Seeing how money talks »« Dueling car commercials

The strange elements of the Noah story

Now that the film Noah has been released and been reviewed, more elements of the film version of the story are known and I found it interesting that the filmmaker Darren Aronofsky seems to have brought to the fore some odd aspects of the biblical story that are usually glossed over so that most people are ignorant of them.

The main story is found in the book of Genesis chapters 6 through 9. The familiar Adam and Eve story takes the first four chapters and then in chapter five the Bible zips through the genealogy until it gets to Noah and then the going gets weird.

When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. [Genesis 6: 1-4]

Who were these Nephilim? And what of these ‘heroes of old’ and ‘men of renown’ who apparently were the off-spring of ‘sons of God’ who were commandeering any beautiful woman they desired and having children with them? What kind of hybrid genetic structure did they have? And what happened to them subsequently? The Bible is strangely silent and there is only one further mention (in Numbers 13:33) where some scouts tell Moses “We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” So they were still being remembered in Moses’ time as being giants. Apparently Aronofsky has taken some liberties and interpreted them as giant six-armed rock people who not only help Noah build the Ark but also fight off the locals who were trying to get a free ride on the boat.

Then there is the perennial biblical problem of incest. In the Bible, the Ark occupants were Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives. Since they were the ones who had to populate the Earth, there had to be some incest going on, at least among cousins. But Aronofsky has made it worse. He has dispensed with the three daughters-in-law and introduced a young woman Ila (played by Emma Watson) who is adopted by Noah as a daughter. She now has to bear the full burden of propagating the species after the flood, making the incest problem even worse. And what about the rock giants? What happened to them after the flood?

Another popular belief is that there were only two of each kind of animal in the Ark. Actually, Noah’s god seems to be a bit confused, like an annoying homeowner who keeps changing their mind and creating headaches for the contractor.

First, in Genesis 6:19-20, god tells Noah “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.” This is what everyone remembers.

But then in Genesis 7:2-3, god distinguishes between those animals that are ‘clean’ (does that mean kosher?) and unclean and says, “Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.”

To cap off the weirdness, we are told that after the flood is over, Noah goes on a major bender and falls asleep exposing himself. He then gets ticked off with one son Ham (a strangely non-kosher name) for seeing him naked and curses Ham’s son (Genesis 9:20-24). Apart from the unfairness of cursing Ham’s son who seems totally innocent, I can’t image that within the confines of the Ark, there was much privacy to begin with. So why the fuss?

I can see why religious people are annoyed with the film although it seems to be doing well at the box office. Changing Noah’s family structure would be a big problem for biblical literalists and the introduction of the rock giants as the Nephilim seems a bit of a stretch and more of a deus ex machina plot device.

I have not decided if I will see the film. I definitely won’t see the film in theaters but may watch it when it comes out on DVD. From what I have read, Aronofsky seems to have done what I thought he would do, and that is to make the people who were left out of the Ark to drown into villainous types so that their deaths are seen as somehow deserved, so that god is not portrayed as a total monster.

For those who want to read more about the film and don’t mind spoilers, see here and here.

Comments

  1. raven says

    The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. [Genesis 6: 1-4]

    1. According to some fundie xian mythology, the Nephilim were the product of fallen angles mating with human women. They were evil and the reason god had to destroy the earth’s biosphere and almost all people.

    The bible text doesn’t say this though. Much of what fundies believe isn’t found in the bible. They just make it up as they go along. Unlike the real writers of the bible who…made it all up as they went along.

    One could probably justify calling the sons of god, angels but the Nephilim were heroes.

    2.

    “Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.”

    This is an anachronism. The kosher clean versus unclean animals were not invented until the later books of the bible, the Torah of Moses. It’s obvious these stories were written long after they were supposed to take place.

    PS The six armed rock people could be meant as Hindu gods or spirits. IIRC, multi-arm pair humans are part of Hindu iconography.

  2. raven says

    Needless to say the Big Boat Genocide was also a near total failure.

    1. Noah was supposed to save all the animals. We now know that 99% of all animals are extinct, including all the nonavian dinosaurs. We miss our dinosaurs. This is despite heavy supernatural support, with god poofing miracles whenever the plot bogged down in silliness.

    2. And we were the same old humans we always were. God’s plan B was to send himself down as jesus to get killed. That didn’t work very well either.

    3. God’s plan C is to show up Any Day Now and kill 7 billion people and destroy the earth. That will work sort of. No humans, no earth, no problem. God’s solutions for problems he made always involve murder or mass murder.

    Not only is the fundie xian god a moral monster, he is incompetent.

  3. says

    Biblical scholars who look at the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures have found four, quite distinct, narrative collections. This particular scholarship is known as the documentary hypothesis. Genesis is largely a fusion of the older J narrative (marked by its use of YHVH for God; the J comes from the name’s Latin representation, Jehovah) and the newer P narrative (from Priestly.) This is why so many of the stories in Genesis have two versions, such as two creation stories and two flood narratives. Stories with only a single version derive from one of these sources, or from a third source named E.

    Which all simply demonstrates the idiocy of treating the Bible as literally true.

  4. Chiroptera says

    You know what would have been a good addition to the movie? Depicting the sky as a solid dome and showing God opening the windows to allow the rain to pour onto the earth.

  5. says

    Not only is the fundie xian god a moral monster, he is incompetent.

    And he can’t even aim any of his awesome destructive power. Seriously, this guy can’t even hit the broadside of a decadent king’s lavish palace, let alone some ordinary shmoe’s barn.

    If God wanted to exterminate most humans and leave other species intact, a few major crop failures would have done the trick, with those Nephilim ass-kickers guarding the least sinful humans and their grain silos.

    Or, better yet, he could have just struck down all evil kings and officials and loudly said “Replace those assholes with better rulers who follow my Commandments!” (Speaking of which, did God publish those Commandments before or after he wiped out most of his treasured creatures for not obeying them?)

  6. Mobius says

    My neighbor was telling me about the Noah movie last night and stated how inaccurate it was historically. She said, after all, there was no rain before Da Flud.

    Yeah, that statement was just too much of Da Stoopid for me.

  7. jimmyfromchicago says

    Wouldn’t the Nephilim (assuming that their depiction as six-armed rock men is Aronofsky’s alone) be killed in the flood? Why would they still be hanging around Sinai at the supposed time of the Exodus?

    Also, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that “they were still being remembered in Moses’ time as being giants. ” Outside of the Exodus account, there is no evidence of significant numbers of Israelites in Egypt during the New Kingdom period, let alone of their wholesale expulsion or departure or of a Moses figure.

  8. Jockaira says

    .

    For those who want to read more about the film and don’t mind spoilers…

    .
    Lemme see her…God drenches the planet with rainwater, kills every living being thereon except for a small coterie of his favorites hanging on desperately in a home-made boat, all that rainwater finally drains away and the boat is left teetering on a mountaintop, and after a few generations of incestuous coupling the earth is repopulated with more sinful people and animals ready for another go at pleasing Mr. Impossible-To-Please.
    .
    Did I miss anything…like Tinker Bell and The Big Bad Wolf?
    .
    Spoilerz ‘R Us!

  9. weatherwax says

    “He then gets ticked off with one son Ham (a strangely non-kosher name) for seeing him naked and curses Ham’s son (Genesis 9:20-24).”

    You forgot to mention Ham and all his descendants were stained black as a sign of their curse, justifying Christians brutalizing Africans for hundreds of years.

  10. A Masked Avenger says

    Gregory, #4:

    Biblical scholars who look at the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures have found four, quite distinct, narrative collections.

    Currently scholars generally reject the full JEDP version of the documentary hypothesis, but they have an overwhelming consensus that more than one textual tradition was combined to produce the pentateuch. That there are at least two is fairly obvious, given how many stories occur in pairs–two flood stories, two creation stories, two stories of the ten commandments, etc.

    There was also an interesting experiment in machine learning in which a computer classified sections of the pentateuch based on synonym choices. It was mostly objective: humans tweaked the lists of synonyms, and some other settings. And it basically agreed with the P / non-P division in the documentary hypothesis.

    Mano,

    Apart from the unfairness of cursing Ham’s son who seems totally innocent, I can’t image that within the confines of the Ark, there was much privacy to begin with. So why the fuss?

    Scholars–most of whom are not believers–do have answers to some of those questions. Which doesn’t therefore imply that the Bible is other than a collection of myths. But they were myths set in a particular cultural context, that served a particular purpose for the original audience (much of it anti-Babylonian propaganda).

    Not being one of those scholars, I can’t answer the question “why all the fuss,” but it seems clear enough that the iron age II Mesopotamian culture attached significance to parental “nakedness,” which appears to be more an issue of honor than literal nudity–for example, marrying an aunt was classed as “exposing the nakedness” of the parent. In addition to the nudity itself, there’s the humiliation associated with seeing Noah falling-down drunk, and the shame from going around telling people about it. Although Noah himself is mythical, his (and God’s, for that matter) behavior is indicative of the ambient culture.

    The anti-Babylonian aspect is that in Gilgamesh, Enlil exterminated mankind because they were noisy and disturbed his sleep. In Genesis, the Earth was “filled with violence,” etc.. Adequate reason to exterminate the species? No. But… better than gunning everyone down because their loud party kept you awake. See? We’re better than our Babylonian conquerors!

  11. grendelsfather says

    I always thought that the part about the ‘sons of God’ referred to some of the 70 children (all sons?) that Yaweh had with his wife Asherah, and this mention was one of several places that later writers missed when they tried to purge any trace of the missus from earlier stories. However, I am not a biblical scholar and this is just my own assumption.

  12. weatherwax says

    #11 grendelsfather: Actually I believe the ‘sons of God’ refers to the sons of El Elyon, one of whom was Yahweh.

  13. weatherwax says

    “To cap off the weirdness, we are told that after the flood is over, Noah goes on a major bender and falls asleep exposing himself. He then gets ticked off with one son Ham (a strangely non-kosher name) for seeing him naked and curses Ham’s son (Genesis 9:20-24). Apart from the unfairness of cursing Ham’s son who seems totally innocent, I can’t image that within the confines of the Ark, there was much privacy to begin with. So why the fuss?”

    One of the theories I’ve heard from Dr Robert Price is that the story is a watered down version of the Greek legend of Uranus and Kronos. Kronos castrated his father, Uranus, and thus overthrew him and seized the throne.

    So according to the theory, the original version of the myth has Ham discovering his father passed out and naked, and either attempting to castrate him, or actually succeeding, and is cursed by Noah in revenge.

  14. Matt G says

    Why did all the animals need to be saved? Why not kill off the bad people by, you know, killing them? That Jehovah – always calling attention to himself by going over the top. Such a drama queen.

  15. anat says

    weatherwax, some common Jewish readings are that Ham either castrated his father (because 2 siblings were enough people with whom to split the inheritance of the entire planet) or raped him (because revealing nakedness is a biblical euphemism for intercourse).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>