Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Noah, the son of Lamech (Gen. 5:28-29); the grandson of Methuselah; and the ninth descendant from Adam via Seth. The story of Noah is found in Gen. 6-9. His birth is the first recorded after Adam’s death. Noah and his household are the sole human survivors of the Flood, which God brought upon the world to punish human sin. Noah, sole righteous man of his era (5:9; 7:6; cf. 6:8), was chosen, with his entourage, to perpetuate life on earth.

According to the account attributed to the Priestly author (P), Noah was commanded to build an ark and take along male and female pairs of every terrestrial and flying species (6:19-20), while according to the so-called Yahwistic account (J), Noah was commanded to take along seven pairs of clean animals and flying species, but only two pairs of unclean animals (7:2-3). All remaining nonaquatic life perished when God loosed heavenly and subterranean waters for forty days and forty nights (7:11-23). Noah’s ark floated for ten months, alighting atop the Armenian mountains of Ararat—Babylonian Urartu (7:14-8:5). After sending a raven (unsuccessfully) and a dove (successfully) to scout the area, Noah emerged with his family onto land, performed sacrifices, and received God’s (here Yahweh’s) promise not to send more floods (8:15-22). A rainbow appeared as sign of God’s new covenant with humankind, and Noah received laws prohibiting bloodshed and consuming of lifeblood (9:1-17 [P]). As the first man to plan a vineyard, Noah grew drunk one day and was seen naked by his son Ham. Ham’s brothers Shem and Japheth averted their eyes and covered their father. Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan for his indiscretion, condemning him to serve his brothers (9:18-27). The transfer of the curse to Canaan presumably reflects a later attempt to justify the dominion over the Canaanite sphere by the Hebrew descendants of Shem. Remarkably, the blessing and curse in 9:26-27 is Noah’s sole utterance throughout the story.

The story is skillfully woven from two sources. The Yahwistic (J) source prefers the divine name ‘Yahweh,’ a ready-made ark, a forty-day flood (with forty days between the ark’s alighting and its unsealing), and an emotionally expressive deity. The Priestly (P) source prefers the name ‘God,’ shows Noah commanded to build the ark to specific dimensions, depicts a 150-day flood (and 150-day ebbing) and a dispassionate, legally minded deity. The vineyard episode is a tradition originally unrelated to the Flood. The overall story is symmetrical, centering on expansion and recession of the waters. Noah, shown midway between nomadic and agriculturalist existence, echoes the thematic concerns and biases of the Cain and Abel story (Gen. 4:2-16), among others.

Noah’s nearest ancient Near Eastern parallel is the Babylonian Utanapishtim, who recounts to Gilgamesh (Gilgamesh Tab. 11) experiences of a great flood that remarkably resemble Noah’s. Unlike Noah, Utanapishtim obtains immortality. Noah is mentioned alongside Job and Daniel in Ezek. 14:14 as one famed for righteousness.

Noah is mentioned several times in the nt (e.g., Matt. 24:27-28; Luke 3:36; Heb. 11:7). 1 Peter compares Noah’s deliverance from flood waters to the deliverance from sin through Christian baptism (3:20-21).


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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