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Noah's sacrifice by Daniel Maclise
Constructor of the Ark
BornMesopotamia (?)
Honored inJudaism
Baha'i Faith
Jews, Christians and Muslims
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Noah's sacrifice by Daniel Maclise
Constructor of the Ark
BornMesopotamia (?)
Honored inJudaism
Baha'i Faith
Jews, Christians and Muslims

Noah (play /ˈn.ə/;[1] or Noé, Noach; Hebrew: נֹחַ,‎ נוֹחַ, Modern Noaẖ Tiberian Nōăḥ; Arabic: نُوحNūḥ; Ancient Greek: Νῶε) was the tenth and last of the antediluvian Patriarchs. The story of Noah and the ark is told in chapters 6–9 of the book of Genesis, which is followed by the story of the Curse of Ham. Outside Genesis his name is mentioned in Ezekiel, Isaiah and Chronicles. He was the subject of much elaboration in later Abrahamic traditions, including the Qur'an.


Noah in Genesis

Mosaic depiction of Noah sending the dove

Noah was the tenth of the pre-Flood Patriarchs. His father Lamech named him nûaḥ (the final is a more guttural sound than the English h), saying, "This same shall comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, which cometh from the ground which the LORD hath cursed."[2] This connects the future patriarch's name with nāḥam, "comfort", but it seems better related to the word nûaḥ, meaning "rest", and is more a play on words than a true etymology.[3][4]

In his five hundredth year Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. In his six hundredth year God, saddened at the wickedness of mankind, sent a great deluge to destroy all life, but because Noah was "righteous in his generation" God instructed him to build an ark and save a remnant of life. After the Flood Noah offered a sacrifice (the word nihoah, describing the "pleasant" odour of the sacrifice, is yet another pun on Noah's name) and entered into a covenant with God regulating the shedding of blood (i.e., mankind's permission to kill under regulated circumstances).[5] After this he became "the first tiller of the soil", planted a vineyard, and drank the wine, and fell asleep naked; Noah's son Ham saw his father naked and told his brothers, and Noah cursed Ham's son Canaan.[6]

Noah died 350 years after the Flood, at the age of 950,[7] the last of the immensely long-lived antediluvian Patriarchs. One of the longest human lifespans, as depicted by the Bible, diminishes rapidly thereafter, from almost 1,000 years to the 120 years of Moses. (The longest recorded lifespan was that of Methuselah, who lived to be 969 years old. – Gen. 5:27)

Narrative analysis


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 pairs of animals Noah took, and how long the flood lasted.[8][9]

Noah and wine

Commentators, as early as the Classical era, 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 soothing, consoling, and enlivening effects of wine.[10] John Chrysostom, a church father, writes that Noah’s behaviour is defensible: as the first human to taste wine, he would not know its aftereffects: “Through ignorance and inexperience of the proper amount to drink, fell into a drunken stupor”.[11]

Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher also exonerates 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.[12]

In Jewish tradition, Rabbis blame Satan for saturating the vine with intoxicating properties from the blood of certain animals, thus Noah behaved not knowing what he was doing.[13]

Noah and Ham

In the field of Psychological biblical criticism, J. H. Ellens and W. G. Rollins address the narrative of Genesis 9:18–27 that narrates the unconventional behavior that occurs between Noah and Ham. Because of its brevity and textual inconsistencies, it has been suggested that this narrative is a “splinter from a more substantial tale”.[14][15] 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. The narrator relates two facts: (1) Noah became inebriated when he “uncovered himself within his tent” and (2) Ham “saw his father’s nakedness.” Thus, these passages revolve around sexuality and the exposure of genitalia as compared with other Hebrew bible texts, such as Habakkuk 2:15 and Lamentations 4:21.[16]

Noah’s descendants

The dispersion of the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (map from the 1854 Historical Textbook and Atlas of Biblical Geography)

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. (Genesis 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. (Genesis 10:6–10) From there Asshur went and built Nineveh. (Genesis 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. (Genesis 10:15–19) Among Shem’s descendants was Eber. (Genesis 10:21)

Religious views


A Jewish depiction of Noah

The righteousness of Noah is the subject of much discussion among the rabbis.[17] 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. Rashi interprets his father's statement of the naming of Noah (in Hebrew נֹחַ) “This one will comfort (in Hebrew– yeNaHamainu יְנַחֲמֵנו) from our work and our hands sore from the land that the Lord had cursed”,[18] by saying Noah heralded a new era of prosperity, when there was easing (in Hebrew – nahah – 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.


An early Christian depiction showing Noah giving the gesture of orant as the dove returns

According to 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is considered a "preacher of righteousness". Of the Gospels in the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke 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.”[19]

The First Epistle of Peter compares the saving 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 the 18th and 19th centuries the view that Ham's sons in general had been literally "blackened" by the curse of Noah was cited as justification for black slavery.[citation needed]

In Latter-day Saint theology, the angel Gabriel lived in his mortal life as the patriarch Noah. Gabriel and Noah are regarded as the same individual; Noah being his mortal name and Gabriel being his heavenly name.[20]


An Islamic depiction of Noah

Noah is a highly important figure in Islam, and is seen as one of the most significant prophets of all. The Qur'an contains 43 references to Noah in 28 chapters and the seventy-first chapter, Chapter Noah, is named after him. Noah's narratives largely consist around his preaching as well the story of the Deluge. Noah's narrative lays 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. Noah is not the first prophet sent to mankind, according to the Quran (The first prophet according to Islam is Adam, who was the first man and thus the first prophet as he was the only one to deliver the message at that time). Noah has several titles in Islam, based primarily on praise for him in the Qur'an, including True Messenger of God (XXVI: 107) and Grateful Servant of God (XVII: 3). The Qur'an further states that God chose Adam, Noah, the family of Abraham and the family of Amram above all mankind (III: 33).

The Qur'an focuses on several instances from Noah's life more than others, and one of the most significant events is the Deluge. God makes a covenant with Noah just as with Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad later on (XXXIII: 7). Noah is later reviled by his people and reproached by them for being a mere human messenger and not an angel (X: 72-74). Moreover, the people of Noah mock Noah's words and call him a liar (VII: 62) and even suggest that Noah is possessed by a devil when the prophet ceases to preach (LIV: 9). Only the lowest in the community join Noah in believing in God's message (XI: 29), and Noah's narrative further describes him preaching both in private and public. The Qur'an 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. After the Great Flood ceased, the Ark rested atop Mount Judi (Qur'an 11:44).


The tomb of Noah in the Nakhchivan area of the Azerbaijan Republic. The name Nakhchivan is believed to derive from the meaning "The place where Noah landed after the flood"

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".


The Bahá'í Faith regards the Ark and the Flood as symbolic.[21] In Bahá'í belief, only Noah's followers were spiritually alive, preserved in the ark of his teachings, as others were spiritually dead.[22][23] The Bahá'í 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.[24]


Noah's first burnt offering after the Flood – relief in Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc

Ancient Greek

In Greek mythology, Noah has often been compared to Deucalion, the son of Prometheus and Pronoia. Like Noah, Deucalion is a wine maker or wine seller; he is forewarned of the flood (this time by Zeus and Poseidon); 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. Deucalion also sends a pigeon to find out about the situation of the world and the bird return with an olive branch. 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 to suggest a Hellenistic influence in the composition of the earlier portions of the Hebrew Bible.[citation needed]


The earliest written flood myth is found in the Mesopotamian Epic of Atrahasis and Epic of Gilgamesh texts. Many scholars believe that Noah and the Biblical Flood story are derived from the Mesopotamian version, predominantly because Biblical mythology that is today found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Mandeanism shares overlapping consistency with far older written ancient Mesopotamian story of The Great Flood, and that the early Hebrews were known to have lived in Mesopotamia.[25]

Gilgamesh’s historical reign is believed to have been approximately 2700 BCE,[26] shortly before the earliest known written stories. The discovery of artifacts associated with Aga and Enmebaragesi of Kish, two other kings named in the stories, has lent credibility to the historical existence of Gilgamesh.[27]

The earliest Sumerian Gilgamesh poems date from as early as the Third dynasty of Ur (2100–2000 BC).[28] One of these poems mentions Gilgamesh’s journey to meet the flood hero, as well as a short version of the flood story.[29] The earliest Akkadian versions of the unified epic are dated to ca. 2000–1500 BC.[30] Due to the fragmentary nature of these Old Babylonian versions, it is unclear whether they included an expanded account of the flood myth; although one fragment definitely includes the story of Gilgamesh’s journey to meet Utnapishtim. The “standard” Akkadian version included a long version of the flood story and was edited by Sin-liqe-unninni sometime between 1300 and 1000 BC.[31] In the Mesopotamian epics, Atrahasis (Utnapishtim) is glorified as a hero for his epic deeds of building and loading the ark, whereas Genesis simply says, “Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.” Obedience to God, not human courage, is the focus in the later Genesis narrative.[32]

See also


  1. ^ "Book of Mormon Pronunciation Guide" (retrieved 2012-02-25), IPA-ified from «nō´a»
  2. ^ Genesis 5:29
  3. ^ K. A. Mathews.The New American Commentary, Vol. 1 – Genesis 1–11 p.316
  4. ^ Sarna. Genesis p.46
  5. ^ Altar. Five Books of Moses p.48-51
  6. ^ Genesis 9:20–27
  7. ^ Genesis 9:28–29
  8. ^ Collins, John J. (2004). Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-8006-2991-4. 
  9. ^ Friedman, Richard Elliotty (1989). Who Wrote the Bible?. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 59. ISBN 0-06-063035-3. 
  10. ^ Ellens & Rollins. Psychology and the Bible: From Freud to Kohut, 2004, (ISBN 027598348X, 9780275983482), p.52
  11. ^ Hamilton, 1990, pp. 202–203
  12. ^ Philo, 1971, p. 160
  13. ^ Gen. Rabbah 36:3
  14. ^ Speiser, 1964, 62
  15. ^ T. A. Bergren. Biblical Figures Outside the Bible, 2002, (ISBN 1563384116, ISBN 978-1-56338-411-0), p. 136
  16. ^ Ellens & Rollins, 2004, p.53
  17. ^ " – Noah". 
  18. ^ Genesis 5:28
  19. ^ Luke 17:26
  20. ^ "Encyclopedia of Mormonism – NOAH". 
  21. ^ From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, October 28, 1949: Bahá'í News, No. 228, February 1950, p. 4. Republished in Compilation 1983, p. 508
  22. ^ Poirier, Brent. "The Kitab-i-Iqan: The key to unsealing the mysteries of the Holy Bible". Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  23. ^ Shoghi Effendi 1971, p. 104
  24. ^ From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, November 25, 1950. Published in Compilation 1983, p. 494
  25. ^ Bottero (2001:21–22)
  26. ^ Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq, pages 123, 502
  27. ^ Dalley, Stephanie, Myths from Mesopotamia, Oxford University Press (1989), p. 40–41
  28. ^ Andrew George, page xix
  29. ^ "The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature; The death of Gilgameš (three versions, translated)". 
  30. ^ Andrew George, page 101, “Early Second Millennium BC” in Old Babylonian
  31. ^ Andrew George, pages xxiv–xxv
  32. ^ Dunn & Rogerson Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, p. 43

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