Genesis 5-8: Mesopotamian flood myth

Genealogy from Adam to Noah and his sons: Shem, ham, and Japheth.  Mankind multiplied on earth, and the sons of God started taking wives from the daughters of men, whose offspring were the “heroes of old.”  Because the earth was becoming corrupt, God decided to send a flood to wipe out all flesh.  Noah, already 600 years old, was commanded by God to make an ark and bring 1 pair of each animal (or 7 pairs of each clean animal and 1 pair of each unclean animal) on board.  After Noah, his family, and the animals have boarded, the rain began.  It fell 40 days (or 150 days), killing all existence on earth–man, cattle, creeping things, and birds of the sky.  Noah sent out a raven and a dove to see if the waters have subsided; they have not.  He sent out a second dove and it comes back with an olive leaf, indicating the waters had decreased to the earth.  Seven days later, he exited and ark and sacrificed burnt offerings of every clean bird and animal.  God, smelling the pleasing odor, promised never to doom the earth again.

Commentary:

  • Like Genesis 1-4, these chapters consist of two contradictory sources woven together by an editor.  In 6:20, Noah is asked to keep 1 pair of every kind of animal on the ark; in 7:2, he is asked to keep 7 pairs of unclean animals and 1 pair of clean animals.  In 7:17, the rain lasts 40 days, but in 8:24, it lasts 150 days.  Source critics believe in one source, J, the rain lasted 40 days, Noah was asked to keep 7 pairs of clean animals, and Noah sacrificed clean animals to the LORD (8:20).  In P, the rain lasted 150 days, Noah was asked to keep 1 pair of unclean (and clean) animals, and no sacrifice occurred.  This theory is corroborated by the fact that all passages attributed to J refer to God as Yahweh, while the passages attributed to P use “God”.
  • The flood myth has Mesopotamian origins.  The Epic of Gilgamesh (see here for an awesome audiobook rendering) contains a flood myth that is almost identical, even in the details.  In the Gilgamesh epic, the flood was also sent by a god, one man was also tasked with building an ark, animals also boarded the ark, and the man also sent out birds to check the water level.  After the flood, the god also regretted his decision and promised not to repeat it (like God does in 8:22).
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