Genesis 6

 

The first 4 verses don’t flow - perhaps I’d have put them before chapter 5. Post-exilic editors in the Second Temple had different pressures in anthologizing sources already well-known and ancient. This is old ‘J’ earthy legendary style. 

Why keep this scrap?  Compare other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) myths, right up to the Greeks, and echoed by the Romans.  Gods marry humans, and yield super-humans – myth-making like the Marvel empire of today. 

The ‘moral of the story’ is tacked on:  to shorten human lifespans to 120 years, and to set up the extermination of these super-humans in the flood.  This way biblical anthropology can return to its original one-race of mortals. 

Jahweh God is disappointed then angry at humanity, and decides to clear the decks of all humans, animals, and birds.  (Flood is no way to purge sea-creatures, and the Leviathan myths were left ambiguous in Genesis’ creations. 

Noah is excepted, finding gracious divine mercy, or earning it by being good.  Was he just better than his peers, or righteous in any age?  The rabbis debated it for centuries.  I find Noah is flawed, needing divine grace and mercy to live. 

There’s a brief allusion to toledot to come – these are the generations of Noah, beginning with 3 sons, not just one eldest plus ‘other sons and daughters’.  This is enumerated later in relation to Asian, African, and Mediterranean peoples. 

The vices of the racializing use of Noah’s 3 sons (Ham as black) are well-known. As with the heterosexist misogynist reading of creation myths, is it intrinsic, or is the original virtue an assertion that we are all siblings and one extended family? 

God prescribes an ark, and the people and creatures (plus food) to be aboard the ark, to survive calamity.  What’s the ark you are building, and who’s your clan that you’re gathering, and what creatures get to share the ride with you? 

Timothy Finlay wrote ‘Not Wanted on the Voyage.’ Cartoons show unicorns and dinosaurs missing the boat.  Gary Larsen’s ‘Far Side’ shows Noah belatedly moving the carnivores to separate decks.  Enjoy the paradoxes of the vision! 

The ark offers an ecological and ecumenical vision:  ‘we’re all in the same boat’.  The World Council of Churches logo is an ark with cross.  We’re also all off the same boat – and all traditions toy with which in-laws declined the invitation. 

My vision of the ark is comic – a square, crowded, un-navigable boat that would turn turtle.  It’s a parody of the myths of heroes sailing a fast ship on a quest.  Sadly, religious traditions suppress humour, irony, and paradox too often. 

Relax on this story as bad biology.  This is not an answer to those questions, but a moral tale, a myth of meaning and purpose.  It’s not an empirically verified historic account of a specific catastrophe. That doesn’t make it less true.  

Let’s accept the pontifical assertion that Noah was obedient to the impossible task assigned to him by Jahweh God.  Some scholars even attribute that last clause to the ‘P’ source, to allow Noah fallibility and mortal humanity.