Story of Noah: are we back there?

This is not really about the Bible story of Noah, but it takes the story as its starting point. I can’t help but think that in old stories there are nuggets of wisdom that get lost as the story gets told and re-told by different people. The thing that got my attention in the Noah story was that before the flood came, the earth was corrupt. Apologies in advance to those who take the Old Testament as absolute truth.

Now, a recent geological analysis of the sediment of the Bardawil lake, the one that is on the edge of the Sinai desert, showed that it should be 40 meters deep but is filled up to a few metres with ancient soil. The soil seems to come from the Sinai desert which if true, points to the land once being extremely fertile. See this earlier article.

The story goes that people lived in peace in this land of milk and honey. The weather was stable and the land bountiful so they settled there. The historical record indicates that they made some mistakes however: they cut down too many trees. The weather flipped, floods came and without enough roots to absorb water and halt erosion, the soil washed away and the people were left to starve.

When starving, man seeks to protect his family first and any barriers to taking another man’s life are gone. Man against man, brother against brother. A fight to the last. In the family, it was the man who had to take on the aggressive role. Around that time, from worshipping female  goddesses religion turned to worshipping male deities. The story of Adam and Eve appeared sometime between the 6th and 4th century BCE.

This great accident (some ecologists call it the original sin) resulted in a deep trauma for all mankind that I believe lasts to this day. The memory of the great thirst. The great starvation. The great floods. We are afraid of going without, something happening so we cannot provide for ourselves. And we are quick to slip into the pattern of aggression that characterises a people who constantly do not have enough. The fight to the death, the need to build strength, the narrow focus on winning, the need for a hierarchy so bands of people can act quickly and  decisively. These are often identified as male values.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.

Vatican Bible, Genesis, 6:11 .

Like many early civilisations, if you settle and multiply and do not take care of the earth, sooner or later there will be a failure. Even if the society does its best to survive and thrive within the boundaries of the earth’s carrying capacity, disasters can still happen and the civilisation can be wiped out.

Sound familiar? In the Noah story the earth was corrupt. Population had grown. Many, I think, interpret the story to mean people were corrupt. But what if people had made the earth corrupt? Corrupt in the sense below:

Definition of corrupt: adulterated or debased by change from an original or correct condition “a corrupt version of the text”

Miriam Webster Dictionary

When the earth – its hydrology, soils, eco-systems, weather systems etc – is corrupt, population crash ensues.

Isn’t that where we are today? The climate has been altered, the acidity of the ocean has been altered and micro plastics abound in the water. People live in cities that require tons of barrels of oil a day to function and produce tons of rubbish that has nowhere to go. And many are suffering, from poverty, exclusion, homelessness, hunger and physical violence.

The question I ask myself is, if I believe in God, does it mean I believe that taking care to not corrupt the earth is part of that “special relationship”? Interestingly, I can believe that taking care of the earth is a GOOD THING in itself. But can I believe in God and think that I do not need to take care of the earth?

As one who does not take the Bible literally, I struggle to find a deep meaning of the story of Noah. On the other hand, some pretty basic things are there: man can make mistakes with the stewardship of the earth; these mistakes fuel a culture of violence; as descendents of Noah, everyone bears that righteousness that meant that Noah was given the task to start over. And man was bequeathed life, and a wonderful Earth.

Maybe that is it: the earth is corrupt, violence rules. It doesn’t have to, we can be righteous towards the earth and each other and live in appreciation of what we have been given. We can still collectively heal the trauma deep in our genetic memory of the great eco-system collapse, caused by our own misguided actions and our resulting violence. We can arise from this situation we, as humanity, find ourselves in. In our heart of hearts I am sure we accept that we cannot go on as we are.


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