Noah: Creation rewound

Darkness and chaos:
sepia shadows flit over the void.
Dazzling light rays glow and recede
night becomes day, and day yields to night.
Waters divide, ascending in clouds,
swelling the seas.
Tinges of color burst into brightness:
creation proliferates.
Humanity scatters over the earth
forging community, building a world.

Society crumbles, vice stalks the earth:
a solitary man fashions an ark.
Vivid hues fade, washed by the rain,
creation is flooded.
Clouds overflow: torrents pour down
and seas erupt skywards.
Storm brings eclipse: daylight dissolves and
surrenders to night.
Darkness and chaos:
sepia shadows flit over the void.

But the man in the ark sails on
borne to a new beginning.

In his book, Understanding Genesis The Heritage of Biblical Israel, Nahum M Sarna* notes that, “…the Deluge is directly connected with Creation. It is, in fact, the exact reversal of it. The two halves of the primordial waters of chaos which God separated as a primary stage in the creative process, were in danger of reuniting. To the Bible, the Flood is a cosmic catastrophe.” Sarna contrasts the biblical portrayal with the Mesopotamian versions of the Flood story. In the latter, the motivation for the Flood is ambiguous at best and seems to have little or no moral implications. In the Bible, however, there is no doubt about God’s motivations. Noah is chosen because of his righteousness, not some caprice or partiality on God’s part. In contrast to the Mesopotamian stories, the Bible makes repeated references to man’s wickedness: “The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness…”(Bereishit 6:11) and to God’s decision which He imparts to Noah, “to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.” (Bereishit 6:131)
Sarna continues, “Now this kind of universalistic terminology, and this concept of the Flood as a returning to primeval chaos, has profound moral implications. For it means that in biblical theology human wickedness, the inhumanity of man to man, undermines the very foundations of society. The pillars upon which rest the permanence of all earthly relationships, totter and collapse, bringing ruin and disaster to mankind.
“This idea is one of the dominant themes of Scripture and runs like a thread of scarlet throughout its literature. The Psalmist, in excoriating the perversion of justice in the law courts, makes use of the same motif. He denounces the exploitation by the wicked of the poor and the fatherless, the afflicted and the destitute. Through such deeds, he says, “all the foundations of the earth are shaken.””
Sarna points out that the God of the Bible is not a remote deity – having created the world, He does not leave it to its own devices. He is very much concerned with the world and its inhabitants’ welfare, particularly in the socio-moral domain.

*Professor Nahum Mattathias Sarna (1923 – 2005) was a modern Biblical scholar who is best known for the study of Genesis and Exodus represented in his Understanding Genesis (1966) and in his contributions to the first two volumes of the JPS Torah Commentary (1989/91). He was also part of the translation team for the Ketuvim section of the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of the Bible, known as New Jewish Publication Society of America Version.


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