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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Aronofsky’s Noah – Part of the Biblical Conversation

Though I plan to see it, I haven’t gone to the theater for Darren Aronofsky’s new film Noah yet.  But several of my friends and comrades and compatriots have and their reviews and comments posted on Facebook or Twitter have been disappointing to me.

Do not...DO NOT go see Noah. It was HORRIBLE!!!! Aside from the fact that there was a flood, and the main character's name was Noah, I cannot account Biblically for anything in that movie. Really awful. Very disappointed indeed. Well...sigh... we saw Noah this afternoon. What can I say about it? I wanted to find something in it that was spiritually elevating or inspiring, giving me hope that the director would not be creating something that would only be making him $$. I was sadly (and I'm sorry for this) disappointed.

From my friends comments it seems that they are unfamiliar with the way that the story of Noah and the worldwide flood (and all of scripture in general) has come to us.  My friends are disappointed with Aronofsky’s Noah because of the way he’s changed the story; they seem to want an unchanged, unadapted, uninterpreted version of the story as told in the book of Genesis (or as  the story of Noah was told to them in Sunday School). 

But stories – especially biblical stories – don’t work that way.  They don’t just lie there, frozen in space and time.  They continually inspire new tellings, new versions, new interpretations – as evidenced by the Noah stories found in ancient books like 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees. These books are part of a collection of writings sometimes known as the  pseudepigraha - written between c.300 BCE and c.300 CE. They are distinct from the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books, in that they are not accepted as Scripture by any Christian or Jewish groups.  But even though they’re not considered part of the ‘word of God’ they still contribute to the way that we understand and interpret the scriptures.  They are part of the biblical conversation.

One story inspires another which affects the way that another is told.  One story branches out and influences many more that follow.  

Even the story of Noah and the flood as we have it in the book of Genesis seems to be the result of various tellings of some earlier original story.  What we have in our bible is the combination of two separate stories about Noah and the ark and animals and the flood that have been combined into one new story.

The threads of these two separate stories can be teased out somewhat from the story as we have it today:  Two different reasons are given for why the flood occurs (angel-human intercourse / Violence) Noah is given two different sets of instructions about what types of and how many animals to bring aboard the ark (7 pair of the clean / 2 of each kind) Two different sources for the flood waters (Rain / Fountains of the Deep ).Two different accounts of the duration of the flood (40 days & nights / 150 days)  Two different birds were sent out (Dove / Raven)   See the two accounts laid side by side here. 

Now these differences are not necessarily contradictory – which may be why the ancient editor felt he could combine them into this new version of the story - but what we have is a changing of the way the story was told – which in turn changed the way the story was told – which affects the way the story is retold still today.  The story changes – and, if it’s a good story it changes us.

Whether you like Aronofsky’s Noah or not, whether you agree with the way he has interpreted the story or not, it is unfair to say that it is “unbiblical” – it is very much in the biblical tradition of storytelling.   His movie is part of the larger biblical conversation that has gone on for millennia and will continue into the future. 

(And I think that it is strange to look for something “spiritually uplifting” in a story about divine genocide… but that’s just me.)

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Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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