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Rocking the boat: Noah in narrative-historical perspective

Following the brilliantly intense Christian Associates staff conference in Budapest, my wife and I are spending a couple of weeks in eastern Turkey. Yesterday we went to see the remarkable rock structure, in the hills close to the border with Iran, that is believed by some to be the petrified remains of Noah’s ark. The archaeological site is named after the Turkish army captain İlhan Durupınar who noticed it in aerial photographs taken after it was exposed by earthquakes and heavy rain in 1948, but it is known locally as Nuhun Gemisi, “Noah’s ship”.

There appears, in fact, to be a complex geological explanation for the boat-like formation, but the coincidences are extraordinary nevertheless, and if you allow the evidence presented in the tatty little museum at the site to colour your imagination as you look down on the structure, you are almost—wonderfully—convinced that the ark finally settled here as the flood waters receded. Almost.

In the former Armenian—now Kurdish—village of Arzap about 15 miles from the ark formation is this large standing stone. Believers in the rock ark claim that it was originally a drogue stone—a sort of primitive anchor—used by the ship. A thick knotted rope would have passed through the hole in the top. It now stands in a cemetery and has several crosses carved into it. A number of similar stones can be found around the village. Chemical analysis, however, suggests that they originated in the surrounding hills, not in Mesopotamia.

In a nearby shallow pit around 500 victims of the Armenian genocide were once buried. Although most of the remains have been removed by the Turkish authorities, a human skull and jaw and other bones were scattered across the ground. Our Kurdish friend pulled half a pelvis from under a small rock. But that is another sad story altogether….

Noah does not feature prominently in narrative-historical readings of scripture, presumably because he antedates the covenant with Abraham and Israel. The original story is fascinating in its own right and for all sorts of reasons, but at the narrative level I have tended to highlight the “new creation” motif: Noah and his family are blessed and are told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth; his descendants instead construct the city and tower of Babel in order to make a name for themselves, and it is at this point in the extended account of humanity’s repudiation of the creator—and not earlier—that Abraham is sent to be the father of a great nation. The people of God is called to be a new creation in microcosm in the shadow of empire.

Elsewhere in the Old Testament Noah is the archetype of the righteous Jew who will be saved even when Israel as a nation faces destruction (Ezek. 14:14, 20); and Isaiah likens the restoration of Israel following the judgment of exile to the promise of God to Noah that he would never again destroy the earth with a flood:

This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. (Is. 54:9)

The prophetic typology is carried over into the New Testament. The story is evoked in three, possibly four, places to express the thought that when disaster comes upon Israel, the few who are righteous by virtue of their faith will be saved.

First, the parousia of the Son of Man “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” will occur at the climax to a series of events that will be a matter of “great tribulation” for Jesus’ disciples. It will happen within a generation, and the disciples will be able to read the signs indicating that the end is near, but Jesus cannot be any more precise about the timing: he does not know the “day and hour”. The coming of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah—note the echo of Isaiah 54:9. People carried on their normal lives, “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt. 24:38), until it was too late: Noah and his family entered the ark, which he had had the foresight to build, the flood came, and humanity was swept away. So it will be when the judgment of God comes upon Israel. Some will be swept away in the catastrophe, others will survive—those “left behind” are the lucky ones (Matt. 24:40-41).

Secondly, in Hebrews 11:7 Noah is presented as an ancient example of “the righteousness that comes by faith”. We should not miss the fact that the allusion is to Habakkuk 2:4, which is quoted a few verses earlier (Heb. 10:39). The faith that is so amply illustrated in the famous chapter 11 is the faith by which the righteous person survives an eschatological crisis. The whole Letter is an exhortation to a community of Jewish believers to persevere, in the face either of persecution or of disillusionment, because God will soon establish an unshakeable kingdom (cf. Heb. 12:26-28). This is not the faith of the individual Christian hoping to go to heaven. It is the faith of the first century Jewish-Christian community hoping to be part of the future of God’s people in the age to come. Noah was righteous because he believed in God’s future—that is justification by faith. Paul’s argument in Romans is little different.

Thirdly, I have argued elsewhere that when Peter speaks of Jesus going to proclaim “to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared” (1 Pet. 3:20), he is referring to Jesus’ preaching to the Jews prior to his resurrection. He likens the period of Jesus’ public ministry to the preparation of the vessel by which a small number would be saved: Noah and his family were saved by the ark; the Jewish-Christians to whom Peter writes will be saved from the coming judgment by baptism, which corresponds to the flood, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).

Finally, the idea that Noah anticipates an eschatological righteousness is also found in 2 Peter 2:4-9. God judged the ungodly ancient world, but he “preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others”. Therefore, Peter’s readers can be assured that the Lord “knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment”. The intensely apocalyptic language of the Letter may suggest that a universal judgment is in view, rather than of Israel alone—I am not sure. But we still have to deal with an impending event, even if Peter has to address concerns about the delay of the “day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (3:7-10).

In the end, Noah may be the victim of too many Sunday School stories and too many archaeological fantasies—there is apparently an American team digging into the ice at the summit of Ararat as I write—to be taken seriously as an eschatological archetype. But he brings together in a way that no other Old Testament figure does the intersecting themes of eschatological righteousness and new creation, and perhaps there is more that could be made of his universal appeal. According to the Qu’ran the ark finally came to rest on Mount Judi. The Nuhun Gemisi site is close to a mountain known as Cudi Dağı in Turkish or Jabal Judi in Arabic. Another coincidence.

Comments

Interesting. This is great timing as I am using a reading app to read the NT in 80 days and have just finished Hebrews and have been reading first and second Peter.

I finished The Coming of the Son of Man and am reading The Future of the People Of God (Re:Mission is next).

Anderew, thank you for your post. I would be interested in your views on the science and historical accuracy of the biblical flood narrative.

Billy, I don’t have a particularly well informed view of the historicity of Noah and the flood. My interest is mainly in its narrative function. It underlines the point that the people of the creator God were God’s response not to the individual sin of Adam and Eve but to the failure of human society qua society.

I do not believe in a literal global flood. Why, for example, did all the marsupials head for Australia? It seems more probable that the story is some sort of memory of a regional or local flood. This seems to me a decent Biologos article on the subject: “How should we interpret the Genesis flood account?

Billy,

You will not find a better presentation on dealing with Noah’s Flood (the tower of Babel, and Sodom and Gomorrah too) than in the book Beyond Creation Science by Tim Martin. It does demonstrate a local flood, but that is not really an accurate way to describe it nor the point the book demonstrates. A more accurate way would be to call in a Covenant Flood. Just as the AD 70 judgement was local by nature is was more accurately a Covenant judgement against Israel. There is a reason why Jesus (Matt 24:37-39; Luke 17:25-30) provides a 3-way comparison between “the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (in AD 70) with 1) the days of Noah, 2) the days of Lot, and 3) Sodom and Gomorrah. It also deals with Peter’s 3-way comparison (which is a repert of Jesus’) in 2 Peter 2 and AD 70.

I think the book will surprise you greatly. Andrew might want to give it a read too, as it will help him out tremendously with his Historical-Narrative Hermeneutic in dealing with the first eleven chapters of Genesis their relationship to Revelation.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0979914701/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=2013824122&ref=pd_sl_8xvb6ju17f_e

You might also find these quotes very interesting and their relationship to Noah’s flood:

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews: Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 6.
Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1
Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 5

Billy,

Just re-read what I posted and realized I missed it up – sorry, I was trying to do two things at the same times as I was typing. I meant to say there is a reason why Jesus provides a 3-way comparison between “the day when the Son of Man is revealed” with the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Sodom and Gomorrah). This same 3-way is also repeated by Peter in his second chapter. One of the many points is since the AD 70 and Sodom judgements were local and Jesus uses them as a comparison does this not speak to the nature of the food? This is all worked out in great detail in the book which is only the tip of the ice berg on the information the book provides on the whole topic.

Concerning the three references in Josephus.

Antiquities of the Jews: Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 6

Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood, and of this ark; among whom is Berosus the Chaldean. For when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: “It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs.” Hieronymus the Egyptian also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same. Nay, Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them; where he speaks thus: “There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses the legislator of the Jews wrote.”

Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1

Now the sons of Noah were three, - Shem, Japhet, and Ham, born one hundred years before the Deluge. These first of all descended from the mountains into the plains, and fixed their habitation there; and persuaded others who were greatly afraid of the lower grounds on account of the flood, and so were very loath to come down from the higher places, to venture to follow their examples.

Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 5

When God gave the signal, and it began to rain, the water poured down forty entire days, till it became fifteen cubits higher than the earth; which was the reason why there was no greater number preserved, since they had no place to fly to. When the rain ceased, the water did but just begin to abate after one hundred and fifty days, (that is, on the seventeenth day of the seventh month,) it then ceasing to subside for a little while. After this, the ark rested on the top of a certain mountain in Armenia; which, when Noah understood, he opened it; and seeing a small piece of land about it, he continued quiet, and conceived some cheerful hopes of deliverance. But a few days afterward, when the water was decreased to a greater degree, he sent out a raven, as desirous to learn whether any other part of the earth were left dry by the water, and whether he might go out of the ark with safety; but the raven, finding all the land still overflowed, returned to Noah again. And after seven days he sent out a dove, to know the state of the ground; which came back to him covered with mud, and bringing an olive branch: hereby Noah learned that the earth was become clear of the flood. So after he had staid seven more days, he sent the living creatures out of the ark; and both he and his family went out, when he also sacrificed to God, and feasted with his companions. However, the Armenians call this place, The Place of Descent; for the ark being saved in that place, its remains are shown there by the inhabitants to this day.

The last quotes shows it was accessible to people in Joesephus’ day.

There is also much Biblical support for a local flood. For example, notice the Nephilim were on the “earth” (should be “land”) prior and after the flood (Genesis 6:4; Numbers 13:33). Couldn’t have been global.

The book provides so much proof for a local flood I’m not sure how anyone can hold to a global view.

Hey Rich,

I read Beyond Creation Science and here is what I took away from it:

Lots of interesting arguments for a local flood from the scientific side (how did the camels adapt humps so fast, etc.) but…

The overall argument in the book is not logical, and it is this: Since the apocalyptic prophesies regarding AD 70 were typological but non-literal, that means that the flood story, which has the same typology, was also non-literal.

The connections he makes between the typology of Noah and 1st Century destruction (floods = armies for example) are wonderful. In fact, the book was loaded with excellent typology. But just because two parts of the Bible have the same typology doesn’t mean they have the same literal/non-literal aspect to them. What Martin is doing with the flood and it’s later types is akin to something like this: Someone recognizes that the local football team whose mascot is the Spartans are not really Greek warriors and their mascot is just a type, which represents the warrior spirit. But you cannot conclude from that that since the football team are not real Greek warriors, the Spartans we read about in history were not real Greek warriors either, but merely people who possessed the same warrior spirit. That’s illogical.

Just because “world” or “land” or words like these have typological meanings in certain places in the Bible, it doesn’t mean they are not also literal in other places, without losing their typological aspect. If the destruction of the whole world only means the end of the Roman Empire in one place, that does not necessarily mean that when it said the destruction of the world earlier that it didn’t actually mean the destruction of the whole world.

I am not saying that the flood was necessarily global and not local. But I do say that Martin’s arguments that it was local from the covenantal or typological angle are not logical. Just because two historical events can both be written about with the same symbolic language does not mean they are equally literal or non-literal. That is comparing apples to oranges. While Martin’s typology is great and shows even more connections between the flood and later judgments than we usually notice, he does better to convince us of a local flood with his arguments regarding the camels and the penguins, or Andrew’s comment about the marsupials.

Steven,

You stated:

The overall argument in the book is not logical, and it is this: Since the apocalyptic prophesies regarding AD 70 were typological but non-literal, that means that the flood story, which has the same typology, was also non-literal

I think you better give it a re-read, as I think you missed the point(s). The flood was never presented as non-literal (and/or non-physcial). That would be like saying the AD 70 judgement was non-literal (and/or physical). I think you also missed the points the book was brings out concerning Jesus’ and Peter’s comparison between the two (Flood and AD 70).

he does better to convince us of a local flood with his arguments regarding the camels and the penguins, or Andrew’s comment about the marsupials.

This shows me you did missed the point of the book entirely. The book is not about proving a local flood. That is merely a small side point that can be deduced from Jesus’ and Peter’s comparison. The title reveals the point of the book.

You are right that the main point of the book isn’t to prove a local flood. I should have written “The arguments in the book for a local flood are not logical…”

By literal I mean worldwide/global flood, as the text at first glance suggests, just like the prophesies about the fall of Jerusalem suggest the destruction of everything, not just Jerusalem and the temple. What the book is doing is saying “See, the fall of Jerusalem wasn’t as drastic as the prophets said (the stars didn’t really fall from heaven, etc.), therefore the flood wasn’t as drastic as it appears at first reading. Both accounts used symbolic language, therefore both accounts didn’t actually occur the way they appear on paper.” That’s a strong argument, but it can’t be proven.

As stated, I think the overall typology and seeing the symbolic connections between the Genesis history and other prophesies of judgment is wonderful. And those connections are certainly powerful if someone wanted to argue for a local flood. Again, I’m not saying it was or wasn’t local. I’m just saying that these typological arguments don’t prove anything. Just because Jesus and Peter compare the flood to other events with the same symbols doesn’t mean that the description of one event isn’t closer to what actually happened than the other. If “the whole earth was flooded” means a Roman army came like a flood and conquered a city, a very non-literal statement, it doesn’t mean that “the whole earth was flooded” can’t mean that the whole earth was actually flooded some other place, while maintaining the typology.

It’s like if I know three people who whine a lot: Joe, Ben, and Gary. I might tell each of them at some point they are being a baby. Joe is sixty years old, Ben is thirty, and Gary is three months. They may all be “babies” typologically: they’re all whiners. But Gary is actually a baby. To say that Gary can’t be a real baby because Joe and Ben are described as babies but they aren’t real babies doesn’t follow logically.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed reading the book and learned a lot of new things I hadn’t seen before. It is some of the best typology around. I’m just not sure I agree with all their conclusions about the local flood.

Steve,

Fair enough. I disagree, which we could discuss all day, but I see what you’re saying. Glad you liked the book. Tim and Jeff are going to be releasing a revised update. They are working on it. With continued study much more has been worked out. Not so much about the Flood being local, as, like I said, that is a minor side issue. It will be more about the Covenant aspects of Genesis and its relationship with Revelation and their contextual relationship to Israel. Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation! Just as Revelation isn’t referring to physical decreation, but the destruction of Israel’s covenantal “heaven and earth” which ended in AD 70, Genesis isn’t speaking to physical creation. What was created in Genesis is what was destroyed in Revelation (Rev. 21:1 & Genesis 1:1). Since Revelation was covenantal, then so was Genesis. The link is inescapable.

Have you read John Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One? Fantastic book. His only problem is he still tried to attach his “functional creation” (which I agree with) to the material/physical universe (which I disagree with). He just can’t let go of the physical, which is Christendom’s biggest problem too.

Steve,

If you would like to keep up on Tim’s continued thoughts etc, you can find all kinds of info here:

http://beyondcreationscience.com/

If you would like to actually interact with Tim (and Jeff) you can usually find him at deathisdefeated.ning.com. There is actually a Covenant Creation Archive there with many articles, lectures, debates, etc.. A wealth of information. Below is a link to some futher thoughts on Noah’s Flood by Tim. A year old, but interesting.

http://deathisdefeated.ning.com/profiles/blogs/noah-s-flood-as-the-story-of-jesus-christ

Thanks, Rich! I’ll look into it.