October 11, 2006

Noah and Adam

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

In The Gospel of Genesis, Warren Gage talks about some of the correspondences between the story of Adam in the Garden and the story of Noah after the Flood:

The structural and literary correspondence between the story of Noah’s sin and the record of Adam’s Fall is striking. Noah’s transgression begins with a vineyard (Gen 9:20) while Adam’s sin is set in a garden (Gen 3:1). Noah drank of the fruit of the vine while Adam ate of the fruit of the tree (Gen 9:20; 3:2), both being acts of deliberate disobedience resulting in the sinner’s awareness of shameful nakedness (Gen 9:21; 3:7). While Noah’s nakedness was covered by his eldest sons (Gen 9:23), Adam’s nakedness was covered by God (Gen 3:32), and both the sin of Noah and the sin of Adam issued into a fearful curse and enduring division in their respective seed (Gen 9:25; 3:15) (p. 12).

I find some of the parallels Gage points out instructive and they’re certainly worth exploring. I do think that Genesis 9 contains echoes of Genesis 3. But I’m not persuaded that Gage is reading the correspondences correctly.

First, he appears to assume that Genesis 9 records Noah’s sin, which, I gather, he takes to be Noah’s drunkenness.  At least, that’s what I conclude from what he says later on (p. 136).  Here, it sounds as if Gage thinks that Noah’s sin was drinking “of the fruit of the vine” and that doing so was an act “of deliberate disobedience.”  Perhaps Gage believes it is a sin to drink wine.  If not, then he hasn’t worded things well.

And, in fact, if the sin is not drinking the fruit of the vine, then the “parallel” with Adam isn’t as neat as Gage makes it out to be.  Adam’s sin was not that he glutted himself with the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  His sin was that he ate from it at all.  One bite would have been sin.  But if Noah sinned in Genesis 9, his sin wasn’t that he drank the fruit of the vine.  His sin was that he was drunk.  Again, that isn’t exactly parallel to Adam’s sin.

Nor is it clear to me that Noah sinned at all here in Genesis 9.  While the word translated “drunk” here does seem to indicate some degree of intoxication, the text does not indicate that Noah deliberately drank to get drunk or that he was a binge drinker or that he behaved improperly in any way.  We are not told that Noah was a drunkard.  We are told that when he drank this one time, the wine began to affect him and he went to sleep in his tent (or possibly, given the feminine suffix at the end of the Hebrew word for tent, in his wife’s tent).

As James Jordan says,

In English, “getting drunk” usually means becoming helplessly inebriated, but it does not have that meaning in Hebrew. All this statement needs to mean is that Noah drank enough to feel warm, peaceful, and sleepy. This is the kind of restful and relaxing use of alcohol that the Bible commends as entirely proper, on proper occasions. Possibly, of course, Noah was new to wine and accidently drank too much; but however the case may be, there is nothing to indicate any sinful action on Noah’s part. In this story, it is Ham, not Noah, who sins.

We are also told that Noah uncovered himself. That is, he was warm and lay down for a nap. Since he was inside his own private tent, he was hidden from view; that is, he was still covered by the tent itself.

And that’s another problem with the “parallels” Gage presents. There was nothing shameful about Adam and Woman’s nakedness in the beginning, just as there is nothing shameful about a baby’s nakedness or, for that matter, about the nakedness of a husband and wife when they’re alone together. Their nakedness is a problem only after they have eaten the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: they were naked and not ashamed, but now they are aware that they are naked, naked when they ought to be robed in glory, and now their nakedness is shameful.

Noah’s nakedness is a motif that does echo the nakedness of Adam and Woman in some way, but I’m not sure it echoes it in the way Gage thinks. Was Noah, after his alleged sin, “shamefully naked”? No, no more than it’s shameful for you to be naked when you’re taking an afternoon nap in your bedroom with the door closed. Noah wasn’t naked in public. He wasn’t naked when he ought to have been dressed. He was naked when he was napping and he was napping in the shelter of his (or perhaps his wife’s) tent. At the time, the tent was enough of a covering, as Jordan says.

The big problem with Gage’s attempt to line up Adam’s sin with Noah’s is that the sin that’s in view in Genesis 9 isn’t Noah’s sin but Ham’s.  Even if there was something sinful about Noah’s drinking, that’s not what the text focuses on.  Genesis 9 doesn’t say that the curse came upon Noah’s seed because of Noah’s sin, and so another of Gage’s “correspondences” breaks down.  Rather, the curse came upon Ham’s seed.

The curse on the seed is an echo of the curses pronounced in Genesis 3.  But then the parallel is between the serpent and Ham.  Ham is the new serpent in the Garden (vineyard).  He acts as an accuser, telling his brothers about his father’s nakedness, as if that nakedness were shameful, but the sons uphold the glory and honor of their father by refusing to look upon his nakedness, refusing to dishonor their father as Ham had done, and by covering him with “the robe” (not “a robe,” but “the robe,” which suggests that the robe was an indication of their father’s exalted position).

Ham is the serpent and his seed is Canaan and the subsequent Canaanites, while Shem in particular is the seed who will crush the serpent.  But who pronounces this judgment?  In Genesis 3, it was Yahweh who pronounced judgment on Adam and the woman and the serpent.  But here, the judgment is pronounced by Noah.  There’s no judgment on Noah himself, but Noah curses Canaan and blesses Shem and Japheth.  Gage to the contrary, the correspondence isn’t between Noah and Adam but between Noah and God, just as it is when God gave to Noah the authority to carry out the death penalty.

There’s progress here: Noah is greater than Adam because he does things that God alone did before.  God planted the Garden in Eden, but Noah now images God by planting this vineyard.  Adam was not the one who judged Cain; God was.  But Noah judges his sons.  Adam was not allowed to put Cain to death;  God reserved that right for himself.  But Noah is now authorized to administer the death-penalty. 

In fact, far from being a story about Noah’s Adam-like fall, this is the story of the authority, threatened but maintained, of a faithful ruler.  Noah is one of the “gods,” a term Psalm 82 uses for judges, because, when his “sabbath” rest is disturbed by a serpent in his vineyard and in his tent, he, like God in Genesis 3, curses the serpent and his seed and blesses his faithful sons.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:01 am | Discuss (0)

Leave a Reply