THE THIRD VERSION
The two basic versions of the Deluge were not in full contrast: they were just two different ways of expressing the same mathematical facts. A conflict emerged only when in post-exilic times the Pentateuch became a text to be read in the service of the synagogue, a text that had to be expounded and even translated (targum), to congregations who no longer understood Hebrew.
The third version of the Deluge chronology was a modification of the second one at the hand of interpreters who were interested in working out to the ultimate possible detail the arithmetic of the second version. If one accepts the principles of the documentary hypothesis, the authors of the third version could be identified with the P writers, because of their preoccupation with exactness of numerical detail.
It could be that the introduction of the solar calendar into the chronology of the Deluge was the result merely of speculation by interpreters. Somebody may have inferred that the reference to periods of 150 days implied a reckoning by a solar calendar with 12 months of 30 days plus 5 epagomenal days at the end of the year. This calendar is usually referred to as the Egyptian calendar, but it has been used in several cultures of the world, including pre-Columbian America. It is one of the calendars advocated by modern champions of calendar reforms. Hence, the third hand made this point by adding verse 8:4 to the effect that the water stopped rising on the 17th of month VII, that is, after 5 months of 30 days. Following the same style of reckoning the same hand added also the similar following verse 8:5, a verse that I shall explain later.
These were minor additions to the body of the narrative, but the solar chronology required drastic alterations at the end of the narrative. If the reckoning is by a solar calendar, the year has 365 days. In order to keep the date of Noah's exit from the Ark on the first day of the second year, the period of 7 days that followed the ebbing of the water up to the opening of the Ark -- the period of 150 + 150 days -- had to be increased to 18 days, since in a solar year there are 11 more days than there are in a lunar year of 354 dates. Therefore the episode of the flight of the birds had to be stretched over a longer period than before.
The story of the flight of the birds -- the period after the 40 days of rain up to the opening of the Ark -- is incoherent in our text of Genesis. First Noah sent out the raven which could not find a place to rest. Then he sent out a dove, which also could not find a place to rest; this seems to be a repetition of the preceding event. The date of the first flight of the dove is not mentioned. The two additional flights of the dove are presented this way: "He waited another seven days and sent out the dove" (8:10); the dove came back with an olive leaf. The return with the olive leaf should mean that now the earth was at peace and dry. And in fact the text continues with the words, "Noah knew that the waters had fallen away from the ground," but then adds, "He waited another seven days, and released the dove; and it did not return" (8:12). After the words "it did not return" there is a discontinuity in the narrative. The words are followed by the date of the first day of the second year, which made clear that the episode of the flight of the birds had taken 18 days altogether. These statements are so awkward that the Greek Septuagint version, in order to make the text more consequential added the words "waited for seven days" before the first sending of the dove. But a total of 21 days dedicated to the flights of the dove is impossible, because in such a case the last flight would be after the 1st day of the second year. It is true that the word "another" in the sentence "He waited another seven days" in 8:10, does not have an antecedent, but the antecedent must have been a statement in 8:5 that the door was opened on the 7th day, a statement that was eliminated from the text when the flight of the dove was multiplied to three.
Section C becomes perfectly clear if one recognizes that the last verse (8:12) is a later addition. I mean the verse that reads "He waited another seven days, and sent forth the dove; and it did not return to him any more." The hand that added this verse also added the word "another" in the preceding vs. 8:10.
If the last verse and the related preceding word "another" are eliminated, this section can be read as follows: Noah sent out a raven and a dove; the raven did not come back, but the dove came back.
Originally the period after the 40 days mentioned by 8:6 must have lasted 7 days. The number of the flights of the dove was multiplied to three in order to add two periods of 7 days each.
There is an extrabiblical Jewish tradition that explains why the flight of the dove was multiplied to three. According to this tradition the raven was sent out three times. The third time the raven found some carrion to eat and did not come back; the Septuagint, the Syriac translation, and the Vulgate echo this tradition by adding to the biblical text of the flight of the raven the words "and he did not come back." I have explained that in the original version the water rose for 40 days and the land emerged in 7 days. When the version according to which the water rose for 150 days and ebbed for 150, was inserted into the biblical text the period of 7 days was preserved in order to reach the end of the lunar year (47+300+7=354); but in the third version, which calculated by a solar year of 365 days, the seven days no longer have any function: 18 days were needed to reach the end of the year. Hence, an interpreter thought of filling up this period of 18 days with three flights of the raven and three flights of the dove, each on a separate day. This explains the chronology of the present text, the purpose of which is to arrive at the total of 18 days. It started with a chronology of 3 flights by the raven and 3 flights by the dove which made a total of 6 days, and inserted 6 days between each flight of the dove. The resulting timetable was the following:
1 First flight of raven
This is the basis of the chronology of our text, except that this text preserved the original version of the flight of the raven, making it a single one.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh the 7 days of the flood are followed by 7 days in which the Ark clings to Mount Nisir. On the 14th day there were sent out successively a dove, a swallow, and a raven. The first two came back but the raven went away, and when it saw that the waters had receded, it ate, wallowed in the mud, cawed, and did not return.
It is easy to understand why in the biblical version the birds are only two and the dove is given pre-eminence over the raven. The dove represents the clean animals and the raven the unclean ones. The distinction between clean and unclean animals dates from Deuteronomy, which specifically lists the raven among the unclean birds. (14:4).
The distinction between the raven and the dove becomes clear when one keeps in mind that they are homing birds. In the case of homing birds the most important item to be considered is where they are trained to fly. The raven was trained to fly to a geodetic point which was not the Ark. But this point was submerged, so that the raven up to the end kept flying "to an fro" in relation to the Ark. Thereby the raven performed a function because by this flying he kept informing Noah about his position.
The dove was trained to fly back to the Ark. This is made clear by the phrase from him in vs. 8:8. "Then he sent a dove from him." Noah was expecting the dove to come back, but wanted to know whether she could find a place to rest. The Moslem tradition makes this point clear by stating that on the final flight the dove came back with mud on her feet. The gesture of Noah is typical of a person who handles returning birds.
It is quite clear that the text started with a version similar to that of the Epic of Gilgamesh in which in a single day, the seventh, there are sent out successively a dove, a swallow, and a raven. It seems to me that in the original biblical version the entire period from the stopping of the rain to the opening of the Ark must have occupied 7 days. An editor, in order to multiply this period of 7 days, multiplied the flights of the doves to three, with the result that the flight of the raven came to hang on as an incongruous detail. Probably the original version of the biblical account placed the flight of the raven on the first day after the end of the rain and the one sending of the dove on the 7th day. As the text now reads, the interval of 7 days between the several flights of the dove is a purely arbitrary one.
The substance of the original biblical version is preserved by Muslim tradition according to which Noah sent out the raven which, having found some carrion, did not come back, and then sent out the dove which brought back an olive leaf in its beak and mud on its feet. The original biblical version must have mentioned the sending out of the raven on the morning of the last day, because in this case the statement that the raven "went to and fro until the water dried up," becomes comprehensible. Fundamentalists have been forced to resort to strange gyrations in order to explain why the flight in which the dove returned with the olive leaf was not the last one. But even some of the critical interpreters have concocted strange theories. August Dillmann is an authoritative critical commentator, but he is a strict follower of the documentary theory of the composition of the Pentateuch. However, since the theory is of little help in sorting out the elements of the Deluge account, he follows in the footsteps of fundamentalist explanations, taking lmberties with the evidence. He declares:
But the raven, a wild bird, which is said to forget to return to its nest, went, i.e, flew away and then returned, i.e., to and fro, therefore sometimes away from the Ark, sometimes back to its neighborhood again or upon it, but not again into the Ark itself. He found floating dead bodies to feed upon. In this way the raven proved itself useless for the purpose intended.
The notion that Noah would send out a bird useless for the intended purpose is ludicrous. Furthermore, it is not factually true that the raven cannot be expected to return to its nest; the Epic of Gilgamesh mentioned a dove, a swallow, and a raven because they are homing birds. Pliny reports that the swallow was used to carrying messages and quotes striking instances of the well-known fact that ravens can be domesticated (N.H. ).
Noah waited seven days and sent the dove out again. She came back "in the evening"; this means that she had found a place to rest. In the original text the second flight of the dove must have been the only one. The detail "in the evening" preserved in the text reveals this. The dove came back with an olive leaf. The text specifies that the olive leaf was taraph, "ripped off," in order to make it clear that the olive leaf had come from a tree and had not been found floating. The Biblical text continues: "so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth." Commentators have not seen the logical connection between this conclusion of Noah and the preceding reference to the olive leaf; they usually indulge in speculations about the symbolic meaning of the olive branch or olive tree. The olive branch is mentioned as a symbol of peace not only in Greek and Roman literature, but also in 2 Macc. 14:4. The olive leaf indicated not only that the earth was dry but also that the earth was at rest after the geophysical convulsion. It is evident that the flight at the end of which the dove returned with the olive leaf must have been the conclusive one. Dillmann, who for the stated reasons has to follow fundamentalist explanations, imagines that the olive tree was under water. He goes to the trouble of quoting the authority of Theophrastos (History of Plants, IV. 8) and Pliny (N. H., XIII 50) to the effect that the olive tree "puts out green shoots under water." But ancient Mediterranean people, for whom the cultivation of the olive tree was a most important element of their culture, were well aware that one of the characteristics of the oil olive tree is that it does not grow much above sea level. This fact is mentioned by Theophrastos.
It is obvious that the return of the dove with the olive leaf implies that the earth was dry, but scholars have refused to accept this evident fact because of the bonds of tradition. This conflict between the accepted interpretation and the clear meaning of the text is so strident that a serious and responsible scholar like Dillmann tried to resolve it by committing the most grievous offense of which a philologist can be guilty, namely, to misquote deliberately an ancient text. What Theophrastos actually states in the passage quoted by Dillmann is that there is an area of the Red Sea coast of Egypt where, because of the lack of rain, there was no vegetation except for some trees that grow in tidal water; among these there is one called locally olive because its leaves and fruits resembled those of the olive tree. According to the commentaries on Theophrastos written by botanists, the tree in question is the white mangrove (Avicenna officinalis). Pliny provides the same information in a concise form. In dealing with submarine vegetation he relates: "whereas in the Red Sea there are flourishing forests, mostly of laurel and olive." what Pliny meant is made clear by a more explicit statement of Strabo (XVI,3,766): "Along the entire coast of the Red Sea, down in the deep, grow trees similar to the laurel and the olive, which at low tide are wholly visible, whereas at high tide they are sometimes fully covered. This fact appears even more amazing because in the land above sealevel there is no vegetation." Theophrastos, Pliny, and Strabo were drawing on the same source of information, which probably is an account of the campaigns of Alexander the Great. What is relevant to the present inquiry, is that this information has nothing to do with the olive tree. It would have been more to the point if Dillmann had quoted Theophrastos' statement that the olive tree does not grow much above sea level.
The blatant mystification the Dillmann allowed himself to concoct helps in underscoring that the flight of the dove that returned with the olive leaf, the second in our text, was originally the last one, and that verse 8:12 is an addition.