The reading cycle of Judaism is on the Noah cycle (Parashat Noach). Now is a good time to go back and read some classic posts on Messianic Jewish Musings. In the first two, I describe the similarities and some differences between the Noah story and Mesopotamian myths of the flood. Why should myth and Bible have such concordance? Rather than being afraid of the parallels, we should embrace them. It’s one more evidence that God pervades the whole world and that revelation goes deeper than many would imagine. In the third article, I discuss the theology of the Noah account in light of its parallels.
Noah and Mesopotamian Myth, Part 1
A few highlights and then the link:
Perhaps one reason synagogues and churches rarely discuss the mythological backdrop of the flood story is the potential controversy. How do we deal with the fact that the Bible’s account of the flood is not the oldest written record of the event?
The Sumerians called the flood the amaru. Their stories passed into Babylonian accounts and then through the Hittites and Hurrians to influence stories of the Greeks and Romans. Many speculate that flood stories came into early Native American cultures from some primitive version passed down through migrations from Asia in the distant past. The flood story is all over the world.
Noah and Mesopotamian Myth, Part 2
The idea is at first disturbing: the Noah story in Genesis is related in some way to pre-existing Mesopotamian mythology?
It raises questions about how the Torah was written, especially the parts of Genesis that are before the patriarchs. Assuming, as I do, that Moses is largely the voice behind the Torah, how did he know about the creation story, the flood, the ancient genealogies, and the Babel story?
The story in Genesis has some poetic lines which could be original, but which could also be evidence of an oral or written poetic form that predated Genesis. all the fountains of the great deep burst forth / and the windows of heaven were opened . . . the fountains of the deep were closed / and the rain of the heavens was restrained.
The great flood of Mesopotamia happened and the stories passed through different cultures. The Mesopotamian versions represent corruptions based on their pantheon of deities and their ideas about the role of humankind. The Genesis version comes through the patriarchs from an ancient epic poem and contains a purer version of what happened.
Noah in Context
What if the ruler(s) of the heavens were capricious, vindictive, and immature? At times, life is harsh and it’s not hard to think the whole thing is run on the whims of an angry god.
What if the benefits and victories of life, too few and far between, are random acts of benevolence by limited deities with no universal scope or consistent justice? The race is not to the swift, after all, and good things happen often to those who do not deserve them.
People are not noisy pests disturbing the divine powers, we are the image of divinity blessed to fill and rule the earth. We ourselves are what would be called gods and goddesses. And what is above us is not some impersonal realm of magic and fear, but the ultimate benevolent deity.