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NOAH AND THE VINEYARD

1. The conclusion that there was an early version of the biblical presentation according to which the earth was repopulated by the three birds, helps in solving the riddle of the reference to Noah as the planter of a vineyard.

Verse 9:19 reads, "These were the three sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled." Then there follows a verse of which the literal translation is, "Noah, the man of the soil, began and planted a vineyard." >From the earliest times translators have read into this verse something more than it does contain.

The Vulgate translates, "And Noah, a man of farming, began to cultivate the earth and planted a vineyard." This translation has been followed by the King James' Bible and by the RSV which reads, "Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard." According to these translations Noah would have been the first farmer. This interpretation raises an entire series of difficulties, of which the most obvious one is that in Genesis 4:2 Cain is described as the representative of farming in opposition to Abel, the shepherd.

In modern times there has been called to attention the fact that the Hebrew text does not refer to Noah as "|a| man of the soil," but as "|the| man of the soil" with the definite article. Hermann Gunkel understood the verse in question as, "And Noah, the husbandman, was the first to plant a vineyard." This interpretation has been accepted halfway by authoritative commentators such as Skinner and Speiser, and by some of the most recent translations, such as the New English Bible ("Noah, a man of the soil, began the planting of vineyards") and the New American Bible ("Now Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard"). These translations have the apparent advantage of reducing the role of Noah to that of the founder of viticulture and the inventor of wine. They do not solve the problem presented by the Hebrew text, which reads "the man of the soil," and they distort the meaning of the second part of the verse which reads literally: "began and planted a vineyard." According to Hebrew idiom, these words may mean "began to plant a vineyard," "began by planting a vineyard," or possibly "as a first thing planted a vineyard," but cannot mean "was the first to plant a vineyard."

The statement that "Noah, the husbandman, began by planting a vineyard," has created difficulty not only for theologians, who are interested in the ethical meaning of Noah's story, but also for critical interpreters who cannot explain how a specific aspect of cultural achievement was introduced into the narrative of the Deluge.

The translations that make Noah into the founder of viticulture have been influenced by the anthropological school of biblical interpretation which has seen a similarity between Noah and the Greek god Dionysos, god and inventor of wine. This parallel must be rejected on several grounds, of which the most compelling is that Dionysos was not a god of wine. More recent investigations of the total Greek evidence have shown that Dionysos was the god of orgiastic festivals that followed the gathering of crops -- all crops, without any particular emphasis on grapes. The Greeks gradually came to associate Dionysos more specifically with the frenzied state of mind that developed in these orgies; wine played a role in the cult of this god only insofar as wine was a means for engendering a state of frenzy, music and dancing being however the more typical means.

Another major objection to the supposed similarity between Noah and Dionysos or any god of winegrowing or hero of the cultivation of wine, is that there is nothing in the biblical text except for the one verse in question, to support this similarity. Those who claim to discern this similarity are compelled to assume that there existed an entire body of tradition in which Noah appeared as a figure completely different from the Noah the hero of the Deluge. These traditions would have been completely eliminated by the compilers of Genesis, except for one single echo.

The assumption that there existed a lost cycle of legends about Noah as the hero of wine is propounded even by critical interpreters who do not subscribe overtly to the parallel between Noah and Dionysos, established by the anthropological school. Dillmann states:

Noah, the "husbandman," the beginner of wine culture, contrasts strongly with the righteous Noah, the hero of the Flood, and carries us into another cycle of legends, in which the subject treated is the history of inventions and the advance of culture.

Skinner expresses himself in similar terms:

Noah is introduced in an entirely new character, as the discoverer of the new culture of the vine. . . . The Noah of vv. 20-27 almost certainly comes from a different cycle of tradition from the righteous and blameless patriarch who is the hero of the Flood. The incident, indeed, cannot without violating all probability, be harmonized with the Flood-story.

These two followers of the documentary school must assume that some redactors of the text drew from a document different from that which provided the main body of the Deluge story, but admit that there is no difference in linguistic style between the episode of Noah the vinegrower and the J stratum of the Deluge story. Furthermore, it would be most peculiar, if another cycle of legends about Noah had indeed existed, that not one trace of it can be found in sources such as the Targums, the Midrashim, and the Talmud, which usually preserve traditions that were excluded from the received text of the Old Testament.

Dillmann is not correct in stating that the episode in question belongs to another cycle of legends; it is more correct to say that here the biblical version reflects more closely the Mesopotamian versions. According to the Epic of Gilgamesh the hero of the Deluge took "all the craftsmen" into the Ark. According to Berossos' report King Xisuthros (that is, Ziusudra) wrote down and buried "the beginning, middle, and end of all things" in order to recover them after the Deluge.

Since St. Jerome compiled the Vulgate translation, interpreters have created unnecessary difficulties for themselves: the biblical text can be explained without distorting its meaning in order to make Noah into the first farmer or the first winegrower. The Deluge meant a new cosmic order and specifically a new system of geographical coordinates. It was understood that this new system meant a new arrangement of the mountains, rivers, and the sky, which created conditions more favorable to agriculture; it was a way of suggesting that the new geodetic calculations were superior to the old ones. The farming activities of Noah were mentioned to indicate that under the new cosmic arrangement farming became easier and could be more successful. This is indicated also by Genesis 5:29:

And named him Noah, saying: "this one shall bring us relief from our work and the toil of our hands out of the ground which Yahweh has cursed."

The connection between farming and the cosmic order is made clear by the Quran in sura 71 ("Noah"). According to this sura Noah was instructed to warn mankind of the impending scourge, but people did not want to listen to him. He tried to persuade them by explaining all the benefits that could come to them after repentance:

Seek forgiveness of our Lord; he is ever forgiving. He will send down for you abundant rain from the sky, and he will help you with wealth and sons, and will provide you gardens with rivers. . . . See you not how Allah has created the seven heavens in stories and has made the moon a light therein and made the sun a lamp? And Allah has made you grow as a growth from the earth . . . and Allah has made for you the earth an expanse so that you may walk the valley-ways.

These verses of the Quran must be compared with Genesis 8:22:

As long as the earth lasts,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Summer and winter,
Day and night,
Shall not cease.

These lines of poetry inserted into the account of the covenant made with Noah after the Deluge indicate that the Deluge concerned the cosmic order and that the growth of crops was an essential part of it.

Recent interpreters should not have been bewildered by the mention of Noah as an agriculturist, since the recreation of vegetation as part of the new ordering of heaven and earth after the Deluge is mentioned in unambiguous terms in the preserved lines of the last column (Column VI) of the Sumerian account of the Deluge:

An and Enlil uttered "breath of heaven," "breath of earth" by their . . . it stretched itself, vegetation, coming up out of the earth, rises up.

A few lines below, the Sumerian hero of the Deluge, King Ziusudra, is described as:

The preserver of the name of vegetation and of the seed of mankind.

This line makes absolutely clear that the hero of the Deluge had to perform the function of preserving two aspects of the generative function, the reproduction of mankind and the art of agriculture. According to Genesis the Deluge meant a general improvement of the human condition, not only an ethical improvement. Dillmann properly makes this comment on Genesis 5:29: "Noah the man who is to begin a new epoch, and (by the grace of God) lead men to a better life." Using modern terms, we could say that the Deluge was a step in the march of progress, not only in human culture, but also in geophysical evolution. Speiser distorts the biblical philosophy of man and nature when, in order to explain the supposed mention of Noah as the first vinegrower, he suggests that the Deluge meant a return to the state of nature: "The Flood story then would stand out all the more as an awesome and elemental break in the progress of mankind." This is a notion that would occur only to people who live in an age influenced by the ideas of Rousseau.

2. The mention of Noah as "the farmer" does not hang loose in the narrative of the Deluge as an incongruous piece of information, as all interpreters have understood. But they are right in perceiving that there is something forced and disconnected in the episode of the vineyard: the reason for the lack of continuity in the episode of the vineyard is that this episode was used by the compilers of Genesis to introduce the curse of Ham which originally preceded, and did not follow, the flood. Speiser comments on 9:20: "Connecting passages can be puzzling precisely because they are meant to bridge gaps, and they are usually laconic." The gap, however, is not between the Deluge and the farming activity of Noah, but between the planting of the vineyard and the curse of Ham. The laconicity in question results from the circumstance that the report on Noah's farming was cut short in order to introduce the curse of Ham.

>From the Quran it can be gathered that originally the mocking of Noah by a son of his took place before the flood. According to the sura that gives the most detailed account of the Deluge, Noah was mocked by the chiefs of his people while he was building the Ark. (11:40). Among these mockers must have been his son, because verses 40-45 relate:

And Noah cried to his son who had gone aside: "Oh my boy! Embark with us and do not stay with the unbelievers." He replied: "I shall betake myself to a mountain that will save me from the water." And Noah said: "None shall be saved today from the commands of Allah save those on whom he has mercy. . ." And the water came between them and he was among the drowned.

It may be assumed that in the earliest version of the biblical story the episode of the drowning of the son of Noah was introduced in order to stress the ethical meaning of the salvation from the flood. Those who saw the Deluge story as having an ethical content must have been concerned with the question that according to the Mesopotamian versions the hero of the Deluge brings with him followers independently of their moral worth; this matter was solved by indicating that not even Noah's son could be saved if he did not repent. Those who gave an ethical meaning to the Deluge story must have also been aware of the versions that we meet among the Greeks and many other nations according to which the heroes who survived the flood did so by climbing a high mountain instead of entering a vessel; hence these ethical thinkers had to stress that salvation did not come through natural physical means, such as the climbing of mountains.

The placing of the drowning of Ham after the flood instead of before was prepared by the version followed in the Quran. In this writing (11:45-46) it is stated that when the Ark landed on the mountain, Noah cried unto Allah: "My Lord! truly, my son is of my household!" And Allah replied: "O Noah! truly, he is not of thy household; truly he is of evil conduct; so do not ask me for things that are beyond your knowledge." This seems to imply that the son, having climbed the mountain, was still alive at that point.

The story of Ham's drowning is preserved in a vague way by Jewish extrabiblical tradition. Noah allowed Og, a son of Ham's wife, to save himself by clinging to the outside of the Ark, but after the Deluge Og reverted to his evil ways.

The compilers of Genesis had to move the episode of Ham's damnation after the flood, because they had to ascribe the repopulation of the earth not to the three birds, but to Noah's sons who became three. I have already shown how the figure of Ham was collapsed into that of the raven. The damning of Noah's son before the flood was used to introduce the cursing of the Canaanites, the descendants of the raven.

Since the figure of the raven was collapsed with that of Ham, the raven became an accursed bird. Extrabiblical sources relate that the raven was cursed by being caused to impregnate with his beak. This peculiarity of the raven originally was not considered a curse. Pliny, (N.H., X, 14, 32) relates about crows that there is a popular belief that they "lay eggs, or else mate, through the beak." Pliny quotes Aristotle as having explained this popular belief by the fact that crows, like doves, kiss each other with their beaks.

There are other pieces of Jewish extrabiblical tradition that support my understanding of the earliest version of Ham's fate. It is related that the evildoers who remained outside the Ark tried to save themselves by climbing mountains, and it is also related that carrion birds (that is, the raven, since this bird is presented as a carrion eater in the Deluge anecdotes) plucked the eyes of those who were trying to save themselves by swimming. I have already mentioned that according to Proverbs 30:17 "the eye that mocks a father or scorns a woman's desire will be plucked out by ravens."

The compilers of Genesis had to go through a cumbersome process. They had before them a totemic story according to which Noah had sexual relations with the three birds. The three birds were replaced by the three sons of Noah. As a result of this, Ham came to have sexual relations with his father; this, according to Hebrew idiom, is unquestionably the meaning of the statement that Ham "saw his father's nakedness." Since this statement sounds peculiar because of the sex of Ham, we must keep in mind the extrabiblical traditions according to which Ham's wife was pregnant in the Ark but not by Ham, and the he-raven accused Noah of wanting to have intercourse with the she-raven. In any case, the relation between Noah and the raven, or Ham, or Ham's wife, was made more palatable by attaching this episode to the account of the farming activities of Noah and consequent drunkenness.


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