A Legacy of Flood Stories


Coxcoxtli and Xochiquetzal had been warned of the devastating flood by a god. The god had instructed them to build an enormous vessel in which to escape. As the deluge waned, the vessel settled on a mountain top. The pair began to pick up their lives and had many children. The children were dumb until a dove gave them the gift of languages. Unfortunately, the wide variety of languages spoken by the children meant they could not understand one another.

A garbled version of the well known accounts of Noah and Babel? Perhaps. This myth comes from the Aztecs of Mexico. There are many tales that speak of a cataclysmic flood. These stories come from geographically remote and widely divergent cultures.


Tablets excavated from Iraq recount the myths of ancient Mesopotamia. They speak of an vanished culture in Sumer and of a king called Gilgamesh. He was renowned for his great wisdom and knowledge. Gilgamesh related the story of the days before the flood. This was told to him by the immortal Utnapishtim, a king of a pre-flood civilisation and a survivor of the catastrophe.

Ea, lord of the waters and man’s guardian, warned Utnapishtim of the deluge the gods planned to exterminate mankind. Ea told Utnapishtim to ‘build a boat with her dimensions in proportion’ and to ‘put aboard the seed of all living things’. The flood itself was frightening and full of fury. Utnapishtim recounted that ‘the god of the storm turned daylight to darkness, when he smashed the land like a cup’. Once the tempest had subsided, Utnapishtim said that he ‘looked at the face of the world and there was silence. The surface of the sea stretched flat as a roof-top. All mankind had returned to clay…on every side was the waste of water’. Utnapishtim loosed a dove and a swallow who returned finding no resting place. Finally, a loosed raven did not return. The boat came to ground on a mountain top and Utnapishtim and his family began to repopulate the world.

Many of these deluge legends make reference to the impenetrable darkness and heavenly upheavals that accompanied the flood. The myths emerge from Africa also. This brief account comes from lower Congo.

…long ago the sun met the moon and threw mud at it, which made it less bright. When this meeting happened there was a great flood…

Early Jesuit scholars were the first Europeans to gain access to the Chinese book of ‘all knowledge’ from ancient times. This 4320 volume book spoke of the repercussions of mankind’s rebellion against the gods…

The planets altered their courses. The sky sank lower towards the north. The sun, moon and stars changed their motions. The earth fell to pieces and the water in its bosom rushed upwards with violence and overflowed the earth.


The story of Noah is well known. What is surprising is that many of the deluge myths are similar to one another as well as the account in scripture. As can be seen in a couple of the examples already given, the god/s forewarned a chosen few of the imminent disaster and gave specific instructions for the building of an enormous boat. The vessel settled on a mountain top once the waters began to recede. Of all creatures, the dove and/or the raven feature in the stories. Even the directive to ‘put aboard the seed of all living things’ makes an appearance.

It gets even more specific in the mythology of Vietnam. As part of their heritage, a brother and sister were believed to have escaped a global flood in a massive wooden chest. The chest was also said to have held two of every kind of animal.

We are left with few alternatives. Perhaps, by chance, all the peoples of these remote civilisations had a similar experience upon which to base their myths. The alternative is that these legends find their root in the same one experience or original story. This would make the story very old indeed. The logistics of how so many cultures came to know it and embellish it would send modern anthropologists reeling. Researchers of these texts, in any event, continue to argue over the uncanny similarities of the deluge legends.


Many of the legends attribute the flood to a judgement of the gods/God upon mankind. The accounts are graphic and foreboding. Many make reference to the impenetrable darkness and heavenly upheavals that accompanied the cataclysm.

The Maya civilisation of Central America described the sunlight as not returning until the 26th year after the flood. The Incas of Peru believed that ‘the Andes were split apart when the sky made war on the earth’ and in Tierra del Fuego ancient legends speak of how the sun and moon ‘fell from the sky’. Graeco-Roman myths recount the following fearful events prior to the great flood of Deucalion.

…then all the earth was amazed to see that the glorious sun, instead of holding its beneficent course across the sky, seemed to speed crookedly overhead and to rush down in wrath like a meteor.

In other myths, the warnings of the gods and the aberration of the skies preceded the onset of a terrible ice age. Fire and volcanism is also associated with the advent of the flood. The Mataco Indians of Argentina speak of ...

…a black cloud that came from the south at the time of the flood and covered the whole sky. Lightening struck and thunder was heard. Yet the drops that fell were not like rain. They were like fire…

Over the past few weeks, some examples of deluge legends have been given. The uncanny resemblance to Noah's account was remarked upon. Now we continue with the theme that great cataclysms are attributed to gods'/God's judgement upon mankind.

The myths of the Teutonic tribes of Scandinavia are vivid and terrifying. The imagery of these myths accentuates the size of the cataclysm. The tale portrays the chaos of the world before the mighty wolf Fenrir…

…shook himself and the world trembled. The ash tree Yggdrasil [envisaged as the axis of the earth] was shaken from its roots to its topmost branches. Mountains crumbled or split from top to bottom…Abandoned by the gods, men were driven from their hearths and the human race was swept from the surface of the earth. The earth itself was beginning to lose its shape. Already the stars were coming adrift from the sky and falling into the gaping void…Flames spurted from fissures in the rocks; everywhere there was the hissing of steam. All living things, all plant life, were blotted out…And now all the rivers, all the seas, rose and overflowed. From every side waves lashed against waves. They swelled and boiled slowly over all things. The earth sank beneath the sea…

Yet even in this instance, the ancestors of the future race of mankind escaped in the ash tree Yggdrasil, and the earth managed to ‘emerge from the waves’ once more.

There are over 500 legends of a deluge world-wide. Many of these exhibit remarkable similarities. Could this be merely co-incidental? Are these recollections of a disaster too old to remember, too devastating to forget? Christian scriptures (2 Peter 3) say that people are choosing to forget. It also proclaims that this world is being reserved for another cataclysm.

The Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. And then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and fall apart, and the earth and all that it contains will be burnt up.

This resounds with Revelation 6:12-17:

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to the earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

The kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks , "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

Becky Conolly

Christian Action P.O.Box 23632 Claremont 7735 Cape Town South Africa info@christianaction.org.za - 021-689-4481 - www.christianaction.org.za
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