Thursday, January 31, 2008

24 Shevaṭ 5768: Escape Day/National Gorilla Day/Inspire Your Heart With the Arts Day

Greetings.

Cool thing of the day: The latest Project Gutenberg edition of The Lost Princess of Oz, which you can get with all the original illustrations.

Today’s news and commentary:In lieu of the usual daily weird thing, I present below (as part of work towards my book Divine Misconceptions) a review of the made-for-TV movie/miniseries Noah’s Ark below. Enjoy (or be scared) and share the weirdness.

Aaron



A review of Noah’s Ark
by Aaron Solomon Adelman

For dramatic effect, we have taken poetic license with some of the events of the mighty epic of Noah and the Flood.…
—Opening caption of Noah’s Ark

I thought The Ten Commandments: The Musical was bad. Well, it is. But now it has a new contender: Noah’s Ark. Noah’s Ark is a 1999 two-part made-for-TV movie starring Jon Voight in the title role and made by the same people who committed the frightening atrocity of creating a version of Alice in Wonderland which kept much of Lewis Carroll’s dialog intact yet was painful to watch. Noah’s Ark was likewise unpleasant, only with a lot more original dialog. The problem is not that the writer was completely ignorant of the subject material; he knew enough to be aware of Jewish oral traditions that the wife of Noaḥ (Noah) was Na‘amah and that sex was forbidden on the Ark, said prohibition being violated by Ḥam (Ham). Rather the writer blatantly, unabashedly rewrote the original material (Genesis 6:5-9:29), mixing in parts of the story of the destruction of Sedhom (Sodom) and ‘Amorah (Gomorra) (Genesis 18:17-19:38) and fabricating most of the movie. The result is a shell consisting of many of the elements of the original story, only filled with very different subplots, motivations, and behaviors. This might be partially forgivable if the result had been a good story on its own merits, particularly something theologically sound, but alas we are cursed with a lame story and lame theology, something neither dramatic nor poetic.

Characters in the film make a point to philosophize. This is good, since thinking is how people come up with good questions to ask and good answers. Unfortunately, the philosophizing is rather low-quality and often irrelevant. (E.g., supposing that humans would not need to wear clothes if they were covered with fur does nothing to advance the plot, and it is wrong anyway. The peddler’s philosophizing about money is pathetic.) At best, the answers are canned. This is tied into the fact that the writer’s understanding of morality and theology is poor. The biggest moral question in the film, one not even voiced explicitly by the characters, is why people do evil actions. And the answer, voiced by Loṭ (Lot)—or a rather a pale imitation of the original—is that evil is enjoyable, plain and simple. This answer has the advantage of being easy to understand and somewhat plausible. After all, sexual immorality is often very pleasurable. However, this answer does not explain a lot of evil. Does everyone who commits murder enjoy it? Do all thieves enjoy stealing? Does everyone who hurts another person feel pleasure? Indeed, those who perform evil in this film very much enjoy themselves; other possible motives for evil behavior, e.g., anger, greed, revenge, or desperation, get no play whatsoever, with only one exception (to be noted soon). Furthermore, evil-doers in this film feel little or no remorse, but in the real world people who do bad things (at least in the West) often feel guilt and try to rationalize their behavior. The psychological unrealism makes the characters seem more like cardboard cutouts than actual people. Indeed, the writer has to admit that his thesis of evil being pleasurable is not valid when it comes to human sacrifice. People do not try to sacrifice a girl to Molekh (Moloch) for the fun of it; they do it to appease the gods they believe in.

Theology fares no better, with both YHWH (the God of the Hebrew Bible) and the pagan deities being misunderstood. The writer has no idea that Molekh worship involved burning or singeing children (2 Kings 23:10, Jeremiah 32:35); there is no requirement of virginity ever mentioned. Molekh is even misidentified as a rain god. The pagan characters voice the blatantly stupid idea that a god could only be the god of one thing only, despite this view not reflecting actual traditional paganism. (Apparently the writer is trying to misrepresent multiple religions.)

The relationship between YHWH (not “the Lord” as the writer had Him referred to due to an apparent ignorance of Hebrew) and Noaḥ takes a severe beating, with YHWH being depicted as much more accessible to Noaḥ than attested in the original text, with an eerily inappropriate familiarity. YHWH becomes much more human in behavior and less transcendent, with the rain for the Flood being weeping and YHWH handing out miracles readily. He has insufficient foresight, not anticipating predictable problems (such as insufficient labor and the necessity of a prefabricated ark) in advance. He sends Noaḥ out to a mountain to tell him about the (misplaced) destruction of Sedhom and ‘Amorah, despite being just as easily able to do it while Noaḥ is at home. His idea of showing people His power is to kill them. This misinterpretation of a Supreme Deity abandons Noaḥ for a while to decide whether to destroy all of humanity, and when He decides to wipe out everyone, Noaḥ’s whistling and dancing changes His mind. How could a being with enough brain power to keep track of everything in the Universe not be able to spare enough to keep in contact with one single person while working on a problem? What sort of monster finds whistling and dancing in a manner oddly reminiscent of Fiddler on the Roof the only things meritorious enough to save humanity? This sort of moral triviality is not attested anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.

Further mistakes and annoyances:
  1. Blaming “scribbling scribes” for changing stories is a pathetic excuse for the writer changing the story deliberately himself.
  2. Anything not portrayable in a PG manner is watered down or omitted altogether. Casualties from the story of Noaḥ: the rampant violence for which YHWH decided to destroy humanity (Genesis 6:11-12), Noaḥ getting naked while drunk (Genesis 9:20), anything to explain that vicious curse afterwards (Genesis 9:25). Casualties from the story of Sedhom and ‘Amorah: Rampant immorality of the cities (Genesis 13:13, 18:20), attempted homosexual rape (Genesis 19:4-5), Loṭ out of desperation offering his daughters to the crowd trying to commit said attempted rape (Genesis 19:8), Loṭ’s desperation failing miserably (Genesis 19:9), Loṭ being drugged and raped by his own daughters, thereby having children with them (Genesis 19:31-38). All fighting in this film is also pathetic. Granted, this is a “family” film, but do keep in mind that the Hebrew Bible is not a PG text. YHWH has to deal with real people, who frequently do un-PG things. Inconsistently, showing people and animals on fire or drowning gets more play than showing what they did to deserve it.
  3. I do not believe that there is any volcanic activity in Israel.
  4. It is ’Avraham (Abraham) who bargains YHWH down to 10 righteous people being enough to save Sedhom and ‘Amorah from 50 (Genesis 18:23-33), not Noaḥ. ’Avraham also initiates the bargaining and does not go looking for 10 righteous people.
  5. Loṭ’s daughters and their husbands (Genesis 19:8, 19:12, 19:14-16, 19:30-38) are missing from the film. If they were trying to make Loṭ look really bad, they should have left in those two who raped him (Genesis 19:31-38) and not have him complain at all about it.
  6. Were there kites back then? And why are people fleeing danger bringing a kite and not pots, pans, and hats?
  7. The girlfriends of Shem, Ḥam, and Yefeth (Japheth) are given the anachronistic names Ruth, Esther, and Miriam. This fits since these extended courtships are themselves anachronistic and inaccurate. These women are supposed to be wives (Genesis 6:18, 7:7, 7:13, 8:16, 8:18).
  8. People suffering from drought in this movie look amazingly healthy. No one looks gaunt or dies of first.
  9. Noaḥ, Na‘amah, and their sons walk into a dangerous situation unarmed. This is truly stupid without any Divine assurance of safety in advance.
  10. That high priest’s outfit looks too Jewish for comfort. There is also a modern shofar (trumpet made from an animal horn, blown on Ro’sh hashShanah) depicted at Sedhom. I am insulted.
  11. The writer does not know that an “ark” is a box, not a boat, and the Hebrew word used exclusively for the Ark, tevah (Genesis 6:14-16, 6:18-19, 7:1, 7:7, 7:9, 7:13, 7:15, 7:17-18, 7:23, 8:1, 8:4, 8:6, 8:9-10, 8:13, 8:16, 8:19, 9:10, 9:18) supports this interpretation.
  12. “Hither and yon” and “creepers and crawlers” are pointless archaisms. For the record, archaic language in the Hebrew Bible is mostly confined to poetic passages.
  13. Why was Noaḥ getting intoxicated before the Flood? That is only supposed to happen after the Flood (Genesis 9:20).
  14. Isaiah 11:6 uses the metaphor of a wolf dwelling with a sheep to describe the Messianic era. It is not about a literal fox (wrong species anyway) lying down with a lamb on the Ark.
  15. Why are anyone besides Noaḥ and family surviving the Flood, in contradiction to Genesis 7:21-23? The peddler surviving is extraneous, and the pirates attacking the Ark works very badly with the Deus ex machina saving the day.
  16. The writer is unaware that anything that is not fastened to the ocean floor does not make a good marker buoy. He also has no clue what a mirage is.
  17. The madness on the Ark is really quite pointless and annoying, without any creativity.
  18. A horse being called “Pegasus” makes no sense, as there are no references to anyone knowing anything about Greek mythology in the Hebrew Bible. Then again, nothing makes much sense in this movie.
  19. The writer has no clue that:  (a) “Perfect” and “wrong” are mutually exclusive attributes and thus cannot be manifested simultaneously.  (b) “Perfect” is only a valid attribute in a mathematical sense and in poetry. No matter how good and wonderful a deity is, one can always imagine an even better and more wonderful deity. (And people do in fact do this. Many people today have abandoned traditional conceptions of deity for ones with lower standards and the purpose of making things go OK for us.) Examples for things other than deities are analogous. “Perfect” is therefore useless in theology because one can always legitimately claim that it has not been reached. As such, it cannot be validly be expected for anything which is supposed to actually exist.
  20. The delivery of all the materials to make a boat in Evan Almighty may be borrowed from Noah’s Ark.

Classification: Two-part made-for-TV “family” movie which no one with taste who actually loves their family would show them.

Overall rating: D+ (it could have been even less watchable with the right effort, so let’s just thank YHWH that it wasn’t).

Theological rating: F (for grievous misrepresentation of Scripture and obvious incompetence).
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