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Information about Noah

Published on April 25, 2014

Author: PeterEccles



This article reviews the film Noah but draws on experience of teaching A Level Religious Studies and how some students find it more or less easy to read parts of the Bible with a non-literal approach. The film is worth seeing and may grow on you as you view it in retrospect!

Noah Noah is one of those films you toy with seeing but don’t actually get there unless someone arranges the event for you. This is what happened to me the other evening. I must say the film struck me in three ways initially. Firstly, this may not be important but I was not sure I would want to see it again. There were sections of the film where the action had a ‘worn out’ feel and tensions that, however worthy, were hard work. Secondly, some of the special effects were uninspiring and a friend who was with me couldn’t help thinking of Transformers while beholding the Watchers. Thirdly, however, I was struck by the fact that the film had hugely improved the profile of a story relegated by many to childhood memories of Sunday school and I actually felt quite moved that people of all religious persuasions and none are gathered in cinemas all over the world to watch a story that is, after all, the Word of God. Typically for me, I began to enjoy the film more in retrospect than at the time and only later reached more positive conclusions than when I first exited the theatre. My reflections became more ordered as I remembered teaching A Level to a group in North London who are probably in the late thirties now. Rather than forcing a debate about interpretation of scripture I found myself having to referee a verbal battle between two distinct groups of students. One, the smaller group, was comprised of quite strict Protestant fundamentalists who could not condone any reading of the Bible other than a literal one. The other group was more varied in their denominational background but definitely included Catholics whose catechism teaches metaphorical interpretation of the Word of God is especially relevant when reading those passages best designated as symbolic story. It is important to note that both groups were pursuing truth and while none of the students were at all dismissive of the authority of scripture they were simply approaching it in different ways. So where did I stand when they finally cooled off a bit, reached an impasse and turned to me as a last resort? Well, as far as I’m concerned those early sections of the Bible were consistently making important points about human beings, their relationship with God, each other and creation. I cannot honestly argue with the evidence that the authors and traditions that created the book of Genesis did capitalise on an abundance of contemporary literature – usually myth – to express the truth of the one true God, Yahweh. The theme of universal flooding to cleanse creation of the sin of humankind is certainly not unique to the book of Genesis. Therefore, I politely asserted to the Protestant fundamentalists in the group that the Noah story is one of those Biblical stories, at very least laced with metaphor and symbolism, that really deserves to be read as an epic. And this is where the modern CGIs (computer generated imagery) comes in. For example, the idea of the Watchers could have grown out of a 4th century BC epic where human beings are created from clay and mixed with blood as part of a cosmic battle between lower, more menial gods and a higher order of gods. I would say Noah, the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel stories should be injected with maximum imagination unfettered (for a change) by the well-worn but sometimes wearisome, logical positivist pursuit of ‘truth’, employing a slavish commitment to ‘historicity’ that has dominated academic Bible study for so long. In other words, rather than having to ask questions about the actual size and shape of the ark, where it all happened, how the animals were managed and whether the world was still flat at that point, we can sit back and simply enjoy.

Much more importantly, however, is Noah and his uncompromising affirmation of God’s commitment to human beings’ wholesome, fresh start at enjoying His creation as He intended. It is most pleasing how this ‘truth’ of the whole story is repeated and emphasised by the film and Noah is alikened to Adam. Noah is fulfilling his vocation which is a hard one (and hard for us to bear with at times too especially as he appears to defy all reason in his persistent dedication to his calling). The fact that the biblical reference to Noah’s drunkenness is included in the story only serves to provide another human detail which is elevated by the more profound message which is that a man (person) has to completely let go and trust fully in God before enjoying the status of being truly paternal. In this way, I thought the whole Noah and the baby girls theme drew another comparison, this time with Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. Going back to the classroom did those young fundamentalists change their strict literalist minds and adopt a more liberal approach? No, of course not, but like the film, I gave them something to think about! Peter Eccles, Ex Headteacher, St Boniface's, Plymouth

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