Parsha Noah

Were There Many Floods?


Noah’s flood destroys early mankind. It is the first and universal example of purification through water, washing the slate clean (on which all later symbolic new starts, as represented by the Mikva, are derived from).

It was the violence that early humans did to each other that finally led to the cataclysm. When it is over, God says He will never destroy humanity again because humans are essentially incorrigible. Too many of them are selfish and act inhumanely simply because they are not prepared or able to discipline themselves morally. The beautiful rainbow becomes the symbol that despite the mess we make of things, God remains there to help us do a better job if we wish to advantage of His presence.

God promises He will not destroy the world. But He says nothing about whether we might not do it, through nuclear arsenals or simply destroying our ecological biosphere through greed and carelessness. We have the capacity for evil as much as for good.

We’ve all heard about Noah’s flood and the animals going into the Ark two by two. And of course, we know about the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh and the Epic of Atrahasis which pre-date the Bible and also tell about a massive flood in which the gods save their favorite son and the animals and differentiate between “holy animals” and non-holy ones. Perhaps there was a great flood, a melting of the ice caps. Or perhaps the annual floods on the Mesopotamian plains covered the earth they knew. Experts argue about which story influenced the other. I don’t think it makes any difference. If there was a major flood, then all local cultures will have remembered it and spoken about it in their own cultural terms.

What defines the biblical version is that humans are responsible for their actions and bad actions have consequences not only individually but for communities and the world. As is now evident thanks to Global Warming, epidemics and wars. Noah’s story in the Torah is about the struggle we all have to be better people and the realization that some of us can actually do good in a way that ‘saves’ society from those who only think selfishly.