In the account of the Flood, God commanded Noah to bring in seven pairs of "clean" animals and a pair of animals that are "not clean". Here we have a very early distinction of clean and unclean animals, something which was only(?) segregated in the giving of the Law. How come does this distinction appear here? On what basis would Noah know whether an animal was clean or unclean?

Genesis 7:2-3 ESV: Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth.

Sidenote: how would you also explain the seeming discrepancy of the abovementioned verses to the previous requirement of bringing only(?) two pairs of every animal?

(6:19): And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female.

And this "two and two"?:

(7:9): two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. (7:15): They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life.

  • Thanks for the link. To add, would it also be valid to say that the idea of clean-unclean may not have necessarily originated through direct revelation but rather through natural human religious instincts? Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 8:35

1 Answer 1


In my understanding, the flood account in Genesis makes much more sense when understood as a conflation of 2 separate source documents. This accounts for the conflicting instructions regarding the number of animals to be taken, as well as the alternating names of God that are used.

The source document which includes the 7 pairs of animals for sacrifice makes sense from the Pristly source, which was written long after the event, after the establishment of the Priesthood and sacrifices. It all makes much more sense when we simply assume that the priests are reading back the sacrificial requirements at the time of writing into the older story - adding in what they assumed must have been the case, given how central animal sacrifices are to their understanding of proper religious practice.

Genetic evidence indicates that one of the few animals of which only 2 were on the ark may have been cheetahs, as they may have been reduced to only a single breeding pair in the last ten thousand years, so if we are looking for historical accuracy, maybe the priestly account has more going for it.

Both versions are more believable than earlier accounts written in Sumerian literature, so we need to give the Biblical authors some credit, though attributing strict historical accuracy to either version of the sources used in Genesis is problematic.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.