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Noah: Noria his Wife

Epiphanius (Heresy, 26) has a good deal to say about a Book of Noria, the wife of Noah, which was used by the Borborite Gnostics. He abuses them for calling her Noria instead of Bath Enos (which in Jubilees, iv. 28 is the name of Noah's mother), and relates (presumably on the authority of the Book) that, as they say, "she often tried to be with Noe in the ark" (when it was being built, I understand), "and was not permitted, for the Archon who created the world wished to destroy her with all the rest in the flood; and she, they say, seated herself on the ark and set fire to it, not once or twice, but often, even a first, second, and third time. Hence the making of Noe's ark dragged on for many years, because it was so often burnt by her. For, say they, Noe was obedient to the Archon, but Noria revealed (proclaimed) the Upper Powers and Barbelo, who is of the Powers, and opposed to the Archon, like the other Powers, and taught that the elements that had been stolen from the Mother above by the Archon who made this world and the other gods, angels, and demons who were with him, should be collected from the Power that resides in bodies."

The matter about Barbelo and the Archon is, of course. Gnostic from the beginning; but it is curious to notice that in later legend Noah's wife is often referred to as trying to thwart him. A story is current in two widely separate tongues, Slavonic and English, which shows this.

Noah was enjoined to tell no man that he was making the ark; and, miraculously, his tools made no noise when he worked at it. The devil, anxious to prevent the building, went in human form to Noah's wife and asked her where her husband spent his time so secretly. She could not tell. He effectually roused her jealousy and suspicion, and gave her certain grains. "These," he said, "if put in Noah's drink, will force him to tell you all about it." This happened: Noah gave away the secret, and next day, when he went out to work, the first blow of his axe resounded through all the country-side. An angel came to him and rebuked him for his want of caution. The ark had to be finished with wattle-work.

Such is the tale as told and pictured in a beautiful fourteenth-century English MS., Queen Mary's Prayer-book (Brit. Mus. Royal 2. B. vii.). It is to be found also in a Newcastle mystery play, and in Slavonic countries, whose legends are collected in Dähnhardt's Natursagen.

The form given there (i. 258) is worth setting down, to demonstrate the identity of the two stories. It occurs "in a late Russian rédaction of the Revelations of (Pseudo-) Methodius, with which (on this point) the popular traditions of Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Wotjaks, and Irtysch-Ostjaks, agree in essence."

Before the Lord sent the deluge, He commanded Noah to build an ark secretly, and not to tell even his wife what he was making. While Noah was at work in a wood on a mountain, the devil came to him and asked what he was doing, but Noah would not tell him. Then the devil went to Noah's wife, and advised her to give her husband an intoxicating drink, and draw the secret from him. When Noah had taken it, his wife began to question him, and he told her all. Next day, when he went back to work, he found the ark all broken into little pieces. The devil had destroyed it. Noah wept night and day and lamented his sin. After that an angel brought him a message of forgiveness and told him to make the ark over again.

The trait of the noiselessness of the axe before Noah betrayed the secret also occurs in the Hungarian story (l. c. 269).

In some mystery-plays comic relief is obtained by making Noah's wife a shrew and a scold, who will not be induced to enter the ark until the last possible moment.

This incident, in a more complete form, occurs in the Russian legend just quoted. The devil asked Noah's wife how he could get into the ark, which was now ready. She could not think of a plan. But he told her that she must refuse to enter the ark until the water had come up, and must wait until Noah uttered the devil's name. She obeyed, and however much Noah called, she would not come, until at last he said, "Come in, you devil." The devil immediately darted into the ark. The sequel to this is portrayed in Queen Mary' s Prayer-book. Noah, on seeing the dove return, says, Benedicite. The devil, unable to bear the sacred word, bursts out through the hull of the ark, but the hole he makes is stopped by the snake, who thrusts his tail into it. Many forms of this story are collected by Dähnhardt.

All this is far enough removed from the Book of Noria, yet the legend I have told has this much in common therewith, that it represents Noah's wife as opposed to the making of the ark under the influence of a spiritual being. Epiphanius is, as usual, confusing in his account of the transaction, but we see at least that Noria is kept away from the ark, we know not on what excuse, and we guess that she succeeds in hiding herself in it and burning it.

I conjecture that the Gnostic writer may have taken a simple folk-tale and made it a peg whereon to hang his own very uninviting bag of doctrines.