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No doubt you've heard of it. We mean, come on. This story is portrayed on little babies' blankies. That's popularity for you. Not even Shakespeare gets that kind of attention. (Although how cool would that be?)
But when we take a closer look at the story, it's kind of, um, freaky. Sure, Noah is righteous and blameless and all, but he and his family together with the animals are the only ones spared from a cataclysmic, world-ending event. Plus, it's all about a deity who wipes clean the whole earth because it's been polluted with violence and blood (6:11-13). Try putting that on your baby's blanket.
We've already had two creation stories (remember way back to the beginning of Genesis), and now it's time for a third. First, the flood totally undoes creation, and then the deity re-creates. In case we didn't catch it ourselves, the narrator helps us out, recalling the language and cosmic architecture of the first creation story (1:1-2:4). Check out the parallels:
If this is the next creation story, that means Noah is kind of a second Adam. But this time, God lays down some ground rules in order to take advantage of the fresh start and avoid a repeat. Here are some of the rules:
First, everyone's supposed make babies—humans and animals alike—and humankind is in charge of the animal kingdom (9:1-4). Both of these orders make us think of the sixth day of creation, when God issues these identical instructions (1:28-30). Just one difference: this time, humans are supposed to avoid eating blood. Second, God puts the kibosh on murder by establishing the principle of life for life. Kill and be killed (9:5-7). Basically, he's trying to prevent the violence that ruined the earth in the first place (6:12-13).
All of these rules make up the very first human-God covenant (9:11). As long as Noah abides by the rules, God promises not to destroy the earth by flood ever again. We'd dare you to find more examples of covenants in Genesis, but it might just be too easy.
There's a first for everything, and that includes getting blackout drunk and passing out in your tent naked. The cartoons usually leave this part out, but Noah's the first person to do just that.
As the story unfolds, Noah's second-born son Ham walks in and sees his father in the buff (ugh) while his other two sons walk into the tent backwards to avoid looking and lay a cloak over him. Apparently covering him up was the right move, because Noah proceeds to curse Ham's son Canaan. And sure enough, Canaan's descendants will be big-time enemies for Israel.
But it's worth asking what exactly Ham did wrong. The narrator writes simply that Ham "saw the nakedness of his father, and told his brothers outside" (9:22 NRSV). Is seeing your father naked the big no-no? Or is it that he told his brothers? Or did Ham do something more than look? This may be one of those irretrievable gaps that are so frequent in biblical narrative, but it hasn't stopped people from speculating for years.
One last thing. The whole Ham fiasco is distinct in Genesis, because usually, the second or later born sons are favored by God and/or their fathers. Just think of Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Joseph over his older brothers. Ham breaks this pattern, getting the short end of the stick while Noah's firstborn Shem is the ancestor of Abraham (11:10-32).
Bottom line: he's a guy worth thinking about.