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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."


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.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.