This post is a review of the movie “Noah.” If you have not seen the movie but are planning to see it in the near future, I recommend that you do not read this review. Read it after you have seen the movie. Below I will mention what I liked about the movie and the reason this movie is not a retelling of the biblical story.
Last weekend my wife and I went to see “Noah” the movie. I liked the movie, but my wife did not. As a movie, Noah was a good movie, but as a biblical story, it does not come even close to what the book of Genesis says about Noah and the flood. There are several issues in this movie that do not reflect the biblical narrative.
In her review of the movie, Kathleen Parker lambasts some people whom she calls “literalists” who complain that the movie “isn’t a literal interpretation of the Genesis story.” Because of the complaint expressed by the National Religious Broadcasters, Paramount issued a disclaimer saying that “the movie was ‘inspired’ by the Bible story and is not the Bible story.”
What Kathleen Parker may not know is that many people in our society today do not know the Bible. They believe that what Hollywood presents in movies reflects what the Bible actually says.
This truth was amply demonstrated while I was in line preparing to enter the theater. One woman in line began talking to me and to my wife about the movie. When she realized that I was a professor of Old Testament, she began asking questions about “Noah.” She had read some of the non-biblical things that appear in the movie and she asked me: “Are these things in the Bible?”
People who don’t know the Bible have a tendency to misquote the Bible, misrepresent its content, and misinterpret its teachings. Take for instance what Kathleen Parker wrote. In her attempt at ridiculing what critics are saying about “Noah,” Parker wrote: “Among other criticisms are . . . Noah and his family are vegetarian and demonstrate respect for the Earth’s fragile balance. Pure heresy. Next thing you know, we’ll all be driving Teslas and eating basil burgers.”
But those who know the Genesis story also know that the biblical writers believed that Noah was a vegetarian because the text says that it was only after the flood that humans were allowed to eat meat: “You may eat any moving thing that lives. As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Genesis 9:3).
So, let me say a few words about what is right with “Noah”:
1. “Noah” emphasizes that the Creator was very unhappy with the human condition. The movie presents a realistic view of the consequences of sin. The problem of sin is seen in the corruption of the descendants of Cain and in the condition of the earth. Even Noah believed that he and his family were sinners and that in the end he and all his family must die because of their sinful condition.
2. While Noah and his family were in the Ark, Noah tells how the Creator created heaven and earth and how sin entered into the world. His telling of the story follows the biblical narrative in Genesis chapters 1 and 3.
3. The movie emphasizes that the flood came because of human depravity. The flood is seen as divine judgment upon humanity. The flood is presented as a universal flood that destroyed all living things. The Ark is built in the form of a box, not in the form of a boat as is generally seen in popular literature.
The biggest problem I had with “Noah” is where the movie departs from the biblical text. Granted, in any movie about the Bible, the writers and the director must use some creativity in order to develop the story and bring the characters to life.
In the flood story in Genesis there is no dialogue. Little is said about the characters involved in the story. If the story of Noah is to be told, the writers must develop the story, create a dialogue, and make the characters come alive in the movie.
However, if the story is to follow the original script (the biblical text), then the story must be true to the original script. “Noah” deviates from the original story in many ways. It is here that many people will be led astray, because people who do not read the Bible will believe that these misrepresentations are true to what the Bible says.
What follows is a small list of misrepresentations of the biblical text present in the movie “Noah”:
1. In the movie, Noah, his wife, his three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, Noah’s adopted daughter who became Shem’s wife, and Tubal-Cain entered the Ark. Seven people. Ham was old enough to marry, but he did not have a wife. Ham was just a kid, too young to be married.
But this contradicts what the Bible says: “Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood” (Genesis 7:7). Eight people went into the Ark.
From a chronological perspective, it is possible that Tubal-Cain was alive in the days of Noah. However, the Bible says nothing about Tubal-Cain entering the Ark and surviving the flood. In the movie, Seth’s wife gave birth to two daughters, but this also contradicts what the Bible says: “So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives” (Genesis 8:18). No children were born in the Ark.
2. In the movie, Noah completely misunderstood God’s will. Noah believed that God was planning to destroy all human beings, including his family. In Noah’s view, God was going to bring the Garden of Eden back, but without human beings. So sure was Noah that God would bring humanity to an end that he makes plans for the burial of his family and tried to kill his granddaughters soon after they were born.
But this is not what the Bible says. God told Noah: “I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Genesis 6:18).
God was planning to begin a new humanity with Noah and his family. But the movie also misunderstood God’s intention. At the end of the movie, Ham leaves his family to begin a new life away from them. But, alone? Wherever he goes, he will not be able to find a wife because humanity was destroyed by the flood. And there was no wife for Japheth since he was too young to get married. Noah’s wife believed that the two little girls born in the Ark would eventually become wives to her two sons.
3. The angels who came to help humanity were punished by becoming encased in rocks. These rock people are called “Watchers.” The name is taken from the book of Enoch, where the Watchers were angelic beings sent to earth to help humans. The Watchers help Noah build the Ark and defend him and his family when the followers of Tubal-Cain try to enter the Ark.
4. The place where Noah lived was barren because of the curse God had placed upon the earth. Before Noah begins building the Ark, he goes to see his grandfather Methuselah who gives him a seed that came from the Garden of Eden. When Noah plants the seed, water begins to flow from the ground to water the whole earth, and in an instant, a whole forest appears before Noah. Noah and the Watchers use the wood to build the Ark.
There are a few other things that are not in the Bible, but space and time do not allow me to list all the things where “Noah” and the book of Genesis do not agree.
I do not mind the writers of the movie taking some liberty to develop the story. I do not mind seeing a forest growing before Noah’s eyes. I do not mind Noah and his wife wearing pants. I do not mind the descendants of Cain portrayed as a violent people. I do not even mind listening to a dialogue that probably never was.
What I mind is allowing Tubal-Cain to survive in the Ark when the text clearly says that this is not true. What I mind is depriving Ham and Japheth of their wives, since they are to begin a new humanity after the flood. What I mind is seeing Noah confused about God’s will for his family. In the end Noah becomes a drunk because he believes he failed God.
These misrepresentations of the Bible story are what causes some people to criticize movies like “Noah.” No movie about the Bible can present the heart and soul of the biblical stories. Trying to convey the passion, the emotion, and the feelings of biblical characters is an almost impossible task. “Noah” makes a good attempt but, at times, it fails.
So, “Noah” does not convey a biblical story, but it comes close. If people really want to know what happened with Noah and his family, if they really want to know why God’s judgment came in the form of a flood, they should read the Bible. What I believe “Noah” does is to awaken in people a desire to know what really happened. And they will know what happened if they go to the Bible and read the real story of Noah.
As for me, I liked the movie because it is a movie about a character in the Bible. “Noah” is not true to the Bible, but it is a good movie. I will probably go see the movie a second time.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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