Sink or swim, “Noah” is a story worth retelling

Darren Aronofsky’s film “Noah” hits theaters this Friday (March 28) but has already caused controversy within some Christian circles.

It’s sparked a few interesting conversations for me as well. Questions I’ve encountered in discussions with friends have included: “Who’s Aronofsky?”, “Was there really a flood?” and “Does the movie follow the Bible?”

When discussing “Noah,” it’s important to remember that this is a Darren Aronofsky film. Like any artist with a singular vision, Aronofsky’s work is often uneven and polarizing, but always thought-provoking and engaging. From “Pi” all the way through to “Black Swan,” Aronofsky has always been willing to pursue his aesthetic vision, to push the limits of convention and propriety and to craft movies that remain true to his intent rather than seeking mere mass-market appeal.

It’s also important to remember that this is a story from the Bible that has transcended the Biblical text itself, becoming firmly ensconced as part of modern Christian mythology. In light of our seemingly ubiquitous familiarity with the story, reading (or re-reading) Genesis 6-9 prior to weighing in on cinematic interpretations of that passage seems like a wise undertaking. It’s a quick read, notable as much for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. If you’re going to see the film, why not take five minutes to read the original?

To better understand that Biblical story of the Flood, I recommend Paul Seely’s three part series for BioLogos: The Flood: Not Global, Barely Local, Mostly Theological.

Seely concisely conveys the historical, scientific and theological issues of the Flood account. His conclusions are neatly summarized in his title, but it’s worthwhile to take the time to read why he arrived at those conclusions and how they integrate into his Christian faith.

Seely’s categorizes the Flood story as a “Parabolic Legend”:

We can say then that the biblical account may well be based upon an actual Mesopotamian flood and therefore is not properly designated a myth. At the same time, it is evident from geology, anthropology and archaeology that the above mentioned four critical points in the biblical description, which go well beyond the scope of a local flood, cannot be regarded as actual, factual history. The biblical account would, therefore, be properly described as Legend (or better, Parabolic Legend, as I will describe in my third post).

John Walton, in his commentary on Genesis, also wrestles with scientific issues surrounding the biblical Flood account without arriving at a definitive conclusion. But for him, the lack of a conclusive understanding isn’t particularly troublesome. He says:

Though the issue may have to remain for the time being unresolved, we must remember that this in no way leaves the passage a mystery. All agree on the theological teaching and significance of the passage, regardless of the extent of the Flood.

Seely concurs with this understanding: the theological importance of this story far overshadows the historical issues. In his article “Noah’s Flood: Its Date, Extent, and Divine Accommodation,” Seely says:

Its purpose is not to teach history but theology. It employs the “notions which then prevailed” in order to communicate theological lessons to the ancient Israelites, teaching them such important truths as humankind’s sad depravity, the importance of obedience to God’s word, God’s patience in waiting for man’s repentance, his ability to bring apocalyptic judgment upon unrepentant sinners, and his amazing saving grace.

But the issues of Genesis 6 through 9 go well beyond just the story of the Flood. Who are the Sons of God in Gen 6:2 and 4? What does it mean that God “regrets” making humans in Gen 6:6 and 7? What is the “fear and dread” of Gen 9:2? What is Ham’s transgression in Gen 9:22? Why does Noah curse Canaan in Gen 9:25?

Aronofsky apparently has answers to some of these questions, but “Noah” isn’t intended to directly explore the interpretive challenges of the Biblical account. Aronofsky is simply building upon the framework provided by the text in order to create the story he wants to tell. In doing so, he must necessarily take creative license with the Biblical account, filling in gaps and offering details that complete the overall narrative, just as the Biblical account itself also takes creative license with the historic and scientific facts in order to convey its story about God and humankind.

The story of Noah and his ark isn’t in the Bible to teach us about shipbuilding or ancient floods or animal care on the high seas. It’s there to tell us something about God and our relationship with him. Will Aronofsky’s story do the same? Or will that meta-narrative be subsumed by the spectacle of six-armed Watchers engaged in epic battle?

It remains to be seen whether or not “Noah” will be an enduring cinematic masterpiece, an idiosyncratic interpretation of biblical mythology, or simply an entertaining retelling of one of the greatest stories in human history. That Aronofsky’s film is reinvigorating timeless questions about God, humanity, sin, judgment, righteousness and grace can only be positive. That it also promises to be an engaging retelling of one of our most ancient and meaningful stories is all the more grounds for celebration.


Dan WilkinsonDan Wilkinson

Dan is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has two cats. He blogs at CoolingTwilight.com.

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  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    Thanks for the analysis!

  • Psycho Gecko

    For what my perspective is worth around here, I personally don’t much care for the story. I see it as a particularly evil attempt to copy other flood stories that predate it.

    If you’ll allow me to explain: I find it hard to reconcile the notion of a moral god with the god who decided to drown every baby in the world because their parents were evil. There are many more things I could go into about it if I wanted to really tear it down, but that is a bottom-line deal breaker for me.

    I’m not sure how it’ll be told either. I guess I missed the trailers that had Ken Ham complaining. I know that the story is even worse if you treat it literally, though I appreciate that you’ve pointed out analyses that talk about how a global flood never actually occurred.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

      Here’s what I find interesting: God didn’t actually drown every baby in the world because their parents were evil. There wasn’t actually a global flood that destroyed every living thing. So, the question then is, can a story that many understand as teaching that such a morally reprehensible thing actually happened still merit inclusion in the Christian canon? Can we still learn from it and appreciate truths it may have to teach us?

      And more importantly, shouldn’t the fact that Ken Ham, Glen Beck and many other “conservative” Christians are up-in-arms about the film mean that it’s probably worth going to see? 😉

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

        That they are all in a dither, does pique my curiosity

        • Mario Strada

          It’s because the love their vengeful God.
          To them a god that kills innocent babies and every squirrel on the planet is precisely the kind of god they want.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            Yeah…don’t work for me at all. Squirrels are already suicidal enough without needing any help from God.

      • Psycho Gecko

        A huge point of the story, even just treated as fictional, is that Noah’s not doing this all to survive some big natural disaster. It’s that his God is creating this disaster to kill everyone and just decided this one guy’s family gets a pass. It’s just not inspiring to me.

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

          While that may be a “huge point” to you, an argument can be made that THE point of the story is that “God remembered Noah.”

          G.J. Wenham, in his article “The Coherence of the Flood Narrative,” argues that the entire Flood story is an extended chiasm that centers around Gen 8.1: “God remembered Noah.”

          How one understands the theological significance of that point is obviously an open question, but I think v 8.1 serves as a much more reasonable starting point for interpreting the narrative than “God is creating this disaster to kill everyone.”

          Simply two sides of the same coin? Perhaps. But, as with the binding of Isaac in Gen 22, there are ways of reading the text that move beyond the superficial violence.

      • Lars

        The truth that God can be morally reprehensible?? Truths such “as humankind’s sad depravity, the importance of obedience to God’s word, God’s patience in waiting for man’s repentance, his ability to bring apocalyptic judgment upon unrepentant sinners, and his amazing saving grace”? Sorry, but as a parent/creator, if I put myself in God’s shoes (strictly based on His also having a backside in Exodus 33), are there any circumstances where I destroy my children? Why not try the Babel experiment BEFORE the Flood and see if that helps? Any divinely generated Flood, whether global or local, that kills babies is hard to see as just or necessary.

        I realize these are ‘stories,’ and perhaps not terribly dissimilar from our own of Paul Bunyan, but I have to wonder why it’s necessary to take something away any more than I would from stories of Paul Bunyan or Snow White. Do the things we take away from the Flood story bring us closer to loving and trusting God or make Him an ogre to be feared?

        • James Walker

          we can “take away” the idea that the writer(s) felt it important to place their God squarely at the center of the Mesopotamian flood myth, making it a story about THEIR particular faith and culture.

          • Lars

            I don’t doubt that, it’s just that such a God, and by extension, such a faith, would seem to be a tough sell! Believe what we tell you or God will do this this sort of thing again.

          • James Walker

            At the time of the writing, there’s some important stuff going on which made it crucial to include sub-text like “worship YHVH and obey His laws or stuff like this can happen”. The Jewish people had just been permitted to move back to Canaan/Palestine by the Persians. Their country was in shambles and they needed to quickly establish not only a national identity but a national religion before their entire culture got absorbed into the hodge-podge that had been left in the aftermath of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, etc. conquests of the region. So, yeah, I’d say there was some motivation to cast the character of God as a harsh destroyer of the unfaithful.

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

          I don’t think the Flood narrative should be read in isolation. Even Aronofsky frames the story in the broader context of Genesis 1-9. And as a Christian, I read it through the lens of the New Testament and the person of Jesus. So, for me to read the Flood story as simply a tale of God violently destroying humanity and thus revealing his sadistic, retributive nature is as fundamental a misreading of the text as understanding the Atonement as God inflicting violent retribution for humanity’s sin upon Jesus.

          • Lars

            I’m not suggesting the story of Noah be read in isolation, but, as you allude to, as another window into God’s essence/personality (considered along with The Fall, Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Golgotha, etc.). That said, how does one interpret the Flood any other way than violently retributive? If you have a posting on this, I would love to read it.

            FWIW, I don’t see the Atonement as retributive either, but more as a pre-ordained necessity. Unless His creation’s curiosity and exercise of free will caught Him completely by surprise (again), there were only two options available – creation’s atonement or its destruction.

          • James Walker

            history is written by those who survive it. so, perhaps the character of Noah saw the Great Flood as a punishment of the wicked people who refused to join him and be saved. perhaps the story is flawed because the actors in the story understood the events imperfectly as well?

          • Lars

            And God is still saying the same thing today! At least He is in my particular (fundamentalist) faith and culture. I’ve since opted out both for the very reasons you state – the flawed story and the imperfect actors. That’s not to say the story isn’t fascinating though!

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

            There are myriad interpretations that point away from retributive violence as the central theme of the story. For example, Walter Brueggemann views the story as centering on God’s change of mind. He says: “the flood has effected no change in humankind. But it has effected an irreversible change in God, who now will approach his creation with an unlimited patience and forbearance.” For Brueggemann, the Flood story depicts a decisive shift in the character of God, a “complete reversal of Yahweh’s mood and intention from the beginning to the end of the narrative.”

            Or, in the Aronofsky film, I think the central message is about love, about our ability to consciously choose love over violence and to ultimately subvert and overcome violence with love. I write more about that idea in my most recent post on the film.

          • Lars

            Thanks, Dan. I look forward to reading your review as soon as I’m able to see the film (out of town company prevented that this past weekend).

            That’s certainly one understandable and comforting interpretation – that God has some degree of sympathy and flexibility (as with Sodom and Gomorrah a few chapters later). It also means prayer is conceivably efficacious. However, it could be interpreted to mean that God is capricious and plays favorites, too. If you’re not on His team, look out.

            The other thing that bothers me about that interpretation – that every inclination of the human heart is evil – is it’s a very cynical view of humanity, whether it’s God’s view or the author(s). Humanity has always shown the capacity to change and we live in an incredible period of that change right now, much of it positive if religion would just stay out of the way! Or maybe Genesis is little more than an excess of dramatic license, weighed down by millennia of embellishments, and God’s not particularly happy about how He’s portrayed either.

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

            I’ll not argue with you that God as depicted in the OT can come off as capricious. The deeper question though is whether or not God is really that way?

            As to the evil inclinations of the human heart: history has shown, time and again, that we are violent and selfish people. A quick scan of the daily news headlines gives a disheartening glimpse of human nature. Sure, religion can contribute to these tendencies, but I don’t think it’s the root of the problem. Yes, we also have incredible potential for good…but we don’t seem capable of truly overcoming our baser inclinations.

            You may also find Jeremy Myer’s thoughts on the violence in the OT interesting: http://www.tillhecomes.org/proposal-the-violence-of-god/. He says that “At times God appears violent, not because He is violent, but because, just as Jesus on the cross took the sin of the world upon Himself, so also God in human history, took the violence of humanity upon Himself.” It’s an intriguing proposal that, though I’m not sure I entirely accept, is worth considering.

          • Lars

            A quick scan of those same newspapers tells us that 17 states now support same-sex marriage – something that seemed inconceivable just a few years ago! Are evil people making that happen? (Definitely!) So far though, I see enough individual good occurring to keep those disheartening headlines from completely overwhelming me.

            I have to ask, and thank you for your very generous indulgences, how do you truly “know” if God is that way or is not that way? Is that something that we can actually know to be so or simply hope that it is? Perhaps the root of the problem is not so much evil but an evolutionarily necessary selfishness and will to power that we must continually wrestle against for the betterment of our societies. That is a far better answer to me than that we were created with (or even evolved) a sin nature that required God to sacrifice Himself in order for us to be with Him again even though He created us that capacity to begin with. Sometimes I wonder which is happier – the caged bird or the free bird? The image-of-God human with free will or the one on the steppes of Africa 100,000 years ago without? Again, is that something we can know?

            I promise I will look into Jeremy Myer’s blog posting on this subject because this is something I’ve been interested in my whole life. Still, when he says, “Just as Jesus took sin upon Himself on the cross so that He might rescue and deliver all mankind from sin, so also God took violence upon Himself in the Old Testament so that He might rescue and deliver all mankind from violence,” I think, wait, none of that worked!! We haven’t been meaningfully rescued or delivered from anything like that! In way too many places, we’re still incredibly violent to each other. And the violence is not only limited to mankind but the Earth appears ready to wreak some serious tectonic violence on its own. (The coast of Chile just experienced it’s second 7.8+ earthquake in as many days.) But then the Cosmos is violent place and a wayward asteroid could trump this entire conversation next year. For me, those kinds of natural violent acts are just as hard to reconcile as the Holocaust and Hiroshima (not that they are remotely equivalent other than a lot of innocents perished) and once upon a time I had no problem blaming tsunamis on Eve’s desire to be like God. In any event, I’m grateful that you’ve not only made a place for these kinds of conversations, but are an active participant in them as well. Is that evil? I regret to say that it is.

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

            Wow…not sure I can even begin to address all the issues you raise here, some of which are deepest theological and philosophical questions of life.

            I’ll take a brief stab at your direct question: ‘how do
            you truly “know” if God is that way or is not that way? Is that something that we can actually know to be so or simply hope that it is?’

            I certainly don’t “know” in any sort of absolute, objective sense, but I do have a variety of reasons that I think go beyond simple wishful hope. Just as we have multiple reasons for accepting any given piece of knowledge, so my beliefs about God are informed by many factors, including: theological/philosophical tradition, rational reflection, intuition, the text of the Bible, the person of Jesus and my own personal experiences. Are any of these infallible sources of knowledge? Of course not! But for me the cumulative support of these (and other) factors work well within the context of a moderate foundationalist epistemology to offer at least some knowledge about the character and nature of God.

          • James Walker

            “a sin nature that required God to sacrifice Himself in order for us to be with Him again even though He created us that capacity to begin with”

            that isn’t the only way to view atonement. some of us here view Jesus’ death as Him refusing to compromise His message of perfect love and perfect grace even to save His own life. for me, Paul’s teaching of the substitutionary sacrifice is an over-reach like his “First Adam, Second Adam” thing. it’s trying too hard to make it all part of some grand master plan, only the plan sucks.

          • Lars

            I have to admit that I’m not familiar with that interpretation but am intrigued! Does that view still see Jesus as God incarnate or more as a great teacher martyred for his principles? I do agree that the plan sucks, but mostly because it’s so exclusive and I’m no longer in the club. For a long time though, I thought it was awesome, knowing that while most of humanity would suffer eternally, I was good to go. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the concepts of perfect love and hell were incompatible.

          • James Walker

            there are multiple views supported by scripture of whether Jesus was already God before being born, whether he became “invested” with Godhood after His baptism by John, whether he “ascended” to Godhood after the resurrection., etc.

            some, like me, have adopted the thinking that He was the archetypal “Good Man” and that it really doesn’t matter whether He was Divine or was the avatar for the Divine. others, like John Shore, are in the Jesus was God camp but still view scripture primarily as story written by fallible human beings trying their level best to convey Divine truths to us.

  • Sheila Warner

    Sorry, but it deviates so much from the Biblical text, which has its own problems, that I don’t plan on seeing it.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

      Interesting. To my knowledge it doesn’t deviate at all from the text, it merely elaborates on it. But regardless, that seems like an odd reason not to see it. Would you refuse to view a Van Gogh painting because it took too many liberties with its depiction of a landscape? And as I pointed out, the Biblical text itself deviates from actual history, yet Christians don’t stop reading and learning from it.

      • Lamont Cranston

        And if it hadn’t elaborated on the text, it would either be 15 minutes long or there would be huge chunks of it consisting of nothing but shots of sailing, sailing over the bounding main.

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

          There you go deviating from the Bible: there was no sail on the ark!

          • Lamont Cranston

            Of course, of course. I forgot about the quantum singularity drive, which is painstakingly detailed in the text so long as you have the proper divine decoding ring/glasses/talking ass to guide you.

          • James Walker

            who knew someone would make me snort coffee through my nose on what should have been such a dull, lifeless topic..

            😉

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

            James, do not mock the quantum singularity drive on the ark.

          • Lamont Cranston

            You dare not look into the singularity, lest the singularity look into you. Also, it burns.

          • James Walker

            I’ll try not to.

            because – Event Horizon

            (since we’re tangentially on the topic of films people have a love/hate dichotomy over) 😉

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

            wasn’t Event Horizon the one where they find Hell in space?

          • James Walker

            yes, via a singularity engine, thus it touches the topic on two different tangents. =)

      • Psycho Gecko

        My more cynical view of why they’re all going around saying it deviates is because I think the Answers in Genesis types know that the real story, if treated as literal and put out there more readily into the mainstream consciousness, is going to have its flaws exposed. Preemptive damage control.

        I think they’re already claiming it’s not holding to what the bible says so that when people bring up those flaws, they have already distanced themselves from it. That, and a major point of Creationism these days is that there weren’t two of every species, just two of some undefined “kind” of animal that then evolved into all the different species, which is more of the same kind of attempt to preemptively avoid criticism for problem of the story if it is taken literally.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      The Cecille De Mille film The Ten Commandments deviated strongly from the text, but it remains hugely popular, so have many films, books, and television portrayals of biblical stories. Dan is right, artistic portrayals of something are going to be unique with some details deemed not needed, others added that are felt to add depth.
      I personally don’t plan on seeing it, because i go to maybe one or two movies a year. For the last six movies I watched in a theater, I’ve liked one.

      • Psycho Gecko

        “I’ve killed more men than Cecille De Mille,” -Gene Wilder, Blazing Saddles.

      • Lars

        Allegro, you really need to start consulting Rotten Tomatoes to see what’s worth getting out for!! I would go to a movie a week if I could. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can duplicate the big screen experience and some movies just HAVE to be seen on the big screen, if at all possible. Plus, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Noah and not six months from now when it’s old news. You’re a Mod, you have to be cutting edge now!

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          I just finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy, bypassing the films all together. I put off reading it for a year, in fear they would be too much like the horrific Twilight books. You see, I’m a book-aholic. I get bored to easily with films, and quickly start seeing plot holes…like when I saw Man of Steel. Shh. Don’t tell my husband, he loved it, or The Avengers (fun, but more holes), don’t even get me started on the Percy Jackson movies, or Cowboys and Aliens, (I just couldn’t finish it) or any chick flick you can mention.

          I did like The Hobbit, hubby didn’t, he stayed lost throughout, but I’d read the book three times, and the Despicable Me films (he napped throughout) We both loved Captain Phillips.

          So I read, voraciously, and I have read some horrid stuff, and some excellent as well…currently on a J. D Robb mystery, my darling watches sports and bad reality tv on the history channel.

          • Lars

            I understand. There are movie people and book people, and some do both as best they can. I’ve always been predisposed to ‘suspending disbelief’ and plot holes have to dominate for me to check out (and I have to ask, how do you read the Bible then? ;-)).

            As a guy, I too loved Man of Steel, the Nolan Batmans, the Raimi Spidermans, the Ironmans, and The Avengers, but also the Hobbit and all the LOTRs. I know I just hawked the big screen experience but I can shill for Netflix just as easily. Watching “Matewan,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” or “Melancholia” might stay with you just as long as a good book does. Your darling’s mileage, however, may vary….

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            I read the Bible as a many faceted literary work. I see the insight of people seeking to understand the divine, attempts at explaining morality, truly fucked up families, and how family dysfunction can cause heartache, beautiful poetry and imagry, inspirational lessons on peaceful loving co-existence, and more.

            When I read a book, and find a plot hole, i hope the author plugs it before the end. As in movies they tend to jump out, as I look for resolution. I happen to like all those fantasy movies, hubby keeps wanting to see Nicolas Cage films. The poor man has made so many dreadful ones.

          • Psycho Gecko

            Your husband might enjoy The Nostalgia Critic’s “Nicholas Cage Month” where the titular critic reviewed Face/Off, Wicker Man, and Ghost Rider. Wicker Man especially was a funny review.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tEqgJfQtmI

            Sometimes people just like things a little less serious, like my preference for Chikara pro wrestling, the Machete movies, and my nostalgic and guilty enjoyment of clips from Power Rangers. Talk about a plot hole on that one. You’d absolutely loathe what happened with the Zeo powers. Still, I’m a sucker for classic superheroes, and they don’t get much more old-fashioned and cheesy than the Power Rangers.

            But if you’re a stickler for detail, I urge you to never watch The Dark Knight Rises or Prometheus.

            Now, here’s hoping that Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are good when they come out.

          • Lars

            That’s it. I’m leaving my spouse for yours. At the risk of going waaay off topic, I LOVE Nicholas Cage! Surely, oh surely, you’ve both seen “Raising Arizona”? It’s a hand’s down classic. Of the the Cage movies I’ve seen, here in alphabetical order are the ones that have stayed with me and that I would never recommend unhesitatingly: Adaptation, Birdy, Bringing Out the Dead, Leaving Las Vegas, Moonstruck, Raising Arizona, Red Rock West, Vampire’s Kiss, and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, Wild At Heart. Cage is utterly fearless even if he’s often mundane.

            And finally, a film I expect Dan and you to address here at least as much as Noah, assuming you’re both still around to discuss it, “Left Behind”. (Hey, a man gotta work…)

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            I read the Left Behind series and saw the first Kirk Cameron installment. I can’t get any of that time back.
            Cage was great in Moonstruck and Peggy Sue Got married and The Family Man. In Ghostrider, The National Treasure films and 8mm all sucked…massively. In otherwords, I liked his early work.

          • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

            +1 for “Wild At Heart”!

            I couldn’t care less about “Left Behind” whether in book or movie form. Honestly, my interest in “Noah” is almost entirely driven by the fact that it’s an Aronofsky film. If anyone else had written/directed it, I would likely give it a wide berth.

          • Lars

            Well, damn. I was looking forward to discussing pre-trib vs post-trib theology, and whether Cage was playing it straight or subversively camp. Looks like I’ll have to troll the evangelical blogs for this one…

  • R2D3
    • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

      I thought this was just a worthless drive-by link spam…but it’s actually a good post that raises some interesting points. Thanks!

  • textjunkie

    The problem with the story of Noah is the basis for what Bill Maher said about the movie–whether it’s Aronofsky’s version or the original, God commits mass genocide. You can say he “loves humanity”, he “regrets” having to do it, but that’s empty–he’s slaughtered millions. At best, he loves humanity as a concept but not individual humans, and that’s no help to us whatsoever. (Sure, you can say that Jesus went and got ’em during the winnowing of Hell, but that’s a serious theological stretch.)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

      Maher’s views on religion and the Bible aren’t exactly nuanced, well-thought out or objective, but I get the point that he and many others are trying to make: killing of millions of people isn’t a good thing. I’m not arguing with that one bit. But it’s important to remember that the global flood depicted in the Bible didn’t really happen. So getting angry at God for committing mass genocide is a bit like getting upset at Goldilocks for eating all the bears’ porridge. It’s a story. It has negative and positive elements. For many Christians, these elements contain important truths about ourselves, about the world and about God. I don’t think simply reducing the Flood narrative down to a story of mass genocide does justice to the complexities, nuances and depth of the narrative.

      • Lars

        Of course, this begs the question (to me, anyway), did anything happen?? Or is the entire Bible a collection of stories and fables and getting angry with God for any reason is pointless?

        You can see how people would get suspicious when told that the bad stuff didn’t really happen, just the good stuff. For all their innumerable faults, the fundamentalists don’t shy away from the heinous, they embrace it, export it, and use it as a theological cudgel! (Which is to say I’m on your side!)

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

          It’s important to consider the genre and time period and culture and authorship of the Biblical writings, and it’s a fundamental mistake to read the Bible in a uniform matter that ignores those factors. Genesis in particular isn’t really about “what happened,” it’s not a straightforward historical account. This is very different than the Epistles or the Gospels, which inhabit their own genres (that are also not necessarily about “what happened.”)

          I don’t think we can (or should) dismiss the bad stuff as myth and embrace the good stuff as truth. We need to be honest about what the Bible does and doesn’t say and wrestle with the texts that trouble us. To me, it’s perfectly reasonable to question and get angry with God for things like the Flood or the Canaanite genocide or the Imprecatory Psalms — I question the moral foundations of anyone who doesn’t find those texts troubling. And rather than a dismissive interpretation that begins and ends with “people are evil, they deserved it,” Christians who truly believe and embrace the teachings of Jesus about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek should seek understandings of the Old Testament that go beyond violent retribution, even if those understandings remain elusive.

        • James Walker

          I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but it’s important when reading the Torah to realize what was going on in Jewish society during the time it was written down. They had just been released from captivity in Babylon. They were coming home to a land torn apart by several different invading empires and inhabited by a hodge-podge of refugees. They had seen first hand while in captivity how having a written history rather than an oral one could help keep a people cohesive and united.

          Now consider that they and most of their neighbors had this shared mythology, these shared creation and destruction stories. It’s not too much of a stretch that their oral versions of these stories would cast their God squarely in the center as the divine judge, jealous, angry, capricious just like all the gods of all the peoples around them. The theology of the time would not have considered wiping out all the people and starting over with a “righteous few” to have been an evil act on God’s part. The priests and those whose job was to interpret God to the people would have believed thoroughly and sincerely “That’s just what gods do. Appease them, or risk destruction.”

          • Lars

            I have no problems with that interpretation whatsoever. But that’s not what is taught from the pulpit every Sunday, or any Sunday. What was taught then and what is taught now is, in my view, bad theology. Theology that, whatever the motivation (then and now), says that’s exactly how God is, divine judge and righteous executioner. That humans are wretched, worthless and evil and worthy of destruction. How does such a message get co-opted, canonized, and then taught to children in coloring books?? I have no evidence God is that ogre, just a bunch of stories. Nor do I have any evidence God is loving and merciful either; again, just stories in the Bible and from others. And since God remains silent on these matters, I’m no longer prepared to base my life, or how I treat others, on suspect theology. I’ll keep trying to treat others the way I’d like to be treated and hope that message takes root in my kids. If it does, I like their chances of being productives humans (despite what their evangelical relatives tell them). For the record, took the family to see a matinee of Noah today and I’m still exhausted! Loved it and didn’t even mind getting made fun of for crying, repeatedly, I might add.

    • Vincent

      This is a ver interesting thing to ponder. If you read the Genesis narrative, Scripture states how humanity had fallen to a level of depravity so profound and henious, that God regretted creating humanity. We are not talking about some mere transgressions; humanity had fallen so far into evil, that the Judge of the Earth decided to destroy them as punishment. Scripture also states how God gave humanity 120 years. Noah himself spent decades taking the vitriol and mockery of the people. He also asked them to rempent, constantly, for decades. But their hearts had already darkened.

      So I just can’t agree with Maher. God did warn, and he spared the just, which were Noah and his family.

  • Vincent

    My greatest gripe with this film is how disrespectful it is to the character of Noah. I don’t mind showing Noah in a depressive state, deeply affected by the issues going aroung him, although I still would have preferred other approach. My issue is that Noah’s character went from somewhat serious to outright phsycotic. He left an innocent woman died, and he then spiraled into insanity pretty much, attemptimg to do a very abominable act. True, love eventually won, but I find it insulting that a man that is held high by his integrity, love and faithfulness was turned into half-mad crazy man.

    We know little about Noah, but Scripture is clear that he was a just man. He followed God, he cared for his family and he preached repentance to the people, for decades. Yet, the film present him in a despicable way, and I really wasn’t able to connect with him as a character at all. At the end, I’m dissapointed, and I hope other future Bible based films take their creative liberties without loosing respect for Scripture.