I made a big mistake as I was deciding to go see the movie Noah. As far as I can tell, most Christians are making the same mistake. The mistake is that when I went to go see a movie about Noah I assumed that it was a story out of the Bible. I assumed, as many did, that the writers sat down with the Bible and expanded and adapted the story to make it into a movie. Many Christians are in an uproar about the creative liberties that the writers and the director took in making this move. After all, this movie looks nothing like the Bible story.
Here is what you need to understand: the Bible was not the only source material for this movie. In fact, I do not think that the Bible was even the primary source material for this movie. We Christians assumed that it was. We are still living as if Christendom is the norm. We are still living as if the world thinks the Bible is important. It doesn’t.
Luckily for me, I read THIS ARTICLE by Dr. Brian Mattson right before the movie started. In it, he explains that director Darren Aronofsky is an atheist and a humanist. He does not believe in God and believe that human beings made God up. The article argues that Aronofsky used other versions of the Noah mythology in writing the moving. Most Christians would probably be surprised that there are other Noah stories, but there are. Many Bible stories have been written from different value systems and world views over the years.
To be clear, not everyone agrees with Mattson’s views. It was particularly critiqued in THIS ARTICLE by Peter Chattaway. He claims that Mattson’s conclusion were off base. Interestingly, in his critique he also shares that director Darren Aronofsky admitted to using these other source materials for the movie. In THIS ARTICLE, writer and filmmaker Brian Godawa disagrees with Chattaway’s arguments and agrees with Mattson. Mattson has also done some follow up pieces. I find Mattson’s views very compelling. Links to this entire discussion can be found below.
Here are some elements from the movie that are found in these other source materials:
-God is called “Creator,” never God, and is a vague and distant figure.
-Adam and Eve are shiny and spiritual beings before the fall and more physical beings after the fall.
-The snake skin is a symbol of blessing as if the serpent is a blessing to human beings.
-Much of the movie happens in a Zorah mine. Zorah is an important text in Kabbalah that has several of the details listed here.
-The watchers are modeled after an idea of lesser beings that are divine but trapped in physical form.
-The names of three watchers (Semyaza, Magog, and Rameel) are demons in Kabbalah and in 1 Enoch.
-The family histories of Cain and Seth are based on some of these other writings.
-The saving of Noah’s family is Noah’s choice instead of God’s grace.
-Noah’s higher level of knowledge and understanding ends up being the covenant that is given in Noah’s words and confirmed by “the Creator” with the rainbow instead of being God’s initiated covenant.
-The rainbow is a circle instead of a bow in the sky. This is Kabbalah symbolism instead of Christian one.
These stories all come out of a philosophical and religious family tree that includes several different subsets. This can get technical and tedious and is, frankly, a bit over my head. Still, it is helpful to understand it, even in my very large brushstrokes.
The big understanding is that there is a spectrum or scale on which all things fall. To one extreme is the good and to the other extreme is the bad. Generally, the more spiritual something is the more “good” it is and the more physical something is the more “bad” it is. The goal then is to live at a more spiritual level. This is often found by getting higher or secret knowledge and by denying the physical world in favor of the spiritual world.
These beliefs have popped up throughout history with a great deal of variance and nuance. Around the time of Jesus, this general worldview was held in the Middle East by a faith called Zoroastrianism. In the Greco-Roman world this worldview was a philosophy called Gnosticism and is still most often referred to by this term. Jewish mystics that held this view these general ideas would later be put under the category of Kabbalah. Gnostic thought has been growing in the West in recent years with the growing popularity of the Gnostic Gospels. These are book written primarily after the New Testament authors which portray Jesus in light of this belief system. Most notable among these is probably the Gospel of Thomas.
It is especially to Kabbalah that the movie Noah owes its inspiration. The movie is full of (I wanted to say “flooded with”) these images and beliefs, but two examples suffice. The “Watchers” are cursed to have physical form and, when they are forgiven by “the Creator” they can return to their physical form. Also, Adam and Eve are more spiritual beings before the fall and become more physical as a result of the fall.
Having taught Bible studies and talked to many church people, I believe that these Gnostic beliefs are gaining popularity in the church today. How many Christians would agree to some kind of belief that the flesh is bad and the spirit is good? They say, “Someday I am going to leave this shell behind and the real me will be with the Lord.” Many Christians have reviewed this movie favorably and said that the movie, even with a lot of creative license, has captured the basic elements of the Bible story of Noah.
The reality, however, is that this belief system and worldview is not Biblical. In fact, it is an anit-Biblical. Much of Paul’s writing is directly against this idea in the Roman world. Examples abound, but I will stick here only with the book of First Corinthians. The church at Corinth has gotten an influx of Gnostic ideas since Paul began the church. Paul writes to combat these ideas as being unChristian. For Paul, there is not secret knowledge. Paul did not come with loft speech or wisdom; he simply preached Christ crucified (2:1-2). Paul then using gnostic language to say that the only higher or secret knowledge is Jesus revealed in the Spirit (2:6-12). Gnosticism also destroys ethics, because for Paul what happens in your and to your body matters deeply to God. Apparently the Corinthians were trying to argue that it does not matter what a person does with their body. Paul disagrees (6:12-20). Paul also battles the Gnosticism plaguing the church at Corinth because it undermines the bodily resurrection, without which our preaching and faith is in vain (15:14). Our bodies, too, will be resurrected (15:20), though their form will be a mystery (15:35-49).
The Biblical understanding is that God made you as a body and a spirit. Both were broken in the fall and therefore both must be fixed by the saving work of Jesus. If your body does not matter, then the saving work of Jesus is diminished. It would be as if Jesus is powerful enough to save your spirit but not your body. Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows that He makes perfect not only our spirits but our bodies too.
I admit, there were some neat things about the movie Noah. It was neat to see the animals on the ark. It was intriguing to consider what this might have been like for Noah and his family. It also showed the reality of the event for all the other people who were not saved. The movie showed (and you heard) the people drowning, which never seems to make the children’s songs. (Imagine- “♪♪The rains came down and the bodies floated up…♪♪”) That was difficult to watch but is part of the story. The “Watcher” characters were not Biblical but were pretty cool.
After all this, however, as a pastor, I cannot recommend Noah. I understand the logic of many who are recommending this movie on the basis that we want to support Biblical movies so Hollywood will make more in the future. However, this is not a Biblical movie. It is not a Christian movie. The worldview is, in fact, an anti-Christian one. It is sad that so many Christians seem blind to this reality.
See it if you want to. I do not regret seeing it. Noah was an ok movie with good effects and some good acting. Just don’t get mad when it does not line up with the Bible. It was not meant to. And please, oh please, don’t go around telling other people that it is a Christian movie.
Dr. Brian Mattson’s Article on
Peter T. Chattaway’s response to Brian Mattson where he says that Noah is not gnostic but also affirms that he interviewed director Darren Aronofsky and Aronofsky confessed to using gnostic sources.
Brian Godawa writes two posts about this issue from the perspective of a Christian writer and filmmaker. He affirms Mattson’s views while disagreeing with Chattaway.