I’ve seen two reviews of the new film ‘Noah’ today, one sent to me and another posted in a FB thread. I know many of the sources and influences that the film worked from, and as interesting as they are, I don’t feel that watching it would be a good use of our imagination about our world (I wouldn’t want to). The point I want to mention, though, is that I’m bothered by the way both article-writers claimed expertise regarding ‘Jewish tradition’ (despite being outsiders) and then misapplied it in ways that are really counter-Jewish.
In one article, the author noted both Gnostic and Kabbalistic influences in the film, and compared them to each other, calling Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism- not the ‘Madonna kind’) a form of Gnosticism. I’m not a follower of Kabbalah, so I can’t say too much. I also recognise that this tradition of Jewish mysticism does use some of the scientific, and Gnostic, imagery of the ancient period. But the picture it paints as traditionally taught is very different. While Gnosticism is famous for its concept of the spiritual realms being pure and the material being evil, the Jewish mystical tradition focuses on the role of ‘lower’ realms in bringing about holiness, and the way that God interacts with us through created experiences. Also, the article pointed out that Gnosticism can involve ‘two gods’ or believe that God exists in a hierarchy of emanations. Judaism is directly opposed to this, and to make it clear, Jewish teachers describe the ’emanations’ of God’s attributes as created things with which we interact as our hearts come to know Him personally.
In the other article I happened to read, the way in which the film-makers wedged their own values and ideas into the story is called very Jewish. There is a point to this: Jewish tradition has a genre of storytelling where important ideas are played out through elaborations on biblical stories and themes. But many readers of this article will come away with the sense that the concepts woven through the retold Noah story are the same values as those of rabbinic Judaism, and/or that Jewish tradition has no limits for adding to scriptures. In truth, Jewish midrash is a distinct genre which, when taught as intended, is clearly known to be distinct from the literal. It is a brilliant tool for generations to invest their understanding of meanings and the spirit of observant life into, but its value is based on having sound, authoritative ideas woven in; quite different from those of the movie here. The rabbinic traditions about Noah perhaps only being righteous compared to his own generation are overplayed in the article. And while it is true that some of the stories that the ‘Noah’ film adapts come from ancient Jewish apocalyptic texts, it is not noted that these same texts were not canonised by the rabbinic tradition.
It isn’t right for a society that knows so little about the external details of Judaism, let alone its heart, to acclaim writers who have no expertise in the Jewish tradition at all. The ‘Jewish fettish’ should at least be met with a desire for accuracy, and a willingness to listen deeper to a community that has faithfully held an intricate faith, believing it to be the light for humanity.