Wow. Noah the movie has turned into an inkblot test where those who love or hate it read into it their own meanings. One question that’s arisen among the critics this week: Has director Darren Aronofsky made Noah a gnostic, or merely obnoxious?
Jay Michaelson of the Jewish Daily Forward offered one of the most interesting critiques. He writes that Aronofsky’s Noah “is absolutely in accord with Jewish traditions, and absolutely opposed to Christian ones. … He obeys God too much, even to the point of threatening to kill his own family in order to extinguish the human race. … For the rabbis, this renders him ‘righteous for his age’ but not more than that: unlike Abraham, who argued to save the lives of the wicked, Noah just follows orders.”
Michaelson continues, “In Christian tradition, however, Noah is a saint. … a paragon of virtue, quite unlike Russell Crowe’s complicated antihero. Noah, then, is a film that fundamentalist Christians are right to abhor. It is midrashic, magical, and radical. Its characters are deeply flawed and deeply complicated.”
I think Michaelson is on to something, but he has it backward. Christians understand (or should understand) that all—including Noah—have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Noah was “righteous” and “blameless” not because he was perfect and never sinned, but because all who have faith in Christ become right in God’s eyes and have no blame attached to them; Jesus took all the blame on Himself.
Noah, of course, did not know any details concerning a Messiah several thousand years in the future, but he had faith that God would save him (In Hebrew, “Yehoshua” or “Yeshua”—Joshua—means “Yahweh saves.” Greeks spelled it Iesous, and we know that name as Jesus.) No one else in Noah’s generation had such faith, so no one else was righteous.
Michaelson has it backward because Christians should have no trouble with a righteous Noah who nevertheless sins and contemplates murder, but many contemporary Jews (as opposed to the Talmudic sages) would. It all depends on how we become righteous: through our own works—which the rabbi who became an apostle, Paul, knew was impossible—or through Christ’s sacrifice. Are we blameless because we don’t sin, or because Christ took our sins upon Himself?
This analysis reminds me of discussions concerning The Prince of Egypt, a 1998 movie about Moses. It concluded with the Israelites celebrating God’s gift of the Ten Commandments immediately after they cross the Red Sea. That left out something crucial: While Moses was on Mount Sinai, the Israelites forgot God’s very recent deliverance and worshiped a golden calf. Many Jews see ancient ancestors as paragons of virtue. Many Christians, following Stephen’s speech-before-stoning in chapter 7 of Acts, see them as sinners who needed to grab onto God’s mercy, as are we all, as must we all. The Bible shows the deep ravages of original sin. With all its faults, so does the new Noah.