More importantly, though, Callahan oversimplifies the prevalence of flood myths. Let me state up front that I do not believe that the evidence supports the assertion that all such flood myths ultimately derive from a single, exceedingly ancient source. Ancient people were more than capable of imagining their own floods, just as they imagined stories of the sun and the stars. Additionally, as Callahan rightly notes, many cultures have no flood myth whatsoever, at least none that has any traits recognizably in common with the Biblical flood. However, it does no one any good to pretend that such stories don’t exist in some places.
Callahan cites Chinese mythology as providing evidence that such flood myths are not universal.
Does this large country with an unbroken history going back to ancient times have a flood myth, replete with a boat on which a few survivors escape, from thence to reestablish the human race? It does, however that particular flood myth comes from an ethnic minority called the Miao. They speak a language similar to Thai and appear to have immigrated to China from Southeast Asia. The only other flood myth from China involves annual flooding from rivers and the need for people to work together to prevent such destruction. It involves no ark and no destruction of all life on the planet.
Far from Callahan’s assertion of but two flood myths, the Handbook of Chinese Mythology records 400 flood myths, which can be divided into four primary subtypes according to Chinese scholars who study the country’s myths. The second subtype is the one given above, in which the sibling pair escapes in a gourd from the wrath of the Thunder God, who kills all other humans. The first subtype, quite similarly, has a sibling pair escape in a stone vessel and repopulate the earth after all other people are destroyed through a world flood of unspecified cause because a goddess gives them a warning. According to Chinese scholars, this flood myth originated with the Han, the ethnic group comprising the majority of modern Chinese people. The third and fourth types, less relevant to our discussion, mix elements of the first two types with a story of the sole survivor obtaining a heavenly maiden to repopulate the earth.
According to Chen Jianxian, a scholar of Chinese myths, all four subtypes diverged from a common ancestor and were adapted to meet the cultural and social needs of the communities and ethnic groups telling them.
Now, I am no scholar of Chinese mythology, so I can’t really speak to the deep origins of these 400 flood myths. Given that there is no geological evidence of a global flood, that leaves a few possibilities I can think of:
- The Chinese myths are indigenous developments, since there are only so many ways of telling a story about destroying and repopulating the earth.
- The Chinese myths were influenced by Christian or Muslim contact and the Biblical flood story.
- The Chinese myths were influenced by contact with India (perhaps with the arrival of Buddhism) and the Sanskrit flood myth.
- The Chinese myths share a common ancestor with one or more Near East flood myths.
As I said, I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: Pretending these stories don’t exist to score points against creationists and ancient astronaut theorists does no one any good and actually works to reduce the chances that we’ll find answers to these questions and thus gain new knowledge.