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Noah

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[Hebrew Nôah, "rest"; Greek Noah; Latin Noah].

The ninth patriarch of the Sethite line, grandson of Mathusala and son of Lamech, who with his family was saved from the Deluge and thus became the second father of the human race (Genesis 5:25-9:29).

The name Noah was give to him because of his father's expectation regarding him. "This same", said Lamech on naming him, "shall comfort us from the works and labours of our hands on [or more correctly "from", i.e. "which come from"] the earth, which the Lord hath cursed." Most commentators consider Lamech's words as an expression of a hope, or as a prophecy, that the child would in some way be instrumental in removing the curse pronounced against Adam (Genesis 3:17 sqq.). Others rather fancifully see in them a reference to Noah's future discovery of wine, which cheers the heart of man; whilst others again, with greater probability, take them as expressing merely a natural hope on the part of Lamech that his son would become the support and comfort of his parents, and enable them to enjoy rest and peace in their later years.

Amid the general corruption which resulted from the marriages of "the sons of God" with "the daughters of men" (Genesis 6:2 sqq.), that is of the Sethites with the Cainite women, "Noah was a just and perfect man in his generations" and "walked with God" (6:9). Hence, when God decreed to destroy men from the face of the earth, he "found grace before the Lord". According to the common interpretation of Genesis 6:3, Noah first received divine warning of the impending destruction one hundred and twenty years before it occurred, and therefore when he was four hundred and eighty years old (cf. 7:11); he does not seem, however, to have received at this time any details as to the nature of the catastrophe.

After he reached the age of five hundred years three sons, Sem, Cham, and Japheth, were born to him (6:10). These had grown to manhood and had taken wives, when Noah was informed of God's intention to destroy men by a flood, and received directions to build an ark in which he and his wife, his sons and their wives, and representatives, male and female, of the various kinds of animals and birds, were to be saved (6:13-21). How long before the Deluge this revelation was imparted to him, it is impossible to say; it can hardly have been more than seventy-five years (cf. 7:11), and probably was considerably less.

Noah had announced the impending judgement and had exhorted to repentance (2 Peter 2:5), but no heed was given to his words (Matthew 24:37 sqq.; Luke 17:26, 27; 1 Peter 3:20), and, when the fatal time arrived, no one except Noah's immediate family found refuge in the ark. Seven days before the waters began to cover the earth, Noah was commanded to enter the ark with his wife, his three sons and their wives, and to take with him seven pairs of all clean, and two pairs of all unclean animals and birds (7:1-4). It has been objected that, even though the most liberal value is allowed for the cubit, the ark would have been too small to lodge at least two pairs of every species of animal and bird. But there can be no difficulty if, as is now generally admitted, the Deluge was not geographically universal (see DELUGE; ARK).

After leaving the ark Noah built an altar, and taking of all clean animals and birds, offered holocausts upon it. God accepted the sacrifice, and made a covenant with Noah, and through him with all mankind, that He would not waste the earth or destroy man by another deluge. The rainbow would for all times be a sign and a reminder of this covenant. He further renewed the blessing which He had pronounced on Adam (Genesis 1:28), and confirmed the dominion over animals which He had granted to man. In virtue of this dominion man may use animals for food, but the flesh may not be eaten with the blood (8:20-9:17).

Noah now gave himself to agriculture, and planted a vineyard. Being unacquainted with the effects of fermented grape-juice, he drank of it too freely and was made drunk. Cham found his father lying naked in his tent, and made a jest of his condition before his brothers; these reverently covered him with a mantle. On hearing of the occurrence Noah cursed Chanaan, as Cham's heir, and blessed Sem and Japheth.

He lived three hundred and fifty years after the Deluge, and died at the age of nine hundred and fifty years (9:20-29). In the later books of Scripture Noah is represented as the model of the just man (Sirach 44:17; Ezekiel 14:14, 20), and as an exemplar of faith (Hebrews 11:7). In the Fathers and tradition he is considered as the type and figure of the Saviour, because through him the human race was saved from destruction and reconciled with God (Ecclus., 44:17,18). Moreover, as he built the ark, the only means of salvation from the Deluge, so Christ established the Church, the only means of salvation in the spiritual order.

The Babylonian account of the Deluge in many points closely resembles that of the Bible. Four cuneiform recensions of it have been discovered, of which, however, three are only short fragments. The complete story is found in the Gilgamesh epic (Tablet 11) discovered by G. Smith among the ruins of the library of Assurbanipal in 1872. Another version is given by Berosus. In the Gilgamesh poem the hero of the story is Ut-napishtim (or Sit-napishti, as some read it, surnamed Atra-hasis "the very clever"; in two of the fragments he is simply styled Atra-hasis, which name is also found in Berosus under the Greek form Xisuthros. The story in brief is as follows: A council of the gods having decreed to destroy men by a flood, the god Ea warns Ut-napishtim, and bids him build a ship in which to save himself and the seed of all kinds of life. Ut-napishtim builds the ship (of which, according to one version, Ea traces the plan on the ground), and places in it his family, his dependents, artisans, and domestic as well as wild animals, after which he shuts the door. The storm lasts six days; on the seventh the flood begins to subside. The ship steered by the helmsman Puzur-Bel lands on Mt. Nisir. After seven days Ut-napishtim sends forth a dove and a swallow, which, finding no resting-place for their feet return to the ark, and then a raven, which feeds on dead bodies and does not return. On leaving the ship, Ut-napishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods, who smell the godly odour and gather like flies over the sacrificer. He and his wife are then admitted among the gods. The story as given by Berosus comes somewhat nearer to the Biblical narrative. Because of the striking resemblances between the two many maintain that the Biblical account is derived from the Babylonian. But the differences are so many and so important that this view must be pronounced untenable. The Scriptural story is a parallel and independent form of a common tradition.


Sources

HUMMELAUER, Comm. in Gen. (Paris, 1895), 257 sqq.; HOBERG, Die Genesis (Freiburg, 1908), 74 sqq.; SELBST, Handbuch zur bibl. Gesch. (Freiburg, 1910), 200 sqq.; SKINNER, Critic. and Exeg. Comm. on Gen. (New York, 1910), 133 sqq.; DILLMANN, Genesis, tr., I (Edinburgh, 1897), 228 sqq.; DHORME, Textes religieux assyro-babyl. (Paris, 1907), 100 sqq.; VIGOUROUX, La bible et les decouv. mod., I (6th ed., Paris, 1896), 309 sqq.; SCHRADER, Die Keilinschrift. u. das A. T. (2nd ed., Giessen, 1882), 55 sqq.; JENSEN in SCHRADER, Keilinschriftl. Bibliothek, VI, i, (Berlin 1889-), 228 sqq.; VIGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bible, s. vv. Ararat, Arche, and Noe; HILPRECHT, The earliest version of the Babylonian deluge story (Philadelphia, 1910).

About this page

APA citation. Bechtel, F. (1911). Noah. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11088a.htm

MLA citation. Bechtel, Florentine. "Noah." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11088a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Sean Hyland.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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