A Flood of Thoughts on Noah (Sorry. Couldn’t Help Myself)

noahI saw Noah over the weekend. Stop reading now, if you don’t want spoilers. Seriously. Right now.

As a preacher –and somebody who’s heard endless blogviating (blogging + bloviating) on this movie for the past week– I thought, why not? Jump in with your own views.

The most enlightening thing I’ve read about the movie is this blog from Peter Chattaway. (Is that a for-real name?). The blog is titled The Jewish Roots of –And Response To– Noah.”

The primary point of the blog is that the Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is pretty clearly Jewish Noah, not a Christian one. The moment I read that one thought it made the entire movie make more sense. So, I commend the blog to you. It gives Chattaway’s thoughts on Noah, but also some fine quotes from many other Jewish bloggers, professional and non-professional theologians.

Many of the writers offer up the idea that Noah is a modern Midrash. Yes, it’s using the Biblical text as its base. But it’s also attempting to use story and metaphor for make broader points. As such, then, it’s not unfaithful to some fundamentalist, or even progressive, Christian version of the Bible, because the filmmakers were not approaching it from that perspective at all.

Like I said, reading this one point, was an “Aha!” moment for me, concerning the film.

As I watched Noah, it slowly dawned on me that the filmmakers were really doing a mashup of three early Genesis stories:
1) Garden of Eden (One “mother of us all” post-flood, rather than the three in the actual Noah story)
2) Abraham/Isaac: Noah’s attempted murder of his grandkids (I warned you to stop reading…)
3) The actual Noah story itself.

I especially liked this quote from Erica Martin:


“Noah’s fallible humanity will work for Jewish audiences, who do not expect or receive perfect prophets from the biblical texts, but instead learn important ethical lessons from the foibles and failings of figures like Abraham (the liar), Sarah (the jealous), Joseph (the vain) and David (the womanizer, among other things) to mention just a few.”

She also noted the mashup of the Noah/Abraham stories in the movie:


“Although I had little patience with the Abraham detour, I have to acknowledge that the merging of these two stories is perfectly in line with Jewish exegetical tradition that sees all parts of Torah as interrelated and inter-relatable; even one shared word between narratives can be enough of a hinge for rabbinic texts make a mashup of two stories and make a new meaning out of the mix. . .”

My favorite analysis might be the quotes from Rabbi Marc Gellman, who seemed to have some of the same theological problems with the film that I did. Namely, that “The Creator” in this movie is deeply eager to kill all humanity, but then disappears from the story all-together.

I mean, I don’t mind Noah being a Modern Midrash. But there’s a pretty huge and gaping hole in the story’s arc near the end, when Noah decides to spare his grandchildren, and the family decides to try again to repopulate the earth.

The gaping hole is that there’s no mention of God’s new covenant with human beings; arguably the primary point of the entire story.

In the movie, it’s Noah who decides to spare his family, not God. In the movie, it’s Noah and his family, who just decide to “start again and be good human beings” this time.

So, let’s accept the story as told in the movie. When we do, we find it creates a huge irony in the plot: Human beings, going their own way, is what got them in trouble in the first place; why there was ever a flood at all. (According to both the Genesis story, and the film…)

Did the filmmakers just forget about this?

In other words: in the film, God is all destroyer, despite the fact that God’s called “The Creator” throughout. The good news of a new covenant, the good news that God promises never again to destroy human beings, all of that gets lost at the end of Noah. We’re left with humans who are left to their own devices.

Rabbi Gellman’s blog make similar points:

“God saved some life so it could continue. Noah and his family were the objects of that mercy, yet in the film Noah never seems to have gotten that memo from God. He wrongly, and incredibly, believes that God wanted to kill all humankind, including, eventually, Noah’s own family. If that were true, then why save them at all? Noah misses the only important lesson of the flood, which is God’s mercy despite our free will choices to do evil.”

Exactly!

“It was not a repentant Noah who spared the babies because of his love for them. It was God’s will. “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” was not, as in the film, Noah’s blessing to his children, it was God’s blessing to Noah, and to all of us through Noah and the covenant of the rainbow (Gen. 9:1-17). . . .”

YES! Bingo! Exactly my point too.

And finally, this important point:

“Finally, Aronofsky’s modern midrash is in thrall to a very unbiblical, but sadly contemporary ideology: Nature is good and people are bad. If you’re an antelope, try telling that to the lion chasing you. Nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Nature is utterly amoral. The strong pray on the weak. By idealizing nature and demonizing human beings, “Noah” totally inverts what the Bible teaches, and what we ought to believe because it’s true. People today can be evil, but we can also repent and improve. Lions still chase antelope and they can’t see rainbows and covenants.

Darren Aronofsky has made a dark modern midrash that understands the flood but not the ark.”

Could not agree more.

Finally, as I was watching the scene where Tubal-Cain’s people are being slaughtered by The Watchers, it suddenly hit me: This movie is “Genesis-Meets-Lord of the Rings.”

I mean, that fight scene? Straight from the Lord of the Rings movies, it seems to me.

Which brings up one final point.

Imagine if the Peter Jackson had been as unfaithful to the “Lord of Rings” books as this movie is to the plotline of Genesis?

There’d be total and utter chaos among fans.

I’m not a literalist. I’m not defending their views, really. But I would ask all my fellow non-literalists (and even atheists friends) to have a little sympathy for the religious folks who have a problem with the film.

If Jackson’s movies took the liberties that this movie does with the “original story” you’d be hearing the same hue and cry from Tolkien-literalists.

Anyway, it’s a fascinating blog, and fascinating movie. Check it out.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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