*Another Take on the Flood Story in Genesis*
For a long time, the story of the flood in Genesis has been a source of theological problems for most theologians. On the face of it, it essentially shows God getting annoyed with the world, and drowning them en-masse apart from Noah and his family.
I’ve been wrestling with this passage, trying to see what it is that it has to tell us, in light of what we know about God, and what we know about context.
The Story of the Flood seems to run from Genesis Chapter 6, to Genesis 9:19. Genesis 9:20 appears to be the start of another story about Noah, as it speaks of Noah being a “Man of the Land”.
The story speaks of God’s regret at having made mankind (Gen 6:6), but Noah had won God’s favour. Noah was a man who walked with God (Gen 6:9), and was blameless.
God was going to bring the whole human race to an end, for it was corrupt and full of violence. He told his plan to Noah. Noah said…. nothing.
Not a dicky-bird. He remained absolutely quiet. He went meekly as a lamb onto the boat. He didn’t plead with God for the human race.
Which is interesting. Noah was on the boat for 40 days and 40 nights. The first time that number is used in the Bible (but yes, the books are not placed chronologically in the order they were written). That length is the time normally used to designate a time that someone is soul-searching, seeking a deeper meaning, or a deeper understanding of God. At the end of the time, Noah sends out a raven ( A bird traditionally associated with magic, or mystical powers, but I’m not sure that’s relevant here.), however he says nothing. He seems to have learned nothing, and is confined to the boat for a further seven days, and sent a dove (a bird that would later be used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit). This bird comes back, unlike the raven. Yet Noah is still confined to the boat for another seven days, this time the dove comes back with an olive leaf in her beak. He knew then that the water was receding, so finally Noah had learned something, but not something deep and meaningful, and so is confined for a further seven days. (Note: There are two lots of 40 days which puts Noah on the boat for a little over (or under) a year, depending on how you read it, but the point is about the use of the 40 days moniker. )
Noah is then told to come out of the Ark, and Noah builds an alter to the Lord. It is here that the first covenant between God and man is made. God says that as long as the earth lasts, night and day, the seasons and so on will never cease. A fairly obvious statement, really. God also tells Noah to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 9:1), and to fill the earth.
The story also contains the first mention of God referring to humans as evil, in Gen 8:21
This is an interesting verse, and seems to vary depending on your translation.
The NREB says :… “Never again shall I put the earth under a curse because of of mankind, however evil their inclination may be from their youth upwards, nor shall I ever again kill all living creatures as I have just done.
The NRSV Says : …‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.
If you have a look at other parallel translations of this verse at this handy website here : http://bible.cc/genesis/8-21.htm, you’ll notice that in the KJV the word “is” is italicised, normally meaning that the word has been added, or is unclear. As this is the first time that God talks about the evil of men’s hearts, this was instrumental in the building of the definition of Original Sin. However, that is not what I wish to talk about here.
The point I want to make is that, unlike later examples of people who interact with God, Noah says nothing. When it comes to destruction of the city of Sodom and Gamorah, (Gen 18:23 ff), Abraham pleeds for the innocent of the City (though it seems there were none).
If we are, then, all “descended” (in a theological, rather than a factual sense) from Noah, as the story of the flood implies, we are descended from a Man who refused to stand up for the human race, like Abraham did. Is the story of the flood, then, not about, necessarily, the destruction of the human race because of their violence, but about the selfishness of Noah? He made sure he was okay, him and his family, and spared not a single thought for anyone else.
It was to this generation of people that God then address his statement about the evil in men’s hearts. An evil that does not think about others, and does not, during their long voyage aboard a ship, learn anything about God.
Of course, that doesn’t get us off the hook about why God would drown all those people simply because Noah didn’t intercede for them, but it does seem to be a rather interesting take on the story.
There is very little focus, in the story, on those that are drowned, nor does it explain why the animals should suffer for the iniquities of humankind, but then, with most of the stories in the Old Testament, it is not necessarily about the detail, but rather about the message of the story, about the over-arching plot.
This story has many more layers that need to be peeled back, but I think here is a start.
Addendum: : Noah gets on the boat on the first day of his 600th year (Gen 7:6). He apparently teleports off the boat, because he then gets back on it in Gen 7:7. On the 17th day of the Second month, it began to rain (Gen7:11). At this point it rains for 40 days, (Gen 7:17), the waters increased for 150 days (Gen 7:24). God takes pitty on Noah, and gradually the water receedes for 150 days (Gen 8:3). This makes it the seventh day of the seventh month (Gen 8:4), when the ark runs aground on mount Ararat. The waters continue to abate until the 10th Month, and on the first day the tops of the mountains could be seen (Gen 8:5). At this point it is another 40 days before Noah opens the hatch in the ark to send out the Raven. Noah waits seven days before sending out the dove again. He then waits another seven before sending out the dove, and the dove doesn’t come back. So, on the first day of the First month of Noah’s 601st year, the water had dried out. He gets out of the boat on the 27th of day of the second month.
An Ancient Isrealite year is 354 days. By the time you add the 2X150, + 2×40, we’re looking at 380 days. When we had the 14 days for the sending of the birds, that’s 394 days. It doesn’t take much to work out that being as the flood started on the 17th day of the second month, it’s not going to end on the first day of Noah’s 601st year, unless it was a leap year (which adds an extra month to the year, of 30 days), thus making the year 384 days. There is the problem of the extra “rain days” between the end of the 17th day of the month, and the first day of the 10th month, when the waters “continued to abate” (Gen 8:5).