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Symposium to tell flood stories from Noah to now

By Leslie King | Emory Report | Oct. 13, 2014

Stories of devastation via flood and what they tell us about our history, our anxieties about humanity's place in the world, and the relationship between religion and the environment will be explored in a symposium, "Nippur to Noah: Stories of the Flood," on Saturday, Oct. 18, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

Faculty from the Candler School of Theology and alumni of Emory's Graduate Division of Religion will discuss the significance of these chronicles of floods, from the Biblical account of Noah and the great flood to today's concerns about environmental catastrophes.

This symposium, which is free and open to the public, coincides with the exhibition of the Nippur tablet, one of the earliest Near Eastern texts to describe a world overwhelmed by water.

The Nippur Tablet is an ancient tablet dating from the 17th century BC; the tablet was discovered in the ruins of the ancient Babylonian city of Nippur in the 19th century by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, whose Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is loaning it to the Carlos to highlight programming and research focused on ancient biblical sources.

Written in Sumerian, it tells the story of a plan by the gods to destroy the world via a great flood and how an immortal man named Utnapishti builds a huge boat to rescue his family and every type of animal.

The symposium will be introduced by Joel M. LeMon, associate professor of Old Testament at Candler, who notes that stories of a primeval flood appear throughout the ancient Near East, citing the Biblical story of Noah in the Bible and the Nippur Deluge tablet as two.

"In all of these accounts, a massive environmental catastrophe threatens to destroy all life. Yet a remnant survives," says LeMon, who will also present a paper on "God's Biggest Regret: The Flood Account and Divine Character(s) in Genesis."

Brent Strawn, professor of Old Testament at Candler, will present on "Preaching the Flood: The Flood in Second Temple Judaism." Strawn will discuss how the rather straightforward narrative version of the flood in Genesis 6-9 is used in later materials.

"The flood is described in Genesis. It is preached in the materials I will discuss. My materials date from the Second Temple Period and include the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament, and the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha," he says.

Other scholars will present on these topics:

  • "The Flood of Noah and the Streams of Tradition" by Christopher Hays, D. Wilson Moore Associate Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary
  • "The Flood Account in Early Jewish Sources" by Jacob Wright, associate professor of Old Testament at Candler
  • "A Flood of Interpretation: Noah in Jewish, Muslim and Christian Traditions" by Brennan W. Breed, assistant professor of Old Testament at Columbia Seminary
  • "The Slow Flood: Climate Change and the Environmental Apocalypse in Genesis" by Ingrid Lilly, visiting scholar at the Pacific School of Religion

Emory's Creation Stories project is a yearlong series of events seeking to discover what 21st century learners might gain from an exploration of creation narratives across time and cultures.

For more information, visit the arts calendar or the Carlos website.