Do we know her name?
Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel—the names of biblical matriarchs such as these have lived on long after they were first written down more than two and a half millennia ago. They are among some of the most common names still used across the world today. Within the narrative of Genesis they walked alongside their male counterparts and even took center stage at times. The name of one important matriarch, however, is conspicuously absent from the story found in the biblical text—Noah’s wife.
This stalwart woman stood beside her husband as he toiled away building a giant wooden ark in anticipation of a great flood that was supposedly coming. And, when it did eventually rain, she faithfully entered into the Ark alongside her equally nameless daughters-in-law to ride out the storm and, I would assume, to take care of the numerous co-passengers from the animal kingdom. Once the flood waters subsided, she and her family were the only people left on the earth. Like Eve before her, this woman became the matriarch of the entire human race. Yet she remains unnamed.
To the ancients, names were very important, and by the second century B.C.E. Jewish writers had filled in the blanks of the Genesis narrative with writings that dealt with the same traditions. The earliest known name given for Noah’s wife is Emzara (“mother of a princess”), which is found in the non-canonical Book of Jubilees (4:33), written c. 160 B.C.E. We are also told that she is Noah’s first cousin; the daughter of Rake’el, his father’s brother. The Book of Jubilees also identifies many of the other nameless matriarchs of Genesis, including her daughters-in-law Sedeqetelbab (Shem’s wife), Na’eltam’uk (Ham’s wife), and Adataneses (Jepheth’s wife), whose husbands name cities after them. The name Emzara for Noah’s wife is attested in other Second Temple literature found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the text known as the Genesis Apocryphon. This particular text even spins an interesting tale about another important woman in Noah’s life that goes unnamed in the Book of Genesis—his mother, Bitenosh—and a bit of drama that occurs just after his birth.
The name Emzara for Noah’s wife must not have been widely accepted, however, because in later rabbinic literature she has a completely different identity. According to the midrash known as Genesis Rabbah (c. 300–500 C.E.), a collection of ancient rabbinical interpretations of Genesis, she was Naamah, the daughter of Lamech and sister of Tubal-Cain (Genesis 4:22). Later midrash, such as the medieval Book of Jasher, seemingly uncomfortable with Noah’s wife being from the descendants of Cain, states she is Naamah the daughter of Enoch.
Whether she was Emzara, Naamah, or simply just a woman whose real name has been lost to the long flow of time, the wife of Noah survived a harrowing tale of faith and hardship. Whether you read her story through the lens of faith, folklore, or critical analysis, this woman deserves our respect and admiration.
To read more about Noah’s mother, the Genesis Apocryphon, and Noah’s birth, read the Biblical Profile: “The Birth of Noah” by Jaap Doedens, published in the Summer 2021 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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Thank you for this article. I was curious to know if Jewish tradition gave Noah’s wife a name. Now I can use it in the essay I’m writing