Noah is the main character of the cataclysmic flood story told in the biblical Book of Genesis (chapters 6-9). Noah represented the last generation of the era of the antediluvian Creation and became the father of the current world order, thus a link between the ancient past and the present.
According to the Book of Genesis, Noah lived nine generations past the first created humans— Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world by disobeying God when they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This sin escalated throughout Creation to the point where all humanity was wicked by Noah’s time. Then God regretted he had made humanity and decided to destroy the world with a flood. However, God chose to spare Noah, the only righteous man, and his family. God ordered him to build a massive ark upon which Noah, his family, and a pair of animals representative of each species would be spared from a watery annihilation. Noah obeyed, built the ark, and survived the deluge. After the flood, the ark landed on Mt. Ararat, a mountain located somewhere in the area that is now eastern Turkey, where Noah and his family disembarked.
Noah represents the best and worst of humans. He represents the best because before the flood God deemed him alone as righteous and blameless of all the people in the world (Gen 6:9). He is the only one who deserved to be spared from destruction. However, he also represents the worst of a corrupt world. After the flood, Noah became drunk and passed out. Ham, one of Noah’s sons, sinned when he “saw the nakedness of his father” (Gen 9:22). Therefore, through Noah sin carried over from the initial Creation into the postdiluvial world.
Noah is one of many heroes of ancient Near Eastern flood stories. Ziusudra, hero of the Sumerian flood story, overheard the gods plotting to wipe out humanity. He was saved from a 7-day and 7-night flood by making a boat. Afterward, he offered a large sacrifice to the gods. Being pleased, the gods gave him eternal life. Atrahasis, hero of the Akkadian flood story, is warned by the god Enki that the gods intended to flood the earth and destroy humanity. Atrahasis built a boat and escaped the flood. Utnapishtim, hero of the flood story in the Gilgamesh epic, has an experience similar to that of Atrahasis, except after the flood Utnapishtim offered a sacrifice to the gods, who were so thankful that they gave Utnapishtim and his wife eternal life and placed them in a distant location separate from the rest of humanity.
The story of Noah has two timeless elements. First, the story has a theological connection, that is, the seriousness of sin and the grace of God. This theme is the basis of the flood story and is prominent throughout the Hebrew Bible. Second, the story of Noah has inspired some people to search for the remains of the ark, in a sense to find a modern physical connection with the ancient past. Some people believe that the ark landed on the Agri Dagh peak in the Ararat mountain range. However, to date no evidence of the ark has been found.
Terry W. Eddinger
See also Adam, Creation of; Bible and Time; Genesis,
Book of; Moses; Sin, Original
Hunt, J. H. (2003). Noah. In T. D. Alexander & D. W. Baker (Eds.), Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
Westermann, C. (1987). Genesis 1-11: A commentary (J. J. Scullion, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress.