Sunday, January 2, 2011

Genesis 8-10 - A Fresh Start for Man?

Edit; Valerie had a request for links to the daily passages and Paul has a solution.  Thanks Paul, I'll try and incorporate this into the blog.
You can change between bible versions on the left side to compare text.

Genesis 8 

The Noah/Flood story has always had me scratching my head.  Why would an omnipotent god, who was frustrated by the acts of man destroy ALL life?  Why would he do it in such a prolonged, messy manner?  Couldn't he just snap his fingers and eliminate mankind?

And what's up with Noah being found drunk and naked in his tent?  Is this short and vague bit of story a biblical justification for slavery?

Upcoming reading:
Monday - Genesis 11-13
Tuesday - Genesis 14-18
Wednesday - Genesis 19-20
Thursday - Genesis 21-23
Friday - Genesis 24-25


  1. This story is a classic myth. It explains why we have rainbows.

  2. It also explains the origins of the different nations at the time it was written down (note that almost all the names in the genealogy are of nations). Like Lamech in the previous section, I suspect a fair by of myth about Nimrod never got passed down to future generations (though future generations created new myths to fill in the gaps).

    I think at the time it was written the story was a justification for beating up on the Canaanites.

  3. Noah's children and their lineages are almost certainly eponymous names for various Canaanite tribes. It was common for ancient tribal peoples to take their name from an eponymous ancestor, whether real or imaginary. Nimrod is an exception and appears to represent an actual individual ruler.

  4. Ricky Gervais pretty much gets the Noah story up and down:

  5. Folks used the bible stories to justify slavery for they do now with hating homosexuals. It seems that people will cherry pick whatever parts fit their pre-destined prejudices, and be so cowardly as to use the bible to justify their position, instead of just coming out and saying that it's what they believed in before the bible ever 'told them so.'

  6. Again I am a sucker for the underdog but how is it fair that the guy who stumbled upon dear old dad in his cups and runs for help is the bad guy?

    The myth of the rainbow is one of my favourite. I like to keep a little prism handy to show my own power!

  7. I'm curious about the part where Noah offers burnt offerings to God. If he only has two of every creature, wouldn't it be a bad idea to be killing any of them? Or is the theory that they've had time to multiply while they've been on the ark.

  8. “Why would an omnipotent god, who was frustrated by the acts of man destroy ALL life?”
    Perhaps this was the writer’s way of implementing mass murder into the beginning of his book.

    “Why would he do it in such a prolonged, messy manner?”
    It made the story more interesting.

    “Couldn't he just snap his fingers and eliminate mankind?”
    That would have completely ended the story therefore giving no reason to continue the book.

    “And what's up with Noah being found drunk and naked in his tent?”
    Noah was so happy to be out of ark with all those smelly animals that he had to celebrate. It was an interesting way for the writer to add a little comedy to the story.

    “Is this short and vague bit of story a biblical justification for slavery?”
    Okay this one confuses me; Canaan becomes a slave because his father Ham saw Noah naked and had him covered. I don’t see the justice here, perhaps it was the writers outline for the book and it was his clumsy way of introducing slavery into the story.

  9. I just realized that in the previous section at one point God tells Noah to take the clean beasts by sevens, and the unclean by two, and the fowls of the air by sevens. Does that mean he actually took seven pairs of some creatures?

  10. hdauria: I'm more curious as to what constitutes "clean" and "unclean" beasts. I don't really see any information regarding it in the bible. Upon research I found that some say that the Ark distinguished the difference and only allowed the appropriate number of animals accordingly. However I didn't mean to hijack the conversation. To answer your question, apparently yes.

    Alilynne: Noah was on the Ark for a year, it'd be safe to assume that some of the animals had time to reproduce. Although the logistics do bother me. Assuming Noah could fit two to seven of every animal on the Ark, the animals would almost certainly reproduce. The extra room needed to house them would be constantly growing. Also if we take into account the extra food that would have to be rationed off for such an eventuality, they would need at least twice as much storage space than originally anticipated.

  11. Dan: I'm pretty sure the "clean"/"unclean" labels have to do with kosher animals. I think the non-kosher animals (pigs, rabbits, etc.) are "unclean" and the kosher creatures (goats, deer etc.) are "clean".

  12. ---

    The fact that the flood is really local, rather than global, is demonstrated by the idea that a dove could determine whether any land was above water: no dove could really complete such a task if it had the entire earth to search.


    There is a notable lack of information about what happened to plant life during the flood. Apparently God did not convey to the Biblical authors that photosynthesis was the foundation of the food chain, and that the preservation of plants was just as important as that of animals. Instead, it is implied that plants just survived the flood without assistance.


    Biblical events until this point are a geneticist's nightmare. Not only are all humans supposed to have descended from a single couple, but now we are told that a small family of this lineage is now responsible for repopulating the earth. The term "genetic bottle neck" is not really powerful enough to describe this situation. It is more like "genetic strangulation".


    Gen.9:11: "And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood,..."

    This makes little sense to me. It implies that God has already "cut all flesh off by the waters of a flood", but of course he hasn't: he has allowed at least two of every species of "flesh" to survive the flood. He is therefore not ruling out the possibility of another flood just like the last, namely one in which plenty of flesh - an entire ark full - survives.


    After learning of the apparent distaste God has for agricultural products, we now discover that Noah is a man of the soil. And he is the man whom God has chosen to perpetuate the human race?


    The story about Ham is disgusting. Not only is an innocent accident considered a crime, but one worthy of condemning that man's own sons, and his sons, and so on, to slavery. And Noah, for getting drunk and passing out naked, gets not so much as a harsh word. Once again, we have what appears to be a pathetic attempt at providing an explanation for some other phenomenon, in this case slavery.

  13. Dan:

    "Assuming Noah could fit two to seven of every animal on the Ark, the animals would almost certainly reproduce."

    Indeed, bacteria alone would grow, within a year, to fill a substantial space on the ark. And they'd be sharing that space with all the dinosaurs.

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  15. (Edited last comment) Regarding the number of each animal included, either two or seven, the apologist arguments I've read take "clean" to indicate "suitable to sacrifice to God", as Noah needed something to sacrifice when they left the ark. You can find lists of animals which are considered "clean" and "unclean" for consumption in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, but if that's how the terms are defined it raises the question of how Noah is supposed to know that at the time of the flood.

  16. I'm just starting on Gen. 8 - but in verse 21 it says "and the lord smelled a sweet savour and the lord said in his heart, i will not again curse the ground anymore for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will i again smite any more everything living, as i have done.

    OK, so isn't this kinda like him saying that he won't hurt mankind anymore in this way (as in genocide)??? So...why are these people believing this ridiculous "rapture" happening in May? Or is it just by water or flood. Fire is ok? This is what i've heard...that if you aren't taken, then you'll be destroyed in October by the "cleansing fires of heaven". Do people stop and LISTEN to what this sounds like. Man.

  17. I am also reading and reviewing the KJV more in-depth each day on my own blog:

    If anyone keeps up with my blog as well, it would be much appreciated.

    Also, would anyone mind my referencing your comments on this blog in my own blog posts? Technically, it's all fair game on the internet, but I wouldn't want to use anyone's ideas without crediting them and receiving their permission.

  18. @dan: little known fact. the ark was actually a tardis. ;)

  19. What really fascinates me about the Noah story is that even contemporary audiences would have known that for Noah to have kept all the animals, people and food for such a length of time was impossible. And the story doesn't incorporate any miraculously refilling basket of loaves or any way that God gives supernatural help to explain how Noah's task was accomplished.

    Courtney, I was always taught in Sunday School that God's promise only extended to destruction by flood. In fact, we were told particularly that the next time God destroyed the world he'd use fire.

  20. Oh, and another thing that surprised me - whenever I was told that story as a child it always included Noah and his family in the ark as the rain began to fall, hearing the cries and pleadings of people outside to be let into the boat and not being able to save them. Gee, there's nothing at all about that in the Bible . . .

  21. The whole drunken rage part really conflicts with all the kids toys based on Noah. "Here you go Johnny play with this cute Ark present. Just don't let him get around the wine."

  22. Back in Gen 6:2 God shortened man's life span to 120 years, yet all these characters are living longer than that.

  23. "@dan: little known fact. the ark was actually a tardis. ;)" Quote of the day, hands down.

    I am not sure we are really grasping how much water was actually on the surface of the earth, and how quickly it dissipated. In addition the toll it would take on the landscape and plant life would be immense. I am really starting to loose sight of how anyone can take this literally. I can accept a cultural parable, or an allegory. For it to be literal, God must have REALLY been playing with the laws of physics.

    The scandal surrounding the wine is another interesting bit. It would seem to condemn agriculture again.

    @hdauria @jedipunk Great points.

  24. As far as why Ham is punished for accidentally seeing Noah naked, I've heard it suggested that what made it into Genesis is actually a, shall we say, "censored" version of the story and that the full version told in Israelite folklore (and now lost to us) possibly involved Ham actually committing some misdeed when stumbling upon Noah. Seems reasonable as several things in Genesis seem to be missing the whole story (e.g., there must be some story about the man Lamech killed - Gen. 4:23-24)

    It seems like we run into a lot of cases in Genesis of "Why would an omniscient god do X" (such as not finding Adam hiding in the garden, needing to go down to find out if the people of Sodom were as sinful as he had heard - we shall see shortly) or "Why would an omnipotent god do Y" (Kill humanity in such an inefficient way). My take on it is that the writers never guessed that omniscience and omnipotence would later be attributed to the God they were writing about. Likewise, I think it's very safe to say that they never dreamed that people would one day take these stories literally.

  25. My take on it is that the writers never guessed that omniscience and omnipotence would later be attributed to the God they were writing about.

    Well, yeah. It's abundantly clear that the earlier Israelite conception of the gods was much more anthropomorphic than later conceptions. Invented characters such as gods tend to evolve and we can see many different iterations of God(s) present in the Bible. I get irritated when people refer to "the OT God" as if it's some coherent figure. The Bible actually gives us many different portraits of Israelite theology.

    There is ancient storm-god imagery, the anthropomorphic God of Eden, the oracle God whose will was known through sacred lots (Urrim and Thummim), the invisible god that used the Ark as a footstool or pushed it around on wheels, and of course the rather abstract entity of Genesis 1.

    And, most of the time, there is no implication that Yahweh or El was the only God in town. It's quite clear that the Israelites believed their neighbours had their own less awesome Gods. The Israelite themselves regularly worshipped Baal and other Canaanite deities. They were plainly polytheistic, and it's only a historical accident that some vague conflation of El and Yahweh won out.

    It's really easiest to never try and pigeonhole the Bible's god(s) to fit the modern Christian idea of "God". You won't find it anywhere in the first eleven books of the Bible. (I'm leaving out Ruth in that count.)

  26. Courtney pointed out "and the lord smelled a sweet savour"...interestingly this is the only place in the bible to have this phrase and it's identical to a phrase found in 'The Epic of Gilgamesh' written before the biblical account and very similar in many ways.

  27. "Couldn't he just snap his fingers and eliminate mankind?"

    I wondered that at Adam and Eve's failure, why didn't he press reset and bring them back to factory settings. Frankly, the OT does make it sound a bit like God had a case of buyers remorse.

    Gen 9:4 - I think we have our first kosher law!

    Gen 9:6 - "Whoever sheds the blood of man..."Is this an example of how God's own morality will be different than the one he imposes on man? For Cain, he merely banishes him and even puts him in a biblical witness protection program, but for us shlubs we get the eye-for-eye treatment.

    What were the "fountains of the deep" referred to as one of the sources for all the water? Were they geysers, springs? I ran across a creationist video once that used the mid-Atlantic ridge as a source of water for the flood (also for the craters on the moon). Maybe he was using "fountains of the deep" as the explanation for that (and as an example of how a person can really bend any interpretation to fit their needs).


    EVERYONE should watch this. It's standup from a proud atheist, Ricky Gervais, on Noah and the Ark.

    Hilarious as always.

  29. I suspect that "fountains of the deep" probably referred to groundwater springs, which were probably quite well known at the time.

    The idea that water of a sufficient volume for a global flood would emanate from mid-oceanic ridges is about the most preposterous thing I've heard during my time as a geophysicist.

  30. "Why would he do it in such a prolonged, messy manner? Couldn't he just snap his fingers and eliminate mankind?"

    I've wondered about this, too. (Somewhat related is the question of why God couldn't specifically punish only specific people, instead of entire nations or all of humanity.)

    This is just a guess, of course, but perhaps the point was to have a story with a lesson to tell future generations, showing that a person who follows God's directions (Noah) will be spared when God punishes everyone else. Noah must follow God's directions in order to not be harmed by the flood.

    The parts of the Bible in which God is controlling the weather sort of remind me of Zeus and other deities that were associated with different aspects of nature.

    It also shows God's power over everything.

    @betterthanesdras: I've really been enjoying your contributions.

  31. "My take on it is that the writers never guessed that omniscience and omnipotence would later be attributed to the God they were writing about. Likewise, I think it's very safe to say that they never dreamed that people would one day take these stories literally."

    This is interesting- I've never really looked at it this way before. The idea of an omnipotent/omniscient God was not yet introduced, nor was the idea of a monotheistic deity. As other commenters have pointed out, it seems to often be assumed in the OT that there are indeed other gods, and the idea of all of these other gods being imaginary is not introduced until much later. And the god character we have here is not yet the "loving" god that modern-day Christians talk about, he has a lot more in common with "primitive" pagan and Greek/Roman deities who are flawed and often admittedly cruel. This makes sense historically, since all of the gods that were ever invented seem to borrow elements from each other, and the Church didn't think of the concept of a loving, forgiving god until much later, presumably because it would be better for their PR.

    My favorite quote ever from my brother: "It seems that between the old and new testaments, God found Jesus."

    Sidebar, I don't know if anyone posted this in an earlier thread, but here is Ricky Gervais on the creation myth, since a couple people have posted his Noah's Ark bit:

    I always thought it to be quite odd that God admits he made a mistake with the flood. Again, God seems to be admitting that he is not infallible.

  32. The story of the Flood may have come from a massive asteroid strike, in about 2800-3000 BC - right around when the Bible was being written, no? The asteroid is thought to have struck the Indian Ocean, leaving the Burckle Crater and creating Megatsunamis which reached across half the globe. There are many flood stories from the ancient civilizations at this time, including the Indus Valley Civilization, Sumeria and China.
    The Biblical Flood is likely a result of the people of the time trying to make sense of this event, which they would not otherwise be able to understand.

  33. @November

    Unlikely for several reasons including that the earliest written parts of the Bible date to after 1000BCE (1800 to 2000 years after the time you give) though drawing on earlier traditions.

    Also after looking at the wikipedia article and the talk page for it, my skepticism alarm is ringing loudly.

    We don't need a specific massive flood to generate a story of an universal flood, we humans are quite competent at extrapolating from a common local dangers to something much more universal (think of some of the disaster movies with impossible earthquakes or floods or volcanoes, etc). It is not as though the land between the rivers didn't have floods.

  34. I highly recommend the Yale Open Coure on the Old Testament. One thing that's delved into right away is that the transition from a polytheistic to monotheistic society involved a lot more than just decided there was only one God. So many of the stories in Genesis are the writers' ways of demythologizing earlier stories and recasting them in the new concept of God.

    Also, regarding the fountains of the deep, the professor in the lectures said that in Genesis 1, when God blows a wind over the waters, in Hebrew the word used is "Deep" as a proper noun with no article. So clearly some kind of important, singular idea.

  35. It's funny thinking back; this story marked the beginning of my skepticism toward Christianity, some time in elementary school. The tale of the flood both disgusted me and freaked me out. I speciically remember being nine or ten and asking my best friend's mom why it was ok for god to kill all the babies in the world. I didn't get a satisfactory answer then and have yet to receive one to this day.

    The interesting thing was that for me at the time, the question wasn't whether or not god existed (of course "he" did), but rather it was whether or not this was a god worthy of worship. I would now make the argument that even if I currently believed in the god of the bible, based on its actions and hypocracy, there is no way I would worship it.

  36. AllNats, it's funny because my son went through a period when he was 6 or 7 where he decided to believe in God. And he heard from a friend about Noah's Ark and wanted me to tell him the story. So I did, and when we got to the part where God flooded the earth this was our conversation:

    Him: So God killed all the people in the world?
    Me: Yep.
    Him: Even little kids and stuff?
    Me: Yep
    Him: But I thought God was a good guy!!

    And that about sums it up! Now at age 10 he's a nice rational atheist.

  37. "As far as why Ham is punished for accidentally seeing Noah naked,"
    After the flood, they were commanded to repopulate the earth. Noah had no more children after the flood. This may have been embarrassing. Wine was associated with fertility and was probably a attempt to father more children. A common practice in that day was for a man to sleep with his father's wife when he wanted to take over leadership from his father. A term for this was to uncover his father's nakedness. I think Ham tried to usurp his father's authority and slept with Noah's wife. The curse is not on Ham but his son Canaan. I think Canaan was the product of Ham's incest with his mother.

  38. Ham didn't get punished for seeing Noah naked. He got punished because seeing him, he went outside and told his brothers to come look at the drunk old man. His brothers covered their father.

    Ham did not honor his father.

  39. The universe/god does terrible things. Yet, intuition, listening to voices that no one else hears can save you. The water that is chaos comes down on us in many awful ways. But in it there is a voice, a spirit that leads some to listen, to create and to build an ark. To save not just people but the natural world. To save god's creation from the universe/god. To save ourselves from the universe/god through the help of what the universe/god provides our creativity and faith in the voices. The storyteller recounts the grand myth of a universe of vengeance with the message of the universe of love that holds out the fig leaf of hope,intuition,and loving acts that provides a way to calm those storms the universe brings. We are aware and if we listen ... we can prevail. But what do we listen for?

  40. Just to provide some context from which I am writing, I was a former nominal christian who now loves Jesus.

    I don't think we should blame God for killing all of the people in the flood. That is kind of a silly thing to do. I think we should blame Him for the institution of death; if He is sovereign, then He is responsible for every death of mankind. The question then is why did God create death? And the short answer to this (space would fail me to go into much detail) is because man chose it as Genesis formerly explains. Not only that, but, if God is truly God and sovereign, no human being is entitled to life; it is a gift. To call God unjust (for that is something I frequently hear athiests due despite the fact they don't believe in Him) for killing people is like saying it is unjust to not give constant gifts to spoiled, ungrateful children. I hardly think anyone would argue that these rotten kids deserve constant presents. Yet, God continues to provide breath for us despite our rebellion. He is indeed good.

  41. "Why would he do it in such a prolonged, messy manner? Couldn't he just snap his fingers and eliminate mankind?"

    The idea of judgment often includes the idea of public remembrance of the judgment. Ever wonder why they find sea-life fossils on the top of mountains? There is evidence of the flood to remind the world of the consequences of sin.

  42. Patrick - please provide a link to evidence of your claim that isn't easily refutable (like mountains that used to be under water but are now land due to plate tectonics, continental drift, or volcanic eruption).

    Justin - In my view, the god of the Bible is incredibly unjust. This is not to acknowledge its (sorry for using "it," btw, thank you English language for not having a neuter personal pronoun...) actual existance, I'm simply acknowledging the concept of a Judeo/Christian god. Anyway, this god is manipulative (Abraham/Job), jealous (Exodus), hypocritical (Noah: this omnicient god creates man knowing exactly what they will do, then murders all but a handful when they do just that), genocidal (Noah), sexist (both OT and NT, everywhere), and accepting of slavery (also everywhere). If I believed in this god, I would not worship it. I also don't buy the "spoiled child" "life is a gift" idea. Imagine a slave owner telling a young slave after beathing his mother to death, "Every breath you take is a gift from me, as I could kill you with no consequence at any time. Therefore you must worship me no matter what I do." A bit extreme, I realize, but I can't stand the idea of "I created you, so I can take away whatever I want, whenever I want."

  43. On a much lighter note, it is nice to see some believers entering the discussion. I believe it adds a lot to have both viewpoints here

  44. He could have "snapped His fingers" and eliminate mankind. There is a reason why He does things the way He does. The Ark of Noah is a picture of the Ark of Salvation, Christ. Get on the boat, or be destroyed.

  45. I think perhaps Patrick is referring to some research that was more succinctly summarized in a show on Discovery a while back. I couldn't find a link to the full show, but there's a fairly lengthy summary here: (sources are cited).

    Incidentally, the flood is also the main explanation for the decline in life span as it also "destroy[ed] the earth".

  46. In saying "frustrated", you apply sinful man's attributes to God as if He (a perfect being) were comparable a man. He does not just represent His attributes but IS His attributes. He is a just God and can't deny the Justice that He requires-otherwise He would contradict Himself. Likewise He is love-how could He ever reconcile His justice with His love? By coming into this life as Jesus Christ, living a perfect (human) life then dying an unjust (human) death to pay for the sins of the whole world. And as to God supposedly killing "ALL" life as if He was being random and reactionary-you again fail to consider the power of His deity as if He were a (sinful) man. God knows the end from the beginning (He is omnipotent - Isaiah 46:10) and thus every person through history God knows in His "now". God chose where each person would be in history based upon His "now" knowledge of them-knowing if they would choose Him (Acts 17:26-27)-note that He, in His love, places them where they would have the most opportune chance to choose Him "if haply they might feel after him" which means "that they might seek Him and perhaps reach out to Him". You are a finite creature that can look out into an infinite universe-you should be a bit more prayerful when considering what you read between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22.

  47. The notion that there was a worldwide flood, is, or course, ridiculous in the extreme. But the story may have been inspired by oral traditions of actual localized flooding. Here's a link to an article in which an archaeologist suggests that there was a civilization whose ruins are now covered by the higher water level in the Persian Gulf.

    He suggests that as the water rose, the inhabitants were displaced and created other settlements scattered throughout the middle east.

    Of course further excavations may or may not support his theory, but memories of some ancient localized flood seem to me to be a logical explanation for the Noah's flood myth.

  48. @carlincovey.
    there are good Christians (circles i run with) who fall on both of the debate regarding the scope of the flood: some say global, others see a more local flood. of course, those good Christians usually think the other is incorrect. either way, the narrative is communicating God's actions for restoring the world and humanity back to himself.

  49. @ P.D. Mayfield

    Thank you for your insights.

    The way I look at it, either there was a global flood, which, in the absence of any reasonable natural explanation would require belief in a supernatural explanation, or the story of the Flood in the bible is fictional (or at least extremely exaggerated).

    Since I have read many fictional stories, but I have never witnessed a supernatural event, I think the odds favor the fictional story explanation. But I am curious why some of your friends instead favor the supernatural explanation.