Noah and the Flood

Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman


Noah’s Ark is certainly one of the most widely known of all biblical images, particularly popular with and for children:

The Lord said to Noah
There’s gonna be a floody floody
Get those animals out of the muddy muddy Children of the Lord.
Chorus: Rise and shine and give God his glory, glory
Rise and shine and give God his glory, glory
Children of the Lord!
Oh Noah, he built him, he built him an arky arky
Oh Noah, he built him, he built him an arky arky
Built it out of hickory barky barky
Children of the Lord!…
The animals, they came in, they came in by twosie, twosies
The animals, they came in, they came in by twosie, twosies
Elephants and kangaroosie, roosies, children of the Lord

This spectacle of a primeval circus has naturally delighted people of all ages and eras. But, examination of the biblical account reveals that Noah’s tale is more essentially a story of divine wrath, universal destruction and death. How has this dour and frightening biblical legend become a charming fairy tale? One key to understanding this transformation can be sought in Pope Gregory the Great’s formative statement, in defense of the use of art by the Church: “what writing presents to readers, a picture presents to the unlearned who behold, since in it even the ignorant see what they ought to follow; in it the illiterate read.” Here we will sample some of the artwork produced over the generations regarding central episodes of the Flood story, in search of the ways in which artists have understood and taught their lessons.

Entering the Ark

In Genesis 2, Adam named all the animals that were created just for his companionship, since “it was not good that the Man was alone.” According to Genesis Rabba 17:4, these animals were paraded before the man in pairs, male and female. In Genesis 6 and 7, the parade appears again – this time in two’s or seven’s depending on their sacrificial status – as they are loaded into the ark to be saved from the great flood.

19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. Genesis 6

2 You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; 3 also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth…7 Then Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him entered the ark because of the water of the flood. 8 Of clean animals and animals that are not clean and birds and everything that creeps on the ground, 9 there went into the ark to Noah by twos, male and female, as God had commanded Noah. Genesis 7

The bare-bones but evocative description of this event is an invitation to artists; it became one of the most frequently illustrated episodes of the Flood story. The ways in which artists describe the animals entering, living in and leaving the Ark is more than just evidence of their visual imagination: each portrayal is also a statement about the meaning of the entire saga. Thus, the parade of animals has been variously illustrated: from rings of single animals and birds around the ark, pictured as a four-legged chest, in the 6th century mosaic from the synagogue of Misis (Mopsuestia) to a contemporary cartoon by Frank Modell, in which pairs of animals do some nervous, anthropomorphic talking as they enter a typical-looking ship.

The biblical account does not deal with specific species of animals, but rather with general categories: fowl, beasts (possibly mammals) and creeping things (reptiles?); male and female. One biblical tradition adds a ritual differentiation: pure (by sevens) and impure (by twos). But later interpretation has come up with additional classifications. For example, several Midrashim tell us that Noah chose the animals that crouched at the entrance to the Ark and rejected those that stood. This tradition may be related to the story of Gideon’s army (Judges 9).

It may also be an expression of preference for docility over aggressiveness. Other Midrashim highlight specific, rare or fabulous animals. But while literature can generalize, artists have to commit to particular species and groupings. In the 13th century mosaics of the Cathedral of San Marco in Venice, Noah separates the carnivores from the herbivores;
In the child’s drawing below, there are no predators; Noah stands serenely by a pair of house cats (?), as a pair of birds flutter overhead.
In American folk painter Edward Hicks’ rendition, the only humans visible are vague and marginal; the animals line up patiently in pairs, waiting their turn to enter the Ark under a threatening sky. Note Hicks’ crossed trees, a sign of the Cross: Jesus will be the savior from cosmic disaster.
Shalom of Safed has kosher and non-kosher pairs of animals and a lone (pregnant?) elephant (see Genesis Rabba 31:14), but is mainly concerned with the people who are picking fruit for the journey (above; see Genesis 6:21) and entering the Ark (below).

Child's picture
Child's picture
Noah's Ark
Noah's Ark

For his part, Rembrandt has no animals at all, focusing entirely on the burdened humans, whose reluctance is patently visible from behind.

What do these various interpretations convey? The specific example of Hicks’ painting may provide a key:  His painting of the parade of animals entering the Ark is very similar to his favorite subject, The Peaceable Kingdom This painting, but one of approximately 80 that Hicks did on the scene, is an illustration of Isaiah’s famous vision:

 6 And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,  And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them.  7 Also the cow and the bear will graze, Their young will lie down together,  And the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.  9 They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11

According to many commentators (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Kings 12:1; Radak on Isaiah 11), this vision is metaphor for the messianic era of peace: the animals represent various human types. The similarity between Hicks’ representations of the Peaceable Kingdom and Noah’s ark is suggestive of the idyllic potential in the Ark. Hicks (and others) may be saying that the Ark’s passengers also represent the human community.  The Flood was necessitated by the corruption of humanity and of the entire world by violence. The Ark is a refuge and serves as a laboratory for humans and animals to discover how to live together in peace. If the animals can get along, there might be hope for humankind, for a Peaceable Kingdom.
As a result, there is no need for Hicks or Rembrandt to show both animals and men: Hicks centers on the animals and Rembrandt on the humans, but they are referring to the same thing.
The dominant feeling expressed in the visual art is one of calm and order.  But what will happen once all the animals are confined in close quarters, for an extended period?  How will such diversity remain calm and orderly?
The biblical account tells us nothing regarding the conditions inside the Ark, during the full year in which its residents/inmates were confined to its quarters.  But an artistic model/pattern appears during the medieval period in which each animal or pair of animals has its separate “stateroom”.

Spieghel Historiael of Jacob van Maerlant (KA20
Spieghel Historiael of Jacob van Maerlant (KA20
Prato Haggadah (JTS 9478
Prato Haggadah (JTS 9478

While the two 14th century examples seen above differ widely in their general iconography, both picture the animals within individual compartments. Apparently, this commonality is a result of trying to imagine how the many animals, normally hostile to one another, could have endured and survived such extended enclosure. Note, however, that in the Spanish haggadah, as in other cases, the animals are pictured as couples, while the Flemish rendition sees only individuals in each cabin. According to some midrashic sources, no sexual activity was allowed man or beast during their stay in the Ark.  Thus, the separate dormitories may have enabled one problem, while solving another.

Ori Sherman
Ori Sherman
Mischa Richter, Life on the ark
Mischa Richter, Life on the ark

The doomed

A much darker scene from the Flood story treated frequently by artists is of doomed humanity trying to save themselves.  There is no description of this scene in the biblical account; artistic renditions are therefore almost entirely products of the artists’ imaginations.  What motivated artists to paint this unrecounted scene?
The earliest extant illustration of the doomed is found in the 6th century Vienna Genesis.


Around a three-tiered, sealed Ark, men, women, children and animals struggle vainly to stay afloat in the rising waters; several figures near the top extend their hands toward the Ark, apparently reaching out for possible rescue, while one discouraged figure dives from the closed Ark into the sea.

The most famous treatment of this scene is one of the three paintings of the Noah story in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes.

The Flood
The Flood

Since this is Michelangelo’s only painting of the Flood itself, it is important to notice that he chose to focus on doomed humanity, while the Ark is seen only in the distance. One explanation of this viewpoint is that it is derived from St. Augustine’s commentary on the Ark story. Augustine interprets the Ark as the Church, which he designates as the City of God, as opposed to the City of Man or sinful, rejectionist humankind. According to his scheme, only Noah and his sons out of all humanity were worthy of inhabiting the City of God and surviving the Flood – all others had to die. In Michelangelo’s fresco, together with examples of family devotion, we see a group of people fighting for place in a life boat and another crowd clamoring to gain entry into the tightly sealed Ark.

The Flood Zoom-In C
The Flood Zoom-In C
The Flood Zoom-In B
The Flood Zoom-In B
The Flood Zoom-In A
The Flood Zoom-In A

Hans Baldung Grien, a German contemporary of Michelangelo, dealt frequently with religious and allegorical subjects.  But his only treatment of the Noah narrative pictures the frantic attempt of the doomed to break into the Ark, represented as a treasure chest, including a lock on its front door.
The scene is reminiscent of Bosch’s famous portrayals of Hell, with contorted bodies heaped around surrealistic objects; but here, the artist is imagining the legendary past rather than the theological future. Michelangelo’s and Grien’s musings on the doomed are similar to several striking midrashim, including the medieval Book of Jashar:

And the sons of men approached in order to break into the ark, to come in on account of the rain, for they could not bear the rain upon them. And the Lord sent all the beasts and animals that stood round the ark. And the beasts overpowered them and drove them from that place, and every man went his way and they again scattered themselves upon the face of the earth.

Nineteenth century French artist Gustave Dore treated the doomed in two renditions.

La Sainte Bible: The world destroyed by water
La Sainte Bible: The world destroyed by water

Dore Gustave

La Sainte Bible: The Deluge
La Sainte Bible: The Deluge

Dore Gustave

Neither of these engravings includes the midrashic attempt to break into the Ark; in fact, the vessel appears only in one of Dore’s pictures, and there vaguely.  But on the left we see once again a Bosch-like heap of bodies, curled around one another in poses reminiscent of the famous hellenstic sculpture of Laocoon and his sons.  Careful examination of this version reveals a number of animals among the doomed; some are participants in the frantic struggle for survival, others are already preying on other victims. In contrast, Dore’s second treatment includes only a small group of people and a very noticeable tiger; here, both humans and animals are attempting to save their children.
Thus we find two contrasting artistic views of this scene: in one (Grien, Dore’s massed version and parts of Michelangelo’s painting), the sinners are only interested in themselves and are once again resorting to violence in order survive; in the other (other parts of Michelangelo’s rendition and Dore’s second version), the doomed are shown in a more positive light, sacrificing themselves for the sake of their loved ones. These opposing approaches might be compared to various versions of the drowning of Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. Further, we note that in several literary and artistic treatments, animals are included, both in order to reflect the destruction of all life as indicated in the biblical account and as symbols of humanity’s best and worst side(s).
The common feature of all these portrayals is that the Ark is sealed; the survivors and the doomed are separated completely, with no possibility of change. On the one hand, this situation is simply a faithful reflection of the biblical account, according to which all life except those divinely ordained are to be wiped out.  On the other hand, various Midrashim have voiced reservations regarding Noah’s righteousness, for not advocating for humanity’s survival. Some are critical of Noah’s passivity toward his fellow men in contrast to Abraham’s heroic activism regarding the threatened destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Others justify Noah by generating a period of 120 years during which he attempted to reform humanity. Both of these Midrashic tendencies, like some of the artwork, express discomfort over harsh divine Justice and over human apathy toward the plight of their fellows.

The birds

Another scene from the Ark narrative that many artists have treated deals with the beginning of the recovery process.

4 In the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. 5 The water decreased steadily until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible. 6 Then it came about at the end of forty days that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; 7 and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land; 9 but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself. 10 So he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent out the dove from the ark. 11 The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth. 12 Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again.Genesis 8

This vignette, like other components of the biblical account, parallels the ancient Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh:

On Mt. Nimush the boat lodged firm,
Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.
One day and a second Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.
A third day, a fourth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.
A fifth day, a sixth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.
When a seventh day arrived I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a swallow and released it.
The swallow went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a raven and released it.
The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.
It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.
Gilgamesh, Tablet XI

While literary scholarship has attempted to explain the symbolism of the three birds in the Gilgamesh Epic and the differences between the Mesopotamian and biblical accounts, inspection of the artistic renditions of this scene indicates that the raven and the dove are treated as diametrical opposites. Most apparent is the difference in color of the black raven and the white dove. In some renditions, this contrast is emphasized simply by showing the two birds in the same illustration;

North French miscellany (Add 11639
North French miscellany (Add 11639
Psalter of St. Louis (Latin 10525
Psalter of St. Louis (Latin 10525

In other cases, each bird appears several times as a means of portraying the various stages of flight and return.

Ashburnham Pentateuch (Nouvelle acquisition Latine 2334
Ashburnham Pentateuch (Nouvelle acquisition Latine 2334
Holkham Bible Picture Book (Add. 47682
Holkham Bible Picture Book (Add. 47682

In both cases, the contrast is often further heightened by showing the raven as a scavenger, resting on and eating the drowned bodies of animals or humans.  The character of the dove is further stressed by the olive branch it carries in its beak.  The contrast between these two birds took on a theological and moral character already in the writings of Jerome, the writer of the Latin translation of the Bible or Vulgate:

The raven also is sent forth from the ark but does not return, and afterwards the dove announces peace to the earth. So also in the Church’s baptism, that most unclean bird the devil is expelled, and the dove of the Holy Spirit announces peace to our earth.

Other renditions focus solely on the dove; in most of these cases the dove has become a symbol of joy and peace.

Mistere du viel testament: The dove
Mistere du viel testament: The dove
Gerhard Marks, Noah with dove
Gerhard Marks, Noah with dove

But strangely Dore’s rendition of the flight of the dove includes no olive branch, but rather centers on the dove hovering below the Ark over a desolate landscape in which the scattered remains of drowned humanity lie. It is a ray of hope of recovery for humanity.
In our own troubled times, the Ark is again a ubiquitous icon, often expressing our anxieties regarding the future: For example in the cartoon “Economic Crisis” by Tom Tails and also in the cartoon “Idiot” by Gihan Wilson.

Genesis Rabba 17:4 
R. Aha said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create Adam, He took counsel with the ministering angels, saying to them, Let us make man (Gen. 1:26). `What will be the nature of this man?,` they inquired. `His wisdom will exceed yours,` He answered. What did the Lord do? He brought the animals, beast and birds before them and asked them, `What should be the name of this?` but they did not know; `of this?` and they did not know. Then He paraded them before Adam and asked him, `What is the name of this? `An ox.` `And of this?` `A camel.` `And of this?` `An ass.` `And of this?` `A horse.` Thus it is written, And the man gave names to all cattle, etc. (ibid., 2:20). Said He to him, `And what is your name?` `It is fitting that I be called Adam, because I was created from the ground (adamah),` he replied. `And what is My name?` `It is fitting for You to be called Adonai (Lord), since You are the Lord over all Your creatures,` was the answer. R. Hiyya said: Thus it is written, I am the Lord, that is my Name (Isa. 42:8), which means, that is My name by which Adam called Me. Then he paraded them again before him in pairs. Said he, `Every one has a partner, yet I have none`. Thus, But for Adam there was not found a help meet for him! (Gen. 2:20). And why did He not create her for him at the beginning? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw that he would bring charges against her, therefore He did not create her until he expressly demanded her. But as soon as he did, forthwith The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept (ibid., 21).

Genesis Rabba 28:9 
R. Johanan said: We learned: The judgment of the generation of the Flood lasted twelve months: having received their punishment, are they to enjoy a portion in the World to Come? Said R. Johanan: The Holy One, blessed be He, will boil up in Gehenna every single drop which He poured out on them, produce it and pour it down upon them. Thus it is written, When they wax hot, they vanish (Job 6:17), which means, they will be destroyed absolutely by scalding water. As well their love (Eccl. 9:6)-i.e. they loved idolatry; As their hatred (ib.): they hated the Holy One, blessed be He, and provoked His jealousy; Is long ago perished, neither have they any more a portion in the world [to come] on account of everything that was done [by them] under the sun (ib.).
For I regret, etc. R. Abba b. Kahana observed: For I regret that I have made them and Noah – surely not! Even Noah, however, was left not because be deserved it, but because he found grace: hence, but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Genesis Rabba 30:  9 – 10 
9.  In his generations.  R. Judah and R. Nehemiah differed.  R. Judah said:  Only in his generations was he a righteous man [by comparison]; had he flourished in the generation of Moses or Samuel, he would not have been called righteous: in the street of the totally blind, the one-eyed man is called clear-sighted, and the infant is called a scholar.  It is as if a man who had a wine vault opened one barrel and found it vinegar; another and found it vinegar, the third, however, he found turning sour.  `It is turning,` people said to him. `Is there any better here?` he retorted. Similarly in its generations he was a righteous man.  R. Nehemiah said:  If he was righteous man even in his generation, how much more so [had he lived] in the age of Moses.  He might be compared to a tightly closed phial lying in a graveyard, which nevertheless gave off a fragrant odor;  how much more than if it were outside the graveyard!
10. Noah walked with God. R. Judah said: This may be compared to a king who had two sons, one grown up and the other a child. To the child he said, `Walk with me,` but to the adult, `Walk before me.` Similarly, to Abraham, whose [moral] strength was great, [He said,] Walk before Me (Gen. 17:1); of Noah, whose strength was feeble [it says], Noah walked with god. R. Nehemiah said: He might be compared to a king`s friend who was plunging about in dark alleys, and when the king looked out and saw him sinking [in the mud], he said to him, `Instead of plunging about in dark alleys, come and walk with me.` But Abraham`s case is rather to be compared to that of a king who was sinking in dark alleys, and when his friend saw him he shone a light for him through the window. Said he to him, `Instead of lighting me through the window, come and show a light before me.` Even so did the Holy One, blessed be He, say to Abraham: `Instead of showing a light for Me from Mesopotamia and its environs, come and show one before Me in Eretz Israel.`
Similarly, it is written, And he blessed Joseph, and said. The God before whom the fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, etc. (Gen. 48:15). R. Berekiah in R.
Johanan`s name and Resh Lakish gave two illustrations of this. R. Johanan said: It was as if a shepherd stood and watched his flocks. Resh Lakish said: It was as if a prince walked along while the elders preceded him. In R. Johanan`s view: We need His proximity. In the view of Resh Lakish: He needs us to glorify Him.

Genesis Rabba 31: 13 – 14 
13. And of every living thing, of all flesh, etc. (6:19). R. Hoshaya said: Even spirits entered the ark with Noah; hence it is written, And of every living thing, of all flesh: i.e. of those for whom souls [spirits] were created but not bodies.
R. Judah said: The re` em did not enter the Ark, but his whelps did. R. Nehemiah said: Neither he nor his whelps, but Noah tied him to the Ark, and he ploughed furrows [in the water] as great as from Tiberias to Susita, as it is written, Can you bind the wild-ox with his hand in the furrow, or will he harrow the valleys after you (Job 39:10)? In the days of R. Hiyya b. Abba a re`em`s whelp invaded Eretz Israel and did not leave a single tree which it did not uproot. A fast was proclaimed and R. Hiyya prayed, whereupon its mother bellowed from the desert and it [the whelp] went down [to the desert] at her voice.
They shall be male and female. [God instructed Noah]: `If you see a male pursuing a female, accept him; a female pursuing a male, do not accept him.`
14. and take yourself of all food that is eaten. R. Abba b. Kahana said: He took in pressed figs with him.  It was taught in R. Nehemiah`s name: The greater part of his provisions consisted of pressed figs. R. Abba b. Kahana said: He took in branches for the elephants, hazubah for the deer, and glass for the ostriches. R. Levi said: Vine-shoots for vine plantings, fig-shoots for fig trees, and olive-shoots for olive trees.
In the view of R. Abba b. Kahana And it shall be for you, and for them implies something that is for you and for them. In the view of R. Levi And it shall be for you, and for them implies, You are the principal and they are of secondary importance; And gather it to you: a man does not gather [store] anything unless he needs it [for later).
Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he (6:22). This text refers to the construction of the Ark.

Genesis Rabba 32:8 
8. In the selfsame day Noah entered (7:13). R. Johanan said, Had Noah entered the Ark at night his whole generation would have said, `We did not know what he was doing, but had we known we would not have permitted him to enter.` Hence he entered in the selfsame day [with the challenge], `Let him who objects speak out!`
They and every beast after its kind, etc.(7:14). They were the principals and all others were secondary.
Every bird of every wing. R. Eleazar said, R. Jose interpreted this to his colleagues: This excludes those which were molting or maimed as unfit for the sacrifices of the Noachides.
And they entered, male and female of all flesh (7:16). Said he to Him: `Am I a hunter?` `Does that matter to you?` he retorted; `It is not written `and they were brought,` but and they that went in—of their own accord. R. Johanan quoted: Seek out the book of the Lord and read (Isa. 34:16): if they came of their own accord in order to be shut up twelve months in the Ark, how much the more [will they come] to gorge on the flesh of the tyrants! Hence it is written, And you, son of man, thus says the Lord God: Speak unto the birds of every sort and to every beast of the field: Assemble yourselves and come; gather yourselves on every side to My feast that I do prepare for you, even a great feast, upon the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh and drink blood. The flesh of the mighty shall you eat, and the blood of the princes of the earth shall you drink, etc. (Ezek. 39:17f.)

Genesis Rabba 33:5 – 6 
5. And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the halon [`window`] of the ark (7:6). This supports the view that it was a window [trapdoor].
And he sent forth a raven (7: 7): thus it is written, He sent darkness, and it was dark (Ps. 105:28).
And it went forth to and fro (yazo washob). R. Judan said in the name of R. Judah b. R. Simon: It began arguing with him: `Of all the birds that you have here you send none but me!` What need then has the world of you?` he retorted; for food? for a sacrifice?` R. Berekiah said in R. Abba`s name: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him [Noah]: `Take it back, because the world will need it in the future.` When?` he asked.`When the waters dry off from off the earth` (ib.). He replied: `A righteous man will arise and dry up the world, and I will cause him to have need of them [the ravens],` as it is written, And the ravens (`orbim) brought him bread and flesh, etc. (I Kings 17:6). R. Judah said: It refers to a town within the borders of Bashan called Arbo. R. Nehemiah said: Ravens literally are meant, and whence did they bring him [food]? From Jehoshaphat`s table.
R. Akiba preached in Ginzak on the theme of the Flood, and the audience did not weep, but when he mentioned the story of the raven they wept. He then quoted this verse: The womb (rehem) forgets him, the worm feeds sweetly on him, he shall be no more remembered, and unrighteousness is broken as a tree (Job 24: 20). `Rehem forgets` : They [the generation of the Flood] forgot to be merciful to their fellow men, therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, made His mercy forget them .. The worm feeds sweetly on him`: the worm became sweet through [feeding on] them. `He shall be no more remembered, and unrighteousness is broken as a tree`: R. Aibu said: It is not written, is uprooted,` but `is broken`: i.e. like something which is broken, yet produces another stock in exchange; and to what does that allude? To the generation of the Separation [of races].
6. And he sent forth a dove … But the dove found no rest, etc. (8 8 f.): R. Judah b. Nahman said in the name of Resh Lakish: Had it found a place of rest, it would not have returned. Similarly, She dwells among the nations, she finds no rest (Lam. 1:3): but had she [the nation] found rest, they would not have returned [to God]. Again, And among these nations shall you have no repose, and there shall be no rest for the sole of your foot (Deut. 28: 65): but had they found it, they would not have returned`!
And he stayed yet another seven days (8: 10f.). R. Jose b. R. Hanina said: There were three periods of seven days in all.
And again he sent forth the dove … And the dove came in to him … And lo in her mouth an olive-leaf freshly plucked (taraf). What does taraf` mean? Killed [slain], as you read, Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces-tarof toraf (Gen. 37:33). He said to her: `Had you left it, it would have grown into a great tree.`
Whence did she bring it? R. Abba said: She brought it from the young shoots of Eretz Israel. R. Levi said: She brought it from the Mount of Olives, for Eretz Israel was not submerged by the Flood. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Ezekiel: Son of man, say unto her: You art a land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation (Ezek. 22:24). R. Birai said: The gates of the Garden of Eden were opened for her, and from there she brought it. Said R. Abbahu: Had she brought it from the Garden of Eden, should she have not brought something better, e.g. cinnamon or the balsam leaf? But in fact she gave him a hint, saying to him [in effect]: `Noah, better is bitterness from this source [God], than sweetness from your hand.`
And he stayed yet another seven days, etc. (8:12ff.). This supports what R. Jose b. R. Hanina said: [He waited] three seven-day periods in all.

Midrash Tanhuma Bereshit, 7 
And God remembered Noah (Gen. 8:1).
Scripture says elsewhere in reference to this verse: A righteous man regards the life of his beasts; but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel (Prov.12:10). The Righteous One of the world, however, regards the life even of a beast, even when He is angered, for His ways are not the ways of man.
Normally, if the inhabitants of a province rebel against a king, the king dispatches his legionaries to subdue them, and they destroy the wicked and innocent alike. After all, the king knows not know who was rebellious and who was loyal, The Holy One, blessed be He, however, does not behave in that fashion. Though an entire generation should anger Him, He will save a single righteous man among them. Therefore, it is written: A righteous man regards the life of his beasts (ibid.). And it says elsewhere: the Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He know those that take refuge in Him (Nahum 1:7).
But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel (Prov.12:10). This verse alludes to the men of the generation of the Flood, who were extremely cruel. Our rabbis of blessed memory posed the query: What did they do when the Holy One, blessed be He, brought the waters of the deep upon them and they saw the waters beginning to gush over them? They had given birth to many children, as it is written: Their seed is established (nakhon) in their sight with them, and their offspring before their eyes (Job 21:8). In fact, this verse implies that the women would conceive at night and give birth (nakhon) the next morning, as it is said: And be ready (nakhon) by morning (Exod. 34:2), And their offspring before their eyes (Job 21:8) indicates that they lived to see their great-grandchildren. Some of them took their children and stuffed them unmercifully into the crevices through which the waters gushed. Hence it is said: The mercies of the wicked are cruel. How do we know that they actually did that? Job declared: the womb forgets him; the worm feed sweetly on him; he shall be no more remembered, unrighteousness is broken as a tree (ibid. 24:20). The womb forgets him…he shall be no more remembered signifies that they pressed their own offspring into these crevices. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do to them after that? He brought the flood down upon them and destroyed them, as it is said: Unrighteousness is broken as a tree.
R. Berechiah said: The men of the generation of the flood were exceedingly strong and tall, as it is written: These same were the mighty men (Gen. 6:4), and if He had not punished them with fire that descended from above, nothing would have been able to destroy them. Hence Job said: Surely their substance is cut off, and their abundance the fire has consumed (Job 22:20). After the Holy One, blessed be He, realized that they would not be drowned by the waters that gushed forth from the deep because of their height, He sent the fire upon them from above, as it is said: And their abundance the fire has consumed. Furthermore, He turned the birds, the wild beasts, and the animals against them to reduce their numbers, as it says: And all flesh perished that moved upon the earth, the birds, the animals, and the beasts, etc. (Gen. 7:21). How did they perish? It was through the birds, the beasts, and the animals.
When at long last they realized that they were about to be destroyed, they attempted to overturn the ark. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He surrounded the ark with lions, as it is said: The Lord shut them in (Gen. 7: 16). The word “shut in” alludes to lions. How do we know this? We know it from the verse My God hath sent His angels and hath shut the lion`s mouth (Dan, 6:23).

Deuteronomy Rabba 11 
3. And this is the blessing…Another explanation: Noah said to Moses: `I am greater than you because I was delivered from the generation of the Flood.` Whereupon Moses replied: `I am far superior to you; you saved yourself, but you had no strength to deliver your generation; but I saved both myself and my generation when they were condemned to destruction at the time of the Golden Calf.` Whence this? For it is said, And the Lord repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people (Ex. 32:14). It is as if there were two ships in danger on the high seas, on board of which were two pilots; one saved himself but not his ship, and the other saved both himself and his ship. Who received the praise? Surely the one who saved both himself and his ship. Similarly, Noah saved himself only, whereas Moses saved himself and his generation. Hence, And you excel them all (Prov. 31:29).