Noah and the Flood — What is going on in Genesis 6-9? Part I: The Big Picture

Given the amount of posts that I have devoted to a critique and satire of the teaching of Ken Ham and his organization Answers in Genesis, I think it is about time that I presented my own views of this well known but often poorly understood narrative. (See Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis Posts)

The first thing to note about this story is that it does not appear in isolation and should not be treated as such. Furthermore, the narrative as we currently have it was written at least 2500 years ago and this historical reality ought to inform our interpretation of the text as well.

The Flood Narrative in Canonical Context

As it comes to us, I have come to see Genesis through 2 Kings as a single narrative (the Torah and the Former Prophets in the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible). So, I approach even the earliest chapters of Genesis as likely foreshadowing and informing the final chapters of The Books of the Kings.

At the end of Kings, Jerusalem and the Temple lie in ruins and many Judeans have been exiled from their homeland. There is a slight glimmer of hope for the future as one from the line of King David sits at the table of the Ruler of Babylon. So, I take it that the author(s)-editor(s) of the canonical narrative is telling the story of Israel from the perspective of one in exile. He is seeking to answer meaningful questions such as”Who are we?”, “Where did we come from?”, “Why are we here (in exile)?” and most importantly and integral to the whole question, “Who and where is YHWH in all this?”So, when I read the story of the land (Adamah), the first man (Adam or “dirt boy”) and woman (Eve or “life girl”) in light of this broader context, then I begin to see that their story like the story of Israel itself is one of being given land to steward, their failure to steward it in harmony with YHWH which results in their exile.1 (See my post  Genesis 3: What is the man doing? or Adam discovers the scientific method.for one possible theme that can be drawn out of the Garden narrative.) So, as other biblical scholars have suggested, the story of the first man and woman is also the story of Israel.2

Genesis 1 is YHWH’s preparing a habitable and fruitful land for human beings. The land appears when the waters are separated in accordance with ancient cosmology and geography. In the flood narrative, YHWH will release the waters and undo what was done in Genesis 1. The flood represents the undoing of creation and a new beginning. Yet, it is not a complete do-over for YHWH preserves a family and the animals.

Yet, why such a catastrophic event? What reason does the author of the flood narrative give for such a terrible action? What has led the LORD to undo what the LORD had done in the beginning?

Next time we’ll look at the escalation of violence, oppression, and the rise of tyranny that is presented in Genesis 1-6.

Notes and asides:

1. This event is often referred to as the Fall but the metaphor of Fall may cause us to read elements into the narrative that aren’t there and as a result miss the thematic connections that link this narrative to its larger context.

2. Later, in light of the resurrection of Christ, Paul will suggest that the story of Israel is the story of all human beings. Indeed, some of the latter prophets already suggested that Israel was not the only people to be delivered by YHWH.

John Walton’s Lost World books are great books on the first three chapters of Genesis.

 

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4 thoughts on “Noah and the Flood — What is going on in Genesis 6-9? Part I: The Big Picture

  1. I have seen Pentateuch/Torah (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num. Deu) along with Former Prophets (Jos, Jud, Sam, Kings) referred to as the Primary History of Israel and I like that term as I see them as a literary unit, as you do. I wonder if you have a term for them that perhaps is different or is this the commonly accepted term?

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    1. Thanks for leaving a comment. I have heard the designation Primary History before.

      This designation may be becoming a standard term for some. I am more familiar with Deuteronomy through Kings being referred to as the Deuteronimistic History.

      I guess Primary History works but it strikes me as sounding too official. In other words, I think it might give the wrong impression about the historical role of this history. As I see it, what we have preserved in the Tanakh and Christian Scriptures is at least in part a critique of official histories which might be more properly described as “primary histories”. We have as the name Former Prophets suggests a “prophetic history of Israel.”

      The other thing that confuses me about calling this the Primary History of Israel is that along with Chronicles it is the only extant history of Israel that we have. So, Primary as compare to what? To Chronicles? 🙂

      Anyway, just some thoughts.

      IWP

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      1. I have heard Chronicles-Ezra-Neh called the Secondary History of Israel, I should have mentioned that also, as that is the intended contrast to the word Primary. I am a big fan of reading Scripture in context, in this case literary context.

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