This week: Noah (guttural “h” in Hebrew) and his ark, the discovery of wine, and the Tower of Babel. Previously, in Parashat (the Torah portion of) Bereishit, the Lord decided to wipe out life on earth and start over. Now, the details: The Lord decides to make re-creation easier by saving one family, pairs of animals for breeding, and additional animals for sacrifices. Noah is chosen as being good enough and builds the ark and loads everyone into it. A flood wipes out everybody else. After about a year, they can disembark and start a new world. It’s Creation all over again, but now mankind can eat meat.
Flood stories appear in cultures worldwide. Mesopotamian flood stories include the epics of Ziusudra, Gilgamesh, and Atrahasis. Ziusudra overhears the gods’ decision to use a flood to destroy humanity; he builds the vessel in self-defense. In the Atrahasis epic, the flood is a river flood, reflecting the not-unusual flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates. The Gilgamesh epic is closest to Noah’s story. In it, the immortal Utnapishtim tells how the god Ea told him to build a large boat to save him, his family, and the animals, from a great flood that would wipe out everyone else. Noah’s story differs in two important ways. First, the flood has a moral basis; it occurs because of the corruption of humanity and Noah is good enough to be saved. Second, the aftermath of the flood is a covenant with the Lord, tied up with a rainbow, through which humanity is to obey some basic laws and the Lord will never again wipe them out (at least, not with a flood).
This is another of those Bible portions that get whitewashed to be made suitable for children. Think about it. All humans, including babies and children, and all animals are condemned to death by drowning. And what about the rotting horrors left when the waters recede? And after the flood, humanity doesn’t seem to have progressed a whole lot. Noah plants a vineyard, discovers wine, gets drunk, passes out, and is humiliated (rabbinic interpretations range from voyeurism to incestuous sodomy to castration) by his son Ham.
Eventually, the “new” humanity decides to climb up to heaven by building a huge ziggurat. How is this thwarted? The Lord makes them speak different languages; no longer able to understand each other, they can no longer cooperate enough to complete such a mammoth enterprise. This will be worth delving into more next year, prior to Election Day.
Next week: Abram and Sarai.
The Children’s Bible in a Nutshell (excerpt)
…Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who
lived to be like a million or something.
One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one
of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his
family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him,
but they said they would have to take a rain check.
Noah’s Ark Jokes (selected)
- What was the worst vacation ever?
A. Noah’s boating trip. It rained forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:17)
- Who was Noah’s wife?
A. Joan of Arc.
- What did Noah’s wife say to Noah?
A. “I’d feel much better if those two termites were locked in a metal box.”
- Why didn’t they play cards on the Ark?
A. Because Noah was standing on the deck.
- What steps did Noah take when he first met the two lions?
A. Long ones.
- Was there money on the ark?
A. Yes, the frog had a green back, the duck had a bill and the skunk had a scent.
- What was Noah’s big mistake?
A. Not killing the two mosquitoes.
- Why is the story of Noah’s Ark an encouragement to modern drivers?
A. It took Noah over 40 days to find a parking place. (Actually it took much longer see Genesis 7:17, 24, 8:5)
- What keeps the ocean from running dry?
Athanasius Kircher was a German who died in 1680 […] A polymath of scarcely credible range, a prolific author and owner of a museum in Rome, Kircher managed in modern scientific terms to be wrong about almost every subject he turned his attention to. […]
But it is in his work on the Tower of Babel that everything comes to a head and we are left wondering what is a practical joke and what is just spectacularly misapplied effort. He became immersed in zany thoughts about the full practical implications of the frustratingly fleeting mention of the Tower in the Bible. He assumed it was built by Nimrod (on no evidence) and that the Tower’s reaching ‘heaven’ meant ‘the moon’. He then did some calculations to prove that this was never practical, as the Earth did not contain enough material for bricks to build such a structure. Even if it were technically possible to build such a tower, Kircher carefully established that it would need 374,731,250,000,000 bricks, with such further headaches as the horses needing eight hundred years to haul them up to the top even at a gallop.
Ten Cool Foreign Words – And Their New Meanings
These funnies were spotted in a New York Magazine competition; competitors were asked to change one letter in a foreign phrase and then redefine the sentence.
- Harley-Vous Français? – Can you drive a French motorcycle?
- Haste Cuisine – French fast food.
- Posh Mortem – Aristocratic deaths.
- Felix Navidad – My cat has a boat.
- Merci rien- Thanks for nothing.
- Quip pro quo – A very fast reply.
- Veni, Vidi, Vice – I came, I saw, I was naughty.
- Ich liebe rich – I’d love to have lots of money.
- Amicus Puriae – A platonic friend.
- Respondez s’il vous plaid – Only come to the party in a kilt.