Noah, Theology and Relation to Myth

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.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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1 Response to Noah, Theology and Relation to Myth

  1. benicho says:

    Josephus certainly wasn’t intimidated by the similarities. He even goes as far as naming the historians, in his Antiquity of the Jews, both during his day and up until his day. He basically said “If you don’t believe me, just read what all these other famous historians from the other nations have said about the flood”. Josephus also mentioned that the Greeks were the first people to change the words of everything because it sounded more beautiful to them in their own languages. Apparently after Babel (the Bible is the only concise record of how the languages were created) men still shared a lot of the same language, so far as that it was notable when the Greeks specifically began changing names of people, events, and locations to suit their own language.

    You said: We ourselves are what would be called gods and goddesses.

    It’s interesting because I was just reading Genesis this weekend and there’s a curious verse I haven’t paid much attention to until I began considering the history of cultures and their deities.

    Genesis 6:4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

    We’ve all had our thoughts on the Nephilim, but this curious part:
    “the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown…” is particularly interesting. Who were the men of renown? To me it sounds like the legends that we hear about in mythology. Not to say that there was literally a person named Hercules or Hermes, but rather you can see where the rise of mythological beings would’ve come from. These legends would’ve been passed on by Shem, Ham and Japheth and subsequently would’ve evolved into other stories. Anyways just fun thoughts.

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