Noah(?)

I was excited to go see Noah. I remember seeing a preview for the film just about exactly one year ago at the Catalyst conference in Dallas in April 2013. Who wouldn’t want to see the epic depiction of just a huge high-point in the Old Testament, and the casting looked awesome, I’m a fan of Russle Crow, I think men should be men, and he does that pretty well “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!”

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So I began to hear Christians go back and forth about Noah… before it even came out. My gut reaction was “hold on there fellas, we can’t say it’s good or bad until we can say it’s good or bad.” We have to at least give the movie the decency to actually watch it before we are critical or laud its message.

Well, now I’ve seen it, and I have some thoughts… (warning, there are spoilers below, and I didn’t edit this at all before I posted it)

I want to point out what is good and bad in the movie, surely there is both in almost everything. I think principle is found clearly in Paul’s statement:

but test everything; hold fast what is good.

1Thess 5:21

We need to think, we need to observe and evaluate, and we need to teach other Christians to do the same thing. God gave you a brain to think, that’s why we don’t believe the Earth is at the center of the Solar System (that would be awkward… and so it is).

I want to just fly though the actual biblical story of Noah and point out areas where the movie hits some aspects well and areas where the movie falls short or is misleading. But first, I want to start with some broader sentiments that help to inform my evaluation.

First off, I take Noah as described in Genesis 6-9 to be an actual historical event. I start with the more general idea that the Bible is inerrant which means it does not affirm anything untrue. There are also many other deluge myths out there to convince us that something major did happen a long time ago regarding a big boat and a big flood.

Secondly, the primary text for this Noah movie is NOT the Bible. This may be surprising to most of us, I mean where else would one go to find the story of Noah? To the Zohar.

Do you remember when celebrities like Madonna, Paris Hilton, Mick Jagger, Demi Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan all started wearing those little crimson bracelets that looked like just a piece of red yarn? That’s a part of a very narrow sect within Judaism known as Kabbalah.

Kabbalah seeks to interpret the Torah (the Hebrew Bible) on four levels:

  • The straightforward meaning of the text as a literary document
  • The allegorical meaning of the text as allusion to something greater
  • The Rabbinic wisdom of midrashic derash (Jewish commentary)
  • And finally, the inner, metaphysical, esoteric meaning (spooky)

The first three are no great problem and are, in fact, probably quite helpful… the fourth is where Kabbalah goes off the rails. It is a highly mystical and dualistic picture of the world. For a long time I’ve said I take Kabbalah to be the Gnosticism of the Jewish faith.

This is very apparent in the Noah movie. People were made as something like beings of light with no real corporeal form until the fall. The angels are purely spirit but are imprisoned in rock as they take on hideous form. And the whole idea of the serpent being the birthright and blessing of Noah and the faithful is straight out of the Zohar, not the Bible.

In terms of these aspects of Aronofsky’s movie, Briah Mattson does a good job of discussing this in a post on his blog entitled “Sympathy for the Devil” which was tweeted and retweeted to varying degrees of support and criticism, which prompted his video response, which you can watch here:

 

So with this said, I want to walk though Genesis 6-9 and point out high points I find where there is contrast and agreement with the movie (now that I’ve seen it).

 

Genesis 6:

the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.

The movie depicts this in a wholly negative light. I don’t know this is necessarily the case. One can take “Sons of God” to be many different things, and it may be related to the “Nephilim” which the movie depicts as huge rock creatures who help Noah build the ark. Whatever your take (I personally think it simply means the faithful were indiscriminate in their choice of spouses, see my older post The Sons of God: People, Angels, or Something More?

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them

The movie does a good job of depicting mankind as wicked, selfish, and thinking only of themselves, but it seems to me that the environmentalist agenda central to this film became far too heavy handed. The Bible clearly states that God was intending to kill everything, man AND animals. The animals were not “innocents” as depicted in the film. In fact, this is probably my biggest “beef” with this movie, it gets the entire point of the story wrong!

Apparently, we are to believe from this recent depiction of Noah, that he was a vegetarian who opposed mining the earth for natural resources, that’s not why God was mad. He was upset with wickedness, with sin, but Noah found favor in God’s sight. In the movie, God’s point was to save the “innocent animals” and Noah just happened to hitch a ride, but the Bible is the opposite. Noah is the whole reason God chose to save the animals. Noah is the righteous man that is the head of those who are saved, including all of the creation. He, in that way, is the Christ figure. In the movie, Noah believes God wants his whole family to die so the animals can have the earth without mankind on it at all. This is backwards and goes beyond “artistic license” to the degree that if someone were to paint Hitler as the misunderstood hero of World War II they would be misrepresenting reality.

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.

So, the movie just shows that Noah won’t eat animals and kills people who do. If a hunting party kills an animal, obviously God wants you to kill the men and burn the animal in some kind of ritual sacrifice without mentioning to whom your sacrificing… right? Ah, no.

Now the earth was corrupt in God ‘s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.

The movie does depict the followers of Tubal Cain, the other people on the earth, as violent and selfish. But it equates eating animals to violence. Surely, senseless killing of animals, or cruelty towards animals is violent… however, just read a bit about the dedication of God’s temple and you’ll realize really quickly that killing animals is not something that necessarily offends God.

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.

I do think the actual look of the ark itself does seem to follow the biblical account quite well. Though, in the Bible, it’s Noah who builds it, it doesn’t mention the giant rock monsters doing the heavy lifting. I am aware it’s a movie, so I’m not going to criticize the short length of time Noah takes to build the ark, that is “artistic license.”

The wood the ark was made of is also the key to why I don’t think we could ever find it, let alone the fact that it was so very long ago. The wood was specific from God, we don’t know what “gopher wood” is, but surely it is very strong and ideal for building. So, if you landed a boat that was made out of good enough wood to support you and your family for almost half a year and you were trying to rebuild 100% of civilization, what would you do with the wood of that boat? You would use it. There’s no way Noah would have left the boat behind.

But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons ‘wives with you.

There is no mention of the covenant or that it is to save Noah and his family that he is building the ark, in the movie, it’s all about the innocent animals. Not to mention, His two youngest sons don’t even have wives in the film when they enter the ark.

 

Genesis 7:

Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate,

So, in the Bible, Noah takes the animals two by two, but of the “clean animals” (i.e. those you can EAT) he brought 7 pairs (or 7 total). In the movie, the animals just come in bulk. I believe the whole point of the animals on the ark are to save the animals that man uses for his life. These would be animals like beasts of burden, food, pets, etc… Not simply that God wanted to save all the innocent animals. The fact that Noah brings more of the “clean animals” I believe is clear, he is meant to EAT THEM. Whereas in the movie, one of the more shocking things that Tubal Cain can do, as a stowaway on the ark (yea…) was bite the head off an innocent lizard (yea…)

For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.”

In the movie the flood talks Noah by surprise as his family comes running in and he almost doesn’t make it in. In the Bible, God communicates clearly with Noah and he gets word a week before the first drop. I suppose this isn’t all that egregious, it’s certainly more exciting to barely make it as the hoards of enemies rush the ark, but it just speaks to the whole idea of God’s protection and provision. Not in the rock people vindicating their worth to God by saving the animals, but in Noah’s covenant protection from the Lord. As I said, artistic license is fine, but don’t obfuscate the message of the text. Mr. Crowe looks awesome for 600 years old, BTW.

And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.

People must look awesome into extreme old age, and women also seem to only remain pregnant 5 months in stead of 9. In the movie, Shem’s wife becomes pregnant at the time they enter the ark.

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

Oops, Noah was killing animals… The Noah of the movie would never do this.

 

Genesis 9:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

In the film, the birthright and the blessing comes through the serpent from the garden, specifically, through a skin that the devil shed as he fell to the earth by seeking to help man (see the Zohar). The blessing clearly comes from God and is because of the covenant God made with Noah and because Noah pleased God by killing and burning some of the clean animals.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father ‘s nakedness.

I honestly didn’t expect this part of the story to make the movie, but it sure did. In the movie he was in a cave, not a tent, but that’s nuance. It’s an interesting episode that shows us that Noah is not simply a perfect figure, he had flaws.

I actually think the movie did well at depicting Noah as a complex figure, perhaps more flawed and conflicted than the Bible presents, but none-the-less if we think of Noah as “perfect,” then how does he get drunk and pass-out naked? I thought this was good. In the movie, this drunken stupor is the result of Noah’s regret in not following God’s will to see his whole family die, i.e. he’s not able to kill his 4-month premature granddaughters who will grow up to marry their uncles.

The Bible has, again, the opposite message “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” was the command from the get-go. Noah was not depressed because he didn’t follow the “creator” it was simply sin in his heart. He was righteous and was saved in spite of the fact that he was not perfect. What a great message.

So, should you see the movie? I don’t know. It’s well done, a great fantasy story. It’s kinda like Lord of the Rings meets Sinbad the Sailor. If you are looking for this to be a “biblical epic” it’s not. It’s not the story of Noah, even if they share the same names. The entire point is different and turns the gospel on its head.

Jesus died for the world, he was a man upon the basis of who’s righteousness the whole world would be saved. All one need to do is take refuge in the wooden ark, Jesus’ cross, to be saved. You don’t have to be perfect, God has chosen PEOPLE to save and to have dominion over this creation. We are to care for the world, but we are not subjects of it, the opposite is true. The gospel is the message of the Bible throughout all 66 books. The closer a movie gets to communicating that truth, it is faithful to the message, regardless of the liberties taken with the story.

From this perspective, the Matrix franchise is a better biblical epic than Noah. At least with Sci-Fi movies with a Christ-like hero, you know they aren’t trying to communicate a biblical (historical) episode. I fear with Noah, if it is too widely distributed, people will begin to incorporate this version back into the Bible because most people who see the movie have not, and probably will not read Genesis 6-9 for themselves with a critical eye towards the film.

but test everything; hold fast what is good.

1Thess 5:21

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About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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