Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Noah's Big Day Out

It's been a few years since the flood. Not any old flood you understand, but THE Flood with a capital F, a.k.a. the Deluge. Most Christians wouldn't particularly want to set aside a day dedicated to the mythical character of Noah or his jealously genocidal god. Missouri Synod Lutherans are a bit different though. Yesterday, November 29, is listed on their calendar as Noah's special day. The liturgical colour - if anyone cares - is red. Red for the blood of the drowned children maybe. (As far as I know it's pretty-much unique to the Missouri Synod, ELCA Lutherans mercifully have no such tradition.)

I come at this thing from a non-fundamentalist position. Noah (known as Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh)  is a great character in a memorable story, a story that was obviously meaningful in the society that gave it birth, but did such a man actually live - along with his immediate family - through a global catastrophe that wiped out all life on the planet (except the lucky specimens floating on his boat)? Of course not! The Noah story is a rewrite of more ancient "ancient mariner" tales that were common in that part of the world. He's a fictional character in a tall story - an etiological tale about rainbows. Attempts to turn it into a cutesy kiddies' story with cuddly cartoon animals are simply perverse.

And can we learn anything about the nature of God from the Flood story? Originally it was probably meant to reassure folk that Yahweh had given up on the mass murder of hapless humans, but these days we're less likely to be impressed given the fact that He did the deed in the first place.

Of course, the deed itself is fictive, which should be obvious to anyone living in the twenty-first century. But millions of fundamentalists work hard to convince themselves otherwise. Here's the good word from a Missouri Synod church bulletin:

Yeah, well, that's the story. But once again,  it's just that, a story, and not a particularly edifying one. It didn't happen. When folk today retell these biblical tales, they have a moral responsibility to point that out; to flag the stories for what they are, not pretend they're what they're not. Good stories last forever (think Evan Almighty), but they can cause havoc when they're mistaken for history. Any clues about that here? Not a one.

November 29 Commemoration of Noah? OK, it's a gripping story, if somewhat lacking in its portrayal of an ethically-challenged Yahweh. But tales of Hercules are gripping too, but we know where to draw the line there. Why not here? Beats me. You'll have to go ask a Missouri Synod member.


  1. Wow! Of course, the flood, a tsunami that occurred after a comet impact in the Indian Ocean, happened at a time when writing and literacy were virtually non-existent. And, most of the literate people of the time didn't survive anyway. Therefore, tales of the cataclysm were passed down orally, as that was the only means of transmitting historical information available to most.

    Naturally, over time these "tales" became mere "legends" and eventually "fables". Well, such is life.

    I fully expect that within a few HUNDRED years, no one will believe that World War I ever took place. There are ALREADY millions who doubt that the Holocaust occurred! And, photographic and eyewitness evidence is available.

    People will always find a reason not to believe what they wish not to be true.

  2. This reminds me of another conversation I had on another site where I compared The Bible to The Lord of the Rings and how, a few centuries later, people may be viewing that as a Holy book too.

    The individual I was having this conversation with responded, "But The Bible is REAL!"


    I took a vote with myself at that point and we determined I was wasting my time.

  3. Definitely not a "flood" -- but four of the last six major extinction events were related to the oceans. Make of that what thou wilt....

  4. Oh, and have a link, to where the story of Utnapishtim (handed down by oral tradition/syncretism to Judaism under Babylonian rule) was actually recorded -- thousands of years before either the Torah or the Septuagint were written down.