The Noah movie compared to the Bible

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is not a full review of Noah though I’ll offer a few review thoughts at the bottom of this post.

Primarily I hope to contrast the major storyline departures of the movie with the Noah narrative in the Old Testament and references in the New Testament. There were also several significant scenes I think illuminate the text in helpful ways. This list is not exhaustive. This post contains multiple spoilers.

The Problematic

From before the first scene, Aronofsky departs from any remotely biblical narrative. Unfortunately this departure creates infinitely more problems than it solves. I think the movie could have been just as imaginative and far more credible had it had fewer angelic speculations.

Fallen angels
The Bible teaches fallen angels (Matthew 25:41, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6). The Bible does not teach fallen angels turned into rock people. The Bible does refer to some who are held in chains of darkness so rock people could be a metaphor. Even so the redemption of fallen angels, their support of Noah, and defense of the ark are total cinematic inventions.

Tubal Cain
The Bible mentions Tubal in Genesis (chapter 10) but no Tubal-Cain. There is no storyline associated with Tubal-cain, much less as the leader of city building, armies, etc. There are no stowaways on the ark mentioned in the Bible. (Correction: Thanks to a reader for pointing out Tubal-cain is mentioned in Genesis 4:22 as one who “made all kids of bronze and iron tools.” He was, as the movie indicates, a descendent of Cain.)

The character seems to have been invented to create tension between the descendants of Seth (including Noah) and the descendants of Cain (who have ruined the world via over-mining).

Noah ark movie

Ham and Noah leave the ark. [Image credit]


Noah’s family
Noah’s movie family consists of Noah, his wife, Shem and Ham (separated by five or so years), then down to Japheth who is considerably younger. They also pick up an orphan girl who eventually becomes the wife of Shem. The movie does not make it completely clear whether they are “married” at the time she becomes pregnant, though they ask for Noah’s blessing.

In the Bible the human passengers on the ark are Noah, his wife, their sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, and their wives. We are not told of any births (human or animal) on the ark (Genesis 7:7).

Noah
The movie Noah seems often uncertain whether he is hearing from God unless he is dreaming. At least once the dream is achieved pharmaceutically. In the Bible God speaks clearly to Noah on multiple occasions and Noah responds (Genesis 6:13-22, 7:1-9).

The movie Noah comes off as a bit unhinged and enormously uncaring. He is almost an anti-hero, clearly ambivalent about the responsibility God has placed on him. He is more fundamentalist than a receiver of the favor of God. While we know little about Noah, the Bible never says he planned to allow humanity to die off being willing to kill his own grandchildren to ensure that outcome.

The Helpful

Evil is evil.
Though the focus of evil is a clearly one-sided (harm to the environment) that evil was pervasive in Noah’s day is clear. This is biblical (Genesis 6:5, 6). Noah recognizes the evil within himself and his family. Blasphemy, murder, greed, land-grabbing, abuse of creation, rape, trafficking, hate are all presented as real, serious and wrong.

I wonder if Aronofsky’s over-aggressive posture on the environment obscures what many followers of Christ have overlooked: God’s covenant following the flood is between God, humans, animals and the earth (Genesis 9:12-17).

The flood was no picnic.
I was talking with a co-worker this morning the subject of visual impact. Regardless of how many times you read a text, new thoughts and understanding can come from a visual presentation of the same material.

Those of us familiar with the Noah story in the Bible sometimes miss this foundational truth: people and animals died, and they died in large numbers (Genesis 7:21-23). This is dramatically portrayed in the movie. People climbing to high ground, falling from cliffs, screaming for Noah to let them in. If you, as I, believe the Noah story is literal, well and good. But for too long we gloss over the violent deaths suffered by a countless number. In a tsunami one might eventually move beyond the extent of its damage; in the flood, no one could.

This 3-5 minute scene was worth the ticket price. I was deeply moved during that scene.

The ark was immense.
Thanks to Fisher-Price the ark has been reduced to a 12-inch yellow boat with a few pairs of smiling animals. Noah’s ark was well represented in the movie.

Much has been made about the movie’s use of The Watchers (the “rock men”) in constructing the ark. Needless to say, that is not biblical.

However, it set me to thinking of the construction of the ark. Did Noah do it alone? Noah and his three sons? And their wives? Did he use contract labor? Did he use forced labor?

It is implied Noah took 100-120 years to build the ark (Genesis 6:3, 5:32, 7:6). If you believe the biblical story then between one and eight people built that enormous water craft over a number of decades. That means they cut the trees, prepared the lumber, erected the frame, built the decks, and covered it with pitch to keep out the water.

The idea of hired help doesn’t sound as far fetched as it might have. Rock people? No. Union carpenters? Maybe.

Noah got drunk.
Yes, after exiting the ark Noah planted a vineyard and fell off the wagon. This is after the rainbow, after the covenant, after surviving. Noah gets drunk and, most likely, passed out.

The movie narrative seems to indicate that Noah is dealing with some kind of “survivor’s guilt.” He drinks a goodly amount of wine before passing out naked. (I thought nothing could be worse than Russell Crowe singing, but…)

I find this very thought provoking and totally believable. The psychological burden of that lengthy ordeal of building, preaching, toiling and rejection would have destroyed the average person (Hebrews 11:7, 1 Peter 2:5). People get drunk for much less serious reasons.

The movie as a movie.

Apart from theological concerns I thought it was simply an overly long, very dark movie. Even the end is not enough to redeem what pretty much amounts to an overwhelmed preacher/builder wondering over a Mad Max landscape in the fashion of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. My son liked the movie a little better than I did and he thought it was 30-minutes too long.

If you want rock people doing construction and fighting, the tree people (Ents) of LOTR fame are much more highly recommended. In fact, purely from a moviegoing perspective, Lord of The Rings is a much better choice.

Crowe does his best “Noah Maximus” effort, while Jennifer Connelly is the frustrated wife ever trying to convince her husband of another way. (Perhaps the most realistic role in the entire movie since most wives spend lots of time doing exactly that ;^)

I would give it 3 stars out of 5 overall, 2 stars out of 5 on storyline, 2 stars out of 5 on theology.

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  • Bucky Elliott

    Nerdy notes:

    – This version of Tubal-cain is not a complete invention, but an adaptation of long-held occult traditions about Tubal-cain, who was said to have been helped by the Watchers to build weapons and industrialized cities, building upon the legacy of his ancestor Cain who built the first city (referenced in Genesis 4). He is still to this day purportedly celebrated in Masonic rituals and symbolism.

    – There is a Jewish midrash claiming that the Nephilim Og stowed away on the Ark, and that this is how he survived the flood and propagated the other Nephilim who were on the earth “also afterward” as per the mysterious phrase in Genesis 6:4. Of course, Og is a biblical giant identified as the king of Bashan slain by Moses, and one can infer from all the biblical occurrences of the terms “Nephilim”, “Anakim”, and “Rephaim”, that all the giants are somehow related. So that’s interesting. According to much Jewish tradition and apocryphal works, the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim who died became what we know as demons or evil spirits. Maybe this disembodiment is why they like to possess people and animals. Angels don’t do that.

    – The apocryphal Book of Enoch greatly expounds on the Watchers and the Nephilim. Samyaza (who shares a name with the character in the film) was the leader of the Watchers, fallen angelic beings who taught men about art, weapons, technology, magic, and other trades. After they messed about with human women and fathered the Nephilim (just like in Genesis 6), they were cast out until Judgment Day. The Book of Enoch says they were bound in the earth. The New Testament book of Jude says they are bound in chains until Judgment. There exists common confusion about Jude 1:5 among modern Christians, because if it’s referring to demons, how come they’re still roaming around? Perhaps there is some credibility to a dichotomy between those “fallen angels” and demons. Granted, they are not named as “the Watchers” in Jude or in Genesis, but it makes sense for them to be identified as the same “sons of God” in Genesis.

    – The evil was mainly portrayed in the movie as environmental abuse, yes, but there were also occurrences of violence, rape, slavery, and implications of cannibalism.

    – Perhaps Noah did have help. I’m not sure I would rule out angelic help, because the Bible is silent on that. I would doubly that it was the fallen Watchers, and would rule out the notion that they thus earned their redemption.

    That redemption idea, though, is explored in the film in a much deeper way, and that I really liked. Note the snakeskin; I thought that was a perfect symbol for the “scarlet thread”. Adam’s birthright and purpose was indeed passed through Shem, down through the nation of Israel, through King David, and ultimately to Jesus Christ (the Second Adam) who would redeem sinful mankind through mankind, therefore crushing the serpent (satan) who tried to corrupt that bloodline. And if the legendary interpretation of the Watchers and Nephilim is to be believed, the scheme for the Watchers to mate with human women was an attempt to derail the Genesis 3:15 prophecy by polluting the human bloodline, thus the Watchers were imprisoned and the corrupt Nephilim and humans were killed – save for Noah’s lone righteous and uncorrupted family which was preserved according the the Divine messianic redemptive plan. And so the battle between humans and demons continues to this day and until Judgment where all the wicked will be ultimately destroyed and Eden restored.

    But alas, most people did not want cinematic midrash; they just expected a Bible story adaptation, and all Aranofsky got right was the boat and the flood itself. For better or worse, it seems you just have to dig a little deeper to appreciate this film for what it is.

    • martyduren

      That’s great stuff, Bucky.

      I had some thoughts about the Jewish approach to the story but didn’t have time to flesh them out. Thanks for the notes.

      • Brian Gass

        This post is the one I have found to be most disturbing along those lines. If we are so ill-equipped to notice gnosticism when it rears its head (well…skin-head anyway ;-), we’re in worse shape than I thought. The director seems to be getting much more of a pass from evangelical leaders than he deserves. I don’t know much about Mattson, but he is well-credentialed. http://drbrianmattson.com/journal/2014/3/31/sympathy-for-the-devil

        • martyduren

          Thx, Brian. I was going to post that one here. Very thought provoking. Looks like I’ll be using my Amazon credit to purchase Against Heresies. :^(

          Here’s another with background info:
          http://forward.com/articles/195386/why-evangelical-christians-are-right-to-be-angry-a/?p=all

        • Brian Gass

          It had me when I saw “Yiddish” at the top but lost me at my new least-favorite-due-to-overuse word “midrash.” ;-)

          I’m with ya on the “Against Heresies” purchase!

        • martyduren

          You need to quit hatin’ on the misrash. (The Kindle version is but .99 right now.)

        • Brian Gass

          I will give your rebuke some consideration. Thank you brother. ;-)

        • Bucky Elliott

          Well that was fascinating and insightful. Thanks for sharing, Brian. I know a bit about apocryphal stories and mysticism, but clearly not as much about Kabbalah, otherwise I bet all of that would’ve been pretty obvious. I did catch the nod to Zohar and the Gnostic portrayal of Adam and Eve’s “light nature”, but I didn’t know that concept ran that deeply.

          Mattson’s statements “The Bible was not his text” and “This was not, as he claimed, just a storied tradition of run-of-the-mill Jewish ‘Midrash.’ This was a thoroughly pagan retelling of the Noah story direct from Kabbalist and Gnostic sources. To my mind, there is simply no doubt about this.” pretty much sum it up, huh? That is pretty disappointing.

          I will say, I like my interpretation of the snakeskin as an “in your FACE, satan!” symbol much better, but I can concede that was not Aranofsky’s intent at all. Oh well.

        • Brian Gass

          I prefer your interpretation as well. As far as Zohar goes, I’m so gnostic illiterate that I thought it was an Adam Sandler Jewish hairdresser reference.

        • Bucky Elliott

          I see what you did there.

        • Brian Gass

          :-)

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