Parashat Noach – Erev Shabbat 8 October 2021 – 5782
Week of 3-9 October 2021
Torah portion: Genesis 6 :9 – 11 :32 Haftarah: Isaiah 54 :1 -55 :5
Theme: Our LORD God is just and merciful
Parashat Noach (according to Eskenazi: New York: 2008 p. 36) presents us with five sections of which I am going to choose two for the focus of this commentary: I) Transgression and Divine Response, and III) Transgression and Divine Response. The Parashah begins with “This is Noah’s Chronicle” – this is Noah’s time. We meet him briefly in Gen. 5:32 when we are told his age at the end of his time and that he had three sons who are named. In Gen. 6:8 we read: “(but) Noah found favor in the LORD’s sight.”
The Divine response to the transgression in section (6:9 – 9:29) is the Flood: “As for me, I am going to bring down floodwaters upon the earth to destroy all that lives under the heavens, [all] that has the breath of life in it” (v. 17). A question that first-time hearers and readers often ask is: “Did the flood take place?” This is not the question we ask when reading especially the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Our question is: “What is the narrative teaching us about the LORD God, ourselves, and all of Creation?”
In the first 11 chapters of Genesis, we are dealing with Biblical Myths. The definition of the literary genre of ‘myth’ is “an imaginative story that uses symbols and images to speak about a reality that is beyond our understanding” (Biblical Studies S.G. 102. Catholic Bible College: 2010 p. 7).
We know that the Israelites did not live in isolation: they were surrounded by other nations who had tried to explain creation and the realities in which they found themselves. Significant sources behind the traditions of Genesis 1-11 are the creation and flood stories from the ancient Near East – Sumerian, Mesopotamian and Egyptian. An example is the Babylonian Epic of Atrahasis (c.1600 BCE) which presents a creation-disruption-flood sequence, a structure similar to Genesis 1-11. Another example is the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. The earliest Sumerian version is from Ur and dates from as early as 2150-2000 BCE.
There are many similarities between the Epic and the biblical story of the flood but the differences lie in the theology – what is the story teaching us about God, ourselves, and creation? The gods of Mesopotamia were fickle and narcissistic and therefore there was no reason for sending a flood on human beings except maybe that they felt like doing it or had been angered. Human beings were their playthings.
The biblical story presents a highly moral situation to which God’s justice and mercy respond. The evil actions are punished through a flood while Noah the only ‘good man’ and his family are saved. The true beauty of the story is God’s promise: “never again will I doom the earth because of man” (8:21-22).
Genesis 11:1-9 [III) Transgression and Response] is not about the desire for people to reach ‘heaven’ but rather it describes people wanting to remain in one place. God had commanded “fill the earth and subdue it” (1:38) but here we see the drive in human beings for self-preservation. “God, therefore, promotes diversity at the expense of any kind of unity that seeks to preserve itself in isolation from the rest of creation and thereby places that creation at risk.” (Birch et al, 2005)
For Reflection and Discussion: 1) Raymond E. Brown, (1928-1978) wrote: “The Bible offers such a broad range of …experience… that inevitably I can discover therein a situation analogous to my own situation.” Discuss in the light of your present experiences.
Bibliography: Eskenazi, T. C. Weiss, A.L. A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008); Biblical Studies S.G. 102. (Catholic Bible College, South Africa: 2010)
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Bernadette Teresa Chellew, South Africa, Bat Kol Alumna: 2008