In ancient times, the peoples of the Middle East held a deep-seated, superstitious awe for the oceans and other large bodies of water. To them, the deep-water basins were abyssal, bottomless pits, full of monsters and evil spirits or demons. The continents floated on the ocean waters, which were also the common source of springs and subterranean rivers, so these source waters, too, were infested with evil spirits. Take, for example, the river Banias, which today flows from between rock strata down-slope from the famous cave at Caesarea Philippi. In Jesus’ day, the river flowed from the mouth of the cave. The pagans of Decapolis named the cave “The Gates of Hell” and surrounded its exterior with shrines to the god Pan.
The same ancient peoples who feared the deep waters also recognized that they were the source of life, providing fresh drinking water for humans and animals alike, water for the fields, and an abundance of fish, the staple of life for many civilizations.
The Hebrew word most often used in the Bible to refer to this interconnected reservoir of water, either in whole or in part, is tehom, usually translated as “the deep.” Exactly what elements are included in any particular reference to tehom must be inferred from the context or modifiers. In Gen 1:2, most would agree that it referred to an all-encompassing ocean, prior to the formation of dry land surfaces. In Gen 49:25, Jacob is giving his deathbed blessing to Joseph, speaking of “the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep [tehom] that lieth under…” (KJV) I believe that he is, here and in the parallel passage, Deut 33:13, referring to the entire, composite water system lying beneath the canopy of “heaven above.” In Job 28:14, in his discourse on Wisdom, Job defines his own usage of the term by means of the poetic doublet, “The deep says, ‘It isn’t in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It isn’t with me.’” (CJB) In Isaiah 63:13, tehom refers to the Red (or Reed) Sea, opened up for Moses and the Israelites.
Gen 7:11 – “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.” (KJV)
Gen 8:2 – “The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained;” (KJV)
What, then, are “the fountains of the deep”, or ma’yenot tehom, as mentioned in the Flood story? Ma’yenow (singular) denotes a spring, fountain, or source. Can this be taken literally, like a spring in the desert, or is it poetically descriptive of the fact that water from “the deep” was gushing freely from some aperture or region? When considered in parallel with “the windows of heaven”, wa’rubot (chimneys or windows) ha-shamayim (the heavens, or elsewhere, “firmament”), my own opinion is that the “fountains” and “windows” must both be poetic terms, whereas the water and the flood were most certainly literal!
Identifying the Fountains of the Deep
Young Earth Creationists often take the view that “the fountains of the great deep” refers to continental springs, geysers, fissures, Artesian wells, and other surface openings that God miraculously ripped open and caused to spout abnormally great volumes of water from natural aquifers deep in the earth’s crust. This rending and subsequent flow, they say, caused cataclysmic changes in the topography, including newly up-thrust mountain ranges, massive erosion, and even the division of large supercontinents into the smaller continents we know today.
A fairly traditional view.
Others take the view that God caused volcanoes to sprout across the continents and spew water and, presumably, lava (since that’s what volcanoes do).
I can’t resist mentioning still another view that I ran across proclaiming, presumably with a straight face, that the unprecedented heavy rain was associated with a drop in barometric pressure so severe that water under the earth’s crust for some unspecified reason “pushed up and out … to come to the surface”, evidently causing the crust to pop like a balloon! Incredible, since the normal barometric pressure at sea level is typically below 15 psi, which is pretty much the same pressure that my own bare feet exert on earth’s crust when I stand on it!
An incredibly naive view.
My view is that the term “fountains of the deep” describes features of the ocean floor. Opening of these “fountains” may have caused some shifting of the tectonic plates and therefore some near-shore damage on the continents, but the main effect was a sudden simple rising of the sea level. I will discuss a possible (to me, probable) mechanism below, but first I would like to present some brief arguments against continental “fountains”:
- Scripture nowhere states that the flood caused catastrophic changes in Earth’s geology, and there is no valid scientific evidence that either the topography or the stratigraphy of the earth was greatly influenced by a single massive flood. The idea that the Genesis Flood accounts for the apparent old age of the earth is simply an assumption made in an effort to explain something that the Bible itself made no effort to explain. It is a defensive theology aimed at those scientists and others who deny scripture. Since it is in no way backed by scripture, it must meet the objections of science and of common observation, and it simply fails to do so. In a separate post, here, I presented a substantial list of geological phenomena that to my personal knowledge cannot possibly be explained by the Genesis Flood. I also presented my credentials for addressing the various issues discussed.
- Crustal aquifers exist, not in caverns, but in porous and permeable rock formations. While sometimes quite large, they are limited in their areal extent and thickness. Many thousands of deep oil and gas wells (including a number that I was involved in drilling and evaluating) and countless geophysical studies have shown no evidence of permeable rock formations in continental crust large enough to contain the enormous volumes of water that would be necessary to cover the highest mountains, even if they were much lower than they are today. And were they? Possibly a bit; the Himalayas, for example, are demonstrably rising even now as a result of plate tectonics and the ongoing collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate. But consider Mt. Ararat: after God closed the windows of heaven and stopped up the fountains of the deep, Ararat, at Over 16,000 feet above the normal sea level, was still under the receding water!
- Sufficient quantities of sub-continental water would most certainly have had to come from deep within Earth’s mantle unless they were created by God, on the spot (which I acknowledge to be theologically possible, but not necessary). Any continental aperture of sufficient depth to reach these depths and sufficient width to handle the volume of water necessary would, I think, have to be fairly humongous. Why are there no traces of anything like this?
- Continental volcanoes might account for a large volume of deep-sourced water, but I don’t think there is evidence of enough continental volcanism to provide that much.
- Finally, I think that Gen 7:11 provides an important clue. This passage states that it was the “fountains of the Great Deep” (tehom rabaah) that God opened to start the rising flood. That terminology in Scripture normally refers only to the abyssal ocean basins, not to continental features.
Likely Mechanism of the Flood
There are two likely mechanisms, that I can see, that God might have used to bring that much water up from the deep, and then to store it again once He was done with it:
- First, he could have simply created it on the spot, flooded the earth with it, and then de-created it again when he was done with it.
- It seems to me, though, that His modus operandi as described in scripture is normally to wrap what He has already created in some sort of miracle when He wants to make a major power statement. I think that He “foreknew” what He was going to do and incorporated that plan into His original design.
Every school child since before my day has known that the earth has an upper “crust”, a central “mantle”, and a lower “core”. Geophysicists now believe that the mantle consists primarily of different forms, or “phases” of the mineral Olivine, which is a “magnesium iron silicate.” The simple Olivine of the upper mantle, under the heat and pressure of lower depths is converted to a phase called Perovskite in the lower mantle. Between the two regions is a transition zone consisting of Olivine phases called Wadsleyite and Ringwoodite. Both of these mineral phases can be very heavily hydrated and are now thought to contain as much as 3.5 times as much water as in all the earth’s oceans. Many young-earth creationists, as well as ancient-earth creationists like me, speculate that this is the primary source of the water that God used to flood the earth in Noah’s day.
Most people probably think of the deep regions of the earth as simply dead, stagnant, unmoving rock. In reality, the earth is a dynamic, “living” system from surface to center. We have all been taught about the “water cycle”, where ocean water evaporates, clouds form, rain falls on the continents, and streams and aquifers return the same water back to the oceans. There is also a water cycle involving the mantle transition zone: ocean water is dragged, in prodigious quantities, into the depths of the mantle by the “subduction” of Earth’s oceanic tectonic plates. This water charges the transition zone, and much later is returned to the ocean through the agency of deep-ocean “smokers” (hydrothermal vents) and volcanism along the Mid-Oceanic Ridges; in the Island-Arc and Continental-Arc volcanoes near subduction zones; and in “hot spot” volcanoes like the Hawaiian volcanos and the Yellowstone super-volcano.
It turns out, paradoxically, that water itself is what spawns volcanic activity, because the melting point of rock is drastically lowered in the presence of water. There is, in fact, an intriguing theory that there should be a sheet of molten rock at the upper surface of the transition zone. From my own knowledge of petrology and fluid flow in rock, that makes me think that conditions in such a region could be right, under certain circumstances (like a gentle push from the Hand of God!) for water-laden, low viscosity, basaltic magma to suddenly channel rapidly through this discontinuity into the Mid-Oceanic ridges, causing a subsequent rise in sea level that could be described poetically as the “fountains of the great deep” opening up. In fact, if this superheated and thus buoyant water were to bubble quickly to the ocean surfaces, could not one expect to see thick clouds of warm water vapor rising quickly into the stratosphere where they would rapidly cool and set off an inundation of torrential rain?
Regarding the return of the flood waters to the transition zone: in my view, the text implies a direct miracle.
Gen 8:1 – “God remembered Noach*, every living thing and all the livestock with him in the ark; so God caused a wind [ruach] to pass over the earth, and the water began to go down.” (CJB)
The Hebrew ruach can mean “wind” in scripture, but it often is translated as “spirit”. In Genesis 1:2, the Ruach of God hovered over the surface of the water. In 8:1, God caused His Ruach to hover over the face of the water-covered earth! In both cases, the earth was covered with an unbroken expanse of water, and God sent His Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to deal with it!
Start of Series: Theory in Science and Theology