THE ANIMALS OF NOAHS ARK
The analysis of the chronology of the Deluge helps in explaining the contradictory statements of Genesis about the number of the animals in the Ark.
By one formulation (7:2,3) the animals were in 7 pairs male and female in the case of clean animals and single pairs in the case of unclean ones. By the other formulation (7:8,9) the animals were all in pairs, male and female.
The followers of the documentary theory solve the difficulty merely by ascribing the first formulation to J and the second to P; but this does not explain why the redactors should have left this patent contradiction stand.
That some redactor or editor was concerned with the contradiction is indicated by the formula used in 7:9 and 7:15. These verses have the purpose of explaining in general that every sort of animal was represented in the Ark; then, in order to take into account the two formulations about the number of animals, there was added a sentence with a phrase that is usually translated as "two by two" but in Hebrew reads "in each case two," which may be understood as a compromise expression meaning "at least two."
The fact that two patently contradictory formulations were let to stand in the text must be related to the fact that two contradictory formulations of the chronology were placed next to each other in the text. The 7 pairs must be related to the flood lasting 40 days and the single pairs to the flood lasting 150 + 150 days.
Nobody has tried to explain the number of 7 pairs, whereas this is the kingpin of the entire problem. >From what I have explained it is clear that this number is related to the chronology.
In the Mesopotamian version the staying in the Ark lasted 14 days, divided into two periods of 7 days. These figures, being the key to the structure of the cosmos, were echoed in the process of repopulation of the earth after the flood.
In the Babylonian Epic Atrahasis, after the Deluge the goddess Ea, in order to repopulate the earth, takes a brick (which possibly suggests the shape of the Ark, and in any case constitutes a basic building element of the cosmos) and, with clay, shapes 7 wombs on its right side and 7 wombs on its left side. One set of wombs generated men and the other set generated women. There are lines in the Atarhasis Epic that relate how this episode gave origin to a ritual performed to help delivery: the brick should lie for 7 days in the house of the bearing woman.
This aspect of the Mesopotamian tradition has its counterpart in the story of the Deluge told by the Alfors of the island of Ceram, one of the Moluccas. After the flood the mountain Noesake appeared above the water, its slopes covered by trees with leaves shaped like wombs. Only three persons survived on top of the mountain, but the sea-eagle brought them the news that other peaks had emerged from the water. The three persons went there and by means of the leaves repopulated the world.
In order to explain the biblical version it must be kept in mind that in our text of Genesis the information about the animals is placed at the beginning of the narrative, but it is related to the repopulation after the flood, as stressed in 7:3, "in order to keep seed alive." I have shown that the biblical narrative had to modify the pattern of 7 + 7 days of the Mesopotamian version because of different systems of measures among the Hebrews, but that it tried to preserve it as much as possible. For this reason the number of the animals was said to be "seven seven"; this expression of the Hebrew text is understood by modern interpreters as meaning "seven pairs." Actually, if one compares the use of this Hebrew idiom in other passages, "seven seven" could be interpreted as "seven of each kind," but here it must have meant 7 + 7, without any references to pairing or to male and female. Just because "seven seven" could be ambiguous in Hebrew, a later hand added "male and female" in accordance with the other formulation.
The arranging of the animals in pairs, male and female, fits the duration of the flood as two balanced periods of 150 days each.
A later hand tried to reconcile the two formulations by introducing the distinction made by Deuteronomy between clean and unclean animals: the clean animals come in 7 pairs, male and female, and the unclean animals come in single pairs. This hand probably also had the intention of giving further authority to the strict ritualistic rules about unclean animals.
The pairing of the animals as male and female had also the purpose of obliterating versions in which the reproduction of humans and animals took place by processes other than normal sex, according to the restrictive definition of normal sex developed by the Hebrew religion. The Midrashim and the Talmud expatiate on the sex life inside the Ark; they leave the impression that the Ark was a boatful of sex problems; this is due to the fact that there was a background of traditions that had to be disposed of since they were no longer religiously acceptable.
>From the anecdotes told by the Midrashim and the Talmud it can be inferred that there were two traditions of totemic nature, one that the raven impregnated the females with its beak and the other that the earth was repopulated by the three birds, the raven, the swallow, and the dove.
Very revealing is a story that the raven objected to being sent out first instead of the dove, with the argument that he should not take the greater risk involved in the first flight since he was the only male specimen of its kind, whereas there were seven male doves. The he-raven accused Noah of planning to have intercourse with the bereft she-raven and was cursed by Noah for this accusation. The story must be understood as an effort to explain why the order of the flights in the biblical version was the opposite of that reported in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It could be that in the biblical tradition, too, there were originally three birds which went out in the order related in the Epic of Gilgamesh. As I have suggested earlier,(106)
The reduction of the birds to two and the placing of the dove in a pre-eminent position, may have been determined by the distinction between clean and unclean animals legislated by Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 14:14 the raven is specifically listed among the unclean birds.
It can be surmised that originally the fathers of the post-diluvial generations were not the three sons of Noah, but the three birds. We are told that Noah prohibited sexual intercourse in the Ark, but his command was violated by the raven and by Ham. The raven impregnated sundry animals because of his lechery, whereas Ham had intercourse with his wife in order to cover up the fact that she was pregnant, not by him. The raven was punished by being caused to impregnate females with his beak, whereas Ham was punished by being turned black. But the one who was turned black obviously was not Ham but the raven, who according to Greek mythology was turned from white to black by Apollo for having refused to pluck the eyes of his rival Ischys. According to Proverbs 30:31 the raven plucks the eyes of him who mocks his father. In turn, according to Genesis 9:22-25, Ham was cursed for having looked upon the nakedness of his father; it has been pointed out that "to look upon the nakedness" means to have sexual intercourse (cf. Lev. 20:17; Ezk. 16:37). This, in turn, fits with the story that the he-raven accused Noah of wishing to have sexual intercourse with the she-raven and was cursed for this.
The three birds must have been the ancestors of mankind, instead of the three sons of Noah. It could be that the dove was the ancestor of the Israelites, since in Psalm 74:19 Israel is called Yahweh's dove; one may also mention that in Isaiah 60:8 and Hosea 11:11 the return of the Israelites to the restored Israel is described as a return of doves to their cotes. With the development of the Hebrew religion these totemic conceptions were blotted out; but they were better preserved in the case of the raven in order to keep alive the account of the curse upon the descendants of the raven, the Canaanites, the mortal enemies of the Hebrews.
In Genesis 9:20-27 the account of the origin of the three stems of mankind has been truncated, except for what concerns the curse on the descendants of Ham. This account was replaced by the account of chapter 10 in which all the mythological material has been eliminated and replaced by a learned ethnographic survey, which some modern scholars have found amazingly sound.
The fragments of information that I have listed individually shed only a dim flicker of light, but put together they reveal the outline of an archaic version of the biblical Deluge story which, among the scores of Deluge stories spread through the world, has the greatest similarity with the one told by the Jibaros. This is an Indian tribe that lives as isolated from the centers of civilization as one can be, being in the very upper course of the Amazon river. According to one version of the tale, the flood was survived by a man and his two sons who repopulated the earth; one of the two sons was cursed by his father and was the ancestor of the Jibaros. This version has been suspected of having been influenced by missionaries. The other, which cannot be so suspected, tells that after the flood had subsided the two brothers went in search of food and upon returning to their hut found a meal prepared for them (compare the story of the ravens bringing food to Elijah in I Ki. 17:4-6). In order to clear the mystery one of the brothers concealed himself and saw two parrots with faces of women (parrots, like ravens, are birds that can speak) preparing a meal; he seized one of the birds and from this relationship were born three boys and three girls, the ancestors of the Jibaros.