A Few Remarks on the Interpretation of the Chronology of the Deluge (Gen. chs. 7 & 8)

 

The story of the Deluge in Genesis chs. 7 & 8 contains a chronology of events that has caused headaches to many scholars. For it seems that the calendar system used in it is different from that used in the later Jewish calendar, and that the dates mentioned in it have no significant relation to the Jewish year with its festive seasons as it is expounded in the instructions of Leviticus ch. 23. To give an example: In Gen. 7:24 and 8:3 there occurs a period of 150 days which according to most interpreters should be situated between the beginning day of the flood, the 17th day of the second month, and the day of the grounding of the Ark on the mountains of Ararat, the 17th day of the seventh month. If this interpretation is correct, then its implication is that on Noach’s calendar there were 5 successive months of 30 days each, which is an impossibility in the later calendar of Judaism. This fact favours the idea that the months of Noah’s days — or the months as conceived by the writers of the story of the Flood — were not lunar months as we now have them. Moreover, even if this difficulty is overstepped as of minor importance and it be gracefully conceded that the Flood story may be situated along the lines of the later calendar, then the difficulty emerges how to determine which month marks the beginning of the year. Was Tishri the first month of the year, and was Rosh HaShanah the first day of the first month, or was Nissan the first month, as it is nowadays, when according to Ex. 12:2 the month of Nissan opens the festive cycle? The biblical text gives us no decisive information for either of these possibilities. It may well be that the writers counted the months beginning from Tishri, and that Ex. 12 marks the beginning of the new system of counting the months from Nissan in the text of the Pentateuch. It may equally well be that the determination of Nissan as the first month at the time of the Exodus was made the reference point for all the calendrical accounts in the Torah, and that the story of the Flood, which was written down much later than it happened, probably in the time of Moshe, was retold by making use of the calendrical terms of that time.

 

Whatever may be the case, the conspicuous fact that the text of Genesis chs. 7 & 8 is so ambiguous as to allow for these differences in interpretation should perhaps not be considered as detrimental but instead as advantageous for its exegesis. If the text of the Torah is perfect, as the Sages say, and if there is no before or after in the Torah text, then we can perhaps make good sense of the text of our chapters by simply applying the fabric of the later data of the Torah to it, and thus by “adopting” these chapters into the larger family of textual connections within the Torah. It is my proposal to do so in the following paragraphs. I’ll defend there an interpretation based on the presupposition that the later calendar of Judaism, of which the basic elements were given in the Torah, can be successfully applied to the data of the text of the story of the Deluge. This is not the only interpretation possible, not even from a Torah viewpoint. But it may turn out to be a sensible one. One should not exclude the possibility that the ambiguity of the text was explicitly intended to elicit a plurality of interpretations. Although it is of course true that the events of the history of Noach and the Ark were unique and can not have taken place on two or more distinct periods in time, yet it may be that the text of the Torah is more interested in the interpretative qualities of the story than in giving a “watertight” historical account, if there is anything “watertight” here except the Ark itself.

 

Following the above mentioned adages of there not being earlier or later in the Torah, and of it being possible to read the dates given in the Flood story as calendar dates of the Jewish year, we arrive at the following survey for the chronology of the Flood events.

 

The Flood rains began on the 17th day of the second month, i.e. on the 17th day of Iyar in the 600th year of Noach (Gen. 7:11). Seven days before, on the 10th of Iyar, Noach and his family, and the animals, entered the Ark (Gen. 7:7-10). The rains lasted for 40 days. The 40th day was the 26th of Sivan if Iyar was a full month, otherwise it was the 27th. On the 17th day of the seventh month the Ark hit Ararat (Gen. 8:4), which is the next important date, the 17th of Tishri. Then, as the text says, “the waters decreased continually until the tenth month: in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen” (Gen. 8:5). The 1st day of the tenth month is Rosh Chodesh Tevet. After that a new period of forty days begins, at the end of which “Noach for the first time opened the window of the Ark” (Gen. 8:6), and sent forth a raven and a dove (Gen. 8:7-8). Depending on whether Tevet had 30 or 29 days the 40th  day was the 10th or the 11th of Shevat. A week later, 17/18 Shevat the dove was sent forth again and brought a plucked olive leaf (Gen. 8:10-11). A week later again, on 24/25 Shevat the dove was sent forth for the third time and did not return anymore (Gen. 8:12). On the first day of the first month of the 601st year, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the surface of the earth appeared dry (Gen. 8:13). 40 days later, on the 27th of Iyar, the earth had dried and Noach and his family, and the animals, went out of the Ark.

 

We can now set the found data in the following chronological scheme:

 

 

10th of Iyar: Noach, his family and the animals enter the Ark

 

17th of Iyar: The rains begin

 

26/27th of Sivan: 40 days of rain completed

 

17th of Tishri: The Ark grounds on the Ararat mountains

 

1st of Tevet: The tops of the mountains were seen

 

10/11th of Shevat: The Ark opened; the raven and the dove

sent forth

17/18th of Shevat: The dove sent forth a second time; brings an olive leaf

 

24/25th of Shevat: The dove sent forth a third time; returns not

 

1st of Nissan: Surface of the earth dry

 

27th of Iyar: The earth has dried; Noach, his family and the animals leave the Ark.

 

 

Notably none of these data are major occasions or feasts on the Jewish calendar. Nevertheless, certain subtile relations can be established between these data and the festive year of the Torah.

 

The first thing we notice is that the entering of the Ark and the beginning of the Flood fall in the season of the year that was later named the time of the Omer count, that is the time between Pesach and Shavuot. From a messianic viewpoint this is the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension of Messiah. After the Flood starts, the Ark raises above the earth, as an image of the Messiah raised above the earth after his resurrection. When the forty days of raining are over (Sivan 27) it is already past Shavuot in the liturgical year. For those inside the Ark the rain was a blessing, a gift from above that elevated the Ark. For those outside it the rain was a curse and a judgment that condemned them. This is an image of the Messiah, who, raised on high, baptizes his followers with the gifts of the Ruach HaKodesh, and those who withstand him with the fire of judgment (Mt. 3:11-12; Jn. 16:7-11).

 

Messiah guards his followers through the deepest troubles of the destruction of the Flood of the Great Tribulation (cf. Dan. 9:25-27; 11:40) — signified by the 150 days of the prevalence of the waters of the Deluge — and brings them in safety on a Rock, a high place (cf. Ps. 91:7-9), signified by the mountains of Ararat. The Ark hit the Ararat mountains on the 17th of Tishri, that is during the days of Sukkot. After the Ark had grounded on the mountain it became a temporary dwelling attached to the earth, a Sukkah.

 

The first sign of hope for those inside the Ark occurs on Rosh Chodesh Tevet, when the mountain tops become visible. This happens during the days that in later Jewish history were designated for the celebration of Chanukah, the feast of the visibility of the light that shines in the darkness. As the mountain tops could only be seen from afar by those inside the Ark, so the Chanukah lights may only be seen and comtemplated, thus signifying that the light of Messiah shines from on high into a world covered by the waters of judgment.

 

After another 40 days the Ark is opened on the 10/11th of Shevat, and a raven and a dove are sent forth. A week later, the 17/18th of Shevat, the dove is sent forth again and brings home an olive leaf. This happens just a few days after Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of Trees. It is the first sign of new life on the earth. A week later the dove is sent forth for the third time and it doesn’t return. This means that clean birds can live now on the new earth. On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, introducing the month of the Exodus, the month of Redemption, the surface of the earth is dry. It is as if it is said: “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Ex. 12:2).

 

The day Noach and his family and the animals leave the Ark is on the 27th of Iyar. If it is true that Messiah was raised from the dead on the 17th of Nissan, then the 27th of Iyar, de day the Ark was left, is the 40th day after the Messiah’s Resurrection, Ascension Day. On the same day that Messiah ascends into the heavens, the earth thus ascends out of the covering of the waters of the Flood as a new creation, able to receive new animal and human life. This signifies the coming Kingdom Age, in which new life will inhabit the earth after it is by renewed by the fire of G-d’s judgment. On this renewed earth of the Kingdom Age good, symbolized by the clean animals, outnumbers evil, signified by the unclean animals, seven times, i.e. in a perfect measure. A proper image of the coming Kingdom, in which the seductive powers of sin and evil will be heavily reduced in comparison with our present situation.

I think that this interpretation, or it may perhaps better be called an application, of the Flood story makes sense. It is not without difficulties, however. One of the typical features of the text are the numerics of the time periods and of the calendrical dates. Why, one may ask, are all the dates that are explicitly mentioned in the text on the 1st, the 17th, or the 27th day of the month? And why are all the dates connected with a festive season only loosely connected with it? One would expect, for example, a specific connection with Sukkot to be expressed by something important happening on the 15th of Tishri, not on the 17th. There may be a numerical symbolism inherent in the text that yet remains unclarified.

On the other hand it may be argued that the loose connection of the chronology of the Flood story with the later calendar of the Torah, given to Israel, may be purposed. For the story of the Flood introduces us into the world of Noachidism, the world of the first explicit covenant between G-d and human beings. This covenant is made with all mankind, but it only constitutes the rough and basic outlines of G-d’s later and more specific dealings with his chosen. The world of Noachidism is the world of a universal covenant that contains no principles and blessings that supercede the sphere of the Olam Hazeh. It contains no vision of a future Redemption, but only the perspective of keeping this world in a state of basic order and justice, as appears from the Torah text in Gen. 8:20-9:17. The Noachide covenant thus only sets the stage, the cadre of conditions for the later covenants with the Patriarchs and with Israel, and for the unfolding drama of the history of Redemption.

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1 Response to “A Few Remarks on the Interpretation of the Chronology of the Deluge (Gen. chs. 7 & 8)”



  1. 1 A Midweek Sidetrack « Grasping Mashi’ach Trackback on December 4, 2008 at 3:43 am

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