No, Noah is not Gnostic. (Say that ten times fast!)

Thanks to a lengthy blog post by Brian Mattson, a theologian with the the Center for Cultural Leadership in California, the latest meme to work its way into public discussion of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is that the film is somehow Gnostic, and that it presents a worldview in which God is really Satan and vice versa.

Is there anything to Mattson’s claims? Not really, and here’s why.

First, like a lot of successfully misleading claims, Mattson’s has a fair bit of truth. And one of the key truths he elucidates is that Noah, like other Aronofsky films, borrows some of its ideas from a form of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah.

Aronofsky has never made a secret of this, or of his interest in Kabbalah in general.

Aronofsky’s first film, Pi (1998), dealt explicitly with Kabbalistic theories regarding coded messages buried in the Torah, and when I interviewed him at the time, he made it clear that there was more to this, for him, than just a cool idea for a story.

He told me that he had spent time with “Jewish mystics” who went around performing “small miracles” that “really, really blew my mind.” When I asked if he was talking about miracles with numbers, in keeping with the film’s themes, or about something more empirical than that, Aronofsky replied: “Something more.”

(This is something to keep in mind, by the way, when people casually describe Aronofsky as an “atheist”. See also this interview in The Atlantic, where Aronofsky, asked about his spirituality, said: “I think I definitely believe. My biggest expression of what I believe is in The Fountain. And that kind of sums it up. And it’s hard for me to put it into words to describe. That’s why I made a movie about it. I tried to do it in sound and image and in dialogue and character. If people want to get a sense of what I’m thinking and doing, I still subscribe to the ideas in that movie.”)

More recently, when screening Noah for a group of rabbis, Aronofsky told them he had turned to a number of extrabiblical Jewish sources for narrative material, “including the Zohar,” a key Kabbalistic text.

And when I interviewed Aronofsky again earlier this year, he mentioned Kabbalah as part of the long, long tradition of Jewish interpretation of the scriptures.

So, there may be elements of the Kabbalistic tradition in Noah, sure.

These may include the fact that Adam and Eve are presented as luminescent beings before the Fall, or the fact that the fallen angels depicted here are redeemed in the end, or the fact that the film divides the human race into the evil descendants of Cain and the better descendants of… one of Adam and Eve’s other sons.

But there is nothing particularly sinister about any of these claims.

For example, the association of light and holiness is found throughout the scriptures.

Exodus 34 tells us that Moses’ face was so bright, following his face-to-face encounters with God, that the Israelites were “afraid to come near him.” Moses compensated for this by wearing a veil when he moved among his fellow Israelites.

In the gospels, Jesus shines with a blindingly bright light at his Transfiguration, when three of his closest disciples see him talking to Moses and Elijah. And Jesus himself — echoing Old Testament prophets like Daniel — says that, at the end of time, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

So it’s really not much of a stretch to imagine that Adam and Eve were similarly illumined in their pre-fallen state. In fact, the notion that Adam and Eve wore garments of light before the Fall — before they became naked and God gave them garments of skin instead — is quite common in at least some Christian circles.

Second, the division of the antediluvian human race into the descendants of Cain and the descendants of one of Adam and Eve’s other sons is, itself, quite common in Christian circles; among other things, this division of humanity into its “good” and “bad” sides is sometimes invoked by those who believe that the mysterious passage in Genesis 6 about “the sons of God” mating with “the daughters of men” is actually about sexually active humans and not sexually active angels.

But for those who do divide antediluvian humanity into its “good” and “bad” halves, it is generally assumed that the “good” descendants came from Adam’s third son Seth, and not his second son Abel, as the Kabbalah apparently suggests.

And in that vein, it is worth noting that Aronofsky’s film has nothing to say on the question of whether Abel had any offspring; instead, it presents Noah and the other righteous human beings as descendants of Seth (though the film never spells out which branch of the family tree the women, Naameh and Ila, come from).

As for the question of whether fallen angels can be redeemed… well, even that is not entirely beyond the pale in Christian circles. St Gregory of Nyssa, who lived in the 4th century, was open to the possibility that even Satan himself would be reconciled to God in the end, and while his views have been very controversial within the Eastern Orthodox church, you can still find plenty of Orthodox Christians who at least hope for that outcome, even if we cannot say that it will definitively happen.

So much for the specifically Kabbalistic elements in Noah.

Can we go so far as to say, as Mattson does, that “The Bible is not [Aronofsky's] text”? Perhaps, in the same sense that it was the visions of Sr Anne Catherine Emmerich, and not the Bible, that were Mel Gibson’s text when he made The Passion of the Christ (2004). But clearly, in both cases, whatever influence the secondary sources may have had on the films, the films are ultimately grounded in the biblical text itself.

But where Mattson really goes off the rails is in his simple identification of Kabbalah as a Jewish form of Gnosticism. And the problems here are twofold:

First, as my friend Ryan Holt has explained in a blog post of his own, Kabbalah simply can’t be conflated with Gnosticism as easily as Mattson suggests:

Mattson makes a significant error in conflating Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism—and Gnosticism, which are separate belief structures and have divergent attitudes towards creation. The Demiurge of Gnosticism, the evil deity who creates the world, is not a central tenet of Kabbalistic belief, and so Kabbalah does not view creation as intrinsically evil, even if it understands that it is broken. In Gnostic belief, the goal is to escape from the material into the eternal. In Kabbalistic belief, the eternal is actually capable of sanctifying the material.

This difference between Gnosticism and Kabbalah is especially clear if we look at what Aronofsky has done with the movie Noah. Instead of condemning the created world as an illusion imposed on us by an evil Creator, Aronofsky’s film celebrates the created world and, through its protagonist, suggests that the animals are “innocent” in a way that humans are not. Indeed, many conservatives have complained that the film loves the rest of the created world so much that it is fundamentally “anti-human”.

Put simply: Gnosticism hates Creation. Aronofsky’s Noah loves Creation. So whatever else you might say about Aronofsky’s film, it is not Gnostic.

Beyond this, there is also the fact that Gnosticism is highly skeptical of procreation in a way that gets downright misogynistic at times.

The Gnostics believed that the body was a “tomb” for trapped souls, and that women were the creation of an evil counterfeit deity who planted “the lust for reproduction” within them so as to create more bodies. In contrast to this, orthodox Christians have always affirmed the goodness of procreation by insisting that Jesus was “born of a woman” and that women will be “saved through childbearing”.

(Note: the point here is not that women who don’t have children will go to hell — that would be absurd — but that childbearing is a Good Thing. The possibility that that epistle was written as a rebuttal to early Gnostic ideas is also supported, I would argue, by its admonition against “myths and endless genealogies” — which you can find plenty of in the Gnostic text I linked to in the previous paragraph.)

So, the Gnostics believed the “lust for reproduction” was put into women by the evil being who created this world. And how are women treated in the movie? The two main female characters — Naameh and Ila — both speak in favour of marriage and reproduction, in a way that puts our sympathies utterly on their side. Indeed, the miraculous healing of Ila’s womb is presented as a great act of mercy.

Plus, the Gnostics believed reproduction itself was evil. And what is the final line of dialogue in the movie Noah? “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the Earth.” Yeah, it’s kind of hard to imagine a Gnostic applauding that bit.

The second major problem with Mattson’s attempt to impose a Gnostic reading on Noah is that he gets certain basic plot points wrong.

Most significantly, in his discussion of the snakeskin relic, he writes that Noah “killed Tubal-Cain and recovered the snakeskin relic” immediately before he went to kill his grandchildren, only to discover that he could not do it because he loved them instead. Mattson suggests that Noah’s love is a form of enlightenment that comes to him because he is finally under the influence of the snakeskin again.

There’s just one problem with this argument: Noah does not, in fact, have the snakeskin at that point in the film. Ham does. Noah does not get the snakeskin back until some time later, when Ham sees him drunk and naked by the beach.

So, the snakeskin plays no role whatsoever in Noah’s “enlightenment”.

The snakeskin is an odd element in the film, I admit. It wasn’t in the early screenplay that leaked a couple years ago, and it isn’t in the graphic novel.

And the fact that the snakeskin comes from the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve does seem to complicate things somewhat. Shouldn’t it be a symbol of evil? Why does the film make it out to be a symbol of something good, instead?

On this point, I defer to my friend Ryan Holt again:

When the film gives us glimpses of the Garden of Eden, the snake originally glows like Adam and Eve, only to shed its luminous skin and become a dark black. The visual metaphor seems clear; the serpent abandons the glory of creation to become a creature of evil, and humanity soon follows after it. So the snakeskin reminds Noah and his family of the Eden that was lost, a testament to creation’s original perfection.

My friend Steven D. Greydanus makes a similar point in his review of the film:

The serpent is connected with one of the film’s odder bits: a snakeskin, shed in Eden by the serpent, preserved as a family heirloom by the righteous line of Seth and passed down to Noah by his father. Doesn’t the snakeskin represent evil? Not necessarily. The serpent was created good and then shed that goodness to become the tempter. The skin it wore when God created it is not a token of evil, but of original goodness — and thus a true relic of paradise and a token that evil is always a corruption of goodness, never a thing unto itself.

To this I would add that Gnosticism presents the serpent’s role in the Garden of Eden as a good thing — indeed, if memory serves, the Gnostic Jesus even claims that he himself was that serpent — whereas the film points in the exact opposite direction.

The film clearly states in its opening title sequence that “temptation led to sin” — and both the film and the graphic novel clearly link the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge with the murder of Abel by Cain. And the violence committed by Cain is a recurring visual motif throughout the film, culminating in Tubal-Cain’s final effort to kill Noah, in which Tubal-Cain strikes a pose very similar to that of Cain’s.

So on multiple levels, Aronofsky’s Noah is utterly at odds with Gnostic thought.

No doubt Aronofsky has incorporated elements from all sorts of traditions into his film, just as he blended religious symbols in The Fountain. But closer attention to the film itself, and to the traditions that may have influenced it, should illuminate the differences between them, as much as it might illuminate the similarities.

April 2 update: Mattson has responded to me and a few other critics via a video:

In this video, Mattson pretty much dodges most of the points I make above.

He says he does not conflate Kabbalah and Gnosticism, but distinguishes them, and this may be technically true. But his article slipped and slid from one to the other in a way that encouraged the reader to confuse his criticism of one for his criticism of the other. And part of the point of my post was to separate his analysis of the film’s Kabbalistic influences — which I actually found helpful, coming as it did on the same day that I wrote a blog post on the film’s Jewish roots — from his suggestion that the film has a Gnostic sensibility, which seems utterly unwarranted to me.

Mattson’s main response to my personal critique (the “conflation” critique ultimately goes back to my friend Ryan) is to say that Gnosticism works just as well with one deity as it does with two — which doesn’t seem, to me, to answer anything I said at all. He doesn’t address the fact that the film is pro-Creation and pro-procreation whereas Gnosticism is anti- both of those things, and he doesn’t address the fact that the film presents the serpent (the actual living, breathing serpent, rather than the skin it leaves behind) as an evil influence on Adam and Eve rather than a positive one.

He also doesn’t address the fact that many of the Kabbalistic elements he finds so sinister have their counterparts in Christian thought, especially perhaps in the Eastern churches. (Full disclosure: I’m an Eastern Orthodox communicant myself.)

Incidentally, thinking about Mattson’s critique since yesterday, a few other points have come to mind that I neglected to make above.

For one thing, the notion that “The Bible is not [Aronofsky's] text” is belied by the fact that the early screenplay actually called for title cards that quoted from Genesis, and this element was kept in the graphic novel, on pages like the one to the right of this paragraph. Aronofsky may have added other elements to the film, and he may have taken the explicit Bible quotations out of the finished movie, but he was clearly working with the biblical text.

Second, Mattson argues that characters who possess the snakeskin are immune to its charms if they worship the Creator, because the film supposedly wants us to see that belief in the Creator is delusional. But practically the very first scene in the film shows Noah’s father Lamech wrapping the snakeskin around his arm and telling his son, “The Creator made Adam in his image and then placed the world in his care. This is your world now, your responsibility. May you walk alongside the Creator in righteousness.” So for Lamech, at least, there is no contradiction between worshiping the Creator and wearing the snakeskin in such a way that its supernatural properties come alive.

Mattson also claims that the film is Gnostic because it suggests that God can “grow” as a character. Well, suffice it to say that the question of whether God can change over time is hotly debated even within Christian circles, and I made a point of letting Aronofsky know, in my recent interview with him, that evangelical writers like Philip Yancey have floated the possibility that, in Genesis, “God learns how to be a parent.” I’m not sure where I stand on that issue myself, quite frankly. I tend to believe, with C.S. Lewis, that God is ultimately outside of space and time — that to him the past, present and future are all the same thing — and without time, how can someone change? But the Bible itself clearly describes God in anthropomorphic terms at times, not least in the story of Noah. So I can’t blame Aronofsky, who has no reason to follow later Christian ideas about God, for following the implications of that.

Finally, a number of people have compared Aronofsky’s Noah to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) because of the dark turn it takes in the third act. But I’m beginning to think that Noah is not unlike The Shining in another way, i.e. in the way some people are beginning to project all sorts of esoteric theories on the film. I cannot help but wonder if, in a few decades, we will see the Noah equivalent of Room 237 (2012), a recent documentary that looks at some of the stranger theories about Kubrick’s film.

April 4 update: See my follow-up post on the question of the snakeskin.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    The Noah Movie Deception: http://youtu.be/-36Cs-B5iG4

  • Paula Coyle

    I had to laugh at the irony of this line:
    “First, like a lot of successfully misleading claims, Mattson’s has a fair bit of truth.”

    So basically you just demolished the entire movie.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

      I haven’t demolished the entire movie any more than I have demolished the entire Mattson post. I appreciated his post to the extent that I appreciated learning about all the Kabbalistic precedents. I just don’t think those precedents are as problematic as Mattson implies, because you can find many of those same precedents in the Christian tradition.

      The real problem with Mattson’s post is his effort to relate the serpent in the film to the serpent portrayed in Gnosticism. On multiple levels, this film does not affirm Gnostic theology but, rather, opposes it: Gnosticism says the created material world is bad, but the film says it is good; Gnosticism says having children is bad, but the film says it is good; Gnosticism says the serpent brought wisdom and enlightenment to Adam and Eve, but the film says the serpent brought sin and violence and corruption instead. There’s no parallel there, and Mattson doesn’t help his case by getting basic facts about the movie wrong, too (e.g. who has the snakeskin and when).

      So when I say that Mattson’s argument “has a fair bit of truth” and is “successfully misleading”, what I mean is that his argument about the Gnosticism is flawed, but it is getting so much mileage because he couples it to some absolutely valid points about the influence of Kabbalah (and other Jewish traditions) on Aronofsky’s work. We shouldn’t let the flaws in Mattson’s arguments about Gnosticism obscure the valid points he makes about Kabbalah, but by the same token we shouldn’t let his valid points about Kabbalah obscure the flaws in his arguments about Gnosticism (or, indeed, the flawed implications of his arguments about Kabbalah).

  • Michael Knepher

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but a thought about the snakeskin that struck me while reading this: could the snakeskin be serving as a means of memorializing the deception and fall of the first humans, but also as a symbol of the promise of future grace when the serpent is defeated? Similar to the way many Christians wear a copy of an instrument of torture around their necks?

  • Huboi

    Seth. The third son of Adam and Eve was named Seth. It clearly wasn’t Abel the non-Cainites were descended from.

  • Brian McLain

    Good article. My immediate reaction after first reading the Mattson article was “what about the miraculous gift of children?” Another big problem I have with his article is insinuation that Aronofsky is trying to pull a fast one on Christians. First of all, Aronofsky must not be that smart, because Mattson “figured it out” and told everyone right away. Second, given Aronofsky’s previous trouble with budgets and storylines, I doubt Paramount would fork over this much money for a big nose-rubbing “Ha Ha!” movie. Finally, I’m not sure a blockbuster, major budget, straight forward Kabbalah-training film is really on Hollywood’s wish list.

  • storm777

    The New Gnosticism is often tied to Environmentalism.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDxZvEzWIPk – around 2:40 he talks about Gnosticism and a connection with the earth because it is Gaia

    http://www.metahistory.org/

    http://www.amazon.com/Not-His…/product-reviews/193149892X

    http://www.behindbluelines.com/2009/11/29/climategate-and-the-new-gnosticism/

  • http://www.chrisjeub.com/ Chris Jeub

    Mattson’s article raised these flags for me: (1) no hyperlinks to back any of his claims, (2) insistence to never see the movie more than once, (3) conspiracy accusation that Aronofsky was pulling a fast one on Christians and Mattson was the only smart person of millions who watched the film that was able to connect the dots.

    This takes people who don’t know much about Gnosticism off guard, and I am very thankful for your rebuttal.

  • http://crownheartworld.com/ russellminick

    Is this group/person “Buddhist” or “Animists”? I worked in southeast Asia for more than a decade. Every Buddhist community I worked with, in China, Burma, Thailand, etc., mixed conflicting views of desire as dukkha to be cooled vs ritual to empower desire fulfillment.
    A recurring phenomenon is the academic attempt to create consistent taxonomies, over and against the messiness of how people really think and live. Western Christian missionaries, for example, did not have amulets on their motorcycles; but why? Due to their position in Christ over spirits? No. They think as materialists in the domain of machines.
    My point? Conflicting ideas by Aronofsky fit his own testimony and Mattson’s general argument. Aronofsky is profoundly influenced by Kabbalah, and Gnosticism and a bunch of other experiences, ideas and loyalties, and appears to do a mashup.

    • Luke Allison

      Right! Aranofsky represents the mash-up smorgasbord style of spirituality religious thought so common to life in the 21st century western world.

      I have no problem with Mattson acknowledging that. What I do have a problem with is the conspiracy-theory-style rant he then launches into. Whenever a person sets himself up as the sole grasper of a great and world-shaking truth, I get a bit skeptical.

      In his mind, the fact that so many scholars of Christian history didn’t catch the stuff that he pertains to be Gnostic (which I don’t think is Gnostic) signals the sorry state of Christian scholarship. You’ve all been duped! But not me!

      In my mind, the fact that so many scholars didn’t catch it is because it probably wasn’t there. What’s the simplest explanation? Darren Aranofsky is a genius expositor of Gnostic truths (a philosophy to which he apparently doesn’t even ascribe to)? Or Darren Aranofsky is a filmmaker who reflects many of the pluralistic cultural norms of the day?

      • Sherb

        Or maybe, as Mattson points out, Christian leaders need to bump up their game in discerning the adulteration of Biblical characters and storylines.

        • Luke Allison

          So ignore the substance of my comment and simply say: Like Mattson said! The story isn’t a Christian story. What Aranofsky did with it is not an adulteration of a beloved Christian document.

          • Sherb

            Uh, yeah, it is… Lol Since Aronofsky’s version isn’t Christian, but is in fact a fictionalized version of the original Noah story, I’d call that an adulteration of the Bible’s sacred text.

          • Luke Allison

            Why are Christians even able to claim a Hebrew story as their own?

          • Sherb

            The Bible is the Word of the living God, given as an instruction for all who believe in salvation through Christ Jesus, whether Jew (Hebrew) or Gentile. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Romans 1:16

    • Sherb

      That said, the controversy arises in that Aronofsky irreverently cores out the existing Biblical text and inserts an impoverished iteration that glorifies the serpent culture.

  • Dan
  • LA Green

    I share a variety of your interpretations of the film, and though I think the Fountain seems very gnostic, I do not see the gnosticism in Noah that Mattson is so adamant about. His response, in my opinion, is less helpful than his original post.

    What is your reaction to the Watchers? It seems to me that Aronofsky dodged a bullet by refusing to take this part of Genesis word-for-word. Though I think the best literal interpretation of the flood narrative is a mythical one, it seems having a movie where angels have sexual relations with people would be… I dunno, just too much.
    Your thoughts?

    • Luke Allison

      I don’t know…one man’s “too much” is another man’s “most amazing thing ever put to film.”

      • LA Green

        lol, true.

  • johnTnash

    After reading both Mattson and Chattaway’s articles that I tend to agree more with Mattson’s position. I think he has presented a more compelling argument. Additionally, I am grateful to both authors for elevating the discussion of this topic to a more intelligent and informed level.

    • StRalph

      How can an argument be compelling when it is based on things that exist only in its author’s imagination?

      • johnTnash

        Kinda like rock people?

  • Guest

    It’s good to hear folks questioning and questioning their questions. It is in the Christian DNA to react defensively to art that doesn’t send a specific, clear message. It is a natural, fearful response. We instinctively feel that the Great Artist, Jesus, told stories that were merely vehicles for a message rather than poignant, often threatening works of art. The assumptions that Jesus threatened in the minds and hearts of his listeners may have needed threatening.

  • Alden Olmsted

    Peter, I think “like a lot of successfully misleading claims, yours has a fair bit of truth.” The problem with the film is not how accurate or inaccurate it is – its problem lies in its basic story – the fact that it borrows from so many texts, including of course the writer’s own worldview, is the reason why this is even a topic right now. I firmly believe Peter Jackson, as an example, took *some* unfortunate and unnecessary liberties with The Return of the King, but guess what – the story still worked so nobody cares, including the studio which was printing money then and still is. The problem with Noah is that the lead character simply does not present clear motivations for his actions. “God chose me” Really? Just because you found some glowing zohar jewels (??!!!) and because you’re into plants? Oh wait – you’re not a pacifist though – you brutally defend your ark though God never told you to. God also never told him the human race would die following the ark – if he did you could put the animals to sleep and shut the door and they’d be fine. I could go on, but I don’t see your stock rising simply because you found a few holes in Mattson’s piece, nor mine for the same reason. As I said to a friend – almost any big name director I can think of would have done a better job than Aronofsky – not with the religious themes necessarily – but more importantly, with the STORY – the biggest flaw. Rob Moore (Paramount Pictures) chose Aronofsky, then chose to distance the studio from the director’s “interpretation” of the text – why would they do this except to protect – Not from Kaballah vs. Christianity, but from an awfully told, awfully conceptualized, awful story, where our lead character is unclear himself on what he’s fighting for – and because “righteousness” is not even mentioned.

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ William L. Patenaude

    I was intrigued by the snakeskin. It’s one of the grandest departures from Genesis in Noah by portraying a creature other than man making the first choice for evil. We see the serpent shed its original skin, give birth to a darker version of itself and slither over to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve follows while Adam tarries to inspect the serpent’s better skin left behind. (In Genesis, Adam is with Eve at the fatal fruit-snatching moment.)

    I spent much of the movie wondering about that skin, the original glory given to
    the creature by God, which became a sacramental presence that bestows blessings and birthrights.

    Perhaps without knowing it, the filmmakers shift the blame of the original sin from man to creation itself—which comes with significant theological, anthropological, and cosmic consequences.

  • Miguel Conner

    Peter,

    Excellent article and enjoying the debate.
    The problem I see in your argument is this:
    -Many forms of Kabbalah are indeed deeply connected to Gnosticism, specifically Lurianic, Frankian, and Sabbatean. The universe is the wreckage of a cosmic cataclysm, and God is a fragmented being in need of sanity. The Talmud does say God needs us as much as we need him, in order to redeem the universe.
    -Not all Gnostic texts saw the serpent as benign. An example is The Secret Book of John that claims the Demiurge is the serpent. Putting a finger in Gnostic symbolism is hard, since as ‘Platonism gone amok’ (to paraphrase a scholar) they played it fast and loose with mythology.
    -The level of hatred for Creation varied with the Gnostics, and this included their views on families and women (although they were far more progressive than much of the world…and still are). Ultimately, the viewed the cosmos with more compassion than their orthodox counterparts, seeing existence as something that could be transcended and redeemed at the same time, instead of dominated and lorded over.

    I haven’t seen the film, so can’t comment more, but it seems if Mattson has a weakness in his understanding of Gnosticism it would be its duality aspect. All religions are dualist to some extent, but the Gnostic really drew hard lines in the sand with the real world/false world dichotomy (exemplified in such movies as The Matrix, the Truman Show, or Inception). That’s a cornerstone of any Gnostic theology, and, from what I see, doesn’t seem apparent in Noah.

    Thank you for some erudite insights, and look forward to more.

  • mandm

    Mattson’s response video basically says: “I get what you’re saying… I get what you’re saying… but the snake skin thing is obviously gnostic… end of discussion”. While I appreciate Mattson’s resistance to the occult, his dismissal of your snake skin interpretation is lazy. Snake imagery is ambiguous in the Bible. God proves himself to Moses by turning his staff into a snake. Snake-bitten people were healed by looking to a brass serpent. Jesus says to be wise as serpents. Snakes will once again be harmless in the Millennium according to Isaiah. Automatically associating serpent imagery with Satan or gnosticism leaves us with a problem in interpreting these positive BIBLICAL imageries of serpents. Aronofky might be a lost man, but he is a thinker. He obviously knows the ambiguous portrayal of serpents in the Bible and the indisputable premise that the snake was once good just like all of God’s creation. That seems why he portrayed the serpent’s transition to evil as a shedding of the original covering (i.e. skin) created by God and coming out looking sinister. So by the movie’s own internal logic, as well as the Bible, the original snake skin was created by God and not evil. This follows the main idea of the film that whatever God created is good, and bad things are those which are distorted by the creatures. No doubt that the use of the prelapsarian snake skin as a symbol of goodness was surprising. I think that Aronofsky deliberately did this snake skin thing to be controversial and philosophical. He wants people to talk about it. But given the movie’s uncompromising portrayal of creation as good, Eden as good, and the fall as bad, it defies the internal logic of the movie to suggest that the patriarchs are paying homage to Satan or a gnostic saviour by keeping the snake skin as a relic. If Aronofsky is laughing at the Christian world, as Mattson says, it’s not because he’s managed to pull gnosticism over everyone’s eyes. He’ll be laughing because some Christians lack the depth of understanding to understand ambiguous imageries – even those which appear in the Bible. Mattson presents himself arrogantly in his video and unwilling to consider these other explanations as to what Aronofsky was trying to do with the snake skin because… IT’S A SNAKE!. If Moses came into town with his snake rod, Mattson would be the first one to criticize Moses of wielding a gnostic symbol.

    • Hegesippus

      Snake -bitten people were healed through looking at the serpent on the stick, a prefigurement of the Cross. That is, sin pinned and left helpless.

      The serpent is never a positive image in Scripture.

      And the Gnostic Ophites used the serpent as a very anti-Christian image, even naming themselves for it. Read Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 30 about them.

  • Brian Lee

    The problem with this piece (yours) is that you come off apologetic for Kabbalism which is, when it’s all said and done, a Jewish heretical cult based on the Bible but then departing from it in significant ways. Citing support from “Christian” sources for heretical material as being valid just means referencing more heretics for support. You said yourself that Aronofsky is deeply inspired by Kabbalah. So you are more or less criticizing Mattson for not citing the proper heresy when criticizing the film. In your opinion it shouldn’t be criticized if it’s based on Kabbalah and that is a very sad testament. Bottom line Aronofsky is an unbeliever and giving him credit for believing a little is just silly. Paul said the things of God are spiritually discerned to those outside of His indwelling, so it would be very difficult for Aronofsky to actually get Noah right based on that. Also, “The Creator” is painted with hatred for His creation and actually wants Noah to murder his granddaughters. This movie is another of Hollyweird’s blasphemous attempts at making something biblical and twisting it around to meet their liberal agenda. To me that is deception of the highest order.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

      I don’t know enough about Kabbalah to offer any sort of apologetic for it. I am aware that some Christians are strongly opposed to it; when I tried to interview evangelical Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke for a story on The Bible Code back in 1997, he refused to spend any time debunking it, saying, “The whole kabbalistic way of doing things is wrong-headed and, I think, demonic, and I don’t want to be involved with it.”

      But what I do know, with regard to Noah, is that the specific elements in the film that Mattson traces to Kabbalistic roots (Adam and Eve wearing garments of light, the moral distinction between the descendants of Cain and the descendants of Seth, etc.) happen to exist within the Christian tradition as well. In fact, I was familiar with the Christian version of those things years before I saw this film, so when I saw those things reflected in the film, I actually thought they were kind of cool.

      As for the attempted infanticide in this film: I never once got the impression that the Creator hated Creation as a whole; after all, if he did, why would he have Noah build an Ark? The subplot with Noah and his granddaughters is problematic, sure, but it’s worth noting that Noah merely assumes that God wants him to kill his grandchildren; it’s not like God tells him to do so in a vision, the way he told him to build an Ark.

  • Julia

    Peter,

    One thing I noticed, with regard to serpent imagery in the film, was that Tubal-Cain was lying among serpents when Ham found him in the ark. This hardly seems to be thematically consistent with serpents being depicted as good.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

      That’s a good point. Serpents play a somewhat ambivalent role in this film — as they do in the Bible. A serpent tempted Adam and Eve, but serpents are still animals meant to be saved by Noah. (Note the scene where Naameh says, “The snakes are coming too?” and Noah replies, with a smile, “All that crawls, all that slithers.”) So Tubal-Cain steals the snakeskin, a relic that apparently has positive connotations, but as you say, he also hides among the snakes and other reptiles when he tempts Ham to betray his family, and it’s easy to see how that would have rather negative connotations.

  • Christian Martinsen

    This article misses the whole point… Whether “Noah” the movie was intended to be gnostic or not is not the issue- it obviously drew from gnostic concepts and kaballah at least to a certain degree, but this also isn’t the point. The point is that the view of who God is, is completely misrepresented. I understand Aronofsky was not trying to be “biblical”- fine. But Noah is historical account written by Moses (or whomever you believe wrote it), and it’s the only version we have. Moses had a view of God he clearly intended to communicate. Aronofsky has a very different view. Aronofsky is free to produce any film with whatever message he wants- he has freedom to re-tell and change a biblical account- BUT, people should be communicated the clear difference. Ultimately Aronofsky left the audience feeling a certain way about what God is like and how God relates to mankind. It’s a perversion of God’s image. The serpent’s question to Adam and Eve was this: Did God really say…? In other words, “can you trust Him?” “Is He really who He says, and are things really as He says they are?” The serpent by way of Satan, ultimately was putting an idea in Adam and Eve’s mind of who God was and what He was like that was a lie. Aronofsky has done the same thing. By arguing over the details and interpretive elements of the film, most miss the takeaway of the general public: Why would I want to be close with and trust a God like that?

    My answer to those who take that away: Because God isn’t like that.

    • StRalph

      God isn’t like what?

      Nowhere in your comment do you actually mention any specific characteristics that (according to you) the film attributes to God, so we’re left completely in the dark as to what, exactly, you are complaining about.

      • Christian Martinsen

        See my comment above to Stanley. I wouldn’t say I’m “complaining” Ralph, I’m wanting the focus of conversation to shift on a different issue. I actually think Aronofsky has a right to free speech and there is nothing to complain about. Let me ask you, after watching the movie- if this was your basis to describe what God was like in terms of his relational aspect to humankind, what would you say it is? Let’s start with the core basis of any relationship- trust. Did this movie portray a relationship between God and Noah where Noah could fully and safely feel he could “trust” God?

    • http://www.moralpremise.com Stanley D. Williams

      CM: Your perspective is odd. What attracted me to NOAH is that Noah experiences God as God is described in the Bible, NT included. You give no indication about how the movies depicts God any differently. Did you actually see the movie? In part, I’m a Christian apologist and the God I worship is well depicted in the movie. Here’s a most that reveals 30 ways in which the movie is Biblical. http://moralpremise.blogspot.com/2014/03/noah.html

      • Christian Martinsen

        You seem preoccupied with the debate on whether the film was “biblical”… How would you describe Aronofsky’s view of God, if you were basing it off this film? When I say “view of God” I mean in terms of the type of relationship God desires to have both with Noah and all mankind. It’s not a matter of debating the biblical facts present in the film, it’s more an issue of how the author of Genesis wants his audience to “know” God and how Aronofsky’s audience is given a very distant, untrustworthy God (relationally). The God you worship and the God many people worship may indeed by like that in the film- but I’d argue that isn’t the God of the Bible- which is a debate for another day and expands beyond this film which will soon be forgotten.

  • Relevant Discord

    Great article. Saw Brian’s original a few days ago and also wrote a response. The following is an excerpt from that response regarding the snake and rainbow images that Brian addresses. If you’re interested in the full reply, I’m happy to send it. Brian’s whole snake theory falls apart upon examining how the snake skin was used as a tefillin (arm brand).

    EXCERPT:

    Snake/Serpent Imagery: Brian asserts that the film is making the snake (Sophia or wisdom without God) the main character in the film. However, in Exodus 7, Aaron’s staff becomes a snake that consumes those of Pharaoh’s magicians to prove God was working through Moses and Aaron. In the Numbers 21 account of the bronze serpent, where after being bitten by snakes in the wilderness, God tells Moses to “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” Now, maybe this was just the first recorded history of a hair of the dog recipe. However, when Jesus even compares himself to the same image in John 3:14, what are we to make of it? Then there’s the account of Jesus in Matthew 10:16 where he tells the disciples being sent out to “be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” I’m not saying this at all glorifies the serpent, but it just goes to show how imagery wasn’t the exclusivity of simply
    a good versus bad crowd.

    The major problem with Brian’s snake argument is that the movie has a number of scenes portraying the snake as definitely evil. In one of the more poignant, we find Noah going into the town to find wives for his two younger sons. Here we see a taste of the decadence of the descendants of Cain. In one striking moment a vile character’s face morphs into a snake like image and we see the scene cut to the snake in the Garden of Eden. If the snake (Sophia) is being glorified, then why is the director showing her fruit as being very negative in this scene?

    I freely admit that seeing the snakeskin being used as a precursor to the tefillin in the birthright scene at the beginning comes off as strange at first glance. The tefillin (also known as phylacteries) are the prayer boxes with cords wrapped around the arm and forehead of Jews. Their scriptural origin comes from Exodus 13:9, 13:16 and Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18.Their purpose was to serve as a reminder of God’s deliverance from bondage, specifically out of Egypt. (That’s the purpose of the cords – to represent that bondage to which they were once a slave.) They were made, and still are, from an animal hide (though not likely a snake due to the animal being considered unclean with the institution of the Law many years later). However, knowing the symbolism of the Jewish meaning can paint a very different picture of this same controversial scene. Instead of glorifying the snake, it can also be taken as a picture of Noah and his descendants remembering the bondage from which God had delivered them – the snake. That view would actually fit with the purpose of a tefillin. I know some will argue this simply as a case of reading what one wants to see into the movie (a fair point, but one that also must be redirected to each of Brian’s arguments). However, seeing a number of posts on Twitter by Jews after the movie positively raving about how they connected culturally with that scene should also be considered by Christian audiences before just dismissing things.

    Rainbow: Brian mentions that the circular rainbow at the end of the film is a symbol of Kabbalah. However, just like the snake issue, it’s not so cut and dry. The same imagery also appears in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The specific references are: Ezekiel 1:28 and Revelation 4:3. Most scholars agree that this Biblical imagery represents the fullness of God’s glory. So, to see a rainbow in a circular fashion after a “cleansing” of the earth doesn’t need to be instantly seen with suspicious intent.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

      Awesome stuff. Especially the bit about the circular rainbow.

      • Relevant Discord

        Thanks!

      • Relevant Discord

        Here’s the link to my full article, if interested. Please disregard all the music links. I didn’t want to have to start a blog and maintain it just for one article, so I posted it on my own website:

        http://www.relevantdiscord.com/noah.html

    • redfish

      Dante uses the imagery of the circle to represent God as well. In this case, three circles of three different colors, but contained in one dimension, to represent the Triune God.

      “Within the profound and shining subsistence of the lofty Light appeared to me three circles of three colors and one magnitude; and one seemed reflected by the other, as rainbow by rainbow, and the third seemed fire breathed forth equally from the one and the other.”

  • cyberbusker

    Dear Peter,

    I virtually never publicly comment on internet discussions, but in the case of Noah, I have found myself an outspoken advocate for the movie. I am Jewish, with a lot of ties in the Christian world (including a lot of Evangelicals), and the overall response to the film has raised some issues of importance that I feel must be aired. I am addressing it as a letter to you because I am so overwhelmingly grateful to you for writing the above article in the first place, making clear to me that there are Christians who not only loved the film but, in huge part, really understood it (also, I couldn’t find an email to send it directly). anything I have to say here is merely in addition to what you’ve said, and it is brought by a Jewish person who does not condemn the Church, but loves the Church, and because I love it, then I have to offer warning when I feel it is in danger. this isn’t just about a film. not even remotely.

    first of all, Noah is a film that, to borrow a phrase from Boyarin, “thinks in Jewish.” nothing in it is on Christian terms, and there is no reason it should be. this is not to invalidate Christian worldviews, but simply put, Aronofsky is Jewish – and not simply a secular Jew, but a Jew with a high level of conversance with traditional Judaism (even if his own practice isn’t religious). on reading through the comments in this section, I was greatly heartened to see one mention of the snakeskin in the film as a sort of tefillin. any Jew with any amount of religious instruction, no matter how minor, would recognize the symbolism immediately. tefillin is the physical reminder of our marriage to G-d as a people (see Hosea 2:19-20, which is used liturgically when donning them), as well as a sign of commitment to the commandments and to prayer itself. for Noah, who is not a Jew (obviously, as Abraham hasn’t arrived on scene yet), to wear something like tefillin that also hearkens to the Garden is a more brilliant and scandalous claim than any commentator I’ve found has realized: G-d and humanity (not just Jews) are connected by prayer and by the blessing within which we were created, a blessing Noah’s father passes on at film’s end, just as his father did before him.

    some other details easily recognizable to Jews that Christians mostly missed:

    - yes, the Zohar is clearly referenced all over the place, partially because it is arguably the most widely read commentary on the Torah. that it is a mystical commentary might invalidate it to conservative Christians, but to us, it is an accepted part of a long tradition of comment and imagination and reaching for G-d. it never, ever replaces the Torah itself. it is an illumination of it, which – much like the biblical truths spouted in the film by both Noah and Cain-Tubal – can be used, through human choice, for good or evil, for empowerment or destruction. can one disagree with a commentary? absolutely. can one also gain a lot from the same commentary? absolutely.

    - Noah’s notion that he must kill his granddaughters in order to fulfill G-d’s justice should sound familiar, because Aronofsky has intentionally added the Akedah (the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac) into Noah’s story. I’m pretty sure he does it order to explore the following: can humanity hear from G-d? and if the answer is yes, is there a point where the instructions get murky? or do we often misunderstand them at some point, even if we get a whole lot right at first? and does G-d leave some decisions up to us? these are hard questions that many of us in the religious world are afraid to ask ourselves, particularly those engaged in the largely Evangelical mysticism of current-day direct, verbal dialog with G-d (note: even though I am not Evangelical, I share this mystical practice, as many Jews do).

    - Ila insists on quieting her daughters before their slaughter, so that they will not die in distress. this is one of the basics of kosher law: a slaughter can only be humane if the animal is calm and comforted at the time of death. this detail brought me to tears, because kindness and quietness bring clarity of action, which is precisely why Noah can’t go through with it. that kind quietness makes a way for love.

    the most disturbing aspect, however, of conservative Christianity’s rejection of this film lies in its inability to (a) share ownership of the text, and (b) to be openly challenged in their spiritual lives. as to ownership, I have long held that many Christian cultures are paranoid of Jewish interaction with the text, because if Jews take up the reading and interpretation of the Bible on our own terms, it will certainly be markedly different from their own, which could in turn challenge their exclusive claim to Truth. historically, Jews were “here first,” but that doesn’t matter to us nearly as much as it latently terrifies many Christians. in Judaism, in many respects, conflicting ideas can coexist together in the tradition as majority, minority or simply alternate opinions. in Christianity, primarily in the west, that is unacceptable, because the owner of the “Right Idea” holds spiritual power and authority. collaboration is never an option when dominion is at stake (just ask Cain-Tubal).

    as far as biblical movies go, Evangelicals talk a lot about how much they prize sola scriptura biblical accuracy, but if you look at the evidence, their money literally isn’t where their mouth is. my favorite example of this false standard is in the Evangelical reaction to One Night with the King, an abysmal movie based on a novel (barely) based on the Book of Esther. the filmmakers turned Esther into a tale about the attractiveness of sexual purity and the importance of working through marriage difficulties, which has literally zero to do with the biblical account (in fact, sexual purity is COUNTER to that account), and yet the Evangelical church loved it, throwing away any sense of sola scriptura without a thought (and often not even admitting that this extreme level of adaptation had occurred). why? because it was a saccharine midrash without teeth: “nice,” sweet, cheesy, and upholding contemporary Evangelical values. Noah has a far higher quotient of biblical content than One Night with the King, so why the Evangelical hate for Noah? I think it is both because they misunderstand, fear and demonize midrash and mysticism; and because Evangelicals do sloppy midrash all the time while simultaneously claiming sola scriptura. their midrash is sloppy and limp because of its lack of intentionality, not because Evangelicals are incapable of profundity, and herein lies the crisis in Christian art: if you insist that your art levy no aesthetic, complex or unseemly challenges, then it will never be great art. and I and many others believe that great art is necessary to hone any mature spirituality, whether that art be painted, filmed, sung, or told as a story around a fire. great art confronts, inspires, and leads to transformation. it does not leave you where you are. that is art as a passing amusement. it does not preach dogma. that is propaganda. it does not pat you on the back. that is self-propaganda.

    as he stated in your wonderful interview with him, Peter, one of Aronofksy’s stated central interests in the film was to explore the biblical notion of righteousness. he determined, after a lot of study, that righteousness in the Bible refers to a perfect balance of justice and mercy, and that is what he primarily explored in the character of Noah. Christians claim to be all about righteousness, justice and mercy, which is certainly a G-dly path to espouse. so my question to Christians up in arms about this film is: are you upset about midrash and mysticism, or just that it’s midrash and mysticism on somebody else’s terms? are you really offended on behalf of scripture, or scared of a potentially brutal challenge to your own complacency? are you fighting an external cultural war because you are afraid to engage certain battles within yourselves?

    I’m not saying everybody needs to love this Noah; Aronofsky is my favorite director, yet I don’t recommend him to everyone. he’s a challenging, rough-hewn, difficult director. but for me, Noah was truly great biblical art. I cried through at least a solid third of the film, moved by everything from the aesthetic beauty onscreen to the human tragedy of the deluge. so many moments of this film felt uncomfortably recognizable. I know what it’s like to follow a path through the murk of my own imperfectly heard communication with G-d, and I know what it’s like to overshoot the messages I’ve actually heard. I know what it’s like to be bound in a state like the Watchers are in. what greater metaphor is there for being caught in one’s own sinful decisions than being bound up in twisted rock when you were created to fly free? I am growing in an increasingly desperate need to care for a hurting earth, particularly endangered species, and often feel powerless to stop the exploitative machine around me, but I must learn to do something concrete about it. and some corner within me, no matter how infinitesimal, remembers what it was like to be in the Garden, wrapped in a garment of light. and that remembrance is, at least in great part, what brings me forward into G-d’s redemption as a Prodigal journeying back to the love that bore me in the first place. this is especially poignant to me as Passover approaches, because the blessing of G-d is irrevocable – in every human being, in every dog and fish and elephant, in every blade of grass.

    this film has challenged me in my gross, insupportable complacency, as a person of faith and as an artist, and my hope and prayer is that it will continue to do that for many, many more. thanks to you and others like you, Peter, I think we all might have access to a potentially huge moment of transformation and new connection.

    with warm regards,
    britta k

    (the picture is a doctored ad for Noah, somewhere near Hollywood and Highland in LA.)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

      Thank you very, very much for those thoughtful comments.

      • cyberbusker

        You’re welcome. I realize they were lengthy, but hopefully useful.

        • Eve

          Britta, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I think Methuslula’s quote to Noah is at the heart of the movie,“You must trust that he speaks to you in a way you can understand.” If G-d has created man in His image, then he will discern on a knowable level (until God’s full revelation in covenant with Israel, and ultimately through Christ), from his experience and groping or prayer, what action most closely reflects G-d’s will. This is the film’s tension; justice and/or mercy.

    • Michael TX

      Thank you for your heart felt thoughts and drive to know and encounter our one Creator. I, as a Catholic Convert from Evangelicalism, have lived those depths of struggle and live in what you have spoken of, the redemptive Prodigal journeying to our common Creator. May He bless you in your continual journey to Him.
      Thank you again, Michael
      P.S. I still haven’t seen the film, but will most likely see it soon. You and Peter’s post have helped me weigh Mattson’s view in a more balenced way. I don’t watch many films in theater, but this seems like one I want to watch on the big screen.

    • D Lowrey

      Thank you for helping me to understand more about this movie I enjoyed and will be owning on DVD when it comes out.

    • oregon nurse

      I very much enjoyed reading your letter and learned a great deal. But I have to correct you on this comment:

      “I have long held that many Christian cultures are paranoid of Jewish
      interaction with the text, because if Jews take up the reading and
      interpretation of the Bible on our own terms, it will certainly be
      markedly different from their own, which could in turn challenge their
      exclusive claim to Truth.”

      It’s not paranoia and fear. It’s the Christian’s knowledge that Jews miss the pre-figurement of Christ in the OT and it’s true meaning can only be interpreted through that clarifying lens. There is no threat to Truth. We simply recognize that a Jewish interpretation is not going to have the fullness of Truth without belief that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.

      • Shmooster

        Oh, please. As Lewis Black has pointed out, it’s OUR BOOK. It’s no surprise you don’t understand it because, after all, it’s not your book. You don’t see Jews going on TV purporting to explain your book to you, and we don’t appreciate Christians telling us that they understand our book better than we ourselves do. I mean, that’s just rude.

        I have to throw something in here about Mattson’s hubris in presenting himself as knowlegeable on the subject of Kabbalah. Some of his characterizations are accurate, but it’s clear he has no familiarity with primary sources. One example: the “Zohar mine.” In the biblibal account, G-d tells Noah to make a tzohar (צוהר) for the ark. This is usually translated as “window,” but the sages taught that it was some sort of luminescent stone or crystal for providing light within the ark. Aronofsky worked this into the script. Mattson, in his ignorance, confuses tzohar with Zohar (זוהר).

    • Will

      YES!
      Thank you. I didn’t know anything about this film when I first watched it, but smart reviews by Jewish, Catholic, and Orthodox writers make me want to go see it a third time!

    • http://drchris.me/ Chris Heard

      Just adding my voice to those thanking you for these insightful comments.

    • Graf

      I am learning SO MUCH * – * daaaang this is gold, your comment adds so much to this blog post.

    • Xrucianus

      God said, “I am the one, true & living God. Who else is like me? I “am” your maker and your judge – and I “can be” your redeemer.”

    • stevemeikle

      thank you for this. I am not Jewish but I am tired of the bigotry of those who want to condemn movie like this and look for excuses to do so.

      As for evangelicals and sola scriptura. well, yes they do not believe it, not when they chase christian writers they way they do

  • Ra

    I believe that both Mattson and the author of this article are wrong. The problem is, most people read and interpret the sacred scriptures literally. In Gnosis, the act ofprocreation is not evil. In fact it is the most sacred thing that we have as humans. Known as the “Sacred Marriage” or the “Heiros Gamos”. In Gnosis, It is the way we procreate like animals filled with lust that is viewed as evil. In gnosis and kaballah and alchemy, The woman is a symbol of sexuality.. Adam is a symbol of the mind and Eve is a symbol of our sexual nature. They are not meant to be interpreted as the first two humans… that would be ridiculous. we should step away from this literal sunday school “comic book” style religion we have been brainwashed into believing. I was also guilty of this so I am not pointing fingers…
    If you don’t understand kaballah and alchemy, you will leave this movie confused. Especially if you are one of the millions of americans that take the bible for the DEAD LETTER.
    Even for those christians that do interpret the scriptures literally, as far as the snake skin goes, the snake IS NOT a symbol of EVIL. Thats why Jesus says things like ”
    And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” and “be WISE AS SERPENTS AND GENTLE AS DOVES” Why would Jesus advise people to be WISE AS SERPENTS if serpents were a symbol of”evil” as fundamentalist christians would have people believe? He says be WISE AS SERPENTS…… The serpent is a symbol of the sexual force and the creative energy. That could be why the serpent is portrayed as glowing before Adam and Eve ate ” the fruit” and black after. The serpent is related with the sexual energy. The eating of the fruit is the partaking in the sexual act as an animal.. Spilling the seed and creating desire(the seven sins)

    Notice how they wrapped the serpent skin on the LEFT ARM? Because in Kaballah, the sexual force(the serpent) descends down the left side of the tree of life.

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  • Shestelle

    Don’t want to discuss at this point, I’ve read a little of the comments!
    I just want to express my disappointment at the extreme LOUDNESS of the music score! My brain and diaphram were very much affected by the excessive vibrations and LOUDNESS . . . I wished I had had ear plugs . . . in contrast to the dialogues . . . which were lost by the LOUDNESS . . .
    Didn’t like the “watchers” at all . . . too grotesque for my taste! My eyes were often closed to the horribly dark portrayals, depicting in a sense the times in which we live at present, somewhat like the evils which were rampant on earth during the times of Noah!

    I wonder if anyone else thinks/feels that the sound-track was too extreme!

    Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon us all, and upon this Earth!

  • Hegesippus

    Irenaeus documented some of the myriad of Gnostic ideas and concepts around 180 in his Against Heresies (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103.htm). Some seen to ring true here.

    Significant themes and ideas that make up this film appear in his chapter on the Ophites and Sethites (Book 1, chapter 30).

    The argument above, that “Noah” does not have Gnostic themes because they do not fit exactly, does not take into account the fact that Gnosticism is not limited by a set of certain definitions. To claim such is to go against the experience of the early Church. And to claim that the film cannot be Gnostic as it supports procreation and multiplication merely misses the point that it is showing Noah to follow the Demiurge (lower and foolish God) rather than one of the Gnostic themes, that sex is evil. Incidentally, there were also other Gnostics that considered sex as an initiation (Marcus) or a right (Carpocrates).

    Even a general reading of Irenaeus’ first book of Against Heresies shows Gnosticism up to be a mash of different narratives, many of which contradict according to the “school of thought”. That today many of the ancient themes are being fused with modern issues (environment) merely shows that Christians must be very vigilant for the Gnostic creep of ideas that posed such a problem in the second and third centuries.

    Back then, the only defence against a rehashing of the Christian story was to bring it out into the open and have Christians being vigilant, not open to esoteric ideas.

    “Noah” is not a solely Gnostic film, but it is a heavily Gnostic film.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

      Sorry, I still don’t see any evidence that this film posits the existence of a Demiurge, or a “lower and foolish God” who presumably stands in opposition to some sort of higher God. Mattson tries to get around this lack of evidence by saying that even if there is only one God in the film, the mere possibility that he can change his mind is enough to make the film Gnostic — but then what does Mattson do with, say, Exodus 32:9-14? That’s the passage in which God gets so angry with the Israelites that he threatens to wipe them out entirely, only to be talked out of it when Moses points out that God would be breaking his promise to their ancestors by doing so and that this would give God a bad reputation. Like it or not, the Old Testament frequently describes God in anthropomorphic terms, and any filmmaker who adapts these stories has to deal with that on some level.

      • Hegesippus

        Historically, Gnostics argued, “oh, I don’t believe that!” about specific aspects of a narrative. They were masters of avoidance.

        The only way in which the Church, and specifically Irenaeus, could counter them was to catalogue their very wide range of claims. Use a tick list. If you take in a narrative and can tick of more than a handful of themes being presented or even touched upon, I would be very wary.

        Another theme of Gnostic beliefs: the moment you try to analyse too deeply, they melt away. But the narrative stays.

        Do read Irenaeus’ first book.

      • Sherb

        In the context of the film Mattson is simply saying that Noah has turned away from the god that told him to build the ark and that allegedly told him to kill everyone, thus throwing off this lesser god (Noah throws down the knife and says “I can’t do this.”). There is then an interim where Noah drinks and mopes for “failing” god by not killing everyone. He then becomes “enlightened” upon realizing that by choosing life and love, he is of a higher character (humanism) than the god he was serving in the ark. Thus when he puts on the snake skin and it’s power is invoked, he blesses his family and Aronofsky is inferring that the higher god is the power of the serpent. It goes without saying that this is all, of course, FICTION and never happened in the true Biblical account.

  • Xrucianus

    Respectfully – Your patheos article only amplifies my alarm by a factor of ten, Peter. It’s not the cerebral, philosophical issues of gnosticism that I am alarmed by nearly as much as the Kabbalistic spirituality that you highlight as the spiritual source for the movie. Kabbala, Cabala or Qaballa – is the fountainhead of most of the world’s occultic practices, including astrology, gematria, numerology, tarot cards, phrenology and much much more. Your article pretty well nails the coffin on Arnofsky’s Noah: as it is indeed “all about” Kabala. No wonder so many Christians (rightfully) find this movie disturbs their spirit. Kabbalism is as anti-God and luciferian as it gets!
    For your part, you probably didn’t know – (most Christians don’t) – but this is bad ugly stuff, Pete. As someone who’s unfortunately studied too much about this “Jewish mysticism” I’d STRONGLY advise anyone (believer or unbeliever), to stay far, far away from this movie – and warn others to do the same.

    • Choralone

      Astrology, numerology, and other “occult” practices were developed in many places on earth independently of – and prior to – the Kabbala.

      • Xrucianus

        The human lure for the “occult” is indeed multi-cultural and multi-generational, morphing and mutating from one generation to the next; a pervasively diverse soup.
        I’m referring to the fact that modern leaders of these occultic “sciences” look to the Kabbalah as seminal for the way they engage and understand their practices today.

  • FutureFrank

    Mr. Chattaway, I can’t figure out if you’re defending the film in general, saying that it’s worthy of watching for christians or just splitting hairs over Mattson’s article.

  • Sherb

    Arguing plot points in the film such as snakeskins, etc. is pointless because the film is a purely FICTIONAL account of the story of Noah based in themes, (as Mattson illustrates), of mysticism, humanism, Gnosticism and the occult. 99.9% of the film’s narrative is non-Biblical and never happened. Therefore, it’s construct is entirely of Aronofsky’s imaginings, only borrowing concepts and names from the Biblical account. Noah never wrapped a mystically endowed snakeskin around his arm and blessed anyone with it, nor did Methusaleh have superpowers to heal a womb, etc. The movie is hyperreality. You may as well argue whether kryptonite can actually kill Superman. Mattson is merely pointing out how Aronofsky is filling in the non-Biblical
    blanks of his Biblically conceptual narrative.

  • Timotheus

    I was genuinely relieved to find, not only in this column, but also in Dr. Mattson’s, a deeper examination of the Aronofsky Noah film, which deserved such, yet can rightly be questioned by everyday, run-of-the-mill people of faith, who in this Western culture, with its debt to Near Eastern religion, have nonetheless strayed quite a bit from their religious roots, rendering the American hoi polloi regrettably ignorant. I do not fault the director for wanting to create a film in his own image—and indeed, in a land where we cherish freedom of expression so highly, I would hope Mr. Aranofsky would exercise that freedom to the fullest. Yet, believe it or not, Hollywood can only afford to make so many big-budget films about a topic like the biblical epic of Noah and the Great Flood. Plainly put, Hollywood is not about to present opposing viewpoints in several other huge-budget Noah films. Which means that the faithful, who represent orthodox Jewish, Protestant and Catholic views of the sacred text, must step out of the woodwork to voice those views in the public forum—without the benefit of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of high-impact cinematic representation on big screens throughout the entire nation.

    One of those stepping mildly forward is professor Mattson.

    When I saw Mr. Chattaway’s response here at Patheos.com—for which I am likewise grateful, by the way—my primary thought after reading through his well-researched, well-written column was that his article’s title essentially *buries the lead*. Yes, I may agree that professor Mattson was not entirely correct in all of the details of his analysis regarding Gnostic tendencies in the film, the largest potential error being not his conflation of Gnosticism with Kabbalah, but his possible misinterpretation of the symbolism of the Serpent and the snakeskin, and its supposed setting on its head the idea of a flip-flopped view of God and Satan. We are indebted to Mr. Chattaway and his theology advisor, Ryan Holt, for pointing out this important distinction. Nonetheless, the headline perhaps should still have read: “Mattson’s Citation of Kabbalic Roots Provides Key to Interpreting Aranofsky’s Noah.”

    And as to the question of whether Mr. Aranofsky (and Hollywood by extension) was attempting to pull one over on, or thumb a nose at, an unsuspecting Evangelical population, I think that question is, unfortunately, still very much in play. Fair enough, Judaistic thought is not monolithic, and its Orthodox branch, while probably still the majority view, is not without its competing views among Conservative and Reform Jews and other significant minority camps—including Kabbalah. Yet I think it is only fair to the American public to give fair warning that the film they’re about to see—and to plop down up to $18 a ticket for—is largely the product of a minority Jewish view of the biblical story, not that of the majority views of either Judaism or Christianity.

    If advisors from these more-traditional camps were approached in the making of the film, as we were told they were, the outcome was that their views were, in the main, ignored. Less artful critics of the film were right in that much. Prior to the film’s release, I certainly didn’t see many reviews, from the mainstream press or from religiously based writers, issuing that kind of warning or pointing to the film’s Kabbalic roots. Much as I hate to say it—or simply to assume it true of everyone—I think part of the snarkiness inherent in the attitudes of the moguls of Hollywood about this may have been motivated by a sense of intellectual superiority and animosity toward everyday Evangelicals who have fishy stickers on their pickup trucks and walk through Walmart looking for Duck Dynasty gear.

    The problem with this snobbish attitude is that the message of the Noah story is, by nearly all accounts, not a difficult one to parse: it is that those who live selfishly and in opposition to the God who made the earth and everything in it, must repent or face dire consequences. Yes, that has significant environmental consequences; yes, it has personal, spiritual connotations, and implications on how we seek out peace and justice for our world, and how we treat the least of our brethren, the poor and the destitute. And yes, Duck Dynasty fans can grasp that!

    Let me draw one further analogy, if I may: there have indeed been liberties taken with any number of sacred and literary texts in order to make movies. Those would include the films based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s and C. S. Lewis’s works, including the recent Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hobbit movie. The essential character of the literary texts was preserved in each of these, and the estates of the authors actually approved the cinematic renderings of these books. Of course, the religious texts behind the ‘Noah’ movie are more remote, and there is no author or estate to ask for approval, outside those who hold those sacred texts in high esteem. Again, I acknowledge that there are literary spin-offs from many of our most treasured literary works—witness, many of the modern cinematic portrayals of Shakespeare, and even a TV show (NBC’s Elementary) I like based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. But . . . eventually we come back around to the original sources for these as the best representations we have; and the same applies to the Bible and its most incisive narratives. Is it asking Hollywood too much to color within those lines, at least every once in a while? Why are we expected to shell out majority dollars for minority views?

  • Timotheus

    Here’s a question for those who have seen the movie (I have not): Is there any portrayal, or suggestion of, a “serpent seed” idea in Aranofsky’s movie? According to the Wikipedia article “Serpent seed” (http://www.wikipedia.com/wiki/Serpent_seed), both the Kabbalah and some schools of Gnosticism teach that the Serpent of the early chapters of Genesis mated with Eve, producing the line of Cain—a view that resurfaced many centuries later in the racist views of the so-called Christian Identity Movement. (The potentially racist aspect of this doctrine is that it pits the line of Adam against the line of Cain, and the Christian Identity Movement tried to argue that Jews were descendants of Cain rather than Adam, whom they identified as the forebear of non-Jewish people.) I found it interesting that, according to the article, this view is taught in the very Zohar with which Darren Aranofsky has professed fascination. I am in no way implying that Aranofsky subscribes to this view or that he would deliberately buy into a view that would disparage the very Jewish people with whom he identifies, but this does seem to merit further investigation. By the way, (again, according to the article) this doctrine has been rejected as heresy by the mainstream Christian church ever since the time of Irenaeus and Augustine.

    • Debbie Jane

      Didn’t see that in the film at all. Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Seth are discussed as a family separately from the serpent.

    • Phil_GA

      I did actually see the movie, and no, the snakeskin trinket (as I call it) is portrayed in the movie — from start to finish — as a generational blessing passed down through the line of Seth, as the characters explicitly state.

      Now, the snakeskin does glow, but so do Adam/Eve in the movie (notably *not* any of the animals), as does the indicator that Shem’s wife is with child, and maybe one or two other visual elements.

      Personally, I saw absolutely nothing gnostic in any way about the film — heck, it even describes the macro-concept of creation (out of nothing came things originating from the Creator) not once but *twice* in the film.

      Eve having theoretically mated with the serpent? No. Categorically not in either of the “flashbacks” to Eden/creation in the film. Not in a literal, metaphorical, spiritual or any other sense. It’s just not there.

      Also, Tubal-cain — appropriately the leader of a city/town that fully represents the evil of sin — explicitly acknowledges to be of the line of Cain. While this is not explicitly in the Noah story, it makes for an excellent plot line as Noah/his family deal with following God.

      And, the film is rated PG-13 because it properly shows the destructive, negative effects of sin on man and creation, almost to an extreme. By this I mean that one of the issues Noah deals with is even whether or not humanity should continue, post-Flood. Excellent job getting into this as one of many sub-plots that the humanness of Noah and his family could have legitimately dealt with.

  • Asha

    I just read Mattson’s original article and was left thinking that he fell prey to the issue in Aronofsky’s first film: If you look for something hard enough (in that case numerology, in this case gnosticism), you will find it.

    • stevemeikle

      well said!!! Me, I just enjoyed a movie, warts and all, after all i don’t get my thology from films

  • Jonathan Quist

    I just wanted to add that there is actually Catholic precedence for Adam and Eve being luminescent prior to the Fall in the Catholic tradition as well as in the Kabbal. This is from the private revelation of Bl. Anne-Katherine Emmerich and has a papal imprimatur “I saw Adam created, not in Paradise, but in the region in which Jerusalem was subsequently situ­ated. I saw him come forth glittering and white from a mound of yellow earth, as if out of a mold. The sun was shining and I thought (I was only a child when I saw it) that the sunbeams drew Adam out of the hillock. He was, as it were, born of the virgin earth. God blessed the earth, and it became his mother. “

  • Jonathan Quist

    And again “When Eve had been formed, I saw that God gave something, or allowed something to flow upon Adam. It was as if there streamed from the Godhead, appar­ently in human form, currents of light from fore­head, mouth, breast, and hands. They united into a globe of light, which entered Adam’s right side whence Eve had been taken. Adam alone received it. It was the germ of God’s Blessing, which was threefold. The Blessing that Abraham received from the angel was one. It was of similar form, but not so luminous. Eve arose before Adam, and he gave her his hand. They were like two unspeakably noble and beautiful chil­dren, perfectly luminous, and clothed with beams of light as with a veil.”

  • Raccko

    Mattson’s approach is more in line with Eastern Orthodoxy than yours, Mr. Chattway, however you are not all wrong and he is not all right. I can tell you like exploring religion, which is very positive. However, Kabballah is regarded by Orthodoxy as “strange fire”. It is a school of secret knowledge: whether one calls it occultism or gnosticism, etc., its study is restricted even by its traditional adherents. Mattson’s approach is Orthodox, because he comes at the strange fire with a very skeptical approach.

    On the substance, you are correct, that some ideas like the salvation of fallen angels can be found in some way in Christian traditions, however, since this movie is basing itself on “strange fire”, our theologians will even be very skeptical about how those angels’ redemption is portrayed. Perhaps they will limit that possible redemption until some far later apocalyptic event, or they will find some other criticism to make.

    Even if those ideas are allowed, our theologians will worry that the bases for making these claims will be on this school of secret knowledge, rather than on Christian teachings passed down.

    Peace.

  • James Herrick

    I just watched the film, having read Mattson’s essay first. I found Noah a deeply moving film, really a great film, but also a deeply Gnostic one. I am not dissuaded from this view by the present essay. To argue that you can find references to an idea in Christian sources, and that therefore the idea is not Gnostic, isn’t persuasive. The comprehensive vision of Aronofsky’s Noah is Gnostic, not in a thoroughgoing or systematic way, but in a pervasive one.

  • Xrucianus

    Hollywood’s Noah, confounds the theme of the Biblical story of Noah: God’s grief over His creation that is hostage to sin; His need to judge sin; and His promise to provide a way through the destruction of sin. Friends, this message of is too important to not to take 30 minutes to know the truth…
    Noah: The Movie http://t.co/EI3mknkRXl

  • stevemeikle

    well said. I saw the movie just today. and though of course it is wildly inaccurate (what Hollywood Bible movie is not?) it is not gnostic. but some pharisaic minded fanatics, needing something to condemn. will look for anything they can seize upon.

    If you know your Bible and are not into looking for things to condemn (how hot and obscenely pleasant is self righteous anger!!) the movie will do you no harm

    thanks for explaining the serpent skin.Sethite Gnostic it of course is not

  • stevemeikle

    Rereading your piece after a few hours I see you point out that Mattson wrongly puts down Noah’s mercy on his granddaughters as enlightenment from receiving the snakeskin relic while you point out this has not yet happened. This typifies on the part of the critique you are rebutting the hostility of fundamentalist minds who will twist the plain plot or text of the story they have made up their minds to hate. To use the technical term they themselves are fond of accusing others of committing, this is eisegesis. And a great irony it is too, for they would soon fulminate at any who dared an eisegetic reading of the Bible but are unable to avoid the same misreading of what they rare critiquing. I have seen this time and time again

  • stevemeikle

    The question is not “Is the movie ‘Noah; gnostic or is it accurate?”, for it is neither.

    Some appear to miss this point, ever fond of the fallacy of the false dichotomy as they need something to fight over rather than simply disregard a a minor piece of cultural history, a movie, no more nor less

  • MaryAnn Benjamins

    Thank you for this insightful article! I read Mattson’s article just prior to seeing the movie and while some of his ideas were valid I too just didn’t see gnosticism as the underlying problem. Like you said, gnosticism hates the material and this movie celebrates creation in a way that gnostics would choke on.
    I generally don’t like bible stories made into novels or movies, simply because the story gaps are invariably filled with ideas from the authors imagination (seriously, what was with the rock people), but what I missed most in this movie is the intimacy of relationship between creator God and his child Noah. The kind of relationship that I experience and I personally envisioned for the “last” good man on earth.

  • StRalph

    What gets me about Mattson’s post, more than anything, is its arrogance. Doesn’t allow any comments, for one thing (often a bad sign). But within the post itself, he calls out all other Christian “leaders” who commented on the film, for failing to see what he saw. He never appears to consider the most likely explanation: he’s seeing something that isn’t really there.

  • Joli Beevers

    I think Mattson’s point is simply this: that Christian leaders reviewing this film did not notice that so much of it was taken from anti-biblical sources. And they should have said something to that effect in their reviews, but didn’t because they forgot what they learned in seminary or didn’t learn it at all. Who else besides you two are even talking about this?


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