A New Adam and the Last Adam

Noah was different. His world was different. According to the figures provided by Genesis 5, at the time when Noah’s father Lamech was born, his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was still alive, at 874 years of age—Adam. Seth, too, was alive. And so were Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, all of them there, we might imagine, to greet little Lamech. Then, 56 years later, the other shoe dropped. Adam died. Lamech’s son Noah was therefore the first member of Seth’s line to be born after the death of the one because of whose sin “death spread to all men” (Rom 5:12).[1] We have already seen Cain’s murder of Abel (Gen 4:8) and (the other) Lamech’s boast of homicidal vengeance (4:23), but now someone has died of what today we would call “natural causes.”[2]

So, Noah was different. One era had ended, and another had begun. We readers will see Noah’s difference play out, in part, in his unique righteousness (Gen 6:8–9). But Lamech knew Noah was different when he was born. And a special kid ought to have a special name. Lamech explains his choice of name for his son by way of a prophecy: “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Gen 5:29). “Noah” (noaḥ) seems to derive from a verb meaning “rest” or “repose” (nûaḥ), but it also sounds similar to the verb here translated “bring relief” (nāḥam).[3]

The first thing to notice is that this verse clearly refers back to the curse of the ground after Adam’s sin in Genesis 3:17. There is verbal overlap between the verses not only in the words “cursed” and “ground,” but in the word translated “pain” in 3:17 and “toil” in 5:29 (‘iṣṣābōn). This seems promising. In the first generation after the death of Adam, who brought down the curse on the ground, we are presented with, as the Jewish Study Bible puts it, a “new Adam—a righteous antidote to the wickedness of the father of universal mankind.”[4] How will this work out?

As we proceed with Noah’s story, we should take notice of some significant wordplay in the Hebrew. In Genesis 5:29, the verb for “bring relief” is a form of nāḥam, and the word for “work” (ma‘ăśeh) is derived from a verb meaning “make” (‘āśāh). Just a few verses later, we read that “the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth” (Gen 6:6). “Regretted” here is also a form of nāḥam, and “made” is ‘āśāh. As if to rub it in, the same two verbs are repeated in the next verse, where the Lord says, “I am sorry [nāḥam] that I have made [‘āśāh] them” (6:7). This cluster, by the way, accounts for the only three uses of nāḥam in Genesis until the last sentence of chapter 24. What we are looking at in these two verses, then, appears to be an ironic inversion of Lamech’s prophecy. The new Adam may indeed bring relief, but only after the judgment of the Flood.

At first, the Flood seems to allow Noah to live up to his name. Genesis 8 features several significant words formed from the same root as “Noah” (nûaḥ).[5] Having weathered the forty-day storm and several months of waiting for the waters to subside, “the ark came to rest [tānaḥ] on the mountains of Ararat” (Gen 8:4). While initially Noah’s “dove found no place to set [or “rest,” mānōaḥ] her foot” and returned, subsequent outings yielded increasing success (8:10–12). Most importantly, we read that the Lord found the aroma of Noah’s post-disembarkation burnt offerings “pleasing”—literally “restful” or “bringing repose” (nîḥoaḥ)—and decided not to curse the ground any more than he already had (8:21). Agricultural food production would still be difficult, as per the original curse in Genesis 3:17–19, but the regular cycle of seasons would ensure that it remained possible (8:22)—now supplemented, admittedly, by carnivory (9:2–3).

In Genesis 9:1, God repeats to Noah and his sons the blessing and commandment he gave Adam and Eve in 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (cf. 9:7). After God’s covenant with Noah, his descendants, and all living things has been made, and its sign established in the clouds (9:8–17), the report that “the people of the whole earth were dispersed” from Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth seems auspicious for Noah’s mandate as a new Adam (9:19).

Furthermore, the first Adam was placed in the Garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). Possibly buoyed up by God’s assurance in Genesis 8:22 that the conditions for agriculture would be dependable, Noah pioneers a major advance in the art: “Noah, the man of the ground, was the first to plant a vineyard” (Gen 9:20, my translation).[6] The description of Noah’s “planting” also hints in the direction of a return to Eden. In the beginning, after all, God had “planted” (wayyiṭṭa‘) a garden richly appointed for human flourishing (Gen 2:8). Now in 9:20 it is Noah who “planted” (wayyiṭṭa‘) a vineyard.[7]

A vineyard! What better to bring relief from toil than a vineyard? Here, indeed, we find the most obvious fulfillment of Lamech’s onomastic oracle, coinciding, it seems, with his maturation as a new Adam. Leon Kass’s comment is apt:

The wondrous discovery of fermentation enables the fruit of the vine to yield more than mere sustenance: wine “to gladden the heart of man” [Ps 104:15] elevates the spirit and enables man to obtain (also from the ground) a partial relief from the curse upon the earth that makes him sweat for his bread.[8]

Or, as Ben Sira puts it:

Wine is like life to men,
if you drink it in moderation.
What is life to a man who is without wine?
It is created from the beginning to make men glad.
A rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul
is wine drunk in season with self-control (Sirach 31:27­–28).

Ay, there is the rub—“in moderation,” “with self-control.” Ben Sira goes on to warn of the deleterious effects of immoderate tippling (vv. 29–30), and we know how things turn out for Noah. In the very next verse after the invention of viticulture, things go off the rails. Noah gets drunk and falls asleep naked. Let that be a lesson.

And it is a lesson. The Hebrew Bible’s wisdom literature routinely advises against excessive drinking (e.g., Prov 23:20–21, 29–35). Still, in the context of the tale of Noah, one might reasonably wonder “whether the first person to grow grapes should have foreseen the degrading consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.”[9] Maybe not. But Noah’s culpability is not the point, at least not the main one. “Don’t get drunk” may be a moral of the story, but the deeper point is a bitter reminder: the ground is still cursed. The diluvian baptism of Genesis 6–8 has not erased the curse. It still taints the real but fragile and incomplete relief that Lamech correctly predicted Noah would introduce. Wine in moderation may evoke a wistful half-memory of Eden lost, but Noah has not gotten us back through the east gate. Like Adam and Eve’s postlapsarian nudity, Noah’s post-intoxication bareness remains a source of shame.

For Noah, the new Adam, has not escaped the shadow of sin. This elucidates the otherwise puzzling explanation of God’s decision not to curse the ground or destroy all living things again. It is not because everything has been fixed up, but precisely because it has not: “…for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). As David L. Petersen has noted, “the reason given for no future total destruction is virtually the same as the reason given for the flood”[10]—“the Lord saw . . . that every intention of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (6:5). Making agriculture harder will not solve the problem, nor will another deluge.

Noah’s drunken nakedness, the sign of sin’s survival of the Flood, furnishes a vivid image of iniquity and judgment elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. Nahum Sarna observes that Genesis 9:21’s association of inebriation with “exposure of nakedness” reappears in Habakkuk 2:15 and Lamentations 4:21.[11] But what is even more striking about the verses to which Sarna points is that they both use this imagery of intoxication and disrobing to speak of national disasters brought about by sin. With acerbic sarcasm, Lamentations 4:21 appropriates language that normally heralds good news of redemption (“Rejoice and be glad, O daughter…”; cf. Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9) to invite the Edomites to go ahead and celebrate Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians.[12] The verse concludes with a dark warning: “but to you also the cup shall pass; / you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.” In other words, getting drunk and naked functions here as an image for Jerusalem’s destruction and Judah’s exile, a fate that the Edomites may expect to suffer eventually as well, while Israel will be restored (see the following verse, Lam 4:22).

Similarly, Habakkuk 2:15–16 prophesies that, while at the turn of the sixth century BC, it is the Chaldeans who are dishing out the judgment of drunkenness and nakedness, one day it “will come around” to them, too. Habakkuk 2:16 also refers to this cup of drunkenness that results in nudity as being “in the Lord’s right hand.” Noah’s intoxicated nakedness has become an image of catastrophic judgment that the prophets repeatedly and emphatically attribute, not to military prowess, but to God himself. The destruction of Jerusalem was the guzzling “to the dregs” of “the cup of his wrath” (Isa 51:17).[13] From the point of view of Genesis, this should not be surprising. It was God, after all, who cursed the ground in the first place (Gen 3:17).

Of course, wine simultaneously remains a key symbol of eschatological fulfillment in Israel’s Scriptures, from the Promised Land’s prodigious grape production (Num 13:23) to the copious wine of the apocalyptic feast when death is finally destroyed (Isa 25:6–8). It might seem paradoxical that wine should be a metaphorical vehicle for both condemnation and salvation. But it is precisely because wine is the stuff of joy, festivity, and communion that drunkenness is such a potent token of what is still awry in a humanity whose hearts are corrupt from youth (Gen 8:21). To quote Kass again, despite wine’s glories, it is also “the cause of drunkenness, of the erosion of the ability to make distinctions, of chaos.”[14] In other words, it threatens to undo the wise ordering of creation outlined at the beginning of Genesis, culminating in the supreme “relief” of Sabbath rest.

The Flood has yielded a world that is re-created, yes, but it remains infected with the tendency toward de-creation that is the bitter fruit of sin. Noah is a new Adam who brings partial relief from the curse, yes, but he is not the last Adam, who offers the definitive rest of the Sabbath.

And now I have tipped my hand. If Noah is a new Adam but not the new Adam, then he is also a type of Christ. Suddenly it does not seem quite so crazy when St. Augustine proposes that Noah’s nakedness is a type of Christ’s nakedness in his passion (City of God 16.2). Noah drank wine, got naked, and passed out. Jesus drank a different cup (Matt 20:22; 26:39), was stripped of his garments, and slept the sleep of death on the cross.[15]

We might even do Augustine one better. In Genesis 9:20 Noah is called “the man of the ground” (’îš hā’ădāmâ). This expression is rich in resonances with Genesis 2–3. Not only does “the ground” once again bespeak Noah’s identity as a new Adam, the word used here for “man” especially evokes Adam’s relationship with Eve (see Gen 2:23–24). Indeed, it can be translated “husband” (3:6, 16; 4:1). In the Christian tradition, a key dimension of the Adam-Jesus typology is that, just as Adam’s bride Eve was taken from his side as he slept (2:21–22), so also Christ’s bride the Church emerged from his opened side “as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross” (Sacrosanctum Concilium §5; cf. John 19:34; Eph 5:31–32).[16]

Here too Noah fits in as both a new Adam and a type of the last Adam. However we see fit to interpret the outrage committed by Noah’s son Ham, one way or another it clearly bespeaks reproduction and posterity gone wrong (Gen 9:22). One way or another, then, it also serves as a photographic negative for Christ’s formation of the Church from his pierced side, for the Church will be Mother of innumerable sons and daughters. The sacrament of their rebirth, according to the New Testament, recapitulates the Flood (1 Pet 3:20–21) but now cleanses “our hearts” (Heb. 10:20)—the true seedbed of the cursed ground’s thorns and thistles (Gen 3:17–18; 6:5; 8:21).

The curse Adam brought down on the ground struck his son Cain, the “worker of the ground” (4:2, 10–12). Discord, violence, and subservience among siblings become almost the default in Genesis. Noah, after providing all too temporary relief from the curse of the ground, now curses his son Ham’s son Canaan. But what is presented as a curse for Canaan—“a servant of servants [‘ebed ‘ăbādîm] shall he be to his brothers” (9:25)—will be the badge of highest distinction for those whom Jesus “is not ashamed to call . . . brothers” (Heb 2:11). “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43–44). In later centuries, the Roman Pontiff will claim no title more honorable than servus servorum Dei.[17]

Yes, Lamech knew Noah was different, and he gave him a name that intimated relief (nāḥam). After the judgment of the Flood, Noah did bring relief. But the relief supplied by the fruit of the vine proved imperfect and, if we are not careful, liable to drag us back into sin and dissolution. The curse of the ground of Genesis 3:17 asserted itself anew. But that ground awaited a greater “husband,” who would tread the winepress alone (Isa 63:3), who would bear the curse (Gal 3:13) and do away with it for good, making way for “new wine” (Matt 9:17), the “good wine” (John 2:10) that will bring the sober inebriation of the Spirit (Eph 5:18). For Noah was a type of one whose advent would be announced by means of that same verb nāḥam that Lamech prophetically linked to his son’s name: “Comfort, comfort [naḥmû naḥmû] my people, says your God” (Isa 40:1).

[1] English translations are from the ESV-CE unless otherwise indicated.

[2] This paragraph is indebted to Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2003), 154.

[3] See Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 44.

[4] The Jewish Study Bible, ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York: Oxford, 2004), 20.

[5] See Sarna, 44.

[6] Another candidate might be found in Gen. 8. After the cursed “ground” has had its denizens wiped out, been covered with water, and then emerged dry once again, Noah offers burnt offerings (8:20). Then, “when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man’” (8:21). God goes on to guarantee the perpetual duration of environmental conditions for agriculture (8:22). But, while this is a welcome promise that the toil of eking out a living from the ground will not get worse, it does not seem to rise to the level of “relief,” as per Lamech’s prophecy.

[7] These are the only two uses of the verb nāṭa‘ in the first twenty chapters of Genesis.

[8] Beginning of Wisdom, 203.

[9] Jewish Study Bible, 25.

[10] David L. Petersen, “The Yahwist on the Flood,” Vetus Testamentum 26 (1976), 443.

[11] Sarna, 65.

[12] For Edomite glee at the fall of Jerusalem, see Ps 137:7; Ezek 35:15.

[13] See also Pss 60:3; 75:8; Jer 25:15; 49:12; 51:7; Rev 14:10.

[14] Beginning of Wisdom, 203.

[15] On Augustine’s use of this typology, see John C. Cavadini, “Exegesis and Ecclesiology in Augustine’s City of God,” Letter & Spirit 12 (2017), 182.

[16] See Catechism of the Catholic Church §766, with its citations, to which many could be added, including St Augustine, City of God 22.17: “Now in creating woman at the outset of the human race, by taking a rib from the side of the sleeping man, the Creator must have intended, by this act, a prophecy of Christ and his Church. The sleep of that man clearly stood for the death of Christ; and Christ’s side, as he hung lifeless on the cross, was pierced by a lance. And from the wound there flowed blood and water, which we recognize as the sacraments by which the Church is built up” (trans. Henry Bettenson [New York: Penguin, 2003], 1057).

[17] For the famous story of Gregory the Great using the title as a rebuke to Patriarch John the Faster, see John the Deacon, Life of Saint Gregory the Great 2.1 (PL 75:81). But Gregory was not (quite) the first pope to claim it.

Featured Image: Noah's Ark by T.Poulakis after engraving of J.Sadeler (17th c.); Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.


John Sehorn

John Sehorn is the Academic Dean of the Graduate School of Theology at the Augustine Institute, as well as an Associate Professor of Theology. 

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