Why Didn’t Noah Appeal?
“I am interested in the psychology.” – Hercule Poirot
A few months ago, I came across Karen Armstrong’s In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis at my local library. Being the sort who can’t resist a ‘new’ approach to things, I borrowed it. I’ve since returned it – can’t keep a library book for too long and incur fines, don’t you know – so don’t have the book in front of me right now. Nevertheless, one thing in the book has been bugging me ever since I read it and I feel I must write about it here.
It is not a thick book – under 200 pages. It is not difficult to read either, in that the author uses everyday language that the average adult reader should be able to understand. As an added bonus, the entire Book of Genesis (NRSV) is included right at the end, so one can refer to those pages while reading the text.
Ms. Armstrong approaches the reading of Genesis in a way that illuminates certain things that were not apparent to me before. She forces us to take a closer look at the ‘heroes’ of Genesis – warts and all. She asks questions and makes comments about the characters in an open and daring – and sometimes even feminist (if memory serves) – manner that the reader is obliged to sit up, pay attention and demand an answer from the writers of Genesis.
One of the people that the author talks about is Noah. Now much has been written and debated about among Christians of all stripes and colours. Young-earth Creationists insist that it is an actual, historical event, laid out exactly as it is written down in Genesis 6-9. Other Christians believe that the flood story was anything from a real local flood to an allegorical story. Ms. Armstrong’s focus is not on the evidence (or lack of evidence) that supports the veracity of the story. Rather, she looks at the character of Noah.
Noah’s story is found in Genesis 6-9 (and briefly in Genesis 10). Basically, God (some verses say ‘the LORD’ – yes, there is a difference!) tells Noah that he is displeased and sorry that he made the world and that he is going to destroy it with a flood. Noah is instructed to build an ark – specific instructions included – and that he and his family and animals are to enter the ark to be safe from the floodwaters.
Noah says not a word during this whole episode. Or, rather, the writers of Genesis did not record anything. In fact, the first recorded words of Noah come long after the flood when he wakes up from a drunken stupor, and it ain’t pretty: “Cursed be Canaan.” All we really know about Noah is that when he was 500 years old, he received instructions from God/the LORD to build an ark; he spent 100 years building an ark; he got drunk and when he woke up he cursed his son. Nice.
Later, in Genesis 18, the LORD hears about the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and decides to destroy them. This time, it is Abraham whom the LORD tells of his plan to destroy the wicked. Abraham, when he hears of the LORD’s plan, does not leave with the other men, but stays and appeals! He starts asking whether the LORD really would destroy the whole city and not spare the righteous. “What if there are fifty righteous people?” Abraham asks initially. The LORD agrees to spare the city if fifty righteous people can be found living there. Abraham appeals over and over and manages to get the number down to ten righteous people and the LORD agrees. The whole episode can be found in Genesis 18:16-33.
Now back to Noah. When presented with God/the LORD’s plan to destroy the whole world – not just a city or two – he says absolutely nothing. Why didn’t Noah appeal?? When he got his instructions, his father Lamech and his grandfather Mathuselah would have still been alive. They died before the Flood actually came, but they were still alive when God/the LORD told Noah his plans. What about his brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins? No appeal for them?
And how many people were there at the time of the Flood? One young-Earth Creationist estimates the population to be about 9 billion, although he adds that that number may be too conservative!
Think about it. NINE BILLION people in the world – men, women, children – and Noah did not appeal for even one of them. God/the LORD did not even spare the children and infants.
If I had any lingering thoughts that the Bible account of the Flood could really have been an actual, historical event, this has put an end to that. So, in the end, what finally persuaded me that the Flood story in the Bible is meant to be read allegorically was not the lack of physical evidence but the psychology of a ‘righteous’ man – a man who gave no thought to others when he knew that the world was going to be destroyed.