Two Floods Are Better Than One (Gen. 7)

In two earlier posts, both Ryan and I blogged about some of the distinct differences in the creation stories–and how, as many scholars have already noted, their appears to be two distinct creation stories in Gen. 1-2, which were (probably) the result of two separate accounts merged into one story.

Funny enough, it’s the same thing with the story of Noah. Since it’s ARK WEEK, and several posts have been looking at various parts of the Noah’s Ark story, our coverage of these three chapters of Genesis wouldn’t be complete with acknowledgement of one major inconsistency in the text.

Scholars looked at the various names for God in the Noah story and have found that, like Gen. 1, two distinct names of God are employed: the tetragrammaton (YHWH) appears again, as well as the more common Hebrew term for God. But that, however, is not the end of the story.

Close readers of Gen. 7 should notice that, in fact, there is a glaring contradiction. In Gen. 7:2, God (YHWH) instructs Noah to take on the Ark seven pairs of “clean” animals, as well as a pair of “unclean” animals. “Clean” in this context refers to animals that are appropriate for sacrifice—cows, sheep and goats, mainly—while “unclean” are the other animals, including pigs, lions and tigers and bears (oh my). The purpose of having additional clean animals, then, is so the species can propagate even after a pair or two is sacrificed to God.

Yet apparently it seems Noah missed the divine memo: in Gen. 7:7-10, Noah only brings “two and two” of all animals, clean and unclean, “as God” had commanded him. (This is reiterated in Gen. 7:13-15.).

What happened to seven? What was Noah thinking?

In examining this discrepancy, scholars noted that when the divine authority instructs Noah regarding the seven pairs, it is “YHWH.” But when he commands just “two and two,” it’s simply the more common Hebrew term for God.

In other words, two different writers created accounts of the story, and they were later combined. Additionally, it is important to consider that the basis for clean and unclean animals, as well as the whole system of sacrifice, was set forth in Leviticus—which, at the putative time of Noah, did not even yet exist! This means that this section was probably a later addition to the original story.

Perhaps noted Old Testament scholar James Kugel put it best: “but if [the Noah story is two contradictory accounts], can this be the Word of God?” That’s for you to decide, I guess.

UPDATE: It’s important to note that the seven/two and two contradiction in the flood story isn’t the only problem with the text. A number of different phrases are repeated in different ways throughout the story, only reinforcing the notion that there were at least two original versions, as well as many possible edits.

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