09 April 2014


I begin this reflection by expressing deep thanksgiving for The Rev. Dr. Joseph Frederick Ignatius Hunt, who was the Professor of Old Testament Studies at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.  I was one of his students and had the privilege of both being a student and a friend until his death in 1993. "Papa Joe" spent a number of years as a Roman Catholic Benedictine Monk and Scholar.  His research and writing are respected across a number of traditions.  He could speak read and write 14 languages...many of them considered "esoteric" ancient languages from which Hebrew is derived.  He left the Benedictine Order and the Roman Catholic Church to become a Priest in the Episcopal Church.  He spent 18 years at Nashotah House and was the editor for "Old Testament Abstracts" during that period.

I am also grateful for the scholarship and friendship of The Rev. Dr. Hugh R. Page, Associate Professor of Hebrew Scriptures and Dean of First Year Studies at The University of Notre Dame.  I came to know Hugh, who is also an Episcopal Priest, when I was Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. James in South Bend, and he arrived to be on faculty as an Assistant Professor of Old Testament in the Notre Dame Department of Theology.  He became an adjunct to the staff at the cathedral during my tenure as dean.

I am very grateful, indeed, to Dr. Kern R. Trembath, who was the Assistant Chair of the Department of Theology at Notre Dame during most of my time as cathedral dean.  Kern is a systematic theologian and a specialist in New Testament theology.  More like a brother than simply a friend, Kern continues to provide wisdom, insight and loving critique in my writing endeavors...especially as it relates to theological discourse.  He was also a key leader and advisor during most of my years at the cathedral in South Bend.  He also roasts some exceedingly fine coffee (he IS HelioRoast Coffee).

Finally, the scholarship and writings of Gerhard von Rad, Bernhard Anderson, John L. McKenzie and Bruce Vawter have provided the foundation for my own studies in Hebrew Scriptures.  They are 20th Century lights of not only biblical theology, but biblical archeology and exegetical methodology.  Their works are among those I hold sacred enough not to release from my personal library in retirement.

Noah:  More than Just a Movie
I think it was necessary to preface my thoughts on the movie "Noah" by way of thanking persons who have been...and continue to be...part of my vocational development.  Normally, one does not write out of a vacuum but out of community.  We don't simply "have an opinion."  What we think and how we frame our words...both written and spoken...reflect our Sitz im leben (seat in life; the place or places where we have resided physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually...a comprehensive term).  

One of the great learnings I have received in my own vocational journey is to "never take things at face value."  Papa Joe Hunt had a wonderful rejoinder to our attempts, as students, to impress him (and our classmates) with the scholarship we had trucked in from earlier learning:  "Well, you can believe that if you want to."  Most of us started out wanting to hold tight to "Sunday school" or other sources of the knowledge level of faith.  In the seminary environment of the mid 1970s at Nashotah House, our native theological constructs were completely, but lovingly, dismantled.  We were then taught the tools for exploring the vast expanse of theological discipline.  We were blessed with incredible teachers and guides.

So, on Saturday morning, 5 April 2014, I had determined to finish reading two books in American Indian mystical studies.  I am serious about getting a book written and, fresh from several days  of research at Haskell Indian Nations University, I hunkered down to read and take notes.

Facebook is a wonderful tool for staying in touch with friends and family.  It is a good way to catch new insights and find out a little more about what is going on in other parts of the world.  On this Saturday morning, during a break, I checked my Facebook wall to find not one, but two, colleagues talking about having seen the movie, Noah, the day before.  Both of them suggested I see the movie myself, and one of them asked for my input after seeing it.  My day changed radically.

I went to a 1:30pm showing of the movie and never got back to reading my books.  In fact, for the past two days I have reflected deeply...remembering conversations with professors, colleagues and biblical scholars over the years...and re-reading material from the authors/scholars I cited above.  I had to "scrape up" some Hebrew language skills (which were never more than rudimentary for me...even as a student).  All this for a movie?!  

Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and Ray Winstone are, for me, the best known actors in this movie.  They are dynamic in the portrayals of their characters.  I found their interactions riveting and believable.  I found that I wasn't watching them.  I was seeing their characters.  That is fundamental to good acting.

Behind and Alongside Genesis 6-7
Before I departed for the theater, I did read Genesis Chapters 6 and 7.  Actually, I read a little more than that.  I had no idea what I would see on the screen, and my FB colleagues had not given much away in their descriptions.  Let me say this up front:  If one is a literalist, in the sense of biblical literature being exactly as as it is written, this movie will be disturbing.  If one is a bit practiced and comfortable with exegetical process (i.e. the means by which one gets "underneath" the biblical story) or looks for the "bigger picture," this movie will be interesting and challenging.  If one simply goes for entertainment, action and intrigue, this movie will provide all those.

It is helpful to know that Judaism, in its spiritual journey, is like a well-wrapped cable...with several strong strands that are intertwined to provide its strength.  What is immediately evident to anyone who owns a standard Bible is the Old Testament.  For Judaism, those are the 39 books that appear before we get to the gospels of the Christian era (in the Hebrew scriptures, there are only 24 "books").  These writings are known in Hebrew as the Tanakh.  The Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) comprise an originally oral tradition.  There is Oral Law and the Oral Tradition, the former, called the Talmud, also has a codified set of writings known as the Mishna.  Oral Tradition began becoming written in the time of the Davidic Dynasty (beginning around the 10th Century BCE).  There are four distinct strands of written tradition:  Yahwist (called "J"), Elohist (called "E"), Priestly (called "P"), and Deuteronomist (called "D").  These strands are interwoven...especially in committing the Pentateuch material to writing.  It was not until the destruction of the Temple in 70CE that a final, comprehensive writing of what we call the Old Testament was decided.

If that isn't enough, there are source materials that are part of the "cable" of Judaic tradition.  Two of those bear mentioning:  1) the Kabbalah, which is a deeper, mystical exploration of stories and traditions.  Any serious student of the Torah must also be taught by one who knows and has mastered the Kabbalah.  Please do not confuse this with the modern and somewhat popular non-Hebrew students of Kabbalah.  It is not the same.  2) the Merkabah, which is a mystical tradition that is more apocalyptic in nature.  Threads of this appear in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel.  Iconic imagery of thrones, chambers, chariots and ladders are key to the journey into the nearer Presence of the Holy of Holies (never to be named, only experienced).

Nothing above is complete.  There isn't enough time or space.  Simply know that the story of Noah with which we grew up in Western tradition is not totally complete in the 2 chapters of Genesis...nor is it simply a single story...but a complex of experiences.  For instance, Genesis 6:4 speaks of the Nephilim...also known as "the fallen ones," "the giant ones," or "the sons of God."  Depending on which of the strands of Hebrew history and tradition, noted above, you are following, a slightly altered picture is received.

The Movie:  See It?
The writers, director and producers of this movie are folks who have obviously explored the creation stories of the Torah as well as the traditions of Kabbalah and Merkabah in making the plot line take its shape.  There is also a fair use of what is known as Midrash in Judaic tradition.  Midrash is the generational interpretation of History and Law, as they are applied to concerns of that generation.  We might call them "sermons" or, more technically, the "hermeneutic" tools for life application (hermeneutics is the art/science of careful interpretation and is part of the exegetical process in biblical theology).

Therefore, what you see in this movie is a riveting action/drama that brings the best of Judaism's tradition together to form a more comprehensive story.  Movie-making license is certainly taken.  Rendering the Nephilim as rock creatures with six arms (from the angelic six-winged seriphim) is a nod, I think, to the imagery provided by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Ents (Lord of the Rings), Huoms that transformed into tree-like creatures over time.  Tradition does not describe the Nephilim physically...beyond being giants.

The movie has a clear message about how history can, and may, repeat itself.  This is the midrashic (interpretive) element.  Kabbalistic stories speak of a stowaway on the ark, and Noah's son, Ham, has been seen as being swayed by that stowaway to seek to remake the world in human's own image...rather than God's.  The movie plays heavily on that.

You certainly don't need to know all that I have shared to enjoy this movie.  It is moving, intense and has a whole lot of metaphor and imagery.  It is the most challenging (in a good way) 139 minutes I have spent in quite a while.  My knowledge of what I have presented to support the movie's foundation is not deep enough to provide much more interpretive detail.  Papa Joe Hunt sparked a lot of interest within me to know more than just the story given in one frame.

Go see the movie...let it speak to you in whatever way it does.  You will have an opinion (a midrash) of your own, when you emerge from the theater.

Love and blessings,


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