Noah in rabbinic literature

Noah in rabbinic literature
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Allusions in rabbinic literature to the Biblical character Noah, who saved his family and representatives of all the animals from a great flood by constructing an ark, contain various expansions, elaborations and inferences beyond what is presented in the text of the Bible itself.


His name

According to Midrash Agadah on Genesis v. 29, Noah obtained his name, which means "rest," only after he had invented implements for tilling the ground, which, owing to the lack of such implements, had yielded only thorns and thistles (comp. Genesis 3:18).[1] In this manner Noah really brought rest to mankind and to the earth itself.[1]

Other reasons for this name are given by the ancient rabbis; e.g., Noah restored man's rule over everything, just as it had been before Adam sinned, thus setting mankind at rest. Formerly the water used to inundate the graves so that the corpses floated out; but when Noah was born the water subsided (Genesis Rabba 25:2).[1] The apparent discrepancy in Gen. v. 29, where it is said that Lamech "called his name Noah, saying, This shall comfort us," is explained by the "Sefer haYashar" (section Bereshit, p. 5b, Leghorn, 1870), which says that while he was called in general Noah, his father named him Menahem ("the comforter"). Noah was born circumcised (Midrash Agadah on Genesis 10:9; Tan., Noach, 6).[1]

His marriage

Although Noah is styled "a just man and perfect in his generations" (Genesis 10:9), the degree of his righteousness is, nevertheless, much discussed by the ancient rabbis.[2] Some of the latter think that Noah was a just man only in comparison with his generation, which was very wicked, but that he could not be compared with any of the other righteous men mentioned in the Torah.[2] These same rabbis go still further and assert that Noah himself was included in the divine decree of destruction, but that he found grace in the eyes of the Lord (comp. ib. vi. 8) for the sake of his descendants.[2] Other rabbis, on the contrary, extol Noah's righteousness, saying that his generation had no influence on him, and that had he lived in another generation, his righteousness would have been still more strongly marked (Talmud Sanhedrin 108a; Genesis Rabba 30.10).[2] In like manner, the terms "wise" (hakam) and "stupid" (ba'ar) are applied to Noah by different rabbis (Exodus Rabba l.2; Numbers Rabba 10.9).[2] Still, it is generally acknowledged that before the Flood, Noah was, by comparison with his contemporaries, a really upright man and a prophet.[2] He was considered as God's shepherd (Leviticus Rabba 1.9; "Yalk. Hadash," Mosheh, No. 128).[2]

Two different reasons are given why Noah begat no children until he had reached the advanced age of 500 years, while his ancestors had families at a much younger age (comp. Genesis 5).[2] One explanation is that Noah, foreseeing that a flood would destroy the world on account of its corruption, refused to marry on the ground that his offspring would perish.[2] God, however, ordered him to take a wife, so that after the Flood he might repeople the earth (Tan., Bereshit, 39; "Sefer haYashar," section "Noa?").[2] The other explanation is that God rendered him impotent until he reached the age of 500, saying: "If his children be wicked, he will be afflicted by their destruction; and if they be upright like their father, they will be troubled with making so many arks" (Genesis Rabba 26.2).[2] The "Sefer haYashar" (l.c.) and Genesis Rabba (22.4) both agree that Noah's wife was called Naamah.[2] According to the latter, she was the sister of Tubal-cain (Genesis 4.21); according to the former, she was a daughter of Enoch, and Noah married her when he was 498 years old.[2]

Making of the Ark

On being informed of the end of the world, Noah exhorted his contemporaries to repentance, foretelling them that a flood would destroy the earth on account of the wickedness of its people.[3] According to a tradition, Noah planted cedar-trees and felled them, continuing to do so for the space of one hundred and twenty years.[3] When the people asked him for what purpose he prepared so many trees, he told them that he was going to make an ark to save himself from the Flood which was about to come upon the earth.[3] But the people heeded not his words, they mocked at him, and used vile language; and Noah suffered violent persecution at their hands (Sanhedrin 108a, b; Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer xxii.; Genesis Rabba 30.7; Leviticus Rabba 27.5; "Sefer haYashar," l.c.; see also Flood in Rabbinical Literature).[3]

According to one legend, God showed Noah with His finger how to make the ark (Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer xxiii.); but according to the Sefer Noah (Adolf Jellinek, "B. H." iii. 155-160), Noah learned how to build it, and mastered as well the various sciences, from the Sefer Razi'el (the book from which the angel Raziel taught Adam all the sciences), which had been brought to him by the angel Raphael.[3]

The construction of the ark lasted fifty-two years; Noah purposely working slowly, in the hope that the people would take warning therefrom and would repent (Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer l.c.).[3] The Sefer haYashar (l.c.), however, assigns only five years for the construction of the ark.[3]

Noah could distinguish between clean and unclean animals inasmuch as the ark of itself gave admittance to seven of the clean animals, while of the unclean ones it admitted two only (Sanh. 108b).[3] The Sefer haYashar describes another method for distinguishing them: the clean animals and fowls crouched before Noah, while the unclean ones remained standing.[3]

A difference of opinion concerning Noah prevails also with regard to his entering into the ark.[3] According to some rabbis, Noah's faith was so small that he did not enter the ark until he stood ankle deep in water (Genesis Rabba xxxii. 9); others declare, on the contrary, that Noah waited for God's directions to enter the ark, just as he awaited His permission to leave it (ib. 34.4; Midrash Agadat Bereshit, in Jellinek, "B. H." iv. 11).[3]

Within the ark

When Noah and his family and everything that he had taken with him were inside the ark, the people left outside asked him to admit them too, promising repentance.[4] Noah refused to admit them, objecting that he had exhorted them to repent many years before the Flood.[4] The people then assembled in great numbers around the ark in order to break into it; but they were destroyed by the lions and other wild animals which also surrounded it (Tanhuma., Noah, 10; Genesis Rabba 32.14; Sefer haYashar, l.c.).[4]

Noah was constantly occupied in the ark; for he had to attend to all the living things which were with him and which fed at different times.[4] One of the lions, having become enraged at Noah, attacked and injured him, so that he remained lame for the rest of his life.[4]

Noah, during the twelve months that he was in the ark, did not sleep one moment (Tan., Noah, 14; Genesis Rabba 30.6).[4] Noah had also to feed Og, who, being unable to enter the ark, sat upon it, taking hold of one of its timbers.[4] Noah made a hole in the side of the ark through which he passed food to Og; the latter thereupon swore to be Noah's servant eternally (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer l.c.).[4]

Being in great distress, Noah prayed to God to shorten the time of his suffering.[4] God answered him that He had decreed that the Flood should last twelve months and that such decree might not be changed (Tan., Noah, 17; Midrash Agadat Bereshit l.c. 9.12).[4]

When Noah sent the raven to see whether the waters were abated, it refused to go, saying: "Thy Lord hateth me; for, while seven of other species were received into the ark, only two of mine were admitted. And thou also hatest me; for, instead of sending one from the sevens, thou sendest me! If I am met by the angel of heat or by the angel of cold, my species will be lost."[4] Noah answered the raven: "The world hath no need of thee; for thou art good neither for food nor for sacrifice."[4] God, however, ordered Noah to receive the raven into the ark, as it was destined to feed Elijah (Sanhedrin 108b; Genesis Rabba 33.6).[4]

When Noah, on leaving the ark, saw the destruction wrought on the world, he began to weep, saying: "Lord of the world, Thou art merciful; why hast Thou not pitied Thy children?"[4] God answered him: "Foolish shepherd![4] Now thou implorest My clemency.[4] Hadst thou done so when I announced to thee the Flood it would not have come to pass.[4] Thou knewest that thou wouldest be rescued, and therefore didst not care for others; now thou prayest."[4] Noah acknowledged his fault, and offered sacrifices in expiation of it (Zohar hadash, p. 42a, b).[4] It was because Noah neglected to pray for his contemporaries that he was punished with lameness and that his son Ham abused him (ib. p. 43a).[4]

His lapse

The planting of a vineyard by Noah and his drunkenness (Genesis 9.20 et seq.) caused him to be regarded by the ancient rabbis in a new light, much to his disparagement.[5] He lost much if not all of his former merit.[5]

He was one of the three worthless men that were eager for agricultural pursuits (Genesis Rabba xxxvi. 5); he was the first to plant, to become drunken, to curse, and to introduce slavery (Tan., Noah, 20; comp. Gen. l.c.).[5] God blamed Noah for his intemperance, saying that he ought to have been warned by Adam, upon whom so much evil came through wine (Sanhedrin 70a).[5] According to Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer (l.c.), Noah took into the ark a vine-branch which had been cast out with Adam from paradise.[5] He had previously eaten its grapes, and their savor induced him to plant their seed, the results of which proved lamentable.[5] When Noah was about to plant the vineyard, Satan offered him his help, for which he was to have a share in the produce.[5] Noah consented.[5] Satan then successively slaughtered a sheep, a lion, an ape, and a hog, fertilizing the ground with their blood.[5] Satan thereby indicated to Noah that after drinking the first cup of wine, one is mild like a sheep; after the second, courageous like a lion; after the third, like an ape; and after the fourth, like a hog who wallows in mud (Midrash Agadah on Gen. ix. 21; Midrash Abkir, in Yal?., Gen. 61; comp. Genesis Rabba 36.7).[5] This legend is narrated by Ibn Yahya (Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, p. 75a, Amsterdam, 1697) thus: "Noah, seeing a he-goat eat sour grapes and become intoxicated so that it began to frisk, took the root of that vine-branch and, after having washed it with the blood of a lion, a hog, a sheep, and an ape, planted it and it bore sweet grapes."[5]

The vineyard bore fruit the same day that it was planted, and the same day, too, Noah gathered grapes, pressed them, drank their juice, became intoxicated, and was abused by Ham (Genesis Rabba l.c.; Midrash Agadah l.c.; Tan., Noah, 20).[5]


Noah should have lived 1,000 years; but he gave Moses fifty years, which, together with the seventy taken from Adam's life, constituted Moses' hundred and twenty years ("Yalkut Hadash," "Noah," No. 42).[6]

Midrash of the flood of Noah states it was not a global deluge: "The deluge in the time of Noah was by no means the only flood with which this earth was visited. The first flood did its work of destruction as far as Jaffé, and the one of Noah's days extended to Barbary."[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d - NOAH
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m - NOAH
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k - NOAH
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t - NOAH
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l - NOAH
  6. ^ - NOAH
  7. ^ Genesis Rabba

This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.

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