Before You See That Noah Movie, Read This…

Before You See That Noah Movie, Read This… February 22, 2014

A few days ago on my Facebook page, I declared,

“Steven Greydanus has written *the* must-read article on the ‘controversy’ over Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH.”

And I linked to the article itself: “Everybody Chill Out About the Noah Movie.

Steven, who has a website of his own at, and who is currently writing about movies for The National Catholic Register, has been my favorite film reviewer for almost as long as we’ve been friends — several years now. But what he’s written here is far more important than a review of Darren Aronofky’s Noah. It’s an essential piece on “How to Understand the Story of Noah’s Ark.”

And it should help readers prepare themselves for whatever director Darren Aronofosky has in store for us.

Steven’s piece is sure to rub some Christian readers the wrong way, but I wholeheartedly support the way he encourages us to understand the way that Genesis was written, and the way that it was meant to be read.

And I’m thrilled for him that he earned some attention from Aronofsky himself, as well as from the movie’s star, Russell Crowe.


Here’s an excerpt from Steven’s piece:

It has been recognized for some time that the early chapters of Genesis, i.e., Genesis 1–11 (the pre-Abrahamic primeval history), represent a literary form quite different from later, historical texts.

In fact, Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis characterizes these chapters as “not conforming to the historical method” as practiced by ancient as well as modern writers, calling them instead “a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people” in “simple and metaphorical language.”

This is not to say that Adam and Eve or Noah and the flood are only metaphors for something that never happened. The pope adds that these early chapters still “pertain to history in a true sense” (to be “further studied and determined by exegetes”). But clearly the accounts of creation, Adam and Eve and Noah and the flood are not historiography in the same sense as, say, the Gospels. That is, they are not a record of human experiences in living memory, based directly on eyewitness testimony, interviews with eyewitnesses, and so forth.

… we should be able to say that it is not beyond the pale of Christian orthodoxy, and defined Catholic teaching in particular, to classify the Flood narrative in Genesis as divinely inspired mythology. Again, this is not to say that there was no flood or no Noah. It is simply to say that the writer of Genesis (again, unlike the Evangelists) did not have the kind of historically verifiable access to the events he was writing about that pertains to the historical method, even in ancient times.

Hear hear!

Read the whole thing.

Let’s not waste time bickering about whether or not Aronofsky, imagining his way into a story that comes to him in a rather simple description, is representing “what really happened.” Let’s see what he does with it creatively, and talk about how it can be interpreted.

I admire some of Aronofsky’s films more than others. But I find his imagination, his interests, and his impulses fascinating. (I had the privilege of interviewing him on two different occasions, once in-person and once over the phone, when The Fountain was released. You can read about that here.) I can’t wait to see what he does with the story of the deluge and a very complicated character.


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7 responses to “Before You See That Noah Movie, Read This…”

    • I haven’t seen it yet. The studio did not bother to let reviewers see it in Seattle, so I’m not in any hurry. But I highly recommend Steven Greydanus (National Catholic Register), Alissa Wilkinson and Peter Chattaway (Christianity Today) on the subject. They’d done the best writing on the film that I’ve seen so far.

      • Thanks I’ll have to check out the CT writers to see if they address any of my questions. Mostly what I’ve seen around is the usual is it “Christian” does it follow the Bible word for word type debates that a lot of movies that even remotely tie to the Bible or Christianity get caught up into. While many have their opinions on those subjects and they may be valid opinions that isn’t what I look for in a film review. As with a book while it may tie to why they did or did not care for something I still want more concrete reasons to avoid or run to a film or book – solid storyline, character development etc. You historically address these types of things either directly or indirectly by example. However the fact that critics weren’t invited to view the film in Seattle and you aren’t rushing to see it on your own based on what you know speaks volumes as well.

  1. Regardless of the reviews, how many people will blow the dust off their Bibles and read? Win Win either way.

  2. Hi Jeffery -thnxs for a interesting article -im always cautous about -treating scripture any differently to the way Jesus appeared to do -that is he called Adam and Eve by name and referred to them as Historical figures and the narrative as historical events as did Paul.There is no doubt that Genesis is an old account written for people at that time and as such does not match the idioms of our day -but i am suspicious of placing a metaphor label over certain parts of the scripture -My suspicion is that this looks like accommodation to the currently prevailing worldview -rather than any move forward in our understanding of Genesis.
    Platonic thought influenced Christianity making events that occurred in a place and at a certain time less important than the ‘spiritual’ meaning of the events -we are still under this yoke to some extent -whereas I think God wants us to rejoice in the physical events as much as the ‘spiritual’ meaning of them -as he has underwritten the physical time and again -anyway sorry to rant -thnxs again for a great blog with many insights

  3. I like the article you linked to… but he failed to mention the most important thing to keep in mind when veiwing a version of the flood narrative is the mercy of God displayed and thus pointing us to Christ. The gospel is everything, and any part of scripture is going to point to it.