The Sinners and the Sea by Rebecca Kanner
God told Noah to build an ark because God was going to cleanse the world of all the evil that grew there. There would be a great flood. It would rain for forty days and forty nights. When the flood waters receded, God’s chosen people would go down from their mountain and start the world anew. This is the story we all know, but was about the other people involved? What about, say, Noah’s wife? We don’t know a whole lot about her. She isn’t named.
This book is a look at what Noah’s wife could have been like. It’s highly fictionalized, of course, but how can you not fictionalize something that happened, or didn’t happen, so long ago?
A young woman lives with her father. She has a birthmark upon her forehead, what we would call a port wine stain. People say she is marked by the devil. They call her a demon woman. Her father tries to protect her, but when a tradesman goes missing, because her father killed him for attempted rape, a mob forms outside the tent of the woman and her father. One man knows of a righteous man who has been waiting for a righteous wife for hundreds of years. This is hard to believe, but the woman’s father agrees to let the man take her for a wife.
The man, Noah comes to get his new wife. He is old. His donkey is old. He does not care about the spot on the woman’s forehead. He cares that she is righteous. He takes her away to his land. Noah lives among a very unruly group of sinners, banished from other lands, and constantly committing all sorts of crimes. Murder and sexual immorality are rampant. In time, Noah and his new wife have three children. Shem, Ham and, Japeth. They grow into men. God has finally had enough of the evil of the people of the Earth. They have not hearkened to the voice of God’s prophets, which say to repent. Noah is commanded to build an ark. It’s not an easy task.
The ark is finally built. Each of the sons must have wives, but this is not as easy as it sounds. There are not many virtuous women anywhere. Three women manage to make it on the ark and then the storm rages. Things rage in the family as well. There are hostilities. There is treachery. Surviving sinners float on rafts. Old enemies surface. Eventually, the waters do go down and the family sees what the world to come is like.
What I liked
I really like these fictional accounts of Biblical figures. We don’t know a whole lot about any of them, even though we may have heard their names a thousand times. What was Noah really like? What about his wife? Women lack names often in the scriptures. It’s not just the Bible, most books of scripture fail to name most women. I have read The Red Tent, by Anita Diamont, multiple times and I have enjoyed it each time. The Red Tent is about Dinah from the Bible. I just think what these women’s lives could have been like is very interesting.
This book takes the idea of not being named to an extreme. The main character in the book, Noah’s wife, does not have a name. She was never named because she was a girl and because of the mark on her forehead. In my knowledge, women were named in the tradition of the Jews and other religious groups of the time, but I could be missing something. I never really thought about these women not being named because they didn’t actually have names. Of course, I tend to think that the writers of the books of the Bible, and other scriptures, did not think women important enough to name, in most instances. There is the consideration that because the Bible has been edited and translated so much that at one point it could have included a heck of a lot more about women. Heck, maybe women even wrote it for all we know, or at least a book or two.
The author did include a lot that was scripturally accurate. Methuselah was still alive during the time of Noah, if you believe people living for hundreds of years. Angels having children with Earth women and those children being giants, the heroes of old, was actually something mentioned in the Bible. How this could be true, I have no idea, but men are not naturally over seven and a half feet tall, most men aren’t naturally over six feet tall. Once you get past 6’4″-6’5″, you have to start considering genetic abnormalities that made someone so tall. We as a species generally run in to five-foot-something range.
The author did miss the part about a couple of Noah’s sons uncovering his nakedness, but I forget exactly when that occurred in the timeline of Noah.
This book did humanize Noah for me. I never really thought about how Noah might feel. I guess I always considered him to be this figure that was stoic when the people of the Earth drowned. In reality, he probably did care for quite a few people who died. It probably made him really sad. Of course, you have to take all of this with a grain of salt, because maybe Noah never existed.
What I didn’t like
I think the author painted Noah in too humanly of a light, but then again, he was a human, albeit one that lived for a heck of a long time, supposedly. I feel like he was kind of a jerk in this book and I don’t imagine Noah as a jerk. Any guy who would patiently put up with that many animals, on a boat, for that long, has to be a good guy.
There are too many stories about a great flood for something to not have happened. At some point, there was giant flood for a lot of the people on the Earth. Whether or not this flood occurred at the same time is another question. Big floods did happen in reality, whether or not they were Noah’s flood is a different thing.
Let’s say a big flood did flood the whole Earth at once. It’s absurd to believe that no one else survived except Noah’s family. In fact, even in the Bible, it’s mentioned that one of Noah’s grandsons or someone marries someone over from such-and-such place. How were there people at such-and-such place if no one else survived? The Ark supposedly landed on Mount Ararat in Turkey, which is a mountain, but there are plenty of other taller mountains. There are plenty of places that people could have survived. Maybe they built boats as well. God often had multiple prophets going at once. Maybe he told some other prophets to also build boats, or maybe some of the people Noah told about the flood built their own boats.
I cannot believe that someone would know someone for so many years without having a name to call them. That’s demeaning. That’s like saying this person isn’t human and doesn’t deserve to have a name, even slaves have historically had names. Someone who was not a slave should have certainly had a name. Any human should have a name, no matter what their status in life is.
Noah’s wife must have been a pretty great person to go through all that she went through.
If God told you to build a boat, would you?
Do you think Noah’s family must have been patient to put up with each other and all those animals on a boat?