I was rereading the story of Noah in Genesis today.  It’s so obvious to me, now, that this is not actual history and that the story uses two sources that I have to remind myself that this was not always so.

The sources are pretty obvious (if mixed together) when you look at the story  We go back and forth between one pair (a male and a female) of every species in the first source and seven pairs of all clean species (and only one pair of all unclean species) in the second source. 

In the second source, Noah is given seven days to collect all the animals before the flood comes.  It’s pretty clear to me he couldn’t have traveled the globe to collect all the animals, in those days, in seven years, let alone seven days.  And even two of every species (plus 8 people and food to feed all aboard for months) could never have fit in a vessel that was probably about the size of three football fields, stacked on top of each other.

So this is not history.  this is a story that tells us God, looking at a good creation, finds it to be totally corrupted and polluted and out of harmony because of the wickedness of the people who lived in it.  But God, rather than to throw everything out and start again completely from scratch, decides to try again, using the best of what already is.  There is a new creation out of the waters of the flood.  But the ark carries a remnant forward from what was before into what will be in the future.

In fact, God makes a covenant, a binding agreement, with all living creatures after the flood.  In the future, God will find a better way to bring out the best in creation.  A covenant, since it was made with all living creatures, which would seem to imply that God finds great value in the well-being of all living creatures – not just people.

And there do seem to be new things in this new creation, this new beginning.  Noah is identified as having planted the first vineyard and as having discovered, not just grapes, but also wine and drunkenness.  It’s not clear if he should have been able to avoid drunkenness – at least a first time.  But he becomes so drunk, to his shame, that he passes out, naked, in his tent.

And wouldn’t you know it!  Not all wickedness was left behind in the flood.  His son, Ham, does something bad to him while Noah is passed out.

What he does is not at all clear.  To “uncover the nakedness of a man” was understood in Jewish law to mean having sexual relations with the man’s wife.  If this is what’s meant, we’re talking incest – sleeping with your mother.  To “see the nakedness of a man” is understood in Jewish law to mean to have sex with him.  If this is what’s meant, then he raped his unconscious father.  Some sources suggest that Ham castrated his father – making him unable to procreate (i.e. to be fruitful and multiply).  But it may well mean that Ham literally saw his father naked, violating the norms of bodily modesty and of respecting one’s parents.  This last interpretation would seem to be supported by Shem and Japheth looking away as they backed into their father’s tent to cover up their naked father.

Strangely, it is Ham’s son, Canaan, and not Ham, who is cursed by Noah.  Likely this is tied to popular belief about sexual perversions practiced by the Canaanites (named after Canaan).

It’s a fascinating story on so many levels.  But at heart, I hear it, it’s a story about the worth of all God’s creatures, and God’s commitment to work with us, and bring out the best in us, even when we fall far short of God’s hope for us.