Last time Thor, this time Noah…

And if you were looking for actual history, there is very little to choose between them. Yes, I saw Noah yesterday, and the last time I went to the movies I saw Thor 2 in 3D: Thor 2: piffle in a sexy package. But on the other hand…. From many viewpoints Noah is also piffle, but in a particularly bleak package – except for the end. The environmental message – I think that is what it was – was not marked by great subtlety. (Update: See Verily, “Noah” Draws Denier’s Wrath.)

The story is well known, or should be:

6 1-2 More and more people were born, until finally they spread all over the earth. Some of their daughters were so beautiful that supernatural beings came down and married the ones they wanted. 3 Then the Lord said, “I won’t let my life-giving breath remain in anyone forever. No one will live for more than one hundred twenty years.”

4 The children of the supernatural beings who had married these women became famous heroes and warriors. They were called Nephilim and lived on the earth at that time and even later.

5 The Lord saw how bad the people on earth were and that everything they thought and planned was evil. 6 He was very sorry that he had made them, 7 and he said, “I’ll destroy every living creature on earth! I’ll wipe out people, animals, birds, and reptiles. I’m sorry I ever made them.”

8 But the Lord was pleased with Noah, 9 and this is the story about him. Noah was the only person who lived right and obeyed God. 10 He had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

11-12 God knew that everyone was terribly cruel and violent.13 So he told Noah:

Cruelty and violence have spread everywhere. Now I’m going to destroy the whole earth and all its people…

God is — to say the least — rather more cruel and violent than his creation in that account. In the movie the G-word is never used, by the way, and the Nephilim turn into overgrown tar babies… Or transformers. As Margaret and David said, they seem to have strayed in from another movie: Thor 3, perhaps.

A paradoxical result of seeing the movie was to highlight for me what a dreadful story the original really is. Quite peculiar.

11-12 Noah was six hundred years old when the water under the earth started gushing out everywhere. The sky opened like windows, and rain poured down for forty days and nights. All this began on the seventeenth day of the second month of the year. 13 On that day Noah and his wife went into the boat with their three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives.14 They took along every kind of animal, tame and wild, including the birds. 15 Noah took a male and a female of every living creature with him, 16 just as God had told him to do. And when they were all in the boat, God closed the door.

17-18 For forty days the rain poured down without stopping. And the water became deeper and deeper, until the boat started floating high above the ground. 19-20 Finally, the mighty flood was so deep that even the highest mountain peaks were almost twenty-five feet below the surface of the water. 21 Not a bird, animal, reptile, or human was left alive anywhere on earth. 22-23 The Lord destroyed everything that breathed. Nothing was left alive except Noah and the others in the boat.24 A hundred fifty days later, the water started going down.

Russell Crowe looked pretty good for a 600-year-old bloke – in fact his performance was one of the movie’s strengths. And it does have strengths, including some great CGI effects, such as this one when the reptiles arrive:

Noah 10

Back to the original, which along with much that is beautiful – the whole rainbow thing for example, and the image of the dove with the olive branch – contains some of the most pernicious things ever written, such as this invitation to racism and genocide – for that is what it is.

18 Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, came out of the boat. Ham later had a son named Canaan. 19 All people on earth are descendants of Noah’s three sons.

20 Noah farmed the land and was the first to plant a vineyard.21 One day he got drunk and was lying naked in his tent.22 Ham entered the tent and saw him naked, then went back outside and told his brothers. 23 Shem and Japheth put a robe over their shoulders and walked backwards into the tent. Without looking at their father, they placed it over his body.

24 When Noah woke up and learned what his youngest son had done, 25 he said,

“I now put a curse on Canaan!
He will be the lowest slave
of his brothers.
26 I ask the Lord my God
to bless Shem
and make Canaan his slave.
27 I pray that the Lord
will give Japheth
more and more and
and let him take over
the territory of Shem.
May Canaan be his slave.”

In the movie Ham was rather cute, though showing no sign that he would be the ancestor of black people, as Genesis 10 says: “Ham’s descendants had their own languages, tribes, and land. They were Ethiopia,Egypt, Put, and Canaan…” But of course that is all drivel, despite the fact that it cast a long shadow over the way “races” were classified well into the 20th century.

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Logan Lerman as Ham

The story has inspired artists for centuries – so long as they were not Muslim of course as physical representations especially of prophets are a big no-no, an issue the movie ran up against. It has also in much sacred western art been occasion for gratuitous nudity. The movie avoided that, preferring gratuitous violence.

lou119 Antonio Carracci 1583-1618

Not quite Biblical takes on the story are not unusual either. Think Medieval Drama.

Noah’s sons and daughter-in-laws promptly get with the program and aid in the construction of the ark, despite the fact that “Women be weake to underfoe / Any great travayle” (67-68), but Noah’s wife presents a constant refusal to enter the ark. In large part, this seems to be a chance to have an anti-feminist bit of comedy as Noah’s wife flippantly decides to be obstinate, takes time to go drinking with her fellow gossips, has to be carried on board the Ark by force, and even strikes Noah once she is secured on board. In some ways this reminds me of critical discussion of Chaucer’s the Wife of Bath, specifically those that take her as an anti-feminist character. Personally, I see what the Wife of Bath is doing as subverting that role of the gossipy middle aged woman, exchanging sex for authority from her husbands. Noah’s wife seems to be the flat, normative version of that approach, an older woman given to drink, gossip, and obstinacy for the sake of being obstinate.  — “Noah” from the Chester Mystery Play Cycle

So this guy has a point, I suppose:

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Except you won’t find a “real Noah” there in Ken Ham’s travesty of a museum,  or anywhere else – nor a “real Thor” for that matter. I suppose you might try reading the Epic of Gilgamesh though. The Biblical writers clearly had. And no doubt there are in the tale and its well-known cognates memories of one or more environmental catastrophes, even if the flood of Noah, for want of a better name, most likely only bothered the people of Mesopotamia. See also though it is more than a bit breathless and at times too credulous Joanna Lumley’s recent The Search for Noah’s Ark, Cristen Congers, Could Noah’s ark really have happened? and Wikipedia.

Much more interesting and likely stories have lately been on Ice Age Giants which concluded on ABC1 last night. Needless to say what we saw there long predated any possible Noah and was not the work of a peevish God smashing his toys.

Australia: 28,000 years old. How many generations of humanity before Noah is that?

Did you know the co-writer of Noah was a scientist?

Longtime friends Handel and Aronofsky were suitemates at Harvard University. Before becoming a screenwriter and film producer, Handel was a neuroscientist. He holds a PhD in neurobiology from New York University. He was a producer on Aronofsky’s films Black Swan, The Wrestler, and The Fountain (which he co-wrote with Aronofsky), and had a small role as a Kabbalah scholar in the director’s debut film, 1998’s Pi.

That introduces a good interview on intelligent – yes it is possible — US evangelical site Sojourners.

CF: I know what Darren says about his interest in the Noah story and where it came from and how it started. I think it probably started even earlier than he s aware. How did you come to it?

AH: I’m Jewish. Raised mildly observant. What that meant was I went to synagogue every Saturday for probably 10 years. …

I read all these stories. I read the Jonah story a million times and the Noah story. So I knew all these stories. They were in my mind. I didn’t read them for meaning. I read them for stories. I don’t even know if I was old enough to get some of these other things. But when Darren said, ‘What do you think about trying to tell the Noah story?’ I was immediately excited about it. You can pick it up and look at it and you notice two things: First you realize wow — this is everything that people want to make movies about. Good versus evil and the end of the world. All of that stuff is there. It’s got all that great stuff. But then it’s so much more of a darker, poignant, confusing story that we already know. We have the opportunity to dive really deep in a certain way into the story but also to uncover some things that people put aside in their daily life or their daily understanding of the story.

So much of what we get is the sweet, happy, animal-saving story, which it is. I don’t think it’s accidental that [the Noah story] wound up in the nursery room. Because we really didn’t want to think about some of the other things. ‘Let’s put it over there where it’ll be safe.’ It’s a really troubling, dark story.

Bill Maher has this whole thing where he says God is a genocidal so and so. And there’s not a lot to defend against that. I mean, everyone but eight people die. There’s a lot of destruction and death. I think you have to face that and then ask, ‘OK, what is this story telling us? What is this about? What does it mean?’

OK, my conclusion is that Noah is rather too long, but does have, as a movie, much to commend it. And as I said on Facebook last night, Iceland looks amazing!

  • Quotations from Genesis 6-10 are from the Contemporary English Version (CEV Bible) Copyright © 1995 American Bible Society.

Update 11 April

I was curious to see what The Bible and Interpretation, a scholarly US site I have often visited, might offer but was disappointed to find it unavailable. The Wayback Machine saved it back in March and in that way I found Forget about Noah’s Ark; There Was No Worldwide Flood by Dr Robert Raymond Cargill, Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at The University of Iowa.

Simply put: there is no evidence whatsoever for a worldwide flood. In other words, it’s impossible. There is not enough water in the earth’s atmospheric system to even come close to covering all of the earth’s landmasses.

It is time for Christians to admit that some of the stories in Israel’s primordial history are not historical. It is ok to concede that these stories were crafted in a pre-scientific period and were designed to offer ethical answers to questions of why and not questions of how. Christians and Jews must concede that the Bible can still be “inspired” without being historically or scientifically “inerrant.” As the early church father Origen explained regarding the preservation of empirical truth within problematic documents edited by human hands, “the spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in material falsehood.” Simply because a factual error exists in the text of the Bible does not mean that an ethical truth or principal cannot still be conveyed. It is time for Christians to concede that “inspiration” does not equal “inerrancy,” and that “biblical” does not equal “historical” or even “factual.” Some claims like the flood and the six-day creation are neither historical nor factual; they were written to communicate in an pre-scientific literary form that god is responsible for the earth. It is time Christians conceded that there was no flood….

See his blog posts on his own site: Some Old Articles about Noah in Anticipation of the New Movie about Noah and Review of Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ by Robert Cargill on ‘Friends of ASOR’ Podcast.