Noah Movie Inspiration

By Kersley Fitzgerald

So, I was on a short vacation the day the Got Questions staff saw Noah. It didn't break my heart — I have this strange visceral reaction when faced with a movie based on the Bible. I've never seen the Jesus film, or The Passion of the Christ. I watched very little of The Bible miniseries. If cucumbers, tomatoes, and grape slushies aren't involved, I tend to stay away. It's a personal conviction (or quirk), though, and it isn't coherent enough for me to categorically condemn all Bible-based fiction.

I've read lots of reviews about Noah, though. I read Aronofsky say it wasn't very biblical and that he relied heavily on the Jewish custom of Midrash — to consider what isn't there. The more I heard about the movie, the more I suspected there was something else going on. Not malicious, per se, but no story comes out of a vacuum. And if parts of the story weren't from the Bible, where did they come from?

The tipping point was the rock monsters. I don't know much about Kabbalah, but I do know there's a creature called a "golem," made of animated earth. Sounded familiar.

Noah and Gnosticism

My suspicions were affirmed by Dr. Brian Mattson's article "Sympathy for the Devil." He confirmed the influence of Kabbalah and, even more, Gnosticism, which basically says spirit is good and material is evil.

First a bit about the Gnostic creation story. In Gnosticism, the earth was not created by the supreme, unknowable god. There are several myths, but the one I'm most familiar with says the supreme god created several other spiritual beings ("aeons") with a piece of his divine "fullness." One of these was the goddess of wisdom, Sophia. These beings, particularly Sophia, had within them that part of the supreme god's nature that induced them to create. Sophia created (or gave birth to) the Demiurge. He had a portion of his mother's power, but being a step further from the supreme god, he was an abomination. Sophia hid him. He knew no one but himself. But that divine bit of nature he received from Sophia induced him to create. Being a lesser entity, his creation was even further removed from the supreme god. So far removed that it introduced the material to the cosmos. He couldn't even perceive the spiritual realm, but some of Sophia's power was endowed to his physical creation. Which is why people are comprised of his wretched physicality and his mother's divine spirituality. The goal of Gnosticism is to awaken Sophia's divine spark in all of us so we can shed our physical nature and, as pure spiritual energy, join the supreme god.

Gnosticism is taken from the Greek gnosis, or divine knowledge. That is, the awareness of the divine spark in us. This can only occur through secret knowledge or awareness.

In classical Platonism, Sophia has pity on her creation's creation and endows humans with light — knowledge of the divine (although different people have different levels of awareness). To make matters more confusing, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek in the Septuagint, the word sophia was used for "wisdom" in the poetic books. There is also some cross-cultural usage with the Greek logos in the New Testament. Despite the confusion, the Greek Sophia is not equivalent to the biblical concept of wisdom.

Mattson adequately explained why Noah could think the creator would want all the people wiped out. The physical and the deeds done by the physical are evil, and only by escaping the physical world could the spark — the small bit of divine spirit — return to the supreme god.

Noah and Extra-Biblical Judaism

There are several versions of Kabbalah, but Gnosticism runs deep here, too. Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) teachings, which either formed or explained the basis of modern Kabbalah, say the earth is several levels from the divine being. Mattson points out that Sophia's manifestation in Noah was the snake, who revealed the wisdom of God. Genesis 3:1 describes the serpent as "subtle" or shrewd and crafty. While in the Bible the serpent is associated with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in Kabbalist philosophy, it also winds around the Tree of Life, which represents the levels of creation and illustrates how far the physical world is from the divine creator.

Confusing, but a bit more enlightenment on how a snake skin could reveal hidden knowledge to a user.

Identifying angels as "Watchers" comes to Kabbalah via Daniel 4:13, 17, and 23. "Watcher" is the name Nebuchadnezzar gives to the angels who warn him he will live like a beast. The apocryphal book of Enoch calls all angels, including the fallen, "watchers." Enoch expands on the rather anemic description in Genesis 6:1-4 to say that Semyaza and others fell and became demons when they lusted after human females, mated with them, and begot the giant Nephilim who ate humans, which I understand is hinted at in the movie. Rameel, perhaps better known as Azazel, fell when he taught men how to make weapons and cosmetics (perhaps the patron of Tubal-Cain, "forger of all instruments of bronze and iron" (Genesis 4:22)?).

When I heard the Watchers were represented as rock monsters, however, it brought to mind the golem from Jewish folklore. A golem is a crudely-formed figure, usually made of stone and clay, that is brought to life and controlled by powerful rabbis. Adam was said to be a golem before God gave him the breath of life. Mattson says that the "Watchers" seemed to be shaped like Hebrew letters. This would also reflect their status as golems, since, as Wikipedia explains, golems "could be activated by…the ritualistic use of various letters of the Hebrew Alphabet forming a 'shem' (any one of the Names of God). The shem was written on a piece of paper and inserted either in the mouth or in the forehead of the golem, thus bringing it into life and action." Another tie to Kabbalah as it teaches words and letters have great power.

There are legends of rabbis forming and animating golems. Judah Loew ben Bazalel was said to have made a golem that protected the Jewish ghetto in Prague from anti-Semitic attacks in the 16th century. It's even said a Nazi later found the golem, made inactive by removing the word from its mouth, and tried to stab it, but was killed instead. Golems have a mixed-reputation, however, protecting some while violently killing others — again similar to the Watchers of the movie.

In his review, S. Michael Houdmann points out that legend says King Og rode out the Flood on the Ark. The Hebrew Midrash says he had a special compartment in the Ark and lived until Moses killed him (Numbers 21:31-35). Deuteronomy lists Og as the last of the Rephaim or giants. If he was a descendent of the demons who took human women, it doesn't necessarily follow that he lived pre-Flood, however, since Genesis 6:4 explains the giants reappeared "after" as well.

Kabbalah also has ties to environmentalism and man's responsibility for the environment, which diverges from Gnosticism; Gnosticism sees all physical as hinderances to true enlightenment.

Perhaps the strongest tie between the Noah movie and Kabbalah has to do with Flood symbolism. In Kabbalah, the Flood represents an enlightened man (Noah) seeking guidance from and obeying a divine presence to reject the things of the world and allow possessions and all material things to be washed away. As the waters physically purified sin from the earth, the harsh experience spiritually purified Noah's heart. The apex of abandoning the material, seeking God, and understanding the light of Sophia is love — the force that stayed movie-Noah's hand from killing his granddaughters. As Song of Solomon 8:7 says, "Many waters would not be able to quench love…" With that in mind, Noah's character arc makes sense. Gnosticism says the physical must be destroyed — which he intends by killing his granddaughters. But the Flood washes away all concern for the physical until only love remains.

* One more thought brought up by my friend Kacy Barnett-Gramckow. There has been a lot of talk about how people in the movie don't use the word "God." Instead they say "Creator." What these critics don't realize is that this is entirely consistent with Judaism. Obviously, Noah wasn't Jewish, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that he would have respected the name of God in a similar fashion. It's also consistent with the fact that the movie is so influenced by a Jewish sect — Kabbalah. The use of "Creator" instead of "God" is a cultural sign of respect.

Noah and the Epic of Gilgamesh

The movie also appears to borrow some plot points from the Epic of Gilgamesh.* First off, Gilgamesh fights and kills two rock giants — foolishly, as it turns out, since they're the only ones who can take him where he wants to go — to Utnapishtim (Noah) to learn the secret of immortality. Gilgamesh builds a raft, instead, and finds Utnapishtim and his wife living alone across a great sea. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh his story.

The gods Anu, Enlil, Ninurta, Ennugi, and Ea intended to flood the world and kill all people, but Ea decided to rescue Utnapishtim and his wife, along with their family and friends and the animals. After the flood, Ea settled Utnapishtim and his wife in a far off place and granted them immortality. So, from the Epic of Gilgamesh, you get stone giants, Noah living apart from other people, and the gods' (unsuccessful) plan to kill every human.

The Inspiration for Noah

What does it all mean? Only this: the movie Noah was loosely based on the Genesis Flood, but it was also influenced by other sources including Jewish folklore and mysticism, Gnosticism, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Why wasn't Aronofsky more forthcoming about this? Mattson says it's because he wanted to deceive Christians. I have a slightly different take.
Maybe he just wanted to make a movie.

Aronofsky is an atheist. He no more believes in the Bible than he does the Kabbalah Zohar, Platonic Gnosticism, or the Epic of Gilgamesh. He just took flood myths from several different traditions and combined them into one story.
Does that justify the discrepancies between the movie and the Flood account in the Bible? Well, no. But consider this: it is a movie made by an atheist who used material from several different sources — some pagan. Why would you expect biblical truth as a result?

That makes about as much sense as walking out of the light and cursing because you can't see.

* Yeah, I know, I haven't seen The Passion of the Christ, but I've read the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Published 3-31-14