“When it starts raining, it is too late to begin building the ark. … We … need to listen to the Lord’s spokesmen. We need to calmly continue to move ahead and prepare for what will surely come. We need not panic or fear, for if we are prepared, spiritually and temporally, we and our families will survive any flood. Our arks will float on a sea of faith if our works have been steadily and surely preparing for the future”
– Elder Don Ladd, Ensign, Nov. 1994, 29
Points to Ponder
- What are we to make of the contradictory / conflicting accounts of the Flood in Gen 6-7?
- How does understanding the Documentary Hypothesis, and the various Sources, help us understand the Noah account?
- Given what we understand about the post-exhilic Israelites, what value would the Noah story hold?
- How would the un-creation and rebirth narratives benefit Israel as they attempted to rebuild their lives after Babylon?
- What expanded perspective do we gain about God and His attitude towards His children from the Pearl of Great Price?
- What were the sins of the ante-diluvian people, and how did the Noahic covenant address each of those problematic areas?
Materials Shared in Class
Study Help: “What Do You Really Know About the Noah Story?”
When asked to recite the basic details of the Noah story, most people would likely share the most common facts and figures, e.g., 2 pair of each animals, 40 days of rain, etc. But a closer look at the text itself shows oft-overlooked details that might be confusing when viewed through a modern lens.
“The Old Testament records a flood that was just over fifteen cubits (sometimes assumed to be about twenty-six feet) deep and covered the entire landscape: “And all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered” (Gen. 7:19). Scientifically this account leaves many questions unanswered, especially how a measurable depth could cover mountains.
Elder John A. Widtsoe, writing in 1943, offered this perspective: ‘The fact remains that the exact nature of the flood is not known. We set up assumptions, based upon our best knowledge, but can go no further. We should remember that when inspired writers deal with historical incidents they relate that which they have seen or that which may have been told them, unless indeed the past is opened to them by revelation.Many Bible accounts that trouble the inexperienced reader become clear and acceptable if the essential meaning of the story is sought out.
The details in the story of the flood are undoubtedly drawn from the experiences of the writer. Under a downpour of rain, likened to the opening of the heavens, a destructive torrent twenty-six feet deep or deeper would easily be formed. The writer of Genesis made a faithful report of the facts known to him concerning the flood. In other localities the depth of the water might have been more or less. In fact, the details of the flood are not known to us [Widtsoe, p. 127].'” (emphasis added)
The Genesis 6 account of the Flood then reverses the creation and undoes everything that Elohim had established. The destruction of the world that had hitherto been deemed ‘very good’ might seem problematic, especially since an omniscient God could have easily foreseen the impending calamity. The world reverts back to chaos and nothing but a token sample of God’s creations were preserved in the portable center of holiness, the Ark.
Some traditions view this as symbolic of a rebirth, recreation, even understanding the Ark as a divine uterine symbol and Noah as simultaneous midwife / 1stborn.
One can find further symbolism of the rebirth narrative by understanding the Hebrew perspective of the shape of the cosmos as described in Gen 1 – earth and its creations wrapped in a body of celestial waters…)
To the post-exhilic Jews, the story of YHWH remembering a small portion of his creations, even when all around them has been completely undone, would be immensely comforting. Theirs was a God who would still triumph over the forces of chaos and is willing to start everything over again, create the world around them anew, no matter how badly things may devolve.
It’s also helpful to understand the Hebrew tradition of layering meaning and message within the numbers of their stories. In this case, the ’40 days of rain’ could likely not referenced any measurable duration of time, but rather be indicative of the rebirth and recreation that God was commencing, after a long period of trial and testing.
Victory over Chaos & A Light in the Darkness
The Hebrew word translated as the Ark of Noah was not the same word used to describe the Ark of the Tabernacle, but it WAS the same word used to describe the basket or boat in which the Baby Moses was placed. Note the parallels and foreshadowing / references made across storylines of victories over chaotic waters, single families preserved in righteousness amidst an idolatrous nation, and YHWH’s remembering His covenant people.
Also, pay special attention to footnote a in the LDS KJV Gen 6:16 – the ‘window’ was likely not a window at all, but a glittering stone or pearl or gem, holding the primordial light of creation. Some esoteric traditions also mention this stone being passed from Adam down to Abraham; it’s quite likely that this glowing stone was the source of inspiration for Mahonri Moriancumr and his attempts at building boats to cross a similar body of waters.
Why would this be useful to the Hebrews and what additional morals might we draw from this perspective?
The God Who Weeps
The OT version of the Noah story shows little more than an angry God who selects 1 man and his family to save; apocryphal sources, including our own Pearl of Great Price, show instead a reluctant and sorrowful God who had little desire to punish His rebellious children, but instead allowed them to make their own choices, warned them of the consequences, and let agency and natural reaction take their course. Note how Moses 8 shows that Noah becomes the center of the narrative, is the person who warned the wicked people, and who ‘repented’ that God had created them. It’s especially touching in Moses 7:28 to see that God weeps about his children’s impending suffering and is pained by their choices.
What does this add to our understanding of the Nature of God?
The God Who Connects Via Covenants
The Noahite covenant is revealed in Gen 9, wherein Elohim repeats frequently his desire to establish, remember, and honor covenants with his children. The story is further illuminated in the Pearl of Great Price as we see that the covenant was first established with Enoch.
Given what we know about the great tragedy of the Babylonian captivity, how would this story benefit its audience?
Interpretations of the Flood narrative in Mormonism