Like most of my stories, this one started with a question.
What if the rainbow in the Genesis flood myth was an actual bow?
The question rose quite naturally as I was re-reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, another flood myth which parallels the Genesis story in remarkable ways, right down to the rainbow promise at the end. Only, in the Gilgamesh flood myth, it’s not called a rainbow, but is referred to as a string of jewels, a necklace in the sky.
It got me to thinking about how we take for granted natural phenomenon and might not consider at times how something like a rainbow would require a supernatural explanation in some ancient cultures. Some for instance saw it as bridge to a different world. The Hindu religion sees it as a warrior’s bow.
This led me to the original Hebrew for the flood story where with the help of my friend Mark Sandlin at the God Article, I learned that the word “qesheth” is indeed the Hebrew word we have translated into “rainbow.” It also just so happens to be the word for the bow a hunter or a warrior uses. So when Noah sees the rainbow, he isn’t just seeing pretty colors. He is seeing God’s weapon in sky.
That, of course, led to a much more troubling question.
What does it mean that God used a lethal weapon on creation? How does that change the dynamics of the flood story? Doesn’t it make the story less about Noah and his merry ark and more about God and his Rain Bow?
It was a question so intriguing I felt it best answered with fiction, which I offer as a free download today. I hope you will do so and take a moment to comment here or on my Facebook page or even offer your own reflection in a blog post which I can link to later.
I’ve offered short fiction here before, such as my Christmas, Undocumented story.This time, I have a partner who has offered his own compelling essay and sermon along the same lines as a companion piece to my work of short fiction. Mark Sandlin’s own work on the flood is just as provocative and just as challenging. We happily bumped into one another’s insights and decided to offer a Story and a Sermon to re-envision this story completely. Please visit his site, The God Article, and check out his essay (or download it here) reinterpreting the Genesis flood story. He reveals in powerful language why this story might be the least appropriate for nursery walls in our churches. It’s the kind of sermon that make the pulpit worthwhile.
The Rain Bow
By David R. Henson
The bow had tempted him for ages, and now, holding it in his hand, he understood why. The Rain Bow was as beautiful as it was terrible. He felt its seduction, the thrumming power coursing through its arc; he beheld its splendor, wrapped in shimmering colors as ephemeral as dew on a spider’s web. He had been wise to hide the bow out of his sight for so long, entrusting it to the children of the humans and the Nephilim, the great heroic warriors of old. They never understood its limitless power like he did, never grasped that a thing so graceful could be so destructive.
He had forged the bow in a fit of rage, when the humans had first taken life. In fury, he had ripped a sunbeam from sky, the heat of his anger fracturing its colors and warping it into a gentle curve. Its power had shocked even him and he had cast it out of the heavens as forcefully as it had been made. But as he watched the earth buckle under the weight of humanity’s iniquity, the temptation to take the bow back grew stronger.