How to Read the Bible Chapter 4, by James L. Kugel


In Chapter 4, Kugel discusses the story of Noah being saved by the great flood. In short, God became unhappy with the evilness he saw in humans, and he decided to flood the entire world and let only Noah and his family survive. They were to build an ark, and take all life (in either twos or sevens depending on the chapter) to safety with them.

Ancient interpretation: Despite what many people believe, the Bible never said that God told Noah to warn his fellow people about the oncoming flood – this was an ancient interpretation that lasted throughout the years. It came from this line:

So the Lord said “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days shall be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:3)

Because Noah and his family lived many more than 120 years, the assumption the ancient interpreters made was that Genesis 6:3 meant that God would give Noah 120 years to complete his task of building the ark. While doing so, they interpreted that Noah tried to convince his neighbors to repent their evil ways.

Modern Interpretation: Kugel didn’t have much to say on his modern interpretation that I haven’t discussed elsewhere on this blog. In 1872, the English Orientalist George Smith of the British Museum discovered a passage that would later be considered part of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The similarities between the stories was unsettling to most Biblical scholars because the Epic of Gilgamesh predated the Bible, and this suggested that the Biblical story was borrowed from another source. For more information on this topic, you can read my posts on The Epic of Gilgamesh, especially the one entitled The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels.

Kugel also discussed the minutia of the multi-author theory, pointing out the inconsistency between two sections:

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing on the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. (Genesis 6:19-20)

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 7:2-3)

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

6 thoughts on “How to Read the Bible Chapter 4, by James L. Kugel

  1. Interesting post as usual Rachel. This story seems ingrained in the consciousness of everyone who has been born in the West. It is so important on so many levels. It is so interesting that to this day, people are still fascinated with destruction of civilization stories.


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