NOAH (Heb. נֹחַ), son of Lamech, father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 5:28–29; 6:10; i Chron. 1:4). Noah is described as a righteous and blameless man who walked with God (Gen. 6:9) and whom God decided to save from a universal *Flood to become the progenitor of a new human race. He was given instructions to build an *ark, to provision it, and to take aboard members of his family and representatives of the animal and bird kingdoms. After surviving the Flood, Noah disembarked and offered sacrifices to God, who, in turn, blessed Noah and his sons and made a covenant with them. He also laid upon them certain injunctions relative to the eating of fish and the taking of life (6:9–9:17).
In the genealogical lists of the biblical Patriarchs given in Genesis 5 and 11, Noah occupies a position midway between Adam and Abraham. He is also tenth in the line of antediluvian Patriarchs. This tradition is doubtless dependent upon a Mesopotamian source. It is especially reminiscent of a notation in the writings of Berossus (third century b.c.e.) according to which the hero of the great flood was Babylonia's tenth antediluvian king. In the biblical material dealing with the Patriarchs there is an extension of the use of the number ten, or numbers based on ten, not found in the cognate Mesopotamian notices. For instance, ten generations separate Noah from Abraham, and Noah's age is reckoned by tens and multiples of ten. Noah had reached the age of 500 at the birth of his three sons (5:32) and another period of 100 years elapsed before the onset of the deluge (7:11). However, the biblical treatment differs importantly from its Mesopotamian antecedents, for in the latter, the reigns of the antediluvian kings range from 18,600 to nearly 65,000 years. There is no denying that the lifespans of the corresponding biblical personages, including Noah's 950 years (9:28), have been considerably compressed and fall far short of the briefest reign mentioned in the related Mesopotamian texts.
Another discrepancy between the biblical and Mesopotamian traditions lies in the name of the hero. The earliest Mesopotamian flood account, written in the Sumerian language, calls the deluge hero Ziusudra, which is thought to carry the connotation "he who laid hold on life of distant days." The Sumerian name obviously has in view the immortality granted the hero after the Flood. It is this name which is reflected in the later version set down in writing by Berossus. In the ancient Babylonian versions there is likewise clearly an indebtedness to the prior Sumerian account (see *Flood). In one of these versions the hero bears the name Atra(m)ḫasis, meaning "the exceedingly wise." This name apparently is in the nature of an epithet. Woven into the famous Epic of Gilgamesh is another version, in which the man who survived the flood is known as Utnapishtim, signifying "he saw life." This is patently a loose rendering of the Sumerian Ziusudra, which symbolizes the status attained by the hero. The name Noah, by contrast, cannot be related to any of these on the basis of present knowledge.
The foregoing factors strongly suggest that in the transmission of the Babylonian antediluvian lists to biblical chroniclers 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. Unfortunately, their version exists in an extremely fragmentary condition, so that nothing positive can be said one way or the other on the matter. There is preserved, however, a personal name which invites comparison with the name of Noah. It is spelled syllabically: Na-aḥ-ma-su-le-el. It is possible, but by no means certain, that Noah is a shortened form of this name.
The Bible itself attempts to interpret the name: "This one will provide us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands" (5:29). This explanation links Noah with the Hebrew niḥam, "to comfort," but this is popular etymologizing and not based on linguistic principles. The true significance of the name was probably unknown to those speakers of Hebrew who inherited the Flood narrative. The interpretation of the name seems to refer to Noah's invention of wine. It is possible, however, that it reflects a lost tradition connecting Noah with the invention of the plow. The biblical statement that Noah was the first to plant a vineyard (9:20–21) seems to reflect an ancient attitude that grape culture and the making of wine were essential to civilization. The account also takes for granted that grapes were properly utilized by turning the juice into a fermented drink. Furthermore, Noah's drunkenness is presented in a matter-of-fact manner and not as reprehensible behavior. It is clear that intoxication is not at issue here, but rather that Noah's venture into viticulture provides the setting for the castigation of Israel's Canaanite neighbors. It is related that *Ham, to whom the descent of the Canaanites is traced, committed an offense when he entered the tent and viewed his father's nakedness. The offender is specifically identified as the father of *Canaan (9:22), and Noah's curse, uttered upon his awakening, is strangely aimed at Canaan rather than the disrespectful Ham. In any event, the inspiration for the scene is clearly not Mesopotamian in origin, as is the case with the greater part of the material in the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
Noah as a personality is again mentioned in the Bible only by the prophet Ezekiel (14:14, 20) who refers to him as one of three righteous men of antiquity, although Isaiah (54:9) does describe the Flood as "the waters of Noah."
In the Aggadah
Although the Bible says of Noah that he was (Gen. 6:9) "in his generations a man righteous and wholehearted," and hence was saved, not a single action is mentioned there to illustrate his righteousness. Philo, too, asks (la 3:77): "why did he [Moses] say 'Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord' (Gen. 6:8), when previously he had, as far as our information goes, done nothing good?" Filling in details lacking in the Bible, the aggadah tells of Noah's righteousness before and during the building of the ark and while he was in it. Noah's first good deed was to "introduce plows, sickles, axes, and all kinds of tools to his contemporaries," thus freeing them from doing everything with their hands (Tanḥ. Gen. 11). He was what the Greeks would call ε'υεργέτης, one whose inventions benefit mankind and cause him to be particularly beloved of the gods. Noah's uprightness and love of his fellowmen are further exemplified in what he did to save his contemporaries. Instead of hurrying to build the ark, he delayed it for many years waiting until the cedars which he had planted for it had grown (Tanḥ. No'aḥ 5). Finding it difficult to disregard God's command, yet dreading the destruction of the human species, he waited for 120 years in the hope that his contemporaries would depart from their evil ways.
Noah also admonished and warned his contemporaries, and called upon them to repent. A similar motif is found also in Josephus (Ant. 1:74) and the Apostolic Fathers (Clement, 1, 7, 6). Noah's reproof of the men of his generation is derived from a reference to him as a righteous man (Gen. 6:9); the aggadah, states that "wherever it says 'a righteous man' – the reference is to one who forewarns others" (Gen. R. 30:7), only such a one being worthy of the designation "righteous." In the Bible, Noah figures as a man wholeheartedly righteous and reticent; in the aggadah, a prophet, a truthful man, a monitor of his generation, a herald persecuted for his rebukes and honesty.
Noah's righteousness was also shown in his devoted attention to the animals in the ark. Because of the great care taken by Noah and his sons to provide each animal with its usual diet at its usual mealtime, they slept neither by day nor by night (Sanh. 108b; Tanḥ B. 58:2). Noah regarded himself as responsible for the preservation of all the animal species. Philo, too, stresses the fact that when God brought a flood on earth, He wished that all the species He had created should be preserved (Mos. 2:61). Plato, in one of his myths (Protagoras, 321), attributes a similar desire to the gods. In spite of these testimonials to Noah's high-mindedness, R. Johanan interpreted the biblical statement, "thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation" (Gen. 7:1) as indicating Noah's righteousness only in relation to his own generation and not in relation to others (Sanh. 108a). Philo (Abr. 36) concurred, stating that Noah would not have been regarded as upright in relation to the Patriarchs: he affirmed his greatness in opposing the tendencies of his generation (ibid. 38).
[Elimelech Epstein Halevy]
In Christian symbolism Noah is one of the most important typological figures. The New Testament describes him as a symbol of the just (ii Pet. 2:5), and as an example, in a sinful world, of faith in and submission to God (Heb. 11:7; Luke 17:26–27; i Pet. 3:20). As a type and prefiguration of Jesus, Noah exhorts to repentance and announces the inevitable judgment. Being spared from the universal catastrophe, he appears as a redeemer through whom humanity is saved from complete destruction and is reconciled with God.
The Flood, the ark, and the dove also serve as Christian prefigurations. Just as Noah triumphs over drowning to death in the waters of the flood, so Jesus and the Christians vanquish Satan and death through the water of baptism which initiates them into a new world (i Pet. 3:18–21). In later Christian tradition Noah's ark symbolizes the Church outside of which no salvation is possible. The dove sent out by Noah prefigures the Holy Spirit moving upon the baptismal waters, symbolizing divine reconciliation.
Nūḥ (Noah) is one of *Muhammad's favorite biblical characters. He devotes a complete sura to Noah (71) considering Noah's life as a prototype of his own. Noah is the reprover who attempts to make his people repent (7:57–61), but the elders scorn and do not heed him. Following the aggadah (Sanh. 108a and other Midrashim) Noah relates that it has been revealed to him that he must build the ark (11:29, 34, 38–39). When Noah and the members of his family entered the ark on Allah's command, one son stood at the side of the Ark and was drowned in the waters of the *Flood because he refused to enter when Noah called (11:43). According to some commentators, this son was *Canaan; hence, the belief that Noah had four sons, and not three as recorded in the Bible. Noah's wife may also have been among those who drowned in the Flood (see Tabarī, below), because as the wife of *Lot, she was not a believer (66:10–11). The Ark settled on Mount Jūdī (11:46). The poets al-Nābigha, al-Aʿshā, ʿAdī b. Zayd, and especially, Umayya ibn Abī al-Ṣalt, who were contemporaries of Muhammad, describe the ark, its construction, and the salvation of Noah. As usual, the commentators on the *Koran add many legendary details and embellishments and are familiar with the names of the sons of Noah (see below). The number of those who were saved varies. One source mentions 80 survivors: Noah, his three sons, their wives, and 73 believers, the descendants of *Seth (Shīth; Tabarī 129). According to others, only eight survived: Noah and his wife (!), his three sons, and their wives.
The three sons of Noah are not mentioned by name in the Koran. Tabarī (vol. 1, pp. 132–3) presents a list stating how the land was partitioned among them, and later (pp. 140–9) includes the genealogies of all the nations which existed in his time. Sām (Shem) was the progenitor of the Arabs, the Persians, and the Rūm (Byzantines) who are considered good nations. Yāfath (Japheth) was the ancestor of the Turks and the Slavs, Yājūj and Mājūj (*Gog and Magog), all of whom possess no good qualities (p. 145), and are not noble. Hām (Ham) gave birth to the Copts, the "Blacks," and the Berbers. His sins were having carnal relations with his wife in the Ark and acting disrespectfully toward his father.
[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]
In the Arts
The dramatic aspects of the biblical story of the Flood have ensured Noah's continued popularity as a subject for treatment by writers and artists. During the Middle Ages, Noah was seen as a prefiguration of Jesus (see above) and christological interpretations were also placed on his drunkenness, which was believed to foreshadow the bitter drink of the Passion. At the same time, however, some of the English mystery plays showed Noah and his wife in a comic light, their ribald dialogue appealing to unsophisticated audiences. The English medieval cycles, which used a prefabricated stage setting of the ark, include those of Chester ("The Deluge"), Coventry ("Noah's Flood"), Towneley, and York ("The Building of the Ark" and "Noah and his Wife"). Some of these plays were presented by trade guilds, such as the Newcastle shipwrights (Noah's Ark, or the Shipwrights' Ancient Play or Dirge). The theme inspired the Norman poet Olivier Basselin's "Eloge de Noé" – a drinking song with the refrain "O le bon vin!" Toward the end of the 15th century, the Italian Annius of Viterbo published a book of spurious Antiquities (Rome, 1498) containing the "Pseudo-Berosus," a legendary account of Noah and his descendants which especially linked the Japhethites with some of the European nations. The 16th-century epic treatment of the Deluge theme was written by the Polish poet Jan Kochanowski (1558). The subject still retained some popular appeal in 17th-century England, with "Noah's Flood," a musical presentation licensed in 1662; a Bartholomew Fair "droll" entitled The Creation of the World; and Edward Ecclestone's opera, Noah's Flood; or The Destruction of the World (1679). The Dutch Catholic Joost van den Vondel's five-act drama, Noah, of ondergang der eerste weerelt (1667), was on a higher level than all of these.
The only major writer of the 18th century to show interest in the theme was the Swiss poet and dramatist Johann Jacob Bodmer, who devoted two separate epics to the Bible story: Noah ein Heldengedicht (1750, 17522; published as Die Noachide, 1765) and Die Synd-Flut (1751, 17532). Twentieth-century interpretations have included Die Suendflut (1924), a drama by the German anti-Nazi author and artist Ernst Barlach; a poem by the U.S. writer Robert *Nathan (in "A Cedar Box," 1929); Noé (1931; Noah, 1935), one of the great successes of the French dramatist André Obey; and Noah and the Waters (1936), a poem by the Anglo-Irish author Cecil Day Lewis. Two treatments of the post-World War ii period were The Flowering Peach (1954) by the U.S. playwright Clifford *Odets, who transferred the Noah story to a modern setting; and Hugo Loetscher's Noah (1970), a satire on the affluent society, which used the biblical theme to point a contemporary moral.
In art, the main subjects treated are the Flood (Gen. 7, 8) and the drunkenness of Noah (Gen. 9). The subject matter of catacomb art is often drawn from the prayers of the Commendatio Animae. Like Isaac and Daniel, Noah is a popular subject in the art of the catacombs because he figures in the prayers as a symbol of the redeemed soul. Notable representations are those in the second-century murals from the catacomb of Priscilla and the fourth-century murals from that of Domitillus. In early Christian Art, the ark is represented as a small floating cask in which Noah stands alone, his arms up-raised in an attitude of supplication. Later it became a floating house or three-tiered basilica, differing from a ship in that it had no oars or sails. A representation of Noah's ark is found on a mosaic from the ancient synagogue in Gerasa, Jordan, and scenes from the story of Noah are depicted in the 12th-century mosaics of Palermo and Monreale, and in the 13th-century mosaics from St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice. The theme also occurs in sculpture, frescoes, manuscript illuminations, and stained glass. There are carvings of the subject in the Gothic cathedrals of Bourges, Wells, and Salisbury, and in 12th-century wall paintings from St. Savin, France. It is illustrated in the sixth-century Vienna Genesis (National Library, Vienna), the seventh-century Ashburnham Pentateuch (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), the 13th-century St. Louis Psalter, and in a number of Hebrew manuscripts, including the French 13th-century British Museum Miscellany (Add. 11:639) and the 14th-century Sarajevo Haggadah. In the 13th-century Hispano-Provençal Farḥi Bible (formerly in the Sassoon Collection, Letchworth) there is a plan of the ark.
During the Renaissance, Lorenzo Ghiberti executed a bas-relief of the story of Noah after the Flood on his bronze gates to the Florence Baptistery, and Paolo Uccello painted a fresco of the Deluge in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. One of the most dramatic representations of the Flood is that by Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel, Vatican), who also depicted the sacrifice and the drunkenness of Noah, and Shem and Japheth covering his nakedness. In this, as in other Renaissance paintings of the subject, the sons are themselves oddly depicted in the nude. The story of Noah also figures in the Raphael frescoes in the Vatican. There are paintings of Noah entering and leaving the Ark by Jacopo Bassano in the Prado, and a painting of Noah leaving the ark by Hieronymos Bosch is in the Bojmans Museum, Rotterdam. In the 17th century, Nicolas Poussin painted the Flood as an image of winter in a series of four paintings representing the four seasons (Louvre). Poussin's painting of the sacrifice of Noah is in the Prado. Among modern artists, Lesser *Ury painted the Flood, and a painting of Noah's Ark by Marc *Chagall is in the Louvre.
In music, there were two 19th-century oratorios on the theme of the Flood, one by Johann Christian Friedrich Schmerder (1823); and Le Déluge (1876; première at Boston, U.S., 1880) by Camille Saint-Saëns. In 1970 Two by Two, a musical on the theme based on Clifford Odets' above-mentioned play and with Danny Kaye in the star role, was staged on Broadway.
A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (1946); S.N. Kramer, History Begins at Sumer (1959), 214–9; E.A. Speiser, in: J.J. Finkelstein and M. Greenberg (eds.), Oriental and Biblical Studies (1967), 244–69; N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1967), 37–62. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. in christianity: J. Daniélou, Sacramentum futuri (1950), 60ff. in islam: Tabarī, Taʾrīkh, 1 (1357, a.h.), 122–33, 139–49; Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ (1356, a.h.), 45–51; Kisāʾī, Qiṣaṣ (1356, a.h.), 85–103; J.W. Hirschberg, Juedische und christliche Lehren im vor-und fruehislamischen Arabien (1939), 53–58, 114–22; H. Speyer, Die biblischen Erzaehlungen im Qoran (1931, repr. 1961), 89–115. in the arts: D.C. Allen, Legend of Noah; Renaissance Rationalism in Art, Science, and Letters (1949); D.P. Walker, in: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 17 (1954), 204–59; J. Fink, Noe der Gerechte in der fruehchristlichen Kunst (1955); M. Roston, Biblical Drama in England (1968), index. add. bibliography: eis2, 8 (1995), 108–10.
Son of Lamech and the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gn 5:28–32). In the Flood story in Genesis 6:1–9:19, God preserves Noah and his family, so that Noah is the ancestor of all humankind after the Flood. Following God's directions, Noah preserves some from each species of animals and birds to repopulate the earth in a renewed creation after the flood. Following the flood another story describes Noah as the first to plant a vineyard and make wine (Gn 9:20–28). Outside Genesis, Noah is referred to or mentioned three other places in the Old Testament, twice in the Deuterocanonical Books, and six times in the New Testament.
Noah and the Flood. The account of Noah in Genesis has long been recognized as a composite woven from two of Israel's ancient oral traditions, often designated the Priestly source (P) and the yahwist source (J). A narrative from J in 6:1–8 has the Lord resolve to destroy all living things because of what has become of the world, but then "Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord." This is seconded by a P affirmation: "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God" (v. 9). The P source continues with its account of how the sorry state of conditions on earth brings God to announce to Noah his intention to make an end of all living things (v. 11–13). But God tells Noah to build an ark, and gives specific instructions for its materials, dimensions, and layout. Noah is to enter the ark with his family and a male and female pair of all living creatures, along with appropriate food for them and the creatures. "Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him" (v. 14–22). In a section from J, the Lord commands Noah to enter the ark with his family, "for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation." And he is to bring seven pairs of each clean animal and bird, but single pairs of the unclean creatures. "And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him" (7:1–5). After Noah entered the ark as "God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in" the flood came and continued forty days and nights in J or 150 days in P until all living things were dead and "only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark" (7:6–24). Then "God remembered Noah" and the waters began to recede. After 150 days, the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat (8:1–5). An account from J tells how Noah opened the window of the ark and sent out a raven, then three times a dove to determine when the waters had subsided (v. 6–12). The P source then tells how Noah removed the cover from the ark and saw that the earth was drying. When the earth is dry, God tells Noah to leave the ark and begin live again on the earth (vv. 13–19). From J, Noah's first act was to
build an altar and to sacrifice some of the clean animals and birds. The odor pleased the Lord, who then promises never again to destroy all living creatures (v. 20–22). The P account describes Noah and his sons as the ancestors of all subsequent humanity. Like the first humans of Genesis 1:26, humans continue to have authority over animals. God repeats the blessing given to humanity in Genesis 1:28. But now, humans are permitted to eat animals, and humans are responsible for punishing the crime of murder. And God promises in a covenant with Noah and all creation, never again to destroy life and the created order (9:1–19).
Noah's Vineyard. Another story from the J source, not originally connected to the flood account, describes Noah as the first to plant a vineyard and the first to make wine. Noah's sons are not married and share Noah's tent. In the story Noah drinks the wine and becomes drunk in his tent. Noah's son Ham, the father of Canaan, then "saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside." Shem and Japheth then respectfully cover the nakedness of their father, without seeing it. The story is thought to be a euphemistic account of how Ham or Canaan took advantage of Noah's drunkenness to sexually violate Noah's wife (see Lv 18:8). When Noah awakes and learns what has happened, he curses Canaan and blesses Shem and Japheth. The curse and blessing are the only spoken words attributed to Noah in the Bible (9:20–27).
The placement of this story after that of the flood shows how the inclination of human hearts continues to be evil after the flood (8:21). The alienation of humans, even within a family, as a consequence of sin, continues. But now it is Noah, not the Lord, who pronounces the curse because of human sin. The three sons in the original story were Shem, Japheth, and Canaan. Ham was introduced to harmonize the story with the names of Noah's sons in the previous flood account and with the account of the nations descended from Noah that follows in chapter 10.
Noah's Name. The J story of Noah's vineyard originally followed the folk etymology about Noah's name at Genesis 5:29. Lamech named his son 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 out hands." Lamech alludes to a consequence of the first sin in Genesis 3:17 where the Lord declared that the ground is now cursed and only by "toil" and "labor" will it yield food for humans. Lamech's pun associates Noah's name nōah with the verb nhm, "to provide relief." Noah then became "a man of the soil," planted a vineyard, and produced wine that provides humans relief from their work and toil. The Septuagint, however, translated the verb in 5:29, διαναπαύσει, "he will bring rest," reflecting an understanding that Noah's name is derived from the verb nwh, "rest." In the various ancient Near Eastern flood stories, the heros have various names (see gilgamesh epic). The connection of Noah from the vineyard story with the hero of Israel's version of the Flood story probably occurred during the developing oral stages behind the J source. This is reflected in several puns in the J flood story related to the concept of "rest." For example, "then the ark came to rest, wattānah " (8:4), "the dove found no resting place, mānōah " (8:9), "then the Lord smelled the pleasing (literally, 'restful'), hannîhōah, aroma" (8:21). In the Latin Vulgate and its derivative translations the name appears as Noe, from the Septuagint's Ν[symbol omitted]ε.
Other Biblical References to Noah. The prophet Ezekiel identified Noah, along with Daniel and Job, as righteous (Ez 14:14–20). Ben Sira included Noah among Israel's great ancestors, noting that it was Noah's righteousness that led God to preserve life on earth (Sir 44:17–18). Second Isaiah compared God's decision to no longer be angry with Israel with God's promise that "the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth" (Is 54:9). The Gospel according to Luke lists Noah among Jesus' ancestors (Lk 3:36). In the Gospel according to Matthew, the lifestyles of Jesus' contemporaries is said to be like those of Noah's contemporaries prior to the flood (Mt 24:37–38). In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is "a herald of righteousness," while in Hebrew 11:7 Noah is "an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith" because he heeded God. God's patience while Noah was building the ark was being built is the focus of 1 Peter 3:20.
Bibliography: w. brueggemann, Genesis (Atlanta 1982). a. f. campbell and m. a. o'brien, Sources of the Pentateuch: Texts, Introductions, Annotations (Minneapolis 1993). n. cohn, Noah's Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought (New Haven 1996). a. dundes, ed., The Flood Myth. (Berkeley 1988). j. w. rogerson, Genesis 1–11 (Sheffield 1991). g. j. wenham, Genesis 1–15 (Waco, Texas 1987). c. westermann, Genesis 1–11 (Minneapolis 1984).
[j. e. jensen]
NOAH , son of Lamech and father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, according to the Hebrew scriptures (Gn. 5:29–30, 6:10); chosen by God to be saved from the universal flood that destroyed the earth. Plausibly, this story has ancient Mesopotamian roots, as do many other features of the biblical flood traditions. But while ancient Sumerian tradition and its reflexes refer to a hero who attained immortality after the flood, biblical tradition speaks of the mortality of Noah.
As one born in the tenth generation after Adam, Noah is clearly linked to Adam. Indeed, his position as an Adam redivivus is more expressly indicated in the popular etymology of his name in Genesis 5:29, which regards him as the one who "will comfort us from our labor and the travail of our hands, out of the earth which Yahveh has cursed," a thematic and verbal allusion (and, indeed, a hoped-for end) to the divine curses announced in Genesis 3:17. Moreover, after the flood Noah and his sons are given the same blessing and earthly stewardship as was Adam, with the singular exception that now flesh is permitted as food, whereas Adam was a vegetarian (Gn. 9:1–7, 1:28–30). In the postdiluvian world, Noah also goes beyond his ancestor Adam insofar as he is considered a man of domesticated labor—a vintner (Gn. 9:19). Later biblical tradition remembered Noah as the hero of the flood (Is. 54:9) and as one of the three most "righteous" men of antiquity (Ez. 14:14, 14:20). In this latter attribution, there is an obvious link to the statement in Genesis 6:9 that "Noah was a righteous man; perfect in his generation."
In the Midrash and aggadah, rabbis developed the traditions of Noah's righteousness, emphasizing, on the one hand, both his fellow feelings and his concern that his generation repent of their sins (a tradition also found in the church fathers) and, on the other hand, his concern for all animals and species of life. A more jaundiced note is sounded by both the rabbinic view that Noah merely excelled in his own generation, which was very evil, but was not himself of exemplary righteousness (Gn. Rab. 30.9) and the later Hasidic comment of Yaʿaqov Yosef of Polonnoye that Noah was a self-centered tsaddiq, or righteous leader, since he did not seek the spiritual-social transformation of the entire people.
In Christianity, Noah served as one of the most important typological figures insofar as he symbolized the just person who, in a sinful world, submitted in faith to God (cf. Heb. 11:7, Lk. 17:26, 1 Pt. 3:20, 2 Pt. 2:5). The flood, ark, and dove prominent in the biblical story also serve as Christian prefigurations, for just as Noah rises above death by water, so Jesus and the Christians defeat Satan and death by the waters of baptism (1 Pt. 3:18–21). In other traditions, Noah prefigures Jesus as one who announces judgment and saves humanity from complete destruction, and his ark symbolizes the church. The dove sent forth by Noah comes to symbolize the Holy Spirit of peace and divine reconciliation moving over the baptismal waters. In Muslim tradition, Noah (Arab., Nuh) also plays a strong role: an entire sūrah of the Qurʾān (17) is devoted to him, and Muḥammed considered Noah's life as prototypical of his own.
Allen, D. C. Legend of Noah: Renaissance Rationalism. Urbana, Ill., 1949.
Ginzberg, Louis. The Legends of the Jews (1909–1938). 7 vols. Translated by Henrietta Szold et al. Reprint, Philadelphia, 1937–1966. See the index, s.v. Noah.
Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis. New York, 1972.
Speiser, E. A. Genesis. Anchor Bible, vol. 1. Garden City, N.Y., 1964.
Bailey, Lloyd R. Noah: The Person and the Story in History and Tradition. Studies on Personalities of the Old Testament. Columbia, S.C., 1989.
Ochs, Carol. The Noah Paradox: Time as Burden, Time as Blessing. Notre Dame, Ind., 1991.
Pleins, J. David. When the Great Abyss Opened: Classic and Contemporary Readings of Noah's Flood. Oxford and New York, 2003.
Michael Fishbane (1987)
The Book of Genesis
Son of Lamech
In the book of Genesis in the Bible, Noah was the hero chosen by God to survive a great flood on earth. According to the monotheistic religions of the Middle East, Noah and his family survived the flood in an ark he had built by God's instruction. He also saved the earth's animals by bringing two of every kind with him onto the ark. The biblical story was probably based on similar accounts of a flood in myths from Mesopotamia (pronounced mess-uh-puh-TAY-mee-uh).
According to the story in Genesis, the human race had become so wicked that God was sorry he ever created it. He decided to wash away all the creatures of the earth in a great flood. However, God saw that Noah was a righteous man, so he decided to save him. God told Noah of his plans and instructed him to build a great ark in which he could ride out the storm with his wife and children. Then he commanded Noah to find male and female specimens of every type of animal on the earth and bring them into the ark, and also to gather plants and seeds. Noah followed God's instructions and entered the ark as the rain began to fall.
It rained for forty days and forty nights, until the waters covered even the tops of the highest mountains. After the rain ended, Noah released a raven and a dove to find out whether there was any dry land on earth. Both birds returned, indicating that water still covered the planet.
Seven days later, Noah sent the dove out again. This time it returned with an olive branch, which meant that dry land had finally appeared. According to later Jewish legend, the ark came to rest on the top of Mount Ararat (in what is now Turkey), and Noah and his family emerged with all the animals.
Noah built an altar and made a sacrifice to God. God then made a covenant, or agreement, with Noah, promising never again to destroy the earth with a flood. He placed a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of this covenant.
Noah in Context
Since all other humans were destroyed in the flood, biblical scholars took this to mean that all living people were descended from the sons of Noah. In this sense, the myth is a second creation myth for Christians. In medieval times, it was accepted that each of Noah's three sons populated one of the known continents: Japheth in Europe, Shem in Asia, and Ham in Africa. Ham, shortly after the flood, had been cursed by Noah for his disrespect, and his sons were doomed to act as servants for the others. Since Ham's sons were thought to be the ancestors of all Africans, some Europeans used this myth as a justification for the enslavement of African people. It was even believed by some that the darker skin of Africans must have resulted from Ham's wickedness, since Noah's descendants would all otherwise have had the same skin color.
Key Themes and Symbols
In Christian tradition, Noah is a symbol for virtue and righteousness. This explains why God warned him of the coming flood, and why God tasked him with saving all the species in the world. In later times, many viewed the Ark as a symbol of the body of Christ or the church; this corresponds to the fact that the Ark is the only protection against God's wrath. The olive branch that the dove brings back to Noah is a symbol of salvation and the restoration of peace, since it shows that the catastrophe is over. The rainbow represents harmony with nature as God's promise to never again bring a flood to destroy the earth.
Noah in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Noah is one of the best-known characters in the book of Genesis. He has appeared in paintings by Michelangelo, Jacopo Bassano, and Giovanni Bellini, among others. His tale is frequently offered on its own as an example of the benefits of living a virtuous life. In modern times, the Disney animated film Fantasia 2000 contains a sequence retelling the myth of Noah with Donald Duck filling the role, while the 2007 comedy Evan Almighty casts Steve Carell as a modern-day version of Noah.
Turkish Earthquakes and the Flood
There is geological evidence that in ancient times the Bosphorus (the strait by Istanbul, Turkey, that joins the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea) was once blocked up. The Black Sea had a water level below that of the other nearby bodies of water—the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Evidence suggests that at some point many thousands of years in the past, a violent earthquake shook loose the rock and earth blocking the Bosphorus, allowing the water from the Aegean and the Sea of Marmara to inundate the communities surrounding the coast of the Black Sea. Indeed, archaeologists have found the remains of sunken cities deep in the Black Sea along the Turkish coast. This cataclysm may be the source of the story of the “great flood.”
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
The trials of Noah are remarkably similar to those of Utnapishtim from the ancient epic Gilgamesh. Compare the two. What events are common to both stories? In what ways are they different? Do you think this suggests that both stories come from the same source? Why or why not?
In the book of Genesis in the Bible, Noah was the hero chosen by God to survive a great flood on earth. The biblical story was probably based on similar accounts of a flood in myths from Mesopotamia*.
According to the story in Genesis, the human race had become so wicked that God was sorry he ever created it. He decided to wash away all the creatures of the earth in a great flood. However, God saw that Noah was a righteous man so he decided to save him. God told Noah of his plans and instructed him to build a great ark in which he could ride out the storm with his wife and children. Then he commanded Noah to find male and female specimens of every type of animal on the earth and bring them into the ark and also to gather plants and seeds. Noah followed God's instructions and entered the ark as the rain began to fall.
It rained for 40 days and 40 nights, until the waters covered even the tops of the highest mountains. After the rain ended, Noah released a raven and a dove to find out whether there was any dry land on earth. Both birds returned, indicating that water still covered the planet. Seven days later, Noah sent the dove out again. This time it returned with an olive branch, which meant that dry land had finally appeared. According to later Jewish legend, the ark came to rest on the top of Mount Ararat (in what is now Turkey), and Noah and his family emerged with all the animals.
Noah built an altar and made a sacrifice to God. God then made a covenant, or agreement, with Noah, promising never again to devastate the earth because of the wickedness of humans. He placed a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of this covenant.
See also Floods; Gilgamesh; Semitic Mythology; Utnapishtim.
Noah (nō´ə) [Heb.,=to rest], in the Bible, the builder of the ark. Righteous Noah and his family were the only people God saved from a world sunk in sin. At divine direction Noah built the ship that saved human and animal life from the Deluge, after which God established a covenant with him. According to biblical ethnography, Noah's sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, are eponymous ancestors of races as humankind is divided in the Bible. The story has similarities with other Middle Eastern accounts of the Deluge in the Gilgamesh epic and in the Babylonian myth of Atrahasis.
Noah's ark the ship in which Noah, his family, and the animals were saved from the Flood, according to the biblical account (Genesis 6–8); a children's toy representing this.