The story of Noah is one of the best-known in the Bible – the universal flood, the warning to the one righteous man to save his family, the ark, the dove that goes out to find land, the sacrifice to God, the re-population of the earth.
But dozens of religions in different parts of the world have their own tales of apocalyptic deluges - perhaps a reflection of the fact that floods are the natural disaster most commonly suffered by humanity.
A story from the Middle East even older than Noah’s, The Epic of Gilgamesh, shows striking similarities. It relates how, as human beings grew in numbers, they started to make so much noise that the gods decided to destroy them all, apart from a solitary good man and his family who were tipped off, enabling them to escape in a huge boat.
Apart from the Middle East, tales of apocalyptic floods are also found in Greece and India, in south-east Asian countries such as Burma, Vietnam, and Indonesia; in New Guinea and Australasia; in many South Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Taiwan, the Kamchatka peninsula of Far Eastern Russia, Lithuania, Transylvania, and all over North and South America.
*For the full story, see my new book, Flood: Nature and Culture (Reaktion Books) ISBN 978 1 78023 196 9. It also includes chapters on the deadliest floods in history, how floods have been portrayed in literature, art and films, how some of the most ambitious structures ever built by humans have been erected to protect against flooding, and how climate change may now be making humanity more vulnerable than ever to the waters.