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Throughout parhsat Noach, I see a combination of the words מבול and מים. I see Rashi's explanation of the word origin of מבול on Breishit 6:17 and he explains the origin from a word that means "confusion" or "upheaval".

I am curious if the term מבול wouldn't automatically imply that it's done by water, i.e., it's a "flood". Is there any place in Tanac"h where the term מבול doesn't imply destruction by means of water? Why does the Torah use both words when it may not be necessary?

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  • 1. Would you please bring the original verses. 2. As the Targumim do not agree, I suspect there's no "single" meaning – Al Berko Oct 13 '18 at 22:28
  • From Gershon's link it seems that the root בל or יבל or whatever "started" to mean 'waters' after its original use in the flood story. – Al Berko Oct 13 '18 at 22:29
  • Interestingly the Targumim translate it as "water-related" straight away. – Al Berko Oct 13 '18 at 22:37
  • I'd say "deluge". – ezra Oct 14 '18 at 4:10
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As far as I can tell from searching on Sefaria and AlHatorah, מבול appears 12 times in Tanach, and every instance refers to the Waters of Noach. The only appearance of the word outside Parashat Noach itself is in Psalms 29:10, and from the use of the definite article there as well as the context, it's pretty clearly referring to the one famous event by that name. So, no, there are no non-aqueous "מבול"s in Tanach.

That's not to say that the word didn't have a more generic meaning or origin. Onkelos does translate the word (in each instance, I think) as טופנא, from the Aramaic root טופ, meaning "float." However, other commentators give the word a meaning that doesn't evoke water by itself:

  • As you note, Rashi associates the word with roots meaning "destroy," "confuse," and "forced descent."

  • Ibn Ezra, like Rashi, connects מבול to the idea of mixed-up confusion.

  • Seforno associates מבול with נבלה (carcass) and says it means "loss" [of life].

  • Radak says that מבול is a descriptor that means "raining down" and, even so, expands the meaning beyond water:

    לפיכך יוכל למר מבול על כל דבר שנופל מן השמים, כמו השלג והאש והברד אם ירד הרוב

    Therefore,1 one could say "מבול" of anything that falls from the sky, such as snow, fire, or hail, if most of it came down.

  • Haamek Davar, like Rashi, connects to the root meaning "forced descent" and says explicitly that "מבול" is generic:

    ובאיזה אופן שהי׳ השחתת העולם אם במים אם באש הי׳ נקרא מבול

    And1 in any case where there would be destruction of the world, whether by water or fire, it would be called a "מבול".

  • R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, like Seforno, takes a cue from the word נבלה, and says that מבול means something like "the untimely dying off of that which would ultimately die anyway." His translator Dr. Isaac Levy inserts: "If I dared, I would translate מבול by euthenasia."

According to any of these commentaries, it would make sense for the Torah to specify "a מבול" of water when introducing the Deluge, to indicate exactly what mode of confusion/destruction/etc. would be visited upon the Earth, and to explain why Noach had to therefore build a boat.


1. My attempts at translation.

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