Since everyone is all het up about Noah, I thought I would resurrect (sorry) a narrative I wrote 15 years ago for my book on science and religion. The “Friedman” I cite is Richard Elliott Friedman, author of Who Wrote the Bible? I used the section primarily to explain why scholars are convinced that the Hebrew Bible is a composite of two different but related methodologies (the documentary hypothesis), but it also shows the utter incoherence of the Bible when read as a literal history. The excerpt may be found below the fold.
How many animals did Noah take aboard the ark? Two of each kind, you say? That is not exactly what the Book of Genesis says. Rather, the story begins with Elohim telling Noah (Gen 6:19, 20 [Jewish Publication Society’s 1962 translation]),
And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female [note the terms, male and female]. From birds of every kind, cattle of every kind, every creeping thing on earth, two of each shall come to you to stay alive.
Friedman assigns this passage to the P document.
In the very next chapter (7:2, 3), it is Adonai, not Elohim, who tells Noah,
Of every clean [italics mine] animal you shall take seven pairs, males and their mates [note the terms, males and their mates], and of every animal which is not clean, two, a male and its mate; of the birds of the sky also, seven pairs, male and female, to keep seed alive upon the earth.
Friedman assigns this passage to the J document. Later in the same chapter, we learn that (7:8, 9)
Of the clean animals [italics mine], of the animals that are not clean, of the birds, of everything that creeps on the ground, two of each, male and female, came to Noah into the ark, as God [Elohim] had commanded Noah.
Friedman assigns this passage to the P document. Then, finally (7:14, 16),
… they and all beasts of every kind, all cattle of every kind, all creatures of every kind that creep on the earth, and all birds of every kind, every winged thing [went into the ark] … two of all flesh in which there was breath of life. Thus they that entered comprised male and female of all flesh, as God [Elohim] had commanded him.
Friedman assigns this passage also to the P document.
So what do we have? First, Elohim tells Noah to take two of each kind into the ark. Then, Adonai says take seven pairs of each “clean” animal. Next, the P document tells us, almost as if P had been eavesdropping on J, that no, Noah has taken two of each kind, whether clean or not, as Elohim has commanded him. Finally, the P document repeats that Noah has taken two of all flesh into the ark. In short, there are two contradictory statements: Noah took two of each kind into the ark, and Noah took seven.
What about the term clean? It is taken to mean fit for sacrifice. Domestic animals are fit for sacrifice, whereas predators and animals that have wounds of any kind are not. The stricture against wounded animals means, in effect, that animals that have been hunted or trapped are necessarily unclean. The traditional explanation of these passages is that Noah was instructed to bring aboard seven pairs of each kind that was fit for sacrifice and two of all others. Presumably he did so in order to ensure that there would be enough clean animals to sacrifice. Why then does 7:3 say, “of the birds of the sky also, seven pairs”? The birds of the sky, whether predators or not, will almost certainly have to be shot or trapped and will therefore be wounded if they are available for sacrifice. That is, the birds of the sky can never be fit for sacrifice, so one pair would have sufficed.