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Thoughts After Seeing Noah

Posted on Monday, March 31, 2014 in Cultural Activism, Pontifications

SPOILER ALERT!  Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen Noah (which you should definitely go see).

Personally, I loved the movie Noah and think we should be glad that it beat out Divergent and Muppets Most Wanted (both of which  are also good movies) at the box office this past weekend.  Thousands of people watched a movie based on a Bible story highlighting questions of goodness and wickedness, justice and mercy.  Those are conversations worth having and hopefully it provoked many to explore the Genesis account and discuss the movie with their Christian friends.

Many Christians, of course, were upset by any deviations from the Biblical account — or from their own interpretation of the Biblical account.  While I hope many non-Christians dive into Scripture, I’m also hoping Christians revisit the narrative as well to discern what is actually in the Bible and what are the gaps they’ve filled in themselves.

Toward that end, some thoughts on elements of the film:

The Watchers.  I assume there’s a Biblical reason for it, since everyone does it, but the filmmakers followed most Christians’ example and conflated the “sons of God” with the Nephilim, who are both mentioned in Genesis 6:4. No one really knows what either was, although one of the most common interpretations of the “sons of God” is that they were fallen angels who wanted to sleep with human women — we should probably be grateful the filmmakers opted for a different interpretation.  The Nephilim were some sort of giants — they’re called “men of renown,” so I suspect they were more human in appearance than the film portrays.  The Nephilim are mentioned again in Scripture — they are the giants in the Promised Land in relation to whom the Jewish spies felt like grasshoppers (Numbers 13:33).  I found the backstory given to the Watchers to be fascinating, even if the Ent-like rock creatures themselves weren’t my favorite interpretation (see Madeleine L’Engle’s Many Waters for that).

Vegetarianism.  This is where I really want Christians to re-read their Bibles.  It sure doesn’t seem to me that God gives humans permission to eat animals until after the flood (see Genesis 9).  Prior to that, they only talk of eating plants.  Abel does raise flocks (possibly for wool?) and sacrifice animals to God, but there’s no mention of eating them.  I’m as carnivorous as the next guy, but that doesn’t change the fact that Noah was probably a vegetarian before the flood.  To suggest that the wickedness of man included eating  animals when they weren’t supposed to makes sense to me.

Environmentalism.  More broadly, is there an environmental angle to the film?  Well, it is portraying a Biblical tale where God wipes out all humans but one family while preserving the animals, so it’s kind of hard to avoid a somewhat pro-environment message.  But also, keep in mind that we’re dealing with a mere 10 generations after the Creation, among peoples whose history would be primarily oral.  It makes complete sense that God is referred to as “The Creator” and that those who follow Him believe it’s important to preserve those things He’d declared to be “good” in the Creation account.  I also found the reference to taking only what we need to be reflective of a culture that lives much more closely to the land than we do today.  They’d be more akin to the tribal cultures we are familiar with than our own cultural context.  Rather than reacting against what we may interpret as environmental propaganda, let’s use this as an opportunity to wrestle through to a better understanding of Scriptural context.

The Wives.  Did Noah, his wife, his sons, and his sons’ wives enter the ark?  Technically, yes — two of the wives just did so within the belly of the third.  Granted, this is a significant deviation from what we assume happened based on the bare bones description in the Biblical account, but it did set up a very interesting question worth wrestling with — do we trust in God’s provision or do we try to meet our needs our own way?  Interestingly, it was in trying to meet the need his own way that Noah got messed up in the head and decided that humanity should end with his family, which then blinded him to God’s provision for that need.  And before you say, “Eww, gross, you wanted Ham and Japheth to marry their nieces?”, be reminded that logic dictates a lot of intermarriage in the first few generations of humanity.

Noah Goes Nuts.  Well, the drunk, naked Noah is Scriptural, so they had to set that up somehow, right?  Actually, I felt like it raised a lot of interesting questions about hearing from God.  In the Biblical account, God simply “speaks” and Noah acts, but there’s no record of Noah responding to or interacting with God.  With the Bible, we too often fall prey to forgetting that its characters were people like us who experienced God in many ways similar to our own.  We assume a big, booming voice from heaven very clearly told Noah what to do.  The suggestion that his instructions actually came by way of visions and his grandfather is intriguing.  And the suggestion that he got his wires crossed and misunderstood (when he wanted to kill his grandkids) is humbling.  Maybe there aren’t as high of stakes, but how often do we wrestle with whether or not we’ve clearly understood God?  And how often are we more certain of what God said than we should be?

The Creation Account.  I loved the scene where Noah recounts Creation. And I thought the filmmakers did an excellent job of walking a fine line of leaving evolution open as a possibility without declaring it to have happened that way.

Methusaleh’s Death.  I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that if you do the math, Methusaleh dies the year of the flood.  I’m glad they kept it that way.

Animals 2 by 2.  I’ve heard Christians compliment them on getting this right, when actually this is one area they got wrong.  While there was one pair of each of the unclean animals, there were 7 pairs of the clean animals (Genesis 7:2-3).  This is a place where filmmakers stuck to the popular understanding even though it’s not entirely Biblical.  Can you imagine how much they’d be getting attacked if they’d actually been Biblical on this point?

Anyway, those are some general thoughts I had following the film and reading others’ commentary. Personally, I think the fact that we are even having this discussion is a win.

Bring on the comments

  1. Herb says:

    Ryan, I thought that the way the evil man was hid on the boat was a good way of showing that even though the old world per say, was wiped out, the sin nature was not . The sin of Adam was carried over and could only be dealt with thru Jesus Christ which it was. I don’t know their intentions (producers) but it was truth brought out anyway.

  2. Laura says:

    Ryan,
    Loved to hear your interpretation of the movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but as your Godmother and probably favorite Aunt, I just wanted you to know how proud of you I am.
    Love, Laura

  3. Rob says:

    Abel was a vegetarian but sacrificed non-food animals to God? That just doesn’t make sense to me.

    And why the transition after Noah and not after eviction from Eden? I am asking not challenging.

  4. ryanz says:

    Rob — Yeah, Abel brings the first of the flocks and their fat portions to God. Not sure what to make of that. In Eden, God killed animals to provide the covering for Adam and Eve, so there is a precedent of sacrifice without the purpose of food. When Lamech names Noah, he says, “May he bring us relief from our work and the painful labor of farming this ground that the Lord has cursed,” which suggests plant-based food.

    What’s intriguing is the 7 pairs of clean animals and 1 pair of the unclean taken aboard the ark. Is it just the later writer making the clean/unclean distinction, which usually pertains to which are edible? When God tells Noah after the flood, “I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables,” is He giving mankind all the animals to eat at that point? Or is He making the clean/unclean distinction?

    Interesting questions worth grappling with (and making movies about). I have no clue why the transition doesn’t happen until Genesis 9, but that sure seems to be what Scripture suggests.

  5. Rob says:

    Leans more toward an argument from silence to me, but just leans. The question of vegetarianism doesn’t seem to be answered or addressed directly so it is hard to make that claim, seems to me.

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