
the seams remain conspicuous. And, in the matter of
circumstantial exaggeration, it in some respects excels even the
second-hand legend of Berosus.

There is a certain practicality about the notion of taking
refuge from floods and storms in a ship provided with a
steersman; but, surely, no one who had ever seen more water than
he could wade through would dream of facing even a moderate
breeze, in a huge three-storied coffer, or box, three hundred
cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high, left to drift without
rudder or pilot.<8> Not content with giving the exact year of
Noah's age in which the flood began, the Pentateuchal story adds
the month and the day of the month. It is the Deity himself who
"shuts in" Noah. The modest week assigned to the full deluge in
Hasisadra's story becomes forty days, in one of the Pentateuchal
accounts, and a hundred and fifty in the other. The flood,
which, in the version of Berosus, has grown so high as to cast
the ship among the mountains of Armenia, is improved upon in the
Hebrew account until it covers "all the high hills that were
under the whole heaven"; and, when it begins to subside, the ark
is left stranded on the summit of the highest peak, commonly
identified with Ararat itself.

While the details of Hasisadra's adventure are, at least,
compatible with the physical conditions of the Euphrates valley,
and, as we have seen, involve no catastrophe greater than such
as might be brought under those conditions, many of the very
precisely stated details of Noah's flood contradict some of the
best established results of scientific inquiry.

If it is certain that the alluvium of the Mesopotamian plain has
been brought down by the Tigris and the Euphrates, then it is no
less certain that the physical structure of the whole valley has
persisted, without material modification, for many thousand
years before the date assigned to the flood. If the summits,
even of the moderately elevated ridges which immediately bound
the valley, still more those of the Kurdish and Armenian
mountains, were ever covered by water, for even forty days, that
water must have extended over the whole earth. If the earth was
thus covered, anywhere between 4000 and 5000 years ago, or, at
any other time, since the higher terrestrial animals came into
existence, they must have been destroyed from the whole face of
it, as the Pentateuchal account declares they were three several
times (Genesis vii. 21, 22, 23), in language which cannot be
made more emphatic, or more solemn, than it is; and the present
population must consist of the descendants of emigrants from the
ark. And, if that is the case, then, as has often been pointed
out, the sloths of the Brazilian forests, the kangaroos of
Australia, the great tortoises of the Galapagos islands, must
have respectively hobbled, hopped, and crawled over many
thousand miles of land and sea from "Ararat" to their present
habitations. Thus, the unquestionable facts of the geographical
distribution of recent land animals, alone, form an insuperable
obstacle to the acceptance of the assertion that the kinds of
animals composing the present terrestrial fauna have been, at
any time, universally destroyed in the way described in
the Pentateuch.

It is upon this and other unimpeachable grounds that, as I
ventured to say some time ago, persons who are duly conversant
with even the elements of natural science decline to take the
Noachian deluge seriously; and that, as I also pointed out,
candid theologians, who, without special scientific knowledge,
have appreciated the weight of scientific arguments, have long
since given it up. But, as Goethe has remarked, there is nothing
more terrible than energetic ignorance;<9> and there are, even
yet, very energetic people, who are neither candid, nor clear-
headed, nor theologians, still less properly instructed in the
elements of natural science, who make prodigious efforts to
obscure the effect of these plain truths, and to conceal their
real surrender of the historical character of Noah's deluge
under cover of the smoke of a great discharge of
pseudoscientific artillery. They seem to imagine that the proofs
which abound in all parts of the world, of large oscillations of
the relative level of land and sea, combined with the
probability that, when the sea-level was rising, sudden
incursions of the sea like that which broke in over Holland and
formed the Zuyder Zee, may have often occurred, can be made to
look like evidence that something that, by courtesy, might be
called a general Deluge has really taken place. Their discursive
energy drags misunderstood truth into their service; and "the
glacial epoch" is as sure to crop up among them as King
Charles's head in a famous memorial--with about as much
appropriateness. The old story of the raised beach on Moel
Tryfaen is trotted out; though, even if the facts are as yet
rightly interpreted, there is not a shadow of evidence that the
change of sea-level in that locality was sudden, or that glacial
Welshmen would have known it was taking place.<10> Surely it is
difficult to perceive the relevancy of bringing in something
that happened in the glacial epoch (if it did happen) to account
for the tradition of a flood in the Euphrates valley between
2000 and 3000 B.C. But the date of the Noachian flood is solidly
fixed by the sole authority for it; no shuffling of the
chronological data will carry it so far back as 3000 B.C.;
and the Hebrew epos agrees with the Chaldaean in placing it
after the development of a somewhat advanced civilisation.
The only authority for the Noachian deluge assures us that,
before it visited the earth, Cain had built cities; Jubal had
invented harps and organs; while mankind had advanced so far
beyond the neolithic, nay even the bronze, stage that Tubal-cain
was a worker in iron. Therefore, if the Noachian legend is to be
taken for the history of an event which happened in the glacial
epoch, we must revise our notions of pleistocene civilisation.
On the other hand, if the Pentateuchal story only means
something quite different, that happened somewhere else,
thousands of years earlier, dressed up, what becomes of its
credit as history? I wonder what would be said to a modern
historian who asserted that Pekin was burnt down in 1886, and
then tried to justify the assertion by adducing evidence of the
Great Fire of London in 1666. Yet the attempt to save the credit
of the Noachian story by reference to something which is
supposed to have happened in the far north, in the glacial
epoch, is far more preposterous.

Moreover, these dust-raising dialecticians ignore some of the
most important and well-known facts which bear upon the
question. Anything more than a parochial acquaintance with
physical geography and geology would suffice to remind its
possessor that the Holy Land itself offers a standing protest
against bringing such a deluge as that of Noah anywhere near it,
either in historical times or in the course of that pleistocene
period, of which the "great ice age" formed a part.

Judaea and Galilee, Moab and Gilead, occupy part of that
extensive tableland at the summit of the western boundary of the
Euphrates valley, to which I have already referred. If that
valley had ever been filled with water to a height sufficient,
not indeed to cover a third of Ararat, in the north, or half of
some of the mountains of the Persian frontier in the east, but
to reach even four or five thousand feet, it must have stood
over the Palestinian hog's back, and have filled, up to the
brim, every depression on its surface. Therefore it could not
have failed to fill that remarkable trench in which the Dead
Sea, the Jordan, and the Sea of Galilee lie, and which is known
as the "Jordan-Arabah" valley.

This long and deep hollow extends more than 200 miles, from near
the site of ancient Dan in the north, to the water-parting at
the head of the Wady Arabah in the south; and its deepest part,
at the bottom of the basin of the Dead Sea, lies 2500 feet below
the surface of the adjacent Mediterranean. The lowest portion of
the rim of the Jordan-Arabah valley is situated at the village
of El Fuleh, 257 feet above the Mediterranean. Everywhere else
the circumjacent heights rise to a very much greater altitude.
Hence, of the water which stood over the Syrian tableland, when
as much drained off as could run away, enough would remain to
form a "Mere" without an outlet, 2757 feet deep, over the
present site of the Dead Sea. From this time forth, the level of
the Palestinian mere could be lowered only by evaporation. It is
an extremely interesting fact, which has happily escaped capture
for the purposes of the energetic misunderstanding, that the
valley, at one time, was filled, certainly within 150 feet of
this height--probably higher. And it is almost equally certain,
that the time at which this great Jordan-Arabah mere reached its
highest level coincides with the glacial epoch. But then the
evidence which goes to prove this, also leads to the conclusion
that this state of things obtained at a period considerably
older than even 4000 B.C., when the world, according to the
"Helps" (or shall we say "Hindrances") provided for the simple
student of the Bible, was created; that it was not brought about
by any diluvial catastrophe, but was the result of a change in
the relative activities of certain natural operations which are
quietly going on now; and that, since the level of the mere
began to sink, many thousand years ago, no serious catastrophe
of any description has affected the valley.

The evidence that the Jordan-Arabah valley really was once
filled with water, the surface of which reached within 160 feet
of the level of the pass of Jezrael, and possibly stood higher,
is this: Remains of alluvial strata, containing shells of the
freshwater mollusks which still inhabit the valley, worn down
into terraces by waves which long rippled at the same level, and
furrowed by the channels excavated by modern rainfalls, have
been found at the former height; and they are repeated, at
intervals, lower down, until the Ghor, or plain of the Jordan,
itself an alluvial deposit, is reached. These strata attain a
considerable thickness; and they indicate that the epoch at
which the freshwater mere of Palestine reached its highest level
is extremely remote; that its diminution has taken place very
slowly, and with periods of rest, during which the first formed
deposits were cut down into terraces. This conclusion is
strikingly borne out by other facts. A volcanic region stretches
from Galilee to Gilead and the Hauran, on each side of the
northern end of the valley. Some of the streams of basaltic lava
which have been thrown out from its craters and clefts in times
of which history has no record, have run athwart the course of
the Jordan itself, or of that of some of its tributary streams.
The lava streams, therefore, must be of later date than the
depressions they fill. And yet, where they have thus temporarily
dammed the Jordan and the Jermuk, these streams have had time to
cut through the hard basalts and lay bare the beds, over which,
before the lava streams invaded them, they flowed.

In fact, the antiquity of the present Jordan-Arabah valley, as a
hollow in a tableland, out of reach of the sea, and troubled by
no diluvial or other disturbances, beyond the volcanic eruptions
of Gilead and of Galilee, is vast, even as estimated by a
geological standard. No marine deposits of later than miocene
age occur in or about it; and there is every reason to believe
that the Syro-Arabian plateau has been dry land, throughout the
pliocene and later epochs, down to the present time.
Raised beaches, containing recent shells, on the Levantine
shores of the Mediterranean and on those of the Red Sea, testify
to a geologically recent change of the sea level to the extent
of 250 or 300 feet, probably produced by the slow elevation of
the land; and, as I have already remarked, the alluvial plain of
the Euphrates and Tigris appears to have been affected in the
same way, though seemingly to a less extent. But of violent, or
catastrophic, change there is no trace. Even the volcanic
outbursts have flowed in even sheets over the old land surface;
and the long lines of the horizontal terraces which remain,
testify to the geological insignificance of such earthquakes as
have taken place. It is, indeed, possible that the original
formation of the valley may have been determined by the well-
known fault, along which the western rocks are relatively
depressed and the eastern elevated. But, whether that fault was
effected slowly or quickly, and whenever it came into existence,
the excavation of the valley to its present width, no less than
the sculpturing of its steep walls and of the innumerable deep
ravines which score them down to the very bottom, are
indubitably due to the operation of rain and streams, during an
enormous length of time, without interruption or disturbance of
any magnitude. The alluvial deposits which have been mentioned
are continued into the lateral ravines, and have more or less
filled them. But, since the waters have been lowered, these
deposits have been cut down to great depths, and are still being
excavated by the present temporary, or permanent, streams.
Hence, it follows, that all these ravines must have existed
before the time at which the valley was occupied by the great
mere. This fact acquires a peculiar importance when we proceed
to consider the grounds for the conclusion that the old
Palestinian mere attained its highest level in the cold period
of the pleistocene epoch. It is well known that glaciers
formerly came low down on the flanks of Lebanon and Antilebanon;
indeed, the old moraines are the haunts of the few survivors of
the famous cedars. This implies a perennial snowcap of great
extent on Hermon; therefore, a vastly greater supply of water to
the sources of the Jordan which rise on its flanks; and, in
addition, such a total change in the general climate, that the
innumerable Wadys, now traversed only by occasional storm
torrents, must have been occupied by perennial streams. All this
involves a lower annual temperature and a moist and rainy
atmosphere. If such a change of meteorological conditions could
be effected now, when the loss by evaporation from the surface
of the Dead Sea salt-pan balances all the gain from the Jordan
and other streams, the scale would be turned in the other
direction. The waters of the Dead Sea would become diluted;
its level would rise; it would cover, first the plain of the
Jordan, then the lake of Galilee, then the middle Jordan between
this lake and that of Huleh (the ancient Merom); and, finally,
it would encroach, northwards, along the course of the upper
Jordan, and, southwards, up the Wady Arabah, until it reached
some 260 feet above the level of the Mediterranean, when it
would attain a permanent level, by sending any superfluity
through the pass of Jezrael to swell the waters of the Kishon,
and flow thence into the Mediterranean.

Reverse the process, in consequence of the excess of loss by
evaporation over gain by inflow, which must have set in as the
climate of Syria changed after the end of the pleistocene epoch,
and (without taking into consideration any other circumstances)
the present state of things must eventually be reached--a
concentrated saline solution in the deepest part of the valley--
water, rather more charged with saline matter than ordinary
fresh water, in the lower Jordan and the lake of Galilee--fresh
waters, still largely derived from the snows of Hermon, in the
upper Jordan and in Lake Huleh. But, if the full state of the
Jordan valley marks the glacial epoch, then it follows that the
excavation of that valley by atmospheric agencies must have
occupied an immense antecedent time--a large part, perhaps the
whole, of the pliocene epoch; and we are thus forced to the
conclusion that, since the miocene epoch, the physical
conformation of the Holy Land has been substantially what it is
now. It has been more or less rained upon, searched by
earthquakes here and there, partially overflowed by lava
streams, slowly raised (relatively to the sea-level) a few
hundred feet. But there is not a shadow of ground for supposing
that, throughout all this time, terrestrial animals have ceased
to inhabit a large part of its surface; or that, in many parts,
they have been, in any respect, incommoded by the changes which
have taken place.

The evidence of the general stability of the physical conditions
of Western Asia, which is furnished by Palestine and by the
Euphrates Valley, is only fortified if we extend our view
northwards to the Black Sea and the Caspian. The Caspian is a
sort of magnified replica of the Dead Sea. The bottom of the
deepest part of this vast inland mere is about 3000 feet below
the level of the Mediterranean, while its surface is lower by 85
feet. At present, it is separated, on the west, by wide spaces
of dry land from the Black Sea, which has the same height as the
Mediterranean; and, on the east, from the Aral, 138 feet above
that level. The waters of the Black Sea, now in communication
with the Mediterranean by the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, are
salt, but become brackish northwards, where the rivers of the
steppes pour in a great volume of fresh water. Those of the
shallower northern half of the Caspian are similarly affected by
the Volga and the Ural, while, in the shallow bays of the
southern division, they become extremely saline in consequence
of the intense evaporation. The Aral Sea, though supplied by the
Jaxartes and the Oxus, has brackish water. There is evidence
that, in the pliocene and pleistocene periods, to go no farther
back, the strait of the Dardanelles did not exist, and that the
vast area, from the valley of the Danube to that of the
Jaxartes, was covered by brackish or, in some parts, fresh water
to a height of at least 200 feet above the level of the
Mediterranean. At the present time, the water-parting which
separates the northern part of the basin of the Caspian from the
vast plains traversed by the Tobol and the Obi, in their course
to the Arctic Ocean, appears to be less than 200 feet above the
latter. It would seem, therefore, to be very probable that,
under the climatal conditions of part of the pleistocene period,
the valley of the Obi played the same part in relation to the
Ponto-Aralian sea, as that of the Kishon may have done to the
great mere of the Jordan valley; and that the outflow formed the
channel by which the well-known Arctic elements of the fauna of
the Caspian entered it. For the fossil remains imbedded in the
strata continuously deposited in the Aralo-Caspian area, since
the latter end of the miocene epoch, show no sign that, from
that time onward, it has ever been covered by sea water.
Therefore, the supposition of a free inflow of the Arctic Ocean,
which at one time was generally received, as well as that of
various hypothetical deluges from that quarter, must be
seriously questioned.

The Caspian and the Aral stand in somewhat the same relation to
the vast basin of dry land in which they lie, as the Dead Sea
and the lake of Galilee to the Jordan valley. They are the
remains of a vast, mostly brackish, mere, which has dried up in
consequence of the excess of evaporation over supply, since the
cold and damp climate of the pleistocene epoch gave place to the
increasing dryness and great summer heats of Central Asia in
more modern times. The desiccation of the Aralo-Caspian basin,
which communicated with the Black Sea only by a comparatively
narrow and shallow strait along the present valley of Manytsch,
the bottom of which was less than 100 feet above the
Mediterranean, must have been vastly aided by the erosion of the
strait of the Dardanelles towards the end of the pleistocene
epoch, or perhaps later. For the result of thus opening a
passage for the waters of the Black Sea into the Mediterranean
must have been the gradual lowering of its level to that of the
latter sea. When this process had gone so far as to bring down
the Black Sea water to within less than a hundred feet of its
present level, the strait of Manytsch ceased to exist; and the
vast body of fresh water brought down by the Danube, the
Dnieper, the Don, and other South Russian rivers was cut off
from the Caspian, and eventually delivered into the
Mediterranean. Thus, there is as conclusive evidence as one can
well hope to obtain in these matters, that, north of the
Euphrates valley, the physical geography of an area as large as
all Central Europe has remained essentially unchanged, from the
miocene period down to our time; just as, to the west of the
Euphrates valley, Palestine has exhibited a similar persistence
of geographical type. To the south, the valley of the Nile tells
exactly the same story. The holes bored by miocene mollusks in
the cliffs east and west of Cairo bear witness that, in the
miocene epoch, it contained an arm of the sea, the bottom of
which has since been gradually filled up by the alluvium of the
Nile, and elevated to its present position. But the higher parts
of the Mokattam and of the desert about Ghizeh, have been dry
land from that time to this. Too little is known of the geology
of Persia, at present, to allow any positive conclusion to be
enunciated. But, taking the name to indicate the whole
continental mass of Iran, between the valleys of the Indus and
the Euphrates, the supposition that its physical geography has
remained unchanged for an immensely long period is hardly rash.
The country is, in fact, an enormous basin, surrounded on all
sides by a mountainous rim, and subdivided within by ridges into
plateaus and hollows, the bottom of the deepest of which, in the
province of Seistan, probably descends to the level of the
Indian Ocean. These depressions are occupied by salt marshes and
deserts, in which the waters of the streams which flow down the
sides of the basin are now dissipated by evaporation. I am
acquainted with no evidence that the present Iranian basin was
ever occupied by the sea; but the accumulations of gravel over a
great extent of its surface indicate long-continued water
action. It is, therefore, a fair presumption that large lakes
have covered much of its present deserts, and that they have
dried up by the operation of the same changed climatal
conditions as those which have reduced the Caspian and the Dead
Sea to their present dimensions.<11>

Thus it would seem that the Euphrates valley, the centre of the
fabled Noachian deluge, is also the centre of a region covering
some millions of square miles of the present continents of
Europe, Asia, and Africa, in which all the facts, relevant to
the argument, at present known, converge to the conclusion that,
since the miocene epoch, the essential features of its physical
geography have remained unchanged; that it has neither been
depressed below the sea, nor swept by diluvial waters since that
time; and that the Chaldaean version of the legend of a flood in
the Euphrates valley is, of all those which are extant, the only
one which is even consistent with probability, since it depicts
a local inundation, not more severe than one which might be
brought about by a concurrence of favourable conditions at the
present day; and which might probably have been more easily
effected when the Persian Gulf extended farther north.
Hence, the recourse to the "glacial epoch" for some event which
might colourably represent a flood, distinctly asserted by the
only authority for it to have occurred in historical times, is
peculiarly unfortunate. Even a Welsh antiquary might hesitate
over the supposition that a tradition of the fate of Moel
Tryfaen, in the glacial epoch, had furnished the basis of fact
for a legend which arose among people whose own experience
abundantly supplied them with the needful precedents.
Moreover, if evidence of interchanges of land and sea are to be
accepted as "confirmations" of Noah's deluge, there are plenty
of sources for the tradition to be had much nearer than Wales.

The depression now filled by the Red Sea, for example, appears
to be, geologically, of very recent origin. The later deposits
found on its shores, two or three hundred feet above the sea
level, contain no remains older than those of the present fauna;
while, as I have already mentioned, the valley of the adjacent
delta of the Nile was a gulf of the sea in miocene times.
But there is not a particle of evidence that the change of
relative level which admitted the waters of the Indian Ocean
between Arabia and Africa, took place any faster than that which
is now going on in Greenland and Scandinavia, and which has left
their inhabitants undisturbed. Even more remarkable changes were
effected, towards the end of, or since, the glacial epoch, over
the region now occupied by the Levantine Mediterranean and the
AEgean Sea. The eastern coast region of Asia Minor, the western
of Greece, and many of the intermediate islands, exhibit thick
masses of stratified deposits of later tertiary age and of
purely lacustrine characters; and it is remarkable that, on the
south side of the island of Crete, such masses present steep
cliffs facing the sea, so that the southern boundary of the lake
in which they were formed must have been situated where the sea
now flows. Indeed, there are valid reasons for the supposition
that the dry land once extended far to the west of the present
Levantine coast, and not improbably forced the Nile to seek an
outlet to the north-east of its present delta--a possibility of
no small importance in relation to certain puzzling facts in the
geographical distribution of animals in this region. At any
rate, continuous land joined Asia Minor with the Balkan
peninsula; and its surface bore deep fresh-water lakes,
apparently disconnected with the Ponto-Aralian sea. This state
of things lasted long enough to allow of the formation of the
thick lacustrine strata to which I have referred. I am not aware
that there is the smallest ground for the assumption that the
AEgean land was broken up in consequence of any of the
"catastrophes" which are so commonly invoked.<12> For anything
that appears to the contrary, the narrow, steep-sided, straits
between the islands of the AEgean archipelago may have been
originally brought about by ordinary atmospheric and stream
action; and may then have been filled from the Mediterranean,
during a slow submergence proceeding from the south northwards.
The strait of the Dardanelles is bounded by undisturbed
pleistocene strata forty feet thick, through which, to all
appearance, the present passage has been quietly cut.

That Olympus and Ossa were torn asunder and the waters of the
Thessalian basin poured forth, is a very ancient notion, and an
often cited "confirmation" of Deucalion's flood. It has not yet
ceased to be in vogue, apparently because those who entertain it
are not aware that modern geological investigation has
conclusively proved that the gorge of the Penens is as typical
an example of a valley of erosion as any to be seen in Auvergne
or in Colorado.<13>

Thus, in the immediate vicinity of the vast expanse of country
which can be proved to have been untouched by any catastrophe
before, during, and since the "glacial epoch," lie the great
areas of the AEgean and the Red Sea, in which, during or since
the glacial epoch, changes of the relative positions of land and
sea have taken place, in comparison with which the submergence
of Moel Tryfaen, with all Wales and Scotland to boot, does not
come to much.

What, then, is the relevancy of talk about the "glacial epoch"
to the question of the historical veracity of the narrator of
the story of the Noachian deluge? So far as my knowledge goes,
there is not a particle of evidence that destructive inundations
were more common, over the general surface of the earth, in the
glacial epoch than they have been before or since. No doubt the
fringe of an ice-covered region must be always liable to them;
but, if we examine the records of such catastrophes in
historical times, those produced in the deltas of great rivers,
or in lowlands like Holland, by sudden floods, combined with
gales of wind or with unusual tides, far excel all others.

With respect to such inundations as are the consequences of
earthquakes, and other slight movements of the crust of the
earth, I have never heard of anything to show that they were
more frequent and severer in the quaternary or tertiary epochs
than they are now. In the discussion of these, as of all other
geological problems, the appeal to needless catastrophes is born
of that impatience of the slow and painful search after
sufficient causes, in the ordinary course of nature, which is a
temptation to all, though only energetic ignorance nowadays
completely succumbs to it.


My best thanks are due to Mr. Gladstone for his courteous
withdrawal of one of the statements to which I have thought it
needful to take exception. The familiarity with controversy, to
which Mr. Gladstone alludes, will have accustomed him to the
misadventures which arise when, as sometimes will happen in the
heat of fence, the buttons come off the foils. I trust that any
scratch which he may have received will heal as quickly as my
own flesh wounds have done.

A contribution to the last number of this Review (<i>The
Nineteenth Century</i>) of a different order would be left
unnoticed, were it not that my silence would convert me into an
accessory to misrepresentations of a very grave character.
However, I shall restrict myself to the barest possible
statement of facts, leaving my readers to draw their
own conclusions.

In an article entitled "A Great Lesson," published in this
Review for September, 1887:

(1) The Duke of Argyll says the "overthrow of Darwin's
speculations" (p. 301) concerning the origin of coral reefs,
which he fancied had taken place, had been received by men of
science "with a grudging silence as far as public discussion is
concerned" (p. 301).

The truth is that, as every one acquainted with the literature
of the subject was well aware, the views supposed to have
effected this overthrow had been fully and publicly discussed by
Dana in the United States; by Geikie, Green, and Prestwich in
this country; by Lapparent in France; and by Credner in Germany.

(2) The Duke of Argyll says "that no serious reply has ever been
attempted" (p. 305).

The truth is that the highest living authority on the subject,
Professor Dana, published a most weighty reply, two years before
the Duke of Argyll committed himself to this statement.

(3) The Duke of Argyll uses the preceding products of defective
knowledge, multiplied by excessive imagination, to illustrate
the manner in which "certain accepted opinions" established "a
sort of Reign of Terror in their own behalf" (p. 307).

The truth is that no plea, except that of total ignorance of the
literature of the subject, can excuse the errors cited, and that
the "Reign of Terror" is a purely subjective phenomenon.

(4) The letter in "Nature" for the 17th of November, 1887, to
which I am referred, contains neither substantiation, nor
retractation, of statements 1 and 2. Nevertheless, it repeats
number 3. The Duke of Argyll says of his article that it "has
done what I intended it to do. It has called wide attention to
the influence of mere authority in establishing erroneous
theories and in retarding the progress of scientific truth."

(5) The Duke of Argyll illustrates the influence of his
fictitious "Reign of Terror" by the statement that Mr. John
Murray "was strongly advised against the publication of his
views in derogation of Darwin's long-accepted theory of the
coral islands, and was actually induced to delay it for two
years" (p.307). And in "Nature" for the l7th November, 1887, the
Duke of Argyll states that he has seen a letter from Sir Wyville
Thomson in which he "urged and almost insisted that Mr. Murray
should withdraw the reading of his papers on the subject from
the Royal Society of Edinburgh. This was in February, 1877."
The next paragraph, however, contains the confession:
"No special reason was assigned." The Duke of Argyll proceeds to
give a speculative opinion that "Sir Wyville dreaded some injury
to the scientific reputation of the body of which he was the
chief." Truly, a very probable supposition; but as Sir Wyville
Thomson's tendencies were notoriously anti-Darwinian, it does
not appear to me to lend the slightest justification to the Duke
of Argyll's insinuation that the Darwinian "terror" influenced
him. However, the question was finally set at rest by a letter
which appeared in "Nature" (29th of December, 1887), in which
the writer says that:

"talking with Sir Wyville about 'Murray's new theory,' I asked
what objection he had to its being brought before the public?
The answer simply was: he considered that the grounds of the
theory had not, as yet, been sufficiently investigated or
sufficiently corroborated, and that therefore any immature
dogmatic publication of it would do less than little service
either to science or to the author of the paper."

Sir Wyville Thomson was an intimate friend of mine, and I am
glad to have been afforded one more opportunity of clearing his
character from the aspersions which have been so recklessly cast
upon his good sense and his scientific honour.

(6) As to the "overthrow" of Darwin's theory, which, according
to the Duke of Argyll, was patent to every unprejudiced person
four years ago, I have recently become acquainted with a work,
in which a really competent authority,<14> thoroughly acquainted
with all the new lights which have been thrown upon the subject
during the last ten years, pronounces the judgment;
firstly, that some of the facts brought forward by Messrs.
Murray and Guppy against Darwin's theory are not facts;
secondly, that the others are reconcilable with Darwin's theory;
and, thirdly, that the theories of Messrs. Murray and Guppy "are
contradicted by a series of important facts" (p. 13).

Perhaps I had better draw attention to the circumstance that
Dr. Langenbeck writes under shelter of the guns of the fortress
of Strasburg; and may therefore be presumed to be unaffected by
those dreams of a "Reign of Terror" which seem to disturb the
peace of some of us in these islands (April, 1891).

[See, on the subject of this note, the essay entitled "An
Episcopal Trilogy" in the following volume.]


(1) In May 1849 the Tigris at Bagdad rose 22-1/2 feet--5 feet
above its usual rise--and nearly swept away the town. In 1831 a
similarly exceptional flood did immense damage, destroying 7000
houses. See Loftus, <i>Chaldea and Susiana,</i> p. 7.

(2) See the instructive chapter on Hasisadra's flood in Suess,
<i>Das Antlitz der Erde,</i> Abth. I. Only fifteen years ago a
cyclone in the Bay of Bengal gave rise to a flood which covered
3000 square miles of the delta of the Ganges, 3 to 45 feet deep,
destroying 100,000 people, innumerable cattle, houses, and
trees. It broke inland on the rising ground of Tipperah, and may
have swept a vessel from the sea that far, though I do not know
that it did.

(3) See Cernik's maps in <i>Petermanns Mittheilungen,</i>
Erganzungashefte 44 and 45, 1875-76.

(4) I have not cited the dimensions given to the ships in most
translations of the story, because there appears to be a doubt
about them. Haupt (<i>Keilinschriftliche Sindfluth-Bericht,</i> 
p. 13) says that the figures are illegible.

(5) It is probable that a slow movement of elevation of the land
at one time contributed to the result--perhaps does so still.

(6) At a comparatively recent period, the littoral margin of the
Persian Gulf extended certainly 250 miles farther to the
northwest than the present embouchure of the Shatt-el Arab.
(Loftus, <i>Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society,</i>
1853, p. 251.) The actual extent of the marine deposit inland
cannot be defined, as it is covered by later
fluviatile deposits.

(7) Tiele (<i>Babylonisch-Assyrische Geschicthe,</i> pp. 572-3)
has some very just remarks on this aspect of the epos.

(8) In the second volume of the <i>History of the Euphrates,</i>
p. 637 Col. Chesney gives a very interesting account of the
simple and rapid manner in which the people about Tekrit and in
the marshes of Lemlum construct large barges, and make them
water-tight with bitumen. Doubtless the practice is extremely
ancient and as Colonel Chesney suggests, may possibly have
furnished the conception of Noah's ark. But it is one thing to
build a barge 44ft. long by 11ft. wide and 4ft. deep in the way
described; and another to get a vessel of ten times the
dimensions, so constructed, to hold together.

(9) "Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine thatige Unwissenheit,"
<i>Maximen und Reflexionen,</i> iii.

(10) The well-known difficulties connected with this case have
recently been carefully discussed by Mr. Bell in the
<i>Transactions</i> of the Geological Society of Glasgow.

(11) An instructive parallel is exhibited by the "Great Basin"
of North America. See the remarkable memoir on <i>Lake
Bonneville</i> by Mr. G. K. Gilbert, of the United States
Geological Survey, just published.

(12) It is true that earthquakes are common enough, but they
are incompetent to produce such changes as those which have
taken place.

(13) See Teller, <i>Geologische Beschreibung des sud-ostlichen
Thessalien;</i> Denkschriften d. Akademie der Wissenschaften,
Wien, Bd. xl. p. 199.

(14) Dr. Langenbeck, <i>Die Theorien uber die Entstehung der
Korallen-Inseln und Korallen-Riffe</i> (p. 13), 1890.

End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of Hasisadra's Adventure, by Huxley 
This is Essay #7 from "Science and Hebrew Tradition"


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