Noah and the Flood in the Bible and the Quran

The Biblical and Quranic Stories of Noah and the Flood: A Comparative Analysis

Originally Published on the Quran and Bible Blog: January 15, 2014

Updated: February 12, 2020

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم

“Because of their sins they were drowned and put into the Fire, and they found not for themselves besides Allah [any] helpers.”

– The Quran, Surah Nuh, 71:25

One of the most famous and enduring stories of the Bible is undoubtedly the story of Noah (Nuh in Arabic), the flood and the ark. As with many other stories found in the Bible, this story is also found in the Quran, and as with the other stories, the Biblical and Quranic versions of Noah and the flood have some similarities as well as some major differences. In this article, we will discuss these differences and why they are significant enough to put the Quran and the Bible at odds with each other. After summarizing the Biblical story, we will analyze it to discuss the irreconcilable problems that plague it. Next, we will summarize the Islamic version of Noah and the flood and compare it to the Biblical one. This comparison will illustrate that the Biblical story cannot be accepted as the true version of the epic story of Noah and that the Quranic story, by lacking any of the difficulties found in the former, is clearly the version that is more deserving of acceptance and far more credible.

The Biblical Story

In the Bible, the story of Noah is found in several chapters of the Book of Genesis. For the purposes of this article, we will summarize the parts dealing with the events preceding the flood, the flood itself, and some elements of the post-flood story. As such, we will deal specifically with Genesis 6-8, though in the analysis of the story, we will discuss other parts of Genesis as well.
As the story goes, it had been several centuries since Adam and Eve had fallen to earth and great wickedness had spread therein. In fact, humans had become so evil that God:

“…regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”[1]

Among the wicked acts that angered God were the sexual perversions between the “daughters of men” and mysterious beings known as the “sons of God”. The result of these sexual encounters was a race of giants known as the “Nephilim”.[2]
For this wickedness, God decided to destroy the entire, sinful world. The only exception made was regarding a righteous man named Noah, who had “…found favor with the Lord”, since he did not share in the sin that was prevalent in the world.[3] God commanded him to build an ark with exact specifications, and instructed him to take his family and two of every animal on board with him.[4]

Edward_Hicks,_American_-_Noah's_Ark_-_Google_Art_Project

Figure 1 – “Noah’s Ark” by Edward Hicks (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah%27s_Ark)

Once the ark was built, the cataclysmic flood arrived and destroyed all who were not on the ark. This occurred when Noah was 600 years old.[5] By Noah’s 601st year, the waters had dried and he was instructed to come out of the ark, which had come to rest on the Ararat mountain range.[6] The survivors, both human (totaling eight people) and animal, then repopulated the earth. It was through Noah’s sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) that humanity survived the flood and spread throughout the earth once more.[7]

Analysis of the Biblical Story

In the brief summary above, we can see that the whole world had become sinful and was beyond salvation. In other words, God sent the flood upon an unsuspecting world without warning. As we will see later, this element of the Biblical story differs greatly with the Quranic version.
Upon scrutinizing the Biblical claims, it should become clear that there are irreconcilable problems that cannot be easily explained. One of the biggest problems surfaces as a result of the chronology of the flood. While Genesis does not provide a specific date for the flood, we can come to a reasonable estimate using the genealogies that are found in the Bible. Based on this approach, the “Young Earth” website “Answers in Genesis” states (as of 2012) that:

“…the Flood began approximately 4,359 years ago in the year…2348 BC.”[8]

The late skeptic C. Dennis McKinsey estimated the same date:

“The flood allegedly occurred around 2348 B.C.”[9]

Hence, we can approximate the date of the flood to around 2350 BC. This being the case, any reasonable person should immediately see the problem: The Bible is obviously wrong about either the flood being global or the exact date of the flood or both.
If we assume that the Biblical chronology is correct, then the flood could not have covered the whole earth. If it flood occurred sometime around 2348 BC, then there should be no records of surviving civilizations from that time. Yet, this is exactly what we have in the historical record. As McKinsey noted:

“[a]uthentic Egyptian history does not mention a flood even though uninterrupted records were kept from the pharaoh Menes in 3400 B.C. to Darius Ochus in 340 B.C. The flood allegedly occurred around 2348 B.C.”[10]

While there was a flood story in Egyptian mythology, it was not a flood of destruction, so McKinsey was correct.[11] The point is that if a global flood had indeed occurred, then there would have been a gap in ancient Egyptian records. Yet, this is not what historians have found. Therefore, since there is indisputable archaeological evidence of thriving civilizations during the time the flood allegedly occurred, we either must admit that the flood was not global or that it occurred at another earlier time. Since Egyptian records go back uninterrupted to 3400 B.C., the flood would have had to have happened some time before that (if it was global). Hence, the Bible’s chronology is off by at least 1100 years, and possibly even more.
Both scenarios present a problem for the Biblical version. Since a global flood would have surely destroyed the great civilization of Egypt at the time it allegedly occurred, the Biblical claim that the flood covered the entire world is impossible to defend. On the other hand, if there was a global flood, then the Genesis account is chronologically flawed, since it places the flood in the wrong time period.
Besides the archaeological and geological problems, the Biblical story has other problems as well. According to Genesis 6:6-7, God came to “regret” that he had created mankind. While most apologists would dismiss such language as merely anthropomorphic descriptions in “the language of man”,[12] or the “manner of men”,[13] this explanation falls short as Yahweh is depicted as engaging in what Neal Walls calls a sort of “trial-and-error or experimental process” throughout the book of Genesis.[14] As Walls observes:

“Genesis 2-11 depict Yahweh engaged in a trial-and-error or experimental process in the organization of the world. Examples include the creation of animals as unsuitable companions to the first human (Gen. [2]:18-20), the necessary expulsion of humans from Eden (Gen. 3:22-24), the need to wipe out creation and begin again after the flood, and additional alterations to God’s created order (Gen. 9, 11). In these chapters God ‘regrets’ or ‘repents of’ his actions in a fully anthropomorphic manner on occasion…Such statements show the influence of a polytheistic literary context on the Genesis narratives even as they describe a single divine actor.”[15]

Other examples of Yahweh’s seeming lack of omniscience can be seen in Genesis 18:20-21 and Exodus 3:7-9. In both cases, Yahweh has to “go down” or “come down” to see if the sins of the people of Sodom and Gamorrah are “as bad as the outcry that has reached me” or the suffering of the Israelites under the Egyptians is as bad as their cries would indicate. With such clear lack of foreknowledge and omniscience, which is unbecoming of the All-Mighty and Omniscient God, Yahweh’s “regret” is not simply “the language of man” being used to describe his displeasure with humanity. As a matter of fact, it is showing a deity who is not omniscient at all, but rather who is learning by experience as time goes by. This could perhaps explain why Yahweh promised never to send another flood to wipe out all living things (Genesis 8:21), as he seemed to have come to a realization that humanity will always have evil inclinations and sending a flood again would not solve the problem.[16] Needless to say, such a depiction of God is anathematic to Islamic beliefs.
Another interesting problem with the Biblical story of Noah are the apparent parallels with ancient Egyptian mythology, especially pertaining to his family. According to author Gary Greenberg, in the Egyptian creation story known as the “Hermopolitan Creation myth”, four males and four females (the “Ogdoad” or “group of eight”) “emerged from the primeval flood and crawled onto the first land.”[17] He notes that the four male deities were Nun, Huh, Kuk, and Amen. Of these, Nun “signified the primeval flood” and was usually depicted “standing waist-high in the primeval waters and holding aloft the solar boat that carried other deities.”[18] The interesting parallel with the Biblical story is that there were eight people in the ark, four males (Noah and his three sons) and four females (their wives):

“And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.”[19]

As for the names of Noah’s three sons, Greenberg notes some interesting parallels with the Egyptian myth as well. First, he notes that the word “Shem” (the eldest son) literally means “name” in Hebrew (so one of Noah’s sons was literally called “Name”, which doesn’t make much sense).[20] In another astounding parallel, “shem” forms the root of the word “shemoneh”, which literally means “eight” in Hebrew, which in Greenberg’s view, “[refers] to the eight Hermopolitan deities that emerged out of the primeval flood”.[21]
The name of the second son, Ham (“Chem” in Hebrew), who happened to be the ancestor of the Egyptians and the other African nations in the Bible (Genesis 10:6), “derives from the Egyptian word ‘Keme,’ an ancient name for Egypt.” Not only this, but the word “Keme” literally means “the black land”.[22]
Finally, the name of the third son Japheth corresponds to the “linguistic equivalent of the name ‘God-Ptah’”.[23] Greenberg comes to this conclusion by observing that the name in Hebrew consists of the consonants “J-Ph-Th”, which can be written as “J-Pt”. It just so happens that “Pt” consists of the same letters in the name of the Egyptian deity Ptah.[24]
Interestingly, the case that Greenberg makes for Noah’s name having its origins in Egyptian myth is not as strong. Greenberg notes that the Hebrew name “Noach” only contains two letters (“Nun” and “Ched”).[25] As already mentioned, in the Egyptian myth, “Nun” represented the deity associated with the “primeval flood”. The other coincidence that Greenberg notes is that the “Ogdoad” deities in the Hermopolitan myth were depicted as serpents, and in “[i]n early Hebrew writing, the letter Nun evolved from the image of a serpent”.[26] While certainly an interesting parallel, it is not as impressive as the parallels between Noah’s sons and the Egyptian myths.

Ogdoad - Allen Austin

Figure 2 – A depiction of the “Ogdoad” deities. Nun supports the boat carrying the other deities (Source: Allen Austin, The Middle of the Earth: Genesis in Egypt [USA: Xulon Press, 2011], p. 30).[27]


Finally, there is also an inconsistency in the post-flood narrative concerning the mysterious “Canaan”, who is introduced suddenly in Genesis 9 after the family disembarks from the ark. After planting a vineyard, Noah got drunk and lay naked in his tent. The second son, Ham, told his brothers about it, and Shem and Japheth then proceeded to cover the nakedness of their father. For some reason, after waking up from his drunken stupor, Noah cursed the mysterious Canaan, who is described as the “youngest son”:

“When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’”[28]

There is an obvious inconsistency in this story:

  1. Ham is described as the “father of Canaan” in Genesis 9:22.
  2. Ham was the one who discovered his father lying naked in the tent, and told his brothers, yet when Noah woke up, he cursed Canaan, the “youngest son”.
  3. The “youngest” son of Noah would have been Japheth. As Greenberg notes:

“…on all occasions when the Bible mentions Noah’s three sons together, Ham’s name appears in the second place. This would have been a literary formula intended to convey to the reader that Ham was the middle son, not the youngest.”[29]

Other scholars have noted this contradiction as well. Naomi Koltun-Fromm observes:

“Ham was the middle son, not the youngest; Canaan must have perpetrated the humiliation, not his father, though it was Ham who told his brothers.”[30]

Even early Christian scholars described Ham as the middle son. For example, Augustine wrote in The City of God:

“Scripture first mentions that of the youngest son, who is called Japheth: he had eight sons, and by two of these sons seven grandchildren, three by one son, four by the other; in all, fifteen descendants. Ham, Noah’s middle son, had four sons, and by one of them five grandsons, and by one of these two great-grandsons; in all, eleven.”[31]

However, the Bible later describes Japheth as the older brother of Shem, which means Japheth was the oldest (Genesis 10:21). But the NIV translation of the Bible has a footnote to Genesis 10:21, which states that the verse could also be rendered as (emphasis ours):

“Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth.”[32]

So what is going on here? Who was Canaan? Was he the son of Ham…or of Noah? Greenberg offers a solution to these questions, albeit one that Jews and Christians will not like. He notes that in the Hermopolitan Creation myth, the Ogdoad deities collectively gave birth to a child, the god Re (Ra). Re would become the creator deity in the myth and the sun god of Egyptian mythology.[33] In Greenberg’s view, the “Hebrew priests” had to “diminish the influence of the Egyptian Re on the beliefs of early Hebrew refugees from Egypt.”[34] In other words, the confusion around the parentage of Canaan in the Biblical story originated from the Hermopolitan myth, which was one of the main sources of the Biblical story. Greenberg notes that there seems to be a deliberate attempt by an editor to “repeatedly stress that Ham was the father” of Canaan. We can clearly see this in the way Canaan is suddenly introduced in Genesis 9:18. In the NIV, the first mention of Canaan is placed in parentheses:

“The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.)”

The relationship between Ham and Canaan is again restated in verse 22:

“Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside.”

There is a deliberate emphasis on Ham being the father of Canaan, even though later (verse 24), it is written that Noah cursed Canaan after he “found out what his youngest son had done to him”, which implies that Canaan was the youngest son. This confusion, according to Greenberg, seems to be due to the story’s heavy reliance on the well-known Hermopolitan myth.
The problems discussed above cast serious doubt on the Biblical story. In the next section, we will discuss the Quranic version of the story. We will see that the problems in the Biblical story are not found in the Quranic story.

The Quranic Story

The story of Nuh (peace be upon him) and the flood is mentioned throughout the Quran, sometimes as long, continuous narratives and sometimes as brief accounts just a few verses long. Nuh (peace be upon him) was the first messenger sent by God.[35] His people had strayed from the true faith of their father Adam (peace be upon him) and worshiped idols. Despite Nuh’s repeated warnings and preaching, they refused to reject these false gods:

“Never leave your gods and never leave Wadd or Suwa’ or Yaghuth and Ya’uq and Nasr.”[36]

After spending most of his life preaching in vain to his people,[37] and when it became clear that they would not believe in his message (besides those few who had already believed), Nuh (peace be upon him) was commanded by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) to build an ark:

“And it was revealed to Noah that, ‘No one will believe from your people except those who have already believed, so do not be distressed by what they have been doing. And construct the ship under Our observation and Our inspiration and do not address Me concerning those who have wronged; indeed, they are [to be] drowned.’”[38]

Once the ark was built and the flood was imminent, Nuh (peace be upon him) was commanded to bring the believers and two of every animal on board the ark. While most of his family had believed, his wife and one of his unnamed sons had remained loyal to the pagan religion, and were thus among the condemned:

“Allah presents an example of those who disbelieved: the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. They were under two of Our righteous servants but betrayed them, so those prophets did not avail them from Allah at all, and it was said, ‘Enter the Fire with those who enter.’”[39]

“[But] he said, “I will take refuge on a mountain to protect me from the water.” [Noah] said, “There is no protector today from the decree of Allah, except for whom He gives mercy.” And the waves came between them, and he was among the drowned.”[40]

The flood destroyed the people of Nuh (peace be upon him), leaving only the blessed messenger, his remaining sons and some others who were on the ark, as well as the animals. Once the flood waters receded, the ark came to rest on a mountain called “Judi” and the believers once again set foot on dry land:

“And it was said, ‘O earth, swallow your water, and O sky, withhold [your rain].’ And the water subsided, and the matter was accomplished, and the ship came to rest on the [mountain of] Judiyy. And it was said, ‘Away with the wrongdoing people.’”[41]

Analysis of the Quranic Story

When reading the Quranic story of Nuh (peace be upon him), some major differences with the Biblical version immediately become apparent. First, unlike the Biblical account which claims that God sent the flood on an unsuspecting and sinful world, the Quran states that the flood was sent upon Nuh’s people only after they had consistently rejected his warnings and refused to shun their idols and worship Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) alone. It is a consistent message in the Quran that even if people are living in sin, God will not punish them until He has given them a chance to repent and sent a messenger to warn them.[42] If they do not, then and only then, will He punish them.
Second, regarding the alleged global nature of the flood, the context of the Quranic story suggests that the flood was in fact a local one, or at most, affected the region in which Nuh (peace be upon him) and his people lived. It also affected only the people of Nuh (peace be upon him). Some people have argued that the Quran states that the flood waters covered the earth, appealing to such verses as the following:

وَقَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ لَا تَذَرْ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ مِنَ الْكَافِرِينَ دَيَّارًا

“And Noah said, ‘My Lord, do not leave upon the earth from among the disbelievers an inhabitant.’”[43]

In this verse, the Arabic word translated as “the earth” is “الْأَرْضِ” (al-ardi), which with the “الْ”(-al) means the planet “Earth” but can also mean “the ground” (see the screenshot below; if there is no “al”, then it can mean land or country).[44]

Lane - ard (earth)


Thus, Nuh (peace be upon him) prayed to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) to destroy all disbelievers in the entire world, which would suggest a global flood. As The Study Quran commentary notes:

“V. 26 is the only verse in the many verses pertaining to the story of Noah to imply that the flood was a universal event…All other Quranic discussions of the flood imply that it is specific and localized.”[45]

However, the context of the verse shows that he was referring to his own people:

“Noah said, “My Lord, indeed they have disobeyed me and followed him whose wealth and children will not increase him except in loss.”[46]

How could Nuh (peace be upon him) have been referring to people in other parts of the world whom he had never met and was never sent to? How could they have “disobeyed” him if they had not even heard him preaching? Clearly, he was praying that all the disbelievers among his people, who had stubbornly refused to listen to him, would be destroyed. It does not necessitate a global flood, since he was sent to his own people and was praying for their destruction after spending most of his life trying to teach them. Some Muslim apologists, such as Bassam Zawadi,[47] suggest that in Nuh’s time, his people were the only ones in the entire world. If this was true, then it only serves to further deny the possibility of a global flood, since a localized flood would have done the job. A global flood would have been unnecessary.
Furthermore, if we consider Surah Hud, 11:44, we can see that a localized flood better fits the narrative:

وَقِيلَ يَا أَرْضُ ابْلَعِي مَاءَكِ وَيَا سَمَاءُ أَقْلِعِي وَغِيضَ الْمَاءُ وَقُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ وَاسْتَوَتْ عَلَى الْجُودِيِّ ۖ وَقِيلَ بُعْدًا لِّلْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ

“And it was said, “O earth, swallow your water, and O sky, withhold [your rain].” And the water subsided, and the matter was accomplished, and the ship came to rest on the [mountain of] Judiyy. And it was said, ‘Away with the wrongdoing people.’”

In this verse, the word for “earth” is simply “أَرْضُ”, without the “الْ” (al-), which means that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) commanded the “land” to “swallow up thy water”. The command was not to the entire Earth. This strongly suggests a localized flood.[48]
Another objection raised to the local flood theory is that some early Quranic commentators believed that the flood was indeed global. Yet this argument is also weak since it was common for Quranic commentators to rely on Jewish and Christian traditions when discussing the stories of the prophets. This was especially true when both the Quran and the authentic ahadith were silent on an issue. Since there is nothing concrete in the Quran or ahadith to suggest that the flood was global, the opinions of the exegetes cannot be considered authoritative. This is the view of many modern Islamic scholars (though others also believe that the flood was global). According to one scholarly opinion:

“The divine instruction to Prophet Noah was to carry on the ark a pair of every species. Certainly the Prophet Noah complied with this order and put those creatures on the ark. This must be understood as relating to the area in which he was and the practical possibility of implementing Allah’s instruction. We are not told that Noah traversed the whole globe collecting those animals who were not available in his area. Nowhere are we told that couples of species from different climates and faraway geographical areas were guided to go to Prophet Noah’s place in order to be on the ark. Indeed, there is no clear indication that the flood covered the whole earth. It certainly covered the area where the people of Noah lived, so as to exterminate all creatures other than those who believed in Allah and followed Prophet Noah. We cannot tell how big the ark was, but it certainly was big enough to accommodate those believers and a pair of each type of species. May I remind you that in the Qur’an we are told that Noah’s followers were few.”[49]

Another opinion states that:

“…there is no indication or reference in the Qur’an suggesting that the floods overwhelmed the entire planet. The description given in the Qur’an of the flood makes clear that it was of overwhelming proportions, leaving none of the wrongdoers among Noah’s people alive. It does not mention other communities. In fact there are several references that it engulfed Noah’s own people in particular. Take for example the twice-repeated Qur’anic statement: “Do not appeal to Me on behalf of the wrongdoers. They shall be drowned.” (11: 37 & 23: 27) “We saved him together with all those who stood by him, in the ark, and caused those who rejected Our revelations to drown. Surely they were blind people.” (7: 64) The contexts in which all these statements occur are very clear in their references to Noah’s own community to whom he was required to address his message. Hence we can say that the flood punishment was directed to his own people who rejected his faith, after clear evidence had been given to them, and after their long opposition to his efforts and their repeated hurling of abuse and ridicule on him.”[50]

Further below, the same source also questions whether Nuh (peace be upon him) had exactly three surviving sons (as the Bible claims), which is a reasonable question to ask because there is nothing in the Quran or authentic ahadith to indicate how many sons he had or what their names were:

“Nor can we say that all people living today are descendents [sic] of Noah through his three sons. To start with, there were other people saved in the Ark. These could have had children of their own and they would have descendents [sic]. Moreover, we cannot establish with any degree of certainty that Noah had three sons.”

Some people may object to this view and point to some ahadith from Jami At-Tirmidhi which clearly state that the names of the three sons were Ham, Sam, and Yafith.[51] However, there are some issues with these ahadith:

  1. All three ahadith are weak.
  2. Two of the ahadith simply state that each son was the ancestor of a specific group of people (Sam/Shem was the father of the Arabs, Ham was the father of the Ethiopians, and Yafith was the father of the Romans). The ahadith do not state that they were also the ancestors of other groups, such as the Turks, even though they are mentioned elsewhere in the ahadith literature.[52]

Thus, the appeal to these ahadith does not prove that the flood affected the entire world.
Critics may also point to some narrations from the commentary of Ibn Kathir that seem to indicate that only Nuh (peace be upon him) and his family survived the flood, and thus the flood must have been a global disaster. In his commentary on Surah As-Saffat, 37:77 (“And We made his descendants those remaining [on the earth]”),[53] Ibn Kathir mentioned the following:

“Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) ‘There was no one left apart from the offspring of Nuh, (peace be upon him).’’ Sa`id bin Abi `Arubah said, narrating from Qatadah…‘All people descended from the offspring of Nuh, (peace be upon him) .’”[54]

He then mentioned the weak ahadith from Tirmidhi. As for the narration from Ali and Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them), there is nothing that shows that Nuh’s family were the only survivors in the entire world. It could mean that no one from Nuh’s people was left except his family. Therefore, this narration does not prove that the flood affected the entire world. Regarding the narration from Sa`id bin Abi `Arubah from Qatadah, there is no evidence that this hadith goes back to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or to the Sahabah. Moreover, if it is authentic, it still does not necessitate a global flood. Therefore, it is very weak evidence. The fact that there are no authentic statements going back to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which state definitively that the flood was global or that all people in the world are descended from Nuh’s sons demonstrates the weakness of these views.[55]
Finally, another verse that is often used to argue for a global flood is Surah Al-Isra, 17:3:

“O descendants of those We carried [in the ship] with Noah. Indeed, he was a grateful servant.”

It is argued that the verse is referring to all mankind (“O descendants of those we carried…”), but the context of the verse suggests that it is actually referring to the Children of Israel. Verse 2 mentions the Prophet Musa (peace be upon him), who was a “guide to the Children of Israel”, and verse 3 also refers to the Children of Israel. On this basis, The Study Quran commentary explains that verse 2 is a description of the Children of Israel.[56] In addition, Mufti Muhammad Aashiq Elahi Muhajir Madani noted in his commentary on verse 2 regarding the Children of Israel that:

“[b]y addressing them in this manner, Allah reminds them [Bani Isra’il] that they are from those who were saved from being drowned in the flood. […] Therefore the Bani Isra’il should emulate their forefather in this respect and express their gratitude to Him by carrying out His commands and following the final Prophet.”[57]

Similarly, Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi stated in his commentary that:

“[v]erses 2 and 3…exhorted the Bani Isra’il to follow and obey the Divine Law. The verses that follow warn and admonish them on their disobedience.”[58]

Hence, this verse does not prove that all people were descended from Noah’s progeny. Even if it did, it could be argued that Noah’s people were the only ones in the earth at the time, so that his progeny became the ancestors of all the nations in the world.
Since no direct evidence exists for a global flood, we must consider what the available evidence shows. Referring to the Quranic narratives about Nuh (peace be upon him), Islamic scholar M.A.S. Abdel Haleem states that:

“…when one looks at the Qur’anic text itself (in this account and in those of suras 7, 11 and 23), it is only al-mala, the prominent people in the society, who kept demanding that he drive away the ‘worst kind of people’ amongst his followers, and those they have led astray (Q. 71:24-7), who will be punished, not everybody and everything.”[59]

Later, he states the following:

“It has already been observed that in the Qur’anic accounts only al-mala’ and their followers were drowned. This view of the ‘universal’ flood, which is actually depicted in the Qur’an as being specific and localised, has no basis in the Qur’an and is clearly inspired by other versions of the Noah story, such as those related in the Bible and popular religious legend.”[60]

Finally, Islamic scholar Suzanne Haneef notes that there was a difference of opinion even among the early scholars about the nature of the flood. She states that:

“[t]he Qur’an and ahadith are silent concerning the locus and extent of the Flood, and the early Islamic traditionists also differed concerning it.”[61]

This was also noted by Mufti Muhammad Madani in his commentary. After citing the ahadith about Nuh’s sons from Tirmidhi and Sa’id Bin Al-Musayyib (see notes #51 and 52) as evidence that is usually presented for a global flood, Mufti Madani stated that:

“[o]n the other hand, many commentators are of the opinion that the flood did not spread beyond the boundaries of the region to which Sayyidina Nuh was sent as a Prophet. They say that the flood destroyed only the disbelievers who lived in Sayyidina Nuh’s region. They say that he could not have been sent as a Prophet to the entire human race because this privilege is reserved for Sayyidina Muhammad. Therefore, the progenies of the people living in other regions could well have prospered into the people we see today.

They add that the verse ‘We made his progeny the only survivors’ means that Sayyidina Nuh’s progeny were the only survivors from those who boarded the ark. Of these people, only his progeny lived on.”[62]

So, while many commentators believed the flood was a global one, others did not, and there is no religious obligation for anyone to believe one way or the other. There is no proof that the Quranic story tells of a global flood. In fact, the context strongly suggests a local flood. Since there is far more evidence for a local flood and there is no indication as to when it occurred, the Quranic account does not suffer from the same inconsistencies and difficulties found in the Biblical account.[63] Therefore, the Quranic account is far more credible than the Biblical account.
In addition, since the Quran or the authentic ahadith do not mention the sons of Nuh (peace be upon him) at all, there are no parallels between the Islamic sources and the Hermopolitan myth. Nor does the Quran denigrate the omniscience and omnipotence of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He), as the Bible does with Yahweh. Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) does not have “regrets” and is All-Knowing. Thus, in a stunning “coincidence”, it just so happens that the problems that exist in the Bible are not reproduced in the Quran.

Conclusion

In this article, we compared the Biblical and Quranic versions of the story of Noah and the flood. While similar in some ways, the two stories are worlds apart in other ways. While the Biblical account of God sending a global flood without warning contradicts archaeological and historical facts, the Quranic account suffers from no such difficulties. This is because the latter does not clearly endorse the theory of a global flood, despite claims to the contrary, and instead only mentions the flood story in the context of Noah’s preaching to his own people. Therefore, the claim of a global flood is not tenable, and we must instead endorse the belief that the flood was probably local, affecting only the sinful people of Noah’s nation. The Quran also does not suffer from the Biblical parallels to polytheistic creation myths such as the Hermopolitan myth. Unlike the Quran, the Bible seems to have been influenced by pagan mythology. Given the totality of the evidence, the Quranic story is much more credible and should be given preference over the Biblical story. Therefore, Christians should reject the Bible and consider the Quran as the logical and reasonable alternative. And Allah knows best!


[1] Genesis 6:6 (New International Version).
[2] Genesis 6:1-4. The identity of the “sons of God” has been a matter of controversy among Christians. However, both Jewish and early Christian sources indicate that they were fallen angels. For a detailed discussion of this issue, see the following:
https://quranandbibleblog.wordpress.com/2019/10/16/genesis-6-and-the-sons-of-god/
https://quranandbibleblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/15/1-enoch-and-the-sons-of-god/
[3] Genesis 6:8.
[4] In Genesis 8, however, he is instructed to take seven pairs of “clean” animals and one pair of “unclean” animals.
[5] Genesis 7:6.
[6] Genesis 8:4, 13.
[7] See the “Table of Nations” (Genesis 10).
[8] http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2012/03/09/feedback-timeline-for-the-flood
[9] C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 220.
[10] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 220.
As a side note, McKinsey’s use of the term “pharaoh” to refer to Menes is anachronistic as the term was not used to refer to Egyptian kings until the New Kingdom period. This is a common mistake which even the Bible makes on numerous occasions. For more on this, see the following article: https://quranandbibleblog.wordpress.com/2019/10/04/the-pharaoh-in-genesis-how-the-quran-and-ahadith-correct-the-bible/
[11] For a summary of several flood myths from ancient civilizations, including Egypt, see the following: http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/12-10-17/#feature.
There is also another myth in Egyptian mythology, known as the Hermopolitan myth, that may have served as the model for the Biblical version of the flood, as will be seen.
The prevalence of flood myths in almost every culture in the world, such as the Mesopotamian flood myth in the Epic of Gilgamesh, has led skeptics to think that the Noah story was simply adapted from the earlier Sumerian myth. However, as Lorence G. Collins (California State University Northridge) notes:

“Because these stories all describe an ancient huge flood in Mesopotamia, it is extremely likely that a huge flood could have occurred” (“Yes, Noah’s Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth”, Reports of the National Center for Science Education, 29, no. 5 (2009): 38, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299484008_Yes_Noah’s_Flood_may_have_happened_but_not_over_the_whole_earth).

Collins also provides geological evidence for a local flood in Mesopotamia, and also notes the complete absence of evidence for a global one.
[12] Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, trans. M. Friedlander (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004), p. 72.
[13] See Benson’s commentary: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/benson/genesis/18.htm.
[14] Neal Walls, “The Gods of Israel in Comparative Ancient Near Eastern Context”, in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Ancient Israel, ed. Susan Niditch (United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2016), p. 273.
[15] Ibid. There is a typo in the original source. Walls was referring to Genesis 2:18-20 when referring to animals being unsuitable companions for Adam, but the text says “Genesis 3:18-20”. The quote above has the correct chapter.
The text of Genesis 2 clearly shows that God first attempted to find a “helper” for Adam from among the animals. When this did not work, God decided to create Eve:

“The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.”

[16] Walls, op. cit., p. 273.
[17] Gary Greenberg, 101 Myths of the Bible (Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2000), p. 73.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Genesis 7:7. This parallel does not exist in the Quranic story because Noah’s wife was an unbeliever and thus one of the people left behind in the flood (see Surah At-Tahrim, 66:10). Thus, the minimum number of people in the ark, assuming Noah had 3 sons, would have been seven.
[20] Ibid., p. 74.
See also: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H8035&t=KJV
[21] Greenberg, op. cit., p. 74.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid., p. 75.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid., p. 74.
[26] Ibid.
[27] According to Austin, the body of Atum (represented by the scarab beetle in the picture) has a parallel with the extra-Biblical tale that Adam’s body was carried in the ark during the flood. This story is also found in some Islamic sources, but not in the Quran and authentic ahadith.
[28] Genesis 9:24-25.
[29] Greenberg, op. cit., p. 77.
While it is probable that Shem was indeed the eldest son, Greenberg’s claim of a “literary formula” is clearly not the rule in the Bible. For example, in Genesis 10:6, the sons of Ham are listed as “Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan”, which would mean that Cush was the eldest son (according to the “literary formula”). However, since Canaan is the only son mentioned in Genesis 9, then he must have been the “eldest” of Ham. Of course, this would only be true IF Canaan was actually the son of Ham, and not of Noah. See the discussion above for why it is probable that Canaan was actually the son of Noah.
[30] Naomi Koltun-Fromm, “Aphrahat and The Rabbis on Noah’s Righteousness in Light of the Jewish-Christian Polemic”, in The Book of Genesis in Jewish and Oriental Christian Interpretation: A Collection of Essays, eds. Judith Frishman and Lucan Van Rompay (Belgium: Traditio Exegetica Graeca), p. 67.
[31] Augustine, The City of God, Book 16, Chapter 3, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120116.htm.
In the same chapter, Augustine said that the Shem was the elder son.
[32] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+10&version=NIV
See also John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), p. 27.
MacArthur states that the verse is “better translated as ‘the elder brother of Japheth’ which would make Shem the oldest of Noah’s three sons.”
The website Mechon-Mamre, which provides the English translation of the Masoretic text, renders the verse as follows:

“And unto Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, to him also were children born” (https://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0110.htm).

There definitely was significant confusion about the correct meaning of the verse. The Jewish commentator Rashi admitted:

“I do not know [from the wording of the verse] whether Japheth is the elder of Shem” (https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8174/showrashi/true).

So, instead of going by the verse itself, Rashi instead appealed to Genesis 11:10, which states that Shem was 100 years old two years after the flood, and since Noah was 500 years old when he first had children (Genesis 5:32), that means that Japheth must have been the eldest son. Even if this interpretation was accurate, it only creates a contradiction because the text of Genesis 10:21 should be translated to show that Shem was the eldest son. This contradiction would have been due to the editing process that Genesis, like all books of the Bible, undoubtedly went through.
However, it is not necessarily true that Shem had to be younger than Japheth as per Genesis 11:10. Genesis 5:32 merely states that “after Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (NIV). (The translation from Mechon-Mamre makes it even more confusing and seems to suggest that all three sons were born when Noah was 500 years old [“And Noah was five hundred years old; and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”]) In other words, it is not necessary that his first son was born when Noah was 500 years old. From the chronology presented in Genesis 11:10, if Shem was the eldest son, he would have been born when Noah was 503 years old, since according to Genesis 8:13, the flood ended when Noah was 601 years old. Therefore, when Noah was 603 years old, Shem would have been 100 years old. Neither Genesis 5:32 or 11:10 proves that Japheth was older than Shem.
[33] Greenberg, op. cit., p. 76.
[34] Ibid., p. 77.
[35] Sahih Bukhari, 60:15, https://sunnah.com/bukhari/60/15.
[36] Surah Nuh, 71:23.
[37] He preached to them for 950 years. See Surah Al-Ankaboot, 29:14.
[38] Surah Hud, 11:36-37.
[39] Surah At-Tahrim, 66:10.
[40] Surah Hud, 11:43.
[41] Surah Hud, 11:44.
[42] For example, see Surah al-Isra, 17:15.
[43] Surah Nuh, 71:26.
[44] See Lane’s Lexicon: http://www.tyndalearchive.com/TABS/Lane//.
[45] The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary, ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (New York: HarperOne, 2015), p. 1425.
[46] Surah Nuh, 71:21.
[47] https://www.call-to-monotheism.com/rebuttal_to_sam_shamoun_s_article__does_the_quran_teach_a_local_flood__
[48] Some people may claim that since the ark came to rest on Mt. Judi, then it could only mean that there was a massive, global flood that carried the ark to such a tall mountain. Mt. Judi in present-day Turkey is over 7,000 feet high (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mount-judi), but it has also been claimed that it was a mountain near Mosul in present-day Iraq (The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 574). Some people may assume that the ark must have come to rest at the top of Mt. Judi or at some other high point. But the verse simply states that the ark rested on Judi, without saying at what height. For all we know, it could have rested at a very low height. There is no reason to think that it must have been at a very high altitude. As with other verses typically used in favor of a global flood, this verse also presents no actual proof for a global flood.
[49] http://www.islamicity.com/qa/action.lasso.asp?-db=services&-lay=Ask&-op=eq&number=4639&-format=detailpop.shtml&-find
[50] http://islamonline.com/news/articles/3/About-Noah-the-Floods-and-Mankind.html
[51] Jami At-Tirmidhi, 5:44:3231, https://sunnah.com/urn/742640; 1:46:3931, https://sunnah.com/urn/738240; 5:44:3230, https://sunnah.com/urn/742630.
[52] Sahih Muslim, 54:79, https://sunnah.com/muslim/54/79.
Al-Tabari mentioned in his History the following:

“Noah begat three, each one of whom begat three: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Shem begat the Arabs, Persians, and Byzantines, in all of whom there is good. Japheth begat the Turks, Slavs, Gog and Magog, in none of whom there is good. Ham begat the Copts, Sudanese, and Berbers” (The History of Al-Tabari, Vol. 2: Prophets and Patriarchs, trans. William M. Brinner [New York: State University of New York Press, 1987], p. 21).

However, this narration does not originate from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In the narration, Yahya bin Sa’id narrated from Sa’id bin al-Musayyib, who was a prominent scholar from the Tabieen, the generation after the Sahabah (http://islamicencyclopedia.org/islamic-pedia-topic.php?id=1225). Though al-Musayyib was a highly regarded scholar, there is a still a notable lack of definitive narrations going back to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or his Companions that can prove that the flood affected the entire world or that Noah’s sons were the ancestors of all the nations of the world.
[53] The Saheeh International translation adds the phrase “on the earth” in brackets. However, the Quran does not state this.
[54] http://m.qtafsir.com/Surah-As-Saaffat/Nuh-and-His-People
[55] That all people are descended from Noah’s sons could still be possible. As we have seen, there is no authentic statement that indicates how many sons Noah had. What if he had several surviving sons? If he had several sons, and his people were the only ones who existed on the Earth at the time, then it could still be possible that his sons became the ancestors of all future nations and tribes. It is also possible that he only had 3 surviving sons, and all the nations of the Earth descended from them. But this would only have been possible if Noah’s people were the only ones on Earth at the time. Regardless, if Noah’s sons were the ancestors of all nations, that still does not necessitate a global flood. Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best.
Ibn Kathir mentioned that there were different views as to how many people were in the ark during the flood. Some said as many as 80, while others said as low as 10 (https://en.islamway.net/article/20963/the-story-of-nuh-noah-ibn-kathir). Al-Tabari also mentioned some views that the number of people in the ark was as low as 7 and as high as 80 (The History of Al-Tabari, Vol. 1: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, trans. Franz Rosenthal [New York: State University of New York Press, 1989], p. 364-366). In one narration. Al-Tabari related from Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) that there were 80 people in the ark, including Noah, his 3 sons and their wives, and 73 “sons of Seth” (The History of Al-Tabari, Vol. 1: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, trans. Franz Rosenthal [New York: State University of New York Press, 1989], p. 365). However, the chain Al-Tabari related this narration from included Hisham–his father–Abu Salih. Citing the scholar Al-Suyuti, Waqar Akbar Cheema refers to the chain Abu Salih– Muhammad bin Sa’ib al-Kalbi (Hisham’s father) as “the notorious link…which falls in the ‘chain of lies’” (https://icraa.org/the-age-of-khadija-at-the-time-of-her-marriage-with-the-prophet/). So, this narration, even though it allegedly went back to Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), is not authentic. Other narrations also originating from Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) only state that there were 80 people, without providing any more details. Perhaps among these 80 people were several other sons of Prophet Nuh (peace be upon him)? Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best.
[56] The Study Quran, op. cit., p. 695.
[57] Mufti Muhammad Aashiq Elahi Muhajir Madani, Illuminating Discourses on the Noble Quran: Tafsir Anwarul Bayan, Vol. 3 (Karachi, Pakistan: Darul-Ishaat, 2005), p. 254.
[58] Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi, Ma’ariful Qur’an: A Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Qur’an, Vol. 5, trans. Muhammad Shamim (Karachi, Pakistan: Maktaba-e-Darul-‘Uloom, 2010), p. 463.
[59] M.A.S Abdel Haleem, “The Qur’anic Employment of the Story of Noah,” Journal of Qur’anic Studies, 8, no. 1 (2006): 48.
[60] Ibid.
[61] Suzanne Haneef, A History of the Prophets of Islam: Derived from the Quran, Ahadith and Commentaries, Vol. 1 (Chicago, IL: Kazi Publications, Inc., 2002) p. 171.
[62] Mufti Muhammad Aashiq Elahi Muhajir Madani, Illuminating Discourses on the Noble Quran: Tafsir Anwarul Bayan, Vol. 4 (Karachi, Pakistan: Darul-Ishaat, 2005) p. 351.
[63] It should also be noted that the Quran and authentic ahadith do not provide any genealogies, like the Bible, that would allow us to date the flood to a particular period. For all we know, the flood could have occurred tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years ago. But the Biblical genealogies leave no doubt as to when the Biblical flood would have occurred, which proves that the Biblical account is false.



Categories: Bible, Christianity, God, History, Islam, Judaism, Qur'an

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2 replies

  1. One of my earlier articles, now updated with additional material and references.

    Liked by 1 person

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