Facebook Discussion of Zeba Crook’s Parallel Gospels

There’s been some lively to-and-fro on Facebook over the utility of Zeba Crook’s Parallel Gospels. Readers may recall Zeba’s SBL Response to Mark Goodacre’s session critique back in Novemeber 2012. Now he calls attention to Mark’s official RBL review which reiterates many of the same points. With Zeb’s permission I place below their Facebook interactions (Stephen Carlson also stepped in).

By way of preface, I own both Throckmorton’s Gospel Parallels (4th ed.) and Crook’s Parallel Gospels. While I enjoy both, my readers won’t be terribly surprised that Throckmorton remains my favorite tool. Especially for the elegant word alignment, though also for Mark’s objections about giving Q undue tangibility. But on this latter point, see the below discussion and decide for yourself.

Mark’s third criticism — Crook’s “clunky” word-for-word renditions, as opposed to user-friendly translations per our English-speaking bibles — is actually the one that doesn’t faze me. Maybe it’s because I already have so many English-bibles that I appreciate the grunt work Zeba has done here, and seeing the nuts and bolts of the Greek. Zeba’s rendition approach actually fits the utility of a gospel-parallel quite well.

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Zeba Crook [Status Update]: I need to get better reading critical reviews (I admit, they sting), but I am disappointed to see Mark Goodacre still talking about the challenges of coloring (e.g., there are three primary colors so a synopsis should have three columns). My seven year old would have no problem using more colors as needed. I feel the complaint is beneath you, Mark.

Mark Goodacre: Thanks, Zeb. Hadn’t realized that it had been published, so thanks for drawing attention to it. On the colouring, why not explain how you, or your daughter, would do it with the extra Q column? I think I know how I would answer the query, but I’d be interested to hear your take. It’s the kind of discussion that might be able to get to the heart of our basic disagreement about the inclusion of Q in a Gospel Synopsis, which would I think be useful.

Zeba: When I teach from the synopsis, I tell my students NOT to colour Q at all because I don’t want to prejudge their discovery of how much Q makes sense. I also tell them they cannot color Thomas since Thomas wasn’t translated by the same principles as the rest of the synopsis. And nothing ever agrees with John, so colouring isn’t a problem there either. But if one were inclined to colour Q, one could do so colours for: triple agreements, Mt/Mk against Luke, Lk/Mk against Mt, Mt/Q against Lk, and Lk/Q against Mt, and I’m not sure that doing so wouldn’t do as much damage as help to the Q hypothesis. I just don’t think that the colour issue is as worthy as your other comments (to which I responded two two years ago).

Mark: Thanks, Zeb. But the cases of triple tradition with major agreements (so-called Mark-Q overlap) have four columns, so you need a scheme that has quadruple agreements, several types of triple, several doubles etc. I don’t know how one does that with a three-colour mixed scheme. I think that sounds very difficult to conceptualize, but I’d be happy to see it if you think you can illustrate how it’s done. If you are able to illustrate that it can be done as simply and straightforwardly as the more intuitive colouring scheme that one can produce on the basis of three synoptics, I will happily publicly retract my comments.

Zeba: Mark, I never said it was more intuitive. And obviously 3 is simpler than 4, 5, 6 or 7. But perhaps having students use only 3 colours inscribes in their imaginations a gross over-simplification what is obviously an extremely complex problem.

Mark: I’d settle for as intuitive or even almost as intuitive — just show me how it works. But I’m a little surprised by the idea that working with the three primary colours would lead to “a gross over-simplification”. That’s like saying that insisting on three synoptic gospels is a gross over-simplification. My point is that if you have three synoptics (fact) and you have three primary colours (fact), then we can work with that fortuitous and intuitive outcome. Adding a fourth column to reflect one solution to the problem is the thing generating the problem here; it has nothing to do with the intrinsic complications of studying the synopsis.

Zeba: Adding the fourth column for Q does not reflect one solution, any more than adding Thomas and John reflects solutions to whether either or both of those were reliant on the Synoptics. There are features of this synopsis that might just as easily undermine the Q solution in some people’s eyes (such as the number of times that Matt and Luke agree in placement of Q material).

Mark: Of course adding the fourth column for Q reflects one solution, Zeb. It reflects the Two-Source Theory, according to which Q is the source for Matthew’s and Luke’s double tradition, from which the wording in that Q column is derived. And there is, of course, a material difference between Q on the one hand and Thomas and John on the other. They are extant works with textual witnesses and citations in early Christian literature; they are not hypothetical texts reconstructed on the basis of a Synoptic comparison that works with a specific solution to the Synoptic Problem.

Zeba: Yes, there are differences, but one need not be solely fixated on that difference (which is emphasized in the synopsis, no less). The fact is, scholars disagree about the questions of reliance, and one would just as easily (and just as wrongly) claim that putting Thomas/John there prejudices those debates.

Mark: I suspect that you may just be being cute here, or facetious; I think you know full well that there is a world of difference between including a hypothetical text that is a result of studying the Synopsis and including extant texts that are not. But the inclusion of Thomas & John parallels do not prejudice debates about source-usage; they facilitate those debates — they set out the evidence in a graphic way in order that we can have the discussion. The inclusion of Q, on the other hand, takes one particular conclusion about the Synopsis and then integrates it into the presentation of the Synopsis.

Zeba: I respectfully disagree, and I’m not being cute. I maintain that the inclusion of Q is to facilitate the discussion, and that opposition to Q is just as feasible as support for it when studied in the context of his synopsis.

Stephen C. Carlson: If one is to include hypothetical documents that could be a solution, why privilege Q? Why not include Ur-Markus too? Why not Deutero-Mark? Why not Pierson Parker’s Koine Gospel common to Matthew and Mark but not Luke? Why not any of Bosmard’s multiple sources? Why not Q1, Q2, and Q3? And whose Q to include? Harnack’s? The IQP’s Q with the baptism of Jesus in it? Including Q just begs too many questions and biases the answers. I think students ought to understand that the reality of Q is contingent in a way that all the other sources are not, and by including Q as if it is on par with Mark, Thomas, etc. muddles the lesson.

Zeba: Stephen, if readers of my synopsis come away with a sense that Q is anything but contingent, then they aren’t reading my synopsis. I think the only way you and Mark could have been pleased on this issue is I had not mentioned Q anywhere in the book. And why not infinite other sources? Like it or not, and rightly or wrongly, Q is relevant to current gospel research in a way those other issues are not. It’s that simple.

Stephen: The point is not that Q (or even our text of Mark) is contingent or hypothetical–they both are, of course–but that Q is contingent in a way that other sources are not. It is here that the reification of Q in the synopsis sends a mixed and muddled message.

Zeba: I wasn’t comparing Q’s contingency with Mark’s. I was saying straight out that Q is contingent and that if the reader of my synopsis doesn’t get that, he’s an idiot. As I said, the only way I think you and Mark wouldn’t charge this project with sending out a mixed message is if there was no mention of Q anywhere in the book. But Q is part of the scholarly debate. Full stop.

Stephen: Kloppenborg and other members of the Toronto school compare the Q’s hypothetical nature with that Mark’s text all the time. In fact, it’s a favorite argument of his. Now, if you’ve disavowed this argument or comparison, please accept my apologies for presuming that you agree with it. I don’t have any problem with mentioning Q in the introduction, where the student can be told that Q is contingent on a number of things without being shown that it is not in the synopsis.

Zeba: I agree that the comparison isn’t wholly persuasive. But that’s not the point: I didn’t make any such comparison in what I said.

Mark: “I think the only way you [Stephen] and Mark could have been pleased on this issue is I had not mentioned Q anywhere in the book.” — I think that might be a bit unfair, Zeb, given that I have always attempted in my published work to engage critically with current Q scholarship, and to make sure that I have understood it and represented it fairly. My issue with the Q column is stated without prejudice to the arguments pro or con the existence of Q. It is a straightforward question, to repeat: do we wish to incorporate one of the solutions to the problem into the presentation of the data? Tuckett’s JTS review, which I came across today, makes a similar point from the perspective of one who accepts the Q hypothesis.

Zeba: I’m sure I’ve told you this before, Mark, but what really bugs me about getting hammered for the absence of line-by-line parallelization (Tuckett makes the same complaint) is that line-by-line parallelization is how I originally had it and wanted it, but OUP balked at the expense, because it really stretches out of the pericopae and leaves lots of white space (a benefit as far as I was concerned, but a waste of paper as far as OUP was concerned). Grrrr.

Mark: Yes, you mentioned this at the SBL session, Zeb, and I’m afraid I couldn’t help facetiously suggesting that OUP could have saved some extra space by eliminating the Q column!

Mark: But more seriously, this is why reviews are helpful. Works like yours, at their best, improve in the light of repeated editions and revisions. OUP will hopefully see that there is a consensus in the reviews about this key element. I have found the same thing even in the synopsis excerpts that I have created — publishers often have no clue what I am trying to do and eliminate all the hard work I have done and scrunch the text together. But for me, one of the things that is so striking about Parallel Gospels is that you go to such pains to render every word the same way, and then don’t cash in the advantage of having them in word-aligned parallel.

Tribulation, Rapture, and Wrath (In That Order)

For years I’ve been fascinated by Pre-tribulationists: Christians who believe they will be raptured (taken bodily up to heaven) before the onset of the apocalyptic tribulation. It’s a belief that emerged only in the 19th century, but has been popularized by the Left Behind series to the extent of The DaVinci Code. There are technical problems with this view and the more general: early Christians not only expected to suffer the tribulation before they were raptured; they saw it as their holy mandate. Let’s examine.

Paul is the place to start on the subject. His description of the rapture is justly famous, being the most detailed and earliest (50s AD) version preserved in the NT:

“For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thess 4:16-18)

“We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.'” (I Cor 15:51-55)

Obviously neither of these passages says anything to the effect of “comforting one another because you won’t have to go through tribulation”. The passage of I Thess 4 simply advises comfort because believers can count on seeing their loved ones again. Paul was addressing a concern about the bodies of Christians who died before the second coming (his answer: they will be resurrected from their sleep-state). In the passage of I Cor 15, he was addressing an opposite concern, about the bodies of Christians who were still living (his answer: they won’t need to die first before being resurrected; their mortal bodies will be instantly clothed with immortality). Paul wasn’t implying anything at all about the time of the rapture, only about the logistics of dead and alive bodies.

He provided a vivid description of the rapture in any case, which impacted the gospel writers and the author of Revelation. The image of Jesus descending in the clouds and harvesting the faithful is present in the Markan Apocalypse (early 70s AD), followed by Matthew (80s) and Luke (90s), and these writers clearly state that the rapture takes place after the tribulation.

“But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels [with a loud trumpet call], and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” (Mk 13:24-27/Mt 24:29-31; cf. Lk 21:25-27)

Astonishingly, today’s Pre-tribulationists fixate on the text which comes right after this:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mk 13:32/Mt 24:36)

This, they say, proves that the rapture could happen “at any time now”. All it proves is that no one (not even Jesus, apparently) knows the exact day and hour when the rapture will take place. But whenever it happens, it obviously follows the tribulation! The Markan Apocalypse couldn’t be clearer: there will be a nasty tribulation, involving wars, famine, earthquakes, false Christs, false prophets, and people dying for their beliefs. After this period the sun and moon will darken. Then Jesus will come in the clouds to rapture the elect.

If it’s so clear, then why is the doctrine of the pre-trib rapture so widely believed? An obvious (and perhaps flippant) answer is that modern evangelicals are self-entitled wimps and want to be saved by Jesus without having to bleed for it. But to be fair, there’s another reason. At least some of them are genuinely misreading their bibles. They confuse “tribulation” with “God’s wrath”. They rightly point out that NT texts (such as I Thess 5:9) assure faithful believers that they won’t have to suffer God’s wrath. But “God’s wrath” isn’t the same thing as “tribulation”.

The book of Revelation makes clear that the Day of God’s wrath doesn’t come until the sixth seal is opened — which is the point in the Markan Apocalypse at which the sun and moon are darkened:

“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath is come, and who is able to stand?'” (Rev 6:12-17)

This is the onset of God’s wrath, and it is from this point on that the elect will be spared the ugliness running over the earth. They will be raptured, as the Markan Apocalypse makes clear, and which Rev 7 implies. Then the seventh seal will be opened (Rev 8:1-6), segueing into the full-blown horrors of the seven trumpets (Rev 8:7-11:19) and seven bowls (Rev 16:1-21). The trumpets and bowls seem to describe the same supernatural events from different perspectives — God’s punishments that steamroll over humanity: fire and brimstone, the sea turning to blood, rivers becoming poison, locusts pouring out of smoking pits, etc. They are unlike the horrors loosed by the seven seals before the rapture (Rev 6:1-13), which are worldly and involve nothing supernatural at all: war, famine, death, martyrdom.

Simply put, the tribulation (Rev 6:1-13; Mk 13:1-25/Mt 24:1-29/Lk 21:8-26) is not a period in which God is pouring out wrath to punish people. Tribulation is persecution (Mk 14:17/Mt 13:21) and suffering through tyranny and oppression. People don’t go through tribulation because they’re bad; they go through it precisely because they’re uncompromising in their faith; they endure it as a test of their faith. The New Testament is replete with this idea. Acts says that Christians “must” enter the kingdom of God through tribulation (Acts 14:22), and Paul even tells his converts to “rejoice” in their tribulation and sufferings (II Cor 7:4).

In other words, modern Pre-tribulationists are about as far from the mindset of the New Testament as you can possibly get. The early Christians didn’t count on escaping tribulation, whether through rapture or not. For them, suffering persecution was a badge of honor — no less than the cross of Christ. Even when demoralized, they found it within themselves to persevere.

This isn’t to say that traditional Post-tribulationists are without fault. Many of them fall into the same trap of confusing the tribulation with God’s wrath, and as a result put the rapture at the end of the seven-year period of Rev 6-16. The rapture comes after the tribulation but prior to God’s wrath. The best timeline I’ve come across is this one produced by Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church:


Anderson is a controversial figure for some of his extreme fundamentalist views, but he does get some things right, and this is one of them. Contrary to popular belief, the tribulation is not the seven-year period depicted in Rev 6-16. It’s the some-odd 3 ½ year period depicted in Rev 6 (and repeated from a different angle in Rev 13). The outpouring of God’s wrath is the next 3 ½ year period depicted in Rev 8-11 (and repeated in Rev 16). The elect suffer through the first, and are raptured by Christ away from the second. At the end of this collective 7-year period, Christ descends again, but leaves the clouds this time and comes to earth with the saints he raptured 3 ½ years ago; the Battle of Armageddon takes place; and then he reigns on earth for 1000 years.

Getting a handle on this chronology helps see the pattern. As Anderson outlines it, there is a critical break at Rev 12 which starts the timeline over again, so that the sequence of tribulation, rapture, wrath depicted in Rev 6-11 is retold in Rev 13-16. Chapter 12 goes back even further to Mary and the birth of Jesus (12:1-6), and then describes the war in heaven which results in the devil being cast down to earth (Rev 12:7-9). It is his wrath (Rev 12:12) — not God’s — that is about to spill out, as he persecutes God’s elect and tries to destroy them.

This is how the tribulation (Rev 13) unfolds. Not with the supernatural events of fire and brimstone, or rivers of poison, or locusts smoking out of pits. But by wars, natural disasters, famine, and martyrdom — just as in Rev 6:1-11 and Mark’s Apocalypse. The anti-Christ emerges and is given worldly power. Back in Rev 6, he was symbolized by the white horse (a mockery, or “fake Christ”, of the warrior-Jesus to come in Rev 19:11). In Rev 13, he is symbolized by the beast who rises from the sea. The result is the same: he makes war on the saints to overcome them (Rev 13:7). Everyone worships him except believers (13:7-8), and those who don’t worship him are unable to buy or sell anything (13:16-17). Those who defy him are beheaded (see Rev 20:4). His number is 666 (13:18). [Historically, the anti-Christ was the incarnation of Nero Caesar, who persecuted ancient Christians; the numerical equivalents of the letters in his name added up to 666.]

The tribulation of Rev 13 mirrors Rev 6, just as the implied rapture of Rev 14 mirrors Rev 7, and just as God’s wrath of Rev 16 mirrors Rev 8-11. The “tribulation, rapture, wrath” sequence is implied throughout other parts of the NT. As I already mentioned, I Thess 5:9 states that believers won’t be subject to God’s wrath, while II Thess 2:1-3 insists that the Day of Christ (the rapture) cannot come until there is a falling away (apostasy) and the man of sin (anti-Christ) revealed. Taken together, these align pretty closely with the schemes of the Markan Apocalypse and Revelation.

The NT authors were by no means on the same page with all their beliefs. But many of them shared some common convictions, and a post-tribulation rapture was one of them. The NT expects faithful Christians to be tribulated — persecuted, oppressed, robbed, starved, slaughtered — and have their faith put to the test in horrendous ways. The rapture was never understood to avoid this. It was the reward that came after.

My point is not to stir up apocalyptic fervor. But if you happen to be a pre-millenial Christian with literal convictions about the end times, then I would insist that a post-trib/pre-wrath rapture is the only sensible option for you; the pre-trib rapture is no more credible than the claims of The DaVinci Code. The more significant point is the early Christian commitment to suffering for the cause of Christ. The apostles were a lot like their savior: they were ready for martyrdom, and didn’t expect God to bail their asses out to avoid tribulation.

Noah

“You may have wondered from time to time about the sanity of the decision to wipe out most of humanity. Then again, you’ve probably had days in which you said ‘Amen’ to the sentiment behind it.” (John R. Coats, Original Sinners, p 47)

Color me a misanthrope, but yes, there are days I wish some deity would give the world a righteous enema. Though I’d want to be at ground zero when it happened.

Noah and his family were at ground zero, but they had the Ark, which is nicely realized in Darren Aronofsky’s new film. Noah actually came at the right moment for me, because I’d been thinking how refreshing it would be to see the book of Revelation made into a film. Films about the gospels are cranked out every other year, but what about the more challenging and disturbing corners of the bible — like Job, the war-stories of Saul and David, and Revelation? When I ranked C.S. Lewis’ Narnian chronicles, I explained why The Last Battle is the best of the series. Yes, it still traumatizes kids, and “kills off” the young protagonist Susan Pevensie in the most ridiculously unfair way; some readers decide they want nothing to do with a Christ-figure like Aslan who casts his wayward subjects — those sweet talking animals — into the incinerator. But this is what apocalypses are: outpourings of divine wrath that serve a justice so hyper it redefines the meaning of the word. They’re mysteries. Like the Book of Job. And of course, like the story of Noah.

Noah pulls no punches in this regard; Aronofsky doesn’t soft-peddle God’s act of genocide. He takes license filling in the blanks of Genesis 6-9, but remains true to the heart of the story: a righteous man and his family are spared the global holocaust, and are commissioned to preserve the animal creation while humanity is wiped out — because people, in God’s eyes, deserve nothing less. Don’t listen to complaints from the Christian right that this theme of divine vengeance has been anachronistically aligned with pagan environmentalism or vegetarianism. If Christians knew their bibles, they would know that a significant amount of “environmentalism” can be derived from scripture; and as for vegetarianism, if we’re going to be proper fundies, we would acknowledge that God didn’t add meat to the human diet until after the flood (Gen 9:3). See Chris Heard’s wonderful skewering of Christian ignorance on these points. Noah cannot be called pro-environmental in any true modern sense, though it can resonate with some viewers on that level.

There has also been the provocative claim that Noah is pro-gnostic, and it is this claim I want to focus on. Brian Mattson’s “Sympathy for the Devil” argues that the biblical story of Noah has not been merely supplemented by gnostic and Kabbalah myths, but wholly subverted and re-appropriated by them. He writes:

“Of all the Christian leaders who went to great lengths to endorse this movie, and all of the Christian leaders who panned it, not one of them could identify a blatantly Gnostic subversion of the biblical story when it was right in front of their faces.… Aronofsky did it as an experiment to make fools of us: ‘You are so ignorant that I can put Noah up on the big screen and portray him literally as the ‘seed of the Serpent’ and you all will watch my studio’s screening and endorse it.’… He’s having quite the laugh. And what a Gnostic experiment. In Gnosticism, only the elite are ‘in the know’ and have the secret knowledge. Everybody else are dupes and ignorant fools. The ‘event’ of this movie is intended to illustrate the Gnostic premise. We are dupes and fools.”

Which is why, according to Mattson, everyone in the film — protagonists and antagonists alike — worship “the Creator” (never called “God”). The sides of Noah and Tubal-Cain are equally deluded. Noah isn’t wicked like Tubal-Cain, of course, but he’s a far cry from the righteous figure of the bible; he forces Ham to abandon a girl to her death, progressively alienates his family as they ride out the flood, and finally comes within a hair’s width of butchering his two newborn grandchildren. This, says Mattson, is not a side commentary on the evil in everyone, but rather a deliberate alignment with the Zohar scheme of the Jewish Kabbalah, where “on the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species” (Tubal-Cain) and “from the side of Abel/Seth comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial” (Noah).

The crux of the film — Noah’s homicidal mania on board the Ark — is, according to Mattson, the expected behavior of a deluded follower of the false murderous god the gnostics believed Yahweh to be. When Noah finally breaks with this malevolence, lighting on love and mercy (which according to the gnostic myth the Jewish God doesn’t have a single atom of), his enlightenment appears to have been triggered by the snakeskin relic: the skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden.

“The serpent was right all along [in gnostic traditions]. This ‘god,’ ‘The Creator,’ whom they are worshiping is withholding something from them that the serpent will provide: divinity itself. The world of Gnostic mysticism is bewildering with a myriad of varieties. But, generally speaking, they hold in common that the serpent is ‘Sophia,’ ‘Mother,’ or ‘Wisdom.’ The serpent represents the true divine, and the claims of ‘The Creator’ are false.”

The snake-skin relic is what controls Mattson’s interpretation of Noah. It’s the key, for him, that unveils Aronofsky’s conspiracy. At the start of the film,

“Lamech, rather strangely for a patriarch of a family that follows God, takes out a sacred relic, the skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden. He wraps it around his arm, stretches out his hand to touch his son—except, just then, a band of marauders interrupts them and the ceremony isn’t completed. Lamech gets killed, and the ‘villain’ of the film, Tubal-Cain, steals the snakeskin. Noah, in other words, doesn’t get whatever benefit the serpent’s skin was to bestow.”

That’s an astute observation, but there’s a glaring problem with it. Even if Noah remains unblessed by the snake-relic, Lamech has obviously received its spiritual benefits, and so on Mattson’s argument he would be the gnostic prototype. Yet he counsels Noah to “walk with the Creator in righteousness” (I hope I’m remembering the quote right). Obviously a good gnostic would never associate the Creator with anything positive like righteousness.

Mattson blunders at the endpoint too, in claiming that Noah finally learns love and mercy only immediately after obtaining the snake-skin relic from Tubal-Cain:

“Noah kills Tubal-Cain and recovers the snakeskin relic: ‘Sophia,’ ‘Wisdom,’ the true light of the divine.”

Except that Noah does neither of these things. Ham is the one who stabs Tubal-Cain to death; Ham is the one who takes the snake-skin relic (and he’s not blessed by it when he does; his arm doesn’t light up with the appropriate glow). Noah doesn’t even touch the damn thing until the very end of the film, when Ham yields it to him. Frankly, I saw no implied connection between Ham’s removing the snake-skin relic off Tubal-Cain’s corpse and the separate scene on top of the Ark, where Noah is about to butcher his granddaughters but after long moments of agony finally stops his blade. What I saw was Noah struggling brutally with his conscience and barely winning. I certainly didn’t whiff any subtle enlightenment triggered by a relic acquired below deck.

It’s safe to say that the snake-skin doesn’t carry the loaded significance Mattson ascribes to it. I agree there is something gnostic about it, just as there are gnostic and Kabbalah elements that crop up elsewhere. But they serve a supplemental role at best. Noah, on whole, doesn’t denigrate the Creator (far less the creation, which is esteemed as positive) or glorify the serpent. It does take the vengeful character of God seriously, as obviously did the bible of “orthodox” Jews and Christians. Later gnostics couldn’t cope with this dimension to God, and so cast him a lesser, primitive barbaric deity. Apparently Christians like Mattson can’t cope with fleshed out (homicidal) portraits of figures like Noah — who indeed are only mirroring the image of the divine on this point, yet with a balance that I think comes across loud and clear.

The only part of Noah I felt betrayed by was the treatment (or lack thereof) of Gen 9:20-27. In the epilogue Noah gets drunk in a cave, passes out, and Ham sees him naked. But that’s it. Ham does not sodomize (or castrate) his father, nor does Noah curse Ham and his descendents. It’s a complete cop out.

I realize this is a PG-13 movie, but seriously, if Aranofsky is going to have the license to make Ham hate his father for forcing him to let a girl die, and if he’s going to then have the balls to make Ham take revenge against his father by (yes) teaming up with arch-enemy Tubal-Cain, then what better segue into the foul deed of Gen 9:20-27? What better explanation for what Ham was driven to “do” to his father (Gen 9:24), and which in turn caused Noah to disinherit Ham (Gen 9:25), a mystery that has plagued commentators for centuries? Aronofsky set the groundwork perfectly, then walked away from it. The epilogue is a rip-off; a non-event.

Anyway, do see the film. It’s entertaining above all, and has a great battle scene that tries to outmatch Peter Jackson’s ents. But it also forces the hard questions of Job, the stories of Saul and David, and Revelation. It’s probably the best film I’ve seen made of a biblical story, and I’ll be seeing it again this week-end.

Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5