Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Genesis 6-9: God Poureth Forth Mighty Wrath, Noah Poureth Out Strong Wine

I don't bother overmuch with those who maintain there is ample scientific evidence for a truly global inundation, because doing science means following the evidence to conclusions rather than dragging the evidence along to wherever you were hoping to arrive. That said, what we have here is a mythic parable about the wrath and power and mercy of God. The key passage is this: "And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark." If we had to define the term "overkill" using only one ancient myth, this story would be the way to go.

I've always wondered why a putative God would use a natural disaster to get His message across. I mean, wouldn't it be quicker and easier just to magically kill all the offending humans, as God allegedly did with the miserly and dishonest Ananias and Sapphira? Surely the use of a global flood (whether metaphorical or literal) sort of sets the unfortunate precedent that any given massive natural disaster will be assumed to be divine retribution? For that matter, why not just zap all the offending humans into nonexistence and leave the animals alone?

Now this is a more-or-less universally familiar story, at least up to Gen 9:17, wherein God promises never again to destroy all life with water, and provides the rainbow as a symbol of his friendship with men. Presumably, though, the Lord has an infinitude of other means at His disposal (including everything listed in Death From the Skies) and thus this covenant ought not be particularly reassuring to the theologically inclined.

After this point in the story, things get a bit more obscure and obscene. You have to read this bit for yourself or else you'll think I'm just making it up:

And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

So Noah goes to a great deal of personal effort to make a bit of wine (this is the guy who built the entire Ark after all) and then he overindulges and finds himself laying around naked in his tent. I'm not saying anything negative about Noah here. It's his tent, after all, and it's not as if we Americans never lay around the house naked drinking wine. Evidently, though, the ancient Hebrews considered nakedness to be a Very Big Deal, so much so that Noah immediately curses his grandson (who was nowhere on the scene during this story) when he discovers that his grandson's father has seen him naked. Maybe it's because Noah is more than 600 years old by this point, and his body hasn't held up so well over the centuries. Maybe it's because the authors of the book wanted to dishonor the Canaanites early on in the narrative. Either way, it seems a bit extreme to lay down a perpetual curse upon so many tribes on such a *ahem* flaccid pretext as one's own nakedness, exposed entirely by accident, to someone other than the object said curse.

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