Thursday, October 27, 2022

How Many Giraffes were on the Ark?

A quarter of a century ago, I heard the director of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo speak about how every depiction of Noah's Ark has a pair of giraffes on the deck. Actually, in many of the Noah's Arks from around the world that we have collected for our forthcoming "Art of the Ark" exhibit at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, there aren't any giraffes at all. For example, South American arks tend to have llamas instead. The largest animals on our Chinese dragon ark are Asian water buffalo, and on our North American arks are bison and moose. For our European ark it's red deer, and for our Arctic ark it's reindeer. And if you wanted to adopt the view of Rav Azriel Aryeh Leib of Lomza and Rav Gedalya Nadel, according to which the flood was only a local phenomenon, then there likewise wouldn't be any giraffes.

Still, if you did want to depict giraffes on the ark, how many would there be? Two, right? Actually, it's not so clear. Here is Genesis 7:1-3:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה לְנֹחַ בֹּא־אַתָּה וְכׇל־בֵּיתְךָ אֶל־הַתֵּבָה כִּי־אֹתְךָ רָאִיתִי צַדִּיק לְפָנַי בַּדּוֹר הַזֶּה׃ מִכֹּל הַבְּהֵמָה הַטְּהוֹרָה תִּקַּח־לְךָ שִׁבְעָה שִׁבְעָה אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וּמִן־הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא טְהֹרָה הִוא שְׁנַיִם אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ׃ גַּם מֵעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם שִׁבְעָה שִׁבְעָה זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה לְחַיּוֹת זֶרַע עַל־פְּנֵי כׇל־הָאָרֶץ׃

Then God said to Noah, “Go into the ark, with all your household, for you alone have I found righteous before Me in this generation. Of every pure animal you shall take seven by seven, males and their mates, and of every animal that is not pure, two, a male and its mate; of the birds of the sky also, seven by seven, male and female, to keep seed alive upon all the earth."

In contrast to the earlier instruction for Noah to take pairs of each animal, here he is told to take seven of every kosher animal (and every kosher bird). According to some this means seven pairs, and according to Sifsei Chachamim and Birchas Asher it means seven individuals. Now, giraffes are certainly kosher animals, along with deer and gazelles and ibex and many others. So this would indicate that were seven or fourteen of all of these animals!

On the other hand, if we look at the reason why there were sevens of kosher animals, we have a difficulty. Rashi, Ramban and others (who note that Noah kept Torah law) explain that the extra animals were for the purposes of offerings. But offerings are only brought from domestic animals, not from wild animals like deer and giraffes. So why would there be sevens of the wild kosher animals?

One might be tempted to explain that the Torah is only saying that there were sevens of domestic animals, not wild animals, taking the word behemah in its oft-used narrow sense. But the problem is that this verse, along with the others in this story, also uses the word behemah for all the non-kosher animals, both domestic and wild. Still, Malbim explains that this verse is only referring to Noah's personal domestic animals, not to the pairs of wild animals. Accordingly, there would indeed be two giraffes.

Kli Yakar, however, raises this question and provides a different answer. He explains that the extra animals were not to provide a supply for offerings - they were to provide a supply for eating. Perhaps we can expand on this and explain that kosher animals, which are prey animals rather than predators, also need to exist in larger numbers to maintain the predator population.

Accordingly, if there were giraffes on the ark, then there were seven or fourteen of them. But it's going to be pretty hard for me to find such a model for our exhibit!


(Meanwhile, if you're interested in the scientific challenges posed by the account of Noah's Ark, see the list of resources in this post. And in a few months, we will be opening an incredible exhibit on "The Art of the Ark" at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, featuring over sixty extraordinary artistic models of Noah's Ark from all over the world! Sign up for the museum newsletter to be notified when the exhibit is launched.)

(If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.)

17 comments:

  1. The gmara in zevachim at the bottom of 115b seems to learn from here that before the mishkan was built, one could bring korbanos from chayos as well, no?

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  2. According to the Malbim's interpretation there were only two. He argues that there were two of each type of animal, plus Noach was allowed to keep up to 14 of each type of his own kosher personal animals and 2 of each type of his non-kosher animals. That explains why it doesn't explicitly make the kosher-not kosher distinction for the birds: he didn't own any non-kosher birds.

    Unless he had a herd of pet giraffes, the Malbim would say there were only two.

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    1. Ah, thanks for pointing that out. I will update the post.

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  3. What a great question! I’m glad to know that there is a view that the flood was really more of a local phenomenon. Years ago I read a book by Dr. Robert Ballard (a religious Christian) after I heard one of his radio interviews. As a person with decades of underwater exploration, Ballard found that there were actually two shorelines in the Mediterranean Sea The original shoreline (below the present one) was a freshwater one with evidence of freshwater mollusks. The more recent shoreline has saltwater mollusks. If I remember correctly, he found evidence that there was a natural seawall near Gibraltar that kept the Atlantic Ocean and the freshwater Mediterranean separated. Probably an earthquake caused this wall to rupture and vast amounts of Atlantic Ocean waters flooded into the Mediterranean (and onto surrounding lands). It sounded quite plausible, and I imagine having to worry about fauna from just that area would have made poor Noach’s already challenging life somewhat easier. No giraffes would have been necessary in this scenario.

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    1. Why would he need to save any animals at all? Plenty places for them to flee to.

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    2. Just wanted to point out tht Ballard didn't originate this idea but confirmed some of Ryan & Pitman's findings:

      https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328286667_The_Mystery_of_the_Black_Sea_Floods_Solved

      Also note that the datings for these events are about 9500 YBP and a smaller one about 7000 YBP. Way earlier than any chronology proposed for the biblical Noah story; indeed, even before the creation of the universe :-)

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  4. I think it's possible that even according to R' Gedalia Nadel there were Nubian Giraffes in the Ark - a species common up to northern Egypt, within the "local flood" region.

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  5. Do any of your models have any more than two (let alone seven) of any animal?

    We have a paper push-out model which is pretty strictly two only but I think there's a third worm in there.

    I think we can attribute the ubiquity of giraffes to their looking cute as their heads pop out.

    "according to which the flood was only a local phenomenon, then there likewise wouldn't be any giraffes."

    Well, way back in the day, before Noach possibly, there were all sorts of animals in Israel- hippos, giraffes, etc. As late as the time of Tanach there were lions and bears. (When the world is warmer, there's more water. When the world was cooler, furry animals will be in more abundance.)

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  6. I was curious about the kosher status of okapis. But instead of bothering you I looked it up on google and got this.
    https://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/14652/is-okapi-meat-kosher
    Your input is welcome nonetheless. Cheers!

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  7. Is the tall guy carrying the boat meant to be Noach or Og?

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  8. There is no way to know. Considering that there are 1,500 members in Rodenta order alone I wouldn't speculate about the number of giraffes. There are bigger questions that will also remain unanswered.

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  9. Was Noah subject to the laws of kashrut? Were his sacrifices subject to the laws of korbanos articulated in Vayikra and Bamidbar?

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  10. The Meshech Chochma wrote that the reason why chayos are not eligible to be sacrificed as korbanos is that it would be too difficult for people to try to obtain them, so Hashem spared us that difficulty, and that since Noach had all the animals at hand, he could sacrifice chayos as well.

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  11. Could you provide the reference to Rav Azriel Aryeh Leib of Lomza? I have never heard his name mentioned.

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    1. https://hebrewbooks.org/6619 epages 134 and 139

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  12. Question: from the Torah perspective, the flood could have been local, as you cite from RAALL & RGN (&RSG?). But scientifically, how could the flood rise above the local mountains for so many months but not spill over onto the whole globe?
    Thank you.

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    1. I found the reference (https://hebrewbooks.org/6619) but he provides only miraculous reasoning; he says the flood didn't cross the sea, it didn't reach the Americas. I'd say that in that case it wouldn't reach Australia, Antarctica, or the Pacific Islands either. Plus Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Britain, Iceland, Japan....

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