Genesis Overview: Flood and covenant and Noah's Curse and Blessing

a) The Flood (6.19-22, 7.6,11,13-16a,17a,18-21,24;8.1-2a,3b,4-5,7,13a,15-19 in P)

The probable framework for P is what is known as the Toledoth Book, consisting of a genealogy which, exceptionally, includes the flood tradition. Noah's saddiq is recorded, together with his tumim, which means ritually fitting, as opposed to perfection. Noah, as the transition between two eras, is the last person to "walk with God" where Abraham can only "walk before God" (17.1). "Behind the strange precision in the direction for building the ark, and later in the actual flood account, behind the precise dates and measurements, there is both certainty of the absolute concreteness and reality of God's activity and an effort to depict God's activity, his commands, and movements with as much theological objectivity as possible." (p128).

The house boat is 480 feet long, 81 feet wide and 49 feet high, with three decks of "nests". Noah enters in his 600th year. In P the flood is not a freakish meteorological event, it involves the "ocean of the heavens", from above the firmament, pouring down through latticed windows (cf. 2 Kings 7.2,19), while the ocean below the earth gushes up through yawning canyons, causing a cosmic catastrophe, undoing the limits set in 1.7-9, and pushing the whole cosmic structure back towards chaos; such an event in P lasts one year and ten days. The concentration is totally on the divine action.

But God remembered Noah and although the flood covered the highest mountain, the ark is brought to rest on Ararat, supposed to be the tallest mountain, somewhere in Armenia. The raven passage cursory compared with the dove in J. 8.13a and 8.14 are scarcely consistent and come from different sources. It is theologically important that God directs creatures, and man, onto the renewed earth. The story underlines God's abhorrence of sin and the notion of salvation as "pure miracle". "The story of the flood ... shows an eschatological world judgment, which becomes visible from the standpoint of preservation, i.e., in retrospect." (p129), cf. 1 Peter 3.20.

b) God's covenant with Noah (9.1-17 in P)

9.1-17: "It is fundamentally important to understand that P is not speaking of distant primeval things but is answering definite elemental questions which had topical significance for the faith of later Israel. For the section speaks of our world age. What God's address takes simply for granted is a severe disruption and degeneration of creation, which came forth from God's hand as 'very good'." (p130). P is concerned with the theological issues raised by recurrent sin.

9.1:  Could man resume procreation? Yes.

9.2-4: Is man sovereign over animals? Yes but the relationship changes as man begins to eat flesh  but not blood (cf. Leviticus 7.27). The law on blood is not dietary nor cultic but universal.

9.5-7: 9.6 is both very solemn and ancient. Life belongs to God but, in strange tension, God gives man the power of inflicting death for murder.

9.8-17: A covenant is supposed to put an opaque or intricate set of arrangements into a new,  simple form. Mentioned nowhere else than in this extract of P. Unlike later covenants, e.g. Abraham, Moses on Sinai, which involve the chosen people  confessing, the covenant with Noah involves no confessing and is, in effect, between heaven and earth. The word we translate as "rainbow" is, in Hebrew, "the bow of war" so, graciously, God sets aside his bow.

The underlying aetiological question is, how can the world work in the midst of violence?  The answer is through divine forbearance.

c) Noah's Curse & Blessing (9.18-29 in J)

9.18-19: The genealogy deals with a world of nations after the flood, not just one people. Although the passage begins with the well-known "ecumenical scheme of nations", the trinity of Shem, Ham and Japheth, it soon reverts to the more primeval Palestinian trinity of Shem, Japheth and Canaan. To remedy the inconsistency the redactor inserts Ham and not Canaan, making the former the father of the latter but the Palestinian sphere remains. Here Shem is the people of Yahweh, not the Shem of Genesis 10.22; and the insertion of Ham is supposed to bring the story into harmony with Genesis 10. They compare the flood narrative where the sons are married and here where they live unmarried in a tent with their father. If this takes place before the flood then Canaan, unthinkably, would be in the ark.

9.20-23: Noah, a tiller of the soil, is united with the J Adam tradition. The desolation in 5.29 is built on by 9.20; the vineyard is the noblest OT ambition, symbolising bliss and Messianic longing. Noah is an inventor and his drunkenness not morally suspect; Canaan's carelessness contrasted with the carefulness of the other sons; the narrative possibly suppresses something worse.

9.24-27: Canaan is a slave to Shem and Japheth because of his immodesty; The OT repeats abhorrence at the sexual depravity of the Canaanites and attributed their defeat to it (cf. Leviticus 18.24 ff). Shem benefits because his portion is Yahweh. Shem disappears like the Habiru, the wandering people of the steppe who later become the Hebrews (cf. 10.21). God gave Japheth "ample room" (cf. 26.22). Japheth mingles with Israel, possibly the Philistines who, in turn, were connected with Cretans. The conflict was etiologically God's will; Noah had already prophesied it, a riddle in God's guidance of history. "... there is much to be said for the assumption that the tradition about Noah goes back to pre-Israelite times" (p139).

KC V/14

Buy this book from

Related Study Sheets…