Most of us have heard of Noah and his ark. The biblical Noah is depicted as a righteous man and the son of Lamech. He is the last of 10 pre-Flood patriarchs and a pivotal figure in the Book of Genesis.
According to the Old Testament story, God becomes disenchanted with mankind’s corruption and violence and resolves to destroy the world with a massive flood and start again. God finds favor in Noah so commands him to build an ark, gather up all of the existing animals and board them in pairs, along with Noah’s family. If Noah obeys he and all aboard will survive the coming disaster (Genesis 6-9).
Noah obliges and in Genesis 10 his sons Japheth, Ham and Shem are described as the ancestors of all the nations of the Earth.
Later in the Bible, Noah is remembered for his outstanding faith and service. However, modern criticism has arisen over Noah’s cursing his son Ham after he saw Noah drunk and naked in his tent.
Some believe this reveals a bigotry among the Abrahamic religions against those of Black African ancestry, believed to be descendants of Ham.¹
The flood myths of Gilgamesh, Matsu and Deucalion are often cited as parallels to the Noah story. The ancient historian Josephus, who also commented on Christ and his followers, thought the Greek story of Deucalion proved the existence of Noah.
In Islam, Noah is an important prophet and an exemplar of obedience to God.
Wikipedia seems to highlight the similarities between Noah and Gilgamesh but if we take a moment to leaf through the pages of these two narratives, differences become pretty clear, most notably in the concept of God (vs. the gods).
The Noah story of the Pentateuch is almost identical to a flood story contained in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, composed about 2000 BC. The few variations including the number of days of the deluge, the order of the birds, and the name of the mountain on which the ark rests. The flood story in Genesis 6–8 matches the Gilgamesh flood myth so closely that “few doubt that [it] derives from a Mesopotamian account.” What is particularly noticeable is the way the Genesis flood story follows the Gilgamesh flood tale “point by point and in the same order”, even when the story permits other alternatives.²
This kind of enthusiasm perhaps reflects the folly of some scholars who base their comparative analyses purely on textual accounts. Not only are contexts and textual dissimilarities overlooked (i.e. cherry picking), but possible experiential contrasts among diverse religious persons and pathways are also disregarded.
Today, many see Noah and his ark as allegorical. Bahá’í and Jungian believers also see it as symbolic of the spiritual journey—particularly, psychospiritual transformations from old to new paradigms and maps of meaning.
Only the most hardcore fundamentalist would believe the Flood story of Noah is literally or entirely true.