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Scripture references are to the King James (Authorised) Version unless stated otherwise
19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills [ranges, Heb.], that were under the whole heaven, were covered. 20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains [ranges, Heb.] were covered.
‘Fifteen cubits upward’ – around 7 metres or 23 feet, for an 18-inch cubit – probably refers to the draught (the underwater clearance) of the vessel. This calculation might have been made by Noah or someone else from the porthole while the vessel was afloat (Genesis 8: 6 ‘window’ ); or, after the ark had come to rest in the region of Ararat and the water level had dropped sufficiently to permit its occupants to disembark. Such an observation would have been natural to make by any one of the engineer-carpenters of Noah’s family. They had, after all, built the ship over many years, and would have been intimately familiar with its characteristics.
Of course, knowing the minimum draught of the ark does not tell us how far above the ‘high hills’ it actually floated, only that it cleared them without foundering. But at least we can know that the depth of water between the ark and any submerged high spot was at least ‘fifteen cubits’.
As the water level sank, the ark bumped up against the flank of the range that later became known as Ararat (Genesis 8: 4). Some weeks later, the surrounding topography (‘tops of the mountains’, v. 5) could be seen (again, suggesting an eyewitness account).
It is probable that the mountains and seas (oceans) after the Flood are much higher and deeper than those prior to it. The Scriptures say that in addition to water cascading from above for forty days and forty nights – possibly the result of the rupture of the water canopy (waters above the earth, Genesis 1: 7), the ‘fountains’ (possibly volcanic eruptions) broke out from beneath (Genesis 7: 11 [compare with 8: 2]):
[A]ll the fountains [sluices, springs] of the great deep [were] broken up and the windows [floodgates, cataracts] of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
The maximum height reached by the waters was sufficient to obscure the high hills as visible from the ark. The deluge probably did not reach to, say, the height of Everest or K-2, which may not then have existed. Regardless, the waters were sufficiently deep to deny refuge to person or animal. All air-breathing creatures, including birds, would have perished, either from drowning or being beaten down by the force of the water from above, all combined with a powerful wind (Genesis 8: 1). And while an eyewitness account alone could not verify the widest geographic extent of the Flood, there can be little doubt that it would have overwhelmed the rest of the planet to more or less the same depth, with similar devastating effects. Such was God’s stated intention, or there would have been no reason for building the ark, and preserving the humans and animals inside it (Genesis 6: 7; 7: 4, 21, 22; 2 Peter 3: 5, 6).
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