Saturday, March 29, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Noah Film (SPOILER ALERT)

There are better reviews of the movie out there, so I’ll just touch on a few pieces of the movie that interested me.
It was Enochian
Within 2nd Temple Judaism there is a strain that focuses on Genesis 6 as a fruitful starting point for sin—sin came through the Sons of God having sex with the Daughters of Man and bore Nephilim and the mighty men of old. In this version of Judaism these Sons of God give a variety of cultural gifts to humanity—make up, weapons, etc… which the humans use badly. These Sons of God and their descendents function very similarly to the Titan Prometheus in Greek Mythology, and in some versions of this strain of speculative Judaism they are in fact treated similarly to Prometheus—they are bound (check out Jude 1:6 sometime).
The stories of these angels/Nephilim/etc (sometimes called Watchers) is told through the eyes of Enoch, who as Genesis says “was took by God.” So, he’s an obvious choice for narrator, a human (though some traditions have him translate into the angel Metatron) who communicate the heavenly things to us, his earthy siblings.
The Noah movie makes a pretty big deal about the Watchers, who in its version landed on Earth and were literally captured by the earth, engulfed in mud and sealed up as crippled ash creatures… who (again SPOILER ALERT) are eventually redeemed and return to heaven by martyring themselves against the humans who wish to board Noah’s Ark. These Watchers are able to return to the spiritual realm, no longer cursed with the mud of flesh… it actually felt like a rather Gnostic take on their existence. (As a side note one version of the Watcher narrative has them all drown in the flood and then haunt the earth as Evil Spirits).
It interacts indirectly with my favorite topic, Akedah Isaac
Genesis chapter 22, as you all know, is one of my hobbyhorses. I wrote my M.Phil. Thesis on it, I’ve preached on its connection to religiously motivated violence, it’s my bag. So, no surprise I see allusions to it where they might not actually exist sometimes… However, the Noah Movie makes a very obvious connection to it.
In the movie’s version of events, Noah decides that God wants every human dead, including his family. So, when two granddaughters are born to him on the Ark, Noah decides to commit infanticide in the name of God. But (this is the last time I’ll say it SPOILER ALERT), as he prepares to do the deed he recognizes he feels nothing except love in his heart toward the two little twins, and in that moment realizes the human capacity for both the evil he has seen in his generation, as well as the good of parental love. Just so you know I think that is a lovely solution to the problems posed by Genesis 22.
It engages with source criticism
If you read scripture carefully… or even not so carefully really… you’ll start to notice seams in the text—places that repeat, or contradict, or refer to times that within the story shouldn’t be known.
What most scholar say is happening is we are seeing where different traditions are being stitched together—where early traditions from the Northern and Southern tribes, as well as later traditions from the era of King Josiah, and from priests captured in Babylon, are weaved together.
The most famous (likely because it is often the first thing people read in the Bible and therefore is quite familiar) of these seams comes between Genesis 2:3 and 2:4… this is where the first account of creation is separated from the 2nd… the first, which is rather cosmic in scale refers to the Creator as God, the second is much earthier and in a sense smaller refers to the Creator as the LORD God.
In the Noah movie there is an origin to these sources. A majority of the first account is credited to Noah—he tells it to his family while they are on the ark. His telling of this account puts humans within the animal kingdom. But there is another source, the villain Tubal-Cain, who tells Ham that humans were created to subdue the earth, that we are little lower than Gods, as well as points to humanity being cursed by God.
I thought this was a creative re-working of source criticism, acknowledging the sins of Scripture (or at least their sinful use) by attributing them to the line of Cain (and Ham… ).
Noah is a fanatic
I really liked the fanatical devotion and the anguish that accompanies such devotion, that Russell Crowe portrayed. Sometimes we’ve dealt with so many Sunday School retellings and battered felt figures that we forget how scary (and scared) Noah and his ilk are portrayed.
In fact, there was an interesting line in the movie—at one point a family member says to Noah “I thought God chose you because you were a good man in a generation of evil men,” to which Noah replies, “No, God chose me because I am able to finish the job.”
Why is this intriguing to me, because the Rabbis read the line in Genesis that says Noah was “the best of his generation,” and point out his generation was a bunch of people so horrible God slaughtered them all… so perhaps Noah was just the least bad guy.
All that to say Noah is more than a felt figure, he might even be a fanatic.
It was an entirely white cast
First off, for a fuller account of this aspect of the movie check out Dr. Gafney’s post.
If you know the interpretation history of the flood story you know that Noah’s three sons become the fathers of the three known continents, Africa, Asia, and Europe. This is later used to justify the enslavement of Africans. Ham, for “uncovering Noah’s nakedness” is cursed, “Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” Canaanites are equated with Africans, and the Slave Holding Religion is off and running.
So, back to the casting of the movie—they are all white… now Tolkein’s Middle Earth being all white is one thing (and there was some uproad when a British person of African Descent was rejected as a Hobbit because of their skin-colour)—but when the characters are so fraught with real world consequences writing non-whites out of the picture is dangerous.
That said, they did better than the Noah Production at Sight and Sound Theater, which seemed to include multi-culturalism in the list of wickedness of Noah’s generation (on the other hand there were non-white characters).

In sum, I thought it was a very interesting movie, and the Akedah moments are worth the price of admission.

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