The story of Noah’s Ark is probably one of the best known from the Hebrew Bible, and it isn’t just because it’s so popular with children. The flood narrative is a recurring theme in human mythology, appearing in the folklore of over 140 societies. Many of the myths, especially those from the Middle East, seem to have details and themes that coincide with the story of Noah. Could this be more than just a coincidence? Evidence increasingly points to many of these flood stories referring to the same event or handful of events, and though we’ll probably never be able to place them precisely in time, they give us fascinating insights into how humans make sense of natural disasters.

As part of Scientists in Synagogues, Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington, VA hosted a multidisciplinary program looking at the flood from both a geological-historical and a comparative-literature perspective. The first presenter, Dr. Helmut Brückner, is Professor Emeritus of Physical Geography at the University of Cologne, Germany. His research fields are coastal geomorphology, geoarchaeology, and geochronology. He has also investigated the morphogenesis of marine terraces in Italy, and the evolution of coasts in India. He’s published two books and more than 300 articles, and taught at many universities in Dusseldorf, Passau, Marburg and Cologne, as well as in Tulsa, OK and in Chile. He is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences.

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(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. This is the first half of an adult education program on Parshat Noach at Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington, VA).