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On Not Screwing Up the Noah Story

Pete Enns’s musings about the ark museum in Kentucky have led him to propose three important road signs for navigating the story successfully. Since my REL 130 students will be grappling with this story next week, I thought I’d link to what Dr. Enns has to say. The all-too-insufficient summary goes like this:

  1. The flood story seems to be rooted in history.
  2. The story of Noah and the flood, though rooted in history, is also rooted in the stories told among other ancient people living in or near Mesopotamia.
  3. The story does not depict an “accurate” account of history, but the ancient Israelites’ understanding of that long-past event that survived in cultural memory.

And here’s a brief snippet to encourage you to hop on over and see what Dr. Enns is getting at:

The reason given in Genesis for this need to start over is human wickedness. Now, this raises (and has raised for a long time) all sorts of problems, namely why God goes so over-the-top. We’re only in the 6th chapter of the Bible. Couldn’t God think of another solution or was drowning the only option?

But this may be asking the wrong question. Rather than trying to explain why God would do such and such, it is more fruitful to ponder what this story tells us about Israel’s understanding of God.

The reason the gods flood the earth in the Atrahasis epic is because humans, who were created for slave labor, were making too much noise. The Israelites, on the other hand, had something else to say about the character of their God and the obligation of humanity to God as creatures created in God’s image.

They had a different theology.

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