The Animals' Bible - Chapter 1 - Genesis - Part 3 - Noah and The Flood
From All Creatures Book and Video Review Guide

Author: Ian A. Stuart
Anyone who wants an advance copy of The Animals' Bible should contact the author by e-mail at: [email protected] (Canada).

As the human race continued to expand, Genesis tells us that Yahweh became disappointed with his creation.  His human creatures had become corrupt and violent, and due to their wickedness – to which he responded with surprisingly human pain and grief – he decided to destroy all life.  At this point, "Why destroy the animals?  What have they done?" are valid questions.  They had no responsibility for human evil.  But God’s grief was so profound that no matter how innocent, they were doomed.  Because he regretted creating all species, and his heart was filled with pain, the Lord made this terrible decision recorded in Genesis 6:6-7:

"I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them."

We must now confront a Biblical incident, which, even among the most pious, stretches believability – the union of angels and human women that produced a race of giants.18  A mere mention in Genesis 6:1-4 makes this incident little more than a Biblical oddity, but the story, for those who are interested, is dealt with in detail in the chapter on the apocryphal books.   It also receives a mention in the Apocrypha in 2:4 of the third book of Maccabees, which reads: "You destroyed those who in the past committed injustice among whom were even giants who trusted in their strength and boldness, whom you destroyed by bringing on them a boundless flood."

Since the ancient Hebrews were very much like their Mesopotamian neighbours, envisioning their God as a large human being, they described him with an actual heart that can feel pain.  He has human emotions.  He is depicted as distinctly male although never sexual.  He speaks with an actual, and frequently audible, voice.  Although he knew exactly what would happen in advance, which makes his disappointment and grief difficult to understand, he is so disappointed with his own creation that he plans to destroy it.

In one of the most famous of all Biblical stories, known even to people who have never opened the Bible, Yahweh decided to save a single, righteous human being and his family.  This apparently blameless individual was Noah, son of Lemech, the tenth generation from Adam, a man who "walked with God".

Due to the corruption consuming the earth, God warned Noah he was going to put an end to all life. After giving explicit instructions on how to build a cypress wood ark19 – a 120-year project! – he told Noah how he intended to annihilate terrestrial life.

"I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish." (6:17)

Although certain species would obviously not perish – those that spend their lives in the oceans – we are still compelled to ask, Why do the animals and birds have to die?  What have they done to deserve destruction?  Here Genesis is silent.  If we discount the apocryphal tradition that claims they also become corrupt, and accept only the evidence of the Bible, they were about to pay with their lives for the evil and violence of human beings.

When God told Noah, his wife20, their sons Shem, Ham and Japheth and their wives (children are not mentioned but were probably included) that they would be saved, he explained his intention to preserve the very species he was about to destroy.

"You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.  You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them." (6:19-21)

Noah could not have physically gathered together two representatives of every species, which explains why God told him they would come to him on their own.   Most would have arrived from parts of the globe Noah not only couldn’t reach but didn’t know existed.  Far off continents like South America or Australia – inhabited by modern humans over 60,000 years ago - were unknown in the Ancient World. The only possible explanation is that God transported these animals and birds from their far-flung homes to the Middle East in some supernatural manner which Jubilees attempts to explain as a project assigned to the angels.  In 5:3 of his first epistle to the Corinthians, the early Church Father, Clement determined that the animals went into the ark because of a collective decision that could only have been divinely arranged. "Noah being proven to be faithful," Clement wrote, "did by his ministry preach regeneration to the world; and by him the Lord saved all living creatures that went with one accord into the ark."

Why Yahweh would destroy all life and then save these couples to regenerate the same species all over again is incomprehensible.  If he wanted to destroy human beings – the guilty parties – he could have done so with a plague that attacked only our species and left the other species unaffected.  In fact he could have removed all human beings but Noah and his family with a thought!   Why this flood?  Why all these complicated arrangements to save everything he was about to destroy?  On top of the injustice and apparent senselessness of it all, there is the cruelty.  The desperate terror of drowning after minutes – in some case hours – of futile swimming or flying until exhausted and falling into the sea was hardly a deserved end for millions of blameless creatures when they could have been made to vanish without suffering by an act of divine will.  Here, alas, the Bible leaves us with another unanswerable question.

When God told Noah to enter the ark with his family, he suddenly differentiated between "clean" and "unclean" animals.  Although these classifications meant free from ceremonial defilement in the first instance and ceremonially defiled in the latter, Genesis offers no explanation.  There must have been two original versions of this story edited into the final text, since YHWH suddenly upped the number of animals to seven, or, as some manuscripts have it, seven pair, which would be 14 of each "clean" species.

"Take with you seven (OR, seven pairs) of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven (OR, seven pairs) of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth." (7:2-3)

If only 10% of todays twenty million plus known species existed in Noah’s day, and considering just the original two, we are discussing – at the very least – four million individuals.  Those that "swarm over the earth" are undoubtedly the insects, and although these species would have occupied a much smaller space, they are even more numerous.  The number of individuals in that ark is staggering.  The logistics of feeding them, keeping them healthy and taking care of them with only eight adults would have been a truly mind-boggling and endless task.  Really small living creatures such as bacteria are not mentioned, even though they are infinitely more numerous that visible species (more than a trillion varieties) since the Genesis author-editors didn’t know they existed.

As the story unfolds, the representatives of the various species arrive as promised, and we can only presume that God arranged to suspend predation and assure that this immense gathering was peaceable!  They enter the ark followed by Noah and his family who are ridiculed by everyone outside the huge, land-locked boat.   You’d think the mind bending parade of utterly shocking, never-before-seen species like moas, giraffes armadillos and polar bears marching up the gangplanks might have given these people a clue that it was time to stop laughing and build something that would float!  However, they never got the message.

Carrying out his threat, God caused the "springs of the great deep" to open up and rain to fall on the earth for forty days and forty nights and all terrestrial and avian life was swept away. For obvious reasons, marine creatures are never mentioned.

Every living thing that moved on the earth perished – birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died…men and animals and creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left and those with him in the ark. (7:21-23)

When the ark finally came to rest on a mountain, and forty more days had passed, Noah sent out a raven, which flew back and forth until the water dried up.   Seven days later he released a dove, but she could find nowhere to land and returned to the ark.  After another seven days Noah sent her out a second time, and…

When the dove returned to him in the evening there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. (8:11)

When he released the dove a third time and she did not return, he opened the ark to discover that the ground was finally dry.

The reference to a raven (Corvus corax) is the first Biblical mention of this large, intelligent, jet-black member of the Crow family.  We do not know why Noah chose a raven, but it probably has a role in this story because it figured prominently in the Babylonian saga of a Great Flood written long before the Biblical version.  In that story, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods planned to destroy the world with a flood but one of their number decided to protect his favourite human being, Utnapishtim.  To save him, he ordered him to build an ark and take representatives of the animals into it with him to survive the waters that would annihilate all life.

The selection of the dove is even more significant than the raven.   Called the most important bird of the Bible due to the numerous references to its species, it was also a sacred bird to many other religions. In the contemporary world, it has become the Dove of Peace – a truly international symbol – bearing the olive branch of Genesis in its beak.  It has also become the universally recognized symbol of God’s Holy Spirit.

There were four species of doves in the Biblical world, all members of the family Columbidae.  Even today you still find the Ring Dove or Wood Pigeon in the forests of Gilead and Carmel and the smaller, less common Stock Dove which is found around Jordan and northern Transjordania.  The Rock Dove (incorrectly called a pigeon in North America) breeds in the Jordan Valley on rocks and buildings.  The Turtle Dove - of which there are many varieties including the Barbary and Laughing Dove - is found in large flocks on the plains of Jericho. It was this species of "clean" bird – especially the Turtle Dove – which was most commonly consumed in ritual sacrifice.

When God finally commanded Noah and his family to come out of the ark, he told him to:

"Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in numbers upon it." (8:16-17)

In the Babylonian story, Utnapishtim was overwhelmed by what he saw when he left his ark with the animals.  There was utter silence.  The landscape was a flattened wasteland.  All living beings had been reduced back to the clay from which they were made.  He fell on his face and wept, and the gods, ashamed at what they had done, left human beings to run the world as they saw fit.  The Biblical story does not tell us what the world looked like to Noah and his family, but the devastation must have been almost total and the landscape littered with decomposing corpses, including those of the marine animals and fish trapped inland as the waters receded and then dried up in the valleys.

Presuming none of the animals in the ark had died – an impossibility unless their lives were extended by divine intervention - they had survived an incredible ordeal. Yet, the first thing Noah did was to kill some of them!

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offering on it. (8:20)

This is the first reference to an altar ("slaughtering place" in Hebrew) and the first allusion to ritual sacrifice and burnt offerings.  The animals and birds were killed and their bodies burned so the smoke would rise up to heaven.

The idea that fire is sacred and carries things to the gods, or, in the Hebrew case, to God, was a belief held in almost all the religions of the Ancient World.   For many of them, the fire itself was holy. Zoroastrians still keep a sacred fire burning continuously in their temples.  In Hinduism, fire is not only holy but personified as the god Agni who is believed to carry offerings to the other gods.21   The ancient Hebrews shared this belief: the fire on their altars was a sacred medium.  In the Bible, divine fire falls from heaven or proceeds from God to consume sacrifices, altars, cities, people and animals as well as acting as a medium to carry angels and prophets between heaven and earth.  The pages of Scripture are resplendent with fiery angels, fiery swords, fiery horses, fiery chariots.  God sits on a fiery throne from under which runs a fiery river and there is a fiery lake in the Hell of both Hebrews and Egyptians.  In the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, an apocryphal book, we are told that when it was once necessary to protect some of God’s holy objects from desecration by Israel’s enemies, they were thrown into the altar fire. In all these cases, God was assumed to be "up" and therefore some medium was necessary to cover the distance between earth and the divine realm.

Noah probably didn’t realize it, but in an attempt to honour Yahweh, he was taking an enormous risk with the species involved.  The second number – seven, or seven pairs – must have been the correct accounting.  Unless God intervened once again and supernaturally assured the survival of the species involved, a single pair in each case would have been far too small a gene pool.  Even a handful of pairs would be most unlikely to regenerate a viable world population.  If Noah sacrificed only the male of each pair and the single female remaining was pregnant or bearing fertilized eggs and all her offspring survived to reproduce and there was no predation, no fatal accidents, and no infectious diseases until the number of individuals was great enough to sustain such natural losses, they might have survived.

Moving on in our search, we find Genesis continuing to paint a picture of a man-like God, both physically and psychologically.  He experiences pleasure as well as pain.  He has nostrils and enjoys odours (which infers a nose and olfactory glands) and reacts favourably to the smell of the burning bodies of animals and birds.   Along with disappointment at everything he originally created, we are told that YHWH has other emotions.  He actually felt sorry for his actions and expressed remorse at what he had done, promising: "…never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done." (8:21) although he kept those feelings – including his resolve not to repeat his actions – to himself.

In the final analysis, the unwilling sacrifice of a few hapless individuals was apparently effective.  Notice the phrase "the pleasing aroma" because it occurs throughout the Old Testament and was the primary way God was supposed to enjoy the offerings made to him.  "The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart, ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though the inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.’" (8:21)  This is truly inexplicable.  The reason God saved Noah and his family was Noah’s unique righteousness.  "Man" no longer exited.  Evil had been annihilated. Yet, in the divine opinion, this tiny handful of men, women and children were still inclined to evil, making the flood an exercise in futility.

Now we come to another pivotal moment in Genesis.  For the animals surviving the Flood, it was Yahweh’s most terrible decision and has had horrific effect right down to our own era.  He changed the relationship between human beings and the other species.  Without giving a reason, he placed the curse of our species – a sense of fear and dread – on all other creatures and permitted a change in the human diet – perhaps the diet of all life.  He allowed human beings to kill and eat other species.

We can hope he made this grim decision reluctantly and the fear and dread of Man was protective, so animals would not trust us, avoid us at all costs and run from us in self-defence.  His original dietary commandment had long been ignored.   People had been eating animals since the time of Abel and the evidence of Science indicates the world has always been, to quote Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Nature red in tooth and claw."

"The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves upon the ground, and upon the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.  Everything that lives and moves will be food for you.  Just as I gave you green plants, I now give you everything." (9:2-3)

The first proposition also appears in the book of Jubilees as, "I will inspire the fear and dread of you in everything on earth and in the sea."

Although it was the animals to whom God gave green plants, if Yahweh made this statement he certainly didn’t adhere to it, and changed him mind yet again.  As we will discover, it was not to be everything that lived and moved, but only a very few, highly restricted species of "clean" animals, birds, insects and fish that they were allowed to eat.  Contrary to his instructions attributed to him in 9:2-3, he would absolutely prohibit them from eating any other species.

On the authority of these few sentences, especially the idea that all other species were "given into our hands", abject horror has been done to other creatures; all justified by this quotation from Genesis.  Whatever people are doing to other species – killing them for sport, exploiting them for entertainment, torturing them in religious festivals, slaughtering them en masse for food, experimenting on them in laboratories – ask for a justification and you are frequently told that the Bible gives us the right.  The supportive quote is almost always Genesis 9:2-3, ignoring the later, and very rigid commandments restricting the types of animals the Hebrews were allowed to eat or the compassion, justice, mercy and kindness the Bible tells us we must extend to them.

It is crucial to note that God was only giving other living things to man for food, not for recreation, not for entertainment, not for sport, not for experimentation. He even placed a perpetual, binding, restriction on this use.

"But you must not eat meat that still has its lifeblood still in it." (9:4)

The nephesh of a living creature was thought to be housed, in some mysterious fashion, in its blood. How the authors and editors of Genesis expected nephesh to be understood in every instance is unknown.  They certainly used it to mean "life force" or "life essence".  They didn’t understand that blood was the medium that carried food to the body’s cells, and delivered oxygen to, and carbon dioxide away from, the tissues.  They believed what they saw.   When the blood flowed out of any living creature, his or her life ebbed away and the individual became a corpse.  It is easy therefore to see how they arrived at the simplistic conclusion that the life was in the blood.  However, they also knew from experience that living beings could die in countless other ways without loss of blood, so even primitive logic would have told them that the life couldn’t be exclusively in the blood.

The frequent use of nephesh in other contexts indicates the authors of Genesis also intended the word to infer spirit or soul.  The overwhelming evidence of the Scriptures makes it clear that the ancient Hebrews believed all living beings had a soul, probably defined much the way it is today by the Oxford Dictionary as, "the spiritual or immaterial component or nature of a human being or an animal."

Today Jews and Christians routinely deny that other creatures have a soul.  This is not scriptural: it is based on something vague called "common belief".  However, the Bible does not support this position.  From the earliest stages in the development of the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition, animals - as living individuals created by God - were believed to possess a soul or spirit which was given to them by their Creator and returns to him upon death with special reference to their sacrificial death.

Genesis tells us that if an individual took Noah’s life, Yahweh would demand an accounting for that act. "…for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting." (9:5)   However, for those seeking to develop a religious perspective about animals, their relationship to us and to our mutual Creator, this sentence in God’s own words – also in 9:5 – is one of the most important in the entire Bible.

"I will demand an accounting from every animal."

This statement contains crucial theological concepts.

  • Animals are accountable to God not as species but as individuals.
  • They must be aware of God’s existence; otherwise, having an obligation of accountability would be meaningless.
  • Since they are capable of accountability, they must be able to make choices and cannot be driven solely by instinct, as we like to claim.

Taking the Bible as our authority, there is no doubt that they possess a spiritual faculty through which they communicate with their Creator and he with them, even if that faculty is less sophisticated than - or takes a different form from - our own.

If we look at God’s next statement in the same passage we discover that their accountability is the same accountability that men owe to God. The emphasis is mine. "And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man." The word "too" is often translated "also", but the meaning is the same.

God followed these statements by establishing an agreement or contract known as a covenant with the birds and animals at exactly the same time as he established a covenant with Noah and his family. The emphasis again is mine.

"I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – with every living creature on earth." (9:9-10)

"Every living creature" (or every living being as some translations have it) is clearly different from "all living creatures" or even "living creatures" in general.  Once again Yahweh was referring to individuals, not just their species.

As part of this new agreement between the Creator and his creatures, Yahweh promised there would never again be a flood to destroy life on the earth and decreed that the rainbow would become the symbol of this covenant which was to last for all generations.

"Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind…on the earth." (9:12-16)

The saga of Genesis now shifts from the mists of pre-history to the story of the Sumerian emigrant who was destined to become the father of all three "Religions of the Book" – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.


18) The Naphidim (NAF-I-deem), sometimes written Naphilim (NAF-I-leem). The apocryphal book known as The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch claims these legendary giants numbered 409,000 and perished in the Flood.

19) More a floating box than a ship, the ark was 450’ long, 75’ wide and 45’ high (133x22x13 metres)

20) One tradition claims her name was Emraza, but she is given various names elsewhere.

21) Agni’s name has also been given to India’s nuclear missiles.

Copyright, 2001 Ian A. Stuart

Return to The Animals' BibleTable of Contents
Return to Book, CD and Video Review Guide