CONTEXT: Parallels between the stories of Noach and the Babylonian Utnapishtim point to intertextuality but the differences in detail and character far outweigh the similarities. A world destroying flood featured in third millennium BCE writings of Sumer, in the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates. The Akkadian (Babylonian) version goes back to early in the second millennium, with the best preserved tablets from the eighth or seventh century BCE.
The biblical Flood Story, with its distinctive themes, issues, and theology, exists in two versions that were knitted together by P, the priestly post exilic author and editor in the early fifth century BCE. The J (Jahwist) version is likely from the tenth century. The versions were similar enough that the writer was able to incorporate the earlier version into his own version. Redundancy or occasional contradiction seems to have concerned him less than including the J elements.
Deconstructing the writing, following style and sequence, yields two self consistent narratives. I present them side by side. Gaps in one side or the other indicate elements that that version lacks.
            Glosses, editorial insertions, are enclosed in parentheses. In verses 7:8-9 and in 7:17a, a copyist attempts to harmonize the two stories. Forty is the number of rainy days in the J story. Verse 17a makes forty the days of the flood, though in 7:24 there is a stronger statement:150 days. I have set these faulty lines in smaller font, acknowledging that they are there but suggesting the reader consider them minor distraction.
I am struck by the following parallel between our story and the earlier Akkadian account. In 8:21 Yahh sniffs the smoke of Noach’s offering and decides never again to curse the earth. In the Babylonian account Utnapishtim too, after letting out the animals, offers a sacrifice. “The gods smelled the savor, / The gods smelled the sweet savor. / The gods crowded like flies around the sacrificer. (Gilgamesh, Tablet 11, lines 158-61, trans. Speiser, ANET, p.95) This leads to Ea, one of the lower gods, arguing for punishing only the guilty, rather than destroying creation. Ea had informed Utnapishtim that Enlil was about to flood the world. The monotheistic and the polytheistic versions both involve divine promise of never again.
Beginning with Noach, humanity receives permission to eat meat–ctr vegetarian diet specified in “The First Week” (Gen 1:29) and in “The Garden.” (2:16) No wonder the animals and birds are terrified of people. (9:2) The priestly author does not mention pure and impure animals, that Sinai restriction applying to Yisrael.(Leviticus 11) The universal proviso for meat eating is avoiding consuming the animal’s blood, its “life.(9:4) Compare: “Only the blood you shall not eat. Pour it like water on the land.(Deuteronomy 12:16)
GLOSSARY: "Woman," isha, אִשָּׁה, (pl. nashim, נָשִִׂים) can be interpreted as "wife," as in this story, eg 6:2. I use the word as it shows up in Hebrew and let the reader/hearer do the interpreting. The J story, 7:2, uses the language “man and his woman” for mates among animals.
N'filim (6:4) reappear in the report of the 12 men sent to scout the promised land.  "We saw there the N'filim, giants. . . and in our own eyes we were like grasshoppers. . ."(Numbers `13:33)
“Pure,”(7:2) designates the species of which seven pairs of each enter the ark. The Hebrew is tahor, טהור, which is not used in the familiar list of kosher and nonkosher animals in Leviticus 11. Tahor does appear once in Deut 14:11, in reference to kosher birds.
"Ark,"(6:14) the word for the floating vessel in this story, comes from the Latin Vulgate: arca, "chest," related to "safeguard." This is a direct translation of tevah, תֵּבָה, which appears again only as the floating basket in which the infant Moses was saved. (Exodus 2:3) It is also common usage, based on the Vulgate (and Septuagint) to speak of the "Holy Ark," featured in the Exodus story, though there the Hebrew reads aron, אֲרוֹן, which also denotes a container for money and in the case of Yosef, a coffin. (Exodus 25:10, 2 Kings 12:10, Genesis 50:26)
Among the specifics of the ark construction is a צֹהַר, tsohar. (6:16)  Classic Jewish translations render it as “window,” the word for which occurs in the J version. (8:6) Some modern translations call it “roof.” None of the authoritative lexicons offers convincing etymological evidence for either translation. The context would allow either. In my imagination I picture a skylight, but the rest of the description and the later narrative supply no clue. So I leave the word in Hebrew as a bit of mystery.
Brit,(9:9) בְּרִית, is one of those Hebrew words whose conventional translations are inadequate or misleading. The word came to mean “covenant,” but in the present context it designates “relationship,” specifically, the narrator’s projection of special treatment by God for Noach (later, the patriarchs and all Yisrael). I think this meaning is clear from the context.
6          1It happened as humanity began to multiply over the face of the earth and daughters were born to them 2that the sons of god saw the human daughters as good and they took themselves women of all they chose. (3And Yahh said, my spirit shall not judge humanity forever for he is but flesh (and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.)) 4The N'filim were in the land in those days (and also afterwards) what with the sons of god coming to the daughters of humans who bore them children. They were the mighty ones, always men of renown.
            5And Yahh saw that human wickedness was great in the land, and that every inclination of his thought was only evil, all day long. 6And Yahh regretted that he had made man in the land. He was sad at heart.
            7And Yahh said: “I shall wipe the human that I created, from the face of the earth; from human to beast to moving thing to fowl of the sky, for I have come to regret that I made them.”
            8However, Noach found grace in the eyes of Yahh.

7          1So Yahh said to Noach: “Come, you and all your house into the ark. You, in this generation, I have seen to be just before Me.
2Of every pure animal you shall take yourself seven and seven, man and his woman; and of every animal that is not pure, two, man and his woman. 3Also of birds of the sky seven and seven, male and female. This is to keep seed alive over all the face of the land, 4for after seven more days I shall rain upon the land forty days and forty nights. I shall wipe from the face of the earth all existence I have made."
            5And Noach did as all Yahh commanded him.

            7Noach entered the ark because of the floodwater, with his sons and his woman and his sons’ women.

(8Of pure and impure animals, and of the fowl, and of everything that moves on land, 9there came two by two to Noach, to the ark, male and female, as God had commanded Noach.)

16bAnd Yahh closed him in.

10Then it happened: at the seven days the floodwater was over the land–12the rain was over the land forty days and forty nights. 17bThe water massed and lifted the ark so that it rose above the land. 19The water prevailed very very much over the land and all the high hills under the entire sky were covered.
            22All in whose nostrils was the breath of life–of all that was on dry land–died. 23He wiped all existence from the face of the earth. From human to cattle to moving thing to fowl of the sky–wiped off the land. There remained only Noach and those with him in the ark.

8          2bThe rain was shut off from the sky. 3aThe water receded from over the earth gradually.

            6It happened at the end of forty days that Noach opened the window he had made for the ark. 7He released the raven. It left, going out and back till the drying of the water off the earth.
            8Then he released the dove from himself, to see if the water was lessened from off the face of the land. 9But the dove found no resting place for its foot since water covered the face of the whole land, so it returned to him in the ark. He put out his hand and took it and brought it to himself in the ark.
            10He endured another seven days and again released the dove from the ark. 11The dove came back to him at evening and, there was a plucked olive leaf in her mouth. Thus Noach knew that the water was diminished from off the land.
            12He endured another seven days and released the dove. It did not again return to him at all.
            13bThen Noach turned back the covering of the ark and saw: a sight! the face of the earth had dried.

            20And Noach built an altar to Yahh and took of every pure animal and of every pure fowl, and sent up burnt offerings on the altar. 21And Yahh smelled the soothing sweet aroma and said to himself: “I will not again curse the earth on account of the human, for inclination in the human heart is evil from its youth. And I will not again strike all life as I have done.
22All the rest of the days of the land:
  Seeding and harvest, cold and heat,
  Summer and winter, day and night,
Shall not cease.”

9          18Noach’s sons who left the ark were Shem, Cham, and Yafet. (Cham was the ancestor of K'na'an.) 19These three were the sons of Noach and from them dispersed, the whole land.

            20And Noach began to be a man of the earth and planted a vineyard. 21He drank of the wine and got drunk, and uncovered himself in his tent. 22Cham, ancestor of K'na'an, saw his father’s pudenda and told his two brothers outside. 23So Shem and Yafet took the covering and draped it between the two of them them, each on his shoulder. Walking backwards they covered their father’s pudenda. (Their faces turned backwards, they did not see their father’s pudenda.) 24When Noach woke from his wine he knew what his small son had done to him.  And he said:
25“Cursed be K'na'an!
Slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.
26Blessed be Yahh, god of Shem.
K'na'an be slave to him.
27May God expand Yafet
that he dwell in tents of Shem.
K'na'an be slave to him.


6          11The land was ruined before God–filled with violence. 12And God saw the land as ruined for all flesh had ruined its way upon the land.

            9These are the generations of Noach: Noach was a just man, with integrity in his generations. Noach walked with God. And he fathered three sons: Shem, Cham, and Yafet.
            13And God said to Noach: “An end to all flesh has come before me, for the earth filled with violence because of them. Behold me ruining them, with the earth.
            14“Make yourself an ark of gofer boards. You’ll make the ark with berths. Caulk it with bitumen inside and out. 15And this is how you shall make it: three hundred cubits its length, fifty cubits its breadth, thirty cubits its height. 16You shall make a tsohar for the ark, about a cubit you shall finish it from above. The ark opening you shall set in its side. You shall make it with second and third lower decks.
            17“And I, behold me bringing the flood–water over the land–to ruin from under the sky all flesh in which is the breath of life. All on earth shall perish. 18But with you I establish my b’rit: you shall enter the ark, you and your sons and your woman and your sons’ women with you.
            19“And from all that lives–from all flesh– two of each shall you bring into the ark to keep alive with you: they shall be male and female. 20Of fowl by its species, and of cattle by its species, of each moving thing of the earth by its species, two of each shall come to you to keep alive. 21And take yourself of every edible that will be eaten. You shall gather it to yourself and it will be for eating, for you and for them.”
            22And Noach did it. As God had commanded him, he did it all.
7          6Noach was six hundred years old when the flood happened, water over the land. 13On this very day Noach entered the ark, along with his sons Shem, Cham, and Yafet, his woman and his sons’ three women. 14They and every animal by species: all the cattle by species, every moving thing that moves over the land by species, all fowl by species–every bird, every wing. 15They came to Noach, to the ark, two by two of all flesh in which is the breath of life. 16aAnd the arrivals, male and female of all flesh, came just as God had commanded him.
11In the six hundredth year of Noach’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on this day were all the springs of the great deep split open. And the vents of heaven were opened.
(17aAnd the flood was forty days over the land.) 18The water prevailed and massed greatly over the land so that the ark went over the face of the water. 20Fifteen cubits high the water prevailed! The hills were covered.
                  21Then perished all flesh that moves over the land: of fowl, cattle, animals, of swarming things that swarm over the land, and every human. 24And the water prevailed over the land a hundred and fifty days.
8          1Then God remembered Noach, and every animal, all the cattle with him in the ark. So God passed a wind over the earth, and the water subsided. 2aPlugged were the springs of the deep and the vents of the sky.
            3bAt the end of a hundred and fifty days the water diminished. 4The ark had rested on the seventeenth day of the seventh month, on the Ararat mountains. 5Till the tenth month the water gradually diminished.  On the first day of the tenth month the mountain tops could be seen.

            13a It happened in his six hundred and first year, the first day of the first month, the water dried from the land. 14In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day, the land stood dry.
            15God spoke to Noach: 16“Leave the ark, you, and your woman, and your sons and your sons’ women with you. 17And take out with you every animal that is with you of all flesh, of fowl, of cattle, and of every moving thing that moves on the land. They will swarm in the land and be fruitful, and multiply over the land.”
            18And Noach emerged, his sons and his woman and his sons’ women with him. 19Every animal, every moving thing, every fowl, everything that moves upon the earth, by their families they left the ark.
9          1And God blessed Noach and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2Fear of you and terror be in every animal of the land, in every fowl of the sky, among all things with which the earth moves, and all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand.
            3“Every moving thing that lives shall be yours for food. Like with green herbage, I have given you all.
4But flesh with its life–its blood–you shall not eat.
5And indeed for your blood, for your lives, will I exact payment. From every animal will I exact it. From a human being, from a man–his brother, will I exact a human life. 
6Who sheds human blood,
By a human shall his blood be shed,
For in the Image, God made humanity.
7And you, be fruitful, and multiply,
Swarm in the land, and multiply in it.”
            8And God spoke to Noach and to his sons with him: 9“And I, I hereby establish my b'rit with you and your seed after you; 10and, along with you, every living thing: with fowl, with cattle and with every animal of the land–from all that leave the ark. 11I will establish my b'rit with you that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the floodwater. There shall not be another flood to destroy the land.
            12And God said,
"This is the sign of the b'rit I set
Between me and you
And with you all that lives
Through infinite generations:
13My bow, I have set in the cloud.
It will be sign of b'rit 
Between me and the land.
14And it shall be, in my beclouding
Cloud over the land,
The bow shall appear in the cloud
15And I shall remember my b'rit
Which is between me and you
And every living thing, all flesh.
And never again shall the water 
Be flood to ruin all flesh.
16The bow shall be in the cloud.
I’ll see it to remember eternal b'rit
Between God and every living thing,
All flesh on the land.”
            17And God said to Noach, “This is the sign of the b’rit I have established between me and all flesh that is on the land.”
            28Noach lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. All Noach’s days were nine hundred and fifty years. And he died.

© Rabbi David L. Kline  

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