Questions & Answers: Did Noah Send Out a Raven and a Dove?
by Kyle Butt, M.Div.
In one verse the Bible says that Noah sent out a raven, yet another verse says he sent out a dove. Is this a contradiction?
While this question may seem almost simplistic, it is not unimportant. In the most recent U.S. News and World Report special edition, in an article titled “Mysteries of the Bible,” Michelle Andrews put forth the erroneous idea that there are actually two flood accounts, which she believes have been “interwoven” to look like one, yet contain “a few contradictions” (2004, p. 29). One “contradiction” concerns Noah’s actions when he “sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth...[and] a dove, to see if the waters had abated from the face of the ground” (Genesis 8:7-8).
Ms. Andrews suggests that since two different birds are mentioned, this must be a composition of two different stories, since these two facts are “contradictory.” Yet, from a quick reading of the text, it is obvious that the statements do not contradict one another. Is it possible that Noah sent out a raven and “also” a dove? Absolutely. The text even includes the word “also” so the reader will understand that the author was aware that two different birds were released. It is a misunderstanding of the concept of a contradiction to suggest that different items must be contradictory. To illustrate, could a story be told in which a farmer went to the market to sell a pig and “also” sold a chicken? Certainly. To stretch the word “contradiction” to include mere differences would be to throw the word and concept into hopeless absurdity.
Why were two birds released? The full extent of the answer is not provided in the text. There is, however, a reasonable explanation. There is no indication that God told Noah which type of bird to release. It could be that Noah arbitrarily chose a raven. Yet, the raven is a scavenger that feels quite at home around dead carcasses. After releasing the raven, the texts states that the bird went “to and fro.” It could be that Noah realized he would not get the information he needed from the raven, due to its propensity for dead carcasses, some of which might have appeared in water that had not yet abated. The dove, however, would not have been comfortable landing on such refuse and would have been able to supply Noah with the needed information. No contradiction exists between the verses which state that Noah used both a raven and a dove.
Andrews, Michelle (2004), “Author, Author?,” U.S. News & World Report—Special Collector’s Edition, released in the fall of 2004.