Noah and the ‘Rewritten Bible”

April 17, 2014
by Anthony Royle

Before I watched the film of Noah I thought the film would be a case of “this is how it really happened”. I imagined that the story of Noah would be demythologized in order to rationally explain that climate change caused the flood, the flood was localised, Noah would be a religious nut who heard voices in his head to build an ark and there would be no rainbow at the end. I was wrong. Instead, what Darren Aronofsky has done is enter the realm of the “rewritten bible”. Not quite technically a genre, the “rewritten bible” are works that are based upon biblical stories that are retold in a way that explains difficult passages and principles of the bible in more detail and/or presents a new theological twist to answer contemporary questions of the day. During the Intertestimental Period (Between Malachi and Matthew) many books were written in this manner. Two outstanding works of this period that deal largely with narratives from Genesis are the Book of Enoch (which the Epistle of Jude quotes from) and Jubilees. Both of these books, more so Enoch, deal with the theological implications of the flood. The film of Noah implies that it is doing the same. I wouldn”t say that the film draws from these works, apart from the focus on the Watchers rather than the Nephalim, but keeps to the general narrative of Noah with a few fundamental differences that fit the films agenda.

I do not wish to write a lengthy review of the film on how these differences weave throughout the narrative in order to make theological statements relevant to the biblical account and current affairs. But the importance of understanding the film for what it is, rewritten bible, helps us engage with viewers of the film in an evangelistic way. What the film does portray very well is the sinfulness of man. Even Noah comes to the realisation that he and his family are sinners too. (I am surprised how many Christians do not know that Noah got drunk and was found naked by his sons. It”s not exactly a story we teach in  Sunday  school) The issue of sin leads to other subjects such as justice, mercy, innocence, goodness and love. In particular the film on more than one occasion asks what is just? What an opportunity to declare that the just live by faith. Although the film does not get these points right in many ways, we have an opportunity to explain why because the question is being asked by what people deem in our culture as relevant.

Another concern most Christians had with this film is some disturbing scenes. The film does portray very well how depraved and violent man has become. The film is rated 12 and may offend sensitive viewers; however, it lacks anything overly graphic that may be contain in a 15 or an 18. The film also does not glorify violence. If anything the film wants us to realise how sick violence is. Compare this approach to the indifference towards violence in action films that Christians casually watch. There is a particular scene where Noah and his family are in the ark and they can hear the screaming of those perishing outside. As haunting as that scene is, it really does hit home the coming judgement of God upon our sinful world. There are no sex scenes in the film, which is surprisingly a move away from the biblical account as God flooded the world because of sexual intercourse between fallen angels and women.

I understand many Christian concerns about seeing the film. Can a Christian go and see Noah? Well, I think Christians have the same liberty as those who have previously watched the film and telling Christians not to go. However, I think Christians need to read up on the story of Noah in Genesis and the symbolism and references to Noah in other parts of the Bible. It also wouldn”t hurt to understand how Noah has been interpreted through the “rewritten bible” stories during the Intertestimental period. This will give the Christian the tools to engage with viewers of the film more effectively.

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