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Noah

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Noah and his family herd pairs of animals into the ark before the flood; from the Book of Hours of King Carlos V of Spain, late 15th or early 16th century

Noah is an important Jewish spiritual figure, the tenth and last of the pre-flood biblical patriarchs, the son of Lamech and his wife Adah. When he was born, his father prophesied: "This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed." Hence his name, which means "rest," is appropriate. No firm dates are attributed for Noah's birth or death, but the Book of Genesis 5:32 states that he was five hundred years old when he and his wife conceived their three sons. His wife's name is not given in the Bible, but the Medieval French rabbi Rashi identified her as Naamah, the daughter of Lamech and Zillah. Because the name Lamech appears both as a descendant of Cain and as a descendant of Seth in pre-flood lineages in the Bible, it is thought that two different people or this name, hence it follows that Naamah was Noah's cousin. When God decided that human civilization was too corrupt to save, he determined to destroy the world with a universal flood -- in short, to undo creation. In order to remake the world perfectly, he commanded Noah and his family to build an ark, an immense box-shaped vessel, to hold sufficient pairs of animals to repopulate the wilderness when the flood waters should recede. In the Islamic and Baha'i faiths, Noah is said to have brought either 40 or 72 companions with him on the ark, in addition to his family.

Noah was a preacher of righteousness and a prophesiedt, before and during the process of building the ark and the gathering the animals. The flood was preceded by forty days of torrential rain which covered the entire land surface of the known world. Water levels remained elevated for about one year, and then began to recede. Forty days after the tops of the mountains could be seen, Noah released a raven and then a dove to fly off in search of land. The raven never returned; the dove eventually returned with an olive leaf in its beak, from which the modern symbol of peace, a dove holding an olive branch, derives. When the ark made landfall in Ararat, Noah's family and the animals disembarked. Noah offered an animal sacrifice, and in return God displayed a rainbow in the sky, as a sign of his promise that "the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh." After the flood, Noah planted the first vineyard and was the first person to experience drunkenness. This led to his son Ham "uncovering his nakedness" and resulted in Ham's son Canaan being cursed. Since all other known family lines ended during the Flood, Noah and his wife are, Biblically speaking, considered to be the ancestors of all modern humans. Genesis chapter 10 traces the descent of various ethnic groups from Noah's sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. In addition, the seven laws given to Noah, the so-called Noahide Laws against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, and eating live animals; and to establish courts of justice -- are considered by many Christians to be binding on every descendant of Noah, whom they believe to comprise all humanity, and to not be limited to the Jewish descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Noah is usually represented as herding breeding pairs of all the world's animal species onto the ark, or receiving the dove which he released from the ark, and which returned with an olive branch in its beak to show that the flood had receded. The forty days and nights of rain are also echoed elsewhere in the Tanakh, when Moses led the Israelites in forty years of wandering in the wilderness, while in Jewish folk magic traditions, a newborn baby is not to be shown to anyone outside the family for the first forty days of life, to guard against the evil eye. Noah is also mentioned in the Quran, in Surahs 7, 11, 21, 54, and 71, bringing benefits of protection and blessing.

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