The J and P Versions of the Flood Story
For the reader's reference, I have broken down the two versions of the biblical flood story into their component parts. The first selection is the Yahwist story (J), wherein the volatile YHWH judges the world. The second selection presents the more staid and verbose God of the Priestly writers (P). I indicate the verse numbers so that the reader can see how the two stories have been woven together by the Genesis editor. Scholars will quibble about the precise divisions between the J and P material, especially where the final editor may have embellished J here and there with P-like wording (Genesis 6:7; 7:3a) as Gunkel observed in his commentary on Genesis; I rely here on the identifications presented in Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible? The translation is my own. Despite any embellishments by the final redactor, the two versions of the flood story are virtually self-contained, except insofar as the extant J version lacks a description of the actual construction of the ark. This segment may have been omitted by the editor in favor of the more extensive P version of the ark's construction or may not have been present in the original J version. The f material reads well enough without the scene. The two versions differ in significant ways, especially in terms of chronological details and their portrayals of the deity, suggesting that neither version was originally a conscious expansion of the other but formed separate streams of tradition that were merged well into the period of exile in Babylon, where the various Israelite versions of the flood tale (p.190) may have arisen in the first place. Putting all of the J segments in order highlights the temperamental YHWH known from the Garden of Eden expulsion story, the Cain and Abel episode, and the subsequent story of the Tower of Babel. Likewise, treating the P segments as a unit helps to clarify the literary connections to Genesis 1. The puzzle, of course, is why the two versions were merged rather than having one simply displace the other.
The J Version of the Flood Story
When people began to increase in number throughout the land and daughters were born to them, the divine sons took note of how delightful the mortal daughters were and selected as wives whomever they wished. As a result YHWH exclaimed, “My spirit will not contend with these people for ever, for they are merely flesh. Henceforth their lifetimes shall be no more than 120 years.” The giants were in the world in those days and also afterward when the divine sons had intercourse with the mortal daughters who bore offspring to them, those mighty heroes who have been hailed since ancient times. Then YHWH saw that people were doing evil everywhere in the world; every intention was toward wickedness every day. And YHWH regretted that he had brought people into the world. Because he was troubled within, YHWH said, “I will wipe from the surface of the land the people I have created, the entire lot: people, cattle, crawlers, and the birds of the sky because I regret that I ever made them.” But YHWH liked Noah.
So YHWH said to Noah, “Go, you and all your family into the ark, for I have seen that you are a just person before me in this generation. Take for yourself some of the ritually pure cattle, seven pairs, the man and its woman, and from the impure take two, the man and its woman. The same with the birds of the sky, seven pairs, the male and the female, so that seed will survive throughout the world. Because in seven days I am going to send rain over the world, for forty days and forty nights, wiping away from the surface of the land every creature that I made.” So Noah did everything that YHWH ordered him to do.
Noah entered the ark along with his sons, his wife, and his sons' wives to escape the flood.
(p.191) Genesis 7:10
Then, seven days later the flood befell the world.
YHWH had shut [the door] behind him. The flood covered the world for forty days. The water swelled, lifting up the ark so that it rose above the world. The water was energized, swelling even more over the world as the ark rode on the surface of the water. The water showed great force throughout the world, covering all of the highest mountains beneath the broad sky. Covering the mountains by fifteen cubits, the waters revealed their strength.
Everything that once lived on the dry ground died, all that had life's breath in its nostrils. He wiped away every creature that lived on the surface of the land, whether human, cattle, crawler, or bird of the sky. They were wiped from the world; only Noah and those with him in the ark remained.
He stopped the storm in the sky. The water turned away from the world, backing further and further away.
He sent forth the dove to see whether the water had receded from the surface of the land. But the dove did not find a resting place for the bottoms of its feet, so it returned to him in the ark because the water still covered the surface of the world. With his hand, he reached out and drew the dove back into the ark. He waited for another seven days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned in the evening there was a freshly plucked olive branch in its beak! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the (p.192) world's surface. Still, he waited yet another seven days and sent out the dove, but this time it did not return.
Then Noah built an altar to YHWH, and he offered up sacrifices from some of the ritually pure cattle and some of the pure birds. YHWH smelled the pleasing aroma and thought to himself, “I will never again curse the land because of its inhabitants even though their minds are set on evil from their youth. I will never again strike every living being as I have done. So long as the world endures there will be sowing and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. They will not come to an end.”
The P Version of the Flood Story
This is the line of descent from Noah: Noah was just and blameless among his contemporaries. In fact, he walked with God. Noah fathered three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The land was corrupt before God; the land was filled with violence. God saw the world, that it was corrupt because all living beings had come to live corruptly throughout the land. So God said to Noah, “The end of every living being in my sight has arrived. The land is full of violence because of them. I am about to destroy them and the land. Make an ark using gopher-trees. You must put rooms in the ark. You will need to cover it inside and out with tar. Here is how you will make it: 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. You must make a roof [skylight?] for the ark, finishing it one cubit above. You must put a door for the ark in its side. You will need to make a bottom level, a second, and a third. I am about to bring the flood throughout the land to destroy every living being in it—those that breathe beneath the sky. Everything in the world will perish, but I will make my agreement with you. You will enter the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives along with you. Of all that lives, all flesh, you may bring two of each into the ark so that they may survive along with you. They will be male and female, from every type of bird, from every type of cattle, from every type of thing that crawls on the ground; two of each will come to you in order to survive. And as for yourself, take some of every kind of food that is eaten; gather it up for yourself, so that it can serve as food for yourself and for them.” Taking into account all that God ordered him to do, Noah did just that.
(p.193) Genesis 7:6
Noah was 600 years old when the flood hit the land.
From the ritually pure cattle and from those cattle that were not pure, from the birds, and from the creatures that crawl on the ground, two pairs came to Noah in the ark, male and female, in just the way that God had instructed Noah.
In the 600th year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, all the hidden reservoirs of the great abyss burst open, and the windows of the sky opened up.
On that same day, Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth—the sons of Noah—together with Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons all entered the ark, along with every type of beast, all types of cattle, every kind of crawling thing that crawls along the ground, every type of bird, any bird with any kind of wing. Representatives of every sort of living creature that breathes came in pairs to Noah into the ark. Those that came were male and female from every type of animal, just as God had instructed Noah.
Every creature perished, those that crawled in the land or lived among the birds, cattle, beasts, or other creatures that swarmed the world. Indeed, every person died.
The water exerted its force throughout the world for 150 days. Then God took note of Noah, of every beast, and of all the cattle that were with him in the ark. God drew a wind across the land, and the water receded. The hidden reservoirs of the deep were shut along with the windows of the sky.
The water diminished at the end of the 150 days. The ark came to a rest on the mountains of Urartu in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month. (p.194) The water kept thinning out until the tenth month. On the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains were visible.
In the 601st year, on the first day of the first month, the water on the land dried up.
In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the land was completely dry. So God said to Noah, “Depart from the ark, you, your wife, your sons, and your sons' wives with you. Bring out every animal—the birds, the cattle, and the crawlers that crawl on the land—so that they can swarm throughout the land, and be fruitful, and increase throughout the land.” Then Noah went out along with his sons, his wife, and his sons' wives. Every beast, every crawler, every bird, everything that crawls on the land came out of the ark by families.
God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful! Increase! Fill the land! All who live in the land and every bird in the sky will be overcome with fear and dread because of you. Furthermore, everything that crawls on the ground and all the fish in the sea are given over into your power. Every crawler that lives will become your food. Just as I have given you the green plants, I also give everything to you. Just do not eat meat with its life, its blood, still inside. I will make an exaction for your lives, for your blood. I will make an exaction from every beast, from each person, each person in connection with his brother, making an exaction for the life of that person. As for the one who sheds blood, on account of that person his blood will also be shed because [God] made people in God's image. But as for you, be fruitful and multiply! Swarm throughout the world! Increase in it!” Then God said to Noah and his sons, “I am about to confirm my agreement with you, with your heirs after you, and with every living being that is with you—birds, cattle, every wild animal, all who came out of the ark, indeed every creature of the world. I will confirm my agreement with you. Never again will all beings be cut down through such a flood. Never again will there be a flood to destroy the world.” God said, “This is the sign of the agreement that I am about to make with you and with every living being that is with you for all generations ever after. I have put my war bow in the clouds to serve (p.195) as the sign of the agreement between myself and the world. When I make clouds appear over the land, the war bow will also be seen in the clouds. In that moment I will call to mind my agreement between myself and all of you, with every living being, and with every animal: the flood water will never again destroy all creatures. When the war bow is in the clouds, I will see it and recall the permanent agreement between God, all living beings, and all creatures in the world.” Then God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the agreement that I have confirmed between myself and all the creatures that are in the world.” (p.196)