Editor: This is the sixth and last article in a series of adaptations from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s recent talk at the “Temple on Mount Zion” Conference, sponsored by the Interpreter Foundation (www.mormoninterpreter.com). Read Part One: Taking the Stories of Adam, Eve, and Noah Seriously, Part Two: Temple Symbolism in the Form of Noah’s Ark, Part Three: Temple Symbolism and Noah’s Ark, Part Four: Temple Symbolism in the Garden of Noah, Part Five: Temple Symbolism and the Tent of Noah.
Part 6: The Garment of Noah
A particular story in Genesis seems peculiar to us because we misunderstand it.
20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
As we noted in Part 5 of this article , according to a statement attributed to Joseph Smith, “Noah was not drunk, but in a vision.” Now we seek to understand something more about this story.
How do we make sense of Noah’s being “uncovered” during his vision? Perhaps the closest Old Testament parallel to this practice is when Saul, like the prophets who were with him, “stripped off his clothes… and prophesied before Samuel… and lay down naked all that day and all that night.” Jamieson clarifies that “lay down naked” in this instance means only that he was “divested of his armor and outer robes.” In a similar sense, when we read in John 21:7 that Peter “was naked” as he was fishing, it simply means that “he had laid off his outer garment, and had on only his inner garment or tunic.”
Now to verse 22. How do we understand the statement that Ham “saw the nakedness of his father”? Reluctant to attribute the apparent gravity of Ham’s misdeed to the mere act of seeing, readers have often concluded in addition that Ham must have done something. For example, a popular proposal is that Ham committed unspeakable crimes against his mother or his father.
As Cassuto points out: “If the covering was an adequate remedy, it follows that the misdemeanor was confined to seeing.” The elaborate efforts Shem and Japheth made to avoid looking at their father demonstrate that this was all Ham did in the tent.
This is consistent with the proposal that the misdeed of Ham was in that he intrusively entered the Tent of Yahweh and saw Noah in the presence of God while the latter was “in the course of revelation.” This idea also fits well with what Hendel, Carr, Mettinger, Oden, and others have identified as an underlying theme throughout Genesis 1-11, namely “transgressions of boundaries” that had been set up in the beginning to separate the general run of mankind from the dwelling place of Divinity. Noah the righteous and blameless (an exception to those in his generation) was in a position to speak with God face-to-face, however Ham was neither qualified nor authorized to see (let alone enter) a place of divine glory.
A parallel to this incident may be seen by reading the story of the transgression of Adam and Eve in the context of its many temple allusions. Consistent with recent scholarship that sees the Garden as a temple prototype, Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century Christian, called the Tree of Knowledge “the veil for the sanctuary.” By way of summary of a discussion that is provided in greater detail elsewhere, a Jewish tradition about the two special trees in the Garden of Eden holds that the foliage of the Tree of Knowledge, as an analogue to the temple veil, hid the Tree of Life from direct view: “God did not specifically prohibit eating from the Tree of Life because the Tree of Knowledge formed a hedge around it; only after one had partaken of the latter and cleared a path for himself could one come close to the Tree of Life.”
In describing his concept of Eden, Ephrem cited parallels with the division of the animals on Noah’s Ark and the demarcations on Sinai separating Moses, Aaron, the priests, and the people, as shown here. In ancient thought, movement inward toward the sacred center is symbolically equivalent to moving upward toward the top of the sacred mountain. Recall that on Sinai, Israel was gathered in three groups: “the masses at the foot of the mountain, where they viewed God’s Presence’ from afar; the Seventy part way up; and Moses at the very top, where he entered directly into God’s presence.” Likewise, Ephrem described the “lower, second, and third stories” of the temple-like Ark so as to highlight the righteousness of Noah and to distinguish him from the animals and the birds. Finally, Ephrem pictured Paradise as a great mountain, with the Tree of Knowledge providing a boundary partway up the slopes. The Tree of Knowledge, Ephrem concluded, “acts as a sanctuary curtain [i.e., veil] hiding the Holy of Holies which is the Tree of Life higher up.”
Recurring throughout the Old Testament are echoes of such a layout of sacred spaces and the accounts of dire consequences for those who attempt unauthorized entry through the veil into the innermost sanctuary. By way of analogy of the situation of Adam and Eve and its setting in the temple-like layout of the Garden of Eden, recall that service in Israelite temples under conditions of worthiness was intended to sanctify the participants.
However, as taught in Levitical laws of purity, doing the same “while defiled by sin, was to court unnecessary danger, perhaps even death.”
Careful analysis of the narrative features of the Genesis account provides support for these ancient perspectives about the nature of Adam and Eve’s actions. The subtle conflation of the location of two trees “in the midst” (literally “in the center”) of the Garden of Eden prepares readers for the confusion later in the dialogue with the serpent, and sets the stage for the transgression of Adam and Eve.
Very important in understanding the story of that transgression is that the serpent is a frequently used representation of the Messiah and his life-giving power. Moreover, with specific relevance to the location of his appearance to Eve, evidence suggests that the form of the Seraphim, whose function it was to guard the Divine Throne, was that of a fiery winged serpent.
If it is true, as Ephrem the Syrian believed, that the Tree of Knowledge was a figure for “the veil for the sanctuary,” the serpent in the Garden of Eden positioned itself in the extreme of sacrilegious effrontery as the very “keeper of the gate.” Simply put, the gift of fruit from the Tree of Life, by which Adam and Eve would someday “become divine” and for which the Tree of Knowledge constituted a part of the approach was as yet “an unattainable thing [t]hat was not in its time.”
If this understanding of the situation in Eden is correct, the sin of Ham would be a striking parallel to the transgression of Adam and Eve. Noah was positioned directly in front of or perhaps even seated upon a representation of the throne of God. Without proper invitation, Ham approached the curtains of the “tent of Yaweh,” and looked at the glory of God that was “uncovered within”-literally “in the midst of”-the tent, just as Eve “cleared a path” for herself so she could “come close to the Tree of Life” that was located “in the midst of” the Garden. Emerging from the tent, Noah cursed Canaan, who is likened in the Zohar to the “primordial serpent” that was cursed by God in Eden. Elaborating on rabbinic commentary about similarities in the nature of the curse itself, Daniel Matt notes that:
The curse uttered against Canaan parallels the curse pronounced upon the serpent in the Garden. As the serpent is more cursed than all other animals, who are themselves enslaved to humanity, so Canaan is doomed to be a “slave of slaves.”
By way of contrast to Ham and Canaan, Targum Neofiti asserts that the specific blessing given by Noah to his birthright son Shem is to have the immediate presence of the Lord with him and with his posterity: “[M]ay the Glory of his Shekhinah dwell in the midst of the tents of Shem.”
Continuing, we encounter the question of what is meant by the “nakedness” of Noah. As with Noah’s drinking of the wine, some readers see his “nakedness” as shameful and interpret this verse etiologically as an explanation for later guidelines in the Mosaic code that were designed to prevent anyone from seeing the nakedness of the temple priests. However, as an alternative, what has just been outlined about Ham’s intrusive look at the divine Presence may be sufficient explanation for the description.
Going further, however, Nibley argues from the interpretations of some ancient readers that the Hebrew term for “nakedness” in this verse, erwat, may be better rendered as “skins,” orot-in other words, an animal-skin garment corresponding in this instance to the “coats of skins” [kuttonet or] given to Adam and Eve for their protection after the Fall. The two Hebrew words erwat and orot would have looked nearly identical in their original unpointed forms. After tracing the traditions concerning the “coat of skins” that Adam wore, Louis Ginzberg asserts that they “served to the former generations [i.e., to those who lived before the time of Moses] as priestly garments.” Indeed, Midrash Rabbah specifically asserts that the garment of Adam had been handed down to Noah, who wore it when he offered sacrifice.
In the current context, the possibility signaled by Morales that “the covering [mikseh] of the Ark’ establishes a link to the [skin] covering of the Tabernacle'” is significant. The idea that not only the Ark and the Tabernacle but also Noah himself might have been covered in a priestly garment of skins is intriguing when we consider Philonenko’s observation that “the temple is [itself] considered as a person and the veil of the temple as a garment that is worn, as a personification of the sanctuary itself.” Could it be that just as it is specifically pointed out in scripture that Noah “removed the [skin] covering of the Ark” in Genesis 8:13, he subsequently removed his own ritual covering of skins? This “garment of repentance,” which, by the way, was worn in those times as outer rather than inner clothing, was taken off by Noah in preparation for his being “clothed upon with glory.”
Some ancient readers went further, stating that Ham not only saw but also took the “skin garment” of his father, intending to usurp his priesthood authority. Though the tradition may be older, the prime extant sources for this idea are the Babylonian Talmud Pesahim 44b and Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, in which Rabbi Judah said:
The tunic that the Holy One, blessed be His Name, made for Adam and his wife was with Noah in the Ark; when they left the Ark, Ham, the son of Noah, took it, and left with it, then passed it on to Nimrod.
The fact that this account is embedded in the story of Nimrod rather than appearing in the expected place within the story of Noah strengthens the argument that it is an independent tradition. In a statement made prior to the English publication of any sources that mention the stolen garment, Heber C.
Kimball, a member of Brigham Young’s First Presidency, gave his view that Ham was cursed because he “pulled the clothing off from his father Noah.”
Rabbi Eliezer, among others, continues the intrigues of the stolen garment forward to the time of Esau, who murdered Nimrod for it, and to Jacob, who had been enjoined by Rebekah to wear it, as she supposed, in order to obtain Isaac’s blessing. In turn, Nibley traces the theme backward to traditions telling of how Satan conspired to get the garment from Adam and Eve and to accounts of the premortal fight in heaven for the possession of the garment of light.
Incidentally, the rabbis disagreed over the nature of Noah’s garment: “It’s a cloak,’ according to Rabbi Yudan; An undergarment,’ according to Rabbi Huna.” In either case, our translator is quick to point out that Noah’s garment served as a protection for the body of its wearer-and that as a result of Shem’s obedience, his descendants would merit the safety that the garment afforded, whereas the posterity of Canaan would be deprived of the same. Afterward, Shem is said to have received the reward of the “fringed cloak [tallit],” while Japheth received the pallium, “a cloak with clasps and buttons on the shoulder.” Tvednes observes that “Ham’s descendants, by this account, were left naked.” Nibley explains the rabbinic confusion about the nature of Noah’s garment was in that there were two articles of clothing in the episode: whereas Ham reportedly took a “coat of skins” from Noah, Shem and Japheth used a woven cloak to cover Noah.
Summary and Conclusions
In this series of articles, I have tried to demonstrate that the story of Noah not only recapitulates the stories of the Creation, the Garden, and the Fall of Adam and Eve but also replays the temple themes in these accounts, including the significant theme of rest. Noah’s name means “rest,” the noisy clamor of the wicked prevented rest, Noah’s labors provided rest, and Noah eventually entered into the rest of the Lord, meaning the fulness of His presence.
Apart from the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon, Noah’s Ark is the only structure mentioned in the Bible whose design was directly revealed by God. I have argued that, like these other sacred structures, Noah’s Ark “was designed as a temple”-specifically, a mobile sanctuary, as were the Tabernacle and the ark of bulrushes that saved the baby Moses. Each of these structures can be plausibly described as a traveling vehicle of rescue designed to parallel in function God’s portable pavilion or chariot. I have shown how this theme plays out in both the original creation and the Noachic re-creation accounts. I have also explored the rich thematic connections between the emergence of the dry land at Creation, the settling of the Ark at the top of the first mountain to appear following the Flood, the establishment of New Year’s Day, the creation of the Tabernacle, and the erection of Solomon’s Temple.
As the Book of Moses highlights Adam’s diligence in offering sacrifice when he entered the fallen world, so the book of Genesis describes Noah’s first action on the renewed earth as the building of an altar for burnt offerings. Most of the significant elements in the Garden of Eden are present in Noah’s garden: a prominent mountain, fruit whose eating leads to important consequences, and a place of holiness where unauthorized entry is forbidden. This holy place becomes the scene of a “Fall” and consequent judgment. Often, the instigator of this “Fall” is wrongfully seen to be Noah, reportedly succumbing to the intoxicating influence of wine from his vineyard. However, the scriptures omit any hint of wrongdoing by Noah and instead reserve all condemnation for his grandson Canaan, who is likened in the Zohar to the “primordial serpent” who was cursed by God in the Garden of Eden. What was the sin? If we have understood the situation in Eden correctly, it was a perfect parallel to the transgression of Adam and Eve. Without proper invitation, Ham approached the curtains of the “tent of Yaweh,” and looked at the glory of God that was “uncovered within”-literally, “in the midst of”-the tent, in what might have been part of an effort to steal Noah’s priesthood garment and usurp his authority.
The Prophet Joseph Smith asserted that Noah “was not drunk, but in a vision.” According to Koler and Greenspahn: “This explains why Shem and [Japheth] refrained from looking at Noah even after they had covered him, significantly ahorannt [Heb. “backward”] occurs elsewhere with regard to avoidance of looking directly at God in the course of revelation.”
Although I admit that unequivocal evidence in reliable ancient sources confirming certain details in the account of Noah is likely to remain elusive, unmistakable allusions throughout the stories in Genesis and in other flood accounts from the ancient Near East make clear that we must regard these accounts as temple texts that have been written with a high degree of sophistication. Without modern revelation, we would have continued “all at sea” in our understanding of Ark and the Tent. However, with the additional light of the revelations and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, I’m confident we are on solid ground.
This and related subjects will be the focus of a forthcoming book of scripture commentary, “In God’s Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel.” This book, which is co-authored with David J. Larsen, will appear in late 2013 or early 2014. See www.templethemes.net for other writings and presentations by the author.