Noah's Flood

Noah’s Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought was first published in 1996.



The biblical tale of Noah and the Flood has been interpreted in many different ways through the ages, mirroring the many changes in Western beliefs and values. In this masterly and beautifully illustrated book, Cohn explores the origins, development, and varying interpretations of this ancient story and assesses its impact on the history of ideas.


The roots of the Flood story, Cohn explains, lie in Mesopotamian mythology. But its meaning was totally transformed by the authors of Genesis so that it became a message of hope for Jews and later a prefiguring of salvation for Christians. Cohn then shows how, under the impact of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the story came to be understood in a new way. Between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries it was closely associated with the development of scientific geology, which it both helped and hindered. From the late-18th century until the present it has been involved also in the conflict between traditional religious beliefs and science and the attempts to harmonise the two.


Cohn describes how, while geological and palaeontological discoveries were calling the historicity of the Flood into question, fundamentalists have continued to champion it, even to the extent of searching for the landing site of the ark. Finally, he considers how, in the course of the present century, the story has been interpreted as a solar myth, a lunar myth, a fertility myth, and even (psychoanalytically) as an expression of male resentment against women. Wide ranging, the book includes accounts of the scholars and theologians who endorsed or rejected the Flood story and contributed to its resonance over 2000 years.