Something in the Flood Story isn’t Kosher

Something in the Flood Story isn’t Kosher January 28, 2014

Telling stories in episodes over a long period of time regularly leads to continuity errors. The Bible is no exception.

One that was drawn to my attention recently is the mention of kosher or clean animals in the flood story in Genesis. Genesis 7:2 is the first reference to clean animals, and it is made without explanation. The author and readers take it for granted to such an extent that they don’t even notice that a detail is being introduced into the story that required explanation – for Noah, if not for them.

If we didn’t know that notions of clean and unclean food predate the flood story in its present form, we might consider the Book of Leviticus to be what in television is known as “retconning” – something introduced later in a series to address an earlier discrepancy or puzzle.

But that still wouldn’t solve the problem. Noah didn’t have access to that book.

And so presumably at some point someone will need to introduce a time travel plot twist to finally explain how Noah could know what animals were kosher.

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  • DonaldByronJohnson

    Pentateuch/Torah of Moses assumes one has read the same before this current reading/hearing. This will not be true the first time, obviously.

  • Good point, James. I think you could take the disconnect even further, since “clean” and “unclean” animals, under the Levitical law, referred to the animals you could eat and the ones you couldn’t. And YECs believe humans didn’t eat any animals until after the flood, when God said it was “OK.” (Apparently, Abel tended flocks of sheep purely for the pleasure of their company.) So, under that view, the reference to “clean” and “unclean” animals makes even less sense — like pointing out to me what rocks are “clean” to eat and which ones aren’t (I’m not going to eat any rocks, regardless of how clean they are, so it doesn’t really matter).

    • That’s an excellent point, that the distinction assumes practices not merely of sacrifice but of consumption of meat which are not explicitly mentioned before now, and which young-earth creationists typically say only began after the Flood.

    • Ian

      Why do they claim people were vegetarian before the flood? I’ve not heard that before.

  • David Evans

    I don’t see this as a major problem. God could simply have added a list of clean animals to his instructions for the building of the Ark, saying “I know this doesn’t make sense to you now, but trust me, it will be needed later on”.

    • Paul D.

      A “list”? What did God do, spend hours reciting the names of every clean species (including species that had no names in Noah’s language) so Noah could memorize it? Or maybe pre-flood animals had bar codes you could scan to see if they were clean/unclean. As long as we’re inventing new miracles to fix the Noah story, anything’s possible.

      • David Evans

        God dictating the specifications for the Ark is already a miracle. Adding a few sentences (Leviticus 11:3-8 and Deuteronomy 14:4-8) on clean animals hardly stretches credibility any further. Noah doesn’t need to classify anything whose name he doesn’t know – he’s hardly going to eat it so it defaults to unclean.

        But I fear we are taking the whole thing much too seriously.

        • Whoops! Leviticus 11: 5-6 says coneys (rabbits) and hares are unclean because they chew “the cud” but “divideth not the hoof” are unclean. Rabbits and hares aren’t ruminants and don’t chew cuds.

          Also, bats are counted among “fowl” along with storks and herons. Leviticus 11: 19.

          Now, the Israelites might have been going by “folk taxonomy” but God would presumably have known the real difference. So God wasn’t talking to them in scientific terms but explaining the world in terms they could understand. Thus God wasn’t instructing them on the reality of biology or cosmology, etc., etc.

          In short, the Bible cannot be taken as an authority against science.

  • Darach Conneely

    The law of Moses wasn’t written in a cultural vacuum. The instructions about divorce, Deut_24:1 “When a man…writes her a certificate of divorce”, presumes a the practice of writing certificates of divorce rather than introducing the idea. In fact writing certificates of divorce was a custom the Israelites picked up in papyrus pushing Egypt. In the same way Moses may simply have been expanding on pre-existing concept of clean and unclean animals. After all taboo long predates written legal codes.

    • Gary

      Speaking of taboo. Something rather prevalent in Genesis seems to be an incest theme. Adam and Eve, their offspring populating the earth, with brother and sister mating (no one else around). Noah’s three sons and their wives, all repopulating the earth (the first kissing cousins, but of necessity 1st cousins)? Good old Lott, a righteous man, having sex with his daughters (ok, it was the daughters’ fault, getting him drunk, and thinking the earth needed to be re-populated).
      Now, the saddest part of my tale…current times, I’m sitting in church, and someone at the pulpit is trying to explain how the DNA of the first people was pure in ancient times, and so such activity was OK. My head was going to explode. Fundamentalists do indeed have too little mental! Why I have a bad attitude about inerrancy.

      • Darach Conneely

        A lot of the incest is read into the text through Creationist interpretations. If you read Genesis 4 Cain seems to meet his wife after he went into exile. Unlike modern Creationists, the writer didn’t seem to assume Adam’s family were the only people around. Cain was terrified of going into exile because ‘whoever finds me will kill me’. After the flood, partners for the grand kids would only be a problem if the flood was global and wiped out the rest of the human race. It wouldn’t have been an issue with a local flood and doesn’t seem to have been an issue the writer was concerned with.

        The one time you do get incest is with Lot and his daughters. Now there isn’t any condemnation of their act, but writers of OT narratives tend not to anyway. We are let draw our own conclusions. But I get the impression this was written for our disapproval, or more specifically for the disapproval of the Israelites whose idolatrous neighbours the Moabites and Ammonites were descended from Lot and his daughters. But if it was written for the Israelites’ disapproval, then the writer was assuming incest was wrong in Lot’s time, not just after the Mosaic Law.

        • Gary

          A man that makes sense.

          • Darach Conneely

            Thanks 🙂

        • The story of Lot and his daughters is not the only example of incest between biblical characters. According to Genesis 12 and 20, Abraham’s wife Sarah was also his half sister … and they were the father and mother of many nations.

          • Gary

            I wish I could think of a good come-back having to do with Duck Dynasty, but I’m out of ideas.

          • Darach Conneely

            I think that fits one of the bible’s ‘warts and all’ descriptions of the patriarchs along the lines of Judah and Tamar or Noah getting drunk. Abraham certainly doesn’t come out of the account well, even if you ignore how closely related he was to Sarah, he twice tried to save his skin by pretending they weren’t married and letting the pharaoh and king have their way with her.

  • Matthew Funke

    Also, somewhere in that checklist, he needs to find out what bitumen is so that he can coat the ark inside and out with it before the flood creates it out of animal remains.

    • Love it!

    • Paul D.

      Bitumen… a petroleum product that wouldn’t have existed before the Flood.

      • Matthew Funke

        Exactly. I *think* petroleum products are actually the remains of single-celled organisms, like zooplankton and algae, but why let that get in the way of a good flood story? It’s pretty clear that in the creationist narrative, we’re making it up as we go anyway. (I also seem to recall “Dr. Dino”, aka Kent Hovind, explaining that gasoline is us burning our ancestors in our cars, because that’s how much God hates sin.) Of course, there’s no reason a Bronze Age author would have known where pitch comes from, assuming he was aiming for a creationist-type story in the first place.

  • “Don’t forget the Tsetse flies and the guinea worms, dear!” ~Mrs. Noah