Noah was the tenth of the pre-flood (antediluvian) Patriarchs. His father was Lamech and his mother is not named in the biblical accounts. When Noah was five hundred years old, he became the father of Shem, Hamand Japheth (Genesis 5:32).
Genesis flood narrative
The Genesis flood narrative makes up chapters 6–9 in the Book of Genesis, in the Bible. The narrative, one of many flood myths found in human cultures, indicates that God intended to return the Earth to its pre-Creation state of watery chaos by flooding the Earth because of humanity’s misdeeds and then remake it using the microcosm of Noah’s ark. Thus, the flood was no ordinary overflow but a reversal of Creation. The narrative discusses the evil of mankind that moved God to destroy the world by the way of the flood, the preparation of the ark for certain animals, Noah, and his family, and God’s guarantee (the Noahic Covenant) for the continued existence of life under the promise that he would never send another flood.
After the flood
After the flood, Noah offered burnt offerings to God, who said: “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done” (8:20–21).
“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (9:1). They were also told that all fowls, land animals, and fishes would be afraid of them. Furthermore, as well as green plants, every moving thing would be their food with the exception that the blood was not to be eaten. Man’s life blood would be required from the beasts and from man. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (9:6). A rainbow, called “my bow”, was given as the sign of a covenant “between me and you and every living creature that [is] with you, for perpetual generations” (9:2–17), called the Noahic covenant or the rainbow covenant.
Noah died 350 years after the flood, at the age of 950, the last of the extremely long-lived Antediluvian patriarchs. The maximum human lifespan, as depicted by the Bible, gradually diminishes thereafter, from almost 1,000 years to the 120 years of Moses.
Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, also excused Noah by noting that one can drink in two different manners: (1) to drink wine in excess, a peculiar sin to the vicious evil man or (2) to partake of wine as the wise man, Noah being the latter.
In Jewish tradition and rabbinic literature on Noah, rabbis blame Satan for the intoxicating properties of the wine.
Curse of Ham
Other commentaries mention that seeing someone’s nakedness could mean having sex with that person as seen in Leviticus 18:7-8 and Leviticus 20:11.
Table of nations
Genesis 10 sets forth the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, from whom the nations branched out over the earth after the flood. Among Japheth’s descendants were the maritime nations. (10:2–5) Ham’s son Cush had a son named Nimrod, who became the first man of might on earth, a mighty hunter, king in Babylon and the land of Shinar. (10:6–10) From there Asshur went and built Nineveh. (10:11–12) Canaan’s descendants – Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites – spread out from Sidon as far as Gerar, near Gaza, and as far as Sodom and Gomorrah. (10:15–19) Among Shem’s descendants was Eber. (10:21)
These genealogies differ structurally from those set out in Genesis 5 and 11. It has a segmented or treelike structure, going from one father to many offspring. It is strange that the table, which assumes that the population is distributed about the Earth, precedes the account of the Tower of Babel, which says that all the population is in one place before it is dispersed.
According to the documentary hypothesis, the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch/Torah), including Genesis, were collated during the 5th century BC from four main sources, which themselves date from no earlier than the 10th century BC. Two of these, the Jahwist, composed in the 10th century BC, and the Priestly source, from the late 7th century BC, make up the chapters of Genesis which concern Noah. The attempt by the 5th-century editor to accommodate two independent and sometimes conflicting sources accounts for the confusion over such matters as how many of each animal Noah took, and how long the flood lasted.
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible notes that this story echoes parts of the Garden of Eden story: Noah is the first vintner, while Adam is the first farmer; both have problems with their produce; both stories involve nakedness; and both involve a division between brothers leading to a curse. However, after the flood, the stories differ. Noah plants the vineyard and utters the curse, not God, so “God is less involved”.
Noah appears in several non-canonical books.
The Book of Jubilees refers to Noah and says that he was taught the arts of healing by an angel so that his children could overcome “the offspring of the Watchers”.
In 10:1–3 of the Book of Enoch (which is part of the Orthodox Tewahedo biblical canon), Uriel was dispatched by “the Most High” to inform Noah of the approaching “deluge”.
Dead Sea scrolls
Indian and Greek flood-myths also exist, although there is little evidence that they were derived from the Mesopotamian flood-myth that underlies the biblical account.
The earliest written flood myth is found in the Mesopotamian Epic of Atrahasis and Epic of Gilgamesh texts. The Encyclopædia Britannica says “These mythologies are the source of such features of the biblical Flood story as the building and provisioning of the ark, its flotation, and the subsidence of the waters, as well as the part played by the human protagonist.” The Encyclopedia Judaica adds that there is a strong suggestion that “an intermediate agent was active. The people most likely to have fulfilled this role are the Hurrians, whose territory included the city of Haran, where the Patriarch Abraham had his roots. The Hurrians inherited the Flood story from Babylonia”. The encyclopedia mentions another similarity between the stories: Noah is the tenth patriarch and Berossus notes that “the hero of the great flood was Babylonia’s tenth antediluvian king.” However, there is a discrepancy in the ages of the heroes. For the Mesopotamian antecedents, “the reigns of the antediluvian kings range from 18,600 to nearly 65,000 years.” In the Bible, the lifespans “fall far short of the briefest reign mentioned in the related Mesopotamian texts.” Also, the name of the hero differs between the traditions: “The earliest Mesopotamian flood account, written in the Sumerian language, calls the deluge hero Ziusudra.”
Gilgamesh’s historical reign is believed to have been approximately 2700 BC, shortly before the earliest known written stories. The discovery of artifacts associated with Aga and Enmebaragesi of Kish, two other kings named in the stories, has lent credibility to the historical existence of Gilgamesh.
The earliest Sumerian Gilgamesh poems date from as early as the Third dynasty of Ur (2100–2000 BC). One of these poems mentions Gilgamesh’s journey to meet the flood hero, as well as a short version of the flood story. The earliest Akkadian versions of the unified epic are dated to ca. 2000–1500 BC. Due to the fragmentary nature of these Old Babylonian versions, it is unclear whether they included an expanded account of the flood myth; although one fragment definitely includes the story of Gilgamesh’s journey to meet Utnapishtim. The “standard” Akkadian version included a long version of the flood story and was edited by Sin-liqe-unninni sometime between 1300 and 1000 BC.
Noah has often been compared to Deucalion, the son of Prometheus and Pronoia in Greek mythology. Like Noah, Deucalion is warned of the flood (by Zeus and Poseidon); he builds an ark and staffs it with creatures – and when he completes his voyage, gives thanks and takes advice from the gods on how to repopulate the Earth. Deucalion also sends a pigeon to find out about the situation of the world and the bird returns with an olive branch. Deucalion, in some versions of the myth, also becomes the inventor of wine, like Noah. Philo and Justin equate Deucalion with Noah, and Josephus used the story of Deucalion as evidence that the flood actually occurred and that, therefore, Noah existed.
A story involving Lord Vishnu and King Manu is found in the Hindu chronicle Matsya Purana. Lord Vishnu in his ‘matsya’ (fish) avatar ordered the virtuous king Manu to construct a huge boat with animal and plant specimens of all forms, to escape the Great Deluge, and finally when the water receded,the great boat was found atop the Malaya Mountains. Encyclopædia Britannica notes that “Manu combines the characteristics of the Hebrew Bible figures of Noah, who preserved life from extinction in a great flood, and Adam, the first man”, which view is reflected in several other works. Indologist David Dean Shulman writes that borrowing between the myths of Manu and Noah “cannot be ruled out”. For Krishna Mohan Banerjee, the names “Noah” and “Manu” “had the same etymological root: ‘Manu’ must have been the Indo-Aryan ideal of Noah.” Philologist and founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, William Jones, “identifies Manu with Noah”, along with whom, “the seven sages can be identified with the eight people aboard the Ark.” Furthermore, researcher Klaus Klostermaier reports a Muslim writer who “identifies Brahma with Abraham …. and Manu with Noah.” Others, however, would say that “the story is thoroughly Indian” and the “boat is not the equivalent of Noah’s Ark, though it is still the symbol of salvation” According to Purana Manu’s story occur before 28 chaturyuga in the present Manvantara which is the 7th Manvantara. This amounts to 120 million years ago.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “The Book of Genesis contains two accounts of Noah.” In the first, Noah is the hero of the flood, and in the second, he is the father of mankind and a husbandman who planted the first vineyard. “The disparity of character between these two narratives has caused some critics to insist that the subject of the latter account was not the same as the subject of the former.” Perhaps the original name of the hero of the flood was actually Enoch.
The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that Noah’s drunkenness is not presented as reprehensible behavior. Rather, “It is clear that … Noah’s venture into viticulture provides the setting for the castigation of Israel’s Canaanite neighbors.” It was Ham who committed an offense when he viewed his father’s nakedness. Yet, “Noah’s curse, …is strangely aimed at Canaan rather than the disrespectful Ham.” (p. 288)
The First Epistle of Peter compares the saving power of baptism with the Ark saving those who were in it. In later Christian thought, the Ark came to be compared to the Church: salvation was to be found only within Christ and his Lordship, as in Noah’s time it had been found only within the Ark. St Augustine of Hippo (354–430), demonstrated in The City of God that the dimensions of the Ark corresponded to the dimensions of the human body, which corresponds to the body of Christ; the equation of Ark and Church is still found in the Anglican rite of baptism, which asks God, “who of thy great mercy didst save Noah,” to receive into the Church the infant about to be baptised.
In medieval Christianity, Noah’s three sons were generally considered as the founders of the populations of the three known continents, Japheth/Europe, Shem/Asia, and Ham/Africa, although a rarer variation held that they represented the three classes of medieval society – the priests (Shem), the warriors (Japheth), and the peasants (Ham). In medieval Christian thought, Ham was considered to be the ancestor of the people of black Africa. So, in racialist arguments, the curse of Ham became a justification for the slavery of the black races.
Isaac Newton, in his religious works on the development of religion, wrote about Noah and his offspring. In Newton’s view, while Noah was a monotheist, the gods of pagan antiquity are identified with Noah and his descendants.
In Mormon theology, Noah plays an important role, prior to his birth, as the angel Gabriel, and then lived in his mortal life as the patriarch-prophet Noah. Gabriel and Noah are regarded as the same individual under different names. Mormons also believe that Noah returned to earth as Gabriel after his earthly life and appeared to Daniel to teach him about the Second Coming; to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist; and to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Noah is considered the head of a dispensation along with Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Joseph Smith. A dispensation is a period of time in which the Lord has at least one authorized servant on earth who bears the keys of the holy priesthood. Noah became the means by which the gospel of Jesus Christ— the plan of salvation —is revealed anew, the means by which divine transforming powers, including saving covenants and ordinances, are extended to people during an age of time called a dispensation.
Noah’s narratives largely cover his preaching as well the story of the Deluge. Noah’s narrative sets the prototype for many of the subsequent prophetic stories, which begin with the prophet warning his people and then the community rejecting the message and facing a punishment.
Noah has several titles in Islam, based primarily on praise for him in the Qur’an, including “True Messenger of God” (XXVI: 107) and “Grateful Servant of God” (XVII: 3).
The Qur’an focuses on several instances from Noah’s life more than others, and one of the most significant events is the Flood. God makes a covenant with Noah just as he did with Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad later on (33:7). Noah is later reviled by his people and reproached by them for being a mere human messenger and not an angel (10:72–74). Moreover, the people mock Noah’s words and call him a liar (7:62), and they even suggest that Noah is possessed by a devil when the prophet ceases to preach (54:9). Only the lowest in the community join Noah in believing in God’s message (11:29), and Noah’s narrative further describes him preaching both in private and public. Noah prays to God, “Lord, leave not one single family of Infidels from the land: / For if thou leave them they will beguile thy servants and will beget only sinners, infidels.”[dead link] The Qur’an narrates that Noah received a revelation to build an Ark, after his people refused to believe in his message and hear the warning. The narrative goes on to describe that waters poured forth from the Heavens, destroying all the sinners. Even one of his sons disbelieved him, stayed behind, and was drowned. After the Flood ended, the Ark rested atop Mount Judi (Quran 11:44).
Quran 29:14 states that Noah had been living among the people who he was sent to for 950 years when the flood started.
And, indeed, [in times long past] We sent forth Noah unto his people, and he dwelt among them a thousand years bar fifty; and then the floods overwhelmed them while they were still lost in evildoing.
According to the Ahmadiyya understanding of the Quran, the period described in the Quran is the age of his dispensation, which extended until the time of Ibrahim (Abraham, 950 years). The first 50 years were the years of spiritual progress, which were followed by 900 years of spiritual deterioration of the people of Noah.
An important Gnostic text, the Apocryphon of John, reports that the chief archon caused the flood because he desired to destroy the world he had made, but the First Thought informed Noah of the chief archon’s plans, and Noah informed the remainder of humanity. Unlike the account of Genesis, not only are Noah’s family saved, but many others also heed Noah’s call. There is no ark in this account. According to Elaine Pagels, “Rather, they hid in a particular place, not only Noah, but also many other people from the unshakable race. They entered that place and hid in a bright cloud.”
- Hebrew: נוֹחַ or נֹחַ, Modern:Nōaẖ, Tiberian:Nōaḥ; Syriac: ܢܘܚ Nukh; Amharic: ኖህ, Noḥ; نُوح Nūḥ; Ancient Greek: Νῶε
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