Noah the Movie – A Missed Opportunity, part one
By Kevin J. Todeschi
Having been an Ark enthusiast for more than 30 years, I had some measure of anticipation when I first heard about the recent Noah movie: Would the movie capture some of the archetypal significance that resulted in Flood Stories for nearly every culture and civilization on the planet? Would it bring together the tales from various scholarly traditions? Would it explain unexplained portions of the Genesis account? Would it follow some of the same threads of information that had so inspired me? And so on. Unfortunately, I have to say that five minutes into the movie any anticipation I had went right out the window, as the film I watched had absolutely no bearing on the Noah I have come to know.
Wikipedia:12th century Venetian mosaic
depiction of Noah sending the dove
As background information, I was first inspired by the Noah story while reading the Genesis account and realizing two things that had never been pointed out to me: Methuselah was Noah’s grandfather, and the scriptural timing for each individual’s respective lifespan suggested that Methuselah had died during the Flood. My passion for the story was further enhanced while reading an Edgar Cayce life reading (those readings dealing with reincarnation) that was given to a 28-year-old woman in 1944, when Cayce stated: “What an unusual record—and one of those who might be termed as physically the mothers of the world! For the entity was one of those in the ark.” (3653-1)
Eventually I was led to Violet Cummings’ book that dealt with her husband’s search for the Ark: Noah’s Ark: Fact or Fable? And I came to understand that since 1840 alone there have been more than 20 recorded sightings of Noah’s craft by approximately 200 people. My enthusiasm for the story grew, and I scoured dozens of resources. I eventually wrote my master’s thesis on the topic of “The Ark Myth: Biblical, Rabbinical, and Transpersonal,” (1988), and in time my novel, The Rest of the Noah Story (2010), pulling together all that I had discovered through many decades of research and study. Unfortunately for today’s movie goers, the producers didn’t even get the Genesis account correct.
The movie contains giant rock creatures (similar to the Ents, large tree creatures in Lord of the Rings or the rock monster in Galaxy Quest—I am not making this up)! From the movie’s perspective, only Shem has a wife aboard, which contradicts the Genesis account: “In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark.” (Genesis 7:13) Causing quite a bit of frustration for at least one of Noah’s other sons. There is also an evil stowaway onboard, Tubal-cain, who in the Bible is Noah’s cousin and a maker of iron and brass (Genesis 4:22). The movie also has Noah convinced that his mission is to help God put an end to humankind, at one point coming to the brink of almost killing his granddaughters so that no further wombs will be available to birth humankind.
There is a wealth of rabbinical wisdom and inspiration that the movie also overlooks or never knew of to begin with. Rather than having a vision of Enoch (a biblical forefather that never died but was “taken up” by God [Genesis 5:24]), Noah has a crazed dream. Rather than drawing upon some of the rabbinical thought as to why Ham deserted his family and became a wanderer and the eventual father of slaves, the movie version portrayed him as mad at his dad for allowing his girlfriend to die in a mob stampede. The list goes on and on.
Wikipedia: Noah's Sacrifice
by Daniel Maclise
Perhaps more than any other Biblical tale, the story of Noah, his family, the Ark, and the Flood are known by individuals all over the world. A conservative estimate is that more than 1.5 billion of the earth’s inhabitants are familiar with the tale! However, the story of Noah is not the only known Flood Tradition. In fact, the “Epic of Gilgamesh” from Babylonian tablets dates back to the 7th Century B.C. and is also widely known.
This story, in essential detail, can be recited by countless individuals around the world. What is not so well known is the fact that Genesis contains not one account of the flood story but two! Modern religious scholarship has isolated at least three major sources for the Book of Genesis: the “J source,” the “P source,” and the “E source,” standing for Jehovah, the Priestly document, and Elohim, respectively. It is the J source and the P source which each have their own account of the Flood.
Originally, the different sources of Genesis were discovered because of the way in which the sources referred to God. The J source uses only the name “Yahweh” (Lord) when referring to God; the P source uses the names “Elohim” (God) and “El Shaddai” (God Almighty), and the E source uses both “Yahweh and “Elohim.” When the Bible was being compiled (no, it did not fall from the sky in one piece), it was the job of a “redactor” to compile all major sources together into one story, but in several instances it is easy to see items in the Noah story that were overlooked by the redactor. Examples: 1) each account has a different number of animals that Noah was instructed to take into the Ark, and 2) each account has a different length of time for the Flood itself.
Total number of animals: Seven pairs of birds and “clean” animals, and one pair of unclean (Genesis 7:2). Essentially a “clean animal” is one which chews a cud and has a divided hoof (Leviticus 7:1-11); a clean animal never eats other animals.
Total length of Flood: The rain lasted 40 days and 40 nights and the water evaporated after three seven-day intervals of Noah releasing the dove out of the Ark to see if it was safe. Total = 61 days.
Regardless of whether or not we believe the Flood story, it is an archetype, because it is a part of the human experience all over the world. More than 200 “Flood Stories” are scattered throughout the various cultures and continents on the planet. The story has meaning across time and traditions and, as an archetype, is a symbol that deeply touches some aspect of human experience. What this means is that over and above any possible literal truth, the Ark can be seen as a symbolic representation of transformation and change, because the ship’s occupants underwent a journey over which they had no control and yet somehow ended up at a higher level of awareness because of their catastrophic experience. In most of these accounts, legend describes how a family survives a deluge of enormous proportions. Prior to the disaster, the family generally pulls together everything that is part of their world (such as the animals in the story of Noah described in Genesis) and finds refuge in a craft or a ship in which they can ride out the storm. Oftentimes, the family has no control over their journey for the ship is inundated from above and below and they are forced to simply ride out the storm. At the end of the flood, the craft generally finds higher and stable ground and the occupants can disembark and begin their lives anew. Everything that was a part of their old world is now a part of their new (e.g., the animals get off the Ark as well). The difference is that now all of the ship’s occupants find themselves upon higher ground.
Because so much of the today’s world finds itself in the midst of transformation and change, this archetype has resurfaced. However, take my advice—skip the movie and read the Genesis account.
Kevin J. Todeschi is the Executive Director and CEO of Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E. and Atlantic University. His is the author of twenty-five books, including Edgar Cayce on the Akashic Records and The Rest of the Noah Story.