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In the traditions of Abrahamic religions, Noah[lower-alpha 1] (//) features as the tenth and last of the pre-Flood patriarchs. His story appears in the Hebrew Bible (in the Book of Genesis, chapters 5–9) and in the Quran. The Genesis flood narrative is among the best-known stories of the Bible. Noah is also portrayed as a "tiller of the soil" and as a drinker of wine.
According to the Genesis account, Noah labored faithfully to build the Ark at God's command, ultimately saving not only his own family, but mankind itself and all land animals, from extinction during the Flood. Afterwards, God made a covenant with Noah and promised never again to destroy all the Earth's creatures with a flood. The flood narrative is followed by the story of the Curse of Ham.
In addition to his appearance in the Book of Genesis, Noah is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the First Book of Chronicles, and the books of Tobit, Wisdom, Sirach, Isaiah, Ezekiel, 2 Esdras, 4 Maccabees; the New Testament references him in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and in the epistles (Epistle to the Hebrews, 1st Peter and 2nd Peter). Noah became the subject of much elaboration in the literature of later Abrahamic religions, including the Quran (Surahs 71, 7, 11, 54, and 21).
Genesis flood narrative
The Genesis flood narrative is encompassed within chapters 6–9 in the Book of Genesis, in the Bible. The narrative indicates that God intended to return the Earth to its pre-Creation state of watery chaos by flooding the Earth because of humanity's misdeeds and then remake it using the microcosm of Noah's ark. Thus, the flood was no ordinary overflow but a reversal of Creation. The narrative discusses the evil of mankind that moved God to destroy the world by the way of the flood, the preparation of the ark for certain animals, Noah, and his family, and God's guarantee (the Noahic Covenant) for the continued existence of life under the promise that he would never send another flood.
After the flood
After the flood, Noah offered burnt offerings to God, who said: "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done" (8:20–21).
"And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (9:1). They were also told that all fowls, land animals, and fishes would be afraid of them. Furthermore, as well as green plants, every moving thing would be their food with the exception that the blood was not to be eaten. Man's life blood would be required from the beasts and from man. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man" (9:6). A rainbow, called "my bow", was given as the sign of a covenant "between me and you and every living creature that [is] with you, for perpetual generations" (9:2–17), called the Noahic covenant or the rainbow covenant.
Noah died 350 years after the flood, at the age of 950, the last of the extremely long-lived Antediluvian patriarchs. The maximum human lifespan, as depicted by the Bible, gradually diminishes thereafter, from almost 1,000 years to the 120 years of Moses.
After the flood, the Bible says that Noah became a farmer and he planted a vineyard. He drank wine made from this vineyard, and got drunk; and lay "uncovered" within his tent. Noah's son Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his brothers, which led to Ham's son Canaan being cursed by Noah.
As early as the Classical era, commentators on Genesis 9:20–21 have excused Noah's excessive drinking because he was considered to be the first wine drinker; the first person to discover the effects of wine. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, and a Church Father, wrote in the 4th century that Noah's behavior is defensible: as the first human to taste wine, he would not know its effects: "Through ignorance and inexperience of the proper amount to drink, fell into a drunken stupor". Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, also excused Noah by noting that one can drink in two different manners: (1) to drink wine in excess, a peculiar sin to the vicious evil man or (2) to partake of wine as the wise man, Noah being the latter. In Jewish tradition and rabbinic literature on Noah, rabbis blame Satan for the intoxicating properties of the wine.
In the context of Noah's drunkenness, Genesis 9:18–27 relates two facts: (1) Noah became drunken and "he was uncovered within his tent", and (2) Ham "saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without".
Because of its brevity and textual inconsistencies, it has been suggested that this narrative is a "splinter from a more substantial tale". A fuller account would explain what exactly Ham had done to his father, or why Noah directed a curse at Canaan for Ham's misdeed, or how Noah came to know what occurred. In the field of psychological biblical criticism, J. H. Ellens and W. G. Rollins have analysed the unconventional behavior that occurs between Noah and Ham as revolving around sexuality and the exposure of genitalia as compared with other Hebrew Bible texts, such as Habakkuk 2:15 and Lamentations 4:21.
Other commentaries mention that "uncovering someone's nakedness" could mean having sexual intercourse with that person or that person's spouse, as quoted in Leviticus 18:7-8 and 20:11. From this interpretation, it can be deduced that Ham was guilty of engaging in incest and raping Noah or his own mother. The latter interpretation would make clear why Canaan, as the product of this illicit union, was cursed by Noah. Alternatively, Canaan could be the perpetrator himself as the Bible describes the illicit deed being committed by Noah's "youngest son", with Ham being consistently described as the middle son in other verses.
Table of nations
Genesis 10 sets forth the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, from whom the nations branched out over the Earth after the flood. Among Japheth's descendants were the maritime nations. (10:2–5) Ham's son Cush had a son named Nimrod, who became the first man of might on earth, a mighty hunter, king in Babylon and the land of Shinar. (10:6–10) From there Ashur went and built Nineveh. (10:11–12) Canaan's descendants – Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites – spread out from Sidon as far as Gerar, near Gaza, and as far as Sodom and Gomorrah. (10:15–19) Among Shem's descendants was Eber. (10:21)
These genealogies differ structurally from those set out in Genesis 5 and 11. It has a segmented or treelike structure, going from one father to many offspring. It is strange that the table, which assumes that the population is distributed about the Earth, precedes the account of the Tower of Babel, which says that all the population is in one place before it is dispersed.
According to the documentary hypothesis, the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch/Torah), 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 of each animal Noah took, and how long the flood lasted.
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible notes that this story echoes parts of the Garden of Eden story: Noah is the first vintner, while Adam is the first farmer; both have problems with their produce; both stories involve nakedness; and both involve a division between brothers leading to a curse. However, after the flood, the stories differ. Noah plants the vineyard and utters the curse, not God, so "God is less involved".
Noah appears in several non-canonical books.
In 10:1–3 of the Book of Enoch (which is part of the Orthodox Tewahedo biblical canon) and canonical for Beta Israel, Uriel was dispatched by "the Most High" to inform Noah of the approaching "deluge".
Dead Sea scrolls
There are 20 or so fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls that appear to refer to Noah. Lawrence Schiffman writes, "Among the Dead Sea Scrolls at least three different versions of this legend are preserved." In particular, "The Genesis Apocryphon devotes considerable space to Noah." However, "The material seems to have little in common with Genesis 5 which reports the birth of Noah." Also, Noah's father is reported as worrying that his son was actually fathered by one of the Watchers.
The righteousness of Noah is the subject of much discussion among 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 some commentators to offer the figure of Noah as "the righteous 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. Rashi interprets his father's statement of the naming of Noah (in Hebrew – Noaħ נֹחַ) "This one will comfort us (in Hebrew– yeNaĦamenu יְנַחֲמֵנו) in our work and in the toil of our hands, which come from the ground that the Lord had cursed", by saying Noah heralded a new era of prosperity, when there was easing (in Hebrew – naħah – נחה) from the curse from the time of Adam when the Earth produced thorns and thistles even where men sowed wheat and that Noah then introduced the plow.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "The Book of Genesis contains two accounts of Noah." In the first, Noah is the hero of the flood, and in the second, he is the father of mankind and a husbandman who planted the first vineyard. "The disparity of character between these two narratives has caused some critics to insist that the subject of the latter account was not the same as the subject of the former." Perhaps the original name of the hero of the flood was actually Enoch.
The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that Noah's drunkenness is not presented as reprehensible behavior. Rather, "It is clear that ... Noah’s venture into viticulture provides the setting for the castigation of Israel’s Canaanite neighbors." It was Ham who committed an offense when he viewed his father's nakedness. Yet, "Noah’s curse, ... is strangely aimed at Canaan rather than the disrespectful Ham."
2 Peter 2:5 refers to Noah as a "preacher of righteousness". In the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, Jesus compares Noah's flood with the coming Day of Judgement: "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."
The First Epistle of Peter compares the power of baptism with the Ark saving those who were in it. In later Christian thought, the Ark came to be compared to the Church: salvation was to be found only within Christ and his Lordship, as in Noah's time it had been found only within the Ark. 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.
In medieval Christianity, Noah's three sons were generally considered 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 medieval Christian thought, Ham was considered to be the ancestor of the people of black Africa. So, in racialist arguments, the curse of Ham became a justification for the slavery of the black races.
Isaac Newton, in his religious works on the development of religion, wrote about Noah and his offspring. In Newton's view, while Noah was a monotheist, the gods of pagan antiquity are identified with Noah and his descendants.
In Mormon theology, Noah plays an important role, prior to his birth, as the angel Gabriel, and then lived in his mortal life as the patriarch-prophet Noah. Gabriel and Noah are regarded as the same individual under different names. Mormons also believe that Noah returned to earth as Gabriel after his earthly life and appeared to Daniel to teach him about the Second Coming; to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist; and to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Noah is considered the head of a dispensation along with Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Joseph Smith. A dispensation is a period of time in which the Lord has at least one authorized servant on earth who bears the keys of the holy priesthood. Noah became the means by which the gospel of Jesus Christ— the plan of salvation —is revealed anew, the means by which divine transforming powers, including saving covenants and ordinances, are extended to people during an age of time called a dispensation.
Noah is a highly important figure in Islam and he is seen as one of the most significant of all prophets. The Quran contains 43 references to Noah, or Nuḥ, in 28 chapters, and the seventy-first chapter, Sūrah Nūḥ (Arabic: سورة نوح), is named after him. His life is also spoken of in the commentaries and in Islamic legends.
Noah's narratives largely cover his preaching as well the story of the Deluge. Noah's narrative sets the prototype for many of the subsequent prophetic stories, which begin with the prophet warning his people and then the community rejecting the message and facing a punishment.
The Quran focuses on several instances from Noah's life more than others, and one of the most significant events is the Flood. God makes a covenant with Noah just as he did with Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad later on (33:7). Noah is later reviled by his people and reproached by them for being a mere human messenger and not an angel (10:72–74). Moreover, the people mock Noah's words and call him a liar (7:62), and they even suggest that Noah is possessed by a devil when the prophet ceases to preach (54:9). Only the lowest in the community join Noah in believing in God's message (11:29), and Noah's narrative further describes him preaching both in private and public. Noah prays to God, "Lord, leave not one single family of Infidels from the land: / For if thou leave them they will beguile thy servants and will beget only sinners, infidels."[dead link] The Quran narrates that Noah received a revelation to build an Ark, after his people refused to believe in his message and hear the warning. The narrative goes on to describe that waters poured forth from the Heavens, destroying all the sinners. Even one of his sons disbelieved him, stayed behind, and was drowned. After the Flood ended, the Ark rested atop Mount Judi (Quran 11:44).
And, indeed, [in times long past] We sent forth Noah unto his people, and he dwelt among them a thousand years bar fifty; and then the floods overwhelmed them while they were still lost in evildoing.
According to the Ahmadiyya understanding of the Quran, the period described in the Quran is the age of his dispensation, which extended until the time of Ibrahim (Abraham, 950 years). The first 50 years were the years of spiritual progress, which were followed by 900 years of spiritual deterioration of the people of Noah.
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. According to Elaine Pagels, "Rather, they hid in a particular place, not only Noah, but also many other people from the unshakable race. They entered that place and hid in a bright cloud."
The Baháʼí Faith regards the Ark and the Flood as symbolic. In Baháʼí belief, only Noah's followers were spiritually alive, preserved in the ark of his teachings, as others were spiritually dead. The Baháʼí scripture Kitáb-i-Íqán endorses the Islamic belief that Noah had a large number of companions, either 40 or 72, besides his family on the Ark, and that he taught for 950 (symbolic) years before the flood.
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- Bergelmir, a mythological Norse version of Noah.
- Manu, the central character in the Hindu flood myth
- Noah's wine, a term that refers to an alcoholic beverage.
- Nu'u, a mythological Hawaiian character who built an ark and escaped a Great Flood.
- Patriarchal age
- Searches for Noah's Ark, sometimes referred to as arkeology
- Seven Laws of Noah
- Tomb of Noah
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- Genesis 9:28–29
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- Matthew 24:38
- Luke 17:26
- Peters, DM., Noah Traditions in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Conversations and Controversies of Antiquity, Society of Biblical Lit, 2008, pp. 15–17.
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- From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, November 25, 1950. Published in Compilation 1983, p. 494
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