Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Why Doesn't Noah Have More Children after the Flood?

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Why Doesn't Noah Have More Children after the Flood?

Article excerpt


While the narrative of Noah is most famous for the account of the Flood and the resulting destruction of life on Earth, it also tells the story of the world's repopulation afterwards. With only four men left in the universe to contribute to that critical mission, why doesn't Noah himself participate?

It is tempting, instinctively, to try to dismiss this question out of hand, by pointing to Noah's extremely advanced age at the time as reported in the Biblical narrative. Who can imagine a 601 year-old fathering a child? This is not just unthinkable today, when the average lifespan is under 100; the Bible records no such precedents prior to the Flood, when people were living many times as long, and it explicitly cites just one person during that period, (1) as having children at anywhere near that age.

On the other hand, that person was Noah himself, who first became a parent at 500 (Gen. 5:32). Perhaps Noah, who had already exhibited fertility at a very old age, was a unique exception. Moreover, it is possible that others in the prediluvian era also had offspring that late. In particular, with respect to Noah's direct ancestors back to Adam, each of whom (except Hanokh) lived well beyond age 600, the Torah states (Gen. 5:1-31) that they had additional children after their first--leaving open the possibility, at least, that some became fathers again around or after that age.

Although at first glance it seems reasonable to say that Noah was "just too old" to have children at that time, this position becomes hard to defend when considering the point in the broader context of the narrative. As the text makes clear, God expects Noah to procreate again.


In Genesis 6:10 we are told (again; see 5:32) that Noah has three sons. He is then commanded to build the Ark because of the coming Flood, and is instructed to enter that Ark with his family: 'But I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee' (Gen. 6:18). Note the separation of genders--Noah is to go in together with his sons; his wife, together with her daughters-in-law. And, this is indeed what they do: And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood (Gen. 7:7).

The Rabbis inferred from here that marital relations were prohibited on the Ark, as we see from Rashi to Genesis 6:18 (per Bereishit Rabbah 31:12)--"'... thou, and thy sons, and thy wife'--The men and women separate, from which it is apparent that conjugal relations were prohibited."

By contrast, after the Flood, Noah and his family are instructed to exit the Ark as couples: 'Go forth from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee' (Gen. 8:16). The implication is that marital relations were to be permitted again upon disembarking. Surprisingly, however, when they leave the Ark two verses later, the genders remain separate: And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him (Gen. 8:18).

Perhaps Noah was influenced by what occurred in the intervening verse, in which God gives a blessing (command?) for procreation--but only to the birds and animals, not the people: 'Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee of all flesh, both fowl, and cattle, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may swarm in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth' (Gen. 8:17). Noah may have thought, by implication, that this requirement did not (yet) apply to humans.

All doubt should have been removed, however, when, two verses later God gives the instruction to procreate (Pru Urvu) to people as well: And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth' (Gen. 9:1). It is important to note here that, in this verse, Noah personally is explicitly singled out by name--making this a direct command to him as well. …

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