Genesis 6: An Age Limit for Man; Yahweh Prepares Noah for the Flood

two elephants tusks eyes head to headHebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Yahweh sets an age limit of 120 years to human life. Yahweh decides to destroy the world with a flood but Noah finds favor in his eyes. Noah builds an ark to save himself, his family, and all the animals from the flood.

II. Photo

Noah is told to collect the animals: “And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.” (v. 19)

III. Select Verses

1-3: When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose.  Then the LORD said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.”

4: The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

5-8: The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.

18-19:  But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

IV. Outline

1-4. Yahweh sets an age limit for man

    1-2. The sons of Yahweh (called Elohim) take human wives

    3. Yahweh sets an age limit

    4. Note about the Nephilim

5-6. Yahweh regrets creating man, who is sinful

7. Yahweh's plan to destroy humans and animals

8. Noah finds favor in Yahweh's eyes

9. Noah was righteous and walked with Yahweh (called Elohim)

10. Noah's three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth

11-12. Yahweh (called Elohim) sees that the earth is corrupt

13-21. Yahweh's (called Elohim) message to Noah

    13. All living things will be brought to an end

    14. Make an ark

    15. The ark's dimensions

    16. The ark's roof, door, and decks

    17. Yahweh will bring a destructive flood

    18. Noah and his family will enter the ark

    19-20. All species shall enter, two by two

    21. Food preparations

22. Noah does as he is told


V. Comment

The most detailed parallel between the Hebrew Bible and ancient Mesopotamian literature is perhaps that of Noah in Genesis and Utnapishtim in Tablet 11 of the Gilgamesh Epic, a man who also survived a divine flood to keep humanity alive. Some of the more striking parallels between the two texts are a divine warning, the building of an ark, the presence of animals on board, the destruction of all life outside, the ark grounding on a mountain, the repeated reconnaisance of birds, the post-deluvial sacrifice with divine acceptance/smelling, and a divine blessing at the end. The following is a translation of Tablet 11 by E. A. Speiser, found in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (93–95):

(23) “Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu,

Tear down (this) house, build a ship!

Give up possessions, seek thou life.

Forswear (worldly) goods and keep the soul alive!

Aboard the ship take thou the seed of all living things.

The ship that thou shalt build,

Her dimensions shall be to measure.

(30) Equal shall be her width and her length.

Like the Apsu thou shalt ceil her.”

I understood, and I said to Ea, my lord:

“[Behold], my lord, what thou hast thus ordered,

I will be honored to carry out

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .”

(53) The little ones [carr]ied bitumen,

While the grown ones brought [all else] that was needful.

On the fifth day I laid her framework.

One (whole) acre was her floor space,

Ten dozen cubits the height of each of her walls,

Ten dozen cubits each edge of the square deck.

I laid out the contours (and) joined her together.

(60) I provided her with six decks,

Dividing her (thus) into seven parts.

Her floor plan I divided into nine parts.

I hammered water-plugs into her.

I saw to the punting-poles and laid in supplies.

Six sar [measures] of bitumen I poured into the furnace,

Three sar of asphalt [I also] poured inside.

Three sar of oil the basket-bearers carried,

Aside from the one sar of oil which the caulking consumed,

And the two sar of oil [which] the boatman stowed away.

(70) Bullocks I slaughtered for the [people],

And I killed sheep every day.

Must, red wine, oil, and white wine

[I gave the] workmen [to drink], as though river water,

That they might feast as on New Year’s Day. . . . . . . . . . . .

(80) [Whatever I had] I laded upon her:

Whatever I had of silver I laded upon her;

Whatever I [had] of gold I laded upon her;

Whatever I had of all the living beings I [laded] upon her.

All my family and kin I made go aboard the ship.

The beasts of the field, the wild creatures of the field,

All the craftsmen I made go aboard.

Shamash had set for me a stated time:

“When he who orders unease at night,

Will shower down a rain of blight,

Board thou the ship and batten up the entrance!”

That stated time had arrived:

(90) “He who orders unease at night, showers down a rain of blight.”

I watched the appearance of the weather.

The weather was awesome to behold.

I boarded the ship and battened up the entrance.

To batten down the (whole) ship, to Puzur-Amurri, the boatman,

I handed over the structure together with its contents.

With the first glow of dawn,

A black cloud rose up from the horizon.

Inside it Adad thunders,

While Shullat and Hanish go in front,

(100) Moving as heralds over hill and plain.

Erragal tears out the posts;

Forth comes Ninurta and causes the dikes to follow.

The Anunnaki lift up the torches,

Setting the land ablaze with their glare.

Consternation over Adad reaches to the heavens,

Who turned to blackness all that had been light.

[The wide] land was shattered like [a pot]!

For one day the south-storm [blew],

Gathering speed as it blew, [submerging the mountains],

(110) Overtaking the [people] like a battle.

No one can see his fellow,

Nor can the people be recognized from heaven.

The gods were frightened by the deluge,

And, shrinking back, they ascended to the heaven of Anu.

The gods cowered like dogs

Crouched against the outer wall.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(124) The gods, all humbled, sit and weep,

Their lips drawn tight, [. . .] one and all

Six days and [six] nights

Blows the flood wind, as the south-storm sweeps the land.

When the seventh day arrived,

The flood(-carrying) south-storm subsided in the battle,

(130) Which it had fought like an army.

The sea grew quiet, the tempest was still, the flood ceased.

I looked at the weather; stillness had set in,

And all of mankind had returned to clay.

The landscape was as level as a flat roof.

I opened a hatch, and light fell upon my face.

Bowing low, I sat and wept,

Tears running down on my face.

I looked about for coast lines in the expanse of the sea:

In each of fourteen (regions)

There emerged a region (-mountain).

(140) On Mount Nisir the ship came to a halt.

Mount Nisir held the ship fast,

Allowing no motion.

One day, a second day, Mount Nisir held the ship fast,

Allowing no motion.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When the seventh day arrived,

I sent forth and set free a dove.

The dove went forth, but came back;

Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round.

Then I sent forth and set free a swallow.

(150) The swallow went forth, but came back;

Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round.

Then I sent forth and set free a raven.

The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished,

He eats, circles, caws, and turns not round.

Then I let out (all) to the four winds

And offered a sacrifice.

I poured out a libation on the top of the mountain.

Seven and seven cult-vessels I set up

Upon their pot-stands I heaped cane, cedarwood, and myrtle.

The gods smelled the savor,

(160) The gods smelled the sweet savor,

The gods crowded like flies about the sacrificer.

When at length as the great goddess arrives,

She lifted up the great jewels which Anu had fashioned to her liking:

“Ye gods here, as surely as this lapis

Upon my neck I shall not forget,

I shall be mindful of these days, forgetting (them) never.

Let the gods come to the offering;

[But] let not Enlil come to the offering

For he, unreasoning, brought on the deluge

And my people consigned to destruction.”

(170) When at length as Enlil arrived,

And saw the ship, Enlil was wroth,

He was filled with wrath over the Igigi gods:

“Has some living soul escaped?

No man was to survive the destruction!”

Ninurta opened his mouth to speak,

Saying to valiant Enlil:

“Who, other than Ea, can devise plans?

It is Ea alone who knows every matter”

Ea opened his mouth to speak,

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(186) “It was not I who disclosed the secret of the great gods.

I let Atrahasis see a dream,

And he perceived the secret of the gods.

Now then take counsel in regard to him!”

Thereupon Enlil went aboard the ship.

(190) Holding me by the hand, he took me aboard.

He took my wife aboard and made (her) kneel by my side.

Standing between us, he touched our foreheads to bless us:

“Hitherto Utnapishtim has been but human.

Henceforth Utnapishtim and his wife shall be like unto us gods.

Utnapishtim shall reside far away, at the mouth of the rivers!”

VI. Works Used

E. A. Speiser, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University, 1969), 93–95.

(see “Commentaries” page)

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