Adventures in Biblical Literalism: Mountain Majesty

In the interests of thorough and unbiased research on the foundations of creation “science,” I recently subjected myself to the Book of Genesis. I had to clear my mind of all evidence – supporting or un- – and take the thing at face value for the purposes of my quest. I can now tell you from experience that a literal reading of the Bible is not half so much fun in the New Revised Standard Version. It’s no wonder fundies plump for the KJV.

Let us begin with mountains.

The NRSV assures us, in Genesis 7:19-20, that the waters of the Great God-Will-Fuck-Your-Shit-Up Flood were very deep indeed:

19The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.

Well, gosh, that seems pretty deep. But how high were the mountains in those days? The NRSV provides no clude. And so, we turn to the Authorized (King James) Version for our answer, which I am assured by fundamentalists must be there.

19And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. 20Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

Now remember: we are reading literally. And the fundamentalists assure us the meaning of the Bible is plain and clear. You just read those words on the page, and they are the truth of God, who can’t ever be wrong.

And damn, does that water sound deep. Fifteen whole cubits, enough to bury the mountains. I mean, it says right there, the water prevailed upward fifteen cubits and the mountains were covered. So now we know how high the mountains were: just under fifteen cubits. Stands to reason.

Right. So what’s a cubit?

Nippur cubit, graduated specimen of an ancient measure from Nippur, Mesopotamia (3rd millennium B.C.) – exposed in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul (Turkey). Image and caption courtesy Ana al'ain via Wikimedia commons. (It looks something like a metal Tootsie roll.)
Nippur cubit, graduated specimen of an ancient measure from Nippur, Mesopotamia (3rd millennium B.C.) – exposed in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul (Turkey). Image and caption courtesy Ana al’ain via Wikimedia commons.

Well. According to most young earth creationists, it’s about 17.5-18 inches. Let’s be all generous and use the larger measure. That means the highest mountains were – drumroll please – a whopping 22.5 feet (6.8 meters).

Short damn mountains.

“But wait!” I hear a creationist cry. “You’re so not fair. God obviously meant the long Hebrew cubit, not the short one!”

Fine. That’s 20.4 inches. Multiply by 15… calculating… and the mountains are: a whopping 25.5 feet high. A whole 7.8 meters. Wow. Jeffrey! Fetch me my mountain-climbing trousers! You can leave the oxygen tank.

It’s about now our dear imaginary creationist begins babbling about Babylonian cubits, and so I recalculate using that extra-long 24-inch cubit, and arrive at towering peaks of thirty whole feet (9.1 meters). Jeffrey, I’ve changed my mind – you’d best fetch that oxygen tank, too.

Now, the Ark was 30 cubits tall, so by any cubit measure, it towered to twice the height of the highest mountain.* Which, perhaps, explains this illustration from the Schedelsche Weltchronik.

Image of Noah's Ark atop Ararat from The Nuremberg Chronicle (Die Schedelsche Weltchronik or Liber Chronicarum). The 14th century drawing makes the Ark look at least twice as tall as Ararat. A rather large dove brings an olive branch to the folks waiting on deck. Image courtesy Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda via Wikimedia Commons.
Image of Noah’s Ark atop Ararat from The Nuremberg Chronicle (Die Schedelsche Weltchronik or Liber Chronicarum). Image courtesy Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda via Wikimedia Commons.

Not such majestic mountains, then. And lest ye think I’m being less-than-considerate of our Bible-believing brethren’s beliefs, note that many creationists like to say the world was different before the Flood – it allows them to avoid the pesky problem of Mount Everest. Also, they play with the idea that even a sloth could make it over the stubby mountains of Noah’s day in time to catch the boat, no problem.

You may also note in the above illustration the abundance of fishies beneath the Ark. If you read your Bible literally, you’ll not that God was rather forgetful of fish, neglecting to specifically mention them as passengers Noah should take on the Ark (Gen. 6:20, 7:8), even forgetting to murder the poor bloody things (7:21-22), until suddenly recalling them several chapters later, when he’s ttelling Noah & Sons that every single creature on earth, including fish, will be shit scared of them forevermore, not to mention there to be eaten (9:2). That seems kinda harsh, considering these blokes just spent over a year shoveling shit in a wooden box to keep all these poor animals (sans fishes) alive. I’d’ve thought a little universal peace, love and understanding, perhaps vegetarianism, would’ve been nice after a genocide of those proportions, but no. This is the Old Testament God, and he’s all about the fear, loathing, and feasting on flesh.


*It amuses me to consider that if Noah were building the Ark on the Earth’s current surface, God would’ve asked him to make it 58,058 feet (17,696 m) tall….

Adventures in Biblical Literalism: Mountain Majesty
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16 thoughts on “Adventures in Biblical Literalism: Mountain Majesty

  1. 1

    Hmmm, if the water from the Noachian flood was only 15 cubits deep then the tower of Babel seems like a more reasonable plan. Also, how did the poor fishes that were forgotten about for several chapters, adjust to changing salinity during the flood?

  2. rq

    Because there was no change in salinity – seas were fresh water. They only later turned salty, from the tears of all those sinners gnashing their teeth at the bottom of the pit. Duh.

    Dana, I’m just starting to wonder, with all these scientific measurements (the cubit’s origin, by the way, being the distance from elbow to tip of middle finger), that – what if – maybe – Noah didn’t have to build an ark, but just a giant treehouse? 30 feet isn’t all that high – heck I bet the old Babel foundation would have been available to him. Why make a boat?
    (Also I’m pretty sure the fish were exempt because, you know, fish. And water. Except for maybe those weird ones with human faces (and birds’ feet…?) in the picture. But you can’t expect them all to survive, seeing as how they didn’t have the grace to be accepted onto the ark, so they’re at the mercy of the elements. I mean, god.)

  3. 4

    I always took it as meaning the water rose 15 cubits above the highest mountain peaks. That’d make a bit more sense, but we could play games also – for instance, the ark surely had a deeper flotation depth, so Noah was lucky never crossing the himalayas during that year.

  4. 6

    Ooooh and if the water had been no more than 15 cubits deep, some of the larger dinosaurs could’ve just waded. So need to keep them in the ark! I like this game!

  5. rq

    I was not going to grant him the dignity of responding to such a low comment, but I see you have overturned my strategy of ignoring. Other corner. Now!
    (Does an ark have corners?)

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