Noah

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
First-time Visitors: Please visit Site Map and Disclaimer. Use "Back" to return here.


The Religious Right well and truly has its knickers tied in a knot over Noah. While Noah isn't a science film by any stretch of the imagination, even compared to 2012 or Day After Tomorrow, the responses to it demonstrate the same kind of irrationality we see directed at evolution or climate change.

You know the story. In this version, the earth has been blighted and devastated by human greed and negligence, and Noah has a dream of the earth being destroyed by water. He visits his grandfather, Methuselah, who is living in a cave somewhat safely out of reach of human depredations. Methuselah assures Noah that God will speak to him in words he can understand. Noah realizes he must build an ark. (Pause to remember Bill Cosby's "Noah" routine, where he asks "What's an ark?")

Methuselah gives Noah a seed from Eden. Noah plants it, and a spring gushes forth. As the water flows over the barren land, life springs up in its wake, and animals begin following the water back to the source.

Also living on the earth are fallen angels, presumably the Biblical Nephilim, who disobeyed God and were encased in rock as punishment. They are decidedly unfriendly to humans, but Noah explains his mission and they say "We will help this man." The newly grown forests around the spring provide raw materials and the fallen angels do most of the heavy lifting. When the ark is completed, birds, beasts and crawling things swarm aboard. The bird and beast scenes are wonderful, the crawling things, well, ya gotta like snakes.

The king of the human civilization, Tubal-Cain, leads his followers in an attack on the ark as the rains begin to fall. The fallen angels defend the ark, and as each falls in battle, it is released, redeemed, to return to heaven. Tubal-Cain sneaks aboard the ark. Meanwhile Ham, one of Noah's sons, develops a deep hatred of Noah for refusing to help him save a girl from the Flood.

Up to this point, the film has been brilliant, creative, and powerful. Once aboard the ark, things get weird. Noah goes full bore bat-guano crazy and becomes convinced his mission is to save a remnant of innocent animals to repopulate the earth, while letting the human race die out. So when he discovers that Shem's lover is pregnant, he swears to kill the child if it's a girl. Well, you need some sort of dramatic conflict. There are only so many times you can sing "99 wineskins of wine on the wall" while waiting out the flood.

While on the ark, Noah recounts the story of creation to his family, accompanied by a remarkably scientifically accurate visualization. Adam and Eve are shown in the Garden of Eden, glowing. This bit was heartily ridiculed by some of the film's haters, but as a way of visualizing their fall from grace, it's very effective. Unfortunately, the serpent looks more like the GEICO gecko than a figure of evil.

Meanwhile Ham discovers Tubal-Cain aboard the ark. Tubal-Cain has been subsisting on some of the animals on the ark, presumably rendering those species extinct. Eventually Tubal-Cain tries to take over the ark and attacks Noah, but Ham kills him. Tubal-Cain's last words to Ham are "Now you are a man," almost as if to say "That's my boy." Shem's lover gives birth to twin girls, but Noah can't go through with killing them. The ark smashes into a rock and after the waters go down, we see Noah and his family in a shelter built from scavenged timbers.

Things in Noah that Directly Contradict the Bible

Noah's Father

In the film, Noah is a small child when he and his father are overtaken by other human marauders, who kill his father. In the Bible (all quotes from the New International Version):

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah and said, "He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed." 30 After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. 31 Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5: 28-31)

So Noah was 595 years old when Lamech died. Not a small child. Probably well into puberty.

No Wives for Noah's Sons?

In the film, only Shem has a wife. Ham's lack of a wife, and Noah's refusal to help him save a girl who could become his wife, is a source of hatred between him and Noah. In the Bible:

18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. (Genesis 6:18) And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. (Genesis 7:7) 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 "Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives." (Genesis 8:15-16)

So at every juncture of the story, we are reminded that all of Noah's sons had wives aboard the ark.

Suspended Animation?

In the film, the problem of provisions is neatly sidestepped by Noah using herbs to put the animals to sleep. In the Bible:

21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” (Genesis 6:21)

So, neat as this solution is, the Bible explicitly mentions food.

Battle of the Ark?

In the film, Noah boards the ark as the rains begin while the fallen angels fight off Tubal-Cain's attackers. In the Bible

And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth. (Genesis 7:7-10)

So Noah and his family (and his sons' wives) were holed up in the ark for a week before the rains began.

Is there a Problem?

Surprisingly, none of the commentaries that bash the film most severely seem to have any problem with these points that directly contradict the Bible. For that matter, there are things in The Ten Commandments that contradict the Biblical account, too. (Moses wasn't exiled but fled to avoid being accused of murder.) It's the non-Biblical points that cause the problem.

Things in Noah that are not in the Bible

Who is Tubal-Cain?

19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain's sister was Naamah. (Genesis 4: 19-22)

This Lamech is a descendant of Cain, unlike Noah's father who is a descendant of Seth. It's a bit puzzling how Jabal and Jubal can be the "father" of tent-dwellers and musicians if all their descendants died in the Flood (Solution/Rationalization: the wives were descendants of Cain. Or the part about wiping out all humans isn't meant to be taken literally. But who wants to go there?) But Tubal-Cain is an actual Biblical character, roughly contemporaneous with Noah as far as we can tell, and the father of all metal-workers. So the film logically makes him the leader of the industrial civilization that has despoiled the earth.

The Death of Methuselah

When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he became the father of Lamech. 26 After he became the father of Lamech, Methuselah lived 782 years and had other sons and daughters. 27 Altogether, Methuselah lived a total of 969 years, and then he died. 28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah and said, "He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed." 30 After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. 31 Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died.

So Methuselah was 187 when Lamech was born and Lamech was 182 when Noah was born. Noah was 600  when the flood began, which would make Methuselah 187 + 182 + 600 = 969. So Methuselah died the same year as the Flood. Many Bible commentators pietistically assume he had to have died before the Flood rather than being drowned with the sinners, but there is precisely zero Biblical evidence for that view.

In the film, Methuselah is somewhat senile, and makes a point of wanting berries, which are nonexistent on the despoiled earth. He finally goes down to the regrown forests, finds a berry, joyfully pops it into his mouth, and is swept away in the Flood. Not in the Bible, but not the least contradictory, either.

Battle of the Ark

In the film, Tubal-Cain leads his warriors in an attempt to seize the ark. Not in the Bible but not contradicted by it, either, though you'd think something like this would be part of any epic narrative even if you don't otherwise believe in the Bible.

Stowaway

Nothing in the Bible specifically rules out stowaways sneaking aboard, but it's a fairly far-fetched plot device. Presumably real stowaways would have been tossed overboard or, more pragmatically, fed to the lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Tubal-Cain subsists by killing and eating animals on the Ark, but since there were seven pairs of clean animals, and Tubal-Cain was wicked enough to merit destruction in the Deluge but still kept kosher, that wouldn't necessarily mean some hapless species was doomed to extinction. Then again, maybe he ate the unicorns. Or dinosaurs.

Noah Flips Out

In the film, Noah seriously loses it aboard the ark and concludes his mission is to ensure the survival of the innocent creatures while letting the human race die out. He wouldn't be the only prophet to get mixed up about God's message. After all, if God merely wanted to save the animals, he could have led them to the top of the highest mountains, or simply told Noah to close up the ark without boarding it.

So What is the Problem?

When people criticize a film for "being unscriptural," very often it means violating their mental image from Sunday School. Movies about Christ tend to be big-budget Sunday School pageants because the producers don't dare show anything original or personal. Showing Jesus laughing, telling jokes, roughhousing as a child, or hitting his thumb with a hammer in the carpenter's shop elicit deep frowns. Depicting him having second thoughts (Last Temptation of Christ) or listeners on the far edge of the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount hilariously misunderstanding (Life of Brian), well, that's simply "blasphemous."

Direct contradictions of the Biblical narrative draw surprisingly little criticism as long as they don't impact doctrine seriously. Nobody seems to have much trouble with the direct contradictions in Noah, or for that matter, The Ten Commandments. Moses fled Egypt to avoid a murder charge, not because he was exiled by Pharaoh. And the Red Sea didn't part instantly when Moses held out his staff, it parted after a strong wind blew through the night.

From a dramatic standpoint, the whole stowaway nonsense and Noah going nuts badly detracts from what had been a magnificent film. But none of the people who hate the film get seriously worked up over the plot elements that directly contradict the Bible.

No, the big problem for many people is this: the film depicts despoiling the earth as sin. It's logical to suspect that "every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time" (Gen. 6:5) might include selfishness, greed, and short-sightedness. Certainly it would include hogging resources and depriving others of their use, and laying the land waste with no regard for others or posterity.


Return to Pseudoscience Index
Return to Professor Dutch's Home Page

Created 21 April 2014;  Last Update 13 May, 2014

Not an official UW Green Bay site