In a well-known routine, the great Bill Cosby shares his thoughts on the conversation between Noah and God which led to Noah’s building the ark. The bit is certainly humorous, but do its facts correspond with those of the traditional Jewish interpretation of the flood episode? Let us see:
Cosby calls Noah “a good carpenter.” Rashi (Bereishis 5:29) writes of a farming implement that Noah invented. Does that qualify him as a carpenter? Possibly not. But I find it reasonable to assume that a farming tool inventor is likely to have been a good carpenter, as well.
Cosby says that God told Noah to make it 300*80*40 cubits out of wood. While the pasuk has God telling Noah to use wood (6:14), Cosby is conspicuously incorrect on the measurements. Noah was actually commanded to make it 300*50*30 cubits. Cosby’s ark would actually seem to be more roomy than Noah’s, with more than double the cubic space (960,000 square cubits versus 450,000).
With regard to the duration of the flood, as Cosby has it, Noah was promised 1,000 days and 1,000 nights of rain but subsequently tried to bargain those numbers down to 40. Bereishis 7:4 reports Noah being told that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Unlike the story with Abraham and Sodom (Bereishis 18), we are not told of any negotiations. (It may have been the potential for a longer storm that made Cosby give Noah roomier accommodations. ;-))
By portraying Noah as unwilling to explain his ark-building to his neighbor, Cosby has God’s goal as the destruction of everyone other than Noah. Rashi (6:14) has a very different take. He says that Noah’s 120 year long ark construction project was necessary so that many people would observe Noah’s interesting actions and ask him why he was engaging in the bizarre endeavor. When told of the answer (that God was to destroy the world), they would, hopefully, repent.
Just before the rain begins, Cosby has Noah frustrated at God, unhappy about the position God has put him in. (“I’m sick and tired of this…you know I’m the only guy in this neighborhood with an ark…you let me go out there and bring in a pregnant elephant, you give me no manual for delivery…) It is only the downpour that has Cosby’s Noah ultimately return to the side of God. Though he does not share any such dramatics on the part of Noah, Rashi (7:7) similarly has Noah as a man of wavering belief. In fact, Rashi states that Noah and his family did not enter the ark until “the water forced them.”
In summary, while the facts in the Cosby version of the ark-building story correspond with some facts in the traditional Jewish version of it, we certainly cannot say that Bill Cosby, with all his genius, got all the facts right.
Here’s the Youtube clip: