Genesis 9 – Covenants and Curses
Yahweh blesses Noah and his sons for the enormity of the task they have completed and the kickass cookout they organized afterwards, and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. One gets the sense that they wouldn’t get too far along in this endeavor if Noah and his sons were indeed the last people left on earth, but this isn’t the first nor the last time god left out consideration for women.
All the animals on earth are now to fear them (presumably their descendants as well, this being an etiological myth) and “every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you.” My retcon precognition alarm is going off. Aren’t there some very specific instructions later on how to eat Kosher? Something about pork and shellfish? At least here Yahweh draws the line at drinking blood. None of that unnatural pagan vampirism in god’s house!
Subsequently, we get our first real decree of morality in the bible when god tells them not to hurt or kill people! Except he actually says to shed the blood of those who shed others’ blood, which is a lot closer to “an eye for an eye” than any of that turn-the-other-cheek hippie Jesus stuff we see later on. Sounds more like a product of the culture and times than any sort of divine inspiration, especially considering that even the oldest parts of the Torah were written only well after the code of Hammurabi.
Speaking of inspiration, how exactly is Yahweh talking to Noah here? In other places in the bible it notes rather meticulously how god appeared in the form of a burning bush or whatnot, but here we only get the sense that he’s speaking to the humans directly and without mediation. Considering how convoluted the ancient and modern efforts at interpreting god’s will through obscure and supposedly cryptic events, I know plenty of Christians who’d be jealous to note such direct revelation.
The promise to never flood the earth again is made and god’s bow set in the cloud to mark this promise. An intriguing thing to note here is that the rainbow isn’t placed in the sky in order to reassure human beings that god won’t flood the earth again to purge all life. One might be understandably concerned about that when seeing stormy clouds in the sky, especially not understanding meteorology as well as we do today (all weatherman jokes aside).
No, the rainbow is hung up in the sky in order to remind Yahweh not to kill everything in a massive flood again, as if it’s some massive nuclear missile launch button he might accidentally hit his elbow on or smash in a rage. Personally I find myself substantially less reassured that god has to place a multicolored rubber band in the sky as a mnemonic to snap against his wrist to remind himself not to commit genocide. It doesn’t inspire the firmest confidence in his character.
This of course leads, tangentially, to some questions about optics as well. Rainbows only appear in the sky at 42 degrees opposite the sun, because light is refracted inside raindrops, reflected, then refracted again, separating out the wavelengths of light. Does this mean that the laws of optics and light were different before this? Did all electromagnetic waves travel at the same speed through all mediums? Did refraction simply not exist?
So what happens when the sun is too high in the sky and the rainbow effectively appears beyond the horizon? What happens when it’s raining at nighttime? What about when the sun itself is covered by clouds? That’s a pretty big loophole! Surely there’s been ample opportunity where clouds are in the sky but rainbows haven’t appeared for a long enough period to allow Yahweh to flood the earth?
I suppose we’re just lucky that people just haven’t drunk enough blood to move him to an extinction event yet.
We get a massive gear change and find that Noah has planted a vineyard and gotten drunk off of his crops. Bravo to you, sir, for keeping that knowledge alive. While I certainly believe you have earned the right to celebrate, I must submit that I hope you planted some additional, more practical crops.
On a side note, I was told by my church growing up that one should never despair of one’s failings and character flaws, because “Noah was a drunk, and look at what he accomplished.” It is a somewhat morose yet hilarious idea to imagine an inebriated 600 year old man sloshing about the bowels of his ship while the rest of his family are desperately trying to keep all the animals from starving to death, but it doesn’t really have any textual basis. The bible talks about one time he got drunk and passed out, and if that’s enough to convict someone as an alcoholic then I’m sure most of us have some meetings to attend.
Although, he did plant himself a vineyard, and with everybody else on the planet dead the implications are unflattering…
Ham wanders in and sees his father naked, and his brothers grab a blanket to cover him and walk backwards into the tent to avoid seeing . . . anything. Does Noah wake up later and shake off his embarrassment at drinking too much and thank his sons for helping him out, like any rational and loving father?
He somehow knows what Ham did even though he was unconscious, and then curses the son of the son who saw him naked to be the servant of the sons who covered him up. I’m just going to throw this out there: how were Shem and Japheth to know to cover him up if Ham hadn’t wandered in and stumbled upon his naked, passed-out father? Was the crime that he invaded the sanctity of his father’s tent? Perhaps he was just checking to see if the old man was okay. It’s not as if the bible says he mocked his father, just that he told his brothers.
I get the feeling that there’s some real cultural sacrosanct norms that just aren’t translating here.
Nevertheless, we still have the gem here that Noah curses Canaan for the mistakes of his father. I suppose this is par for the course in this book of the bible, but not just by any definition of the word.
Yet again we see the specter of white supremacy rearing it’s brainless head due to this chapter, as those who gave up on the the idea that Africans were destined to be slaves due to Cain’s curse (perhaps due to the already-mentioned extinction of his bloodline) adopt this passage instead to justify their ideas about inherited servitude that of course have no roots in European feudalism. The only people who are slaves are the ones god wants to be slaves.
The question must be asked: where the hell would Noah get the power to curse someone, let alone in a fashion that significantly altered their genome? Are we saying that Noah’s a wizard now? Does he get magical drunky powers? A dipsomancer well before his time…
Nevertheless, the sky wizard hasn’t lent his power to anyone yet (I believe Moses is the earliest example of this), so this notion of Noah’s curse holding any literal weight in physical reality and the nature of that reality being racial is supported nowhere in the text. It’s just another sad example of people interpreting the bible to support their own ignorant prejudices.
Then again, there’s so much crazy shit in this book that it could be construed to justify just about anything. Nothing scarier than confirmation bias when you think you’ve got the power of the Almighty behind you.