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April 2, 2014 1:26 am

‘Noah’ Distorts the Bible, But Has a Powerful Message

avatar by Naftali Citron

Production of the set for Aronofsky's "Noah" film. Photo: @DarrenAronofsky.

Because a movie needs to tell a good story, the new film ‘Noah’ takes an old story and applies a Medrash (Jewish commentary)-Hollywood spin to it to make a new point.

Noah, played by Russell Crowe, believes that beyond those people surviving the flood, human life will not continue afterwards. So when he hears his son’s girlfriend is pregnant, he promises he will kill the child if it’s a girl. This strange twist seems to be borrowed from the later biblical story of Abraham’s receiving a divine vision to offer up his son Isaac.

There is also the villain, the war-lord Tuval Kain, who, like the Medrash about Og, King of Bashan, manages to save himself by holding on to the ark. Tuval Kain likes to say that man was created in the image of G-d to justify a self-centered philosophy of take-what-you-can, since G-d has forsaken humankind and put the power into man’s hands.

Noah’s conflict with his son Cham occurs when Cham lays a trap for Noah to be ambushed by Tuval Kain as revenge against his father for not allowing him to bring a woman onto the ark.

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The Divine communication to Noah that G-d will send a flood and that Noah should build an ark comes in the form of a dream and a psychedelic-induced vision when he visits his grandfather. While Noah initially sees a vision of a flood and then rebirth, at some later point he seems to grow disgusted with humanity, from which Noah concludes that G-d has given up and that he and his family will be the last human survivors on earth with no heirs.

This invented part of the story is troubling because it makes Noah into an antihero. What could be the reason to do this? The obvious answer is that it’s an adaptation of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. While mixing up the two stories may be a mistake, it is an indictment of the binding of Isaac, a story to which the Medrash adds layers of complication. Abraham received a blurry prophecy, which he could have ignored; in addition, the new prophecy contradicted an earlier vision in which he was told that Isaac would continue his line. Sarah was horrified at what Abraham had done and died of grief.

Noah raises the issue of religious martyrdom and its inherent pitfalls. It makes you think and wonder about how leaders who ask for sacrifice need to be questioned. While Noah mixes and matches Medrash and Biblical stories and figures at its whim, it ultimately delivers.

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