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Not your father's Noah

The Darren Aronofsky film Noah, starring Russell Crowe, has taken a beating by evangelicals and audiences for not strictly adhering to the biblical narrative. But while the fallen angel rock monsters may have been a little over the top, the movie is no more biblically inaccurate than many of the beloved movies watched year after year by millions during the Easter and Christmas holiday seasons, and accepted as gospel truth.

For example, The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston as Moses contains not merely trivial, but significant variations from the telling of the Exodus story in the Bible. There is no reference in the Bible that Moses was considered as a potential successor for the pharaoh. Indeed, that is not only biblically inaccurate, but as historically absurd as the rock monsters in Noah. There would have been no power struggle for the throne. The Egyptians were so preoccupied with royal blood lines that brothers and sisters were cultivated to marry.

Another criticism of the movie Noah was that it pushed a modern social agenda, in particular environmentalism. But then, so did The Ten Commandments. Created in the early days of the Cold War, the 1956 film stresses that the purpose of the Exodus was to establish freedom among men. Not according to the Bible, where the Lord hardens the pharaoh's heart to demonstrate His power. In fact, the books of Moses are full of instructions on how slaves--servants of the Hebrews themselves--should be treated.

It is somewhat ironical, and telling of human nature, that Noah has been excoriated by churches that for decades showed The Ten Commandments as a fund raiser.

As Jonathan Merritt notes in his excellent article Why the 'Biblical Accuracy' Double Standard With 'Noah'?:

Unlike these other films, Noah was never intended to be a heavy-handed evangelistic tool, but rather good art. And I’m sorry to say that few evangelicals today have an eye, ear, or stomach for such things. Not much has changed since the late Francis Schaeffer wrote in Art and the Bible, “I am afraid that as evangelicals, we think that a work of art only has value if we reduce it to a tract.”

In order to engage with Noah, Christians must recognize that artistic liberties are inevitable whenever a story is transferred from one medium to another. What Aronofsky has done is similar to Rembrandt inserting himself into The Raising of the Cross. The Bible obviously doesn’t mention Rembrandt lifting the cross with the executioners more than a millennium earlier, but the artist was making a deeper point.

Translating stories and truths across time and mediums is, at best, an inexact art. One can be certain that at the time the story of Noah was put on parchment, there were many who had originally heard the story on their grandfather's knee as part of an oral tradition who were disappointed with the written results.