Additional Responses to Aronofsky’s “Noah” (Part I)

At the end of my first reaction to Noah, the movie, I indicated my intent to write two more, the first of which would focus attention on elements of the movie that expanded biblical traditions in ways that I liked (this may require two posts).    It is important at the beginning to emphasize an important point at the beginning that has been at the core of much of the controversy about the movie.  The story in the book of Genesis participates in a large body of tradition about the flood, some of it much older than the Genesis account.  This includes some of the more well known accounts like the story of Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Atrahasis Epic.  It also includes later developments that are part of the reception of the Noah story in Jewish texts outside of the Bible like I Enoch, Jubilees, and Genesis Rabba.  Some of the extra material in the movie comes from this large tradition, and some comes from following the trends within it of expanding stories in order to ask different kinds of questions.  A great discussion of this material and issues surrounding it are on the new website:

Genesis 4:22 presents a character named Tubal-Cain, who is the great-great-great-great grandson of Cain.  Genesis describes him as the first metal-worker, so he represents both Cain’s city-building way of life and a technological approach to the world.  In Genesis both Tubal-Cain and Noah are sons of men named Lamech, though the final form of Genesis implies that these are two different men.  In the movie, Tubal-Cain is a major figure and he and Noah are the two archetypal humans.  Tubal-Cain is a powerful king of an urban civilization that hunts and eats animals, while Noah is a wandering gatherer, who eats only plants.  So, in the Bible and the movie, the Noah-type person is saved from the flood that is meant to destroy the way of life exemplified by Tubal-Cain.  What makes the Tubal-Cain character more interesting in the movie though is that he explains his way of life as a fulfillment of Genesis 1:26-28.  He understands himself as created in the image of God and meant to “have dominion” over creation.  The Noah character in the movie emphasizes his descent from Adam and Eve, embodying the expression in Genesis 2:15 that the purpose of humans is “to till and keep” the earth.

The Noah movie sets these two understandings of the purpose of humanity against each other.  Both Tubal-Cain and Noah live somewhat corrupted versions of these views.  Tubal-Cain and his people eat animals, a practice that ignores the rest of God’s instructions to humans in Genesis 1:29.  Noah may be keeping or taking care of the earth in some sense, but he is not working or tilling the ground, which God sent the humans from the garden to do in Genesis 3:23.

Methusaleh, Noah’s grandfather, has little significance in Genesis, except that he lives longer than any other character.  Genesis 5:27, reports his age at the time of his death as 969 years.  Because Methuselah in 187 when Lamech is born and Lamech is 182 when Noah is born and the flood comes in the 600th year of Noah’s life (182+187+600= 969) Genesis has Methuselah die in the year of the flood, though it does not say explicitly that he died in the flood.  The movie develops Methuselah into a wise and powerful character, resembling Merlin, Gandalf, or Dumbledore.  Members of Noah’s family seek his help and advice, and his healing powers allow Noah’s adopted daughter, Ila, to perpetuate the human race.  The movie makes explicit that at which the Bible only hints, though, and Methuselah drowns in the flood along with the descendants of Cain.  In the wider biblical tradition, Methuselah’s father, Enoch is a central figure, and in I Enoch 83, Enoch tells Methuselah about the flood and other mysteries, so the idea that Methuselah had secret knowledge is not created by the movie.  The movie has expanded and interpreted ancient traditions surrounding the Genesis flood story.


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