A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

2012 and the Noah Narrative

In a recent  New York Times review of the new movie 2012, Manohla Dargis twice links the destruction-of-the-world movie with the Bible.

She describes the unlikely pairing off of survivors  as the “Noah’s ark theory of onscreen hookups (two of every kind),” and her final tag claims that  the movie depicts “Old Testament style destruction served with a smile.”

I don’t deny that the Bible is violent.   In fact, I regularly call attention to examples of biblical violence and insist that people factor in the violence  when they are making broad, sweeping claims about the goodness and/or authority of the Bible. And the Noah narrative is, indeed, one that invokes terror.  I continue to be amazed that it has been made into a children’s story.

But what strikes me in reading this review is that the movie takes far more delight in depicting destruction and death than the Noah narrative does.

Genesis 7:17-24 twice tersely states that all human beings died in the flood.  It never shows those people in the throes of destruction.  Those scenes of folks laughing at Noah’s building project and begging to get on the ark when the rains start aren’t in the text but in the imaginations of interpreters.

Apparently, the same can’t be said of 2012.   The destruction goes on for hours.  Scene after scene of people falling to their deaths.

But, according to Dargis, the dying people of 2012 are never shown up-close and personal.  The destruction goes on and on, but people’s suffering is almost always seen at a distance. “Swirling dust and flying debris serve that commercial purpose, not rivers of blood and body pulp.”

She also suggests that the heart of the movie is one central family and its fate. “The larger catastrophe in 2012 functions as both the trigger and backdrop for a soap opera about a fractured family, standing in for the rest of humanity, which heals as the world falls apart.”

The Noah narrative doesn’t give us insight into the dynamics of Noah’s own family.  Unlike later Midrash, the text doesn’t tell us the name of Noah’s wife or introduce us to his children.  But the story is about the fate of humanity and how God is working through Noah to start over with a world gone awry.

So, while 2012 and the Noah narrative aren’t the same, they both capture a scene of the fragililty of human existence and the relief that anything–and anyone–is able to survive divine catastrophes.

5 Responses to 2012 and the Noah Narrative

  • I share your horror that Noah’s Ark is such a common theme in children’s religion and art. It is also curious that the story is so seldom examined in adult Christian education. Is it because it is “a children’s story”? Or is it because adults don;t want to go near it?

  • After crossing paths with you at the SBL meeting today, Julia, I gave a presentation on Deluge paintings, focusing on those that highlight the bodies of drowning or drowned flood victims.

    I wrote a popular-level article some years ago called “Mixed Reviews: On (Not) Using the Genesis Stories in Ministry to Children.” I was thinking along the same lines.

    I have seen 2012, and it features literal arks …

  • Sorry I missed your paper. Any chance of me getting a copy?
    Julia

  • Julia,
    I found your blog when searching under Google Scholar. I’m writing an interpretive essay on Jacob wrestling with God. This entry was perfect for adding narrative on why I thought the story and the entire Bible itself is violent. Your site is very helpful and insightful. I plan to keep reading your entries!

    Becky

  • Julia,
    I found your blog when searching under Google Scholar. I’m writing an interpretive essay on Jacob wrestling with God. This entry was perfect for adding narrative on why I thought the story and the entire Bible itself is violent. Your site is very helpful and insightful. I plan to keep reading your entries!

    Becky

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