The Bible in Films: Noah

The story of Noah appears in the Bible, in Genesis 6-9. The flood happened c. 2400 BC. Each ancient civilization has a flood story because it was passed down first orally and then in written form, and because we all come from Noah. Moses probably wrote this story while Israel lived in the wilderness, c. 1440-1400 BC. However, Joseph may also have learned hieroglyphic writing in Egypt. His coffin may have included manuscripts as well as his bones (Genesis 50:25-26).

The Story

noah flood arkAfter the “sons of God” took the “daughters of men” as wives, God limited human lifespans to 120 years (Genesis 6:1-3).[1] It is biologically impossible for angels to mingle with humans, so the more likely sin is polygamy. Eventually, humanity’s wickedness became so great that his thoughts were “only evil continually” (6:5). The earth was “corrupt” and “filled with violence” (6:11). So God decided to destroy everything (6:7). Noah, however, “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). God chose him because he was “just” and “perfect,” “righteous before [God] in this generation” (6:9, 7:1). He also “walked with God” (6:9). Unlike Noah, the rest of mankind was violent, evil, and corrupt.

God told Noah he would destroy all flesh on earth with the earth (Genesis 6:13). Then he told him to make an ark (6:14-16). Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives would enter it (6:18). So would animals: seven each of clean beasts and birds, two each of unclean beasts, in order to preserve each species (6:19-21, 7:2-3). God also told Noah to provide food for them and his family (6:21). Noah was 500 years old when he had his three sons, 600 when he entered the ark (5:32, 7:6). God’s call came after his children had married (6:18). So it probably took Noah and his sons less than 20 years to build the ark.

After everyone entered the ark, God shut the door (Genesis 7:16). It rained for forty days and nights and everything died (7:4, 12, 21-23). Water covered the earth for 150 days, but God remembered Noah and sent a wind (7:24, 8:1-3). The ark landed on the mountains of Ararat in Turkey (8:4). Wanting to know if the water had receded, Noah sent a raven from the ark but it never returned (8:7). He then sent a dove, who returned because she had found no home (8:8-9). One week later, Noah tried again (8:10). This time the dove returned with an olive leaf, which told Noah that dry land had appeared and things were growing again (8:11). The third time he released the dove, she did not come back (8:12).

Noah, his family, and the animals left the ark more than a year after they had entered it (Genesis 8:13-19). Then Noah sacrificed one animal of each species to God on an altar (8:20). So God promised he would never again “curse the ground for man’s sake” or destroy the earth with a flood (8:21; 9:11, 15). A rainbow was the sign of this covenant (9:12-17).

The Adaptations

Some Christians think the Bible should never be dramatized. They point to the Ten Commandments as proof: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image” or “bow down to them to serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5). “‘In the beginning was the Word,’ not the image,” they say (John 1:1). They forget that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). The mystery of the Incarnation is an unseen God becoming a 3D image in Jesus Christ. Should not God’s Word reach audiences today through films? Film is not idolatry but a vital form of communication, and Christians should use it.

noah bible john-hustonStill, not one theatrical film about Noah has been directed by Christians. That honor goes to two atheists. John Huston (1906-1987) directed The Bible: In the Beginning (1966), based on a screenplay by Christopher Fry (1907-2005). It was filmed in Ecuador, Egypt, Iceland, Israel, Italy, and Morocco and cost $18 million to produce. Huston plays both the narrator and Noah. The story of Noah takes 45 minutes of screen time in this 3-hour film, which spans creation (Genesis 1) to Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22). Huston’s sinners are odd-looking people. Other than examining the ark as if it were a spaceship, they leave Noah and his family alone. Although only two of each species enter the ark and Noah closes its door rather than God, Huston’s literal dramatization is close to the Bible. Still, this film has more humor than imagination. Huston did not flesh out the story either. The film made $35 million at the box office in 1966, and it received both Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for its score.

Noah (2014)[2] returned to the screen in March, thanks to Jewish producer, screenwriter, and director Darren Aronofsky. Filmed in New York and Iceland, it cost more than $125 billion to produce and uses many visual effects. Russell Crowe plays Noah, Jennifer Connolly his wife, Logan Lerman his son Ham, and Emma Watson his daughter-in-law Ila. Anthony Hopkins stars as Methuselah, Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain. After Aronofsky’s artistic license produced religious controversy, Paramount Pictures and National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) released a disclaimer. “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.” As a result, the American Bible Society, National Catholic Register, Hollywood Prayer Network, Focus on the Family, and other non-profits endorsed Noah. Answers in Genesis and Movie to Movement, however, did not.

Aronofsky: The Good

The sixth descendant of Seth was Methuselah, grandfather to Noah, who died the year of the flood (Genesis 5:21, 29). The sixth descendant of Cain was Tubal-Cain, who may have lived at the same time as Noah (4:22). Noah’s world was “corrupt” and “filled with violence” (6:11). People were “marrying and giving in marriage” (Matthew 24:38), redefining it as they saw fit. We never see Noah’s extended family in Huston’s film. Nor do we see the pre-flood world he lived in. Aronofsky’s film, however, shows us both. Methuselah appears as Noah’s grandfather; Tubal-Cain opposes him. Cain’s descendants are also violent, immoral, and wasteful. Some Christian audiences did not like that Seth’s descendants were portrayed as vegetarians while those of Cain were meat-eaters. However, only after the flood were Noah and his descendants allowed to eat meat (Genesis 9:3-4). Did those killed in the flood eat meat? We do not know.

Also, while God speaks aloud to Huston’s Noah, Aronofsky’s Noah is more accurate. Christians hear an inner voice, not an audible one. Before written revelation, God used dreams to reveal his will and future events. He still does, even though we have a completed canon. So in Aronofsky’s film, Noah has two vivid, prophetic dreams.

The Bad

Whoever Noah married, it was not Naamah, Tubal-Cain’s sister (Genesis 4:22). He shunned Cain’s descendants because God had cursed him and his family (4:11). Aronofsky pointlessly altered the configuration of Noah’s eight-member family too. He and his wife had three sons and three daughters-in-law – not three sons, an adopted daughter (later an in-law), and two granddaughters born on the ark. Adoption represents salvation spiritually, but we have no proof of it here. Eight is important in both Jewish and Christian numerology. Seven is perfection, the number of God. Eight restarts the cycle and therefore means salvation. To Jews it represents a covenant with God, to Christians the Holy Spirit. That Noah’s family of eight was saved from the flood is the most dramatic instance of this truth.

Noah Tubal-CainAronofsky’s portrayal of Tubal-Cain is also disturbing. First, he kills Noah’s father Lamech. Decades later, he enters the ark as a stowaway before being killed by Ham. Tubal-Cain is also portrayed as a gun-toting private property owner and meat-eater who believes man was made in God’s image and should subdue the earth, i.e. a conservative Christian. In the Bible, however, it is Tubal-Cain’s father Lamech (different from Noah’s father) who kills a man (Genesis 4:23-24). We do not know who he killed or why either. Tubal-Cain was also “an instructor … in bronze and iron”; his brothers were tent dwellers, cattlemen, and instrument makers (4:20-22). So these men were not necessarily violent. Still, they and their families died in the flood. They would have ridiculed Noah for believing a flood was coming and then building an ark (Matthew 24:39). Only when it began to rain would they have tried to storm it. And although it had never flooded before, Noah’s world was not a desert. Rain came after the curse (Genesis 2:5-6). So, Cain and Seth’s descendants would not have searched for water.

The Ugly

In Aronofsky’s film, God turns fallen angels or Watchers into rock people because they helped Adam and Eve after the fall. These six-armed creatures later help Noah build the ark. Yet in the Bible, fallen angels were cast into hell with Lucifer (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6). They are not friends of mankind, since Satan is partly responsible for the fall (Genesis 3:1-5, 13-15). Only good angels are “watchers” instead (Daniel 4:13, 17, 23). That Aronofsky would portray fallen angels – demons – as friends of mankind borders on blasphemy. Angels are also spiritual beings. Unlike humans, they have no bodies of flesh and therefore roam the earth unseen. Aronofsky’s depiction of these angels is part of a disturbing blend of science fiction, fantasy, and witchcraft. In his cinematic version of creation and the fall, Adam and Eve do not become human until after they eat the fruit. As a result, the serpent’s skin has magic powers that pass from father to son – the birthright. Noah is denied this birthright when Tubal-Cain kills his father and snatches the snake skin. Methuselah is also portrayed as a witch doctor. He gives Noah a brewed potion instead of interpreting his dreams like Joseph and Daniel. Methuselah gives one to his wife Naamah too, for Ila’s infertility. None of these elements belongs in Noah’s story.

Aronofsky’s portrayal of creation is also warped. In the opening scene he says, “In the beginning there was nothing.” The Bible says, “In the beginning, God” (Genesis 1:1). Aronofsky also portrays dogs with fins and sea creatures moving onto land. Yet creation is not evolution. Species do not evolve from one to another; each one was made after its kind (1:21, 24-25). Why let the main characters call God “Creator” when the film itself mocks his creation? The biblical Noah also knew God by another name, which he revealed to Adam, Eve, and their children as “Lord” or “Jehovah” (4:1, 26, 5:29).

noah movieAronofsky’s evolutionary depictions result in a disturbing environmentalism. Noah’s story is not about the environment. God still made sea creatures and birds on the fifth day of creation, land animals on day six (Genesis 1:20-25). He told Noah to bring land animals and birds, plus food for their sustenance, onto the ark to preserve each species (6:20, 7:3). This does not mean that animals are “good” and should be preserved at all costs. Only people are created in God’s image and have immortal souls (1:27). Their lives are irreplaceable. Yet Aronofsky’s atheistic environmentalism feeds his portrayal of a morally confused Noah. He thinks God wants to save the animals and destroy mankind, including himself and his family. So Noah almost commits infanticide with his own grandchildren. He has forgotten the divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28). Aronofsky’s Noah is a god who decides who lives and who dies.

Noah’s murder attempt highlights the film’s deepest flaw. Aronofsky told The Guardian that Noah fascinated him because he thought the man experienced “survivor’s guilt” after the flood. Even Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, told Time that “Noah may have wrestled with [deep struggles] as he answered God’s call on his life.” Yet the Bible contains no evidence that Noah struggled to obey God’s call. Whether he heard a voice or dreamed a dream, God still said, “I will establish my covenant with you … because I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation” (Genesis 6:18, 7:1). Noah found grace in God’s sight when no one else did (6:8). By faith, he built an ark because he was “moved with godly fear” (Hebrews 11:7). By faith, Noah also “condemned the world” and preached righteousness (11:7, 2 Peter 2:5). The biblical Noah was a man with living faith in God, which Aronofsky knows nothing about.

Noah’s story does not fit scriptwriter Ari Handel’s justice-grace arc either. He told Time that “the story of Noah starts with this concept of strong justice, that the wickedness of man will soon be met with justice, and it ends when the rainbow comes and it says, even though the heart of man is filled with wickedness, I will never again destroy the world. … God somehow goes from this idea of judging the wickedness to mercy and grace.” That Noah and his family were spared to enter the ark is itself “grace,” the first time this word appears in the Bible (Genesis 6:8). Although God will not destroy the world again with water, he will destroy it one day with fire (9:11, 15; 2 Peter 3:6-12). Judgment is coming.

Conclusion

I will never watch Aronofsky’s Noah (2014). Contrary to Paramount’s claim, this film is not “true to the essence, values and integrity” of the story of Noah and the flood. Producer Scott Franklin is wrong; it radically “deviates from the Bible” (EW). This film never “illuminates the text” either (National Catholic Register). It only proves that a sinful world knows neither God’s justice nor his mercy. No Christian non-profit should have endorsed this film, certainly not American Bible Society and Focus on the Family. I thought they had better judgment. At least Answers in Genesis explains this film’s flaws in depth; it also has excellent resources on the real story of Noah.

Only two theatrical films have dramatized the life of Noah and secular, unbelieving Hollywood produced both. So Christians who want to see a biblically accurate version should make a film themselves. First they should emphasize God’s justice in destroying the world and his grace in sparing Noah. Then they should portray Noah as a preacher and man of faith. Finally, they should compare the flood to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ: “As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37). I hope to see such a film in theaters one day.

__________

[1] New King James Version (NKJV), unless otherwise noted
[2] I gleaned the plot from Barbara Nicolosi (Patheos), Godawa’s Movie Blog, and Red State.

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One thought on “The Bible in Films: Noah

  1. A shame that a Jew didn’t know the Torah any better than to produce something as unbiblical as the film ‘Noah.’ A shame that the American Bible Society and Focus on the Family didn’t know the Bible any better than to endorse something as unbiblical as the film ‘Noah.’ Both egregious errors show us that the persons in power are the wrong persons to be making these kinds of executive decisions. God, give us men!

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