Thursday, September 13, 2018

Primordial Flood

Book of Mormon peoples knew about Noah and the great flood. 3 Nephi 22:9 cites Isaiah 54:9 saying that Noah's deluge was a one-time event that will never be repeated. In Ether 6:7 Moroni compares the construction of the Jaredite barges with Noah's ark. Alma 10:22 talks about an ancient destruction of the earth by water as an archetype of an expected future destruction by famine, pestilence, and the sword.

When did Noah's flood destroy the earth? Some biblicists are comfortable with a 3,000 BC date which corresponds nicely with the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Ancient Near Eastern culture hero Gilgamesh is clearly cognate with biblical Noah in Genesis chapters 6 - 8.

A Maya universal flood story has come down to us from Diego de Landa in his Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, and the Popol Vuh. All of these sources are post contact which means they could reflect European (biblical) influence.

However, a universal flood story is portrayed on page 74 of the famed Dresden Codex which is unambiguously pre-columbian.
Flood Scene Page 74, Dresden Codex
The Dresden, one of four ancient Maya codices that survived the Spanish Inquisition, dates no later than AD 1,345. It is generally thought to be a copy of a native book originally composed ca. AD 900 - 1,000. Page 74 shows water flowing from the mouth of a sky crocodile and two eclipse glyphs hanging from his underside. Below the saurian are figures of the goddess Chak Chel pouring water from a jar and God L holding a spear. The Maya conceived of this flood as a total destruction of the previous world.

And when does the best contemporary scholarship date the primordial flood event pictured in the Dresden? About 5,000 years ago just before the creation of the current world age on 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk'u (August 11, 3,114 BC). See Gabrielle Vail and Christine Hernández, Re-Creating Primordial Time: Foundation Rituals and Mythology in the Postclassic Maya Codices (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2013), particularly chapter 5.

The Maya, like other ancient Mesoamericans, perceived the universal flood as a one-time event that would not be repeated, although they expected the current world age to be destroyed at some future date by other means (wind, earthquake, fire, etc.)