Friday, May 05, 2017

Floating zoo

A common objection to Noah's ark is that prescientific people found the story credible because they didn't know any better. I'm going to quote two ancient Jewish sources which show that prescientific Jews were quite capable of raising logistical questions about Noah's ark. My point is not to comment on their solutions, or to provide my own solutions–which I've discussed on various occasions–but to simply document that it's fallacious to discount Noah's ark on the grounds that the narrator was too ignorant to anticipate practical objections to his account. Even before the advent of modern science, ancient readers were in a position to pose common sense questions like how and what to feed all the animals on the ark:

This applies to Noah, who fed and sustained the animals. What food did he feed them? R. Akiba maintained: All of them ate dried figs, as it its written: And it shall be for food for thee and for them (Gen 6:21). Our sages, however, said, This is not so. He provided each of them with the kind of food it was accustomed to eat–straw for the camel, barley for the ass, and so forth. Each animal was fed what it was accustomed to eat.

Certain animals were fed at the first hour of the day, others at the second, and still others at the third; while some animals were fed at the third of night, others at midnight, and still others at the time of the crowing of the cock. Our sages declared that during the twelve months in the ark, Noah slept neither during the day nor at night because he was occupied constantly with feeding the creatures in his care [Tanh. B. 58.2]. Samuel A. Berman, Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu: An English Translation of Genesis and Exodus from the Printed Version of Tanhuma-Yelammedenu with an Introduction, Notes, and Indexes (KTAV, 1996), 41-42.

R. Hana b. Bizna said: Eliezer [Abraham's servant] remarked to Shem [Noah's] eldest son,42 'It is written, After their kinds they went forth from the ark. Now, how were you situated?'43 - He replied. '[In truth], we had much trouble in the ark. The animals which are usually fed by day we fed by day; and those normally fed by night we fed by night. But my father did not know what was the food of the chameleon. One day he was sitting and cutting up a pomegranate, when a worm dropped out of it, which it [the chameleon] consumed. From then onward he mashed up bran for it, and when it became wormy, it devoured it. The lion was nourished by a fever, for Rab said, "Fever sustains for not less than six (days) nor more than thirteen."44 As for the phoenix,45 my father discovered it lying 'in the hold of the ark. "Dost thou require no food?" he asked it. "I saw that thou wast busy," it replied, "so I said to myself, I will give thee no trouble." "May it be (God's) will that thou shouldst not perish," he exclaimed; as it is written, Then I said, I shall die in the nest, but I shall multiply my days as the phoenix.' Sanh. 108b.

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