The name Noah in the Bible
In English translations of the Bible, there are two characters named Noah, one man and one woman. In Hebrew, however, these two names are totally different, and their meanings are exact opposites.
The Noah first mentioned in Numbers 26:33 (pronounced No'ah) is one of the five daughters of Zelophehad; her sisters are named Mahlah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. We'll call her Noah II; see below for a translation.
The meaning of the flood of Noah is much contended and belief in a global flood has waned along with that in the young earth hypothesis. Here at Abarim Publications we don't believe in either, but that's not in subjection to the scientific record (which we nevertheless hold very dear, also for Theological reasons — see Romans 1:20) but rather because we think that our Chaotic Set Theory follows the Biblical accounts much closer than any other exegetical theory offered. It seems to us that the great flood cycle serves in the Biblical story not as a report of a meteorological or judicial anomaly, but as point of symmetry breach between the animal and human mental realm (Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, Jude 1:10); the waters representative of ignorance and dry land of full understanding, separated by a transitional phase of mud or mire (see the name Javan).
Jesus predicts that His second coming will be like the great flood event (Mathew 24:37), and then too we will see a breach. Before the second coming all humans are pretty much alike (this is called a symmetry), but after the second coming there will be an undeniable difference between two kinds of humans (called a breach in symmetry). It seems to us that the 144,000 (Revelation 7:4 and 14:1), who are able to learn a song that no one else can learn (14:3), and who separate from the great multitude which no one can count (Revelation 7:9) strongly suggests that something like this has happened in the Noah cycle as well. What this symmetry breach entails becomes clear when Christ states that before the flood, people 'knew not' (Matthew 24:39).
What also needs to be noted is that although the ancestral lineage of Noah is celebrated as the lineage of salvation, nobody knows what stock the wives of Noah and his sons came from. They could have been Cainites, for all we know. We don't, really, but it could offer a reasonable theory on how on earth the musical and husbandry patriarchies of Jabal and Jubal survived the flood, and became major attributes in the culture surrounding the tabernacle and temple.
This name Noah appears eight times in the New Testament (spelled Νωε, Noe), from his listing as ancestor of Christ (Luke 3:36) to Paul's pageant of heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11:7) and Peter's second epistle in which he calls Noah as preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5).
Noah sums up mankind
Despite the objections of traditionalists, it's clear to most modern Scripture theorists that the genealogies from Adam down don't describe biological descent and don't follow a chronological and temporal axis. The "table of nations" given in Genesis 10 does not resonate with the idea that nations are defined by their political government and are limited by their political borders (which is a Roman idea). In Biblical times, nations were defined by their cultures, and cultures follow a nation's "wisdom", that is their science, technology and artistic expressions.
Ergo, the table of nations of Genesis 10 organizes and catalogues wisdom traditions, and describes the internal structure of human mentality along a complexity scale. In short: Adam represents those qualities that humans share with all other corporeal beings on earth; Eve, being the "mother of all life" (Genesis 3:20), represents the whole biosphere. The qualities that set humanity apart from animals begin to be described in Noah, and these qualities are fundamentally grouped in three categories: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
If we shoot 100 tennis balls with a canon at a stationary target, and (all things being equal) 90 hit the target and 10 miss, the chance that the 101st tennis ball hits the target is 90%. Give the tennis ball a blend of self-determination and cultural incentive, and the picture becomes slightly more complicated but not different in essence.
The behavior of mankind at large says something about the inherent qualities of a single individual, and the spread of the descendants of the three sons of Noah (Genesis 10) also gives a rough outline of the psychology of one human person. Noah's work in his vineyard (9:20) is an obvious reference to human culture at large; see our articles on כרם (kerem), meaning vineyard and יין (yayan) meaning wine.
Ham is the youngest son of Noah, but also the most primitive one (and please, this has no applicability to race or modern political or economical stratifications). Ham's descendants filled Africa (10:6), which is indeed where humanity originated, according to certain models, but also laid the foundation of Babylon (10:10) and accounted for the indigenous peoples of Canaan (10:15). We're guessing that Ham represents national and individual behavior that stems from a mentality prior to the development of a theory of mind, which is the understanding that someone else's mind may contain different information than our own. Certain clever animals may have the ability to recognize that another creature is up to something-not-clearly-specified, but human children begin to develop beyond this level at roughly one year of age.
Human children develop a clear understanding of their own world-view and the fact that others may have other views (and thus live in a whole other reality) between the ages of one through seven. On a social level, this mentality provokes little more than the primitive chiefdom, and a nationalism that declares our people supreme and all others less. Economically, the Hamite mind will concentrate on personal gain, which results in petty merchandry and little scruple about theft and deceit. Hamite theology will typically result in a heavenly chiefdom, with an alpha-male (or -female) as the tribal deity accompanied by a cluster of lesser gods, and the tribe's adversities represented by heavenly bad guys who rebel against, but will surely loose from, the hallowed top dog.
Note that Ham regarded his father's intoxication unabashed (9:22), but that his two brothers walked backward into Noah's tent and discretely covered him. This suggests that the Hamite mind has no trouble seeing himself as extension of the animal realm, whereas Japheth and Shem do their best to cover it up. According to Noah's subsequent curse, Ham (or rather Canaan) would be enslaved by the other two brothers (9:25-27).
Japheth's descendants covered Eurasia (10:2-4) and his most celebrated sons were Javan (the Hebrew word for Greece) and Madai (the Hebrew word for Persia). Again we stress that these "sons of Japheth" have nothing to do with a biological descent or with political nations, but catalogue and organize the ancient wisdom traditions. Madai obviously represents Zoroastrianism and Javan celebrates Greek thinking, and we know from ancient records that certain key figures of Greek thought began their schools after they had been shopping in the far east. Very few scholars today will refute that many of the big ideas of Greece were basically either continuations, elaborations or else plain heists from Persia.
The Japhethite mind recognizes that there are others out there, who know other things and may even be better informed; hence the Japhethite individual will reach out to teachers and experts. Politically this will lead to oligarchy and democracy, and economically this leads to multi-lateral companies and world-wide trade. Theology will do away with pantheons and replace it with early forms of monotheism and pantheism. But, crucially, the Hamite tendency to place oneself in the center of things will not abate at the Japhethite level. This leads to a worldview relative to one's own position, the typical bi-polar world-view that dictates that the sun rises and sets, there is here and there, up and down, warm and cold, dark and light, and ultimately good and evil, relative to one self.
In the Japhethite mind the world is divided into two camps: the realm of light ("we" the good guys) and the realm of darkness ("they" the bad guys).
According to Genesis 10:21-32, Shem's descendants peopled the area just north of what would be Israel (Aram and Assyria) but were later acknowledged as the Semites: the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians and some others.
The thinking that Shem represents hinges on the ability to view the world in an absolute way, and not relative to one's own existence (Luke 9:23, 14:26-33). A Shemite understands that the sun doesn't rise or set but that the earth turns. There is no up or down, there is only elevation. There is no warm and cold, there is only energy. Darkness is the absence of light, not the presence of something else, and evil is the absence of good, not the presence of something else. If we define good as the freedom and subsequent working together of all things (which is not that far fetched, see Romans 8:28 and 1 John 4:8 in light of 1 Corinthians 13:7), then evil denotes any kind of bondage and impediment. The first condition is carried by the title Christ; the second one by Antichrist.
A Shemite is not concerned with himself, but only with the whole of everything. A Shemite sees no need for tribes and countries, religions and symbols, but seeks to understand the world in order to serve the world. A Shemite is an ultimate steward but needs no boss or government other than God and His creation.
Shemites are obviously quite rare in the human world, but on a smaller scale they exist all over the place. Creatures like ants and bees are Shemite (Proverbs 6:6), and so are the cells that make up multi-cellular organisms such as ourselves. Contrary to what some believe, there are no selfish genes.
Shem, Ham and Japheth in the modern world
Having a Shemite mind (or being culturally trained and conditioned to think like Shem) works wonders in the fields of science, international banking and complex story telling, but may give a disadvantage in the political arena, and also doesn't protect against pickpockets and muggers. Hamites don't last very long in governments, unless, perhaps in small and corrupt countries, and the same goes for international business. The Japhethites, however, pretty much own the world as it is today.
Most of us live in peace, yet most of us believe the "bad guys" are at the gates. Spin doctors, the evangelists of fear, demonize and otherise at will and are able to have billions of gullible Japhethites hate and fear billions of other ones by re-running the same twenty-second clip of the acts of a few dozen criminals. We've fought entire wars, invaded and bulldozed whole civilizations on account of a few minutes worth of found footing. In arenas and on stages our kids are driven to a frenzy and made to compete, in stead of urged to pool resources. Victors are worshipped by the armies of serf losers they create. Ordinary folks douse their minds with a never ending string of movies that show How The Hero Killed The Bad Guy but never How The Hero Cured The Deadly Disease or How The Hero Cleaned Up The Oceans. Our Japhethite society makes millionaires out of entertainers and systematically underfunds cancer research and prevention programs, then has those same entertaining millionaires complain on TV about how God causes cancer in children. That can only happen in a Japhethite world.
In the typical Japhethite universe, the hero and his buddies are battling an evil empire. Both sides are equally well stocked and organized and the battle never really ends. There's usually quite a bit of secret knowledge involved and most often magic and fantastic forces (good and bad energies, the Force, the sacred feminine and sacred masculine, chakras and pressure points, wizards and orcs; al that). This is the yin-yang world of the Hobbit and Star Wars, in which the enemy is utterly other and comes from outside and must be completely destroyed.
In the typical Shemite universe, however, there are not simply two sides but a vast array of sides. There is not simply one conflict between the good guys and the bad guys, but a gradual and often difficult approach of the many others-like-us towards a state of mutual understanding, and in service of a good greater than one group's domination. In this Shemite universe, the players read each other's books, dance to each other's music and nurture the deepest respect for the things they don't yet comprehend. In the Shemite universe, the enemy comes from within. Destroying the enemy equals suffering amputation, but converting the enemy equals the return of the Prodigal Son. This is the world of Star Trek and the Old and New Testament (Paul being the Shemite Hobbit, which is quite a clever joke by Tolkien).
And the best part is that even though the noisy Japhethites are obsessed with conflict, there is no victory in the Japhethite universe. The victory is wholly Shemite and the Shemites are not even fighting for it (Revelation 21:24). Go figure.
Etymology of the name Noah I
What the original designer of the masculine name Noah (נח) meant to say isn't immediately clear, but Noah's father Lamech appears to name his son Noah because 'this one will comfort us,' using the verb נחם (naham; see the names Nahum and Capernaum), which is the same verb that Isaiah used when saying, "Comfort, O comfort My people..." (Isaiah 40:1).
Most commentators take the name Noah from the verb נוח (nuah) meaning to rest or settle down, but it may very well have been drawn from the verb נחה (naha), meaning to lead or guide:
Noah I meaning
For a meaning of the name Noah, both NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names read Rest. BDB Theological Dictionary does not offer an interpretation of our name but does list it under the verb נוח (nuah) meaning to rest.
As stated above, the feminine Noah is one of the five daughters of Zelophehad.
Etymology of the name Noah II
The feminine name Noah (נעה), according to BDB Theological Dictionary, comes from the verb נוע (nua'), meaning to shake or stagger:
Noah II meaning
The feminine name Noah (נעה) means Shaky Girl or Lady Wanderer.