Noah’s Flood (ii) with Fresh Eyes

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There was a time when most people were familiar with many of the biblical stories. With a decline in attendance at Church and Sunday-school, this is no longer the case, which is unfortunate, but not terminally so. The stories are all still there, crying out to be read. On the other hand, over-familiarity with these stories can blunt their impact. There’s everything to be said, in my view, for pressing the ‘re-set’ button, and coming to such stories afresh.

Why did Yahweh cause a great Flood to occur? He “saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time.” If I come to this story afresh, my immediate reaction is, ‘come off it’. This reads to me like an over-the-top justification for what is shortly to follow. Throughout history there has always been a balance between bad and good people, which may well have swung a bit either way, but never so drastically as this. if it weren’t a story, it would be stretching credibility far beyond its limits.

How did Yahweh react to what he saw? He “regretted that he had made humankind on the earth and he was highly offended.” Well, we all know about the dangers to be faced if we give ‘offence’ ! But Yahweh is supposed to know absolutely everything, including the future, so why didn’t he know what would happen, and take whatever steps might be required to avoid this inevitable ‘regret’? I’m afraid the story doesn’t supply an answer to that question. Come to think of it, it’s not a question it seems to feel under any obligation to ask.

What action did Yahweh take? He said, “I will wipe humankind whom I have created from the face of the earth – everything from humankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air.” In for a penny, in for a pound! If I come to this story afresh, I see it as an act of genocide and mass extinction, far greater than even the worst of subsequent human excesses. It’s about the wholesale drowning of ever man, woman and child (except for a favoured few), and even of the birds and beasts. The fish must have been thanking their lucky stars, but wondering if their turn might yet come in some other ‘creative’, though destructive, ploy. If this were sober history, the God of the Flood would deserve to be hauled before the International (or Intergalactic) Court, and made to answer for his crimes against humanity and every other living thing (except the fish).

After Yahweh had set the Flood in motion, he seems to have switched his attention to other more pressing matters, and forgotten about the big little boat floating on the all-engulfing waters. But eventually, we’re told, he “remembered Noah and all the wild animals and domestic animals that were with him in the ark.” Having ‘remembered’ them, he did at least set about getting them back onto dry land. He then seems to have been not only tired, but rather hungry. When Noah set up a barbecue, and Yahweh got a smell of cooking meat, his resulting good mood encouraged him to promise never to do such an appalling thing again. And just in case his memory might once more let him down, he undertook to “place my rainbow in the clouds … then I will remember” the undertaking I’ve given that “never again will the waters become a flood and destroy all living things.” Well, thank God for that!

Isn’t it thought-provoking that there was a time, not so far distant, when most people, even the erudite, believed that this colourful, preposterous, entertaining and pretendedly shocking tale, was indeed sober and serious history? But, then again, there are still people who believe the earth is flat. It takes all kinds to make our world. But as for ourselves, let’s keep opening the pages of this good and great book, and be entertained, as well as educated, while pondering the imperishable and, once read, unforgettable stories that it contains.

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