Notes on Genesis (iv)

‘The dove returned to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth…’ (Gen 8:11)

When this passage is read with the Church, the dove that returned to Noah appears more significant than it may at first apear. The bird’s flying over the waters of the flood recalls the Spirit hovering over the face of the water at the beginning (Gen 1:2), and the figures of the Spirit and the dove come together when the Spirit in the form of a dove descends on Christ as he stands in the waters of the Jordan (Matt 3:16, Luke 3:22). ‘A corporeal dove brought the olive branch back to the ark which was washed by the waters of the flood; the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a corporeal dove upon the Lord when he was baptized in the waters of the Jordan.’ (Bede) The Holy Spirit will over-shadow (Greek epi-skiadzo, i.e. cast a shadow in the manner of a bird, cf Ps 90(91):4) the Theotokos at the Annunciation (Luke 1:35), just as a cloud overshadows the disciples at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:34; the narratives of the Annunciation and Transfiguration are both Trinitarian: in each case a voice affirms that Christ is his Son, and an act of overshadowing connected with the Spirit occurs.) The cloud recalls that which overshadowed the tabernacle (Ex 40:29), a biblical image that presumably lies behond the comment in the Protoevangelium of James (a text with a very high density of biblical allusion) that a bright cloud overshadowed the cave in which Jesus was born (33).

Noah’s dove thus takes her place among a range of biblical symbols associated with activities of the Spirit.

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