Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 14

XIV.

NOAH

THE earth being filled with violence, God resolved on its destruction, but Noah, the just, He purposed to save alive.

On the words of Genesis, "All flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth," the Rabbi Johanan taught that not only was the race of men utterly demoralized, but also all the races of animals.[1] Noah and his family, and one pair of all the beasts of earth, were to be saved in the ark, but of every clean beast seven were to enter in. Falsehood hastened to the ark and asked to be admitted; Noah refused. "I admit the animals only in pairs," said he.

Then Falsehood went away in wrath, and met Injustice, who said—

"Why art thou so sad?"

"I have been refused admittance into the ark, for I am single," said Falsehood; "be thou my companion."

"See, now," answered Injustice, "I take no companionship without prospect of gain."

"Fear not," said Falsehood, "I will spread the toils and thou shalt have the booty."

So they went together to the ark, and Noah was unable to refuse them admission. And when the Flood was passed and the beasts went forth out of the ark, Falsehood said angrily, "I have done my work and have caused evil, but thou hast all the plunder; share with me."

"Thou fool!" answered Injustice, "dost thou forget the agreement? Thine it is to spread the net, mine alone to take the spoil."[2]

At the time of the Deluge the giants were not all drowned, for Og planted his foot upon the fountains of the great deep, and with his hands stopped the windows of heaven, or the water would have risen over his head. The Rabbi Eliezer[3] said that the giants exclaimed, when the Flood broke out, "If all the waters of the earth be gathered together, they will only reach our waists; but if the fountains of the great deep be broken up, we must stamp them down again." And this they did, but God made the waters boiling hot, and it scalded them so that their flesh was boiled and fell off their bones.[4] But what became of Og in the Deluge we learn from the Talmud.[5] He went into the water along with a rhinoceros[6] beside the ark, and clung to it; now the water round the ark was cold, but all the rest was boiling hot. Thus he was saved alive, whereas the other giants perished.

According to another authority, Og climbed on the roof of the ark; and on Noah attempting to dislodge him, he swore that, if allowed to remain there, he and his posterity would be the slaves of the sons of Noah. Thereupon the patriarch yielded. He bored a hole in the side of the vessel, and passed through it every day the food necessary for the giant's consumption.[7]

It is asserted by some Rabbinic writers that the Deluge did not overflow the land of Israel, but was partial; some say the Holy Land was alone left dry, and a rhinoceros had taken refuge on it and so escaped being drowned. But others say that the land of Israel was submerged, though all agree that the rhinoceros survived without having entered the ark. And they explain the escape of the rhinoceros in this manner. Its head was taken into the ark, and it swam behind the vessel. Now the rhinoceros is a very large animal, and could not be admitted into the ark lest it should swamp it. The Rabbi Jannai says, he saw a young rhinoceros of a day old, and it was as big as Mount Tabor; and Tabor's dimensions are forty miles. Its neck was three miles long, and its head half a mile. It dropped dung, and the dung choked up Jordan. Other commentators object that the head was too large to be admitted into the ark, and suppose that only the tip of its nose was received. But as the ark swayed on the waters, Noah tied the horn of the rhinoceros to the side of the vessel, lest the beast's nose should slip off in a lurch of the ark, and so the creature perish.

All this is from the Talmud.

Let us now turn to some of the Mussulman legends of Noah. His history is briefly related in the Koran, in the chapter entitled "Hud."

"Noah built the ark with our assistance and that of the angels, following the knowledge we revealed to him, and we said to him: Speak no more in behalf of the sinners; they shall all be drowned.

"Whilst Noah was building his ark, all those who passed by mocked him; but he said to them: Though you rail at me now, the time will come when I shall rail at you; for you will learn to your cost, Who it is that punishes the wicked in this world, and reserves for them a further punishment in the world to come."

In the annals of Eutychius of Alexandria, who wrote in Egypt in the tenth century, and who probably quoted from apocryphal documents now perished, we read that, before the Flood broke out, Noah made a bell of plane wood, about five feet high, which he sounded every day, morning, noon, and evening. When any one asked him why he did so, he replied, "To warn you that God will send a deluge to destroy you all."

Eutychius adds some further particulars.

"Before they entered the ark," says he, "Noah and his sons went to the cave of Elcanuz, where lay the bodies of Adam, Seth, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech. He kissed his dead ancestors, and bore off the body of Adam together with precious oblations. Shem bore gold; Ham took myrrh; and Japheth incense. Having gone forth, as they descended the Holy Mount they lifted their eyes to Paradise, which crowned it, and said, with tears, 'Farewell! Holy Paradise, farewell!' and they kissed the stones and embraced the trees of the Holy Mount."[8]

Ibn Abbas, one of the commentators on the Koran, adds, that Noah being in doubt as to the shape he was to give to the ark, God revealed to him that it was to be modelled on the plan of a bird's belly, and that it was to be constructed of teak wood. Noah planted the tree, and in twenty years it grew to such a size that out of it he was able to build the entire ark.[9]

To return to the Koran.

"When the time prescribed for the punishment of men was arrived, and the oven began to boil and vomit, we said to Noah: Take and bring into the ark two couples of every kind of animal, male and female, with all your family, except him who has been condemned by your mouth, and receive the faithful, and even the unbelievers; but few only will enter."

The interpreters of the Koran say that the ark was built in two years. They give it the dimensions mentioned in Genesis:—three stages, that on the top for the birds, the middle one for the men and the provisions, whilst the beasts occupied the hold. The sign of the outburst of the Flood was that water flowed out of the burning oven of Noah's wife. Then all the veins and arteries of the earth broke and spirted out water. He who was excluded was Canaan, the son of Ham, whom he had cursed. But Abulfeda says that it was Jam, a fourth son of Noah, who was excluded from the ark.[10] The Persians say that Ham incurred his father's malediction as well, and, for that, he and his posterity became black and were enslaved; but that Noah, grieved for his son's progeny, prayed God to have mercy on them, and God made the slave to be loved and cherished by his master.

The Koran says, "Noah having entered the ark with his wife (Noema, daughter of Enoch, according to the Yaschar; Noria, according to the Gnostics; Vesta, according to the Cabbalists), and his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives, the three daughters of Eliakim, son of Methuselah, he said to those who dwell on the earth, 'Embark in the name of the Lord.'

"And whilst he thus spake, the ark advanced or halted, according to his order, in the name of God."

But the Yaschar says that the ungodly dwellers on the earth, finding the Flood rising, hastened in such crowds to the ark, that they would have overfilled it, had not the lions and other animals within defended the entrance and repulsed them.[11]

According to some Oriental traditions, Noah embarked at Koufah; according to others, near where Babylon was afterwards erected; but some say in India; and some affirm that in the six months during which the Deluge lasted, the ark made the circuit of the world.[12]

Noah, seeing that his grandson Canaan was not on board, called to him, and said, "Embark, my child, and do not remain among the ungodly."

But Canaan replied, "I will ascend the mountains, and shall be safe there."

"Nothing can save thee to-day but the mercy of God," said Noah.

Whilst thus speaking, a wave rushed between them and submerged Canaan.

After forty days, the ark swam from one end of the earth to the other, over the highest mountains. Over Mount Kubeis, chosen by God in which to preserve the sacred black stone of the Kaaba, the ark revolved seven times.[13]

Tabari says that Noah had four sons, and that of these Canaan was the youngest, and that the three elder believed in his mission, but his wife and Canaan laughed at his predictions. The animals that were brought into the ark were collected and wafted to it by the wind. When the ass was about to enter, Eblis (Satan) caught hold of its tail. The ass came on slowly; Noah was impatient, and exclamed, "You cursed one, come in quick."

When Eblis was within, Noah saw him, and said, "What right have you in here?"

"I have entered at your invitation," answered the Evil One. "You said, 'Cursed one, come in;' I am the accursed one."

When six months had passed, the ark rested on the surface of the water above Djondi,[14] and the rain ceased to fall, and God said to the earth, "Suck in the water;" and to the sky, "Withhold thy rains." The water abated; and the ark lodged on the top of the mountain.

"There left the ark two sorts of animals which had not entered it the pig and the cat. These animals did not exist before the Deluge, and God created them in the ark because it was full of filth and human excrements, which caused a great stench. The persons in the ark, not being able to endure any longer the smell, complained to Noah. Then Noah passed his hand down the back of the elephant, and it evacuated the pig. The pig ate all the dung which was in the ark, and the stench was no more.

"Some time after the rats gave great annoyance. They ate the food, and befouled what they did not eat. Then the voyagers went to Noah, and said to him, You delivered us in our former difficulty, but now we are plagued with rats, which gnaw our garments, eat our victuals, and cover everything with their filth. Then Noah passed his hand down the back of the lion, who sneezed, and the cat leaped out of its nose. And the cat ate the rats.

"When Noah had left the ark, he passed forty days on the mountain, till all the water had subsided into the sea. All the briny water that is there is what remains from the Flood.

"Noah said to the raven, Go and place your foot on the earth and see what is the depth of the water. The raven departed; but, having found a carcase, it remained to devour it, and did not return. Noah was provoked, and he cursed the raven, saying, May God make thee contemptible among men, and let carrion be thy food!

"After that Noah sent forth the dove. The dove departed, and, without tarrying, put her feet in the water. The water of the Flood scalded and pickled the legs of the dove. It was hot and briny, and feathers would not grow on her legs any more, and the skin scaled off. Now, doves which have red and featherless legs are of the sort that Noah sent forth. The dove returning showed her legs to Noah, who said, May God render thee well-pleasing to men! For that reason the dove is dear to men's hearts."[15]

Another version of the story is this. Noah blessed the dove, and since then she has borne a neck-ring of green feathers; but the raven, on the other hand, he cursed, that its flight should be crooked, and never direct like that of other birds.[16] This is also a Jewish legend.[17]

After that, Noah descended the mountain along with the eighty persons who had been saved with him, and he found that not a house was left standing on the face of the earth. Noah built a town consisting of eighty houses,—a house apiece for all who had been saved with him.[18]

Fabricius, in his collection of apocrypha of the Old Testament, has published the prayer that Noah offered daily in the ark, beside the body of Adam, which he bore with him, to bury it on Golgotha.

"O Lord, Thou art excellent in truth, and nothing is great beside Thee; look upon us in mercy; deliver us from this deluge of water for the sake of the pangs of Adam, the first man whom Thou didst make; for the sake of the blood of Abel, the holy one; for the sake of just Seth, in whom Thou didst delight; number us not amongst those who have broken Thy commandments, but cover us with Thy protection, for Thou art our deliverer, and to Thee alone are due the praiser; uttered by the works of Thy hands from all eternity." And all the children of Noah responded, "Amen, O Lord."[19]

Noah is said to have left the ark on the tenth day of the first month of the Mussulman year, and to have instituted the fast which the Mahommedans observe on that day, to thank God for his deliverance.

According to the Book of Enoch, the water of the Flood was transformed by God into fire, which will consume the world and the ungodly, at the consummation of all things.[20]

The Targum of Palestine says that the dove plucked the leaf she brought to Noah from off a tree on the Mount of Olives.[21]

The Book Jasher supplies an omission in Genesis. In Genesis it is said of Lamech, on the birth of Noah, "He called his name Noah; saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed;"[22] but Noah signifies rest, not comfort. The Book Jasher says that Methuselah called the child Noah, rest, because the land rested from the curse; but Lamech called him Menahem, comfort, for the reason given in the text of Genesis. The sacred writer has given one name with the signification of the other.[23]

  1. Talmud, Tractat. Sanhedrin, fol. 108, col. 1. So also the Book Yaschar, p. 1097.
  2. Jalkut, Genesis, fol. 14a.
  3. Jalkut Shimoni, Job. fol. 121, col. 2.
  4. Eisenmenger, i. p. 385. The Targum of Palestine says the water was hot (i. p. 179).
  5. Tractat. Sevachim, fol. 113, col. 2.
  6. Or, a unicorn; the Hebrew word is Reém.
  7. Midrash, fol. 14.
  8. Eutych., Fatriarcha Alex., ed. Selden, i. p. 36.
  9. Tabari, p. 108.
  10. Abulfeda, p. 17.
  11. Yaschar, p. 1100.
  12. Colin de Plancy, p. 110.
  13. Weil, p. 45.
  14. Ararat.
  15. Tabari, c. xli.
  16. Weil, p. 45.
  17. Midrash, fol. 15.
  18. Tabari, p. 113.
  19. Fabricius, i. pp. 74, 243.
  20. Ed. Dillmann, c. 67.
  21. Ed. Etheridge, i. p. 182.
  22. Gen. v. 20.
  23. In the Midrash Rabba, this want of connection between the name and the signification is remarked upon, and Solomon Jarki in his commentary says that, for the meaning assigned, the name ought to have been, not Noah, but Menahem.