Was There A Pre-Flood Babylon?

The writings of Berosus suggest that the geography of the pre-Flood world was much the same as it is now, and those who survived in the Ark returned to Babylon, from where they came. This might suggest that it was just a local Flood, and was not as devastating as the Bible would have us believe, but the reality is not so simple.

The Bible and Berosus

In my book, Forgotten History of the Western People, I have quoted some of the text of the Babylonian Flood story and compared it with the Biblical account. There are many points of similarity, but some differences, and considering the authorship and context I came to the conclusion that they were two independent accounts of the same event, and not just copies of each other.

Since the book was published in November 2002, it has raised some controversy among Biblical Creationists who say that we should treat secular accounts with caution because they might introduce uncertainties that lead us away from Biblical truth. I would say the opposite, that if we are firmly grounded in the Bible, we have nothing to fear from the works of Berosus or any other historian of the ancient world.

Berosus is in agreement with the Bible on the following points:

  • There were ten kings before the Flood, corresponding to the ten Biblical patriarchs from Adam to Noah, although Berosus gives them different names.
  • God commanded Xisuthrus (Noah) to build a boat, because there would be a great Flood that would destroy mankind.
  • When the Flood began to subside, Xisuthrus sent out birds, on three occasions, and the first two flights of birds came back because they could not find land.
  • When the water subsided further, the boat landed on a mountain.

The points of difference are:

  • Xisuthrus had some of his friends in the boat, including a "pilot", and not just his family. Among his family there was his daughter who is not mentioned in the Bible.
  • Xisuthrus was commanded to write a history of the world and bury it securely in the City of the Sun at Sippara (Sepharvaim), and the survivors who emerged from the Ark after the Flood went back there and recovered it.
  • Xisuthrus and his wife, daughter and the pilot offered sacrifices when they emerged from the ark, and were immediately translated to the gods. The Biblical account says that Noah lived on the earth for another 350 years.

The Global Flood of Berosus

There are certain points in the Babylonian story that confirm that the Flood was global.

  • Xisuthrus was commanded to build the boat because mankind would be destroyed.
  • The birds that were sent out from the ark could not find land.
  • Noah was commanded to write a history of the world, and this would have been unnecessary in the event of a local flood.
  • The story of Xisuthrus being translated to the gods would seem implausible, even as a fanciful addition to the story, if the flood was not global.

In contrast to these affirmations of a global Flood, there is one point in the story that suggests it was not global, or at least the landscape of Mesopotamia was spared the worst violence of the raging waters. After Xisuthrus had been translated to the gods, the remaining survivors went back to Babylon and found the writings at Sippara. It seems unlikely that any point on the landscape could be identified with such precision after a global Flood. It is known from the geology of Mesopotamia that there are thick sedimentary layers containing many fossils, obviously deposited from a Flood of gigantic proportions. In that case, the writings would have been buried and would never be found.

If we try to be as generous as possible to the story handed down to us from Berosus, we could imagine that the pre-Flood landscape might have been a series of undulating hills and valleys, and the sediment deposited by the receding floodwaters would simply fill up the valleys. If the writings were buried on a hilltop, they might have escaped much deeper burial under masses of sediment. Of course they would have to be in a secure sealed container, something similar to the flasks that are used nowadays for transporting nuclear waste. Such technology would not be beyond the capabilities of the pre-Flood world, since we know that the early post-Flood world could make pyramids and we still can't figure out how they did it. However, even if the writings escaped burial under sediment, it is unlikely that the survivors could have found them in a totally changed landscape, unless God helped them and told them where they were. But if we have to introduce God into the story in that way, we are getting into a level of speculation that amounts to the invention of history, or even mythology. We just have to accept that we don't know the complete Babylonian flood story, because only a few fragments of the three books of Berosus have survived.

To be less generous, we have to say that there is a contradiction in the Babylonian Flood story. First we are told that it was global, then we are told that the landscape was virtually unchanged and the survivors were able to return to a place where some writings had been hidden. In that case, should we discard the whole story as a dangerous and unreliable fable, and avoid it like the plague? Certainly not! Instead we should focus on the common ground where we see that Berosus is in agreement with the Bible. The Apostle Paul followed this principle with great effect when he preached his sermon on Mars Hill and used the altar to the Unknown God as his starting point.

Redesigning the Landscape

The Bible gives us a more consistent story, where the Flood is truly global, and the landscape is changed as you would expect. We are given some details of the geography of the pre-Flood world as follows:

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. Gen. 2:8-14.

The term "eastward in Eden" probably means "to the east", from the point of view of Moses who wrote the Book of Genesis, although we are not told exactly where it was. The passage implies that the garden was planted as a dwelling place for Adam, within a larger area known as Eden. Within this larger area there was an un-named river that went towards the garden, and at that point it split unto four. We are given the destinations of these four rivers, and two of them are countries that we know today, namely Ethiopia and Assyria. However, this does not imply that these countries survived the Flood as geographical entities. It is more likely that they were entirely wiped out, so that it was impossible to locate them on the new landscape. As the descendants of Noah dispersed around the world, they set up new kingdoms, giving them names that were borrowed from the pre-Flood world. This is a common practice among settlers who arrive in a new and unfamiliar place, for example in America we have New York, New Jersey, Birmingham and Rome.

We know that the landscape was drastically changed because there is no river in the world today that splits into a delta with four rivers called Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates. Instead there are four entirely different rivers with the same names, each with its own source in the mountains of Ararat.

  • The Pison, now known as the Coruh, has its source in northern Turkey and flows through a valley between the Pontine and Armenian Mountains, discharging into the Black Sea near Batumi. Havilah is thought to be the goldfield in the Pontine Mountains near Trabzon, and this is where Jason and the Argonauts might have searched for the Golden Fleece, because miners used sheepskins to catch the gold.
  • The Gihon, now known as the Araxas or Araks, has three sources to the north of Mt. Ararat and flows eastward, joining the River Kura and discharging into the Caspian Sea to the south of Baku.
  • The Hiddekel, otherwise known as the Tigris, has a number of sources in southern Turkey, and flows south-east through Iraq, discharging into the Persian Gulf.
  • The Euphrates has a number of sources in central Turkey and flows south-east through Iraq, joining the Tigris and discharging into the Persian Gulf.

Clearly, the survivors who emerged from the Ark must have surveyed the landscape and named these four rivers according to the rivers that they knew from the pre-Flood world. In the case of the Pison, the name was given when they became aware that there was gold in the area. It seems unlikely that the early settlers would have considered gold to be important, even if they found it, because they were more concerned with finding food and other necessary means of survival, but their descendants in later generations might have gone out searching for gold and given the river its name.

There are other occasions where pre-Flood names are used in the post-Flood world, as the names of both people and places. For example:

  • Havilah, the son of Joktan, lived in Western Arabia and another Havilah, the son of Cush, lived in Eastern Arabia near the Persian Gulf. Both of them gave their names to the places where they lived.
  • Gihon is also thought to be the Ganges, the Nile, or the Pyramus which discharges into the Mediterranean at Adana in Southern Turkey.

Strangely enough, there is no river in the post-Flood world corresponding to the river that passed through Eden. Clearly, this river has disappeared, together with the four rivers that emerged from it, but it would be easy enough for someone to invent a name, such as the River Eden, and apply it to any new river. The reason why this has not happened is because, in the Genesis account, the river that passed through Eden never had a name. Why should the four rivers all have names, but the river that provided their source never had one? The reason is because the descendants of Adam and Eve never saw it. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden after they had taken the forbidden fruit, and cherubims and a flaming sword were placed at the east of the garden to prevent them from accessing the tree of life. If this restricted access also prevented them from accessing the river, it would explain why it had no name. The descendants of Adam and Eve could only see the four rivers, as they emerged from the boundaries of the garden, but they could never access their source.

Landscape of Berosus

Returning to the account of Berosus, we find that in addition to Babylon and Sippara, where the survivors returned after the Flood, there are other place names that are described in a way that implies an identical pre-Flood and post-Flood geography. For example:

  • Some of the pre-Flood kings, including the first one who corresponds to Adam, were Chaldeans.
  • The last two kings who precede Xisuthrus (Noah) were from Larissa (Larsa) in southern Iraq.
  • Oannes, the fish-man, came out of the Erythrean Sea (Persian Gulf) which borders on Babylonia. At that time, Babylonia was between the Tigris and the Euphrates, and it had a border with Arabia which was desert. All of this corresponds to the present-day geography.

This implies that either that the work of Berosus became garbled as it passed through the hands of later historians, who might have added place names to the story, or else Berosus himself failed to understand the implications of a global Flood. We know that he was an astronomer, but he might not have also been a geologist, and he might not have realised that large parts of the earth would be covered with thick layers of sediment after a global Flood. He might have thought that all the place names, borrowed from the pre-Flood world, actually corresponded to an identical geography.


The work of Berosus, together with the work of other ancient historians who I have not mentioned here, do not present any kind of threat to those who believe in the Biblical account of a global Flood. Those who are firmly grounded in the Bible have nothing to be afraid of. For three hundred years after the Reformation, it was commonplace for the Bible to be read in schools every morning, during a corporate act of worship, and then the children would go to their classes. They would study the arts and sciences, and many schools had a strong emphasis on Latin and Greek, so that they could study classical history, literature and mythology. They understood that after the dispersal of the early descendants of Noah, history becomes distorted with mythology, and then it comes back together again as real history, but it didn't bother them. Nobody was concerned that the faith of impressionable schoolchildren would be distorted by Greek and Latin fables, because they were already fully grounded in the Bible.

Creation History has always been with us, although it has been neglected for the most part of the last century. Now it is coming back, and a new generation of Creationists, who are mostly steeped in science, regard it as something new and unfamiliar, and some regard it with suspicion because it does not satisfy their appetite for certainty. I can only give one piece of advice for anyone who wants to get involved in this subject, that you should first become fully grounded in the Bible and teach others also. For those who have little or no understanding of the Bible, I hope that my book will encourage them to study it, because without the Bible my book will not really make all that much sense.

Copyright 2003

Mike Gascoigne
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