The Noah version of the creation narrative (or, ark=uterus?)

February 2, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 11:25 am   Category: Before Abraham,Scriptures,Sunday School Lessons,Theology

With Sunday school lesson #6 on the story of Noah up next I have been reading up on it. Over at Julie’s thread on the subject someone linked to an article in Dialogue by Sheldon Greaves that briefly discussed the Noah story and its parallels with the earlier creation story starring Adam. While the discussion of the Noah narrative was only a side note in the overall article, I found it fascinating. Here are the highlights:

(From Fall 1998 Dialogue, pgs 157-166)

The story of Noah and the Flood rests upon the assumption that once society has deteriorated beyond a certain point, the only option remaining is to start afresh. As such it contains a thinly-veiled creation story. The story recalls details in the first few chapters of Genesis in a way that is intended to associate the two events in the reader’s mind. The earth is filled with violence, so God warns Noah to build his ark. Seven days — a number calculated to recall the creation story a few chapters earlier — before the floods begin, God gives Noah his final notice, then floods the earth, covering it with the wind-swept Tehom or primordial abyss. During this time the ark carries the seed of living creatures until it comes to rest. The passengers emerge, new covenants are made that are almost, but not quite, like the ones made in the Garden of Eden. Humans are blessed to be fruitful and multiply. Finally, Noah plants a vine, and after he partakes of the fruit of his labors, when he comes to his senses he finds he is naked. Thereafter, one of his sons is cursed. The parallels are not exact, but they are enough to make the point.

One other item worthy of mention: the role of the ark itself… as a uterine symbol. The time spent in the ark upon the waters, from the beginning of the rain (Gen. 7:11-12) to the time Noah realizes that the flood is truly over (8:10-12) is 277 days. … This time period, 277 days, works out in the Flood’s chronology to nine months and one week, almost precisely the period of human gestation. More interestingly, the waters reach their height at 150 days (7:24, 8:24), which also corresponds to the point at which waters of the uterus swell to their point of maximum expansion.

Wow.

So basically the implication is that the story of Noah and his ark is a creation story told over again from a different angle. Further, there is the notion that our time in the uterus is analogous to Noah’s time in the ark. Good stuff.

I don’t know about you but I am having an increasingly difficult time seeing the pre-Abraham scriptural narratives as being literal in our modern Western sense. They seem to be symbols of truth rather than literal historical accounts. In other words – they seem like theology rather than history to me.

I should add that these ideas of multiple creation narratives fit very nicely with my leanings toward the idea of multiple mortal probations. More in this direction to come — but for now, what do you think of the Noah creation narrative?

[Associated radio.blog song: Noisepie - Best Giraffe. Seemed like a good fit for the ark theme...]

30 Comments »

  1. I don’t know about you but I am having an increasingly difficult time seeing the pre-Abraham scriptural narratives as being literal in our modern Western sense. They seem to be symbols of truth rather than literal historical accounts. In other words – they seem like theology rather than history to me.

    You had me at “I”.

    Comment by Ronan — February 2, 2006 @ 12:11 pm

  2. Lol!

    Classic, Ronan.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 2, 2006 @ 12:12 pm

  3. That is very interesting. I find your theory, that the early biblical account is purely symbolic, compelling. I have believed this myself for quite some time. I taught release time seminary for a while and these sort of parallels are pointed out in the CES Manuals, but they don’t jump to the conclusion you have. It’s hard to reconcile the Old Testament’s rich messianic symbolism and at the same time assert a literal reading of the historical account. It wouldn’t be so hard if you held to a Calvinistic view of predestination. But if you believe in an open future where genuine choices can be made, then the Old Testament begins to look a lot like a symbolic story.

    Is there a way of reconsiling the symbolic nature of these stories and still believe in the historicity of them?

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — February 2, 2006 @ 12:22 pm

  4. Also Geoff,
    You say you have a difficult time seeing the pre-Abraham scriptural narratives as being literal; but don’t you have an equally had time seeing the story of Abraham and his sons as being literal?

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — February 2, 2006 @ 12:25 pm

  5. This is a little like hearing that Santa Claus isn’t real. I once told my whole kindergarten class during a show-and-tell that Santa was not real. At my 20 year high school reunion a classmate told me he still remembered that and resenting me for it. Way to go Geoff. First Adam now Noah. When do things begin to be literal? Ever? Are we symbolic? Is Christ? Is the Atonement? I’m having a hard time buying any of this. At the very least, are we not expected to believe that this stuff is literal even if it might not be?

    Comment by Eric — February 2, 2006 @ 12:41 pm

  6. Geoff, I really hope I die before you so when you die I can be standing there with Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, et al. and introduce them all to you.

    Comment by Kurt — February 2, 2006 @ 12:53 pm

  7. Eric,

    Ha! Well just remind yourself that I could be wrong. IN answer to your question, I’m leaning toward Abraham and beyond being history in more or less the way we view history. Prior to that I suspect the narratives probably fit more into the theology category. (BTW – this is a new idea for me too… )

    Craig,

    Why am I drawing a line at Abraham? Well it is mostly a gut feel thing. But there are reasons behind that gut feel. First Abraham’s stories read a lot more like history to me. In other words, it feels real to me — like it could be me. Second, there is no massive or mysterious break in lineage between Abraham and the present — my sense is that there is a lot of evidence for a person named Abraham (at least a lot more than for the pre-Abrahamic patriarchs). Now that is not to say there were no pre-Abrahamic patriarchs; I just think our stories about them might not be literal historical accounts. I also think there is something to the idea of “Father Abraham”. In a religious sense Abraham does fulfill the role of Adam for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. But the fact is that this is an underdeveloped and new idea for me so I’ll have to flesh this out more later.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 2, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

  8. Eric,
    Your last sentence didn’t make a lot of sense. Did you mean that we are expected to believe, or did you mean even if it might be?

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — February 2, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

  9. Ha!

    I believe that could very well happen Kurt (#6). But won’t you be surprised if you discover they lived and were exalted on previous planets and not on ours? ;-)

    Comment by Geoff J — February 2, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

  10. Our bible dictionary says the Adam and Eve story is historical. If everything before Abraham isn’t literal does that include Enoch and his city? I can accept that the events took place, but the scriptural descriptions have been “embelished”, “enhanced”, and or changed a bit for our benefit.

    Comment by don — February 2, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

  11. I pretty much agree. A literalist account of Noah is at least as far-fetched to me as a literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative. I’m not sure why people are so bent on defending historicity in these cases. I just don’t know that anything’s at stake.

    Comment by D-Train — February 2, 2006 @ 1:15 pm

  12. D-Train,

    I think a lot of people see it as an all or nothing proposition — either scripture is all literal or it it is all figurative. I don’t think that is the case. Nevertheless I can see why many in the church would see a more nuanced view as a slippery slope. As has been mentioned here — many wonder where it ends. As Eric said, “Are we symbolic?” I think the fear is (and perhaps rightly so) if we start giving ground on the historicity of any scripture we open ourselves up to giving ground on all of it (including the Book of Mormon, which is already the focus of lots of historicity attacks). If it had to be all or nothing I would be in the literal camp — but it does not have to be all or nothing in my opinion.

    Don,

    Good point. We could still have literal patriarchs prior to Abraham even if their stories are told in forms that do not match up with our culture’s methods of recording history.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 2, 2006 @ 1:40 pm

  13. Don’t believe everything you read in the BD, Don. It’s mainly been cobbled together from a really old Protestant BD. But yeah, although I tend to agree with Geoff, he’s way out of the mainstream on this one. So don’t feel alarmed!

    Comment by Ronan — February 2, 2006 @ 1:42 pm

  14. Geoff and Ronan, if everything before Abraham is not to be taken literally (and I’m open to that idea) do you believe that Adam, Noah, Enoch, literally existed? Modern scripture and latter day teachings seem pretty certain on this point. I would find it a lot harder to believe that even the reality of these men is symbolic.

    Comment by finn — February 2, 2006 @ 2:24 pm

  15. Craig:

    Sorry for my confusing sentence. It just seems that the scriptures describe these things as if they were literal. It also seems that modern day prophets and apostles describe these things as if they were literal. I am wondering if we are expected to operate under the assumption that they are literal even if some day in the future it is revealed that they were symbolic.

    I have a tendency to cling to the literal because of this, but not so much that my testimony would come crashing down if there was some proclamation to the world about a symbolic creation. I don’t think salvation hinges on our speculations here. At least I hope not for Geoffs sake :)

    Does this type of speculation put us on a slippery slope? If Adam and Noah are not much more than Santa and the Easter bunny what else may be just symbolic? Is there any benefit to this speculation? This is a serious question, from a practical standpoint what would be gained?

    Comment by Eric — February 2, 2006 @ 3:07 pm

  16. finn and Eric – See my responses in #12.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 2, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

  17. A couple things:

    Hebrews 11
    1 Peter 3:19,20
    2 Peter 2:5

    And who was Gabriel?

    BTW, good post and interesting thoughts as always.

    Comment by Tim J. — February 2, 2006 @ 3:22 pm

  18. I think we can have hitoricity and symbollogy. Our restoration theology requires that certain indaviduals lived: Michael-Adam; Gabriel-Noah; Raphael-?. That said, I have no problem assuming that the vast majority of the OT account is symbology mixed with legend. Just look what correlation has done to our history…now imagine if there were no computers, journals, books, etc. Not hard to imagine that we could be living our own symbollism in their absense. This isn’t at all a criticism or a bad thing, just the nature of our existance.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 2, 2006 @ 4:39 pm

  19. Tim,

    Thanks. Regarding those verses — what do you think they show? I guess they could be shown as evience that the leaders of the original Christian church referred to the Noah story as if it were literal and historical… But I’m not sure what that adds to the conversation. There is no question that prophets and apostles both ancient and modern have generally not discussed the question of the literal and historical questions behind the ancient narratives — they simply refer to them to make a spiritual point. And since the flood (assuming it is literal) would have predated the NT writers by thousands of years too it makes little difference if they talk about it or if modern apostles talk about it I think.

    I am not saying that there wan no Noah or Enoch or Adam on our planet. Rather I am suggesting that the narratives we have of them by not be best understood by being read through a modern literal and historical lens. I suspect those tales were not intended to be taken that way but that they were instead dramatic theological representations of eternal truths.

    Regarding Gabriel — I believe he is real. The scriptures say so. That means that either a prophet named Noah (who later became Gabriel) lived here or we get the story from God about some other time and place. Either way, it does not mean we have to take the current account as historical and literal for our planet (even if that is the popular reading of it in Mormonism).

    Comment by Geoff J — February 2, 2006 @ 4:47 pm

  20. J,

    I agree. There could easily be a mix of real people that lived here and served God and symbolic narratives that are not to be read as literal history (sort of what I was getting at with Tim as well).

    Comment by Geoff J — February 2, 2006 @ 4:49 pm

  21. Geoff,

    I do see the slippery slope, but don’t really see it as a problem. I do agree that it’s why the reactions are the way they are. For me, the basic question comes down to a spiritual witness of Jesus Christ, the Restoration, and any other given gospel principle. I understand that many struggle with historicity, but would simply argue that it’s not terribly relevant to our salvation. I know others see it differently and I respect that view, but still have difficulty seeing whether Noah being a real man or not has much to do with my relationship with the Savior.

    Comment by D-Train — February 2, 2006 @ 4:55 pm

  22. D-Train,

    I largely agree. Interestingly, these are largely the same arguments some (like RT) make against the historicity of the Book of Mormon. But I am firmly in the literal history camp on that debate (even though I do believe that Ostler’s expansion theory is a factor in the record). I sort of think there are several factors that make the case for historicity much, much stronger than the case that can be made for historicity of the pre-Abrahamic prophets. Plus, like the Abraham story, the BoM stories sound and feel real to me. I can relate.

    I don’t get that real feeling at all with the epic sounding stories of the pre-Abrahamic patriarchs. But that might be just me.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 2, 2006 @ 5:27 pm

  23. I believe the salinity of amniotic fluid is the same as sea water. (womb-flood thing).

    I’ve always taken every story as literal, but the idea that these stories may not be literal and may be symbolic representations of gospel principles sure makes it easier to justify in my modern-day head that likes to reason things out (whew!!). With that said though, I’m more than willing to believe in miracles and even to believe in things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. There’s always a logical explanation; I just don’t necessarily have the brain power to comprehend HF’s ways or means. I’m open!

    Comment by meems — February 2, 2006 @ 8:16 pm

  24. I’m inclined to think God doesn’t care whether you see any scripture as literal or symbolic… just that you take the principles and implement them. I think Geoff and some others have been getting at that point in many of the comments. But it is still fun to explore it. I think its healthy, too. It gets people really examining the scriptures and thinking and talking about them. That’s a good thing no matter what camp you are in.

    Comment by Clay — February 3, 2006 @ 7:43 am

  25. Is there more or less a concensus here – that Adam and Noah et al were most likely real people, and that the actual events that they experienced in real life may not exactly match the text and traditional interpretations of the text? If that is sort of the case, then this is sounding less and less like speculation all the time.

    Comment by Eric — February 3, 2006 @ 9:36 am

  26. Eric,

    I think there is a range of possiblility that includes literal people that had experiences that “may not exactly match the traditional [literal] interpretations of the text” on one side and extending to the possibility that they did not literally live on this planet at all and the tales are completely allegories reflecting larger theological truths on the other extreme. I have not made my mind up where I am on that continuum yet (I’m still studying it all out in my mind and seeking more light and truth on it and all), but I usually default toward the more conservative side when in doubt on these types of things.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 3, 2006 @ 10:25 am

  27. So when my husband says, in relation to bedroom activities, “Whatever floats your boat”, . . . . he isn’t speaking in that much of a metaphor after all!

    Even if I feel like, if I was a boat, I’d be the Titanic.

    Comment by sarebear — February 6, 2006 @ 5:23 pm

  28. Interesting conversation you all are having here! I had to jump in, even though I am two months too late probably.

    Couple of thoughts:
    If we are to consider ourselves Adam and Eve, then were we all of us in the Garden together?

    Did we all meet three messengers? Did we all argue with the spirit Satan (who by the way had an amazing ability, for a disembodied spirit, to hold firmly a physical apple…lol)

    Nah.
    Didn’t we choose good over evil in the pre-ex? If so, it was that place and moment in which we became ‘as the Gods knowing good from evil”, and not in the Garden…memory-wipes notwithstanding.

    I think the Garden Story and the War In Heaven Story (as well as the Marduk-Tiamat of babylon and numerous other creation accounts) describe some of the same events, being re-enacted on every planet God ever has or ever will make. It is the tale of our births, challenges, removal to mortality, introduction to sin, being provided with a Savior, and so on.

    And I believe there was an Adam for this world, just like there is a ‘me’ on this world.

    The only part I can’t get to fit (not into this theory or any other) is why Eve is given credit for having wanted to make the leap into mortality. Certainly it cannot be said that all women eveywhere (who are considering themselves to be Eve) made that same choice and brought sin into the world along with it.

    Comment by msgifferdsky — April 16, 2006 @ 11:36 pm

  29. There is no documented comment anywhere by Joseph in his own hand or by his scribes at his behest, which indicates where the Garden actually was. He does say where Adam lived after being chased out of the Garden, however, but that’s it. Despite this, numerous second hand accounts exist stating that Joseph did say where the Garden was. Anecdotal quotes are not much to stand on, though, considering the utter dearth of actual prophestic utterance from Joseph on this subject. He talked about a very wide range of subjects, publically, during his lifetime…it just doesn’t seem like him to have left this one out, expecially since it became the foundation for the Temple Endowment ceremony. =)

    “The spot chosen for the Garden of Eden was Jackson Country, in the state of Missouri, where Independence now stands; it was occupied in the morn of creation by Adam and his associates, who came with him for the express purpose of peopling this earth.”
    (Journal of Discourses, 10:235)
    John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p.396

    Comment by msgifferdsky — April 16, 2006 @ 11:47 pm

  30. Thanks for stopping by, msfgifferdsky.

    If we are to consider ourselves Adam and Eve, then were we all of us in the Garden together?

    I’d say yes (at least figuratively yes)

    Good stuff on the rest of you comment. I have a theory about Eve in the post I just linked to above. See here, here and all of these on my basic agreement with this re-enactment pattern you mentioned. I agree with you.

    And thanks for that interesting factoid on the Jackson-County/Eden connection or lack thereof. I’ll have to look more into that.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 17, 2006 @ 1:27 am

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