Bible And Literature: The Flood Narrative Analyzed In The Style Of Northrope Frye (Timothy Findley Used As A Critic/Commentary) Essay, Research Paper
The ?flood? as found in Genesis is a multidimensional and an archetypal source of metaphor and myth. The ?flood? is an example of metaphorical and mythological language that provides foundational constructs upon which other aspects of the Biblical text and other works can be seen as related. Metaphor and myth make typological analysis possible. The ?flood? narrative will be discussed in relation to other types within the Biblical text, some examples in other popular mythology, and through discussion of Timothy Findley?s analysis of the ?flood? as seen in his novel, Not Wanted on the Voyage.
Discussion of metaphor, myth, typology and Findley?s novel surrounding the ?flood? narrative will illustrate its archetypal position. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden provides a mythological foundation, an archetype that helps the reader understand the cause of God?s distress that leads him to flood the earth. The metaphor of the seed can be seen through the example of the ark strongly, but again, this metaphor is found earlier with Adam (this will be discussed later). God is mythologically understood through different sources. In the flood we are presented with the myth of a powerful and emotional God. The image of God as powerful is not so unique, but the aspect of him being emotional is. The relationship that God has with humankind is typified in myth in different ways. Noah?s relationship with God is common for the Biblical presentation of God?s relationship with humankind.
The flood story is introduced by an account of human development. This account sets the stage upon which God will destroy his creation. The text explains that human women were married to and mated with beings called sons of God. Who the sons of God are is not explained, but it is made clear that they are not human. If they are human it would have stated that the sons and daughters of men married and mated, instead it states, ?When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose? (Gen., 6:1-2). What resulted from this was a breed of humankind who became ?the heroes of old, men of renown? (6:4). This information is presented just before the writer states, ?The Lord saw how great man?s wickedness had become? (6:5) and God then considers completely destroying humankind. It seems that God?s consideration of destroying his entire creation is a result of the union made between the daughters of men and the sons of God. The writer tells us that this union took place and then immediately states that because of the wickedness of humanity God wanted to wipe humankind from the earth. It seems that this union is responsible for God?s decision to flood the earth. What causes the decision to flood the earth is the blending of the human with the divine. This can also be seen in Eden, when Adam and Eve overstep their bounds by eating of the tree of good and evil, getting involved with something that is restricted to them by the divine. The tower of Babel, Job?s rebuking of God, Jonah?s rebuking of God, and Peter?s rebuking of Jesus are all examples of this type. Each of these events is an example of humankind involving themselves in activities that they have no right being involved in.
God?s response to the disobedience of Adam and Eve is to force them out of the Garden. God explicitly banned the tree from their use, but they ate from it anyway. What Satan uses to tempt Eve into eating from the tree is pride. ?For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil? (3:5). Eve decides to disobey and then Satan works through her to affect her husband. The temptation offered was to ?be like God.? This is the problem that is presented in the introduction to the ?flood? narrative. When a person removes themselves from humanity and attempts to fill the position that is reserved for God, then God illustrates to them what is really important and causes change to happen in their lives.
In the building of the tower, God punished the people by confusing their speech, making it impossible for them to understand each other. Building the tower was wrong because the people desired to ?make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth? (11:4). The concept that God does not want any name glorified but his own is presented in this passage ? this is one reason God opposes the people. Another reason for God?s opposition to their activities is that it seems God wants the people to be scattered all over the earth. From the above passage it seems the people have the sense they should be spreading out over the earth, because they make a point against doing it, as though it were on the original agenda. Much of God?s language following the flood encourages the people to ?be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth? (9:1). The problem in the instance of building the tower of Babel is that the people involved themselves in something that was not in the plan of God, attempting to glorify themselves instead of their maker.
When humans rebuke God, the problem primarily is that it is not the place of humanity to rebuke God ? God knows what is best. If anyone will rebuke, it will be God, not man. Job rebukes God and God responds, ?Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me? (Job, 38:2-3). The translatable meaning of this text (langage) is that humanity has no right to question God. God seems to be saying, ?Who do you think you are?? The story of Jonah is the perfect example of the purposelessness of questioning God?s wisdom. God tells Jonah to go and share his message with the people of Nineveh (Jonah, 1:2). Jonah rejects God?s request and instead gets on a boat in an attempt to escape. God shows Jonah that it is impossible to outthink, outrun, or overpower God. When it comes to the realm of the divine, humankind should follow what God has in mind for them. Jonah is sacrificed to the storm by the men on the boat. Jonah probably thinks that he will die in the storm, but God has other plans. God sends ?a great fish to swallow Jonah? (1:17). It takes three days inside the fish for Jonah to gain humility and ask for God?s mercy. From this point Jonah takes on the quest and fulfils it, but he is not pleased that the people repent. Jonah responds to their salvation by asking God to take his life. God responds to Jonah with a question, ?Have you any right to be angry?? (4:4). Jonah leaves in great distress and God gives him comfort and then takes away that comfort. Jonah becomes even more upset, ?It would be better for me to die than to live? (4:8). God responds, ?Do you have any right to be angry?? (4:9). Again God seems to question, ?who do you think you are?? What the text states is, ?You have been concerned about this vine (God provided for shelter), though you did not tend it, or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred twenty thousand people? Should I not be concerned about that great city?? (4:11). Jonah gets off very easily for having completely abandoned God?s will, rejecting God and calling out in anger against God. Jesus makes the point very clear. Moments after Jesus names Peter the ?rock,? Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for prophesying his own death. Jesus responds to Peter?s questioning of the divine, ?Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but of men? (Matt., 16:23). When humankind tries to interfere with the things of God, God will not stand for it. The people of Noah?s time are no different ? daughters of men married and mated with sons of God and that led to the destruction of everything that inhabited the earth besides Noah and his family and all the animals on the Ark. The behavior that has been described in all of these examples is linked through a specific type of evil, confusion of power. God is the only real power in the universe and he knows what he is doing. The role of humankind is not to disagree, or rebuke him, but to obey his commands. Jonah would still be inside the fish if he had not called out to God in repentance. This is connected to the concept of the Leviathan (which we will discuss later).
Biblical myth presents the roles of God and humankind as strictly set; God is faithful and powerful and humankind is unreliable and weak and needs God?s rescue. Other mythology is not so strict. Homer presents a polytheistic meddling image of the Gods. Humans, in Homer?s view, are fully capable of taking care of themselves. Seemingly, if it were not for the Gods, then humankind would be free and independent.
Findley presents something of an inverted blending of the divine with the human. In Findley?s book God presents himself to Noah and his family and is a man, a powerful man, but a man nonetheless. Findley?s ?flood? is cause by a God whose humanness has taken control of him and is ready to die. God is described:
?His fingers were not as long as Emma thought they might have been, though part of the reason for this was plainly arthritis? Something was lifted from the box ? placed against his lips and drawn into His mouth. God sucks lozenges!? His beard flowed all the way to his waist and though it was white, there were yellow streaks and bits of food and knotted tats. His eyes were narrowed against the light and their rims were pink and watery ? sore looking, and tender? together with His nose and the general shape of His head, made him almost unbearably beautiful, despite his age. The Lord God Yaweh, who was about to step into the air, was more than seven hundred years older than His friend Doctor Noyes? Her Lord Creator was a walking sack of bones and hair. She also suspected, from His smell, that He was human? (Findley, 66)
?Yaweh searched for His handkerchief and failed to find it. Hannah at once produced a clean white piece of linen and handed it to Him and the Lord God Yaweh blew His nose and dabbed at his cheeks. But still the tears flowed? ?It is not that we are ill. It is the strain of all these weeks of endless, endless touring through the terror of the Cities and then to come upon? this garden.? He turned to survey it, which brought on more tears until His beard was wet and Hannah?s linen inadequate? Clearly, the Lord God Yaweh was having a breakdown? (69).
What is similar between Findley?s novel and the Biblical text is that the apparent cause of the problem is that the divine and the human have blended which results in a breakdown, and not only leads to the flood, but also Yaweh?s death. Satan and the archangel Michael meet with each other. ?Tell me how He is,? she said. ?He looked so old ?so ill?? ?He?s dying,? said Michael? ?He can?t die,? she said, almost whispering. ?Why not?? ?He isn?t able to die?? ?I thought that, too. But He is God. And if God wants to die?? ?Then God is able.? ?Yes? (108). If God wants to become human and die, then he can. This blending of the divine with the human results in the death of God and his creation, saving only Noah, his family and the animals that survive the voyage.
Biblical typology often follows that when the human chooses to take on attitudes reserved for God, or abandons God?s agenda in favor of a human agenda, God steps in and makes the ?necessary? intervention to give humankind another opportunity for life. Life is meant in both the literal and metaphorical sense here. Life meaning physical existence as well as the metaphorical life that Jesus talks about when he says, ?I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty? If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever? (John, 6:35-51). God wants to be the source of life for humans, and when they reject him and attempt to satisfy only what God can satisfy for them, God personally intervenes. God created humankind to be partnered with other humans, so when they chose to mate with these other creatures, wickedness was the result and God decide to wipe them ?from the face of the earth? (Gen., 6:7).
Noah ?found favor in the eyes of the LORD? (Gen., 6:8). Noah was chosen to be the new Adam. Adam was the archetype for the instrument of God to be the seed of life, to spread life on the earth, but Noah was the first human who was actually given a mission outside of just living and prospering. Noah was the archetype for the human who was given the specific mission. That mission was to carry life to the new world that God would provide. Moses led God?s people through the desert. This traveling group was like a seed in that they were an entire social group, a civilization without a place to call home. They were wandering in barren places, looking for a place to take root. A seed falls from its place of development and is blown, or is carried to fertile land, where it can take root. This specific seed finally comes to the promised land. The land was rich, and the people prospered ? the seed of life opened and they took root. Adam and Eve were in a slightly different situation, but very much like seeds as well. God placed them in the Garden, so they did not need to wander. Jesus addresses each human as though they are a seed and they can have access to fertility easily if they embrace his teaching. ?Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life? (John, 4:14). The image of the spring of water used in this passage brings the season of spring to mind, plant life, the growth of a plant (from a seed). Noah is a type following the model of Adam.
A seed takes time to germinate. Many characters of the Bible have had to wait for God to fulfill his plan. The text says, ?Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth? (Gen., 7:6). The text provides a range of time within which Noah could have been building the ark and waiting for God. Chapter 5 of Genesis presents the genealogy of Adam to Noah. The text says, ?After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth? (5:32). Possibly the reader is supposed to assume that roughly 100 years had passed between the time God instructed Noah to build the ark and the time the rain actually came. God?s timing is like that of a seed. Abraham waited for God to bring him a son (15:5). Moses led the people in the wilderness until his death so that Joshua could lead the people into the fertile land. Elijah waited for God to pass by him on a mountain. ?Then a great wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he went out and stood at the mouth of the cave? (1Kings, 19:11-13). It takes time and it is on God?s terms but his fulfillment comes. Even today many people are waiting for God to fulfill his plan. Findley seemingly is not waiting for God, due to the fact that he imagines God to be dead after leaving Noah to build the ark.
The ark itself is a metaphor of a seed. Packed full of everything required to create life, the ark floated until fertile soil could be found and then it unpacked. According to the scripture, all animals of the land and air that exist today are a result of that boatload of passengers.
Findley presents the ark as a seed of iniquity. The only good people on the ark are Mrs. Noyes, Ham and Satan. The people have proved themselves to be dark and hopeless. Findley finishes his book through narrating the thoughts and actions of the protagonist, ?Mrs. Noyes scanned the sky. Not one cloud. She prayed. But not to the absent God, but to the absent clouds, she prayed. And the to the empty sky. She prayed for rain? (Findley, 352). In Findley?s Godless world Mrs. Noyes does not want to watch the people who are left to care for the earth simply live in chaos, which is what Mr. Noyes (Noah) comes to represent. Noah would lead the people into chaos.
God is characterized through his power and providence in the text. ?Then the LORD shut him in? (Gen., 7:16). It is interesting that God is in control of the security, the safety of the people. He puts them in charge of preparing for the flood, but in the end he does not leave them in control of their own safety. God secures them in the Ark. God?s power is often revealed in this way. The reader is given the sense that what is really in control, what is really saving Noah is not the Ark, but the power of God keeping the boat afloat and Noah safe. God makes promises to people giving them the responsibility to represent his will, while providing them with his power and protection. Even in the example of Moses and Pharaoh, God hardens Pharaoh?s heart (Exodus 9:12). God?s power is the primary force in the world. If God is allied with Moses, and God controls Pharaoh, then regardless of all the depravity Moses may face, God will carry him through to victory. God is the force that will save Noah, his family and his cargo.
God?s power is the protection from the leviathan. The langage of God?s questioning of Job at the end of the book of Job is that Job was not present when God created. Job cannot understand the creation. Job cannot tame the creation. Job needs God in order to rescue him from being swallowed up in the creation. The creation is the present state of existence. The metaphor used in God?s speech is the leviathan. The leviathan is an untamable quality of nature; a beast with more power than man could possibly face. God created it, God understands it and God can tame it. God is Noah?s protection from the depths, from the leviathan.
The flood can also be looked at as the demonic leviathan. The leviathan is already a demonic image, but during the flood the leviathan is freed from the control of God. God is the only force that can save humanity when we are in the depraved state. During the flood there was no salvation or mercy for those sentenced to die. They called out (most likely), but were given no rescue. This could have been due to a law relationship with God. Jesus and the covenant of love, mercy, grace had not yet arrived. In order to understand God as merciful, possibly first we had to know that life had not always been this way (blessed by God?s mercy). Acts 17 says that through Jesus, God has removed our excuse for not turning to him. God has chosen not to be wrathful, not to keep us subject under the law, there are no hoops to jump through ? no circumcision, no kosher laws. In the present state, humanity is subject to depravity, but we can call on God to save us from it. The only requirement to be saved from the depraved state is a desire to belong to God. Belonging to God is receiving his love and care and then responding to that love. Bruce Cockburn phrased it well, ?we?re given love and love must be returned. That?s the only bearings that you need to learn.? In obedience to God his power rests in us and in sharing his love we are refined. The flood was a different scenario ? a point in time that was balanced on God having his back turned on those who were dying. The leviathan was given control over the wicked and it destroyed them.
There are so many examples in the Bible of people who have called out to God to save them from the leviathan. One example that is obviously related is Jesus and Peter walking on the water. In the case of the ark, God proposed the plan, so his protection is offered along with his proposal. In the situation where Peter decided he wanted to join Jesus out on the water, it was Peter?s idea to put himself in a position where he could be unsafe, so when he doubted Jesus? power to save him, he sunk into the leviathan. All that was necessary was for him to call out to Jesus and he was saved.
God?s provision is a testimony to his power. ?Then the LORD shut him in? (Gen., 7:16). Even though Noah went through the effort of building the ark, God seals him in, giving him complete protection ? this seems to be a necessary factor to Noah?s success. The typology of God?s provision is immense. The entire Bible is an account of his complete provision.
Findley presents God?s power as extremely limited. The Biblical text says, ?But God remembered Noah? (8:1), and ?The LORD was grieved that he made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain? (6:6). Statements like these could be interpreted to mean that God?s power is limited in the same way that Findley presents it, but that is a matter of interpretation. It could be thought that because God remembered Noah it must mean that God forgot about Noah, but ?remember? could also mean that he kept him in mind, that he did not forget about him. It has been thought to be a problem that God could be influenced by emotions. Patriarchal concepts of masculinity dictate that emotions should not be expressed. Hindu mythology presents the idea that God should be fearless and not be swayed by love, or compassion, but driven by honor. Arjuna does not want to kill his family and friends, but Krishna tells him that in order to maintain honor, he must (The Bhagavad-Gita). The Bible presents a God that loves his creation and is pained at its self-destruction. ?The people corrupted their ways? (6:11). God gave humanity the option to love him, but they chose to abandon him instead. Only Noah was left ? out of all the descendants of Adam, only Noah remained in God?s favor. If God had been unemotional about the entire human population turning it?s back on him, it would say much about the character of God. That image of God is frightening because of what it says about who God may be today.
The question must be asked, if God is the force that he claims to be then why does he need Noah to build the ark? The obvious, simple answer is, maybe God cannot, or is unable to build the ark, but this answer is weak, because if God has the power to flood the earth, then he can build a boat. Another answer is that maybe God is just playing with Noah, like a cosmic child watching a hamster running in a wheel, but this answer is also weak because this is not illustrated through God?s behavior, or through what is revealed in the narration, if the narration can be trusted. An answer that is more likely is that possibly God wanted to give Noah a sense of who the Lord is, what he has done, and what he is going to do. God prepared the world so that humans and animals could live in it. Noah is given an opportunity to prepare a world (the ark) that will be able to support him, his family and the animals. God is putting Noah through an exercise that will help him to understand God. Noah is a type for many other examples of those who God used to illustrate to people who He is.
Moses is another example. Moses was given leadership over Israel. God guides his people constantly, so when he puts his people in the care of another person, that person experiences some of what God does, as their leader. The prophet, Nathan, convicted David of adultery, and in this act, as one who convicts and as a prophet ? one who God speaks through, Nathan experiences who God is and reveals God?s character. Jesus is something of an antitype because he was God in the flesh, on a mission, yet designated by God (Acts, 17:31). Jesus is the antitype in a centrifugal way. Centripetally, Jesus is a type (a unique and special type) of a person called to God?s work, and through that designation experiences God and illustrates God?s character. Centrifugally Jesus is still alive, living in people, as well as independently. Whether Jesus is metaphorically or actually living in individuals today, Jesus? life 2000 years ago impacts us today, but at the same time, still being alive, he continues to be the designated one to carry us to the father in this new covenant. Findley?s book presents Noah as designated, but in Findley?s book it states that God is at least 1300 years old. ?The Lord God Yaweh, who was about to step into the air, was more than seven hundred years older than His friend Doctor Noyes, kneeling now before Him on the road? (Findley, 66). Just previous to this statement the text says, ?Noah, walking on the road, was now over six hundred years old? (47). This calculation of age indicates that God was born at some point. Also the statement that God was tired from touring, ?then to come upon? this garden.? God is presented as searching for someone and stumbles upon Noah and his family. Yes, God designates Noah, but only because he is the first and only person he found in ?touring?. The designation is not so much because Noah was unique, because there are other people in the book who seem to be wonderful people. Noah was designated because he was convenient. ?Just to have sat these few brief moments beside this tall, sane, loving man ? yes, it was worth every minute of jeopardy and danger? (118). Emma?s family is sane and loving. One cannot help but think that if God had only found them first, they would have been a better choice than Noah. Findley?s God was simply looking for a person to hand his responsibilities to before he killed himself. Findley?s God is a fake and it seems that Noah learns this in the conclusion of the book, ??Everyone else is dead,? Noah whispered. ?Why not Yaweh??? (350).
The flood narrative presents much to the reader that is archetypal through metaphor, myth and typological analysis. The flood narrative is multi-dimensional. God?s motivation for causing the flood, the metaphor of the seed, God?s characterization through his power and providence and God and Noah?s relationship as archetypal have been examined. Findley?s analysis of the flood narrative offers the reader a unique critical perception of the flood. The flood is a literary archetype. In many ways it is the first example of certain metaphorical and mythological circumstances. Other passages in the Biblical text, and aspects of other works, are tied metaphorically to this narrative.
Findley, Timothy. Not Wanted on the Voyage, Penguin Books, 1984: Toronto.
The Holy Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1982: Grand Rapids.