Tonight my Old Testament class will be venturing over to a movie theater to watch the movie Noah. Although this particular class’ focus is on the latter prophets, most of us were in the earlier leg of this course, which included reading through the book of Genesis. No matter what, I’m pretty excited about it.
What I have found somewhat fascinating in recent days and weeks with this new movie is the rather polarized social media responses; either people loved it or absolutely hated it. I’m sure there are plenty of voices in between, but they just aren’t loud enough – especially when compared to those who would condemn the movie to the eternal flames of hell. While it might be tempting to chime in on whether the movie is great or terrible, I’d rather take a look at the story that inspired it.
As a way of making this whole experience feel somewhat academic, we were assigned Genesis 6-9 to read prior to class. Honestly, though, I think I would have at least skimmed the story a bit to catch up on “what actually happened,” but it’s probably better that it was assigned reading so that I’d be sure to read it. Nevertheless, there are some interesting things going on with the flood story in the Bible.
It starts off with an odd story about these “sons of God” who had taken human wives and bore these Nephilim characters (who were apparently giants). These Nephilim folks seem important to the story as a whole because then God sees the wickedness of the created world and subsequently laments (6:6-7). Perhaps these giants were rabble-rousers who utilized their size advantage for their own purposes (i.e. taking wives wherever they will)?
And then in God’s instructions to Noah about what to bring onto the ark, there seem to be two different sets of numbers as far as the animals are concerned. In 6:19, “And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark.” Yet in 7:2 it says, “Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals,” which, granted, specifies “clean animals,” which carries sacrifice connotations, but God doesn’t command Noah to sacrifice these animals at any point – Noah does anyway in 8:20, but not because of any command.
Another interesting thing going on is how long the flood actually lasted. 7:17 says, “The flood continued forty days on the earth,” while seven verses later it says, “And the water swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days,” (v. 24). If that’s not confusing, chapter 8 has an odd passage of its own:
“At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the tenth month, the tops of the mountains appeared,” – vv. 3b-5
How could the ark come “to rest on the mountains of Ararat” if the mountain tops hadn’t appeared for another two and a half months? If the Ararat mountains were incredibly taller than most other mountains, then that’d make a little more sense. But wouldn’t the author say the mountain tops appeared before the ark came to rest on them?
Noah’s sending of the birds also seems a little strange: first bird is a raven that “went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth,” (8:7). His second bird was a dove that seems to have gone out three times to check for a dry place to land, but what strikes me as odd is if the raven dried things up, why need to send the dove?
My point with this post is not to nit-pick the Bible, but merely to highlight the difficulty of critiquing a movie in its accuracy of an odd story. I also think this further points to our typical way of approaching the creation stories altogether (with an inherent understanding of “this is how it factually happened”) and how problematic it is to come to an incredibly ancient text with all sorts of expectations or demands even – such things that the text might never have been meant to fulfill in the first place. Bear in mind, Noah’s Ark is a flood story written after other Ancient Near Eastern stories (i.e. Epic of Gilgamesh), which might suggest a different purpose to the biblical account; less about “what actually happened” and perhaps more about ancient Israel establishing themselves as a people with a story with a powerful God at the helm.
So before I even watch the movie, I’m already setting aside any expectations to how accurate the story is to “how it actually happened” and simply allowing myself to enjoy the story of the movie. As I’ve mentioned before, movie writers make intentional changes for the purposes of their story; not to simply regurgitate another’s story verbatim. If we’re irritated by how their version doesn’t fit our mold, then we’re missing out on what their version is trying to say.
For further reading:
“Will Noah Sink or Swim? The Buoyancy of the Latest Bible Film,” Paul N. Anderson, Professor of Biblical and Quaker Studies, George Fox University
 Texts of or related to the Bible; not “doctrinally sound view”