Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 16



BOWED under his toil, dripping with perspiration, stood the patriarch Noah, labouring to break the hard clods. All at once Satan appeared and said to him,—

"What new undertaking have you in hand? What new fruit do you expect to extract from these clods?"

"I plant the grape," answered the patriarch.

"The grape! proud plant, most precious fruit! joy and delight to men! Your labour is great; will you allow me to assist you? Let us share the labour of producing the vine."

The patriarch in a fit of exhaustion consented.

Satan hastened, got a lamb, slaughtered it, and poured its blood over the clods of earth. "Thence shall it come," said Satan, "that those who taste of the juice of the grape, shall be soft-spirited and gentle as this lamb."

But Noah sighed; Satan continued his work; he caught a lion, slew that, and poured the blood upon the soil prepared for the plant. "Thence shall it come," said he, "that those who taste the juice of the grape shall be strong and courageous as the lion."

Noah shuddered. Satan continued his work; he seized a pig and slaughtered it, and drenched the soil with its blood. "Thence shall it come," said he, "that those who drink of the juice of the grape in excess, shall be filthy, degraded, and bestial as the swine."[1]

The Mussulman tradition is somewhat similar.

"When Ham had planted the vine, Satan watered it with the blood of a peacock. When it thrust forth leaves, he sprinkled it with the blood of an ape; when it formed grapes, he drenched it with the blood of a lion; when the grapes were ripe, he watered it with the blood of a swine.

"The vine, watered by the blood of these four animals, has assumed these characters. The first glass of wine makes a man animated, his vivacity great, his colour is heightened. In this condition he is like the peacock. When the fumes of the liquor rise into his head, he is gay, leaps and gambols as an ape. Drunkenness takes possession of him, he is like a furious lion. When it is at its height, he is like the swine: he falls and grovels on the ground, stretches himself out, and goes to sleep."[2]

Mohammed, to justify his forbidding his disciples to drink wine, cites the history of the two angels, Arot and Harot.

"God," says he, "charged them with a commission on the earth. A young lady invited them to dinner, and they found the wine so good that they got drunk. They then remarked that their hostess was beautiful, and they were filled with love which they declared to her. This lady, who was prudent, replied that she would only listen to their protestations when she knew the words by which they were enabled to ascend to heaven. When she had learned these words, she mounted to the throne of God, who, as a reward for her virtue, transformed her into a shining star (the Morning Star), and condemned the two drunken angels to await the day of judgment, suspended by their heels in the well of Babel, near Bagdad, which Mussulman pilgrims visit."

According to Tabari,[3] Ham, for having laughed at his father's drunkenness, was cursed by Noah, that his skin should become black, as well as all the fruits which were to grow in the land he should inhabit, and thus the purple grape arose. It was the white grape that Ham transplanted, but it blackened in his hands.

Abulfaraj relates that after the Deluge, Noah divided the habitable world between his sons. He gave to Ham the country of the Black, to Shem that of the Brown, and to Japheth that of the Red.[4] Noah also, he continues, said to his son Shem, "When I am dead, take the bier of our father Adam from the ark, and, together with your son Melchizedek, who is a priest of the Most High, go with the body of Adam whither an angel shall guide you."

This they did; and an angel directed them to mount Breitalmakdes (Jerusalem), where they deposited the bier on a certain hill, and instantly it sank out of their sight into the ground. Then Shem returned to his home, but not so Melchizedek, who remained to guard the body of Adam: and he built there a city called Jerusalem, and he was called Melek Salim, the King of Peace, and there he spent the rest of his life in the worship of God; he touched not women, nor shed blood, but offered to God oblations of bread and wine.[5]

Eutychius, the Egyptian patriarch of Alexandria, in his Annals, which are rife with Oriental traditions, gives a fuller account of the same incident.

When Noah was near his death, he bade Shem take the body of Adam, and go with Melchizedek, son of Peleg, whither the angel of the Lord should lead. "And," said he, "thou shalt enjoin on Melchizedek to fix his habitation there, to take to him no wife, and to spend his life in acts of devotion, for God has chosen him to preserve His true worship. He shall build himself no house, nor shall he shed blood of beast, or bird, or any animal; nor shall he offer there any oblation save bread and wine; and let the skins of lions be his only vesture; he shall remain alone there; he shall not clip his hair, or pare his nails; for he is a priest of the Most High. The angel of God shall go before you, till ye come to the place where ye shall bury the body of Adam, and know that that place is the middle of the world." Now Noah died on Wednesday, at the second hour, in the second month of Ayar, which is the same as Bashnes, in the nine hundred and fiftieth year of his age. And this year Shem was aged forty-five. The sons of Noah buried him, and bewailed him forty days.[6]

The wife of Noah is said by some to have been called Bath-Enos, or the daughter of Enos; but the Rabbi Gedaliah says her name was Noema; others say it was Tethiri, or Tithœa, the nurse of men, as Eve was the mother of men. The Gnostics called her Noria. She is, however, generally supposed by the Rabbis to have been Naamah, the sister of Tubal-cain.[7] But Eutychius, of Alexandria, says she was called Haical, and was the daughter of Namus, son of Enoch; and that the wives of Shem, Ham, and Japheth were the three daughters of Methuselah. Shem's wife was named Salith; the wife of Ham, Nahlath; and the wife of Japheth, Arisivah.[8]

The nurse of Noah was an important personage, and must not be forgotten. She was named Sambethe, and was the first Sibyl. Suidas, the grammarian, says, "The Chaldee Sibyl, named Sambethi by the Hebrews, and identified with the Persian Sibyl, was of the race of Noah. She foretold those things which were to befall Alexander of Macedon. She also predicted the coming of the Lord Christ, and many other things, through divine inspiration."[9]

  1. Jalkut Genesis, fol. 16 a.
  2. Colin de Plancy, p. 121.
  3. Tabari, i. c. xli.
  4. Hist. Dynastiarum, ed. Pocock; Oxon., 1663, p. 9.
  5. Ibid., p. 10.
  6. Eutychius, Patr. Alex., Annal., t. i. p. 44.
  7. Bereschith Rabba, fol. 22, col. 4.
  8. Eutych. Annal., ed. Selden, i. p. 35.
  9. Suidas, Lexic. s. v. Σίβυλλα.