I am returning to the Book of Genesis and interpreting it from the perspective of nonduality. Today I am going to look at the well-known story of Noah and the Flood.
I am returning to the Book of Genesis and interpreting it from the perspective of nonduality. Today I am going to look at the well-known story of Noah and the Flood. Noah’s story fills four chapters of the Book of Genesis. It has captured the imagination of people like nothing else besides the Creation story. The Flood story is actually a recreation story, with much of the same symbolism. It contains the same themes of nonduality that we saw in the first two chapters of Genesis.
The flood story is present in many cultures. In fact the Hindu version of the story has the main character named Manu instead of Noah. Manu was the first man, equivalent to Adam. And he is saved by a fish who instructs him to build a boat, so there are overtones of Jonah saved by a Big Fish as well. I am kind of partial to these stories since I have a grandson named Noah and another named Jonah. Manu is also a lawgiver, so he is kind of a Moses figure as well.
Unfortunately in Christianity the biblical story of the Noah and Flood has been hijacked by fundamentalists who insist that it has to be taken literally. I have evangelical family members who have taken the pilgrimage to the creationist theme park called Ark Encounter in Kentucky that has a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark. It is right near the Creation Museum, which promotes creationism.
It is hard to believe that anyone would really take these stories literally, but people do because that is what they have been taught. They think it is the only way to take it seriously. Actually literalism is a clever way that the ego has to avoid taking the Flood story seriously. It pushes it into the past and makes it an article of faith instead of reading it as talking about us now.
I am not going to spend time today refuting the literalist approach today. I will simply say that there is no scientific evidence for a worldwide flood that happened a few thousand years ago that wiped out life on earth. It didn’t happen. There is no geological evidence for it any more than there is biological evidence for creationism. There is no archeological evidence of remains of Noah’s ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey. All such claims are what is called pseudo-archaeology — also known as alternative archaeology or fringe archaeology. It might make an interesting pseudo-documentary on television, but no credible scholars pay it any attention.
Like all the stories in Genesis, the flood is myth. It was probably based on human memory of local floods in the Middle East. One theory is that it is based on the collective memory of when the Aegean Sea spilled over into the basin that is now the Black Sea around 6000 years ago. So Noah’s Flood may have been based on an actual local flood, but it wasn’t a worldwide flood.
There was no Noah. No 40 days of rain. No ark with containing every animal on earth. No animals parading into the ark two by two - or seven by seven, depending on the account. There are actually two Flood accounts intertwined in the Genesis story, just like there are two creation accounts. Furthermore the two flood accounts are from the same hands as the two creation accounts.
The Flood story is myth. As I have said before myth is not a derogatory term. It means it is fictional story that communicates spiritual truth. To understand the Flood narrative, we have to interpret it as symbolic. When we do that we see that it communicates spiritual truth.
For one thing it is addressing the issue of violence, which is a subject I recently addressed when talking about Cain and Abel. Genesis says that God brought the flood because of violence on the earth. It says: “Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”
The ironic thing is that God decides to solve the problem of human violence with an act of divine violence, by killing all humans and animals on earth, except for what could fit in Noah’s ark. That is morally problematic. I have never understood why this tale is so popular as a children’s story in churches. It does not really put the creator in a very good light if you take it literally. God solves a problem by exterminating the population of the earth through mass murder, including every child on earth. Not a good divine example these days when there are mass shootings of school children. But church people go out of their way to justify God’s behavior.
I think the origin of this story has a lot to do historically with the story of Conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews. God tells Joshua to exterminate all the people in the land because they were bad like the pre-flood people were labeled bad. So God commanded Joshua to kill all the people and all the animals in the land, just like in the Flood story. I think that is part of the origin of the flood story.
You can also look at this Flood story as having something to say about the extinctions that have happened on earth during its 4.5 billion year history. Scientists tell us there have been five massive extinctions of life on this planet. A book came out a few years ago entitled The Sixth Extinction, saying we are in the midst of another one, this one caused by humans. The flood story is not just about some event in the ancient past; it has something to say to the extinction going on now. We are a violent species – committing violence against each other and other species and it is causing extinction, just like in the Biblical flood story.
But I want to get on the nondual themes in the flood story. As I said the flood story is a retelling of the first creation story of the Bible, where it says that there was a watery abyss over all the earth. Those primordial waters in Genesis 1 represent nonduality, as I explained in that episode. And the Creator God brought forth the present universe from that nonduality through a series of dualistic proclamations. Creating things, naming things, and separating things – light from darkness, heaven from earth, dry land from the sea, male from female, etc.
The Flood story is a reversal of the creation story. It symbolically restores the original nonduality. God restores nonduality because duality has brought violence and suffering. So the meaning of the story is clear. The only way to solve the problem of duality with all its consequences of violence and suffering is by restoring nonduality.
The New Testament picks up the theme. Jesus says the coming of the Kingdom of God is like the days of Noah. The Letter of First Peter compares the Flood to Christian baptism. Christian baptism symbolizes return to awareness of nondual reality through the flood. This is exactly what happened with Jesus’ baptism, which was his nondual awakening experience, and is symbolized in our baptism. Baptism is rebirth by the waters of nonduality. Unfortunately the symbolism of baptism has been coopted by a dualistic thinking church these days.
The Flood is also a very revealing story because this restoration of nonduality is not complete. In the story God does not start from scratch. God saves a small group of creatures and humans in the ark to start over. The theme of animals coming in two by two is an obvious reference to duality. The ark is a remnant of duality in a sea of nonduality, like the small dots of black and white in the yin yang symbol. I love the image of Noah and his family in the ark bouncing around on the surface of the flood. As humans we are little pockets of duality bobbing on the surface of nonduality. At least that is how I experience human existence.
This human psyche is a little creature, which as I often say is just along for the ride, like a cork on the surface of an ocean. Nondual awareness is knowing that our true eternal nature is not the cork on the surface but the ocean depths of nonduality. Humans feel different from and apart from reality. That is the problem. The solution is realizing that we are not different or apart. We are not these temporary human forms. This human form is a momentary expression of the larger nondual reality.
Some people use the metaphor that we as individuals are like a wave in the ocean or in a river or stream, which is a great metaphor to use for the flood story. We are a wave, a ripple in the River of Life. A wave appears to be an individual manifestation on the surface of the water, but in reality it is simply water. It doesn’t exist apart from the water. So are we. We are waves of the nondual ocean. When the waves crash and die on the shore that becomes obvious. While it is still traveling toward shore, it does not feel so obvious.
Nondual awareness is waking up to what we really are, and what we will be, and what we always have been, which is this nondual reality. That is the nondual truth that the Flood story points to. That is what baptism points to. Of course as the biblical story continues after the flood, we see that God’s plan of restoration didn’t work out as God hoped. The problems start up again as soon as the occupants of the ark set foot on dry land. That is the rest of story, which leads to the Tower of Babel, which we will look at next time.