The Medieval Popular Bible: Expansions of Genesis in the Middle Ages

By Brian Murdoch | Go to book overview

FOUR

NOAH: NAVIGATOR AND VINTNER

THE FOUR OR FIVE CHAPTERS of Genesis devoted to the story of Noah are probably amongst those even now most readily brought to mind, although memory of the Bible can be selective, especially if that memory dates from the nursery. In a recent study, The Biblical Flood, Davis Young notes quite rightly that 'most of us envision a long, orderly parade of animals marching up a ramp into the ark under the watchful eye of Patriarch Noah, adorned with a long white beard and armed with a staff. The animals include, of course, elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, tigers and monkeys, and the ark is typically imagined as a stubby double-prowed ship with a large peak-roofed cabin on top.' 1 The animals went in two by two, as we are told in Genesis 6, except, of course, in Genesis 7, 2―3 that refers only to the unclean beasts, with seven (or seven pairs?) required of the clean beasts and of the birds. Noah is entitled, since he is biblically six hundred years old, to be patriarchal. But in spite of an extensive iconographic tradition, selectivity frequently filters out the last part of the narrative concerning Noah, involving the planting of vines and his drunken self-exposure. 2 Not only is the flood story in Genesis itself an amalgam from two sources, as linguistic analysis makes clear, 3 but there are two not intrinsically connected Noah stories, in the darker, second of which the survivor of the deluge is mocked by his son, whose descendants are cursed into servitude. An heroic escape by the just is followed immediately by a new breakdown in society, almost before it has started up again, and the hero of the flood the way in which Noah is recalled elsewhere in both Testaments 4is distinct from Noah the wine-maker. But he is also the progenitor of all the races of mankind, and as such a new Adam. Both stories are important, and they are received in different ways in the vernacular writings which go to make up the notional medieval popular Bible. The familiar name Noah may once again be retained here rather than the form Noe, used in the Vulgate (and occasionally in the Authorised Version), as may Shem, Ham and Japheth, although it should be

____________________
1
Davis A. Young, The Biblical Flood. A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 1.
2
Thus an attractively illustrated coffee-table book published in English as Great Biblical Characters includes Noah, with pictures (from Byzantine mosaics down to Michaelangelo) of the flood and the sacrifice, but leaves out the drunkenness: Corinne Bonnet and Paolo Cella, Le Guide Illustré des Grands Personnages de la Bible (Rome: Gremese, 1995); trans. Sandra Tokunaga as Great Biblical Characters (Rome: Gremese, 1996), pp. 24―31.
3
Ryle, Early Narratives, pp. 96―8 and 119―23; see more recently Claus Westermann, Genesis 1― 11 (Darmstadt: WBG, 1989), pp. 77―94.
4
The flood tale is far more frequently recollected elsewhere in the Bible: Isaiah 54, 9, Ezekiel 14, 14, Matthew 24, 36―9, Luke 17, 27, Hebrews 11, 7, I Peter 3, 20 and II Peter 2, 5.

-96-

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