Noah Birth Stories

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The material on this page was originally created by Dennis Dean Carpenter. It is published here with his permission.

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Two Nativity Stories

A Most Important Nativity

During this festive season it might be interesting to look at another nativity story, the story of an early savior of humankind, whose righteous life was pre-ordained at his birth. Though his parentage was questioned at some point, he became the first to make a covenant with God, after saving the human race, as well as every animal on Earth, including mosquitos and maggots, from destruction caused by the evil of humanity. According to this legend, humanity would not exist but for Noah and the favor of God toward him. This feller was a “go-getter,” uncompromising, domesticating grapes and loving his wine to a fault. He also was the first documented ship builder in the Bible, getting his schematic plans from Utnapishtim, of the Gilgamesh Epic. [The Gilgamesh Epic pre-dated the Bible by at least a millennium and also has a similar story to the Adam & Eve fable.]

Apparently, the birth of Noah was a surprise to Lamech, who must have been perplexed when he read in Genesis four that he had two wives, one who bore the ancestor of nomadic herdsmen, along with a brother who was the earliest musician on record. His other wife was mama of the first forger of copper and iron, who had a sister who was beautiful, or at least that is what her name meant. Then, in chapter five Lamech had a son he named Noah. Apparently, this was a shocker.

One finds in The Book of Enoch, that Noah’s skin “was white as snow and red as the blooming of a rose and the hair of his head... white as wool.” [Enoch 106.2, which is part of a selection purportedly from “The Book of Noah.”] When he opened his eyes, the room was lit like the sun. When he was born, the first thing he did was bless God. Because of this Lamech decided that Noah was like an angel, thus must have been the product of the “Holy Ones” or the “Watchers” (Nephilim). Being rightfully indignant, he confronted his wife about this and she chided him, saying something like this: “Don’t you remember how good the sex was? ‘That seed is yours and that conception is from you. This fruit was planted by you... and by no stranger or Watcher or Son of Heaven.’ [Paraphrase and quote (in single marks) from 1QGe 20, Col. II.] That’s the god’s honest truth!” Lamech scratched his head, trying to remember which wife this one was. (Okay. I made the last sentence up.)

Lamech wasn’t quite convinced so he ran to his daddy Methuselah and asked him to ask his daddy (Enoch) about this, so Methuselah trekked to Paradise and asked Enoch, who told him to have no fear, for God was with Noah, that when Earth was obliterated, Noah and his kids would be saved from destruction, since, in the words of Noah, “When I emerged from my mother’s womb I was planted for truth and I lived all my days in truth and walked in the paths of eternal truth. [1QGen20, Col. VI. Could be from The Book of Noah.] Noah’s mama shows up in Jubilees (4.28), also fixing that problem, having him born in the fifteenth jubilee in the third week (701-707 a.m, which stands for anno mundi, with 1 being the birth of Adam), but not mentioning the other wives nor kids of Lamech. She was the daughter of Lemech’s daddy Methuselah’s brother, so they were keeping it “in the family,” a secret I reckon from Genesis!

The story above, paraphrased, came from combining the two sources cited. While the nativity of Noah didn’t become canonical (though Enoch was very popular in some quarters—1QGen20, Col. VI. Could be from The Book of Noah), I think it is an enjoyable tale, as pieced together from Enoch and 1QGen20, as realistic as most biblical tales, more enjoyable than most, despite the brevity.

A more familiar story

“Nativity” can mean a birth, but it usually refers to the birth of Jesus. I couldn’t find it in the subject index of the “Catechisms of the Catholic Church, but listed under “life of Jesus” was “birth of Jesus: 437, 525.” Upon looking these up, I found to my amazement that the two catechisms are centered on Luke, the first speaking of angels communicating with shepherds and Jesus is conceived as holy in Mary’s womb, and the second saying Jesus was born in a humble stable and that shepherds were the first witnesses, also Luke. Matthew’s (below) just doesn’t measure up, but the Church did deign to mention the “messianic lineage of David,” from Matthew (and a few other places... Romans 1.1) in the first and in the second quoted “Kontakion of Romanos the Melodis,” which mentions “the magi advance with the star, from Matthew while, in the same breath mentioning Luke’s shepherds and the stable. (There is also a whiff of “The Infancy Gospel of James,” with an esoteric cave (this one to the Inaccessible) mentioned in the song. I don’t really blame the Church for accentuating Luke over Matthew. With the poetry and imagery of the first two chapters, the story is far more fleshy and cuddly than the story in Matthew. Since theoretically Matthew was written more in tune to Judaism that Luke, I thought I’d look at it.

“This is the origin of Jesus the Messiah: Having been engaged to Mary, but before they lived together, Mary was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Joseph, being righteous and not wanting to expose her publicly, planned to privately send her away, but when he was to do this a messenger from God came to him in a dream, saying, “Joe, son of David, don’t fear to marry Mary, for in her the child is born of the spirit and holy. She will give birth to a son and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.... When he awoke, Joseph did as the angel commanded him and married her, not having sex with her until after the son was born. He named him Jesus... Jesus was born in Bethlehem Judea, in the time of King Herod.” [My version of solely the primary story in Matthew without the Herodian and magi tale.]

Some time after that a touring band of magicians from the east visited and gave symbolic gifts to Jesus, recognizing him as a newborn king, then, because of a dream, headed back home. Joseph served, in this story, not as a father but as a prophet and also as the protagonist for that story. He had three dreams – announcing Jesus, telling them to “get the hell out of” their hometown in Judea, and to relocate in Galilee. Biblically, that qualifies Joseph as a prophet, a “dreamer of dreams,” a mediator of divine communications. It is also the dreams that, along with the antagonist Herod, move the plot. Unlike others, like a different Joseph and Daniel, he just vanishes as soon as the family heads to Galilee, never named as the surrogate daddy of Jesus again in Matthew. (Jesus merely becomes in Matthew the “son of the carpenter.”)

Similar purposes?

The first tale seems to be a story sorting out a problem some might have seen in Genesis. It seeks to answer why Noah wasn’t mentioned and his mother’s name wasn’t mentioned in Genesis 4.19-22. (“Lamech took himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other was Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds. And the name of his brother was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe. As for Zillah, she bore Tubal-cain, who forged all the implements of copper and iron. And the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.) There is no mention of Noah until the end of the next chapter, which has Lamech “begetting” sons and daughters” after Noah and dying. [Jubilees names Lamech’s wife as Betenos, with a son Noah. Enoch names his wife Bathenosh, with the son Noah. No other wives or children are named. 1QGen20 does not name the wife.] This apparently was a problem for some, who fretted about why Noah wasn’t mentioned with the other sons of Lamech. Fortunately, there was a fable directly after this that explained the myth of the “sons of God” and the Nephilim, giants who roamed the land, mating with humanity, causing another breach in the boundary between divine and human, like the Adam and Eve fable and later the Tower of Babel story. The author of the Noahic nativity story wove this into the plot, having Lamech believe this son, who had albinism features, was the product of this evil union of humanity and divinity. This seems the product of a scholar having too much time on his hands!

The story of Matthew could possibly relate to stories about the lack of a father for Jesus. Whether it is coincidental or not, it attempts to “legitimize” the procreation of Jesus, to a certain extent. While one is more familiar with those illegitimate rumors from Celsus fairly late in the second century and Toledoth Yeshu, echoes of this were found in Mark 6.3 (“Isn’t this the carpenter, son of Mary”), the earliest gospel written. It was rare for Jewish literature to refer to a son naming the mother and not the father. “Son of a carpenter” was added to the parallel in Matthew, with Luke and John chiming in with “Isn’t this the son of Joseph” (Luke 4.22) and “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph” (John 6.42). Also, in the second century, “The Acts of Pilate” 2.2-4 has an argument about whether Jesus was “born of fornication.” In “The Infancy Gospel of James,” Mary and Joseph have to go before the high priest, Joseph having purportedly “violated the virgin” (15.6a). Both were giving “the Lord’s drink” and sent to the wilderness, but they returned unharmed, so they were exonerated. The Paulines are no help legitimizing Jesus, since he is merely “born of a woman” in Galatians and a descendent of David in the beginning of Romans. It seems there was a question about the birth of Jesus from fairly early. This, however, puts his birth in the realm of the mythic, stories about the lowly becoming great, a theme found throughout the literature of history in ancient inscriptions, biblical writings or heroes, fictional and factual, in the USA from Abraham Lincoln to Spiderman. Whether historical or not, one finds King Cyrus left to die (exposed) as a baby, raised by an old woman (whose name meant “bitch” according to Herodotus, if I remember correctly), Romulus feeding from a wolf, Moses and Sargon left on rivers in baskets, and the “youngest son” motif found throughout the Bible. If Matthew was attempting to clear it up, he was trying to scrub an important part of the Jesus story. I reckon there was no room in the canon for a snowy white, white haired Noah lighting up the room with his eyes, whose birth was questioned.

Sources

Charles, R.H. The Book of Enoch.
Charles, R.H. The Book of Jubilees.
Ratzinger, Joseph (editor). Catechisms of the Catholic Church.
Davies, Philip R., et al. The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Hock, Ronald. The Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas.
Miller, Robert J. Born Divine.
Vermes, Geza. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls.
Wise, Michael, et.al. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation.