Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah: The Movie and The Bible

Noah is saving mankind again in a new movie that combines science fiction with the barely recognizable biblical account.  Naturally, the end result is that religious conservatives are outraged, while anyone else who goes to such movies shows up for the adventure.

The debate is nothing new.  After all, this is hardly the first time someone movie has focused on Noah and the flood that supposedly washed away most of mankind.  It’s just the most radical view, branching away from the basic story to include a vengeful king, “Watchers” who have been punished by God, and a deceitful Ham, Noah’s youngest son.

In the Biblical account, Noah is chosen by God to build an Ark, to collect representatives of all animals and to wait out a flood which destroys all other humans.  It’s not a lengthy story, running five chapters in Genesis from the last sentence of Chapter 5 to the end of Chapter 10.  Previous movies have attempted to follow that basic outline: evil mankind that God wants to destroy, righteous Noah, Ark, the flood and then a rainbow heralding the continuation of life.  . 

In this movie, however, Tubal-Cain is a terrible king who serves as Noah’s antagonist, like the devious Scar in the Lion King to the heroic Simba.  Tubal-Cain does appear in the Bible, but only as a brief mention in Genesis 4:22: “Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain's sister was Naamah.”   She, too, shows up in the movie, but not as Tubal-Cain’s sister.  Her name resembles Nala, Simba's eventually wife.

In the Bible, Ham is condemned to serve his brothers because he saw his father naked, a story that once served as a pretext to endorse slavery.  Ham was the supposed father of Africans.   However, in the Bible, unlike the movie, he was not manipulated by the evil Tubal-Cain to turn against Noah.

Of course, there are no Watchers in the Bible, no miracles of rain animating instant flowers, and entire forests popping up as the movie depicts.  The Holy Book contains miracles, of course, but not the kind in the movie, which has a better selection of technological tools to draw on than any biblical writer ever imagined.

Traditional Noah
Does it really matter how much the Bible and the movie differ?

Lost in the debate – and loftier ticket sales, which is all the producers want – is the question of the historical nature of Noah. 

To religious conservatives, Noah is real.  The flood happened.  That’s why this movie has created so much animosity.  It’s as though the producers have messed with God’s word.   

Unfortunately, they are wrong.  Noah never lived.  A flood of this magnitude would have left evidence.  There is none.  Scientists have found fossilized shellfish and other marine creatures near the tops of mountains, but not universally as would have happened if the flood had covered the Earth.  The artifacts weren’t planted by God, but arrived through a natural process called uplifting.  That created all the mountain ranges in the world.

Nor has evidence of a flood found on a lower level, although once the devout thought so.  Decades ago, research led by biblical historian William Albright located thick clay beneath the land once called Mesopotamia.  That was proclaimed as evidence of a flood.  Unfortunately, artifacts above and below the clay are the same.  The people supposedly killed by the flood came back.

Then, there’s the basic problem of where the water went.  If it evaporated, it would simply return to Earth as rain.  The Bible solves that by placing rain above the firmament, some kind of covering above and below the Earth.  However, as space exploration demonstrated, there’s no water hiding about the clouds and no firmament either.  There’s also no wood on Mt. Ararat, the Ark’s supposed resting spot.

Other theories for the flood have been proposed, including the Black Sea bursting through a natural barrier and more.  None of these creative ideas match the biblical account, which requires flood waters to cover the Earth.  To claim, as has been done, that the flood inundated what Noah considered Earth ignores that other part of the story – that the disaster destroyed mankind.  If it’s a limited flood, people living elsewhere survived. 

Actually, DNA testing shows that we are products of a mixture of genes, some of which were passed along from extinct humanoids, none of whom were drowned.  Representatives of all animals couldn’t have fit on the Ark either. 

In short, it’s all fiction. There’s no debate about that. Some of the biblical account was generated to support theology.  Some comes from an ancient Babylonian mythological saga called the Gilgamesh. 

At its core, there may have been someone named Noah who escaped a minor flood with his family and a few animals on a makeshift raft.

If someone wants to make a movie about a real Noah, that would be a good place to start.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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