The Bible’s Old Testament: Genesis part III: The Rainbow and the Dove

As a reader, I enjoy when I learn the origin of a particular symbol.  Since I write, I like to learn these things so when I  use one, I understand the history of the symbol.  For example, when I was coming out and learning my gay history, I had no idea about the significance behind the pink triangle that represents homosexuality—I figured it was “just a symbol” and gays liked pink. I was 21. Turns out that the pink triangle was used by the Nazis in the concentration camps to mark the rounded-up homosexuals.  The Jews were assigned yellow stars, the gays pink triangles.  A symbol of torture and repression was co-opted for a symbol of strength and solidarity.

The bible is ripe with these types of symbols, and Genesis is no exception.

First, the dove and the olive branch.

As Noah coasts the flood waters, he sent out birds to explore and determine if the flood waters were receding.  He starts with a raven.  When he gets to a dove, later, this bird returns clutching an olive branch, which is evidence to Noah that life—in the form of vegetation—is returning. That is why this bird and the olive branch is a symbol of peace.

And here I thought the dove was used because it seems so gentle and passive. I wonder how many people have used this symbol without knowing its Biblical origin.

Second, the rainbow.

So apparently the rainbow is a symbol that God created in order to let Noah know that he would keep his promise to him to never flood the planet again.  When he sees a rainbow, he should rejoice, for the moisture in the air is not an early indicator of terrible rain to come.

My first reaction to this was an eye roll: really, God created rainbows? Clearly we know now that rainbows are created through refraction.  Second, since the rainbow flag was adopted as a symbol of the gay community, one that expresses the diversity within our ranks, I assume that this is one of the reasons we have earned the ire of Bible devotees: we stole one of their beloved symbols from Genesis.

And here I thought we’d lifted it from the Grateful Dead.

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: Follow his work at:
This entry was posted in Genesis and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Bible’s Old Testament: Genesis part III: The Rainbow and the Dove

  1. Lisa (Jenkins) Schulist says:

    Giggled myself silly! ;0)

  2. emilia fuentes grant says:

    Love the study of symbols in Genesis and their relationship to modern day, but I disagree with the idea that activists and allies “stole” the rainbow. Growing up, in church, I learned that rainbows symbolize peace and love. They mark the end of devastation, they are the reminders of a promise, as you pointed out. The first time I saw a rainbow flag in support of gay rights, I didn’t know it was intended to symbolize diversity. I thought the people wanted peace and love. Now, as an adult, I understand its a lot more complicated. Still, to this day I cant help making the connection. As writers, we know symbolism in our work is powerful because it can mean many different things to many different people. Rainbows: Peace. Love. Reminders of a promise… not from any god, but from a nation. We were promised equal rights for all, and that promise is yet to be fulfilled. I like to think the Christians and the LGBT share the rainbow:) Love this blog. So glad you’re doing it.

    • virgowriter says:

      I said “stole” with tongue in cheek. A friend of mine (a pro-gay one)–back in the mid 90s–said that she was happy for the gays but that she would like them to return the flag they stole from the Grateful Dead. She was kidding. I too think symbols can (and should) be shared–it’s all about the context, right? Thank for the support. =)

  3. Evan Roskos says:

    Finally get a chance to read through these posts. Enjoying it and having to recognize the advantage of being in catholic school for a few years! Thank god I didn’t get my confirmation though….

    As for the dove image, this extends further back. I suspect you’ve read Gilgamesh at some point but if not, worth a quick read for essentially the flood myth the Hebrews based theirs upon. It, too, includes a bird returning with an olive branch. Also: funfact: doves are pigeons that have been bred to have white feathers. Imagine how that symbol works with a pigeon and an olive branch! Haha

    Also the promise with a rainbow is similar to The promise made in Gilgamesh though its described more as a necklace. Same idea though: an apology and promise for peace. Which is later broken. Haha

    • virgowriter says:

      I have not read Gilgamesh (oddly enough). I will add it to my reading list (the one for when I’m done with the Bible–or at least the Old Testament). Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s