The son of Lamech, and the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 5.28–32), Noah was the hero of the biblical Flood narrative (Gen. 6.9–9.17) and the first vintner (Gen. 9.18–28). After observing the corruption of all creation, God determined to cleanse and purify the earth through a flood (Gen 6.1–7). Noah, however, found favor with God (Gen. 6.8–9), and he, together with his family and the seed of all living creatures, entered the ark and survived the deluge. From them the earth was then repopulated (Gen. 10).

In many respects Noah was a second Adam. The genealogy of Genesis 5 makes his birth the first after the death of the progenitor of humanity. Like Adam, all people are his descendants. God's first command to the primordial pair to “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1.28) is echoed in God's first command to Noah and his sons after the Flood (Gen. 9.1).

Other biblical figures in turn look back to Noah and are compared to him. Moses also had to endure a water ordeal (Exod. 2.1–10); in fact, the only other time that the Hebrew word for ark (tēbâ) is used in the Bible is for the basket in which Moses was saved (Exod. 2.3, 5). In Christian tradition, Noah is viewed as a precursor of Jesus (Luke 17.26–27), and the waters of the Flood are compared to the waters of baptism (1 Pet. 3.18–22).

Noah has traditionally been viewed as an exemplary righteous person (Ezek. 14.14, 20; Heb. 11.7; 2 Pet. 2.5; and extensive postbiblical Jewish, Christian, and Muslim literature). However, the phrase “righteous in his generation” (Gen. 6.9) has also been interpreted to mean that at any other time Noah's righteousness would not have been viewed as extraordinary (b. Sanh. 108a).

The legend of a hero who survives an inundation to repopulate the earth is one found in many cultures. Most closely related to the biblical account are the stories from ancient Mesopotamia. In the Sumerian flood story, the pious king Ziusudra survives two to three attempts, including a flood, to destroy humanity. After his ordeal, he offers a sacrifice to the gods, repopulates the earth, is granted immortality and sent to live in paradisiacal Dilmun. The eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic relates the story of Gilgamesh's ancestor Utnapishtim, who survived the flood to gain immortality through a capricious act of the god Ea/Enki. Many of the images and details of the story parallel the biblical account. Contextually closest to the biblical story is the Atrahasis Epic, which places the flood story in the context of a primeval history. In this version Atrahasis, the “exceedingly wise one” (also an epithet of Utnapishtim), survives three attempts to destroy humanity, the last of which is a flood. The great noise of humanity and the earth's overpopulation are given as reasons for the god Enlil's wish to bring destruction. After the flood, a divine compromise is reached on ways to limit the earth's population, an idea specifically rejected in the biblical account (Gen. 9.1).

See also Ham/Canaan, Cursing of


Carl S. Ehrlich