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So What’s Noah with You?

By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

Noah is a mighty motion picture. And so too was Noah, or whoever the real life person or personages, and his/her/their experiences, upon whom the various myths and legends were based, a mighty man. There are at least 500 Flood legends/myths in cultures around the world. As for the broader subject of creation legends/myths, there are a ton of those too. Noah the movie offers a variation on both the Creation story and Flood story that is told in the Judeo-Christian Bible. Wikipedia sums the latter up pretty neatly:

 “The Book of Genesis (from the Latin Vulgate, in turn borrowed or transliterated  from Greek Hebrew: “In [the] beginning”) is the first book of the Hebrew Bible  (the Tanakh) and the Christian Old Testament. [1]

“The basic narrative expresses the central theme: God creates the world (along  with creating the first man and woman) and appoints man as his regent, but man  proves disobedient and God destroys his world through the Flood. The new post- Flood world is equally corrupt, but God does not destroy it, instead calling one  man, Abraham, to be the seed of its salvation. At God’s command Abraham  descends from his home into the land of Canaan, given to him by God, where he  dwells as a sojourner, as does his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Jacob’s name  is changed to Israel, and through the agency of his son Joseph, the children of  Israel descend into Egypt, 70 people in all with their households, and God  promises them a future of greatness. Genesis ends with Israel in Egypt, ready for  the coming of Moses and the Exodus. The narrative is punctuated by a series of  covenants with God, successively narrowing in scope from all mankind (the  covenant with Noah) to a special relationship with one people alone (Abraham  and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob). [2]”

The movie is powerful stuff, with a fine acting performance in the lead role by the hyper-versatile Russell Crowe. It is to my taste a bit over-long, but it has phenomenal special effects and settings (apparently many of them in Iceland) and for those reasons alone is well-worth seeing (although at this juncture you will likely have to wait until it comes out on Blue-Tooth). But of course it is the story that is the real grabber and raiser-of-controversy.

Noah comes along fairly early in Genesis and does in the film too, but not before there are some notable diversions from the usual modern telling, which do have some of the Christian Right rather upset. The “Bible,” as they are fond of telling us, is the “inerrant word of God.” That presents a problem right off, for one has to wonder exactly which version of the Bible are they talking about. The one, so I am told, usually referred to is the one that is usually referred to as the “King James Version.”

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The problem with it as the “inerrant word of God” is that it was actually written, at the behest of the nobles and churchmen who, following the death of Elizabeth I, accepted James VI of Scotland as her successor to the throne, as James I of England, by a committee. After the religious wars in England in the 16th century, won by the protestant Church of England, the English ruling class wanted to make sure that such wars would not return. And so for one thing, 47 theologians and scholars were commissioned to create the translation that would become the standard book for the Church of England (of which, conveniently the Monarch was the Head, and still is, for that matter). It came to be known as the ” King James Version.”

47 men with a collective ear for “God’s word?” Hmmm. And of course there were many other translations that had been done over the centuries from the original Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin text, the first in English having been done about a century earlier by one William Tyndale. Couldn’t his, or any of the others for that matter, have been the “inerrant word of God?” Ah well, we’ll never know, will we?

Which leads us to another irritant for the Christian Right. Noah, when referring to the higher power, uses the term “Creator,” rather than “God.” It happens that as an atheist, I am totally happy with Noah’s use of that term, as I am with its appearance in the US Declaration of Independence. As far as I am concerned, the creator of us all is the combination of the laws of chemistry, physics, and biology which first produced the Universe, then our Solar system, and eventually, through the Laws of Evolution, us. Could the movie Noah have meant the same thing? Well, hey, we’ll never know, but he could have.

The BIG one is of course that the movie’s Cain is not just a simply bad famer guy who somehow passes down evil to future human generations. He is a REALLY bad guy who creates something akin to industrial-destructive-capitalism which becomes the scourge of the Earth (sound familiar?) And the Flood, by golly, is not simply the Creator’s punishment for humans being bad people. It is God’s punishment specifically for what Cain had created. This one really has the Right bent out of shape. For in the movie Cain’s creation was well on its way to destroying all of the Creator’s creations, including all of the other animals and the plants as well. And the Creator didn’t like that. (For another approach to the “the Creator is unhappy” story, see an earlier OpEdNews column of mine).

And so he, she, it or they, ordered the deluge, of which Noah was warned and for which he built a very (as in very, very) large lifeboat, for yes, his family and as many other species, plant and animal, that could be crammed on board. The results of the depredations of Cain and his industrial/capitalist successors sounds just like those predicted for anthropogenic global warming, which is well on its way to creating The Sixth Extinction. That of course, is a message that the Right, well beyond the Christian Right, just doesn’t like one bit.

But hey, we know that the Creation story in whichever version of the Judeo-Christian Bible one happens to subscribe to, is just one of hundreds of them. And the Flood story in the same book is just one of hundreds too. So who indeed is to say that the telling in this movie’s version of the Creation/Noah story is not the correct one?

 

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