Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

Noah and the Flood

Nephilim. I am not going to enter the debate over the meaning of Nephilim, I will simply state the main issues behind Nephilim, and my interpretation.

The problem with Nephilim is that it is only used in two verses (Gen 6:4 and Num. 13:34) with no solid meaning given. In the LXX the word is translated as γίγαντος (gigantos) which means large or mighty; the Hebrew word, likewise, has no easy translation. Many Biblical translations leave the word as Nephilim.

Gen 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.

In Genesis Nephilim is linked to the term “sons of God”, who are having intercourse with “the daughters of men”. Is this a statement that angels were interbreeding with humans? There is much controversy over this concept, and it seems to be because of this interrelationship that God cuts man’s lifespan to 120 years. It is also stated that the Nephilim were the “heroes of old”. Many theories on these two paragraphs exist, with no real resolution.*

Part of the problem is the sentence “These were the mighty men…”, does it refer to the Nephilim or to their sons? If you think the latter, then you enter into the controversy of who the Nephilim were. In my opinion the “mighty men” were the Nephilim.

“Heroes of old”, “sons of God”, “giants”, I think all of these terms can be resolved with an understanding of the culture at the time of, and before, Abram. In my opinon scholars are over thinking this passage, if we take a simpler approach the answer becomes apparent. “Heroes of old” gives us the clue, these were the legendary people from Mesopotamia’s past (Gilgamesh, Hammurabi, etc.) – Abram’s cultural past – that achieved almost godlike status. And, in a culture where gods and men were more closely linked (pharaohs were considered gods), the concept of children from the mating of heavenly and earthly creatures is not too difficult to picture (Gilgamesh was believed to be part god).

That is the end of my tretise on Nephilim. Unless we find it in some lost, related text, the true meaning will never be divined.

 

We now reach the end of the pre-Abram section of Genesis – Noah and the flood. This marks the end of everything before Abram is called by God to be the Patriarch of God’s people, Israel. Following the tale is a long list of generations detailing the origins of the people on the earth.

So, the Great Flood. There are a lot of misconceptions about just what the flood is, how vast it was, and how long it lasted. These misconceptions come from a literal interpretation of the tale, instead of an insghtful one, one that understands the people and the times.

First, look at the numbers, they carry significance beyond their obvious values, which is why they should not be taken literally:

  • 40 – the flood lasts 40 days; 40 days after resting in the mountains of Ararat Noah starts looking for signs of dry land. 40 is a time of testing and judgement, not meant to be taken as 40. Israel spen5 40 years wandering the desert, Jesus spent 40 day in meditation. What is being said here is that Noah spent a long time on his journey.
  • 150 – it takes 150 days after the end of the raid before the Ark settles. 15 is the number of rest: The 15th day of the first Hebrew month (Nisan) is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a day of rest for the children of Israel (and for Christians). The 15th day of the 7th Hebrew month begins the Feast of Tabernacles, also a day of rest. 10 is the number of fullness, or completion: 10 commandments (no more or less); 10 plagues of Egypt; 10 generations between Noah and Abram. So, this is a time of complete rest for Noah (15 x 10).
  • 84- it is 84 days between when the ark comes to rest and Noah can see the peaks of the mountains. 84 is 7 x 12. Both numbers represent perfection in the Bible. God made the earth in 7 days, we are told to forgive 70 x 7 times; Revelation speask of 7 churches and 7 angels. 12 is also perfection, there are 12 tribes of Israel, Christ chose 12 apostles, in Revelation the church wears a crown with 12 stars.

 

Ararat. People look at the phrase that the ark settled in the “Mountains of Ararat” and make the assumption that it must be on the top of the mountains. This is a very confusing passage. It says that the ark rested in the Mountains of Ararat (not the peak), but that it took 84 days before Noah could see the peaks of the mountains (from 17 Tishrei to 1 Tevet). Ever been out after a heavy rain on a hot day? Mist comes up from the grounds. With heavy cloud cover it can take a long time before you see the peaks of mountains, especially if you are at the foothills of those mountains. The higher up you are, the sooner you will see the peaks.

Birds. I believe the birds confirm my theory about the heavy mist. If it were clear then all Noah would have to do to see if it was safe to leave was to look out and see if the ground was visible. Even high up in a mountain you can see the valley below. But, if the land were covered with a heavy fog you would need some other method to determine if the waters were truly gone. Maximum flying height for a raven is 5,000 feet, Ararat is 16,400 feet, doves tend to stay at no more than 300 feet, the raven never returned, two weeks later the dove did not return. Additional reasons why I do not feel we are dealing with great heights here.

 

I had great difficulty with this passage (which is why it took so long), because it is such a beloved story among people of many faiths. I see this as a lesson of man’s continued disobedience to God, a moral lesson, more than one of actual fact. Like Jonah and the whale, and Adam and Eve, it is to tell that there are consequences when man goes against God’s desire for how we are to live and treat other people. Over and over again in the Bible God tells us how he envisioned us to live with each other, finally deciding that the only way to deliver the message was to do it personally, in the lesson Jesus tried to teach (repeatedly): “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than this.”

I conclude this exegesis of pre-Abramic Genesis with the words Jesus gave to the lawyer, “go now and do likewise.”

 

* http://www.theology.edu/theology/angel.htm

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