Noah in the Movies

Noah in the Movies

Scripture Genesis 6-9: The Flood I suppose we should all be happy that the film industry is still making movies based on the Bible.  It’s another proof that those sacred books will endure as long as people inhabit the earth.  The movie Noah has not received sterling reviews, but it is selling like a blockbuster just the same.  Now raise your hand if you think that the movie stays close to the details about the Flood in Genesis, chapters six through nine.   Right.  The movie runs over two hours.  There are four chapters on which to base it.   What’s a director to do, if he or she wants hordes of people to buy tickets to see it?   Why, interpret, or course, and embellish, and add characters and drama (oh, and use every special effect that has been invented)! It’s just extremely interesting to see how this age-old story is interpreted by 21st century writers and directors.  And who’s to say that the writer(s) of Genesis weren’t doing the same thing as they wrote down this ancient story of a huge flood that wiped out a lot of life.  Some of the early flood stories were found in the Epic of Atrahasis and in the Epic of Gilgamesh (see The New Interpreters’ Study Bible, p. 16).  There were others, usually following accounts of creation from chaos.  With the flood, chaos is allowed to return. As you read chapters 6-9 straight through, it is easy to discover that there are two stories in Genesis, conflated into one.  Primary evidence for that is in the use of two different names for God in the original Hebrew.  Biblical scholars have mapped out which verses belong to the “Yahwist” narrative and which one to the “Priestly” narrative.  In the Yahwist version, it rains for 40 days and 40 nights; in the Priestly tradition, the flood lasts for a year.  In the Yahwist, Noah is commanded to take seven pairs of clean animals, suitable for both eating and sacrifice; in the Priestly, only one pair of each is brought into the ark, whether clean or unclean.  In the movie version, we understand that no real animals at all were used—just virtual ones. Surely the liberties the director took with the movie, the addition of characters, including two granddaughters that Noah imagines he must sacrifice so that no humans would be left on earth; surely this makes the film controversial, and many critics have come forward, their complaints only adding to the hype and persuading more people to see it.  But the real controversy about biblical story of the Flood is that God gives up on his people and causes a natural disaster to wipe them...

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Women Should Be Silent!

Women Should Be Silent!

Scripture: 1 Timothy 2 If we could land on one book of Scripture that would convince us that Scripture is NOT all of a piece, and that there are many variations in genre, authorship, and authenticity through the ages, it’s this letter to Timothy.   Those who shy away from making distinctions among the books may have to accept some of the responsibility for what 1 Timothy has done to women through the centuries, especially this second chapter.  The issue of the roles of women in our contemporary world was brought home to me in a blog warning that climate change is going to affect ALL of us, no matter how far away we are from the melting glaciers.   The author (from United Nations Development) states that “We know that in 38 of the 48 countries surveyed by the United Nations in a 2010 report, women (over 15 years old) are responsible for searching and collecting drinking water. The harder it is to access it, the further they will have to walk, the worse their health will be, and the less time they will have to educate themselves.” Luckily, we have scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, who distinguish between a radical Paul (in his seven authentic letters), a liberal Paul, and a conservative Paul.  As Crossan puts it, “someone was cleaning up Paul” from his radical notions.   [See his talk on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/txdUXCY0clU]. Scholars are convinced that Paul didn’t even WRITE 1 Timothy, although it has been the cause of much dislike of Paul by women. Chapter two of 1 Timothy is fascinating in how it has been (and still is) interpreted.  The Jewish scholar, Dr. Amy Jill Levine (The Jewish Annotated New Testament), reminds us that the delay in the Second Coming of Jesus, which was the issue in Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians, led the scribes writing in the name of Paul to support the status quo; namely, that women were to find their salvation in having children and their husbands were to rule the household, in the patriarchal culture (and in popular moral treatises) of the time. Dr. Levine even writes, in her notes on chapter two of 1 Timothy: “The view that women are subordinate to men and that the subordination derives from Genesis [note that the New Interpreter’s Study Bible calls 1 Timothy 2:14 a ‘somewhat forced’ reading of Genesis] appears in later Jewish circles and is native to some rabbinic understanding of womanhood…”   When I remind my wife that Scripture says she should be subject to me, she gives me that look that promises: “In your dreams!”    Rightly so: we are partners who love each other dearly, and hierarchy is not even...

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“You Have Heard That It Was Said, But I Say…”

“You Have Heard That It Was Said, But I Say…”

Scripture: Matthew 5:17-48 “You Have Heard That It Was Said…” This passage is difficult because Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (nor the Prophets).  But then he goes on to quote the law about murder, adultery, oaths, retaliation and enemies and goes way beyond it in most cases.  “You have heard that it was said, but what I say to you is…”    Jesus seems to be on the side of the conservative interpreters of the Torah, stating that not one smallest part of a letter of it should ever be changed.  The Jewish scholar, Dr. Amy Jill Levine, in her Annotated Commentary on the New Testament, reminds us that not everything in the Torah is a law, and that way back at the time of Hillel,  Jews believed that there was an oral Torah and a written Torah, and both had equal value.  But the one can be interpreted by the other.  The Hebrew word for law (nomos) can be translated “teaching” and so gives further credence that not everything in the Torah, whether written or oral, has the force of law. Still, Jesus seems to be pointing the way to a higher standard of conduct.  He didn’t seem to have much tolerance for external observances, rituals or practices that were not accompanied by an interior purity of intention.  He knew that what comes out of our character and motivation and instincts means more than what we profess to believe.   He knew how difficult it is for us to accomplish even the most unselfish-looking deeds without having mixed motives for doing so. For those who celebrate or know about Ash Wednesday, with ashes so recently traced on our foreheads and the accompanying words assaulting our ears: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” perhaps we have a context in which to interpret this difficult passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Our lives go so fast—we are old before we realize the years have passed.  We can’t believe the ages of our children and grandchildren.  You never thought you would live to be forty, and then suddenly find yourself in your sixties or seventies or eighties!   Ashes indeed.   I know this is a little far out, but what if Jesus, in these words recorded by Matthew, were trying to teach us something about life and death? We are, are we not, used to playing up certain laws in Scripture and ignoring others.  I was in a discussion group of teachers just the other day, and they were complaining about how little respect students seem to have these days.  They don’t respect each other, nor do they respect their elders, their...

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Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16 After a pause for six weeks of meetings, we can now go back to our “Difficult Passages in Scripture” theme.  Does this passage from Matthew 20 surprise you? I want to bring several sources to bear on this Scripture.  The first, of course, is the scripture itself, and its commentary in The New Interpreters Study Bible.  The second is this poem called “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, a poetess born in Maple Heights, OH (now lives in Provincetown, Mass.) and winner of both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry that many modern spiritual writers are quoting these days: You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things. The third is this passage from Rev. Cam Miller, in his “Subversive Preacher” blog of this past Wednesday 2-19-14: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/1445266a8557d6e1 The fourth is this poignant blog of 2-20-14 by Rachel Held Evans, an Evangelical: “I asked my friends to share their Sacred Scared here because I wanted to prove to you that folks who are showing up BIG TIME and doing REALLY hard things are just like us. Everybody is the same. No one has it all figured out and No one ever will. We just gotta show up for our dreams and each other before we’re ready. We can be scared and still show up. We can be completely UNHEALED and still show up. We must just show up in all our beautiful, messy glory. Because all the good and all the beautiful in the world is created by people who show up before they’re ready. – See more at: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/02/19/sacred-scared-day-one/#sthash.vPj5HdH8.dpuf “Imagine that you have a new friend that you just love, and she’s coming to your house, and you finally liberate yourself enough to skip the panic-clean before she arrives. You decide that you trust her enough to walk in and see your messy house and you just KNOW that she will GET IT. She will LOVE that you...

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Are You Chosen? Am I?

Are You Chosen?  Am I? The difficult line in John 13, in Jesus’ words after he has washed his disciples’ feet is: “What I say is not said of all, for I know the kind of men I chose.”  Right after that, he hands a morsel dipped in wine to Judas and tells him to be quick in what he is about to do. This idea of being “chosen” by God has deep roots and many examples in Scripture. Isaiah has God fondly refer to “Israel, whom I have chosen” (44:1).  Peter calls his early Christian readers  “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, …a people [God] claims for his own” (1 Peter 2:9).  There are detailed, exciting and deeply emotional stories of people being chosen to carry out God’s plan of salvation.   Think of the people chosen for the covenant relationship with God: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.  Sometimes they had their names changed: Abram to Abraham; Jacob to Israel.  If you were chosen, your status would be passed on to your children.  There are careful records of genealogies to show who this favored status included. Think of the choice of Moses to lead the most portentous deliverance in history; or how about the choice of his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam?  Think about the call to Samuel and the Judges, and Samuel’s anointing of that great King, David, son of Jesse.  Women figured into the plan as well: Sarah and Rachel and Ruth and Deborah just to name a few. Then there were the prophets, with some pretty dramatic choices in Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah.  How about the choice of Job to be tested by the Accuser to the depths of his being?   In the New Testament, we have Zachary’s story and Elizabeth’s and Mary’s and Joseph’s, John the Baptist’s and Jesus himself.  In his time, Jesus chooses his disciples and apostles.  After his death, they chose Stephen and the deacons, and Saul—sprawling on the ground, unable to see, the voice of Jesus ringing in his ears–got chosen in spite of his venomous actions toward Jesus’s followers. Are WE chosen?  By whom and for what?  Do we want to ‘be among their number, when the saints go marching in’ to eternal life and happiness?  In his “priestly prayer,” was Jesus talking about US when he said: “For these I pray—not for the world but for these you have given me, for they are really yours” (John 17:9)? Don’t we imagine that we are chosen for some special purpose, some special mission?  Isn’t Paul implying that the Corinthians are chosen because they have different gifts, each one a benefit for the community (1 Cor. 12)?   Don’t we imagine...

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