Chapters 1-3 | Chapters 4-9 | Chapters 10-16 | Chapters 17-24 | Chapters 25-35 | Chapters 36-50
Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapters 7-8 | Chapter 9
The fourth chapter of Genesis summarizes the development of human culture before recorded history, by relating stories about ten generations of patriarchs before the Deluge. Tales such as these, memorized in sets of ten, facilitated the preservation of oral histories until the development of written language enabled more systematic and literal records of human history.
Since this portion of Genesis relies on oral tradition, the wording of the text is more likely to be an original composition of the author of Genesis, hence the exclusive use of the revealed divine name "YHVH". It would be a mistake to combine this "Yahwist" narrative with other parts of the Pentateuch that use YHVH in opposition to those parts that use Elohim. Not only would there remain the problem of texts that use "YHVH Elohim", or change from verse to verse, but neither the Yahwist nor Elohist sources would form a coherent document. Since our edition of the Pentateuch was fixed around the time of Ezra, when the Samaritans were thoroughly despised by the Jews, we can safely disregard the higher critical theory that an anti-Judah, northern Israelite perspective (supposedly the Elohist) was willfully incorporated into the Jewish scriptures. While the author of the Pentateuch certainly drew upon several written and oral sources, the work is unified by a single purpose: to expound the religion and law of Moses.
Fuit autem Abel pastor ovium et Cain agricola. (4:2)
Cain and Abel typify one of the oldest cultural divisions among men. Abel keeps flocks, while Cain tills the soil. Cain is the older brother, as his is the more ancient lifestyle.
Factus est autem post multos dies, ut offeret Cain de fructibus terrae munera Domino. Abel quoque obtulit de primogenitis gregis sui et de adipibus eorum. (4:3-4)
The two brothers peacefully coexist for a long time, but a distinction arises among them in the way the make offerings to God. This is a consequence of their different lifestyles. Cain, who did not raise sheep, offers vegetables while Abel slaughters a firstborn of his flock. Note that the consumption of animals is permitted before the Flood, as it is unlikely that flocks were raised only for wool.
...et respexit Dominus ad Abel et ad munera eius; ad Cain vero et ad munera illius non respexit. (4:4-5)
God finds favor with Abel because of his offering, while Cain's offering is spurned. We are not explicitly told why God respects one offering and not the other. It is not, as some suppose, that blood offerings were superior to meal offerings; both were valid forms of sacrifice in primitive religions, as well as in Judaism. It is possible that Cain did not offer the best of his crop, or, as seems more likely given his angry reaction, his heart was not of a sacrificial spirit, but he gave offerings merely in expectation of reward.
Dixitque Dominus ad eum, 'Quare maestus es et cur concidit facies tua? Nonne si bene egeris recipies sin autem male statim in foribus peccatum aderit, sed sub te erit appetitus eius et tu dominaberis illius.' (4:6-7)
God rebukes Cain for being angry and despondent, for those who do well are invariably rewarded. This reward is of a spiritual nature, as evidenced by the inverse statement that those who do not do well are penalized in a spiritual way, namely by being tempted to sin. Cain expected a temporal reward for his sacrifice, and grew angry when he did not receive it. His anger and despair would tempt him to sin, as these passions are channeled into envy of Abel's prosperity. God warns that Cain still has the power to harness his desires and prevent himself from acting sinfully.
Dixitque Cain ad Abel fratrem suum, 'Egrediamur foras," cumque essent in agro. Consurrexit Cain adversus Abel fratrem suum et interfecit eum. (4:8)
Cain commits premeditated murder, deceptively inviting Abel, "Let us go out," without any hint of aggression. The firstborn, the man of the soil, slays his brother the shepherd out of envy.
'Nescio num custus fratris mei sum?' (4:9)
Cain's defiant response has ironically become a proverbial reminder that we are indeed our brothers' keepers. A failure to feel any social obligation or empathy for one's fellow man is at the root of the most horrible crimes.
'Quid fecisti! Vox sanguinis fratri tui clamat ad me de terra.' (4:10)
The full horror of the situation is powerfully expressed here, and we are invited, with Cain, to contemplate the gravity of what has transpired. This violence against divine creation has forever shattered whatever may have remained of natural innocence. Cain now must face divine wrath, which out of love hears the cries of the righteous, and will not let the wicked go unpunished.
'Nunc igitur maledictus eris super terram quae aperuit os suum et suscepit sanguinem fratris tui de manu tua. Cum operatus fueris eam non dabit tibi fructus suos. Vagus et profugus eris super terram.' (4:11-12)
Cain is condemned to a nomadic life and forever denied the fruits of agrarian existence. He is an archetype of nomadic peoples, whose condition is a divine punishment for their crimes of murder and plunder against shepherds and farmers. The "mark of Cain" is evocative of tattoos used by Middle Eastern nomads. Cain's mark is placed by God Himself, that no one may take vengeance upon him. Similar protection is thereby implied for his nomadic descendants, who are not personally responsible for Cain's crime, but are condemned by circumstances of continue this harsh existence.
Cain is exiled to Nod, the "land of nomads", which is "east of Eden", suggesting an origin in eastern Mesopotamia or Iran. The first civilized peoples of the Middle East believed that their nomadic ancestors came from the east. Genesis tells us an early city was founded by nomads and named after Enoch, son of Cain. The name Enoch resembles Enki, god of the ancient city Eridu. As it was common to deify kings in those days, Enki may have been the name of one of the city's founders. Eridu is regarded by many archaeologists to have been the first major city in Mesopotamia, though there were other more modest group settlements that existed earlier. Others have proposed that Uruk was the "city of Enoch", since it was formerly called Unug. However, Uruk is called Erech elsewhere in Genesis, making it unlikely that it is the city of Enoch.
Nothing is known of Irad, Maviahel, and Methusael, the descendants of Enoch. Lamech has two wives, Adah and Sellah, possibly representing the introduction of polygamy. Adah's sons, Jabal and Jubal, are said to be the father of those live in tents and those who play the harp, respectively. In the latter case especially, this does not refer to literal fatherhood, but rather to the origin of a lifestyle or craft. Sellah's son Tubalcain is a metalworker, though he is not said to be the first. His use of iron does not imply a more recent era, as Egyptians made use of the metal as early as 3500 B.C. Cain's descendants provide a thumbnail sketch of the development of differentiated lifestyles and crafts among early civilized peoples.
'Quoniam occidi virum in vulnus meus, et adulescentulum in livorem meum. Septuplum ultio dabitur de Cain, de Lamech vero septuagies septies.' (4:23-24)
Lamech's confession and defense seem intended to transcend his personal circumstances. Just as all of Cain's descendants are protected from vengeance, so Lamech, who is so much less culpable than Cain, merits even greater protection. The "boy for my wound" is a stylistic parallelism, not an admission to a second killing. The broader meaning appears to be that those who kill in war are even less subject to vengeance than nomadic raiders. This interpretation is consistent with later Biblical teachings. The Israelite "wars of vengeance" against other nations were for the sake of expunging sin and idolatry. They did not suppose that ordinary acts of war demanded vengeance.
After this passage, the descendants of Cain receive no further mention anywhere in the Bible. Owing to this abrupt ending and similarities between the names of the descendants of Cain and those of Seth, some textual critics have supposed the genealogies of Seth and Cain to be different versions of a common narrative. While there are too many similarities to be dismissed as coincidence, there are too many strong dissimilarities to make the hypothesis of a common narrative origin credible. We must therefore look for other explanations. The linguistic similarities indicate that the Sethite and Cainite lists were put to writing at about the same time, so dissimilar ancient names were transliterated similarly into Hebrew, which lacks written vowels. Also, this is a selective genealogy, focusing on great men, kings or chieftains, who may have re-used the same names as have most monarchies. Lastly, if the genealogies represent not merely individual men, but their tribes, then it is not inconsistent for the same name to be included in both lineages.
The Cainite lineage is no longer discussed because it is of marginal relevance to the history of salvation. The line of Seth leads to Noah and the Flood, the next event of salvific significance. Biblical commentators have long pondered whether the Cainites survived the Flood, since several of them are said to be fathers of specific classes of people. As this fatherhood is probably figurative, in the sense of being the founder of a certain way of life, it is not required that the Cainites should have survived the Deluge. The similarities of some names suggest that the Cainite and Sethite tribes intermingled at various points in time, in which case we should not speak of them as two absolutely distinct groups of people. The Cainite genealogy outlines the development of early civilization, including its sinful aspects, while the Sethite genealogy focuses on the means by which mankind will be saved.
Sed et Seth natus est filius quem vocavit Enos. Iste coepit invocare nomen Domini. (4:26)
Neither Adam nor Eve (nor Cain, nor Abel) are said to address God by name, not even in their original state of spiritual familiarity with God. By the time of Enosh, it appears, there was a partial return to the knowledge of God, and men invoked God's Name. This cannot mean merely the establishment of religion, as Cain and Abel already offered sacrifices, though it may refer to a more verbalized form of religion, such as prayer. The most common traditional interpretation has been that these early patriarchs invoked God's proper Name, YHVH, which is used in this verse. There is some disputed evidence of this practice among the Eblaites, a Semitic people of the third millenium B.C. who supposedly used the syllable Ya to signify the Deity in lieu of El. This hypothesis is based on the frequency of personal names ending with -ya rather than -el; however, there is no mention of a god named Ya anywhere among the numerous Eblaite inscriptions. It is nonetheless possible that the -ya suffix was a residue from an earlier knowledge of God before the Deluge (Ebla was post-diluvial). At the very least, this verse indicates moving away from simple sacrificial religion to an articulated concept of a named Deity. The salvation of the world would come through those who invoke the Name of God.
Hic est liber generationis Adam. (5:1)
Only Seth's genealogy, not that of Cain, is prefaced as the "generations of Adam", for Seth is Adam's true heir, since salvation will come through his descendants. Thus Seth is born in the "likeness and image" of Adam. His lineage embodies the salvation history of man.
The genealogy begins by recapitulating the creation of Adam and Eve, so that the lineage of man properly begins with God, the Father of all. In apparent analogy with the creation of Adam in God's "likeness and image", Adam begets Seth "in his likeness and image". Not only is the image of God passed to all descendants of Adam, but that image was received from God in an intimate way, as a child receives his traits from a parent.
Ten generations from Adam to Noah are enumerated in a plain genealogy. Some modern critics have argued that this apparent change in style is best explained by use of a separate "Priestly" source concerned with numerical details. While the author of Genesis almost certainly drew upon several sources to compose his work, it is gratuitous to hypothesize that there were several inconsistent narratives compiled into one work. First, as we have noted, none of these supposed individual sources forms anything resembling a complete narrative. Second, it is circular reasoning to isolate numerically exact passages and define them to be the product of a separate numerically exact author. A reader of this commentary will find that my concern for numerical exactitude waxes and wanes depending on the subject I am treating. As we now know, scrupulous bookkeeping dates back to the third millennium B.C., so there is no need to invoke a late Israelite priestly author, as nineteenth-century scholars supposed.
The hypothesis of a "Priestly" source is further refuted by the Babylonian flood narrative, which contains both "Yahwist" and "Priestly" elements of the Biblical Deluge. To preserve their ad hoc theory, higher critics postulate that the story was somehow subdivided and recombined between the Babylonian period and the compilation of Genesis. This is obviously a tortured attempt to preserve a theory that contradicts known facts, and it is ridiculous that anyone should abandon belief in Scriptural inerrancy only to believe in the inerrancy of an arbitrary hypothesis.
Much of the popularity of "higher criticism" comes from a faithless, casual reading of the Bible that reveals apparent inconsistencies or repetitions. One first of all needs faith that there is a solution. Then the inconsistencies will disappear and the repetitions will become intelligible as we obtain a better appreciation of the literary aims and historical background of the document, as we have seen so far. In Genesis 1, there is a simple narrative of the creation of heaven and earth. In Genesis 2-3, there is an allegorical discussion of the origin of sin and man's place in the natural order. Such a discussion necessarily entails a partial recapitulation of the creation, this time using figurative language to bring out spiritual truths. It is therefore unreasonable to expect these chapters to be literally identical with Genesis 1. In Genesis 4, we have an account of Cain and Abel, who is killed, followed by an account of the descendants of Cain. This being completed, we proceed to Adam's third son, Seth, followed by Enosh, to indicate at what point in time men began to call God by name. The next event to be narrated is the time of the Flood, so by way of transition and continuity, a genealogy from Adam to Noah is here included. There is nothing illogical or contradictory with this method of writing, and nothing inconsistent with Mosaic authorship of Genesis. In fact, similar styles have repeatedly been found on Egyptian inscriptions that were certainly composed all at once.
Many modern problems with Biblical texts, as we shall find, are self-created, either by arbitrarily repositioning the order of verses, or by favoring the more corrupted Massoretic text over the Septuagint. I have been following the Vulgate, since it is the most scholarly of the ancient editions, and St. Jerome was a man of unquestionable saintliness and orthodoxy. These latter considerations are little valued by modern critics. Piety unaccompanied by scholarly knowledge is a weak exegetical tool, but both are equally necessary, for those who lack the Holy Spirit will lose faith in Biblical inerrancy over minor difficulties, or, placing inordinate faith in their own abilities, will try to remedy perceived difficulties through their own contrived artifice, rather than exhibit humility before the facts.
The corruption of the Massoretic text is likely the result of such overconfident artifice; it contains corrections of perceived errors which were not errors in the first place. This is evident in the genealogies, where the Massoretic and Samaritan texts systematically reduce some or most of the ages of the patriarchs at the time of the son's birth. The superior accuracy of the Septuagint chronology is evidenced by its correct reckoning of the time from the Flood to Abraham, as we shall see later. St. Jerome's Vulgate is undoubtedly a very holy work and fully adequate for sound religious teaching, but this does not preclude the existence of textual errors that are not material to the faith. Since our concern is literal accuracy, we may on occasion depart from the Vulgate rendering if there is sound reason to do so. I will consistently follow the Septuagint chronology throughout this commentary, not the Massoretic chronology, which the Vulgate sometimes follows. The Church has never declared the Massoretic chronology to be orthodox, as indicated by early Church feasts reckoning the day of Creation from the Septuagint rendering.
In the Septuagint, the ages of the patriarchs at their son's birth are as follows: Adam, 230; Seth, 205; Enosh, 190; Cainan, 170; Mahaliel, 165; Jared, 162; Enoch, 165; Methusaleh, 167; Lamech, 188; Noah, 500. The flood came in the six hundredth year of Noah, giving a total span from Adam to the Flood of 2242 years. To a modern reader, this figure seems terribly small, because of scientific theories postulating a much greater age for the existence of man, on the order of 100,000 years or more. Yet if we put aside our cultural baggage, and think on a human scale, we see that this passage in fact gives a sense of immense antiquity. Consider the length of a year, then of ten years; then you may grasp by extrapolation what a hundred may be like. Yet a millennium is well beyond anything for which we may have a genuine feel. The sense of immensity is also conveyed by the fantastic ages of the patriarchs.
If these numbers refer to actual biological ages of individual men, it is strange that the author makes no attempt to explain these fantastic ages, even though he does explain things which are much less remarkable. Perhaps the author found these numbers to be unworthy of comment; that is, he wrote at a time when the meaning of such numbers was well understood.
In ancient Hebrew, the personal names of individuals are often used interchangeably with the name of their families, clans, or nations. If each name in the list represents a group, we would have to reconcile this interpretation with the narrative's repeated use of the Hebrew word chayah ("to live"), as in, "And X lived Y years". In what sense does a group or tribe "live" for a certain duration of time? Flavius Josephus may give some insight when he speaks of the Flood coming in the six hundredth year of Noah's "government", and of Lamech's "government" or lifespan, lasting 777 years. Might these "lifespans" not refer to the "government" of various tribes or clans? This is highly speculative, since Josephus wrote more than 1300 years after Moses, and it is unlikely that very many idioms were preserved throughout that time. Nonetheless, this idiom existed at some point in antiquity, so it is possible that the ancient Hebrews might have used it, and perhaps even likely, given their effortless transition between references to individuals and clans.
Several aspects of the text indicate that this is an extremely ancient chronology. There are precisely ten patriarchs, and keepers of oral histories often memorized things in sets of ten so nothing would be added or omitted subsequently. The ages are exact numbers in most cases, with few instances of rounding. The lifespan of Lamech, 777, might be construed to signify fullness of years, but most of the numbers have no discernible meaning other than what a literal rendering might provide.
No modern discussion of the antediluvian Patriarchs is complete without some comparison with the Sumerian and Babylonian antediluvian king lists. Many commentators have suggested some sort of dependence of the Biblical genealogy on the Sumerian and Babylonian lists. Some theorists have concocted elaborate schemes by which numbers may have been mistranslated from one language to the next. These hypotheses have several problems, as can be identified by a comparison of the lists of names and ages.
|Hebrew Patriarchs||Sumerian King List||Babylonian King List|
First, it is important to realize that even the earliest of these texts, the Sumerian (c. 2100 B.C.), was written about a thousand years after the Flood, so it is dangerous to prefer its authority on account of age. It is conceivable that the Babylonian list, though written more than 1500 years after the Sumerian list, could be based on a more accurate tradition.
There are glaring differences between the Sumerian and Babylonian tables; the latter has an additional king, presumably Almelon. The other king names have linguistic similarities, but there is no neat correlation that can be drawn between the two sets of ages; in other words, neither set of ages is derived from the other except perhaps by a multiplicity of errors.
Some have suggeseted that an earlier Sumerian source (now lost) was misread numerically, accidentally multiplying all ages by a factor of 3600. This hypothesis fails, since the Sumerian king list contains several numbers that are not divisible by 3600, and there is no evidence that Sumerians measured reigns in sixths of years. There is nothing remarkable about many of the Sumerian numbers being divisible by 3600. Since they used a base-60 system, rounding to the nearest 3600 is somewhat analogous to our rounding to the nearest hundred or thousand. All of the Babylonian numbers are divisible by 3600, suggesting Sumerian origin. If we did arbitrarily reduce all the numbers by a factor of 3600, many of the reigns would be implausibly brief. It is simple to calculate that a reduction of the Babylonian numbers results in 120 years of antediluvian reign, Xisuthros inclusive, and the Sumerian becomes 67 years, much too small to be plausible. We should note that the Hebrew numbers are not derivable from either of the other two sets, so it is useless to invoke this mistranslation theory to explain the longevity of the patriarchs.
Some commentators have tried to equate Enoch with Enmendur-Anna, the seventh Sumerian king. Enmendur-Anna was received directly into the assembly of gods for the purpose of learning divination, astrology and mathematics, which he taught when he returned to earth. Enoch is the seventh Biblical Patriarch, who was received directly into Heaven, but he did not come back. Furthermore, while Enmendur-Anna is the seventh king out of nine, Enoch is the seventh Patriarch out of ten. Enoch's Babylonian counterpart, if any, would be Eudoranachos, whose Sumerian counterpart is Ensipazi-Anna, the sixth on the list. Advocates of the Enoch-Enmendur-Anna equation may point to the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which attributes the discovery of astrology to the patriarch. However, the Book of Enoch was written in the first century B.C., and no one can seriously suggest that an authentic tradition of Sumerian mythology was preserved in a work so late in origin. The Book of Enoch does demonstrate how purely accidental similarities can arise, and illustrates the dangers of making facile correlations between different narrative traditions.
It is abundantly clear that there is no direct linguistic or numerical derivation of the Hebrew Patriarchs from the Babylonian and Sumerian kings. The only similarities are that there are ten of them, they were long-lived, and they lived before a great flood. The first coincidence is imperfect, for the Sumerian list has only nine, and the number ten is simply a common characteristic of the genre, as oral historians tended to memorize names in groups of ten. The shared longevity of kings and Patriarchs seems less accidental. If not an accident, this would support the interpretation that the ages of the Patriarchs refer to dynastic reigns of tribal or clan leaders. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the Patriarchs represent the same clans or kings referred to by the Sumerian list, for each culture may keep its own history with its own specific content, though using a common style. The fact that these lists all describe an antediluvian period may be explained by the common Mesopotamian tradition that times before the Flood were prehistoric or protohistoric. Antediluvian history is necessarily preserved by oral tradition, since written records were presumably lost.
The false correlation between the Sumerian kings and the Biblical patriarchs is derived in part from the similarities between the Biblical Deluge and Babylonian flood legends. Even if both traditions do in fact refer to the same Flood, it does not follow that the king lists refer to the same people as the Biblical Patriarchs. The Deluge, by all accounts, was a wide-reaching event, so different peoples would have different pre-histories. The Bablyonian and Sumerian flood legends have many specific points of congruence with the Biblical narrative, from which we can reasonably surmise that these traditions all describe the same Flood. It is less clear that the Sumerian chronology is correct in dating the flood to the transition of power from Shuruppak to Kish, which is believed to have been around 2900 B.C. Even granting that supposition, it does not follow that Ziusudra is the historical Noah, much less that all the Patriarchs correspond to the Sumerian antediluvian kings.
The Septuagint version of Genesis agrees with the Sumerian dating of the Flood in 2900 B.C. If we follow modern scholarship in assuming the Hebrews entered Egypt during the Hyksos invasion c. 1660 B.C., then the Septuagint chronology gives a Flood date of c. 3022 B.C. As we will discuss later, some scholars believe Cainan should be omitted from the genealogy from Noah to Abraham, as this appears to have been a late insertion. If we omit Cainan, the date of the Deluge would become c. 2892 B.C.
Despite this close chronological agreement, there remain difficulties in equating the 2900 B.C. Mesopotamian flood with the cataclysms described in the Bible and the Sumerian flood legends. The inundation of 2900 B.C. was moderate by Mesopotamian standards, so it is unlikely that this event could have left such a profound fear of the gods and need for reassurance that this calamity would never be repeated, as the flood legends express.
A much more likely candidate for the great Deluge would be the cataclysmic flood that inundated all of Mesopotamia c. 3500 B.C., demolishing all the major cities, and keeping them underwater for as long as a year in some cases. Most of these cities would have been spared in the 2900 B.C. flood, as by then they had been built up on mounds of previous settlements. In 3500 B.C., Mesopotamia was inhabited by the Ubaids, whose descendants spanned northern, southern and western Mesopotamia, so each of these regions may have preserved distinct flood legends. In this interpretation, the Babylonian and Sumerian flood legends preserved flood story elements that pertained to their regions, while the Biblical narrative is concerned with the western Mesopotamian tradition.
In particular, it is unlikely that the king Ziusudra of the Sumerian legend is the original Noah of the Biblical Deluge. In the development of legends, characters are gradually embellished and enhanced in stature, not demoted. The Hebrew and Babylonian tradtions describe the man who survived the flood as a simple man of the earth, not a king, so it is likely that they are more accurate than the Sumerian legend on this point. The Sumerians may have simply identified the name of some late predynastic ruler with a person of more ancient renown and humbler origin.
The real Noah was not the late predynastic king of Sumerian legend, but someone who lived 600 years before the last of the great inundations in 2900 B.C. This may be the significance of Noah's Biblical age of 600 years. The original cataclysmic Deluge of Noah was c. 3622 B.C. (or 3492 B.C. if Cainan is omitted), though lesser major floods continued until 2900 B.C. The extent of the Flood and other details will be discussed in due course.
Seeing that the chronology from Noah to Abraham does correspond to historical reality, we might expect a similar result for antediluvian chronology, which is written in the same style, and also based on oral tradition. The genealogy from Adam to Noah gives a starting date of c. 5264 B.C. (or 5134 B.C. without Cainan). What is the significance of this date?
A strictly literal interpretation would mean that the creation of man is to be dated around 5200-5100 B.C. Not only does this contradict the findings of physical anthropology, but such a recent origin could scarcely account for the geographical dispersion and racial disparity of humans, which has been relatively constant throughout recorded history. We cannot resolve these contradictions without invoking some colossal miracle unmentioned in Scripture.
If the date does not refer to the creation of man, neither can it refer to man's fall from grace, since Genesis plainly affirms that this occurred at the dawn of humanity.
One possibility is that the Biblical chronology begins when social divisions among men first appeared. This would account for the depiction of Cain and Abel as already knowing agriculture, which is believed by many to be a relatively recent development. However, this hypothesis is based on little more than absence of evidence to the contrary.
Another possibility is that the date reflects the incursion of the Ubaids into Mesopotamia from the north after the cataclysm which created the Black Sea (c. 5500 B.C.) forced the dispersion of prehistoric peoples.
Our knowledge of prehistory is much too murky to presume to have a satisfactory answer to this question. Yet given our understanding of subsequent Biblical chronology, it would be foolish to assume that the starting date has no meaning. It could simply be a measure of how long man has kept count of the years. That he did so in prehistoric times is almost certain, given the existence of astronomy in the earliest recorded ages. Thus the chronology used in Genesis 5 would simply be a reference to Adam's position at the beginning of human history.
The genealogy from Adam to Noah is followed by a description of the corruption of the world through humanity, resulting in God's condemnation in the form of a great flood.
Cumque coepissent homines multiplicari super terram et filias procreassent, videntes filii Dei filias eorum quod essent pulchrae. Acceperunt uxores sibi ex omnibus quas elegerant. (6:1-2)
Before the world is corrupted by man, humans are corrupted by "sons of God". The first four verses of Genesis 6 are not a late insertion, as some suppose, but are in fact essential to the Flood narrative. The whole reason for the Flood was that "the Lord saw how great was man's wickedness on earth." (6:5) If we were to omit the first four verses, the nature of this wickedness, the very reason for the Flood, would go totally unexplained. These verses are essential to understanding why God decided to destroy the whole world.
The image of "sons of God" mating with "daughters of the earth" appears grotesque and repulsive. Indeed, the sins of man would have to be especially grievous for Providence to contemplate mankind's destruction, so we should not be surprised by the extraordinary nature of the sin described. Many creative interpretations of the "sons of God" have been proposed, but the inescapable meaning of the term is "angels", as tradition continuously affirms. It is not a colorful expression for "men", as evidenced by the contrast between "sons of God" and "daughters of man". (6:4) We know from both revelation and reason that angels are beings of pure spirit. What does it mean for a purely spiritual being to take a mortal woman as his wife?
God regards these actions as wicked, so these must be fallen angels, as St. Thomas proved that an angel's decision to sin is irrevocable. Since offspring result from these unions (6:4), a real carnal sin was committed. St. Thomas also showed that angels are incapable of carnal sin, since they have no carnal appetites, but they may incur guilt by inducing man to commit carnal sin out of envy of man's goodness. We may assume that the angels used men as their agents in perpetrating these violations of women. These verses may allude to some of the grotesque pagan fertility cults that existed before the Flood but vanished by 3000 B.C.
Dixitque Deus, 'Non permanebit spiritus meus in homine in aeternum, quia caro est; eruntque dies illius centum viginti annorum.' (6:3)
This verse is a direct response to the sin that has transpired. Here, "spirit" means "breath of life", as in the Creation narrative. Man will not live forever, "for he is flesh", just as Adam was told he would die, "for you are dust". (3:19) Neither "for he is flesh" nor "for you are dust" means that man's material composition is the cause of his mortality (for he originally held the prospect of eternal life), but rather his sinful carnal appetites are the cause of death. This reminder is quite apt here, given the carnal nature of the sins committed. Men, not angels, were the physical perpetrators of these crimes, so God passes judgment on men.
God's judgment is that man's days are limited to 120 years. Some interpreters have seen this as the imposition of a shorter maximum lifespan. This interpretation is contradicted by the longevity of the patriarchs after Noah. This entire passage is but a prelude to the Deluge, which is the definitive judgment delivered by God. Thus it is more likely that the 120 years is the time remaining until the Flood, ample time for men to repent.
Gigantes autem erant super terram in diebus illis, postquam enim ingressi sunt filii Dei ad filias hominum illaeque genuerunt. Isti sunt potentes a saeculo viri famosi. (6:4)
We now proceed to the effects of the sin. From these illicit relations come forth great men described as "giants", an apparent reference to ancient heroes whose feats formed the basis of great myths. The sacred author does not share the pagan' esteem of these men, and considers them to be of wicked origin. Many cultures considered their heroes to be of semi-divine origin, but here that claim to divinity is scorned, and the "gods" are shown to be demonic influences.
Following St. Augustine, some have speculated that this intermarrying diluted the line of Seth with the line of Cain, causing the former to adopt idolatrous practices. Indeed, this may be a reference to the institution of overtly idolatrous religions with deities that raped women at leisure, in sharp contrast with the primitive religions that preceded.
Videns autem Deus quod multa malitia hominem hominum esset in terra, et cuncta cogitatio cordis intenta esset ad malum omni tempore. (6:5)
This is a powerful condemnation of the pervasiveness of human wickedness, an evil so complete as to be remedied only by total annihilation. All of man's thoughts and deeds are tainted with sin, and sin infects the flesh and the earth through man.
Paenituit eum quod hominem fecisset in terra, et tactus dolore cordis intrinsecus. 'Delebo inquit hominem quem creavi a facie terrae, ab homine usque ad animantia a reptili usque ad volucres caeli; paenitet enim me fecisse eos.' (6:6-7)
God's "regret" may be understood as dissatisfaction with man's behavior. Although God did not err in creating man, humans chose to pursue evil, thereby displeasing God. Interestingly, the divine judgment is preceded by sorrow rather than anger, as if to express the powerful solemnity of what is about to take place. Not only man, but all beasts of land and air which might prove to be of any use to him will be wiped out.
Noe vero invenit gratiam coram Domino; hae generationes Noe. Noe vir iustus, atque perfectus fuit in generationibus suis, cum Deus ambulavit, et genuit tres filios: Sem, Ham, et Iafeth. (6:8-10)
The sacred author clarifies that God's dissatisfaction does not extend to Noah nor to his sons. Their righteousness is in stark contrast with the thorough wickedness of the world, so God warns Noah of the coming disaster.
God gives instructions to build an ark of "gofer" wood. This archaic term is rendered as "square" wood in the Septuagint. The identity of this wood is unknown, though traditionally it has been thought to be cypress. For those who hold that the ark's remains rest on Mount Ararat, a 5000-year-old wood sample recovered there is of white oak. Another possibility, consistent with an Armenian Noah, is mulberry. The Armenian mulberry is still used to make 30-meter gulets, an ancient type of Turkish ship that can last decades without the need to replace a single plank. Mulberry is highly resistant to rot, which is an important consideration since fresh water causes rot.
The immense size of the ark, 300 X 50 X 30 cubits, has caused many to balk at the literalness of the dimensions. If a Hebrew cubit is used, we have dimensions ranging from 440 X 73 X 44 to 450 X 75 X 45 feet (134 X 22 X 13 to 137 X 23 X 14 meters). If a Sumerian cubit is meant, we would have a size of 500 X 83 X 50 feet (152 X 25 X 15 meters). Since the ark is divided into three decks, each would have a height of about 15 feet (5 meters), which may seem excessively tall for the cargo being considered. Consequently, some have suggested replacing the Hebrew "cubit" with "span", reducing the dimensions by a factor of two, consistent with the largest Mesopotamian barges of the late fourth millenium B.C. This interpretation seems as ad hoc as the theory of "mistranslated" ages of the patriarchs. Also, the opening in the ark is said to be one "cubit" below the top of the ark. If "cubit" really meant "span", this would be a negligible quantity, unworthy of mention, especially since the details of the ark's construction are fairly sparse. Whether we are comfortable with what the Holy Writ says is irrelevant to the question of what it actually does say. Thus, cubits, or lengths of a man's lower arm, are the unit intended.
The idea that there are actually two interwoven Flood narratives rests on two pseudo-contradictions. The first pertains to God's instructions regarding the animals boarding the ark:
'Ponamque foedus meum tecum; et ingredieris arcam tu et filii tui, uxor tua et uxores filiorum tuorum tecum; et ex cunctis animantibus universae carnis, bina induces in arcam ut vivant tecum masculini sexus et feminini.' (6:18-19)
God establishes a covenant with Noah and outlines the terms of that covenant. Notice the use of future tense: "You shall enter the ark," etc. God also specifies that the animals should enter "by pairs". By this, some infer that only two animals of each kind should enter, in contradiction with a later passage, but no such implication exists in the text. All that is meant is that every animal shall have its mate. The Septuagint accurately conveys this meaning with the expression "two, two," meaning "two at a time," or "by twos".
'...bina de omnibus ingredientur tecum ut possint vivere...' (6:20)
This repetition of the word "two" (bina) does not occur in the Septuagint. The Vulgate includes it for grammatical reasons, so it has the same meaning as the first instance: "by twos". Even if we assumed the false interpretation that "two of each kind" was meant, this could not be understood to mean anything more than that at least two of each kind would be preserved, with more specific instructions to be given later. A double misinterpretation is needed in order to arrive at a supposed contradiction with the later passage distinguishing clean and unclean animals.
Since this passage describes preparations before the boarding of the ark, it also includes an order to collect food for the human and animal passengers. This command is not repeated in the next chapter, since that describes the actual boarding of the ark. Following God's command, Noah gathers all the animals and food.
Dixitque Dominus ad eum, 'Ingredere tu et omnis domus tua arcam...' (7:1)
Only now does God command Noah to actually enter the ark, as the Flood is imminent (within seven days). Noah is instructed to bring seven pairs of clean beasts, and one pair of unclean beasts, seemingly in contradiction with the previous chapter and perhaps evidence of a second author. Yet if this is so, how does one explain the following?
De animantibus quoque mundis et inmundis, et de volucribus et ex omni quod movetur super terram, duo et duo ingressa sunt ad Noe in arcam masculus et femina. (7:8-9)
By the standards of modern critics, the "Yahwist" author has "contradicted" himself! The clean and unclean animals are indiscriminately depicted as entering by pairs, just as in God's original exhortation. (6:19) Thus we see how this phraseology "by twos" does not contradict the bringing of more than one pair of some animals. We can only hope that critics will not be inspired to postulate the existence of a third author to explain Genesis 7:8-9. The problem with such a methodology is that scholars are given free reign to divide the text as they please, even mid-verse. It is always possible to find "multiple sources" in a text that has any partial or approximate repetitions, which are common in ancient narratives. Similarly, men will always be able to find "codes" in the Torah, regardless of which manuscripts are used. The best we can do is show that such theories provide no better explanation than the null hypothesis, and therefore their adoption is a matter of arbitrary whim, not solid evidence.
Another supposed contradiction is in the chronology of the Flood. It is unclear what sort of mental acrobatics creates this problem, for a straightforward sequential reading of the narrative gives a fully coherent chronology.
God warns Noah that He "will bring rain down upon the earth for forty days and forty nights," (7:4) wiping out life on the earth. This begins "in the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of that month." (7:11) The rain continues for forty days, as promised, and consequently all life is extinguished. During this forty-day period the flood waters are rising. They "maintained their crest over the earth for one hundred and fifty days." (7:24) The meaning here is simple: the storm lasted forty days, but the waters remained above the earth for a further 110 days.
After 150 days, the waters had so subsided that, "In the seventh month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat." (8:4)
Genesis 8:5 states that "the waters continued to diminish until the tenth month," implying they had already been diminishing. "On the first day of the tenth month, the tops of the mountains appeared." (8:5) This refers to mountains other than those upon which the ark rested. Naturally, the ark could rest on the highest grount before other mountains became visible.
Forty days later, Noah "sent out a raven" (8:7) and a dove. Seven days later, he sends the dove out a second time. Another seven days pass and he sends the dove a third time, "and this time it did not come back." (8:12) This is a total of fifty-four days since the first day of the tenth month, which leaves ample time for the remaining waters to subside to ground level by "the six hundred and first year of Noah's life, in the first month, on the first day of the month". (8:13) By the twenty-seventh day of the second month, "the earth was dry." (8:14) Below we summarize the Flood chronology, which is fully self-consistent, based on a simple calendar of thirty-day months.
|0||Flood begins; firmament/abyss open; waters rise.||600||2||17|
|40||Firmament/abyss closed; waters stop rising.|
|150||Waters have subsided so that Ark rests on mountains of Ararat.||600||7||17|
|224||Heads of mountains appear.||600||10||1|
|264||Raven and dove released.|
|271||Dove released again; returns with olive leaf.|
|278||Dove released third time.|
|314||Surface of earth appears.||601||1||1|
|370||Earth is dry.||601||2||27|
It is granted, of course, that many of these numbers may be approximations, but they are still sufficient to give an order of magnitude estimate of the Flood's depth. We are told that the waters reached a maximum height of 15 cubits above the highest mountains. It took 110 days for the water to subside enough for the ark to rest on the "mountains of Ararat", so the waters must have subsided by 15 cubits in this amount of time, at a minimum rate of 0.14 cubits/day, or 0.20 ft/day. The olive leaf also may serve a reference point; it was found 43 days before the surface of the ground appeared. Olive trees have heights of 10-40 feet, so the waters were now subsiding at a rate of 0.23-0.93 ft/day. Interpolating our range of values, 0.20-0.93 ft/day, over the 164-day period between Day 150 and Day 314, we find that the ark rested at a point 33-152 ft above ground level. Adding the 15 cubits (22.5 ft), the maximum height of the flood (with respect to the higher ground level exposed on Day 314) was 55-175 feet (17-53 meters). An additional 56 days was needed for all the ground to dry, so this would correspond to a variation in ground level of 11-52 feet. Thus the maximum water level was 66-227 feet (20-69 meters) above the lower ground level.
This was a phenomenal Deluge, well beyond the scale of any natural flood in recorded history. There certainly would not have been any survivors in areas flooded at this depth for this duration. Nonetheless, this was not nearly high enough to be a geologically universal flood. Those who insist that the Flood waters must have been thousands of feet high would have to conclude that, sometime between the initial resting of the ark and the finding of the olive leaf, the rate of water level attenuation inexplicably increased by a factor of 100, and then dramatically slowed down again.
God sends "a wind upon the earth" (8:1) so that the water stays; and then closes the abyss and the firmament. The wind is perhaps an intervention that miraculously prevents the waters from rising or tossing, while the closing of the supernatural sources of the Flood signifies an end to the miraculous intervention. Only after the supernatural intervention has ended do the waters subside, presumably naturally. The wind may have expedited the process by directing the waters to the sea, but there is no indication of any stronger divine intervention.
We should examine the reasons that have caused most traditional commentators to suppose in the first place that the waters must have been thousands of feet high. First, there is the mention of submerged mountains, particularly the "mountains of Ararat". Yet the Hebrew word for "mountain" is notoriously ambiguous, referring to simple hills and mighty peaks without distinction. The "mountains of Ararat", therefore, could be translated as "the hills of Urartu", a designation that does not necessarily indicate the mountain ranges or foothills of Armenia, Turkey, and Iran, much less Mt. Ararat itself. Since the Deluge dates from the fourth millenium B.C., it is likely that the area originally described was Subartu, which is a vague appellation for the northern part of Mesopotamia. Only millennia later did Urartu appear as a kingdom, as descendants of the Hurrians who had lived in Subartu.
A second, stronger objection against a strictly Mesopotamian Deluge is the apparent universality of the Flood that is repeatedly asserted throughout the Genesis narrative. This is certainly a strong argument against those who suppose the limited 2900 B.C. inundation was the Biblical Deluge, but I hope to show that the much larger flood c. 3500 B.C. does indeed meet the criteria of universality.
First, it is evident that the sacred author makes use of hyperbole, as when he relates how God saw that all men were evil in all their thoughts at all times. (6:5) This is obviously exaggeration for effect, as evidenced by the exceptions of Noah and his family. It is practically inconceivable that literally every other man on the planet was so depraved, so we might hazard that there were others who were spared. Even a strictly literal interpretation permits this, as the Cainites would have been spared, as would Methuselah, who lived through the flood according to the Septuagint reckoning of his age at his son's birth. (This was "corrected" by the Masoretic text so that his death occurred in the year of the Deluge.) Some Fathers of the Church also suggested that the earthly paradise and the abode of Enoch would also have been spared, assuming that such places had terrestrial existence.
God was responding to the profound wickedness of men, and thus it was the wicked He would wipe from the earth. Now, flooding "the whole earth" would appear to entail a planetary cataclysm, but at the time of Noah, and even for at least a thousand years afterward, "the world" meant the "four quarters" of northern, eastern, southern, and western Mesopotamia, hence the Akkadian claim to have conquered the whole world. Mesopotamia was the entire known inhabited world, and in Noah's time, it was in fact the entire civilized world. The likelihood that scattered tribes and primitive peoples elsewhere on the globe may have been spared the Deluge does not indicate a deficiency in God's judgment, since the grotesque pagan practices meriting condemnation were related to the rise of cities.
Ancient flood legends exist in other parts of the world, often pointing to a similar time period, so even uncivilized peoples may have been chastised by a similar calamity as befell Mesopotamia. Even then, we could not confidently assume that the survivors of these other cataclysms were descended from the Biblical Noah. A rapid dispersal of humanity throughout the world is extremely problematic, and moreover, the subsequent genealogy of Noah is strictly limited to the peoples of the ancient Middle East. To defend a geologically universal Deluge, it is necessary to either introduce further miracles to explain the repeopling of the earth, or to push the date of the Flood back into the remote past. This latter recourse is seriously problematic, since it would require ascribing shipbuilding technology that was totally beyond the capacities of our remote ancestors.
What, then, was the extent of the destruction caused by the Great Deluge? Southern Mesopotamia was tectonically lowered c. 3500 B.C. One anthropologist writes that "major centers including Ur, Tell-al-Ubaid, & Eridu, indefinitely underwater, went depopulated. Tell al-Ubaid stayed uninhabited, Eridu resumed no longer a city, only a sanctuary; Ur revived vigorously till channel-shift stranded." (C. Covey, Wake Forest) This same flood was also recorded as far north as Nineveh, at over 500 feet higher elevation. We have every indication of a flooding of northern and southern Mesopotamia, the entire civilized world, to the extent that there are settlements which make possible an accurate dating. All the cities, all "the world," and all the known earth was submerged beneath the waters. Survival was practically impossible, and the Ubaids vanished from the historical record. The (at least) fifty-foot-high flood waters would have been more than twice as high as any other recorded flood, and on top they somehow persisted for the better part of a year. The miraculous nature of such a flood is unavoidable. Genesis tells us this flood was unlike any other because it came as a direct judgment from God.
Before the Deluge, there was prevalent among the Ubaid peoples, in addition to the worship of typical Mesopotamian deities, a fertility cult involving images of animals and women with grotesquely large reproductive organs. This bestial cult might partially explain the "sons of heaven" mating with "the daughters of the earth", as wicked angels persuaded men to worship them as beasts and to create this obscene cult. This is somewhat speculative, as the exact meaning of these images is disputed. However, it is perhaps significant that this popular tradition did not survive the Flood, while other forms of paganism did.
After the Deluge, there followed "some sort of catastrophic realignment of population patterns". (M. Shupp, Calif. State) This would be the repeopling of the earth by the sons of Noah and those who lived in the wilderness beyond Mesopotamia.
The animals on the ark would naturally be limited to those of the region, eliminating many of the practical difficulties implied by a geographically universal deluge. We might also presume that only macroscopic, harmless beasts were included. The Hebrew behemah may be translated as "cattle" or "beasts", as the same word refers to both concepts. This close identification shows that the ancient Semite was concerned primarily with those beasts which were of use to man, and seldom gave much thought to others. Thus the statement that "every kind of beast" was brought on the ark might mean only domesticated animals, and still be an assertion of universality to the ancient Semite. The inclusion of unclean beasts suggests that some wild animals were brought aboard the ark. Still, the preponderance of animals aboard Noah's Ark may have been cattle, sheep, and other farm animals, with "pairs of each kind" understood to account for even subtle differences in breed. Our modern notion of biological "species" is an arbitrary taxonomic construct that has no applicability to ancient texts.
Aedificavit autem Noe altare Domino, et tollens de cunctis pecoribus et volucribus mundis obtulit holocausta super altare. (8:20)
Noah's offering of a holocaust to the Lord is not anachronistic, as higher critics once falsely held, but archaeology has shown that such practice is in fact extremely ancient. Notice that this sacrifice only makes physical sense if Noah did indeed preserve more than one animal of each kind, so consistency would require "higher critics" to assign this to the "Priestly" document. The fact of a sacrifice is recorded in the Babylonian flood legends as well, so the "Priestly" notion that there was more than one pair of some animals is not a later interpolation. Critics must then suppose that the "Yahwist" version (only one pair of each kind, according to the higher critics) is corrupted, even though it typically is in much closer coincidence with the Babylonian narrative. A more parsimonious solution is that the "contradiction" between the "Yahwist" and "Priestly" texts exists only in the critics' imaginations, as we have shown previously, and both texts are authentic.
A question still remains whether the offering of sacrifice is evidence of monotheism on the part of Noah. A strict reading of the text does not give such a conclusion. God chooses Noah for his righteousness, but involuntary ignorance of God's Unity could hardly be faulted against Noah. God's revelation to Noah pertains only to the preparations for the Flood. Noah certainly understands God's might and His control over the forces of the nature, as well as His mercy and justice. This is not incompatible with the misguided notion that there are other, lesser gods as well. However, since it was the Lord who guided Noah to safety, it is to Him alone, certainly, that Noah offered a holocaust.
Odaratusque est Dominus odorem suavitatis... (8:21)
Through divine omniscience, God "smells" all that is to be smelled, just as He "sees" all that can be seen. This verse does not imply a pagan belief in propitiatory manipulation of a deity. In fact, the second part of this verse will show that God's reasons for mercy are quite unrelated to Noah's sacrifice. This offering has the purpose of reconciling man to God through just action. Offering a sweet smell to the Lord does not imply an intent to sway Him, but is a simple act of praise and thanksgiving. Much less does it imply any physical need on God's part, or a susceptibility to material pleasures. The phraseology of "offering a sweet odor" persists well into rabbinic times, where the theological sophistication of meaning is unquestioned. Even in more ancient times there was a sophisticated understanding of the meaning of sacrifice, evidenced most perfectly by the Psalms of David. Noah does not imagine that the Lord of Heaven, who has power to raise the waters over the whole earth, has need of livestock. The point of burning an offering is not to satiate God, as some pagans pretended to feed their gods. God is pleased only with obedience to His Will, so it is only in this sense that sacrifices please God. This ritual act constitutes a sacrifice because man is depriving himself of one of his prized possessions out of obedience to God. It is man's loss, rather than the Lord's gain, that makes the sacrifice. Forsaking possessions is antithetical to man's nature, except to the extent that God grants grace to make sacrifice possible, and the act is performed through a human will, voluntarily aligning itself with the Divine Will.
...et ait ad eum, 'Nequaquam ultra maledicam terrae propter homines, sensus enim et cogitatio humani cordis in malum prona sunt ab adulescentia sua; non, igitur, ultra percutiam omnem animantem sicut feci. (8:21)
God promises that a calamity such as the Deluge will never again befall the earth because of man. This monologue is entirely a condemnation of man. The only "remorse" that is expressed is for the earth and the animals which were devastated on man's account. The earth will never again be cursed on man's account, as it was in the cases of Adam, Cain, and the last antediluvians. This is not a retraction of previous divine judgments, but a recognition that man, on the whole, refuses to learn from such experiences, and continually returns to sin. Still, these terrible events may be profitable to those who learn from the mistakes of our ancestors.
The Ark of Noah has been a perennial symbol of the Church. All who were subject to God's judgment (the Deluge) perished, save those who were chosen to enter the Ark. Similarly, all who are subject to the judgment upon Adam (original sin) will perish, save those who are chosen to enter the Church.
The Flood was more than a symbol; more immediately, it was a just punishment sent by God. As the cited verse indicates, this punishment is not to be repeated, not because of man's virtue, but because God foreknows that man will repeatedly turn to sin despite this most powerful reminder of God's might. The divine plan of salvation is progressive, not repetitive.
God speaks of this condemnation of man to Himself, or "in His heart", as the Hebrew idiom puts it. The substance of this interior discourse was probably a later revelation, perhaps received directly by the inspired author of Genesis. Insight into God's motives can only come from the Holy Spirit, and this monologue provides a moral understanding of why the Flood will not be repeated. Since God's mercy is predicated on His foreknowledge of man's continued sinfulness, His decision to never repeat the Flood and to allow the seasons and days to continue "as long as the earth lasts" (8:22) was made long before God's covenant with Noah. Indeed, it was made "before" the Creation, and outside of time altogether, though verbal coherence requires us to depict God's deeds as occuring within time, since we only see their effects from our temporal perspective.
After the flood, God established a covenant with Noah. According to Jewish tradition, this Noahide covenant contains the moral obligations of all men descended from Noah, whereas the Mosaic covenant binds only the Israelites.
Benedixitque Deus Noe et filiis eius et dixit ad eos, 'Crescite et multiplicamini et implete terram.' (9:1)
God reaffirms to Noah His initial exhortation to Adam to grow and multiply. God's punishment of man's wickedness did not reflect a wish to see his numbers diminish, nor did the Deluge revoke the divine commands imparted at the Creation. In a sense, Noah was a second Adam, since he was chiefly responsible for repopulating an uninhabited world.
'Et terror vester ac tremor sit super cuncta animalia terrae, et super omnes volucres caeli, cum universis quae moventur in terra, omnes pisces maris manui vestrae traditi sunt. (9:2)
'Et omne quod movetur et vivit erit vobis in cibum quasi holera virentia tradidi vobis omnia...'" (9:3)
In verses 2-3, God reaffirms the lordship of man over other animals. This does not establish a new order, but confirms the pre-existing order. Thus the past tense is used in both verses: traditi sunt ("they are delivered") and tradidi vobis ("I have delivered to you"). Since this is not a new order, we cannot infer from verse 3 that the antediluvians were vegetarians. That interpretation would be difficult to reconcile with the fact that Noah already possessed domesticated animals and slaughtered some of them as sacrifice. In continuity with the first verse, these declarations simply re-establish the covenant with Adam.
'...excepto quod carnem sanguine non comedetis.' (9:4)
The verb tense changes to a future imperative, non comedetis ("you shall not eat"). This grammatical form persists through the remainder of the Noahide covenant, as this part of the covenant consists of new commands. The rationale for not eating bloody meat is given in the following verse.
'Sanguinem enim animarum vestrarum requiram de manu cunctarum bestiarum et de manu hominis de manu viri et fratris eius requiram animam hominis.' (9:5)
Any man or beast who kills a man must also be put to death. This severe law is designed to thwart a recurrence of the violence and iniquity that preceded the flood. With men so few in number, the sanctity of life must be strenuously enforced. Only the killing of a human being is to be redeemed with blood, for only humans have "the image of God". (9:6) Animals receive partial protection: since their flowing blood contains "soul" or anima, this is not to be consumed by man.
'Ecce, ego statuam pactum meum vobiscum et cum semine vestro post vos et ad omnem animam viventem...' (9:9-10)
The covenant is not solidified until God declares His half of the pact, a promise that will be made not just to Noah and his posterity, but also to the lesser creatures.
'Statuam pactum meum vobiscum et nequaquam ultra interficietur omnis caro aquis diluvii, neque erit deinceps diluvium dissipans terram.' (9:11)
God's solemn promise that this calamity will never be repeated implies that the level of devastation was far greater than any other recorded disaster. For this reason, the floods of 3000-2900 B.C. could not be the Biblical Deluge, nor would they have caused man to require such divine reassurance. The collective trauma of those who survived the Deluge is succinctly expressed by this verse, and may be found in the parallel legends of other cultures.
'Arcum meum ponam in nubibus, et erit signum foederis inter me et inter terram.' (9:13)
The sign of the covenant, the rainbow, is between heaven and earth. The covenant itself, strictly speaking, is between God "and all flesh upon the earth." (9:17) Some who read the text literally, without properly considering the author's intent, think this implies that there were no rainbows, nor perhaps rain clouds, before the Flood. The text does not compel us to draw such a conclusion. The rainbow is a "sign", serving as a reminder of the covenant and of the respite that came after the most terrible storm. The regularity of its appearance emphasizes the certainty of God's promise.
'...et non erunt ultra aquae diluvii ad delendam universam carnem.' (9:15)
There will never again be flood to destroy all flesh, and the waters beyond the firmament will never again be released.
God's statement that "this will be a sign of my covenant" is thrice mentioned in a short span (9:12,13,17), as are other expressions. Partial or complete repetition for the sake of emphasis or elaboration is a common style of ancient Hebrew writing, also found in Egyptian and other ancient Middle Eastern inscriptions known to be of a single author. Applying the logic of "higher criticism", on the contrary, we might improbably infer the existence of three interwoven texts. This fallacy illustrates the perils of pretending to deduce the composition of a text from internal criteria alone, without reference to broader archaeological and historical knowledge. The findings of twentieth-century archaeology undermine many of the literary assumptions of the "documentary hypothesis" that predate 1880. One such assumption is that repetition is evidence of multiple authorship. Recognizing the falsity of this premise, it is long overdue that we should abandon its conclusions. Invoking "difference of style" as evidence of multiple authorship uses circular logic. Direct self-contradictions, on the other hand, may evidence multiple authorship, but we have encountered no genuine examples of this thus far.
Coepitque Noe vir agricola exercere terram et plantavit vineam. (9:20)
Noah, a man of the soil, begins to grow vines. At most, this means he has never grown a vine before. We need not assume he was the first vinegrower, nor that he was unfamiliar with the effects of wine, which would mitigate his culpability for drunkenness. The inspired author's main concern is not the minor offense of Noah's inebriation, but the unjustified behavior of his son Ham.
Ham sees his father's nakedness and relates this to his brothers. From Noah's reaction, we infer that Ham ridiculed his father's shame, unlike Shem and Japheth, who "covered their father's nakedness; since their faces were turned the other way, they did not see their father's nakedness." (9:24) Since the names of Noah's descendants correspond to national groups, it is unclear if this story describes an actual incident with Noah's sons that prefigured the behavior of nations, or if it only relates the attitudes of the nations themselves. If the sons of Noah are considered as representing nations or generations, this story condemns those who dishonor their rulers or ancestors.
Canaan in particular is singled out: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers." (9:25) Canaan, the son of Ham, and presumably guilty of a similar sin (since the other sons of Ham are not similarly condemned), is to be a slave to his brothers, the descendants of Shem and Japheth. This justification of the enslavement of Canaanites would have to be a later addition to the story of Noah, though not necessarily post-Mosaic. Canaan definitely represents a nation rather than an individual, even if Ham's offense may have been the act of a real individual.
Lastly, we note that Genesis acknowledges intermingling between Shemites and Japhethites, with the latter dwelling "among the tents of Shem". (9:27) This will have relevance to our analysis of the Table of Nations in Chapter 10.
Continue to Chapter 10
© 2005 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved. http://www.arcaneknowledge.org