Reflections on Genesis: Noah

Below the fold, the notes for my penultimate Bible study reading Genesis as philosophy. Again, these are just notes but should give some idea of the gist of it.

Generational Lists.
We mentioned this last week, but prior to the flood story there is a genealogical list. One thing to note in these list that is not immediately apparent is that Noah the first man mentioned born after the natural death of Adam. Can it be that he was picked for manning the Ark because of this fact. Is there significance of being born (and going through childhood) knowing that your are mortal, unlike the rest? How does the knowledge of our mortality affect our actions and ethics?

Considering Heroism and the Nephilim

Having grown up without considerations of mortality but then finding out they are mortal, man acts the hero (“goes heroically wild” is Kass’ term). Homer writes

Man, supposing you and I, escaping this battle,
would be able to live on forever, ageless, immortal,
so either would I myself go on fighting in the foremost
now would I urge you into the fighting where men win glory.
But now, seeing that spirits of death stand close about us
in their thousands, no man can turn aside nor escape them,
let us go on and win glory for ourselves, or yield it to others.

Death and fear of the end drives men to seek immortality in other ways see also Achilles and his choice (old age or immortal fame and a short life). Sacks and Rousseau (and I imagine others) read “Sons of God” not as angelic heroic men, but either of the line of Cain or of Seth. Which is which … varies.

Beauty, Possession, and Violence

“and that they were fair”. From Eden, the fruit which was “pleasing to the eyes” to here, “fair women”. We get a violent view of Antediluvian man. Violent, seeking nothing but “fair women” and glory, God enacts two things. He limits lifespans to six score years and calls Noah and destroys the antediluvian world. Noah must respond to his election by obedience to achieve his survival.

Sideline, consider the Christian hero

If we are to consider the Nephilim (Nepher-> to fall/fallen) as heroically driven or an “age of heroes”, then we might take a moment to consider the Christian hero … and those in literature. Achilles, Odysseus, Aeneas, and other men are in the heroic mold. Achilles was driven by a need for glory and fame. What drives the Christian hero? What singles him out?
Comparison with Gilgamesh

  • God destroys in response to near universal human wickedness as a purge to erase the evil. Enil does so out of caprice.
  • God decides to save Noah on account of his righteousness, Ea saves Utnapishtim out of, again, caprice.
  • The gods and goddesses are terrified by the violence they have unleashed. God is in command.
  • The gods and goddesses are eager and swarm over the sacrifice. God merely smells Noah’s.
  • Noah does not design the Ark but follows instruction.
  • Noah’s Ark has no helm nor fore or aft. Utnapishtim’s has helm, helmsman and is guided by him.
  • Utnapishtim closed himself within, God “shut Noah in”.
  • Utnapishtim is a crafty commander. Noah is an obedient servant.

Noah and Justice

The move to Sacrifice -> Primitive Liturgy

Yet again, as Cain and Abel we have the motion to burnt offering and sacrifice. The text gives us no indication that God inspired this notion. As Cain (and Abel) the sacrifice seems to be centered around what Noah divines what God might like mostly based on what he himself likes.
Is modern liturgy guilty of the same thing in a modern fashion?

Noahide Law How We Read

First let us examine Noahide law as expressed in this:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.
And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”

We will first consider this from the standpoint of the words in this text as they stand separate from the context (that is as the word of God or divine proclamation).
This text changes the relationship between man and beast as it was set down in Genesis 1.
This law as it stands acts as a example of a prototypical law. It sets logos with force. The teeth (force of the command) seem more important than the speech. But, this law is set in speech which is rational in its form and substance. Law calls to us as moral agents.

Does our relationship with God change with the introduction of Law?

Life as blood (primitive). Compare with modern ideas which are rather more nebulous.
Modern notions of life are not that life=blood. But what of modern notions of chemical DNA, personhood, or platonic disembodied consciousness. Are these notions really more sophisticated when regarding the living better than identifying life with blood?
Dietary injunctions as ethical training? Don’t eat blood because blood=life … and we must respect life.

Noahide injunction on Murder

Animal life might be taken but its blood not eaten. Human blood must not be shed. There is not a direct injunction against murder, just a penalty for taking life.
There is equality in this law. No station, position, wealth are considered.
Not “Thou shalt not kill” but instead thou may kill the murderer.
The gift of the Law

  • Only when men join together accepting responsibility to enforce retributive justice can man rest securely.
  • Only when they join together around shared obligations can community arise.
  • Finally in this way they can affirm in deed the fact that they appreciate their shared equality in God image (demonstrating God-likeness by exercising moral responsibility).

Consider Capital Punishment

Is it Capital punishment right, nonetheless. Arguments against the text.

Capital punishment may be too harsh. Modern intelligentsia think poorly of Capital punishment when enacted by state (not even individuals).This Noahide law may be a primitive stopgap to be replaced later by more sophisticated and modern methods.

Human beings are by their nature violent (blood shed is part of us). This law constrains this urge against those who have shed blood.

Conclusion

Noah’s sacrifice is offered. It has a response. God replies with a promise and a covenant. He is told you “have a special relationship with me”. You are in My image, but that image implies not just raw power., but instead justice, equality, and respect for life,

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