What some of the critics don’t mention is that for director Darren Aranofsky, the story of Noah is about justice and mercy. Aronofsky used part of the story of Noah and the ark as a vehicle to explore what evil is; how meting out justice for those who do evil hurts the innocent; what it means to follow God’s will when you aren’t sure what it is; and how to explain Noah’s rejection of his son Ham.
He also threw in the legends found in The Book of Enoch, a Jewish book written in Ethiopic, with fragments of Greek and Latin. Some Orthodox Christian and Jewish communities that are ethnically Ethiopian, the Book of Enoch, didn’t make the Jewish or the Christian Bible. That’s why the stories of the fallen ones / watchers seem unfamiliar to us.
Genesis 6:4 says “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.” Nephilim is a Hebrew word that can mean something like “fallen ones.” The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, uses the Greek word for ‘giants’ to translate Nephilim. The King James Version translates ‘nephilim’ as ‘giants in the earth.’
The people of the Bible, Jews and Christians, have questions about what this text means. To help me interpret texts, I like researching what ancient near eastern writers have said about the same subject, and what archeology, botany, geology, farmers, cookbook writers and gardeners have had to say.
But other people find meaning in writing stories about what the Bible leaves out. We have the Catholic legend of Veronica, who wiped Jesus’ face on his way to the cross, leaving his bloody faceprint on her cloth. We have the Jewish legend of Lilith, Adam’s first wife. Moviemakers also fill in the blanks of a Bible story. Noah’s makers turned it into disaster movie.
The Movie The Passion of the Christ was a conservative Catholic interpretation on Jesus death. Some Christians find spiritual succor in the great suffering Jesus endured. The more he suffered, the more we are saved. So the movie showed in bloody detail how Jesus suffered to emphasize how great is our salvation. The movie advertised itself as showing what actually happened. The problem with that is the four gospel accounts of the crucifixion don’t agree with each other about what actually happened. For the moviemakers to claim that is presumptuous.
So I was glad to hear that Noah’s director said that his movie was an interpretation. The moviemakers aren’t pretending this is the one true story of Noah. They filled in gaps in the Noah story with what would make a good movie. Movies can do violence well—surround sound, CGI, and big screens give moviegoers a visceral experience. Violence is cheaper than dialog—you don’t have to pay screenwriters to write it, actors to say it nor camera operators to film it take after take. And violence doesn’t need any translating for the overseas market. So there’s violence in the movie Noah that isn’t in the Biblical story.
I appreciated the way they didn’t skip over the wicked people left behind in the flood—that’s the question most of us have about Noah—was Noah and his family really the only group that was innocent? What about the children? The characters wrestled with that.
Aside from the unnecessary violence, and the plot change, I was bothered that the cast was only white people. It is, after all, a Semitic story, and Ham is to be the father of Canaan, the ancestor of the people of Ethiopia and Sudan (Cush), Libya (Put), and Egypt.
I wasn’t surprised they skipped the story where God commanded Noah to bring in seven pairs of clean animals and one pair each of unclean animals (Genesis 7:2,3).
A lot of what we think we know about the Bible is from movies, books, paintings and legends. Before we complain about how other people are interpreting the Bible, it’s always a good idea for us to read it for ourselves. For me, it’s a tale of how the people of the earth began. It’s a story about how Mesopotamia was peopled, since to the writers of Genesis, Mesopotamia was the whole earth. Archeological evidence shows that a severe flood covered Mesopotamia in 3000 bce.
For me, the Biblical story isn’t about the details of constructing an ark and how God decided who was good. It is about God’s decision never again to wipe out humanity. The symbol of it is a bow in the clouds. The bow is upside down, to show it’s hung up and won’t be used anymore. For us, perhaps it would be like locking away an AK-47. God is not going to commit violence anymore.
For evangelical Christians, the story is about Jesus—all the stories in the Hebrew Bible are about Jesus. For me, the stories in the Hebrew bible are best understood if we look at them in their own context. The writers of the newer testament referenced those stories, quoted (and misquoted) from them. We can’t understand the newer testament until we read the Hebrew Bible, the Bible Jesus knew.