Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.  (Genesis 9:20)

"Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within the tent." (Genesis 9:20-21)

In the biblical tradition, Noah initiates the planting of fruit trees and of vineyards, following the devastation of the flood; when the vine matures, Noah harvests the grapes and makes wine. Planting a vineyard and cultivating wine are clearly a move toward a settled, non-nomadic community.

In his commentary on the Book of Genesis, Nahum Sarna points out that "in the Noah story, advances in the arts of civilization are presented as purely human achievements, not the works of gods or demigods as they generally are in the ancient world. The Egyptians, for example, ascribed the original cultivation of the vine to Osiris, the Greeks to Dionysus. This story also constitutes another departure from Near Eastern tradition in assigning the origin of wine to post-diluvian times; in the Babylonian flood myth, on the other hand, Utnapishtim is said to have given the beverage to the builders of his vessel before the flood."[1]

The Bible does not blame Noah for becoming drunk, since he was oblivious to the intoxicating effects of his discovery. Nonetheless, that the act of exposing oneself is associated with shame and with loss of human dignity is made clear by Genesis 3:7 and 21, where Adam and Eve perceive their nakedness and cover themselves.[2]

The Rabbis, however, were less forgiving and less generous of Noah's behavior. In a Talmudic passage God says to Noah: "You should have been warned by the example of Adam whose perdition came about through eating the fruit of the vine." [3]

In another midrash, Noah and Satan together plant the vineyard, resulting in the pitfalls associated with inebriation:

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Once while Noah was hard at work, breaking the ground for a vineyard, Satan drew near and inquired what he was doing, "What are you planting?"

Noah: "A vineyard."

Satan: "And what may be the qualities of its fruit?"

Noah: "The fruit it bears is sweet, be it dry or moist. It yields wine that gladdens the heart of man."

Satan: "Let us go into partnership in this business of planting a vineyard."

Noah: "Agreed."

Satan thereupon slaughtered a lamb and then in succession a lion, a pig and monkey, and fertilized the soil with each in turn. Thus Satan conveyed to Noah the qualities of wine. If a man drinks one glass, he is as meek as a lamb; if he drinks two glasses, he is boastful and feels as strong as a lion; if he drinks three or four glasses, then behaves like a monkey, he dances around, sings, talks obscenely and does not know what he is doing; and if he becomes intoxicated, he resembles the pig."[4]


[1]Nahum Sarna, Genesis Commentary, Phila: JPS 1989, pp. 62-65. [back]

[2] Habbakuk 2:15 and Lamentations 4:21 also mention exposure of nakedness by the inebriated. [back]

[3] Sanhedrin 70a.[back]

[4] Midrash Tanhuma 58. [back]

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