The Two Flood Stories

A Comparison of the J and P Accounts

Translation and notes by Henry E. Neufeld.
Copyright © 1998, Henry E. Neufeld


Revised: 9/11/06 to add additional notes, include the concluding section, clarify some verse numbering, and correct some links. I have also added a section that shows the full redacted text with color coding for sources.

For further information see:

Many Bible readers have some difficulty understanding the point of the source theories about the Pentateuch, and what the resulting source documents would have been like. It is not my intent in this document to fully explain or defend the source theory, but rather to provide an example of an instance of disentangling two sources according to the source theory, and to make it easy to see what the individual hypothetical source stories would have looked like.

Readers should be aware that all dating of sources is very tentative. It’s hard enough to date a complete piece of literature, but when one is instead dating the remains of one as they show up in a later, edited work, the task can be overwhelming. In this 9/11/06 revision, I’m including some additional dating options for the various sources.

Source theory in the Pentateuch is often referred to by the abbreviation JEPD, which comes from the initials for the four hypothetical sources:

J

Yahwist (Jahvist), named for characteristic use of the name YHWH, though this is only one of many characteristics. Usually dated in the 11th-10th centuries BCE.

E

Elohist, named for characteristic use of the name “Elohim” for God. Usually dated in the 8thcentury BCE.

Note that while the source is named for the usage of a particular name for God, that is not the only distinguishing characteristic. One can’t simply go to Genesis, pick out any passage that uses “Elohim” and assume it’s from the Elohist. At a minimum, one might include many priestly passages by that means.

P

Priestly Source, named for its concern with the temple and its rituals. Usually dated around the time of the exile in the 6th century BCE.

The post-exilic dating for the priestly source should be challenged, and has been. Jacob Milgrom suggests that most of the Pentateuch, except for a few minor interpolations, was completed prior to the exile. (See Milgrom, Anchor Bible: Leviticus, Volume 1, pp. 3-35. Also see my review of Milgrom’s three volume commentary on Leviticus.)

Many modern commentaries also divide the priestly source into multiple strata, with a minimum of a separate H (holiness) and P source. These strata to not impact the passage in question here.

D

Deuteronomist, named for Deuteronomy which is largely from this source, and dated by many to the reform of Josiah in 622 BCE.

Again, many date this source much earlier, and I tend to agree that it might date back from as early as Hezekiah’s reform. The reason is that I think it would be easier to discover a work that had existed for some time than to invent one and pretend it had just been discovered. In addition, much of Hezekiah’s reform seems related to the work of the Deuteronomist. Again, however, this material does not impact the passage under consideration here.

The Genesis story of Noah's Ark and the flood may come from multiple sources

While JEPD is not a terribly accurate abbreviation, since there are more sources in the Pentateuch than those four, and since not all four appear over large sections, it is still convenient shorthand.

The division of the two accounts is that of Gerhard von Rad in his commentary on Genesis. I have chosen to do my own translation and notes for this comparison. The first column is the J account, the second is notes, the third is the P account. The flood account only contains material from two of the four hypothetical sources. To help clarify the differences in the stories, I have rendered Yahweh, or YHWH as ‘YHWH’ and Elohim as Elohim rather than by their traditional English translations of ‘LORD’ and ‘God.’

The purpose of this document is to provide persons who are not well acquainted with the Biblical languages or source and redaction criticism with a convenient way to see how this method works in a common passage of scripture. The translations are designed to make each story look coherent in itself as much as possible. To compare these to a standard translation, I would recommend reading them in the New Revised Standard Version. See below for additional source information.

Separated Text

The following section presents the text divided into two stories.

J (The Yahwist)

Notes

P (The Priestly Account)

5And YHWH saw that the evil of humanity was great on the land, and the whole thrust of his thoughts was only evil continually. 6And YHWH was sorry that he had made humanity on the land, and it made him sad in his heart. 7And YHWH said, “I will wipe humanity which I created from the face of the ground, from human beings to cattle, to creeping things, to the birds of the heavens, because I’m sorry that I made them!” 8But Noah found favor in the eyes of YHWH.

J has no equivalent of the many instructions in this prologue which includes the genealogy of Noah, the instructions for the ark, and the instructions on creatures to bring into the ark. Some scholars would debate the inclusion of the phrase “These are the generations of Noah” as part of the P account, and would instead postulate that it comes from an additional genealogies source. Others would see that source standing behind P.

The J introduction is shorter, but also has some theology, which would certainly disturb many modern readers.

9These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, who was perfect in his generation. Noah walked with Elohim. 10And Noah fathered three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. 11Now the earth became corrupt before Elohim, and it was filled with violence.12And Elohim saw that the earth was corrupt, because all flesh had corrupted its behavior upon the earth.

13And Elohim said to Noah: “The end of all flesh has come before me, because the land is filled with violence because of them, so I’m going to wipe them off the earth. 14Make for yourself an ark of gofer wood, with rooms shall you make it, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15You are to make it this way: The ark will be 300 cubits long and 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. 16You will make a roof for the ark and complete it a cubit above, and you shall make a door of the ark in its side. Make it with a lower, second and third deck. 17And as for me, I am bringing the flood of water upon the land to destroy all flesh that has in it a living spirit under the whole heavens. Everything that is on the earth shall die.

18And I will raise up my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark, you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives.

1Then YHWH said to Noah, “Go, you and all your household into the ark, because you I have seen righteous before me in this generation. 2From all the clean beasts take seven pairs, each with its mate, and from the beasts which are not clean take two, each with its mate. 3Also from the birds of heaven, seven pairs, male and female, so there will be seed on the face of all the land.4Because in seven days I will make it rain upon the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe out all that lives that I have made from upon the face of the ground.” 5And Noah did all that YHWH commanded him.

{7:7}So Noah, his sons, his wife and his son’s wives went to the ark, from the face of the flood, {7:16b} and YHWH shut him in.

8From the clean beasts and from the beasts which were not clean and from the birds and from everything that creeps on the ground 9two went in to Noah into the ark, male and female as Elohim commanded Noah.

Note that in the P account, there is detailed information about the chronology of the flood, but the seven day warning is not mentioned. In J, on the other hand, the information is very brief.

The J account refers only to rain, and not to the fountains of the Tehom or the windows of the heavens.

Note the single instance of “Elohim” in the J text.

19And from all life, from all flesh, you shall bring two from all of them into the ark, to let them live with you. They shall be male and female. 20From the birds according to their kinds and from the cattle according to their kinds, from all things that creep on the ground according to their kinds, two from every kind shall come to you so they may live. 21And as for you, take for yourself from all the food which is eaten, and gather it to you and it will be for you and for them to eat. 22And Noah did according to all that Elohim commanded him.

6Now Noah was 600 years old when the flood of water was upon the earth. 11In the 600th year of the life of Noah, in the second month, in the 17th day of the month, in that day the fountains of the great Tehom were split and the windows of heaven were opened. 13In that very day Noah, and with him Shem, Ham and Japheth (sons of Noah), and Noah’s wife, and his three sons’ wives, went into the ark. 14They and every living creature according to its kind and all the cattle according to their kinds, and all the creeping things that creep on the earth according to their kinds, and all the birds according to their kind, each bird and each winged creature. 15And they came to Noah into the ark, two by two from all flesh which had in it a living spirit. 16And those who came in were male and female from all flesh, as Elohim commanded Noah.

{7:10} And the rain was upon the land forty days and forty nights,17b and the waters surged up and carried the ark, and the ark rose above the land.

17And the flood was upon the land for 40 days. 18And the waters became great, and grew very, very much on the earth, and the ark was carried along on the waters. 19And the waters increased very greatly on the land, and the covered all the high mountains which were under all the heavens. 20The waters rose till they were 15 cubits above the mountain tops.

22Everything that had living breath in its nostrils, from all which was on the dry land perished. 23So he [YHWH] wiped out every living thing which was on the face of the ground, from man to beast to creeping thing to the birds of the heavens, and they were wiped out from the land. Only Noah and those who were with him remained.

21And all flesh that creeps on the earth, and birds, and cattle, and living creatures and from all swarming creatures that swarm on the land, and all the people died. 24And the waters rose greatly against the land for 150 days.

{8:6a} At the end of forty days {8:2b} the rain ceased from the heavens. {8:3a} And the waters went away steadily from upon the land {8:6b} and Noah opened a window of the ark that he had made.

There is again no detailed chronology and no reference to the length of time the waters were over the earth in the J account, while the P account covers this in great detail.

1And Elohim remembered Noah, and all the living creatures, and all the cattle which were with him in the ark, and Elohim made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters receded. 2And the fountains of the Tehom and the windows of heaven were closed.3bAfter 150 days the waters had receded. 4And the ark rested in the seventh month on the seventeenth day of the month on the mountains of Ararat. 5The waters were going and receding until the 10th month; in the 10thmonth, on the 1st day of the month, when the tops of the mountains were seen.

8Then Noah sent forth the dove from him to see if the waters had ceased from upon the face of the ground. 9But the dove could not find rest for her feet, and she returned to him at the ark, because the waters were upon the face of the whole land. And he reached out his hand and took her, and brought her unto him in the ark. 10And he tried again seven days later, and he again sent forth the dove from the ark.11And the dove returned to him at the time of evening, and behold, an olive branch torn off was in her mouth, and Noah knew that the waters had ceased from upon the land. 12And He tried again seven days later, and he sent forth the dove, and she no longer returned to the ark.

And Noah put aside the covering of the ark, and he saw, and behold the face of the ground was dry.

20Then Noah built an altar to YHWH, and he took from all the clean beasts and from all the clean birds, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

Contrast the P description of sending out a raven until the waters dried up with the specific stories about the dove in J.

21And when YWHW smelled the pleasing odor, he said to himself, “I will not again curse the ground because of human beings, because the inclination of a human being’s mind is bad from youth, so I will never again smite all living things as I have done. 22
While there are still days on earth
Planting and harvesting,
Cold and heat,
Summer and winter,
Day and night,
Will not stop.
The priestly source doesn’t really conclude until chapter 9. Here it just leaves us with Noah, his families, and all the animals leaving. J concludes with a simple scene of sacrifice. 15And God spoke to Noah, saying, 16“Leave the ark, you, your wife, your sons, and your daughters-in-law. 17Bring out with you all the living creatures from among the birds and the beasts, and from all the crawling things that crawl on the ground, and let them swarm out across the land and be fruitful and multiply on the land. 18So Noah left, along with his sons, his wife, and his daughters-in-law.19Every living creature, every crawling thing, every bird, everything that moves about on the land according to their families left the ark.

According to source (JEPD) theory, the dove and raven may come from different sources.

Color Coded Text

The following section presents the text in its canonical form color coded for sources. The sources are Yahwist,Elohist, and interpolation or redactional element. Note that in the separated stories some elements appear in changed order, which is not reflected in this section.

Genesis 6

1Now when human beings began to get numerous all over the land, and they gave birth to daughters, 2the sons of God {or “sons of the gods” or “divine beings} saw the daughters of the human beings. They saw that they were good looking, and they took wives for themselves from whomever they chose. 3Then YHWH said, “My spirit will not always work among human beings, considering that they are flesh. Their lifespan will be 120 years.” 4There were giants {Nephilim} on the earth in those days, and also after the sons of God went to the daughters of the human beings and bore children by them. These were heroes, the famous men of ancient times.

5And YHWH saw that the evil of humanity was great on the land, and the whole thrust of human thought was only evil continually. 6And YHWH was sorry that he had made humanity on the land, and it made him sad in his heart.7And YHWH said, “I will wipe humanity which I created from the face of the ground, from human beings to cattle, to creeping things, to the birds in the sky, because I’m sorry that I made them!” 8But Noah found favor in the eyes of YHWH.

9These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, who was perfect in his generation. Noah walked with God. 10And Noah fathered three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. 11Now the earth became corrupt before God, and it was filled with violence. 12And God saw that the earth was corrupt, because all flesh had corrupted its behavior upon the earth.

13And God said to Noah: “The end of all flesh has come before me, because the land is filled with violence because of them, so I’m going to wipe them off the earth. 14Make for yourself an ark of gofer wood, with rooms shall you make it, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15You are to make it this way: The ark will be 300 cubits long and 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. 16You will make a roof for the ark and complete it a cubit above, and you shall make a door of the ark in its side. Make it with a lower, second and third deck. 17And as for me, I am bringing the flood of water upon the land to destroy all flesh that has in it a living spirit under the whole heavens. Everything that is on the earth shall die.

18And I will raise up my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark, you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives.

19And from all life, from all flesh, you shall bring two from all of them into the ark, to let them survive with you. They shall be male and female. 20From the birds according to their kinds and from the cattle according to their kinds, from all things that creep on the ground according to their kinds, two from every kind shall come to you so they may survive. 21And as for you, take for yourself from all the food which is eaten, and gather it to you and it will be for you and for them to eat. 22And Noah did according to all that God commanded him.

Genesis 7

1Then YHWH said to Noah, “Go, you and all your household into the ark, because you I have seen righteous before me in this generation. 2From all the clean beasts take seven pairs, each with its mate, and from the beasts which are not clean take two, each with its mate. 3Also from the birds of heaven, seven pairs, male and female, so there will be seed on the face of all the land. 4Because in seven days I will make it rain upon the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe out all that lives that I have made from upon the face of the ground.” 5And Noah did all that YHWH commanded him.

6Now Noah was 600 years old when the flood of water was upon the earth. 7So Noah, his sons, his wife and his son’s wives went to the ark, from the face of the flood. 8From the clean beasts and from the beasts which were not clean and from the birds and from everything that creeps on the ground 9two went in to Noah into the ark, male and female as God commanded Noah. 10And after seven days, the waters came upon the land. 11In the 600th year of the life of Noah, in the second month, in the 17th day of the month, in that day the fountains of the great Tehom were split and the windows of heaven were opened. 12And the rain was upon the land forty days and forty nights. 13In that very day Noah, and with him Shem, Ham and Japheth (sons of Noah), and Noah’s wife, and his three daughters-in-law, went into the ark. 14They and every living creature according to its kind and all the cattle according to their kinds, and all the creeping things that creep on the earth according to their kinds, and all the birds according to their kind, each bird and each winged creature. 15And they came to Noah into the ark, two by two from all flesh which had in it a living spirit. 16And those who came in were male and female from all flesh, as God commanded Noah. And YHWH closed it up after him. 17And the flood was upon the land for 40 days, and the waters surged up and carried the ark, and the ark rose above the land. 18And the waters became great, and grew very, very much on the earth, and the ark was carried along on the waters. 19And the waters increased very greatly on the land, and they covered all the high mountains which were under all the heavens. 20The waters rose till they were 15 cubits above the mountain tops. 21And all flesh that creeps on the earth, and birds, and cattle, and living creatures and from all swarming creatures that swarm on the land, and all the people died. 22Everything that had living breath in its nostrils, from all which was on the dry land perished. 23So he [YHWH] wiped out every living thing which was on the face of the ground, from man to beast to creeping thing to the birds of the heavens, and they were wiped out from the land. Only Noah and those who were with him remained. 24And the waters rose greatly against the land for 150 days.

Chapter 8

1And Elohim remembered Noah, and all the living creatures, and all the cattle which were with him in the ark, and Elohim made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters receded. 2And the fountains of the Tehom and the windows of heaven were closed and the rain ceased from the heavens. 3And the waters went away steadily from upon the land and Noah opened a window of the ark that he had made. After 150 days the waters had receded.4And the ark rested in the seventh month on the seventeenth day of the month on the mountains of Ararat. 5The waters were going and receding until the 10th month; in the 10th month, on the 1st day of the month, when the tops of the mountains were seen. 6At the end of forty days, Noah opened a window of the ark that he had made. 7and he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. 8Then Noah sent forth the dove from him to see if the waters had ceased from upon the face of the ground.

9But the dove could not find rest for her feet, and she returned to him at the ark, because the waters were upon the face of the whole land. And he reached out his hand and took her, and brought her unto him in the ark. 10And he tried again seven days later, and he again sent forth the dove from the ark. 11And the dove returned to him at the time of evening, and behold, an olive branch torn off was in her mouth, and Noah knew that the waters had ceased from upon the land. 12And He tried again seven days later, and he sent forth the dove, and she no longer returned to the ark. 13And in the 601st year, at the beginning, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from upon the land. So Noah put aside the covering of the ark, and he saw, and behold the face of the ground was dry.14And on the seventeenth day of the second month the land was dry. 15And God spoke to Noah, saying, 16“Leave the ark, you, your wife, your sons, and your daughters-in-law. 17Bring out with you all the living creatures from among the birds and the beasts, and from all the crawling things that crawl on the ground, and let them swarm out across the land and be fruitful and multiply on the land. 18So Noah left, along with his sons, his wife, and his daughters-in-law. 19Every living creature, every crawling thing, every bird, everything that moves about on the land according to their families left the ark. 20Then Noah built an altar to YHWH, and he took from all the clean beasts and from all the clean birds, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

21And when YWHW smelled the pleasing odor, he said to himself, “I will not again curse the ground because of human beings, because the inclination of a human being’s mind is bad from youth, so I will never again smite all living things as I have done. 22
While there are still days on earth
Planting and harvesting,
Cold and heat,
Summer and winter,
Day and night,
Will not stop.

For further study:

Achtemeier, Paul J. ed. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996. ISBN: 0060600373. See especially the article “Sources of the Pentateuch.” [Henry’s Threads Detail Page] [See my more detailed review of this book].

Metzger, Bruce M. ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN: 0195283562. [Henry’s Threads Detail Page] [See my extended list of NRSV Bibles] See in particularly the introduction to the Pentateuch (XXXV and XXXVI) and the notes on the flood story in Genesis 6-9.

Suggs, M. Jack ed. The Oxford Study Bible, Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN: 0195290003. [Henry’s Threads Detail Page] [See my extended list of REB Bibles and a review of this one] See in particularly the introduction to the Pentateuch (pp. 7-9), the notes on the flood story in Genesis 6-9 and the introductory article “Literature of the Ancient Near East” pp. 57-67.

von Rad, Gerhard. Genesis, Revised Edition. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972. ISBN: 0664209572. [Henry’s Threads Detail Page]

Alexander, David ed. Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973. ISBN: 0802806392 [Henry’s Threads Detail Page]. See the notes on Genesis 6-9 and the introduction to the Pentateuch, pp. 122-126.

Copyright © 1998, 2006 Henry E. Neufeld

All Rights Reserved