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Dealing with the Deluge
It's that time of year again... so here is the slightly expanded version of my original post regarding the Deluge.
Over the years I've received numerous questions about reconciling the traditional view of Noah's Flood with modern science. There are two sets of problems. First are those concerning the scientific impossibility of such an event - how the animals survived, how they traveled to their various locations, where the water came from, etc. These can all be answered by simply positing numerous miracles, but this is not satisfactory for those who follow the approach of Rambam and others which seeks to minimize supernatural miracles. The second set of problems is based not on the scientific impossibility of such an event, but instead upon the evidence that even a supernatural event of this nature did not happen - i.e. the evidence and records of continuous civilizations throughout the entire period.
There are a variety of different ways of approaching this topic. I tried discussing some of them online back in the summer of 2004, which may well have been one of the factors leading to the infamous ban on my books, and my comments were subsequently widely and wildly (and sometimes deliberately) misquoted. So instead of discussing it, I will just provide references to further reading material which shed light on various different approaches. Many people will condemn these approaches as unacceptable, but until they have a credible response to the scientific difficulties with the simple understanding, they would be wiser to remain silent.
First and foremost, I strongly recommend that people struggling with this difficulty read The Challenge Of Creation, preferably the third edition. I only explicitly deal with the flood in footnote 2 on page 302 (third edition), but there are many other parts of the book which are actually more relevant in terms of determining which options are available and acceptable - in particular, chapters 6-8, and 14-15.
Other relevant sources (remember, not all of these present the same approach) are:
Joel B. Wolowelsky, "Divine Literature and Human Language: Reading the Flood Story," in Bentsi Cohen, ed. As a Perennial Spring: A Festschrift Honoring Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm (NY: Downhill Publishing, 2013), pp. 521-534. (This is a revised version of his earlier article “A Note on the Flood Story in the Language of Man,” Tradition 42:3 (Fall 2009) pp. 41-48.)
Rabbi Gedalyah Nadel, BeToraso Shel Rabbi Gedalyah, pp. 116-119.
Umberto (Moshe David) Cassuto, From Adam to Noah (Jerusalem: Magnes Press 1961).
Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, commentary to Genesis, pp. 140-141.
Rabbi J. Hertz’s “Additional Notes to Genesis” at the back of The Pentateuch.
Nahum Sarna, "Understanding Genesis" (New York: Schocken Books 1966). (Note that this is not an Orthodox book, but it contains valuable insights.)
Rav Kook's letter on literalism, translated here.
Marc Shapiro's postings on this topic (I, II, and commentary by Rav Moshe Shamah here).
Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks' essay on the Deluge and the Tower of Babel (here)
Natan Slifkin, "Historical Records Vs. Dramatic Accounts"
Lorence Collins, "Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth."