Imaginations have been gripped for thousands of years by the story of Noah. How long ago did this neolithic family live? What was the scope of the cataclysmic deluge described in their story? Was the building of the ark, the gathering of animals two-by-two, the repopulation of earth with only eight people allegory?
Was it literal?
Tribes in New Guinea, India, Brazil, China, Norway, Mexico, and North American First Nation peoples all have a flood story. Each story tells of a favored family (several stories mention eight people specifically) who survived on a boat, two-thirds of the stories attribute the disaster to humankind’s wickedness, and over half end with the survivors landing on a mountain.
To date, anthropologists have collected between 250 to 300 such flood stories from various cultures.
What is God teaching through such an iconic story?
What are we to come away with, regardless of how we interpret the ancient evidence for a world-wide or more regional flood?
The story of Noah is unsurprisingly centered around the man Noah. When he was born, his parents somehow sensed he was special.
“When Lamech . . . [fathered] a son, he named him Noah, saying,
“‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.’”Genesis 5:28-30 (NRSV)
Lamech was talking about the curse God had sunk upon the ground, not because the ground had transgressed God’s commands but because the first man had. God had told the man,
“Because you have . . . eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
“in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.’”Genesis 3:17-18
Lamech put great hope in his son, that somehow life on earth would get better because of Noah.
The record tells us that
“After Noah was five hundred years old, Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”Genesis 5:32
(Remember that age, it’s important later in the story.)
But who was Noah’s wife?
A shadowy figure, she is never mentioned by name, though she is spoken of five times throughout the Flood account and specifically included in God’s instructions to Noah.
Noah and his family’s story opens with God’s great grief and sorrow over how corrupt the earth had become. Noah was all that was left of Seth’s godly line, and God intended to rescue that remnant. So God made a covenant with Noah, and by extension, Noah’s wife, sons, and daughters-in-law.
But, because of the unsalvageable wreck of earth, God washed the slate clean, and preserved this one remnant, a family of eight, and a sampling of earth’s creatures.
Finally, after much time had passed, God brought this remnant out onto a fresh earth to start anew.
There is an epilogue to this epic. And though Noah’s wife is not mentioned, it doesn’t mean she was absent. It is the sad but inevitable story of Noah’s decline, of dissension in his family that ended in a curse of which repercussions would be felt for a thousand of years and more in Israel’s history.
I God’s Covenant, Genesis 6
II God’s Conservation, Genesis 7
III God’s Re-Creation, Genesis 8
IV Consecution, Genesis 9-10
Each video is designed to offer background scholarship on the topic, including setting, culture, original language, and archaeology, as well as a theological study.
The “Broken, Searching, Trusted, Powerful” series is a companion to the book, available on Amazon, and published by Wipf and Stock.
- –Epic of Gilgamesh Flood tablet | By Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10910031
- –Atlantis fragment | By Unknown author – Image:POxy1084_Hellanicus_Atlantis.jpg (APIS Project), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2414643
- –China Flood Story | By User:Vmenkov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18715530
- –Statue of sea serpent | By Lufke – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18467522
- –Flood | By R. C. Armour – Armour, R. C. North American Indian Fairy Tales Folklore and Legends. London: Gibbons & Co., 1905. Page 70., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6775666
- –English: Matsya Avatar of Vishnu Uttar Pradesh, India. | By Anonymous – V& A Museum , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4200735
- Biblical images | James Tissot, The Jewish Museum, Public Domain
- –Terra cotta image of husband and wife | By Françoise Foliot – Private collection Wikimédia France, Paris, CC BY-SA 4.0,
- –Dove | Photo by 卡晨 on Unsplash