Sunday, May 19, 2013


The Lord Fulfilleth All His Words, by Clark Kelley Price
The account of the prophet Noah as found in Genesis is a fascinating and generally misunderstood pericope which is highly symbolic and recapitulates the story of the creation and the fall. Jeffrey Bradshaw has written some very insightful material on the symbols behind the Noah story which can be found in his books and in  Meridian Magazine. Bradshaw points out a number of parallels between the creation story and the flood. In this post I will mention just a few for the sake of brevity. Additionally, Bradshaw sheds light upon the troubling story of Noah's drunkenness which seems out of character for a prophet of God. As we will see this account as it has come down to us has been subject to misunderstandings and mistranslations and when understood properly does not need to cause concern.


Ancient Hebrews conceived of the existence of a primordial sea of chaos out of which creation emerged. According to this conception the first piece of ground to emerge from chaos was the primordial hillock. Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, upon which the 1st and 2nd temples were built, was associated with this primordial hillock by the Israelites. The primordial hillock was also associated with the Garden of Eden and was considered the axis mundi or the point at which heaven and earth were joined.

Bradshaw writes that the ark built by Noah was designed as a temple with its three decks corresponding to the three areas (most holy place, holy place and outer court) of the Jerusalem temple. He also points out that other than the tabernacle and temple the ark is the only structure mentioned in the Bible whose design was revealed through revelation. 

Genesis 8 states that after drifting across the water the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Ararat is depicted as the primordial mountain upon which the ark/temple rests just as the temple sat upon Mount Moriah. The animals and Noah's family leaving the ark to re-populate the earth can be likened to the placing of animals and man on the earth at the creation. Upon leaving the ark the command to "multiply and replenish the earth" was renewed with Noah and his family as it was originally given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. (compare Gen. 1:28Gen 8:17)

Noah's Tent

The story of Noah's drunkenness within his tent is found in Genesis 9:20-27 and many have supposed this incident to be a moment of indiscretion by an otherwise righteous prophet. However, there may be more to the story than is suggested by our modern English translations of the Bible. Bradshaw cites the writings of Rabbi Shim'on in the Zohar where he explains that Noah's tent is to be understood as the tent of the Shekinah or the Divine Presence of Jehovah. This tent, built at the foot of Mount Ararat, therefore, is analogous to the portable Tabernacle which Moses built at the foot of Mount Sinai. (ref)

Tissot, Noah in Vision
What, then are we make of Noah's being drunken and uncovered in the tent? Bradshaw mentions a statement attributed to Joseph Smith in which the prophet explained that Noah was not drunk but was in a vision. Bradshaw's article also cites the Genesis Apocryphon which describes Noah and his family engaging in a ritual drinking of wine after which Noah is shown a vision in which he sees the destiny of his posterity. Therefore, as Bradshaw explains "Noah's drinking of the wine should be seen in a ritual context and not merely as a spontaneous indulgence that occurred at the end of a particularly wearying day." (ref)

Noah's nakedness can be explained by looking at the example of Saul when he joined Samuel's group and "stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night." (1 Sam. 19:24) Bradshaw cites Robert Jamieson who explained that Saul's nakedness in this instance means that he was “divested of his armor and outer robes." (ref)

Hugh Nibley has offered another explanation that the nakedness of Noah referred to the priestly garment which he wore which was the garment of skins given to Adam which had been passed down through the generations. Nibley goes on to explain that Ham either stole the garment from Noah or made a copy of it. (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.5, pp. 169-170). If this was the case then it would appear that Ham was cursed because he intruded into the sanctuary tent while his father was enwrapped in vision dressed in his priestly vestments. Ham then made an unauthorized copy of the garment and claimed priestly authority by virtue of possessing the counterfeit. 

Understanding the account of Noah in light of the information Jeff Bradshaw has gathered  brings greater appreciation for this story and dispels the more controversial aspects. Additionally, viewing this account in light of the temple creation drama helps the reader understand the account as it was intended to be understood.

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