From Pious to Profane: Changing Interpretations of The Wife of Noah from Early Judeo-Christian to Islamic Literature

The wife of Noah is a mysterious figure in religious history. She is mentioned twice in the Hebrew Bible as one of the inhabitants of the ark to be saved by the judgement of God. Whereas in the Quran, the Prophet’s wife appears in Sura 66:10 as a betrayer to the Prophet, and an example of rebelliousness against God, which leads her to eternal punishment in hell. While neither the Hebrew Bible nor the Quran has mentioned her name, various Jewish, Christian and Islamic sources referred her by different names. The earliest comprehensive study by Francis Lee Utley in 1941 found one hundred and three names throughout history regarding the wife of Noah. The depiction of this biblical figure varied greatly through time, from virtuous to wicked, faithful to deceitful, and even from doubtful to dedicated. Early Jewish and Christian Apocrypha finds positive and negative attitudes toward her, while later writings focus more on her unfaithful deeds. This paper examines the possible interpretations in the early Jewish and Christian writings that could contribute to the change in interpretation in the Quran regarding the wife of Noah. In particular, it focuses on the change in theological and ideological attitudes towards women during the contemporaneous context.