I was less than impressed with the 2014 remake of the biblical story of Noah and the Ark, featuring Russell Crowe. While some of the thematic and symbolistic changes they made were interesting (I’ll discuss those below), the controversy itself offers much for discussion. People are angry because it “wasn’t true to the Bible.” But the truth is most Christians don’t realize the version they learned in Sunday School isn’t in the Bible either – the stuff that’s actually in the real, Bible story is more surprising than anything that happened in the movie.
So let’s start with some background, and contrast it with biblical knowledge and what was in the movie.
1) The story doesn’t come from the Bible
The Epic of Gilgamesh, the greatest literary accomplishment of Mesopotamia, was widely translated throughout the ancient Middle East long before the Old Testament was written. The similarities between it and the story of Noah should be apparent to anyone familiar with the biblical account of the flood. The Babylonian Noah was named Utnupishtim, who with his wife became immortal after surviving the great flood. Gilgamesh, in his quest for immortality, seeks him out and gets to hear the story first hand. The gods had decided to destroy mankind, but one god, Ea, was friendly and determined to save Utnupishtim. He told him to disregard his possessions, construct an ark according to exact specifications, and take the seed of all living plants and creatures (as well as his wife, adequate supplies and crew). Cyrus Gordon, an American scholar of Near Eastern cultures, notes that the Babylonian account is “more detailed and realistic than the biblical version because the Mesopotamians were more advanced than the Hebrews in material civilization in general and specifically in the arts of naval construction and operation.”
Rains came and the ark was carried on the waters. Finally it came to rest on a mountain. The survivors sent out a dove, and then a swallow, and then a raven to determine whether the earth was dry. Utnupishtim got out and sacrificed to the gods, who hovered over the sweet-smelling sacrifice like flies. Exploring the similarities between these two literary traditions,
Gordon makes a clear argument regarding their relationship:
Here we need to say a special word about the relationship between the
flood accounts as preserved in the Bible and in the Gilgamesh Epic. It is
obvious that the two versions are strikingly similar and must be related
in some way. The consensus of scholars is that the Babylonian version
influenced the Israelite version. The reasons for this are manifold. First,
all things being equal, a greater society is more likely to influence a
lesser society than vice versa. Babylonia was the dominant culture of the
Asiatic near East and Israel represented a backwater of sorts. Secondly,
the manner of destruction, i.e., by flood, is typical of Mesopotamia,
where the great Tigris and Euphrates Rivers regularly flooded their
banks and cause havoc and destruction. Israel, by contrast, is very arid; it
is unlikely that anyone in that part of the Near East would conceive of a
divine destruction of the people through flooding. Third, the geography
of the biblical accounts points to a Mesopotamian origin. Noah’s ark
lands on the mountains of Aratat, at the headwaters of the Tigris and
the Euphrates; if the story had originated in Canaan we would expect
Mount Hermon (c 7,500 feet high), for example, as the locale of the
ark’s resting place. Fourth, as we have seen, the Gilgamesh Epic was the
literary masterpiece of antiquity, and one fragment even has been found
in the land of Israel (at Megiddo). Fifth, the earliest Hebrews come from
Mesopotamia, and it is unlikely that Abraham and his entourage would
have been unfamiliar with the story.
Interestingly, the fact that flood stories appear also in other cultural myths have been used to support the reliability of the Bible; however in this instance, the parallels are so precisely mirrored – the releasing of the birds, the sweet-smelling sacrifice that pacified the god (Genesis 8:20-12) – that this cannot be an instance of a universal tradition, but rather a direct influence. Although the Bible seems to give a clear picture of the history of mankind from the beginning of creation until the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ, the truth is that there were already extremely advanced and developed civilizations before the Old Testament was written, and the Old Testament authors were undoubtedly influenced by these civilizations.
2) The Watchers had sex with humans
“When people began being numerous on earth, and daughters had been born to them, the sons of God, looking at the women, saw how beautiful they were and married as many of them as they chose.” (Gen. 6)
“The Nephilim were on earth in those days (and even afterwards) when the sons of God resorted to the women, and had children by them. These were the heroes of days gone by, men of renown.” (Gen. 6:4) Were the children of the sons of God the heroes? Or were the Nephilim the heroes? The sentence could be read either way. Nephilim means “fiery serpents,” and generally designate God’s highest rank of angels – although most people would mistakenly associate a burning snake with Hell rather than Heaven.
The story of the flood later chosen to be included in the Bible is a much shortened and edited version of much longer pieces of literature, like the Book of Enoch. Here are some passages from it that, while similar, didn’t make the cut:
And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’ And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’ And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’ Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it.
And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. Azazel taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways. Semjaza taught enchantments, and root-cuttings, ‘Armaros the resolving of enchantments, Baraqijal (taught) astrology, Kokabel the constellations, Ezeqeel the knowledge of the clouds, Araqiel the signs of the earth, Shamsiel the signs of the sun, and Sariel the course of the moon.
And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another’s flesh, and drink the blood.
And as men perished, they cried, and their cry went up to heaven . . .
In the movie the watchers are transformer-like fallen angels, who took up rocky bodies as their bodies of light sunk deeper into creation… this is basic Gnostic cosmology, and there are a lot of Gnostic symbols in the movie.
3) The flood wasn’t to destroy mankind
Just like the myth of Prometheus, the fallen angels were rebels who came to earth to protect mankind, disobeying the strict and merciless Yahweh/Zeus. They gave mankind technology. But they also slept with the women and had “giants” – halfbreeds.
And these halfbreed consumed too much, so that man was left with nothing… therefore the flood happened. It was to destroy the giants (the seed of the angels and the human women, who were consuming everything). At least, in the Book of Enoch.
In the Bible version, however, God says:
“I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.” 14
IN THE MOVIE the watchers are transformer-like fallen angels, who took up rocky bodies as their bodies of light sunk deeper into creation… this is basic Gnostic cosmology, and there are a lot of Gnostic symbols in the movie. In the movie, the point of the flood WAS to destroy mankind, completely. Noah believed this so much that, even after they survived, he began to drink because he was sure he’d failed in his mission.
When Noah tries to kill the infant twin girls, his eldest son yells “I thought God chose you because you were good!” Noah replies, “not because I’m good. Because he knew that I would obey, that I would complete the task.”
God wanted Noah to destroy humanity, but Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, and his own wife, and his own sons, rebel against him.
Finally, at the pivotal point in the movie, even after Noah has been completely faithful and killed countless people, he himself rebels – he still believes God wants him to kill the babies, but he refuses. He disobeys. He makes a willful moral choice based on his own personal feelings rather than external commands. Later, Emma Watson (the character name doesn’t matter because it’s wrong anyway) convinces him that God allowed him to make that choice… that God chose him because God knew he would allow mankind to continue, but that’s highly doubtful.
Why go through all the trouble? Soon after the flood, humans are terrible again, civilization and technology continues to grow, cities like Sodom and Gomorrah fester. So whatever God had planned when he made the flood, it doesn’t seem to have accomplished anything.
Also – that crucial scene in the movie with Noah (which never happened, at all, in the Biblical version) is a blatant parallel of the later story of Abraham and Isaac.
God demands Abraham kill his own son in Sacrifice, and Abraham complies without question. In the end, God intervenes, but Abraham was ready to do the deed.
Contrast this with the movie: Noah was waiting and waiting for a sign from God, for God to intercede… but God was silent. God wanted to see if he would really do it (and didn’t care either way apparently, whether humanity was wiped out or continued on). God forced Noah to make that decision himself, he let Noah choose.
Maybe the point of the movie is that only if humans are capable of making their own, rational decisions – choosing what’s right even if it seems to be against their religion or what they think God wants – in other words only if they are capable of refusing God, are they worthy of life.
4) Noah wasn’t a vegetarian
The funniest and most defiantly unbiblical aspect of the movie was the earth friendly, ecological aspect. Noah and his family are vegetarians. They believe they have to respect and care for the beasts. The movie contrasts this with the bloody, violent, dirty and disgusting habits of the meat eaters. But Genesis is very clear on man’s relationship to nature – and it is much closer the main villain and stowaway’s corrupt ideology:
“Be the terror and the dread of all animals on the land and all the birds of heaven, of everything that moves on land and all the fish of the sea; they are placed in your hands.” (Genesis 9:2)
God also, for the first time, expressively prohibits murder. Cleverly, rather than enforcing this rule himself and making himself into “the bad guy”, God gives the responsibility and authority of the law to humans:
“He who sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God was man created. Be fruitful then and multiply, teem over the earth and subdue it!” (Genesis 9:6)
God likes meat too. Immediately after the flood, Noah offers God a great burnt offering from all the clean birds and animals he had just saved from extinction! (Genesis 8:20-12).
5) Noah married his first cousin
The wife of Noah is Emzara, daughter of Rake’el, son of Methuselah.
Noah is son of Lamech, also son of Methuselah.
6) Noah’s 3 sons took their 3 wives with them (and there was no stowaway).
Wife of Shem – Sedeqetelebab
Wife of Ham – Ne’elatama’uk or Na’eltama’uk
Wife of Japheth – ‘Adataneses
7) The Bible Totally doesn’t have the Facts Straight.
The Bible has two flood stories with different details, mixed together. There must have been two traditions, and the scribes responsible didn’t feel comfortable choosing which one was ‘right’ so they just left both.
I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
7 The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3 and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”
Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.
8) The Watchers don’t Get Forgiven
In the movie, the Watchers’ good deeds earn them redemption. In the Bible, God hardens their hearts and casts them out of heaven forever, with no potential for getting back in.