“The Earth was corrupted before God; all the Earth was full of violence” Genesis 6:11


This verse probably doesn’t register among the highlights of Parashat Noach for most of us, eclipsed instead by the sidrah’s eponymous (anti-)hero and the world-erasing Flood. Yet, this subtle reference to the earth’s corruption harkens back to the end of Parashat Bereshit and the casual mention of the Nephilim (Genesis 6:4), those fallen angels who rebelled, took on material bodies to come to Earth, seduced human women and produced a race of semi-divine, half-human giants.

All of those elements are present in the narrative of the Flood, but we typically gloss over them on the way to the much greater action about to come. However, to our earliest sages, these verses about the “corrupt earth” existing in Noah’s life would have had a tremendous mythological context— with several books penned that detail the stories of these fallen Angels and their misadventures on earth. 

This may sound absurd to us, as the Sages who canonised the Tanach carefully excluded the (mostly) Aramaic texts which contained these myths. Yet, many of them survived in translation, and there is much we can gain from studying them. 

Noach gives us the tiniest window out on to the antediluvian world, but its most critical contribution to our modern minds may be to remind us of the potency of mythological story-telling. 

Mythology may sound like an ancient relic itself, yet our modern world can likely learn a lot from our ancestors’ tales — these bits and pieces of our legacy that were never made into canon. In the words of Neil Gaiman: “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us that dragons exist but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Similarly, it may be that in our 21st-century life we need these millennia-old myths that give context and colour to the Torah’s text more than ever. 

If we take the time to delve more into the stories beneath the story of the Flood, we can learn from the mythology of our ancestors how to cope with the problems of modernity. Perhaps it is we, today, who most need to hear that even an earth corrupted by angelic disobedience can be cleansed, that survival is possible even in the face of total environmental destruction, and that even rebellious angels have to answer to a higher authority. Perhaps it we who can make meaning of the mystery of our ancient tales and maybe we should. 


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