Noah (or Noe, Noach; ; Nūḥ ;Arabic: نوح ; "Rest ) was, according to the Bible, the tenth and last of the antediluvian Patriarchs. His story is contained in the book of Genesis, chapters 5-9. Noah saves his family and all animals in groups of two or seven from God's Deluge. He receives a covenant from God, and his sons repopulate the earth.

While the Deluge and Noah's Ark are the best-known elements of the account of Noah, he is also mentioned as the "first husbandman" and the inventor of wine, as well as in an episode of his drunkenness and the subsequent Curse of Ham. The account of Noah was the subject of much elaboration in the later Abrahamic traditions, and was immensely influential in Western culture. Jewish thinkers have debated the extent of Noah's righteousness, Christians have likened the Christian Church to Noah's ark, and in Islam he is revered as a prophet of God.


According to biblical accounts, when Noah was six hundred years old, God, seeing man's wickedness which had become abundant in the earth, was saddened, and decided to send a great deluge to destroy disobedient mankind. But he saw that Noah was a righteous man, and instructed him to build an ark and gather himself and his family. And so the Flood came, and all life was extinguished, except for those who were with Noah, "and the waters prevailed upon the earth for one-hundred and fifty days until the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. There Noah built an altar to God (the first altar mentioned in the Bible) and made an offering. "And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odour, the Lord said in his heart, 'I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease'.

Then God made a covenant: Noah and his descendants would henceforth be free to eat meat ("every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything"), and the animals would fear man; and in return, man was forbidden to eat "flesh with its life, that is, its blood." And God forbade murder, and gave a commandment: "Be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it." And as a sign of His covenant, He set the rainbow in the sky, "the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.

After the Flood, "Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent." Noah's son Ham saw his father naked and informed his brothers, who covered Noah while averting their eyes. Noah awoke and cursed Ham's son Canaan with eternal slavery, while giving his blessing to Shem and Japheth: "Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.

Noah died 350 years after the Flood, at the age of 950 , the last of the immensely long-lived antediluvian Patriarchs. The maximum human lifespan, as depicted by the Bible, diminishes rapidly thereafter, from as much as 900 years to the 120 years of Moses within just a few generations. Another few generations later, lifespans were reported to be less than 100 years on average.

Jewish perspectives

See also: Noah in Rabbinic Literature

The righteousness of Noah is the subject of much discussion among the rabbis. The description of Noah as "righteous in his generation" implied to some that his perfection was only relative: In his generation of wicked people, he could be considered righteous, but in the generation of a tzadik like Abraham, he would not be considered so righteous. They point out that Noah did not pray to God on behalf of those about to be destroyed, as Abraham prayed for the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, Noah is never seen to speak; he simply listens to God and acts on his orders. This led such commentators to offer the figure of Noah as "the man in a fur coat," who ensured his own comfort while ignoring his neighbour. Others, such as the medieval commentator Rashi, held on the contrary that the building of the Ark was stretched over 120 years, deliberately in order to give sinners time to repent.

Christian perspectives

To the early Christians, the flood was a common analogy to the coming final judgment. In the gospel of Luke 17:26 Jesus is quoted as saying, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man.” Therefore suggesting that the second coming would occur in much the same way as the flood, where a quick and unexpected separation between the saved and condemned would arise. Noah represented those who would be saved and those who drowned were those who did not believe.

Noah is called a "preacher of righteousness" in 2 Peter 2:5, and the First Epistle of Peter equates the saving power of baptism with the Ark saving those who were in it. In later Christian thought, the Ark came to be equated with the Church: salvation was to be found only within Christ and his Lordship. St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), demonstrated in The City of God that the dimensions of the Ark corresponded to the dimensions of the human body, which corresponds to the body of Christ; the equation of Ark and Church is still found in the Anglican rite of baptism, which asks God, "who of thy great mercy didst save Noah," to receive into the Church the infant about to be baptised.

Noah's three sons were generally interpreted in medieval Christianity as the founders of the populations of the three known continents, Japheth/Europe, Shem/Asia, and Ham/Africa, although a rarer variation held that they represented the three classes of medieval society - the priests (Shem), the warriors (Japheth), and the peasants (Ham). In the 18th and 19th centuries the view that Ham's sons in general had been literally "blackened" by sin came to provide a religious justification for slavery.

Gnostic literature

Gnosticism was an important development of (and departure from) early Christianity, blending Jewish scriptures and Christian teachings with traditional pagan religion and esoteric Greek philosophical concepts. An important Gnostic text, the Apocryphon of John reports that the chief archon caused the flood because he desired to destroy the world he had made, but the First Thought informed Noah of the chief archon's plans, and Noah informed the remainder of humanity. Unlike the account of Genesis, not only are Noah's family saved, but many others also heed Noah's call. There is no ark in this account; instead Noah and the others hide in a "luminous cloud".

Islamic perspectives

The Koran contains 43 references to Noah (نوح, Nūḥ) in 28 suras (chapters), notably Sura Nuh and Sura Hud. Sura 11 (Hud) is largely an account of the Flood. Sura 71 (i.e., Sura Nuh), of 28 verses, consists of a divine injunction to Noah to preach, a short sermon of Noah’s to his idolatrous contemporaries on the monotheism of Allah (God), and Noah’s complaint to God about the hardness of the people’s hearts when his preaching is met by ridicule:

"We sent Noah to his people: He said, “O my people! worship God! Ye have no other god but Him. Will ye not fear (Him)?"
"The chiefs of the Unbelievers among his people said: He is no more than a man like yourselves: his wish is to assert his superiority over you: if God had wished (to send messengers), He could have sent down angels; never did we hear such a thing (as he says), among our ancestors of old.”
"(And some said): He is only a man possessed: wait (and have patience) with him for a time."
"(Noah) said: O my Lord, help me, for that they accuse me of falsehood!”

Noah asks God to destroy mankind (“My Lord! Leave not one of the disbelievers in the land! If You leave them, they will mislead Your servants, and they will beget none but wicked disbelievers”), and God assures the Prophet that He will have no mercy on the unbelievers: "Build the ship under Our eyes and by Our inspiration, and speak not unto Me on behalf of those who do wrong. Lo! they will be drowned!" God's Flood then comes, the unbelievers are destroyed, the earth swallows the water, and the ship comes to rest on Mount Judi.

Genesis's Noah lives for a total of 950 years, with the Flood coming in his six hundredth year; the Koran's Noah is already 950 at the time of the Flood, and has spent this time preaching the singleness of God. (In later tradition, only 83 people are willing to submit, i.e., become muslim, "those who seek peace" with God; these 83 are saved with Noah). It is mankind's obduracy which eventually brings the wrath of God on the unbelievers.

The theme of the Koranic story is the unity of Allah and the need to seek peace with Him. The narrative element concentrates exclusively on the Flood story, and does not include the Genesis account of Noah's drunkenness. The possibility of the Curse of Ham narrative is in fact implicitly excluded: the Koranic Noah has only one son, not three, and that son does not join his father despite Noah's final plea to be saved ("O my son! Come ride with us, and be not with the disbelievers!"); instead he flees to the mountains, and God tells Noah that this is because he is an evildoer. (In later Islamic tradition the son is given the name Canaan).

Shi'a Muslims believe that Noah is buried next to Ali within Imam Ali Mosque, in Najaf, Iraq.

Contemporary academic perspectives

According to the documentary hypothesis, the first five books of the Bible, including Genesis, were collated during the 5th century BC from four main sources, which themselves date from no earlier than the 10th century BC. Two of these, the Jahwist, composed in the 10th century BC, and the Priestly source, from the late 7th century BC, make up the chapters of Genesis which concern Noah. The attempt by the 5th century editor to accommodate two independent and sometimes conflicting sources accounts for the confusion over such matters as how many pairs of animals Noah took, and how long the flood lasted.

More broadly, Genesis seems to contain two accounts concerning Noah, the first making him the hero of the Flood, the second representing him as a husbandman who planted a vineyard. This has led some scholars to believe that Noah was originally the inventor of wine, in keeping with the statement at that Lamech "called his name Noah, saying, 'Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.'"

The "Curse of Ham" has given rise to much discussion, but seems to express a hope on the part of the 6th century BC compilers of the Torah that the Medes (Japhet) would join with the Jews (Shem) in restoring Jewish rule in the land of Canaan: "Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem, and let Canaan be his slave. God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his slave."

Mythological connections

Noah's great grandfather Enoch is the beginning of a web of similarities between the story of Noah and older Mesopotamian myths. According to , at the end of his 365 years Enoch "walked with God, and was not, for God took him" - the only one of the ten pre-Flood Patriarchs not reported to have died. It is not explicitly stated where he is taken. In a late Apocryphal tradition, Methuselah is reported to have visited Enoch at the end of the Earth, where he dwelt with the angels, immortal. The details bring to mind Utnapishtim, a figure from the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh - the hero Gilgamesh, after long and arduous travel, finds Utnapishtim living in the paradise of Dilmun at the end of the Earth, where he has been granted eternal life by the gods. (Gilgamesh's reason for seeking out Utnapishtim, incidentally, is to learn the secret of immortality - like Methuselah, he comes close to the gift but fails to achieve it). Utnapishtim then tells how he survived a great flood, and how he was afterwards granted immortality by the gods. It has been suggested that the Flood story may originally have belonged to Enoch.

Lamech's statement that Noah will be named "rest" because "out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands," has another faint parallel in Babylonian mythology: the gods grew tired of working, digging the channels of the rivers, and so the god Enki created man from clay and blood and spit to do the work for them. Enki fell in love with his creation, and later warned Utnapishtim that the other gods planned to send a flood to destroy all life, and advised him on how to construct his ark.

Noah is also often compared to Deucalion, the son of Prometheus and Pronoia in Greek mythology. Like Noah, Deucalion is a wine maker or wine seller; he is forewarned of the flood (this time by Zeus); he builds an ark and staffs it with creatures - and when he completes his voyage, gives thanks and takes advice from the Gods on how to repopulate the Earth. This and some other examples of apparent comparison between Greek myths and the "key characters" in the Old Testament/Torah have led recent Biblical scholars, particularly those commenting on the Documentary hypothesis to conclude a Hellenistic influence in the composition of the earlier portions of the Hebrew Bible.

See also


Further reading

  • Bailey, Lloyd R. (1989). Noah, the Person and the Story. South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 0-87249-637-6.
  • Best, Robert M. (1999). Noah's Ark and the Ziusudra Epic. Fort Myers, Florida: Enlil Press. ISBN 0-9667840-1-4.
  • Young, Davis A. (1995). The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-85364-678-3.

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