“Noah” Will Ruin Your Sunday School Memories…And That’s Good

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Noah and friends happily floating above utter destruction

A few weeks ago I predicted that Noah would be both mediocre and forgettable. It seems, though, that my cynicism was only half-correct. Noah is indeed mediocre. It is uneven, overwrought, and missed many opportunities that the source material provided.

However, I can’t say that it is forgettable. I’ve been hearing the story of Noah’s Flood since childhood. When I think back to these Bible lessons depicted via flannel-graph, I remember images of happy animals on a cartoonish ark and rainbows, but leave it up to a movie to bring to the forefront that this story is about the annihilation of humanity.

Of course people drowning is implicit in a story that says things like, “and the waters prevailed above the mountains…and all flesh died that moved on the earth,” but such perfunctory language, so characteristic of a Near Eastern deluge myth, does not do the terrible image justice.

And this is why Noah is not a forgettable movie. If for no other reason, watch this movie for the horrifying image of people­—men, women, children—clinging to the final outcropping of land while Noah and his family listen to their wailing screams over dinner. It has ruined my Sunday School image of this story…and that’s a good thing. It reminds me how easily we are desensitized to violence, not only in the Old Testament but in ancient history in general. We read the decimation of the Egyptian firstborns in Exodus with the same dispassion as when reading the death of the 300 Spartans and their compatriots in Herodotus’ Histories. Temporal distance and cultural difference render us so far removed from the events that we forget to empathize with the victims. A quick glance at these ancient histories and myths should remind us of antiquity’s brutality.

Further Reading:

Seibert, Eric. The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy. A confessional book but this doesn’t detract from Seibert’s scholarship. His thesis caused quite a stir in the Christian intelligentsia: “We shouldn’t celebrate or condone God’s violence in the Old Testament.” Check it out.

 

A few final thoughts on the movie:

What I liked: God never speaks but communicates only through premonitions and visions. Although the biblical narrative implies God’s speech was actual illocution, by keeping the “Creator’s” communication so vague, Noah’s task is all the more terrifying. He encounters the same dilemma that people of faith face today, namely: “I could be completely wrong…what am I doing?”

What I disliked: Noah’s murderous insanity near the end is weird and out-of-character. I would have rather seen him portrayed as a tortured soul overcome with guilt than a delusional maniac.

Missed Opportunity: The Watchers. I was so excited to see the Watchers made famous by 1 Enoch. There is such a rich mythos surrounding these creatures…their initial decision to descend to earth, wed human women, birth giants, and teach men about industry. Although the movie references much of this, the Watchers are just too goofy to take seriously. Regal, fallen angels (or at least terrifying cherubim) would have been much more fitting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew Henry is a PhD student in early Christianity at Boston University. His research focuses on the popular and domestic religion of the eastern Mediterranean, particularly the magico-religious rituals deployed to harness and direct ritual power.

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