But I can't boast. The Sumerians reckoned some of their kings who lived long before another great flood (or was it the same one, I wonder) survived to be 10,000 years old; a few of them reached 72,000 years old. Just imagine the candles on their last birthday cake!
Oh, by the way, in case you're wondering, my name means 'Consolation'. My Dad named me 'Noah', because he said I was a comfort after all the hard work he had to do as a farmer breaking in barren ground.
And, yes, there was a great flood. At the time it seemed to us it had drowned all the earth there was you'd have thought so too if you'd been there. It was so terrible there wasn't much left alive, though a few of us escaped on rafts and things, with our most precious animals. That flood was remembered down through the generations, and every year the story got bigger and bigger ... you know how it is. I turned into a boat builder who me! A simple peasant farmer and they said I loaded aboard my wife (Mrs Noah) and our three sons and their wives, plus can you believe it? representatives of all the animals, birds, and creeping things in existence. (I suppose the fish were left to look after themselves.) You know it's really wonderful what the human imagination can do with just a little bit of fact to work on.
Actually I have to confess that my story isn't even original. You see, those scholars can tell you now that there are at least five versions of my story, much older than the Bible, about a great flood sent by the angry gods to destroy all the world the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Hittites and the Akkadians all had legends rather like mine.
I rather like the Babylonian one, where the gods are just driven mad by the noise level down here on earth. They warn a fellow not a specially goodliving fellow like me called Utnapishtim, by whispering to him through the wall of his reed hut. He collects his family and survives a little sixday flood (don't you think forty days and forty nights sounds more impressive?) He sends out a dove, a swallow, and a raven, then lands on Mount Nisir. He makes a sacrifice to the gods, just as I did, and the Queen of Heaven swears by her lapis lazuli necklace never to forget the flood. Then all the Babylonian gods grant him and his wife eternal life. More than I got, and much more romantic than my story, don't you think! The god in my story is so ferociously moral that he's ready to wipe out the whole of creation because we humans were behaving badly!
Did I say that I got another lease of life in the pages of a much later religious book? The Koran, the sacred scriptures of Islam, which they say were dictated by Allah (that's their name for God) and written down by Mohammed, often mentions me. I get the usual praise for being one of the few trueblue believers and ignoring all the neighbours scoffing at me. But Mrs Noah and one of my sons choose not to enter the Ark they're unbelievers, not like me so they're drowned and go to hell with the rest of humanity. Allah strikes me as being even more ruthless than God when it comes to dealing with unbelievers.
Now where was I? Oh, yes. I was saying that mine wasn't the only version of the Flood story, or even the oldest. And as you moderns all know, my story itself is made up out of several different versions. You only have to ask how many of each kind of creature went into the Ark. Some bits of my story say two of each, male and female (provided they're both fertile, that's just enough to keep the species going); but elsewhnere it says I took aboard seven of all the 'clean' animals and two of all the 'unclean' animals. I'm not going to tell you just how many I did take on board (it's hard to remember after all this time); but even an idiot could see that someone put together two different accounts of what happened.
'Clean' and 'unclean': well there you go again; more of that purity code stuff, so that when I left the boat they could say I made a sacrifice to God without having to wipe out any of the creatures for ever and ever.
By the way, given that there are many versions of my story, most of them older than what's in the Bible, you have to conclude that God was a real chatterbox, who didn't confine his revelation of what happened at the beginning of time to one particular race through one Book. I know, I know, there are some who say God gave exclusive publishing rights to the Hebrews and that you've got to believe everything set down there as the TRUTH, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But I have to say that my messy old story makes it hard to accept that idea I'm not sure that I believe it myself.
I'm sorry about what I did after we'd all got off the boat and cleaned up the mess and started farming again. I decided to go in for growing grapes and well, you know the story. One day I drank too much of my own wine (very good wine it was, if I say so myself) and my son Ham came in and found me without a stitch on. He goes outside and tells my other two sons, who come in, do the decent thing and cover me up. It was all terribly silly and very shameful we Hebrews are a puritannical lot about nakedness, especially within the family. And you needn't smirk: some of you are just as bad.
But I'm very sorry about what followed that. I got mad at Ham (who'd really done nothing but come in at the wrong time, and then naturally tell his brothers what he'd seen his silly drunken father doing), and I CURSED him. Told him he would always be trash compared to his brothers Shem and Japheth. And then along came later generations who claimed that Ham was the ancestor of all the darkskinned races of the world, and decided that all the children of Ham were ordained by God to be inferior and servants to the other races. There were Christians among them (who should have known better) who argued that because my story was in the Bible, and the Bible was God's Word, then they had a divine right to enslave black Africans and make them their servants and bondslaves.
Dangerous stuff stories, if you start to take them seriously.
I know I've caused a lot of trouble at least my story has and I can already hear some of you women saying, why do men always have to get all the big parts in the history of God's dealing with the human race and then, as usual, mess up things. Ladies, ladies, forgive me; I'm just an old man who did what the story said I had to do. Not much of an answer, I know, but when my story was written down it was the men who were in charge, and told all the stories from their point of view.
It's the men who put into God's mouth all that talk after the Flood was over about being fruitful and going forth to multiply and fill the earth (not the women, who would have to have all the babies). It was the men who just knew that God would want them to have total dominion over the earth and every living creature and look at the consequences of that thousands of species sent into extinction, the earth, the sky and the sea ravaged and polluted. What an arrogant lot we were then; but you've got to remember that talk of a rosy future for the human race was a huge statement of faith and hope, coming as it did after a catastrophe that had nearly wiped out all life on the earth.
Let me hurry on. Before you decide I'm just a myth and an outofdate one at that, let me say that there are some things I can be proud of. After all, my story has been in circulation for more than three thousand years, so there must be something in it that reaches deep into human hearts and minds and imaginations too.
It is a wonderful tale, full of amazing events, and pictures to delight and astonish the child in all of us. And imagination gives us our strongest, most enduring hold on life.
Then it's a story about one of those universal experiences that have overwhelmed human communities in every period of history and in every culture: natural disasters, the things that burst upon us, the powerful forces we can't control. And my story says there's always HOPE. There's a God in charge of things, there's a reason for everything, some of us will always survive and recover. We're not helpless and utterly alone at the mercy of an irrational, totally chaotic universe.
And you know, there are really two Gods in my tale of that mighty flood. One is the Lord of Wrath and Indignation, dealing out death to sinners destroying every living thing on the face of the earth (innocent creatures as well as human beings). The other God is the Lord of Salvation and enduring concern for all the creation. That's the God who promised that so long as earth lasts sowing and reaping, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night would endure. This is the God who 'remembered' me and every living thing with me in the Ark; who entered into a solemn Covenant with me and with all life on earth that no flood would ever totally destroy the earth again. The one who set the rainbow in the sky to recall his promise never to release complete catastrophe on the earth again. (Which seems to me to have worked so far!) You have to decide which image fits your idea of God. A God of Judgment, a God of Love interesting choice, really.
But I mustn't ramble on. There's nothing more tedious than an old man's memories. So I won't talk about the way the ones who came after me tucked into my story rules about eating only kosherkilled meat (they thought that blood was sacred because it was the life force, you see); nor about the death penalty for murderers. They thought it would give their rules greater authority, if they were associated with such an ancient tale as mine.
No, I'll just finish by reminding you youngsters what you'd have missed if you hadn't heard my story. Wonderful, unforgettable pictures that have remained in the human imagination as powerful forces for good for more than three thousand years. The white dove bringing back to me over the waters one leaf from an olive tree. My great Ark, carrying a human family together with all the creatures of the earth over the waters of death, to safety. The rainbow in the sky above me I can see it now the promise of God's everlasting grace to me and my family and every thing in nature without discrimination of any kind.
I hope that's what you'll remember me by. Thank you, and Noah's blessing on you all. I'd like to think that I and my story have lived up to our name, and have been a source of comfort and consolation to you.