Light from the Sidra

Noach ('Noah')

Torah: Genesis 6:9-11:32. Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24

Ideas have consequences

About a year ago, I heard former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in conversation with arch-atheist Richard Dawkins. It was a good natured exchange, even though at one point the former Chief Rabbi condemned Dawkins opinion about ‘the God of the Old Testament,’ which Dawkins articulated in The God Delusion, as anti-Semitic. What was particularly interesting about the discussion was the way in which Lord Sacks responded to Professor Dawkins’ question about the reliability of the Bible. Rabbi Sacks believed that the narrative in Exodus about the crossing of the Red Sea was historically accurate because a computer simulation proved that a steady 63-mile-per-hour east wind blowing east to west overnight would drive the water of the ‘Sea of Reeds’ west and create a path through the water (you can see the simulation at how the red sea could have parted). Dr Sacks was not so positive about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, however. It was a parable, he said. According to the twelfth-century rabbis, the Chief Rabbi claimed, to read the Bible literally is heresy! If that claim is correct, it means there are three layers of authority in Judaism: the Bible, Science and the Rabbis, with the Rabbis at the top.

So what should we make of the Genesis record of Noah’s ark and a universal, year-long Flood? Lord Sacks and the twelfth-century rabbis would no doubt consider me a heretic for regarding the Genesis account as sober history but there are good reasons for accepting the biblical story as historical. If the ancient Hebrews did little more than purloin an ancient Sumerian myth and elaborate on it, then the biblical account has nothing more to teach us than, say, the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. But in fact, when we compare the Babylonian Flood story in what has become known as the Gilgamesh epic, it looks as though the Babylonians elaborated on the account given by Moses!

Mankind appears to have a collective memory of the Flood because the story of a universal Flood is found in cultures all around the world: in North and South America, the South Sea Islands, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Japan, China, India, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Nevertheless, even though some scientists believe Mars was once covered with water – even though the only water that exists on the planet is in the form of ice in the polar regions – they casually dismiss powerful evidence that our own world was once under water.

The evidence for a global watery cataclysm that drowned all living things is to be seen everywhere, if we have eyes to see it. All over the world, in rock layer after rock layer there are remains of billions of animals, birds, fish, insects, trees and flowers. Fossils cannot be formed by slow and gradual processes; they can be formed only by rapid burial. There are fossils of animals with food in their mouths, of fish giving birth and of dinosaurs locked in mortal combat. In nature, dead fish are quickly torn apart by scavengers and what remains decomposes. To become fossilised, animals have to be buried quickly in mud and sand that hardens rapidly.

In 1980, Mount St. Helens in Washington State in the USA blew its top and the mud flow that followed carved a canyon 30 metres (100 feet) deep in a single day! In the 33 years since the eruption of Mount St. Helens, over 180 metres (600 feet) of layered sedimentary rock has built up. Since then, some experts have theorised that the Grand Canyon might have been formed in a similar day by an enormous lake that burst its ‘banks’ rather than it having been carved out over millions of years by the Colorado River.

But what about the ark? How could Noah have fitted two of every creature on such a small boat? First of all, the ark was not like those pictures we’ve seen in children’s picture books; a little boat with a couple of giraffes’ heads sticking out of a skylight. The ark was an enormous box that, according to Genesis 6:15, measured 300 x 50 x 30 cubits (137 x 23 x 13.7 metres, or 450 x 75 x 45 feet), so its volume was 43,200 cubic metres (1.52 million cubic feet). To put that figure in perspective, it is the equivalent volume of 522 standard American railroad stock cars, each of which can hold 240 sheep.

Bearing in mind that Noah only took on board representatives of biblical ‘kinds,’ not our modern ‘species,’ there would have been plenty of room in the ark for all the animals. And because many animals have the ability to hibernate under stressful conditions, there would have been a minimum amount of ‘mucking out’ to do.

Because most people have not been exposed to the massive amount of evidence for a global flood, they dismiss the biblical Flood because they assume the Genesis account is a primitive myth. But one geologist has stated that he never saw any evidence for the flood until, after he became a Christian. After he became convinced from the Bible that the Flood was a global cataclysm, he now sees the evidence everywhere. It’s a case of, ‘I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it!

Millions of Jewish people have been hoodwinked into believing their holy Scriptures are unreliable when, in fact, the Tanakh is totally trustworthy. If the book of Genesis is a collection of fables adapted from pagan sources by a group of scribes, the Jewish faith has no sound foundation and no substance. And without a sound foundation, even the most beautiful of edifices is always in danger of collapsing. The ethics of the Ten Commandments, if they are constructed on a foundation of Middle Eastern myths are simply the opinions of an ancient culture. And if the book of Genesis is myth and legend, on what basis do Jewish people believe they are the people of God?

The hypothesis that the Tanakh is unreliable took root in nineteenth century German academia and became a rich source for the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. When the German scholar Julius Wellhausen proposed that the ‘Old Testament,’ the foundational document of Jewish faith, was primitive and crude, his ideas generated contempt not only for Judaism but also for the Jewish people. That is why Richard Dawkins views about the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is dangerous, because if God did not create man in his own image, men create their gods in their own image. And if the god the Jews invented is ‘a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist. . .’ (you get the picture), his creators must also be like that. And if Jews are like that, why not declare open season on them?

Christians who take both the Tanakh and the New Testament seriously and believe in the divine origin of both documents have always had a respect for the Jewish people even while disagreeing with certain Jewish interpretations of the Tanakh. There is nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures of which Jewish people should be embarrassed. As Rabbi Shaul of Tarsus put it in his second letter to one of his disciples in the New Testament: ‘All the Hebrew Scriptures are God-breathed and are profitable for teaching, for conviction, for setting aright, for instruction in righteousness.’

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