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October 15, 2012 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Noach

This week’s Torah portion, of course, contains the infamous Flood.  I think it is pretty well known that Near East pagan mythologies refer to a flood wiping out large chunks of mankind.

What is less well known is that the flood seems to have a historical basis as well as a mythological one.  Sarna writes that clay deposits “provide abundant testimony to periodic inundation of the flat alluvial valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates.”  In particular, there is evidence of a “devastating deluge” in Kish from around 2900 BCE.  In other words, the Flood really happened.  (It was not worldwide, however; there is no evidence of a flood in the Land of Israel).

Did it happen exactly when the biblical chronology suggests?  2900 BCE was 4900 years ago.  If the Biblical chronology was absolutely correct it would have happened a few hundred years later (since there were 1656 years from Adam, 5700+ years ago, to the Flood).    This is perhaps evidence that the Biblical claims of great lifespans (Gen. 5) are not to be taken literally.   On the other hand, if you are going to be a literalist about these matters, I suppose you can always claim that the great Flood is another flood that doesn’t have quite as much archaeological evidence behind it.

On a more theological note, after the Flood, God says to Noah “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth.” (Gen. 9:1).  This rule (?) troubles me on a personal level; I just turned 49, and it is becoming clear to me that the majority of women willing to date me might not be capable of having children.    Leaving that aside, this statement illustrates a difference between Jewish and pagan attitudes towards God.  The Jewish God wants mankind to thrive, albeit gradually (creating enough disease etc to ensure that humanity doesn’t take over the Earth’s wild spaces too quickly).  By contrast, Sarna notes that in one of the Babylonian versions of the flood story, “the problem that precipitated the flood was overpopulation.  The gods, therefore, inflict stillbirth, sterility and spinsterhood on humanity to ensure that the problem does not occur.”

Even if you do not think it is quite appropriate to say that “God loves us”, our God, unlike the pagan deities, apparently does not view people as rivals, but as an experiment God actually wants to promote.


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