Noah and the Flood

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Noah - his name in Hebrew is נוֹחַ, noah - was one of the Old Testament patriarchs. According to the Bible, he built a large wooden boat (usually referred to as an ark), and by means of this saved humankind and all animal species from extinction during the great Flood. There are also many references to Noah in the Qur'an - see Noah in the Qur'an.

According to the biblical account in Genesis chs. 6-9, God was angered by man's wickedness and, regretting his creation of humankind, decided to destroy all life on earth (ibid., ch. 6, vv. 5-7). However, he saw that Noah, alone among his contemporaries, was a good man and wanted to save him and his family. He therefore warned Noah of the impending great Flood and instructed him to build an ark, i.e., a large wooden boat about 400 feet long (ibid., ch. 6, v. 8 - ch. 7, v. 6). . When the rains began, Noah went on board the ark together with his wife, his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives, and they took on board with them male and female representatives of all the animal species. The rains continued for forty days and nights, and the flood waters rose until even the mountains were covered. All life on earth was destroyed, but Noah and those with him remained safe in the ark (ibid., ch. 7, vv. 8-24). . After the rains stopped the water level gradually began to go down, and five months after Noah entered the ark, it came to rest on the top of mount Ararat (on the border between modern Turkey and Iran) (ibid., ch. 8, v. 4, cf. ch. 7, v. 11). As the water level continued to fall, Noah sent out a dove to discover whether it was safe to come out of the ark. The first time he did this the dove came back because it could find nowhere to alight; the second time, a week later, the dove again came back, but with an olive leaf in its beak; the third time, another week later, it did not come back (ibid., ch. 8, vv. 8-12). Eventually, just over a year after the rains had begun ((ibid., ch. 8, v. 14, cf. ch. 7, v. 11) the surface of the earth was dry, and Noah disembarked all the human and animal passengers from the ark. God assured Noah that he would never again send a flood to destroy the whole earth, and said that the rainbow in the sky was to be a reminder of this promise (ibid., ch. 9, vv. 8-17).

Noah lived many years after the Flood. For a brief account of the rest of his life see Noah's life after the Flood.

The biblical story of Noah and the great Flood has inspired many paintings, e.g., The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), Noah's Ark, by an anonymous French Master of the seventeenth century, Aquae diluvii super terram (Floods of Water over the Earth) by Salvador Dali (1904-1989), The Return of the Dove to the Ark by John Everett Millais (1829-1896), and The Sacrifice of Noah by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). The fifteenth century mystery play, Noye's Fludde, from the Chester Mystery Cycle provided the libretto for a one-act opera of the same title by the English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). Tant que la terre durera (As long as the earth remains), the title of a well-known novel by Henri Troyat (1911-2007), is a reference to Genesis ch. 8, v. 22 ('While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease', Authorised Version), part of God's promise to Noah after the Flood.

The expression 'out of the ark', as in, e.g., 'The dress she was wearing looked as if it had come out of the ark', means: very old, or old-fashioned. The expression is only used in informal speech and always has a pejorative sense. It has to some extent replaced an older adjective used to express the same meaning ('older than old-fashioned', 'completely out-of-date'): antediluvian. (This is derived from the Latin ante, 'before', and diluvi[um], 'flood'. Before the Flood has been another English expression for 'the remote past'.)