NOAH


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."

[Dwight Young]

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 Christianity

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.

In Islam

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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

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.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.