Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Analysis of the Flood Story

Alice C. Linsley

There are two flood traditions in Genesis, expressing different perspectives on that event. In the chart that follows we see how the traditions are crafted into a chiastic narrative. The narrative reflects a Nilotic perspective and a Mesopotamian or Akkadian perspective. Both are very old, and the narrative is the work of an author who was familiar with both traditions. (Genesis 4 has a ABBAABB…ABBA chiastic structure.)

The Nilotic perspective is evident in the water and mountain archetypes, and in the use of the number 40.  The Nile flooded for 40 days and it took 40 days for the waters to abate.  The Mesopotamian perspective is evident in the covenant language and in the use of the number 7.

The two different birds may represent the different traditions concerning ravens and doves. However, both birds would have been native to East Africa, Arabia and Mesopotamia.

In Africa, the dove represents prophetic discernment, so sending out a dove was Noah’s way of seeking guidance. The most common dove in the region of the flood is the Pink-bellied Dove. This species is abundant near water and would have been associated with river shrines such as those along the Nile. The pink belly is suggestive of blood sacrifice which made peace between the penitent and God. This peace is symbolized by the olive branch which the dove brought to Noah.

The raven or crow was a trickster in Annu tradition.  While the dove returns with a message, the trickster does not. Annu means "those of royal blood" (See Gwendolyn Leick, A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology, 1998, p. 7.) and Abraham had Annu ancestors. Abraham's father was Terah, a royal name among the Nilotic Annu.

The analysis is from here.  The lines form the image of a bird in flight, perhaps representing Horus? Horus was shown with the body of a man and the head of a falcon. The falcon was his totem and a symbol of divine kingship. Horus or Hr is "the lord of the sky or "the one on high." The Horites spread their religious practices and beliefs from ancient Kush to Mesopotamia and beyond. The oldest fire altars were falcon shaped. This is why the Shulba Sutras state that "he who desires heaven is to construct a fire-altar in the form of a falcon."

Horite stone altar
In both the Nilotic and Mespotamian traditions we find water and mountains archetypes.  The pyramids of the Nile and the ziggurats of Mesopotamia are stylized mountains or the meeting place of God and the divinely appointed or chosen ruler. The ziggurat had 7 terraces.

The sacred center of the flood story (P in the chart above) casts us back to the beginning of creation when the Spirit moved over the waters (Gen. 1:2). "And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark: and God made a wind/spirit (ruach) to pass over the earth, and the waters asswaged..."

The temporal sacred center is when the Sun rests at the peak of the day, when there are no shadows (James 1:17).  In terms of the solar day, this is the temporal sacred center.

The spatial sacred center is between heaven and earth, on the mountain top where God meets with the chosen leader. Abraham, Moses, and Elijah encountered God on mountains. The spatial sacred center is the mountain, prefiguring the Christ's crucifixion and tranfiguration.  The center of the Genesis 6 flood narrative is bracketed by the covering/veiling and revealing/unveiling of mountains. Here we have a sign pointing to God's self-revealing in the Person of Jesus Christ.

The sacred center in ancient Canaan was Shechem (modern Nablus). It was located between the mountains of Ebal on the northern side of the valley and Mount Gerizim on the southern side. Mount Ebal rises 3084 feet above sea level, some 194 feet (59 meters) higher than Mount Gerizim. From Mount Gerizim the priests declared the blessings and from Mount Ebal the curses (Deut. 11:29). This was part of the covenant at Shechem, but curiously only the curses are recorded in Scripture (Deut. 27).

The mountain as celestial archetype is very old. The mountain is the safest place when the waters become the chaotic deep (tehom in Hebrew: תְּהוֹם‎). Noah's ark came to rest on the "mountain of vehemence" (ararat in Arabic). The binary opposite of tehom is tehut, divine order/wisdom.  The oldest known moral code is the Egyptian "Law of Tehut" which dates to about 5,000 B.C.  When God spoke the creation into being He fixed boundaries which those who honor the Creator are not trespass. Trespassing established boundaries invites chaos (tehom) to return like a great flood to the world. Tehom and tehut are binary opposites, and typical of the binary worldview of Abraham's people, there is a hierarchy, with tehut being greater because it preserves order and life.

The binary conception is evident also in the relationship of dry land and waters, which God separated in the beginning. The victory of tehut (order) over tehom (chaos) relates to the annual inundation of the Nile and helps us to understand the Egyptian concept of creation. One of the oldest creation myths envisioned the first place in the world as a mound emerging from the waters of a universal ocean. Here the first life form, a lily, grew on the peak of the primeval mound. The ancient Egyptians called the mound Tatjenen, meaning "the emerging land."

The map above shows the natural habitat of both the Fan-Tailed Raven (crow) and the Pink-bellied Dove, the birds that Noah may have released from the ark. It is also the Afro-Asiatic Dominion, with the Nile at the center. This vast area was controlled by the ruler-priests named in the king lists of Genesis 4, 5, 10, 22:20-24 and 36.  According to the flood account and Genesis 10, Shem, Ham and Japheth are the royal ancestors of the rulers of Mesopotamia and the Horite territory of Edom.

Feminine Imagery

The association of the waters with the origins of life is a distinctly feminine image which may explain the emergence of the goddess Tiamat, who along with Lillith, pertains to a later period of Babylonian mythology.  Among the Yoruba, living descendants of the ancient Nilotic peoples, the association of waters with the feminine principle is evident in the symbolism of the calabash and the rainbow. The calabash symbolizes the waters below and the womb, and the rainbow symbolizes the waters above. Together these represent the entire cosmos.

The mountain image for the Virgin Mary and the Nativity of Christ follows verses such as Habakkuk 3.3 - "God came from Mount Paran" and the portrayal of Mary as "Holy mountain" rests on ancient cosmology. The Virgin Mary, whose womb swelled with the Son of God, is sometimes portrayed in icons as the mountain of God. The Prophet Daniel saw a mountain, from which a stone was cut by the hand of God (Dan. 2:34, 45). This is the stone which the builders rejected and which has become a stumbling block, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Related reading:  The Extent of Noah's Flood; Noah's Descendants; Mount Mary and the Origins of Life; The Victory of Tehut Over Tehom


Margaret said...

Very nice. The chiasmus is beautiful. Did you do this analysis yourself, or is it referenced somewhere else? New Testament chiasmus is the subject of this book by Dr. John Breck, The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and Beyond Edition 2.

Alice C. Linsley said...


I found this about a year ago and saved it, but I'm embarrassed to say, that I forgot at the time to reference the website. I tried all day to find it again and I will eventually. Then I'll go back and add a link.

There are several chaismus suggested for the flood story. This is a good one, I think. You can read about others here:

My concern about the structure of the one I've used is that it ignores a significant part of the flood story - Noah's sacrifice of the animals in Genesis 8:20. If we begin the flood narrative in Chapter 7 and go through 9:20, this sacrifice becomes the center of the narrative. In my experience with the Bible, the chaistic center often speaks of the blood shed in sacrifice and in so doing points us to the Cross of Jesus. I believe this is the structure of Hebrews:

A. Eschatology (1:5-2:18)
B. Ecclesiology (3:1-5:10)
C. Sacrifice (5:11-10:39)
B’. Ecclesiology (11:1-12:13)
A. Eschatology (12:14-13:19)

Also, the blood of Jesus is at the center of Paul's discourse in the book of Romans.

Ade said...

Could this be the website?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks, Ade. That's it.

Georgia Smith said...

Ah, the beautiful symmetry, intricacy, symbolism, purposeful intentional design and the reordering, restoring, anchoring...good power of God's word, the true and living Word/Law/Statutes/Precepts/Testimonies/Commandments/Judgments/Ways that reveal, impart and produce the character of God.

Our very being was designed and meant to operate on it like gas to a combustion engine. When we try to run on anything else, or when someone else tries to put a counterfeit word into us, great harm is ourselves and others, to the nation. We see the consequence of increasingly departing from God's Law and producing laws that enable, even force us to break all of God's Laws revealed in the condition of the US today.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Hi, Georgia. So good to read a comment from you.

Your comment reminded me of something one of my students said recently - Only Humans have the ability to forgive because only humans are made in the image of the God who forgives.

Isn't that lovely? Now if only we would Seek His forgiveness.

Georgia Smith said...

YES - God's gracious forgiveness and mercy are the hope of humankind. So beautiful....

I was also struck by the foremost central theme of the Noah story: GOD REMEMBERS NOAH.

This reminded me of the meaning of the Hebrew word for man/male: Zakar (H2145) - which means, 'to Remember, call to remembrance' describing the male/father/husband's central task in the family/tribe - to bring, to remind and lead us in God's Word/Law/Precepts, purposes, will, way.

God first remembered (and loved) us. We must also remember and love God.