Saturday, October 13, 2012

Adam, Noah and the New World

2. Some argue that the flood story begins as an "uncreation" story and ends as a re-creation story. What elements of Genesis 1-3 and Genesis 6-9 support that interpretation? What would the effect be on the primeval history of Genesis 1-11, if this interpretation is followed?

1). My essay is taken from the second prompt, and my thesis is quite straightforward: the text, in similarity of speech, story, and in the numerological indication, necessitates a de-creation and re-creation interpretation. I'll begin by taking the textual indications--similarities of word choice, location, etcetera, and then will move on to overarching thematic elements that are similar or identical, and will conclude my argument with the numerological significance that the author gives us in the age of Noah. I will then move on to one possible interpretation of the Noah and Ham facet of the narrative in light of this reading.

2). Before noting similarities in the text, we need to understand that the deluge was leveled primarily against dry land (which had been cursed in Genesis 3), man (taken from the cursed earth), birds, and land animals (which at the least, live on the cursed earth). Sea creatures would have had a grand time, taking field trips to the Carpathian peaks; light and dark, sun, moon and stars would have been unaffected, while the land would have been covered and man and land animals would have been annihilated. Therefore, if this is a de-creation, any de-creational language would mirror the creational language of dry land, man, birds and the animals, and that is how we find it. This language is infrequent, but impossible to misconstrue: Genesis 7:21, 24 give us almost a verbatim destruction of the Genesis 1 creation. "Cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth... everything that creeps upon the earth..." in Genesis 1, compared to "cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth..." in Genesis 7. This, combined with the otherwise rare phrase "in whose nostrils was the breath of life" that in Genesis 7 is a persistent refrain, force us back to the 1st chapter's account of creation.

3). Also important to note is the flood narrative's consistent reference to the earth: twenty one "earth's" (a combination of two numbers that are already significant to the Hebrew mind: three sets of seven) as well as three "face of the ground" references. There is an obvious preoccupation with the earth being cursed, and we as readers are not allowed to forget it. Creation was defaced and is being washed.

4). Perhaps less striking than the verbatim textual similarities but no less apparent is the order in which events happen: in Genesis 1, water above from water below, and water below from the dry land. In Genesis 7, the water below undoes the creation of the land, and the water above undoes the separation of the two firmaments. Creation literally is working backwards. Then we are given the primordial picture once again: the earth is formless and void, and the ark, not the Spirit of God, is "moving" upon the surface of the waters. But soon, the darkness and light are separated as the clouds break, the intermingling waters are separated (the rain stops), then the water and dry land begin to separate, Noah opens the window and there are sun, moon and stars; he sends out a raven and a dove and the birds and fish are restored, and finally, beasts and man descend from the ark: the new creation.

5). The final part of the narrative mirroring is when the ark comes to rest upon a mountain (Genesis 8:4). Looking closely at the text we can see that the Garden of Eden was also on a mountain (the rivers proceeded from it, and we're presuming that water has always flowed downhill). So, we have men, on a mountaintop, surrounded by animals and descending water. God gives them a promise, a command, and attendant blessings and curses, much of which is a strict repetition--often a verbatim repetition--of His earlier dealings with Adam. But here, for the first time, capital punishment is instituted, eating animals is allowed and eating blood is forbidden: man is given yet greater responsibility and freedom, while this time, all the surrounding animals, instead of plants, are for their use. Now all of this so far has been fairly clear and self-explanatory, the kind of thing any serious student would notice on a first reading of the text. But this next part is slightly more abstruse; it kind of goes out onto the skinny branches of exegesis, though it fits, as Dunnett would say, like an old man cutting cloth in an attic.

6). Numbers have a huge role in the Hebrew mindset. The Bible is full to the brim of genealogies, lists of tribal populations, and strict (though not chronological) accountings of the timing of events. In Genesis we're given genealogies that in some cases have an obvious significance: Enoch lives a perfect "year" of years, 365, and disappears; his son dies in the year of the flood, just failing to reach a trinity of tens (ten x ten x ten). The two "sevenths" from Adam are starkly contrasted: Lamech, the murderous poet, and Enoch, the disappearing prophet, and this is just the surface of this one genealogy. Now in this particular narrative, we're given Noah's age again and again and again, and always in the set of three: in this year, and this month, and this day of the month. But the most notable of these is the last of these sets of three, in verse thirteen of chapter eight: "And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first (month), the first (day) of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry."

7). This is the big change: the ark has come to rest, the dove has not returned, the rain has long since stopped, and here, the ark is opened. Here, the world is again presented to man. This is when man again looks out over the creation. And when does it happen? The first day of the first month of the first year after Noah's six hundredth year. God created the world in six days, and on the seventh, He rested. Noah lived six hundred years, and now he is viewing the earth again. The work is done, the world has been de-created and re-created, and now the waters, the ark, and, in a sense, Noah, are all at rest. If this is not at the least a sideways nod to the six days of creation, our author is singularly dense, and, as we are given ample proof, dense is one thing that he is not.

8). But as I said before, this could be construed as reaching. So let us follow it out. If we are being referred to creation in verse thirteen of chapter eight, what ought to happen next? God ought to give man a mandate. He does so in verse sixteen. Man ought to express dominion over the animals, and verse twenty of chapter eight satisfies that requirement. We ought to find man in a garden, and in verse twenty of chapter nine, after the extended covenant, we find this as well. There ought to be a snake in that garden, and we are given Ham. The list goes on.

9). So there are simply too many similarities for this to be anything but a new creation, but how ought this to alter our reading of the text? This is my final point, and it is one that I shall have to buttress a great deal. I am seeking to posit that we are given a second "fall in the garden story," and that, loosely and typologically speaking, Noah ought to be read as an image of God, Ham as the snake, and Shem and Japheth as man. This may at first seem counterintuitive, as we have a drunk "god" and a view of dad naked in place of a fruit (not to mention the snake-man Ham), but upon closer inspection, it fits remarkably well, as I will demonstrate.

10). The first thing to note is that Noah has labored, and is now resting, as God had done with His garden in Eden. So far, the interpretation fits. But now we come to the issue of "drunk," and this is one of the chief objections to the interpretation that I'm supporting: how can Noah represent God if Noah is drunk? The Hebrew language is not perfect, but it is quite clear on this point: the word rendered "and became drunk" at the absolute least means that Noah drank like he'd just turned twenty-one. The word is never interpreted as anything less than a lot to drink, so any wiggling within various meanings of the words is out, but why is this a problem to reading Noah as an image of God? This is long before man is given any command to avoid drunkenness, so construing Noah's actions as inherently sinful is a long, long stretch, as there is nothing in the text that criticizes him. Also, he's in his tent, not dancing naked in the streets: the text is just as clear on that point. Ham has to enter his tent to see his father's nakedness, so his father is "covered" by the "garment" of the tent. And finally, even if Noah is acting like Attila with a harem like Suleiman's, the author is the one drawing the allusion, and he deliberately avoids making a judgment of any kind, so we ought to follow his example if we would see what he wants us to see.

11). So Noah is in his tent, in relaxed attire, and Ham saw the nakedness of his father. The text here does allow for Ham's sin to be anything from raping his father to simply walking in at an inopportune time, and the only thing that sheds any light on what he does is his brothers' response, designed to undo what Ham did. And what do they do? They cover their father with a garment, while keeping their heads turned so "the nakedness of their father they did not see." The text says that Ham uncovers and sees, while Shem and Japheth cover and do not see. Without any further elucidation by the author, the reading that does the least violence to the text is to assume that Noah was naked (or nearly) in his tent, and Ham invaded his father's privacy, then told his brothers.

12). The reaction of Shem and Japheth is very interesting, however. First off, they refuse to see their father (another allusion to God, who is always shrouded in smoke or behind a veil). But they do seem to feel that immediate action needs to be taken, so they (naturally) take a garment, place it over both of their shoulders, and walk it backwards into their father's tent (drawing, perhaps, an allusion to the veil in the tabernacle with the stitched cherubim facing outward [itself drawing an allusion to Eden]), where they drape the garment over their father. As opposed to, for example, telling Ham to knock it off. Why? Why is this elaborate act of clothing their father necessary?

13). The key to this whole story is the garment. In the Jewish mindset in particular, your garment, your cloak, was your sign of office. This is why David's conscience smote him for cutting Saul's robe while Saul was going to the bathroom (lifting his hand against the Lord's anointed), why Elisha got the cloak of Elijah, why tearing your robe was such a humbling thing, and why Joseph's brothers were so furious when their brother was given a cloak of many "breadths"--a cloak stretching to the palms of the hand and soles of the feet--which we (for some inexplicable reason) translate "colors."

14). So the action of draping a cloak over their father was, in a very symbolic way, not only Shem and Japheth's refusal to shame or mock their father, not only their way of honoring him, but also their way of submitting to him, their way of investing him with the authority that he was temporarily divested of. This explains why the curse upon Ham is in terms of submission to his brothers. It is also wholly possible that Ham took his father's cloak, and this is the garment that the brothers draped back over him (though the text is silent). So, the snake takes fruit from the tree--he takes the authority of God--and he offers it to mankind, who take it. Ham uncovers his father's nakedness--he tries to remove his father's authority--and "offers" it to his brothers, who refuse it.

15). If this fails to convince that the author is drawing a parallel, it is all but proven by what follows: Adam sinned by taking to himself the office of God (judging good from evil), and his sin was followed by his son Cain's sin of building a city (God had commanded man to spread out and Cain responds by building a city). Ham attempts to rebel against the office of his father, and is thwarted, and his sin is followed by his grandson Nimrod's sin of building a city, which is also thwarted. So the story of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth is the story of a new mankind in a new garden, in which man is not rebellious and cursed, but submits, and is blessed; a new world in which man's sinfulness will be checked, and not overrun the world as it did before.

No comments:

Wodehousian Fun