Friday, March 10, 2006

Biblical Tectonics

From the files of historical speculation...just for fun, let's see if we can count my assumptions.

I mentioned below that the modern theory of Continental Drift (plate tectonics) was proposed in about 1912 and became a dominant geological theory in the late 1950s, once the generation of scientists who held to the fixity of the continents died off.

We look at a map and Continental Drift is obvious to us (and actually, I think the evidence for it is pretty good as well, which is a whole different kettle of fish). So what does Genesis have to say about it? Quite a bit, actually. Well, possibly.

In the original creation account, God creates the globe covered with water. Then in Genesis 1:9, it says, "And God said, 'Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.'"

All the water in one place implies one ocean and one land mass. For sake of argument, let's call that land mass "Pangaea."

Some years later, the flood comes, again covering that single continent with water. Only Noah and his family survive, finally landing upon "the mountains of Ararat." Of course, at the time they could not have been mountains, having just been covered with water. That they are mountains today makes me think that the odds of finding a boat on them are pretty long, but that's just me. The land arises in an incredibly violent earth movement to push the water away, but we still have one continent.

Some years after that, we have an episode called the Tower of Babel. God has told mankind to inhabit the whole Earth and they refuse, gathering on the Plains of Shinar (probably in modern Iraq) and building a city called Babel that will eventually become Babylon. God throws down the city and confusticates the language in Gen 11, causing the scattering that he originally commanded.

But there's a strange verse at the end of the prior chapter, Gen 10:25. It seeks to explain how a certain man received his name, and the name of the man is "Peleg" (PLG in the original Hebrew, which was written without vowels), the son of Eber from whom the Hebrews will get their name. It says:

And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan.

For in his days was the earth divided - now a lot of folks have said that the "earth" here means the people of the earth, as the 1599 Geneva Bible footnotes say, "This division came by the diversity of language." But that may not be the case at all.

The "earth" here is the Hebrew "erets," precisely the same word used in Gen 1:10 when God called the dry land "earth." (It it literally says, "and God called the dry earth," with land being added in English to make the sentence comprehensible).

A second clue that we're talking about the earth/ground as opposed to the earth/inhabitants comes from Peleg's name itself. The root PLG in Hebrew can mean 'division' (PaLaG) and 'a small channel of water; a rill' (PeLeG). It carries a similar meaning in Greek: to divide with water.

Now, why should we care that the root is the same across languages? Remember, at this time everyone spoke the same language, and it's not unlikely that the 'confused' languages carried at least traces of their original meanings.

Bernard Northrup says, "in classical Greek, from the period of Homer, there are 18 nouns that I know of that use the root PLG in the same way that it is used in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Indeed, all uses relate to the ocean in some way. Two of these Greek words survive in Modern English having the same implication. They refer to the "pelagic" depths of the ocean and to "archipelagos" or chains of islands in the sea."

There is our root again, PeLaGic and archiPeLaGos, both referring this time to water. The Greek root PLK carries a similar meaning, to divide with an axe, thus our modern English word "Pelican," which comes originally from the Greek "pelekan," showing how words pass language to language.

So it's possible that Peleg got his name from the event where God divided the land (earth/erets) by means of water. In other words, one continent was separated into many continents with water in between.

Same story (one continent to many), same evidence (continents fit, rock formations fit), but obviously a different time scale.

OK, if you counted my assumptions (6451?), you're probably wise in writing the whole thing off. But I think it's at least food for thought, and an interesting speculation. Hey, it's Friday night. What do you expect?

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