Understanding Noah's Flood
Dr. Barry Bandstra, Religion
Noah’s Flood was one of the first stories we learned as children. From being the subject of hundreds of Western art pieces to a recent Russell Crowe movie, it has been one of the most popular stories throughout the ages. But, what does it mean? When we look closely at the text, we find Noah’s flood story is a composite of two different flood stories: One from the Jahwist source document and the other from the Priestly. Using the best of modern scholarship to place the stories within their original context, we can understand what they meant to their original audience. My research shows that the Jahwist flood story was both a theological statement about the Israelite God and a familiar story to help the Israelites understand their origins and place in the world. On the other hand, we found the Priestly flood story was a proxy for the diasporatic Israelite people. They saw themselves in the text. They identified with Noah’s struggles and hoped God would remember them too and restore them into a new Israel. Without realizing what these documents each meant in their own contexts to their intended audience, we could never hope to truly understand Noah’s flood. And once we do, this ancient story reaches through the millennia and reveals a facet of truth about ourselves, our world, and our God that we would have otherwise missed.
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