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Book I: Chapter VI


by Thomas Burnet


Book I

Concerning the Deluge, and the Dissolution of the Earth.


The dissolution of the First Earth: The Deluge ensuing thereupon. And the form of the present Earth rising from the Ruines of the First.

WE have now brought to light the Ante-diluvian Earth out of the dark mass of the Chaos; and not only described the surface of it, but laid open the inward parts, to shew in what order its Regions lay. Let us now close it up, and represent the Earth entire, and in larger proportions, more like an habitable World; as in this Figure, where you see the smooth convex of the Earth, and may imagine the great Abysse spread under it 2 ; which two are to be the only subject of our further contemplation.

In this smooth Earth were the first Scenes of the World, and the first Generations of Mankind; it had the beauty of Youth and blooming Nature, fresh and fruitful, and not a wrinkle, scar or fracture in all its body; no Rocks nor Mountains, no hollow Caves, nor gaping Chanels, but even and uniform all over. And the smoothness of the Earth made the face of the Heavens so too; the Air was calm and serene; none of those tumultuary motions and conflicts of vapours, which the Mountains and the Winds cause in ours: Twas suited to a golden Age, and to the first innocency of Nature.

All this you'll say is well, we are got into a pleasant World indeed, but what's this to the purpose? what appearance of a Deluge here, where there is not so much as a Sea, nor half so much water as we have in this Earth? or what appearance of Mountains, or Caverns, or other irregularities of the Earth, where all is level and united? So that instead of loosing the Knot, this ties it the harder. You pretend to shew us how the Deluge was made, and you lock up all the Waters within the womb of the Earth, and set Bars and Doors, and a Wall of impenetrable strength and thickness to keep them there. And you pretend to shew us the original of Rocks and Mountains, and Caverns of the Earth, and bring us to a wide and endless plain, smooth as the calm Sea.

This is all true, and yet we are not so far from the sight and discovery of those things as you imagine; draw but the curtain and these Scenes will appear, or something very like them. We must remember that St. Petertold us, that the Ante-diluvian Earth perished, or was demolished; and Mosessaith, the great Abysse was broken open at the Deluge.

Click to enlargeLet us then suppose, that at a time appointed by Divine Providence, and from Causes made ready to do that great execution upon a sinful World, that this Abyssewas opened, or that the frame of the Earth broke and fell down into the Great Abysse. At this one stroke all Nature would be changed, and this single action would have two great and visible Effects. The one Transient, and the other permanent. First an universal Deluge would overflow all the parts and Regions of the broken Earth, during the great commotion and agitation of the Abysse, by the violent fall of the Earth into it. This would be the first and unquestionable effect of this dissolution, and all that World would be destroyed. Then when the agitation of the Abysse was asswaged, and the Waters by degrees were retied into their Chanels, and the dry land appear'd, you would see the true image of the present Earth in the ruines of the first. The surface of the Globe would be divided into Land and Sea; the Land would consist of Plains and Valleys and Mountains, according as the pieces of this ruine were placed and dispos'd: Upon the banks of the Sea would stand the Rocks, and near the shoar would be Islands, or lesser fragments of Earth compassed round by Water. Then as to Subterraneous Waters, and all Subterraneous Caverns and hollownesses, upon this supposition those things could not be otherwise; for the parts would fall hollow in many places in this, as in all other ruines: And seeing the Earth fell into this Abysse, the Waters at a certain height would flow into all those hollow places and cavities; and would also sink and insinuate into many parts of the solid Earth. And though these Subterraneous Vaults or holes, whether dry or full of Water, would be more or less in all places, where the parts fell hollow; yet they would be found especially about the roots of the Mountains, and the higher parts of the Earth; for there the sides bearing up one against the other, they could not lie so close at the bottoms, but many vacuities would be intercepted. Nor are there any other inequalities or irregularities observable in the present form of the Earth; whether in the surface of it, or interiour construction, whereof this hypothesisdoth not give a ready, fair, and intelligible account; and doth at one view represent them all to us, with their causes, as in a glass: And whether that Glass be true, and the Image answer to the Original, if you doubt of it, we will hereafter examine them piece by piece. But in the first place, we must consider the General Deluge, how easily and truly this supposition represents and explains it, and answers all the properties and conditions of it.

I think it will be easily allowed, that such a dissolution of the Earth as we have proposed, and fall of it into the Abysse, would certainly make an universal Deluge; and effectually destroy the old World, which perished in it. But we have not yet particularly Evidenced this dissolution, and in what manner the Deluge followed upon it: And to assert things in gross never makes that firm impression upon our understandings, and upon our belief, as to see them deduced with their causes and circumstances; And therefore we must endeavour to shew what preparations there were in Nature for this great dissolution, and after what manner it came to pass, and the Deluge in consequence of it.

We have noted before, that Mosesimputed the Deluge to the disruption of the Abysse; and St. Peter, to the particular constitution of that Earth, which made it obnoxious to be absorpt in Water, so as our explication so far is justified. But it was below the dignity of those Sacred Pen-men, or the Spirit of God that directed them, to shew us the causes of this disruption, or of this absorption; this is left to the enquiries of men. For it was never the design of Providence, to give such particular explications of Natural things, that should make us idle, or the use of Reason unnecessary; but on the contrary, by delivering great conclusions to us, to excite our curiosity and inquisitiveness after the methods, by which such things were brought to pass: And it may be there is no greater trial or instance of Natural wisdom, than to find out the Chanel, in which these great revolutions of Nature, which we treat on, flow and succeed one another.

Let us therefore resume that System of the Ante-diluvian Earth, which we have deduced from the Chaos, and which we find to answer St. Peter's description, and Moseshis account of the Deluge. This Earth could not be obnoxious to a Deluge, as the Apostle supposeth it to have been, but by a dissolution; for the Abysse was enclosed within its bowels. And Moses doth in effect tell us, there was such a dissolution, when he saith, The fountains of the great Abysse were broken open. For fountains are broken open no otherwise than by breaking up the ground that covers them: We must therefore here enquire in what order, and from what causes the frame of this exteriour Earth was dissolved, and then we shall soon see how, upon that dissolution, the Deluge immediately prevailed and overflowed all the parts of it.

I do not think it in the power of humane wit to determine how long this frame would stand, how many Years, or how many Ages; but one would soon imagine, that this kind of structure would not be perpetual, nor last indeed many thousands of Years, if one consider the effect that the heat of the Sun would have upon it, and the Waters under it; drying and parching the one, and rarifying the other into vapours. For we must consider, that the course of the Sun at that time, or the posture of the Earth to the Sun, was such, that there was no diversity or alternation of seasons in the Year, as there is now; by reason of which alternation, our Earth is kept in an equality of temper, the contrary seasons balancing one another; so as what moisture the heat of the Summer sucks out of the Earth, tis repaid in the Rains of the next Winter; and what chaps were made in it, are filled up again, and the Earth reduced to its former constitution. But if we should imagine a continual Summer, the Earth would proceed in driness still more and more, and the cracks would be wider and pierce deeper into the substance of it: And such a continual Summer there was, at least an equality of seasons in the Ante-diluvian Earth, as shall be Evidenced in the following Book, concerning Paradise. In the mean time this being supposed, let us consider what effect it would have upon this Arch of the exteriour Earth, and the Waters under it.

We cannot believe, but that the heat of the Sun, within the space of some hundreds of years, would have reduced this Earth to a considerable degree of driness in certain parts; and also have much rarified and exhaled the Waters under it: And considering the structure of that Globe, the exteriour crust, and the Waters lying round under it, both exposed to the Sun, we may fitly compare it to an lipile, or an hollow Sphere with Water in it, which the heat of the Fire rarifies and turns into Vapours and Wind. The Sun here is as the Fire, and the exteriour Earth is as the Shell of the lipile, and the Abysse as the Water within it; now when the heat of the Sun had pierced through the Shell and reacht the Waters, it began to rarifie them, and raise them into Vapours; which rare-faction made them require more space and room than they needed before, while they lay close and quiet. And finding themselves pened in by the exteriour Earth, they pressed with violence against that Arch, to make it yield and give way to their dilatation and eruption. So we see all Vapours and Exhalations enclosed within the Earth, and agitated there, strive to break out, and often shake the ground with their attempts to get loose. And in the comparison we used of anlipile, if the mouth of it be stopt that gives the vent, the Water rarified will burst the Vessel with its force. And the resemblance of the Earth to an Egg, which we used before, holds also in this respect; for when it heats before the Fire, the moisture and Air within being rarified, makes it often burst the Shell. And I do the more willingly mention this last comparison, because I observe that some of the Ancients, when they speak of the doctrine of the Mundane Egg, say, that after a certain period of time it was broken.

But there is yet another thing to be considered in this case; for as the heat of the Sun gave force to these Vapours more and more, and made them more strong and violent; so on the other hand, it also weakened more and more the Arch of the Earth, that was to resist them; sucking out the moisture that was the cement of its parts, drying it immoderately, and chapping it in sundry places. And there being no Winter then to close up and unite its parts, and restore the Earth to its former strength and compactness, it grew more and more disposed to a dissolution. And at length, these preparations in Nature being made on either side, the force of the Vapours increased, and the walls weakened, which should have kept them in, when the appointed time was come, that All-wise Providence had designed for the punishment of a sinful World, the whole fabrick brake, and the frame of the Earth was torn in pieces, as by an Earthquake; and those great portions or fragments, into which it was divided, fell down into the Abysse, some in one posture, and some in another.

This is a short and general account how we may conceive the dissolution of the first Earth, and an universal Deluge arising upon it. And this manner of dissolution hath so many examples in Nature every Age, that we need not insist farther upon the Explication of it. The generality of Earthquakes arise from like causes, and often end in a like effect, a partial Deluge, or Inundation of the place or Country where they happen; and of these we have seen some instances even in our own times: But whensoever it so happens, that the Vapours and Exhalations shut up in the caverns of the Earth, by rarefaction or compression come to be straitned, they strive every way to set themselves at liberty, and often break their prison, or the cover of the Earth that kept them in; which Earth upon that disruption falls into the Subterraneous Caverns that lie under it: And if it so happens that those Caverns are full of Water, as generally they are, if they be great or deep, that City or tract of Land is drowned. And also the fall of such a mass of Earth, with its weight and bulk, doth often force out the Water so impetuously, as to throw it upon all the Country round about. There are innumerable examples in History (whereof we shall mention some hereafter) of Cities and Countries thus swallowed up, or overflowed, by an Earthquake, and an Inundation arising upon it. And according to the manner of their fall or ruine, they either remained wholly under water, and perpetually drowned, as Sodomand Gomorrha, Plato's Atlantis, Buraand Helice, and other Cities and Regions in Greece and Asia; or they partly emerged, and became dry Land again; when (their situation being pretty high) the Waters, after their violent agitation was abated, retied into the lower places, and into their Chanels.

Now if we compare these partial dissolutions of the Earth with an universal dissolution, we may as easily conceive an universal Deluge from an universal Dissolution, as a partial Deluge from a partial Dissolution. If we can conceive a City, a Country, an Island, a Continent thus absorpt and overflown; if we do but enlarge our thought and imagination a little, we may conceive it as well of the whole Earth. And it seems strange to me, that none of the Ancients should hit upon this way of explaining the universal Deluge; there being such frequent instances in all Ages and Countries of Inundations made in this manner, and never of any great Inundation made otherwise, unless in maritim Countries, by the irruption of the Sea into grounds that lie low. Tis true, they would not so easily imagine this Dissolution, because they did not understand the true form of the Antediluvian Earth; but, methinks, the examination of the Deluge should have led them to the discovery of that: For observing the difficulty, or impossibility of an universal Deluge, without the Dissolution of the Earth; as also frequent instances of these Dissolutions accompanied with Deluges, where the ground was hollow, and had Subterraneous Waters; this, methinks, should have prompted them to imagine, that those Subterraneous Waters were universal at that time, or extended quite round the Earth; so as a dissolution of the exteriour Earth could not be made any where, but it would fall into Waters, and be more or less overflowed. And when they had once reacht this thought, they might conclude both what the form of the Ante-diluvian Earth was, and that the Deluge came to pass by the dissolution of it. But we reason with ease about the finding out of things, when they are once found out; and there is but a thin paper-wall sometimes between the great discoveries and a perfect ignorance of them. Let us proceed now to consider, whether this supposition will answer all the conditions of an universal Deluge, and supply all the defects which we found in other Explications.

The great difficulty proposed, was to find Water sufficient to make an universal Deluge, reaching to the tops of the Mountains; and yet that this Water should be transient, and after some time should so return into its Chanels, that the dry Land would appear, and the Earth become again habitable. There was that double impossibility in the common opinion, that the quantity of water necessary for such a Deluge was no where to be found, or could no way be brought upon the Earth; and then if it was brought, could no way be removed again. Our explication quite takes off the edge of this Objection; for, performing the same effect with a far less quantity of Water, tis both easie to be found, and easily removed when the work is done. When the exteriour Earth was broke, and fell into the Abysse, a good part of it was covered with water by the meer depth of the Abysse it fell into, and those parts of it that were higher than the Abysse was deep, and consequently would stand above it in a calm water, were notwithstanding reacht and overtoped by the waves, during the agitation and violent commotion of the Abysse. For it is not imaginable what the commotion of the Abysse would be upon this dissolution of the Earth, nor to what height its waves would be thrown, when those prodigious fragments were tumbled down into it. Suppose a stone of ten thousand weight taken up into the Air a mile or two, and then let fall into the middle of the Ocean, I do not believe but that the dashing of the water upon that impression, would rise as high as a Mountain. But suppose a mighty Rock or heap of Rocks to fall from that height, or a great Island, or a Continent; these would expel the waters out of their places, with such a force and violence, as to fling them among the highest Clouds.

Tis incredible to what height sometimes great Stones and Cinders will be thrown, at the eruptions of fiery Mountains; and the pressure of a great mass of Earth falling into the Abysse, though it be a force of another kind, could not but impel the water with so much strength, as would carry it up to a great height in the Air; and to the top of any thing that lay in its way, any eminency, or high fragment whatsoever: And then rowling back again, it would sweep down with it whatsoever it rusht upon, Woods, Buildings, living Creatures, and carry them all headlong into the great gulf. Sometimes a mass of water would be quite struck off and separate from the rest, and tost through the Air like a flying River; but the common motion of the waves was to climb up the hills, or inclined fragments, and then return into the valleys and deeps again, with a perpetual fluctuation going and coming, ascending and descending, till the violence of them being spent by degrees, they setled at last in the places allotted for them; where bounds are set that they cannot pass over, that they return not again to cover the Earth.

Neither is it to be wondered, that the great Tumult of the waters, and the extremity of the Deluge lasted for some months; for besides, that the first shock and commotion of the Abysse was extremely violent, from the general fall of the Earth, there were ever and anon some secondary ruines; or some parts of the great ruine, that were not well setled, broke again, and made new commotions: And twas a considerable time before the great fragments that fell, and their lesser dependencies could be so adjusted and fitted, as to rest in a firm and immoveable posture: For the props and stays whereby they leaned one upon another, or upon the bottom of the Abysse, often failed, either by the incumbent weight, or the violent impulses of the water against them; and so renewed, or continued the disorder and confusion of the Abysse. Besides, we are to observe, that these great fragments falling hollow, they inclosed and bore down with them under their concave surface a great deal of Air; and while the water compassed these fragments, and overflowed them, the Air could not readily get out of those prisons, but by degrees, as the Earth and Water above would give way; so as this would also hinder the settlement of the Abysse, and the retiring of the Water into those Subterraneous Chanels, for some time. But at length, when this Air had found a vent, and left its place to the Water, and the ruines, both primary and secondary, were setled and fixt, then the Waters of the Abysse began to settle too, and the dry Land to appear; first the tops of the Mountains, then the high Grounds, then the Plains and the rest of the Earth. And this gradual subsidency of the Abysse (which Moses also hath particularly noted) and discovery of the several parts of the Earth, would also take up a considerable time.

Thus a new World appeared, or the Earth put on its new form, and became divided into Sea and Land; and the Abysse, which from several Ages, even from the beginning of the World, had lain hid in the womb of the Earth, was brought to light and discovered; the greatest part of it constituting our present Ocean, and the rest filling the lower cavities of the Earth: Upon the Land appeared the Mountains and the Hills, and the Islands in the Sea, and the Rocks upon the shore. And so the Divine Providence, having prepared Nature for so great a change, at one stroke dissolved the frame of the old World, and made us a new one out of its ruines, which we now inhabit since the Deluge. All which things being thus explained, deduced, and stated, we now add and pronounce our Third and last Proposition; That the disruption of the Abysse, or dissolution of the primal Earth and its fall into the Abysse, was the cause of the Universal Deluge, and of the destruction of the old World.


64:2 As at the aperturea. a.


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