The Biblical and Quranic Stories of Noah and the Flood: A Comparative Analysis
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“Because of their sins they were drowned (in the flood), and were made to enter the Fire (of Punishment): and they found- in lieu of Allah- none to help them.”
- The Holy Quran, Surah Nuh, 71:25
One of the most famous and enduring stories of the Bible is undoubtedly the story of Noah (Nuh in Arabic), the flood and the ark. As with many other stories found in the Bible, this story is also found in the Quran, and as with the other stories, the Biblical and Quranic versions of Noah and the flood have some similarities as well as some major differences. In this article, we will discuss these differences and why they are significant enough to put the Quran and the Bible at odds with each other. After summarizing the Biblical story, we will analyze it to discuss the irreconcilable problems that plague it. Next, we will summarize the Islamic version of Noah and the flood and compare it to the Biblical one. This comparison will illustrate that the Biblical story cannot be accepted as the true version of the epic story of Noah and that the Quranic story, by lacking any of the difficulties found in the former, is clearly the version that is more deserving of acceptance and far more credible.
The Biblical Story
In the Bible, the story of Noah is found in several chapters of the Book of Genesis. For the purposes of this article, we will summarize the parts dealing with the events preceding the flood, the flood itself, and some elements of the post-flood story. As such, we will deal specifically with Genesis 6-8, though in the analysis of the story, we will discuss other parts of Genesis as well.
As the story goes, it had been several centuries since Adam and Eve had fallen to earth and great wickedness had spread threrein. In fact, humans had become so evil that God:
“…regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”
It was for this reason that God decided to destroy the entire, sinful world. The only exception made was regarding a righteous man named Noah, who had “…found favor with the Lord”, since he did not share in the sin that was prevalent in the world. Thus, God commanded him to build an ark with exact specifications, and instructed him to take his family and two of every animal on board with him.
Once the ark was built, the cataclysmic flood arrived and destroyed all who were not on the ark. This occurred when Noah was 600 years old. By Noah’s 601st year, the waters had dried and he was instructed to come out of the ark, which had come to rest on the Ararat mountain range. The survivors, both human and animal, then repopulated the earth. It was through Noah’s sons that the human race survived and spread throughout the earth once more.
Analyzing the Story
In the brief summary above, we can see that the whole world had become sinful and was beyond salvation. In other words, God sent the flood upon an unsuspecting world without warning. As we will see later, this element of the Biblical story differs greatly with the Quranic version.
Upon scrutinizing the Biblical claims, it should become clear that there are certain irreconcilable problems that cannot be easily explained. One of the biggest problems surfaces as a result of the chronology of the flood. While Genesis does not provide a specific date for the flood, it is nevertheless possible to come to a reasonable estimate using the various genealogies that are found in the Bible. Based on this, the “Young Earth” website “Answers In Genesis” states that:
“…the Flood began approximately 4,359 years ago in the year…2348 BC.”
The skeptic C. Dennis McKinsey gives the same date:
“The flood allegedly occurred around 2348 B.C.”
Finally, Muslim author Dr. Laurence Brown estimates, using the Biblical chronology, that the flood:
“…would have corresponded with the twenty-first to twenty-second centuries BC.”
Hence, the Bible provides an approximate date of around 2100-2400 BC for the global deluge. This being the case, any student of history should see an immediate conflict. The Bible is obviously wrong about either the flood being global or the exact date of the flood or both.
If we assume that the Biblical chronology is correct, then the flood could not have covered the whole earth. The reason for this is that if the flood occurred sometime between 2100-2300 BC, then there should be no records of surviving civilizations from that time. Yet, this is exactly what we have in the historical record. As McKinsey notes:
“Authentic Egyptian history does not mention a flood even though uninterrupted records were kept from the pharaoh Menes in 3400 B.C. to Darius Ochus in 340 B.C. The flood allegedly occurred around 2348 B.C.”
While there is a flood story in Egyptian mythology, it was not a flood of destruction, so McKinsey is correct. The point is that if a global flood had indeed occurred, then there would have been a gap in ancient Egyptian records. Yet, this is not what historians have found. Dr. Laurence Brown also notes this discrepancy in the Biblical story by rightfully point out that:
“…this flood failed to wash away both the Third Dynasty at Ur in Babylonia and the First Intermediate Period before the Eleventh Dynasty in Egypt – two civilizations that history testifies were uninterrupted. So the period to which the biblical narratives attribute the global flood could stand revision.”
Therefore, since there is indisputable archaeological evidence of thriving civilizations during the time the flood allegedly occurred, we either have to admit the flood was not global or that it occurred at another earlier time. Since Egyptian records go back uninterrupted to 3,400 B.C., the flood would have had to have happened some time before that (assuming that it was global). Hence, the Bible’s chronology is off by at least 1,100 years, and possibly even more.
Both scenarios present a problem for the Biblical version. Since a global flood would have surely destroyed the civilizations of Egypt and Ur at the time it occurred, the Biblical claim that the flood covered the entire world is impossible to defend. On the other hand, if there was a global flood, then the Genesis account is chronologically flawed, since it places the flood in the wrong time period.
The Quranic Story
The story of Nuh and the flood is mentioned throughout the Quran, sometimes as long, continuous narratives and sometimes as brief accounts just a few verses long. Nuh (peace be upon him) was the first messenger sent by God. His people had strayed from the true faith of their father Adam (peace be upon him) and had begun worshiping various idols and despite Nuh’s repeated warnings and preaching, they refused to reject these false gods:
“And they have said (to each other), 'Abandon not your gods: Abandon neither Wadd nor Suwa', neither Yaguth nor Ya'uq, nor Nasr';-”
After spending most of his life preaching in vain to his people, and when it became clear that his people would not believe in his message (besides those few who had already believed), Nuh (peace be upon him) was commanded by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) to build an ark:
“It was revealed to Noah: "None of thy people will believe except those who have believed already! So grieve no longer over their (evil) deeds. But construct an Ark under Our eyes and Our inspiration, and address Me no (further) on behalf of those who are in sin: for they are about to be overwhelmed (in the Flood)."”
Once the ark was built and the flood was imminent, Nuh (peace be upon him) was told to bring the believers and two of every animal on board the ark. While most of his family had believed, his wife and one of his unnamed sons had remained loyal to the pagan religion, and were thus among the condemned:
“Allah sets forth, for an example to the Unbelievers, the wife of Noah and the wife of Lut: they were (respectively) under two of our righteous servants, but they were false to their (husbands), and they profited nothing before Allah on their account, but were told: "Enter ye the Fire along with (others) that enter!"”
“The son replied: "I will betake myself to some mountain: it will save me from the water." Noah said: "This day nothing can save, from the command of Allah, any but those on whom He hath mercy!" And the waves came between them, and the son was among those overwhelmed in the Flood.”
The flood utterly destroyed the people of Nuh (peace be upon him), leaving only the blessed messenger, his remaining sons and some others who were on the ark. Once the flood waters receded, the ark came to a rest on a mountain called “Judi” and the believers once again set foot on dry land:
“Then the word went forth: "O earth! Swallow up thy water, and O sky! Withhold (thy rain)!" and the water abated, and the matter was ended. The Ark rested on Mount Judi, and the word went forth: "Away with those who do wrong!"”
When reading the Quranic story of Nuh (peace be upon him), some major differences with the Biblical version are immediately apparent. First, unlike the Biblical account which claims that God sent the flood on an unsuspecting, yet sinful world, the Quran states that the flood was sent upon Nuh’s people only after they had consistently rejected his warnings and refused to shun their idols. It is a consistent message in the Quran that even if people are living in sin, God will not punish them until He has given them a chance to repent and sending a messenger to warn them. If they do not, then and only then, will He punish them.
Second, regarding the alleged global nature of the flood, the context of the Quranic story suggests that the flood was in fact a local one and affected only the people of Nuh (peace be upon him). Some people have argued that the Quran states that the flood waters covered the earth, appealing to such verses as the following:
“And Noah, said: "O my Lord! Leave not of the Unbelievers, a single one on earth!”
Yet this argument fails for a simple reason. The Arabic word translated here as “earth” is “الْأَرْضِ” (al-ardi), which can mean either “earth”, “land” or “country”. Hence, Nuh (peace be upon him) could have prayed to God to destroy all the disbelievers in the land, meaning the area in which he lived. In fact, the context of the verse shows that he was referring to his own people:
“Noah said: "O my Lord! They have disobeyed me, but they follow (men) whose wealth and children give them no increase but only Loss.”
How could Nuh (peace be upon him) have been referring to people in other parts of the world whom he had never met and was never sent to? How could they have “disobeyed” him if they had not even heard him preaching? Clearly, his prayer to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) was concerning his own people, and had nothing to do with the rest of the world.
Another objection raised to the local flood theory is that the early Quranic commentators tended to believe that the flood was indeed global. Yet this argument is also weak since it was common for the Quranic commentators to rely on Jewish and Christian traditions to fill in the gaps of the stories of the prophets. This was especially true when both the Quran and the authentic Hadiths were silent on an issue. Since there is nothing concrete in the Quran or the Hadiths to suggest that the flood was global, the opinions of the exegetes cannot be considered authoritative. This is the view of many modern Islamic scholars (though others also believe that the flood was global). Here are some examples:
According to one scholarly opinion (fatwa):
“The divine instruction to Prophet Noah was to carry on the ark a pair of every species. Certainly the Prophet Noah complied with this order and put those creatures on the ark. This must be understood as relating to the area in which he was and the practical possibility of implementing Allah's instruction. We are not told that Noah traversed the whole globe collecting those animals who were not available in his area. Nowhere are we told that couples of species from different climates and faraway geographical areas were guided to go to Prophet Noah's place in order to be on the ark. Indeed, there is no clear indication that the flood covered the whole earth. It certainly covered the area where the people of Noah lived, so as to exterminate all creatures other than those who believed in Allah and followed Prophet Noah. We cannot tell how big the ark was, but it certainly was big enough to accommodate those believers and a pair of each type of species. May I remind you that in the Qur'an we are told that Noah's followers were few.”
Another fatwa states:
“In fact, there is no indication or reference in the Qur'an suggesting that the floods overwhelmed the entire planet. The description given in the Qur'an of the flood makes clear that it was of overwhelming proportions, leaving none of the wrongdoers among Noah's people alive. It does not mention other communities. In fact there are several references that it engulfed Noah's own people in particular. Take for example the twice-repeated Qur'anic statement: "Do not appeal to Me on behalf of the wrongdoers. They shall be drowned." (11: 37 & 23: 27) "We saved him together with all those who stood by him, in the ark, and caused those who rejected Our revelations to drown. Surely they were blind people." (7: 64) The contexts in which all these statements occur are very clear in their references to Noah's own community to whom he was required to address his message. Hence we can say that the flood punishment was directed to his own people who rejected his faith, after clear evidence had been given to them, and after their long opposition to his efforts and their repeated hurling of abuse and ridicule on him.”
Further below, the same fatwa also questions whether Nuh (peace be upon him) had exactly three surviving sons (as the Bible claims), which is a reasonable question to ask because there is nothing in the Quran or authentic ahadith to indicate how many sons he had or what their names were:
“Nor can we say that all people living today are descendents [sic] of Noah through his three sons. To start with, there were other people saved in the Ark. These could have had children of their own and they would have descendents [sic]. Moreover, we cannot establish with any degree of certainty that Noah had three sons.”
Despite this fact, some early Quranic commentators stated that Nuh (peace be upon him) had three sons and they even give their Biblical names!
According to Islamic scholar M.A.S. Abdel Haleem:
“…when one looks at the Qur'anic text itself (in this account and in those of suras 7, 11 and 23), it is only al-mala, the prominent people in the society, who kept demanding that he drive away the 'worst kind of people' amongst his followers, and those they have led astray (Q. 71:24-7), who will be punished, not everybody and everything.”
Later, he states the following:
“It has already been observed that in the Qur'anic accounts only al-mala' and their followers were drowned. This view of the 'universal' flood, which is actually depicted in the Qur'an as being specific and localised, has no basis in the Qur'an and is clearly inspired by other versions of the Noah story, such as those related in the Bible and popular religious legend.”
Finally, Islamic scholar Suzanne Haneef notes that there was a difference of opinion even among the early scholars about the nature of the flood:
“The Qur’an and ahadith are silent concerning the locus and extent of the Flood, and the early Islamic traditionists also differed concerning it.”
Hence, there is no proof that the Quranic story tells of a global flood. In fact, the context strongly suggests a local flood. Since there is far more evidence of a local flood and there is no indication as to when it occurred, the Quranic account does not suffer from the same inconsistencies and difficulties found in the Biblical story. Therefore, the Quranic account is far more credible than the Biblical account.
In this article, we compared the Biblical and Quranic versions of the story of Noah and the flood. While similar in some ways, the two stories are worlds apart in other ways. While the Biblical account of God sending a global flood without warning contradicts archaeological and historical facts, the Quranic account suffers from no such difficulties. This is because the latter does not clearly endorse the theory of a global flood, despite claims to the contrary, and instead only mentions the flood story in the context of Noah’s preaching to his own people. Therefore, the claim of a global flood is not tenable and we must instead endorse the belief that the flood was probably local, affecting only the sinful people of Noah’s nation.
And Allah knows best!
 Genesis 6:6 (New International Version).
 Genesis 6:8.
 In Genesis 8, however, he is instructed to take seven pairs of “clean” animals and one pair of “unclean” animals.
 Genesis 7:6.
 Genesis 8:4, 13.
 See the “Table of Nations” (Genesis 10).
 C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 220.
 Laurence B. Brown, God’ed?: The Case for Islam as the Completion of Revelation (Booksurge, 2008), p. 99. Kindle Edition.
 McKinsey, op. cit., p. 220.
 For a summary of several flood myths from various ancient civilizations, including Egypt, see the following: http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/12-10-17/#feature
 Brown, op. cit., p. 99.
 Sahih Bukhari, Book 55, Number 556.
 Surah Nuh, 71:23 (Yusuf Ali Translation).
 He preached to them for 950 years. See Surah Al-Ankaboot, 29:14.
 Surah Hud, 11:36-37.
 Surah At-Tahrim, 66:10.
 Surah Hud, 11:43.
 Surah Hud, 11:44.
 For example, see Surah al-Isra, 17:15.
 Surah Nuh, 71:26.
 Suzanne Haneef, The History of the Prophets of Islam: Derived from the Quran, Ahadith and Commentaries (Chicago: Kazi Publications, Inc., 2002), Volume 1, p. 171.
John Penrice, A Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran (New York: Dover Publications, 2011), p. 5.
 Surah Nuh, 71:21.
 M.A.S Abdel Haleem, “The Qur'anic Employment of the Story of Noah,” Journal Of Qur'anic Studies, 8, no. 1 (2006): 48.
 Haneef, op. cit., p. 171.