It is kind of funny to watch figures on the Religious Right react to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie, which is due out on March 28, complaining that it is unbiblical. Rick Warren got on Twitter on March 16 and misquoted Aronofsky, tweeting,
Director of new ‘Noah’ movie calls it ‘The LEAST biblical film ever made’ then uses F word referring to those wanting Bible-based (entertainment).
This is factually untrue, as even the Christian Post admitted.
Glenn Beck is offended too; he said he won’t see it because it’s “dangerous disinformation.”
Beck complains that if everyone takes their church and goes to see the film, “our children will look at that as being the Noah story.” And, “They will believe this version over the version that mommy and daddy are telling them, or that old dusty Bible is telling them.”
But, which Noah story in the Bible, Mr. Beck? There are already two competing Noah stories found in Genesis 6-9, the “P” text and the “J” text; what harm is there in a third? And why so much fuss over this? There are already so many practical difficulties with the story(s) of the flood found in Genesis:
Incest and the scientific absurdities aside, these are at least as serious as the differences between Aronofsky’s film and the Bible:
- When did the flood begin? The day Noah entered the ark or seven days later (compare (Gen 7:7, 10 and Gen 7:11-13);
- Contradictory instructions issued to Noah regarding which critters to bring: In one of the stories (Genesis 6), Noah has a male and female of each animal species but the other story (Genesis 7) has seven pairs of each species of those that can be sacrificed to YHWH (“clean” beasts) and two pairs of all the others;
- Flood lasts two different periods of time: did it last 40 days and 40 nights with an additional 40 days for the waters to recede, or did it last for 150 days?;
- In one story, God is referred to as elohim (“God”), and in the other, by his name, YHWH;
- Did Noah release 3 doves or a single raven? (Gen 8:8-12 or Gen 8:7?);
- Did it rain as one of the stories has it? Or was the firmament (the place the Bible says humans live between the waters above and below) broken by God (the “apertures of the skies” and the “fountains of the great deep”), as the other story claims?
You would think that Beck’s belief, contrary to all observable fact that the earth floats in the emptiness of space, above and below, and not sandwiched between two layers of water, would be enough to make his attacking somebody for peddling “dangerous disinformation” egregious enough. But let’s not beat a dead horse.
So what about the difference between Bible’s mish-mash of flood stories and film’s single, coherent vision? Well, for one thing, the LA Times says Aronofsky’s version is “fuller” than the “brief” biblical versions. That’s true. If you stick to the Bible’s two flood stories, and even assuming you overcome the contradictions, there just isn’t enough material to make a film.
But a problem that goes unmentioned by both Warren and Beck is that there is an even older flood story, that is, a Sumerian version in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Two different types of boat are build in the Sumerian and Jewish stories of the ark. And we also now have the so-called “Ark tablet” which tells how to build a third type of ark – an ark that is a very Mesopotamian “coracle” (still used in Iran and Iraq today) – and nothing like the ship-shaped ark (longer than it is broad) described in one of the two Genesis versions of the story.
Jennifer Connelly, who plays Noah’s wife Naameh, told Good Morning America last Thursday that,
What you’ll find is that the controversy that was generated [was] by people who were speculating [and] hadn’t seen the film yet, for the most part. We’re now getting feedback from religious leaders who have seen the film and are really embracing it and supporting it.
Really, it’s true to the spirit of the story in the Bible.
We already know Bill Maher’s conclusions regarding the “spirit” expressed by the biblical flood stories differ from Warren’s and Beck’s. You cannot harmonize a “psychotic murder” God with a “loving and forgiving” God.
Or can you?
All this really seems much like the old arguments over which stories, events, and characters represents Star Wars canon. Of course, Disney has now made all Star Wars material equal, even when it is contradictory, and there is precedent for this in the Bible as well, both Old and New Testament. We have already seen how Jewish writers made competing creation stories and flood stories into a consistent narrative, pretending it all works if you just ignore the contradictions. And Christian writers have done the same in the Gospels, taking four contradictory accounts of Jesus’ life, teachings, and especially death, and pretending the contradictions don’t exist.
Probably the best solution is for each to stick to his or her preferred version. I don’t read Star Wars stories I don’t like. Similarly, I prefer the old, original Sumerian flood to the later Jewish flood, in part because nobody is trying to force me to believe it, and those who like the film should be content to pretend the biblical versions don’t exist. Those who like the biblical flood stories can go back to pretending there is only one biblical flood story and avoid seeing the film.
In the end, everyone can be happy, and as they do with Jesus, have the flood most amenable to them.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.