Everyone is talking about the new Noah movie, wondering if its better described as anti-Christian or pure entertainment. The movie collector of critical ratings Rotten Tomatoes has it in the mid 70 percent for critics and in the 40 percent for viewers. The box office has mixed audience result with a respectable showing of over $40 million during the opening weekend. Movies might give promise with such high earnings, but they live or die in the second and following runs. If word of mouth continues to be negative among the most interested possible viewers (Christians), then curiosity and lack of competition gave it the first boost of money. There is far from any guarantee it won’t turn out a bomb. Muslim nations have already given it the banned treatment.
What is supposed to be so bad about the Noah movie for those who don’t like it? For starters, it is considered way too off story from the Bible. Noah is in it, an ark with animals is present, and a flood happens. Besides that, according to negative critics, nothing else is close to correct or even the spirit of the account. He ends up a jumble of crazy, environmentalist, near abortionist, murdering anti-hero. Not even believers would protest an intervention to have him committed. The bad guys are morally questionable, but mostly a bunch of industrialists who like to hunt and eat meat. A critic from the science fiction blog io9 tried to make a case for its spiritual pedigree, but made things unintentionally worse for those Christians who would be the most unconvinced. They would see too much para-Biblical references over the very short Bible narrative.
This brings up the question of what the Noah story really is in the Biblical account. At first I was going to do a bunch of quotes and then solemnly explicate the text. That would be the traditional way of writing a blog argument. An equal concern is if there is enough in the Bible to make a story worthy of a two hour night at the movies. This is as much about creativity and imagination as bad exegesis. Those who support the Noah treatment point to The Ten Commandments for an example of making things up that aren’t found in the text. True enough, as I have my own criticisms about how Moses was portrayed in rather white washed fashion after his conversion. There is a difference because much of what is in the text became part of the film. Not so much, apparently, the Noah movie.
I am going to write a story outline using what can be known from the Bible, Book of Moses and other JST, Book of Jubilee, Book of Enoch, and a small amount of commentary. The end of the story will have a reference list for those who want to check sources and decide for themselves. The intended outcome should evidence that there is enough in the text to make a great film without complete distortion. Obviously it will be from what an equally controversial Mormon point of view. Those who have watched the Hollywood version can decide how close this is to what they saw on screen.
Noah: A Narrative
A man in his early adult years paced nervously outside the opening of a hut. Two other men stand watch with weapons drawn. Inside a woman starts to scream. The early adult turns to face the screams and freezes as if deciding to enter. The screams of the woman end, replaced by the fierce cry of a baby. The early adult takes it as a signal and rushes inside the dimly lit entrance. Ecstatic calls of “its a boy” come from the attending nurse. The exhausted new mother looks up at her husband that just walked in, “Lamech, we have a first son. What shall we name him?”
“We shall call him Noah,” the proud father Lamech said. He rushes over to take hold of the newly born human, but stops abruptly. His exuberant countenance changes to dismay. Lamech cries out that this cannot be and questions if the mother had done some horrible thing. The boy looked white and radiant, with amazingly bright eyes. This child couldn’t be fully human. In a panic Lamech grabs the crying beautiful boy and rushes across an open field.
Lamech reaches the door of another hut set against the opening of a cave. He walks in still clutching the baby while yelling, “Father, father!” A person even younger than him steps out from the shadows. “Please,” the attendant says, “your father Methuselah is busy.” Lamech gives him a few words, demanding to see his father with the news of a new baby. Recognizing the urgent nature of the visit and its importance, the attendant goes to fetch the old man. Methuselah comes out and Lamech explains the strange nature of the new born. He is concerned that his beloved wife had done unspeakable acts with fallen angels. It was the only conclusion for the glorious brightness of the skin and eyes. Methuselah gives out a good hearty laugh, explaining that he could tell Noah was Lamech’s offspring. In the same breath, he prophesied that Noah will grow up to be a great man used by God to bring about the healing of the human race.
For several centuries humans have been fighting, fornicating with equally wicked women, doing witchcraft, and growing in perversions and sin. Noah grows up in a rare family of righteous believers. He is taught about the history of mankind staring with the expulsion form Eden. Most important to him is the story of Able’s violent end by the hand of the crafty Cain. All around him Noah witnesses the human race following Cain’s evil example over Able’s faith.
As an adult Noah holds a wedding party in celebration of his own marriage. Looking around he notices how many woman are escorted by outsiders who act rude among each other and the guests. Tired of the rough treatment witnessed, Noah confronts the rebellious multitude. They start to argues with Noah that there are great men, even giants of no small reputation, who have conquered lands and prosper with abundance. Noah counters that Enoch, the greatest man of his time, and his people were taken up to Heaven because of the growing wickedness of the people. It takes his grandfather at the urging of his father to calm the situation down.
Years later Noah travels round, preaching repentance and humility. Everywhere he goes no one will listen. During a trip with his sons, Noah finds what looks like a hunting party in the woods. He notices very large men and others of average height armed with all manner of weapons. Alarmed by the fierce countenances, he finds cover for him and his sons. They watch the men kill each other and butcher whatever animals were rounded up for a deadly game of violence. Women both armed and naked join in the brutal game, doing unspeakable things in the middle of battle. Meat is torn from cuts of still living animals and devoured before killing or dying by the hands of other humans. The terrible group goes deeper into the forest, leaving Noah and his sons bewildered.
Once safely home, Noah sends his boys inside to sleep. He walks into a nearby cave alone and builds a an alter with burning sticks on top. He sacrifices a bird and then calls out to God, giving a list of all evils he has seen in his days. In a fit of rage Noah demands that God destroy the people. If nothing is done there will be no chance his boys or their descendants ever see righteousness on the Earth again. He stops ranting and kneels solemnly down on the floor, saying, “I understand.”
Again Noah goes around preaching, but this time with a warning. He explains that the abominations must stop or death will engulf the whole human race in 120 years time. “I will build a boat by the command of God to save whoever repents. Otherwise, a great flood will engulf the wicked world and destroy all living things,” he tells them.
Noah starts to build a very large boat. Some hecklers walks by to throw insults, but for the most part he is left alone. Humanity is too busy getting married, hunting both man and beast, making intoxicating drugs from plants, drinking, treating parents with scorn, and doing whatever they can imagine. Lawlessness, fear, death, lust, greed, and gluttony rule the land. Dealing with a madman is of minor concern.
When the boat is nearly finished, Noah instructs his family to bring animals of different species two by two and load them onto the ark. Animals designated clean, or for ritual purposes, are brought in seven pairs. The wood and pitch construction is a mighty work of wonder built to withstand mighty forces of nature.
Noah is a much older man with his sons having grown well into adulthood when the flood starts. Water from all all over comes crashing around the ark, while a heavy rainfall pours down. People are screaming and racing to find shelter. There is nowhere to go. Encased in the water tight boat, Noah and his family start to feel the ark rising with the forming tides. They huddle together to pray for safety and praise the grace of God for sparing them. Days and weeks go by as the family assists in feeding and attending the animals while afloat.
The deluge calms down enough for Noah to peak at the submerged world. He grabs a raven and lets it out in hopes of finding dry land. The day grows into late dusk when the raven returns. Knowing the time was not yet, he gathers his family together and tells them the story of how God formed the world, planted Adam and Eve in the Garden, and then Satan came along to tempt Eve; eventually leading to the fallen state of humanity. Several weeks later he lets out a dove that never returns. Another week later he sends out a second dove.
“Father, father, come quick,” one of his sons calls out. Noah hurries to his son’s side and asks him what is wrong. The son points to the dove sitting on the only open window. Noah walks over to the dove with excitement in his heart. He carefully picks up the dove and takes an olive leaf out of the bird’s beak. “Land” he exclaims, “dry land at last!”
Some days later the boat lands on the top of a dry mountain. He and his family leave the ark for the first time in months. Noah builds an alter with a great fire and offers sacrifice. Days later the water has completely receded. He tells his family to start growing crops and let out most of the animals. A year passes and Noah is picking grapes among the other food. He holds a great feast where he gets drunk and passes out. His son Ham finds him asleep and takes his clothing, leaving him naked. Ham shows the garments to his brothers Shem and Japheth who fashion copies of the garment and place them on their shoulders. They return the original garment, walking backwards as they place it on the sleeping Noah. When he awakes, Noah learns of this and curses Ham’s son Canaan because of the stolen garment. He blesses his other two sons who had returned it to him.
A great gathering of people come to pay tribute to Noah at his funeral. They praise him for his righteousness and great faith. His sons mourn the passing, but Ham stands up with a hint of anger. He tells the others he is leaving to a far off land with his family. He motions for his wife and children to stand up and walks away. His son Canaan does the same. All the others who are left behind turn to give one last gesture of respect and then leave home. In the distance a rainbow forms below a cloud as a sign that water will no longer drown the Earth. Countless generations to come grow crops and raise animals for food, building cities, and live until the next judgement.
Story ideas taken from The Book of Noah, as found in 1 Enoch; Jubilees 5-7, 10:1-16; Genesis 1-10; Moses 8 (Joseph Smith Translation here); Genesis 4–11: The Patriarchs in the Old Testament Student Manual.
I have mixed feelings about supporting this movie because both sides make good arguments. James Tabor, for example, makes the case that most of the contraversies are actually found in the Bible or respectable texts (I used them myself). Theologian Dr. Brian Mattson, on the other hand, argues the movie is a spiritually dangerous Gnostic retelling with satanic links. One thing is clear; Noah and the Flood is far deeper than first glance.