Thursday, August 14, 2014

Canaan's Ark

We have had enough soaking storms lately to turn the neglected parts of my lawn green. The storms have not been gentle either. One of the last one whipped up electrical pyrotechnic displays, and generated weather service severe storm warnings. In celebration of this “Utah is not like California in a good way” situation I rented the movie “Noah” from RedBox.

Yesterday brought flooding to everywhere in the country making nowhere like California. A couple mountains in Southern California managed to scrape a deluge from the humidity passing overhead, but in general it is very dry in California this year, very dry.

“The National Weather Service had not, as of Monday morning, issued any official flash flooding watches or warnings. But as sure as an "R" designates the seemingly eternal political affiliation of a super-majority in the Utah Legislature, Utah’s slot canyons, usually dry washes and burn scars are at risk for inundating storms.” – Bob Moms for the Salt Lake Tribune “Utah forecast: The monsoon strikes back” 11 August 2014

Recently I have been told that Noah’s biblical flood is best explained as some sort of local phenomenon, and that “40 day’s simply means “quite a long time” in biblical speech. It sounded like some sort of reductionist-apologetic dancing; if it could be right in some small way the bible could still be true, but they were trading away relevance.  Some confusion is understandable if god really did come to earth a couple pages of Genesis later and “confound all the world’s languages” as the bible suggests. I would think it difficult to have any cogent history until a couple generations after The Tower of Babel; let alone a tediously specific train of begats.

However, it does little good for god to promise not to destroy the earth again if he never really did so in the first place. And if god was promising not to have any big local flooding like the localized version of Noah’s flood then… well there are some folks who will be returning to their cars in low lying long-term parking lots at Baltimore Washington International airport that may have some questions for god.

Darren Aronofsky has added a narrative clarity to the story of Noah that was impossible before the invention of CGI. He captures the general nastiness of old-testament life by filming almost everything on treeless landscapes (until god magics up some trees from Methuselah’s trufula seed to generate wood for Noah’s ark) and color is hard to come by. Darren even creates some baby killing Abrahamic tension to make some indistinct old testament morality tension, and he makes all of the wives of Noah’s sons primary relations to multiply the magnitude of incest needed to repopulate the earth. It is like Darren said unto his script writers “Bringeth forth some evil old-testament plot elements to createth dramatic tension”, “And the evil old-testament plot elements did cometh forth”.

“ And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” – Genesis 22:10-12 KJB

However, Darren muddled up one of the most evil old-testament plot elements in the entire old-testament. An evil story that actually occurs to Noah and his family. Darren ignored –mostly- the curse of Canaan.

“Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers.”

He also said,

“Praise be to the LORD, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.””
-- Genesis 9:20-27 NIV

The curse of Canaan is a bit severe. For many generations it has been used to justify the existence of dark skinned people, and using them as slaves. I was a teenager in the 1970s, and as a young child this story was used to explain the creation of black people to me; a liberal minded lay pastor told that the curse was a bit capricious, and that it might be ok to raise voice against the use of water cannons being used every evening on the nightly news to knock the descendants of Ham back to their rightful place in society.

Instead of a curse Darren pens regret into Noah’s alienation from his son Ham. Ham holds a grudge for his father’s refusal to save a woman he was fond of from a bear-trap facilitated drowning. There is no talk of slavery… Ham just heads off into the draining horizon .

I also like the way Darren re-wrote god’s specific instructions to Noah. In the bible “god says”, and in the movie Noah hallucinates.

I think Hollywood screenwriters should re-write the whole bible; at least the old testament.

Or, perhaps we could just agree on a cannon of film noir movies to show our children. Nothing after the invention of color, except maybe the wizard of Oz.

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