Noah, the Bible & the Egyptian God Nu
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
The Biblical character Noah is based upon Semitic tribal lore as expressed in Genesis. According to this tale the deity, either Yhwh or Elohim, became disenchanted with mankind and decided to exterminate the species in a catastrophic flood which lasted for 40 days and nights. One man, Noah, was found deserving of rescue, so the deity ordered him to build a boat, save his wife, his 3 sons and their wives and either a pair or a couple of pairs of each animal that could not swim. Noah complied, and after 40 storm tossed days Noah landed on Mount Ararat in Turkey. From this perch, he launched 2 birds, a raven and a dove, to see if the land was dry enough for him and his family to disembark. After 7 days, the earth was dry enough for the family to leave the ship. Noah’s 3 sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth became the patriarchs of the 3 great groups into which the Hebrews divided mankind, who were respectively; the Semites, the Africans and Canaanites and the Euro-Anatolians. Shem, which means ‘name’, was the father of the Semites, Ham, whose name means ‘hot’, was the father of the Canaanites and the African branch of mankind, and Japheth, meaning expanse, was the father of the Euro-Anatolians. Shem’s name requires more than a geographical explanation.
Shem’s name is suspicious as Shem is one of Yhwh’s Biblical names (Ez 39:7 & Deut 28:58) so Shem is Biblically linked to the name Yhwh . This link indicates that Shem’s Biblical sire, Noah, originated as an Egyptian primordial god. The Egyptian god Nu is one likely candidate for the origin of Noah’s name. The Judeans/Midianites, who were known to the Egyptians as the Shasu of Yhw, may have borrowed this primordial god from the Egyptians when they were enslaved to work the copper mines at Timna. Nu may have lost his status as a divinity when the Judeans were enslaved in Babylon where Nu/Noah became identified with Utnapishtim, the Babylonian version of Ziusudra and Atrahasis. This proposal explains the reason why Noah became the father of Shem whose original name was ‘Shmsh’ which means sun in Hebrew and was the name of their sun god. Shem became another name for Yhwh, which indicates that the original name was the name of a divinity. (Many Jews still address Yhwh by the name HaShem or ‘the Name’.). Nu gave rise to Ra, the sun god, so the Hebrews thought it fitting that he should father their god Yhwh too. Gen 1:1,2 has the Hebrew god arising from the waters to create everything except the water from which he originated. That water was a reference to the Egyptian god of the watery abyss, Nu, after whom Noah was named. In the Genesis tale, Noah sailed on the watery abyss and his son, Shem, originally ‘Shmsh’ or divine sun, became the divine patriarch of the Hebrews.
One of Noah’s descendants was Seruq (shruq in Arabic) whose name suggests an origin from a place where the sun rises. Egypt is West of Canaan, but their chief deity is the sun god Re. So, it was from Egypt that the sun god arose to influence various cultures and Egypt may be the origin of Noah’s name. Noah’s name in Hebrew is nch and is pronounced nwch. In Arabic, Noah’s name is nwh. Both Hebrew and Arabic use a form of the ‘h’ suffix. With the suffix eliminated, the name Noah becomes Nw or Nu. According to Wikipedia:
“Nu (/nu/ “watery one”), also called Nun (/nu:n/ “inert one”) is the deification of the primordial watery abyss in ancient Egyptian religion. In the Ogodoad cosmogony, the word nu means “abyss”…The Ancient Egyptians envisaged the oceanic abyss of the Nun as surrounding a bubble in which the sphere of life is encapsulated, representing the deepest mystery of their cosmogony. In Ancient Egyptian creation accounts the original mound of land comes forth from the waters of the Nun. The Nun is the source of all that appears in a differentiated world, encompassing all aspects of divine and earthly existence. In the Enead cosmogony Nun is perceived as transcendent at the point of creation alongside Atum the creator god.”
It was from Nun that Ra (or Amun, another of the Ogdoad who became prominent Middle Kingdom onward, and joined with the sun god as Amen-Ra) created himself, rising up on the first piece of land – the primeval mound (Benben) out of the lotus blossom, born from the world egg, or as a bnw-bird who then found and landed on the mound. Pyramid text 301 states:
One story says that Ra’s children, Shu and Tefenet went to explore the waters of Nun. After some time, Ra believed that they were lost, and sent the his Eye out into the chaos to find them. When his children were returned to him, Ra wept, and his tears were believed to have turned into the first humans. Nun then became the protector of the twin deities, protecting them from the demons in his waters. Later on, it was Nun who suggested that Ra sent out his Eye to destroy the humans who were in contempt of the sun god. Finally, it was on Nun’s orders that Nut turned into a solar cow, and carried Ra up into the sky after the sun god had grown old and wearied of life on earth.
The story of the crow being sent forth is parallel to Noah sending forth the raven in Gen 8:7. Many scholars trace the Noah story to the Mesopotamian flood epics. However, it appears that the origin of Noah’s name is not Semitic but Egyptian. Nwh or Nu was the primordial god of the watery abyss out whom arose the Egyptian sun god, Ra. This same watery abyss appears in Genesis 1. The Israelite god arose from this watery abyss to create everything but the water from which he arose. Noah became the father of mankind as his sons fathered the 3 branches of the human race just as Nu was the Egyptian father of gods and mankind. Noah’s eldest son was Shem, the progenitor of the Semites whose name was another name for Yhwh according to Ez 39:7 & Deut 28:58. Shem was also a shortened form of the name Shmsh, the Hebrew sun god. Just as Ra arose from Nu, so Shem (aka Yhwh/Shmsh) so Noah/Nu sired Shem/Shmsh. The mound of earth rising from Nu is parallel to Noah’s landing on another mound of earth named Mount Ararat. There are too many parallels to dismiss the similarities as coincidental. It appears that the story of Noah began with the Egyptian god of the primordial waters, Nu. Noah/Nu probably lost his status as a deity when the Hebrews became influenced by the Mesopotamian flood epics during their Babylonian exile. However, the descendants of Noah’s son, Shem/Shmsh are critical to the Biblical narrative as they are the ancestors of Abram, the father of the Hebrews, the Ishmaelites and the caravan tribes from the Arabian Peninsula.
To understand the role of Shem in the Biblical narrative, one must trace the meanings of the names of his descendants: Arphakshad, Shalakh, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Seruq, Terah, Abram, Nahor, and Haran, which is not to be confused with Charran, a city located in Anatolia.
Shem means name and is associated with the Holy Name of Yhwh according to Ez 39:7 & Deut 28:58. Shem is probably the name of 2 gods, specifically Shmsh and Yhwh who was thought to be the god who ‘begat’ or sired the Hebrews (Deut 32:18). The Biblical authors addressed Yhwh as ‘father’ (Isa 63:16).
Arphakshad is the name of an Assyrian town and Shalakh means weapon in Hebrew and in Arabic if it is spelled with a ‘seen’. This Arabic word also means excrement. However, if the word is spelled with a ‘sad’, it means to make peace, settle, make land arable.
Eber means to to cross over, to ford in both Hebrew and Arabic. Peleg or ‘flq’ in Arabic means to split, divide and may refer to a branch of a stream or river according to Strong’s.
Reu is ‘r’ay’ in Arabic and it means to graze animals. In Hebrew it means pasture.
Seruq means branch in Hebrew but if the word is spelled with a ‘sheen’ in Arabic it means the place from which the sun rises or East.
Nahor means to snore in both Arabic and Hebrew, but it appears that the word is a corruption of ‘nhr’ which means river. In Arabic the word is ‘ nhwr’ and it means stream, river.
Terah is another interesting name that has a double meaning. In Hebrew the meaning is uncertain but it may mean a place in the desert. However, in Arabic the word is ‘trh’ and it means expulsion.
The name Abram has various meanings as the exalted father, father of Aram and the one from the highlands or the one who heaps up wealth. All of the names are appropriate.
Haran means mountaineer in Hebrew.
So, all of the names, except for Shem and Terah, mean locations or rivers. Shem is a name of Yhwh and Terah means expulsion. It seems the Hebrews were remembering their expulsions from Israel under the Assyrians and from Judea under the Babylonians. The remaining names express the journey of the Aramaean branch of the Hebrews, who were Canaanites, as they traveled from the highlands of Aram fording the various rivers with their animals in search of pasture and securing their trade routes. They also traveled from Egypt through the Negev and Sinai deserts to establish settlements and trade routes. The names express a geographical narrative of the Canaanites who became the Israelites. According to Hebrew tribal lore, this epic journey began when Noah landed on Mount Ararat after the deity engulfed the planet in a catastrophic flood. The flood shifted the focus from Adam as the Biblical patriarch to Noah who supplanted Adam as the father of mankind. Biblical Noah began his journey as an Egyptian god of the watery abyss and ended as the Hebrew patriarch who, like the heroes of the Mesopotamian flood epics, saved mankind from the watery abyss of a vengeful god.
The Biblical character, Noah, appears in the Quran, but not as either the victim of a world-wide deluge or the patriarch of mankind. Instead, he is portrayed as a Prophet who survived a local flood which devastated his tribe. Noah’s name in Arabic means to weep, lament, mourn for the dead.
The Noah story contains contents that could only have originated on the southern coast of Arabia. The 40 days and nights of rain (the Yemenese monsoon) indicates that a catastrophic flood did occur in that region (perhaps accompanied by a tsunami); the tale of which was caravanned into the various regions in which they traded. However, there are many elements from many different cultures tangled up in the Biblical Noah story. The name Noah was correlated to the Egyptian god of the primordial abyss, Nu, in Egypt; not the Hyksos Egypt, but Ptolemaic Egypt where the Septuagint authors had unlimited access to the Library at Alexandria. However, one cannot discount the fact that, although the name Noah means rest in Hebrew, in Arabic the name Noah means loud weeping, wailing, lamentation for the dead. According to the Mesopotamian myth regarding Gilgamesh, tablet 9:
“Early in the morning at dawn a black cloud arose from the horizon.
The weather was frightful.
Utnapishtim boarded the boat and entrusted the boat and its contents to his boatmaster Puzurammurri who sealed the entry.
The thunder god Adad rumbled in the cloud and storm gods Shullar and Hanish went over mountains and land.
Erragal pulled out the mooring poles and the dikes overflowed.
The Annunnaki gods lit up the land with their lightning.
There was stunned shock at Adad’s deeds which turned everything to blackness. The land was shattered like a pot.
All day long the south wind blew rapidly and the water overwhelmed the people like an attack.
No one could see his fellows. They could not recognize each other in the torrent.
The gods were frightened by the flood, and retreated up to the Anu heaven. They cowered like dogs lying by the outer wall.
Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth.
The Mistress of the Gods wailed that the old days had turned to clay because “I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people who fill the sea like fish.”
The other gods were weeping with her and sat sobbing with grief, their lips burning, parched with thirst.
The flood and wind lasted six days and six nights, flattening the land.
On the seventh day, the storm was pounding [intermittently?] like a woman in labor.
The sea calmed and the whirlwind and flood stopped. All day long there was quiet. All humans had turned to clay.
The terrain was as flat as a roof top. Utnapishtim opened a window and felt fresh air on his face.
He fell to his knees and sat weeping, tears streaming down his face. He looked for coastlines at the horizon and saw a region of land.”
So. although the name Noah has a striking similarity to the Egyptian god of the primordial abyss, his name in Arabic perfectly describes his and the god’s lamentation over the drowned humanity. The conclusion is, that the name Noah came from the Arabian Peninsula as did the original 40 days and nights of rain part of the flood epic. Cultures with whom these caravan tribes traded changed the story to match to their own lands, the characters, as Utnapishtim, arid climates and geographical events, as floods caused by a rapid snow melt in the mountains surrounding Mesopotamia. The Arabic meaning of Noah is reminiscent of the wailing of Utnapishtim (meaning ‘he found life’), the Noah figure in the Epic of Gilgamesh, when the god Enlil drowned mankind. This epic is mirrored in the Genesis story of Noah. However, the Quran’s story is a narrative in which a world wide flood does not appear so the stories are only comparable in the basic narrative of a local tribal leader who survived a flood that devastated his tribe because the tribe failed to heed the Prophet’s warning. One can only conclude that the original Noah who survived a devastating monsoon coupled with a tsunami must have also fell into deep mourning over the loss of his tribe as well as the other tribes in the area that succumbed to this great flood. His lamentations became the name with which he was identified in the Quran.