Religious traditionalists have harshly criticized the new movie “Noah” for its distortion of the Bible’s sacred chronicle. Rather than indulging in criticisms that accomplish little, I would rather present some aspects of the ancient Jewish version of Biblical story that have great modern relevance.
This, in a nutshell, is a much abridged version of the Biblical tale. The people of that era grew terribly decadent and debauched, save for Noah. The Almighty therefore flooded and destroyed the world except for Noah, his family, and representatives of the animals who all survived aboard the Ark. After the water receded and Noah left the Ark, God promised that He would never again smite the world in so devastating a manner.
What follows are some amplifications on this saga taken from ancient Jewish texts.
Why did the Almighty punish those people so severely? The Bible (Genesis 6:13) writes: “God said to Noah, the end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them; and behold, I am about to destroy them from the earth.”
The ancient Jewish take is that those people were widely guilty of not just theft, but of three other major types of sin as well: adultery and sexual perversion, idolatry, and murder. Furthermore, even some of the animals acted with sexual perversion, which is why they too perished, except for those aboard the Ark.
God did not destroy the world immediately after its moral collapse. Rather the Biblical phrase, “His days shall be 120 years” (ibid. 6:3) indicate that for 120 years, Noah publicly built the Ark during which time he warned the sinning people that if they do not change their ways, a great flood would come, and they would all perish.
Several relevant lessons emerge from this narrative. First and foremost: the world and its human inhabitants are not an evolutionary accident. God created the world and sustains it. And when there is a pervasive disregard for basic traditional morality, His destruction may follow. However, those who do not succumb to the prevailing moral breakdown may escape the ravages of the demolition, just as Noah did.
The Biblical story also teaches that when a culture becomes depraved, its resultant downfall may be delayed. Someone observing a morally corrupt society that appears strong and vibrant might therefore assume that things will always continue that way. The example of Noah teaches that people should not be lulled into this false sense of security. Although the generation of the Great Flood deserved to be annihilated, it did not occur until after 120 years, throughout which time they steadfastly refused to improve their ways. But when the downfall finally came, it was absolute and it happened very quickly.
The Almighty did promise that He would never again totally destroy the world as He did in the time of Noah. The implication, however, is that God might at least ruin the financial and political viability of cultures steeped in decadence. In fact, some historians have made the point that throughout the ages, when immorality became widespread within a society, it was a precursor to its demise.
To cite one example: In 1776 English historian Edward Gibbon wrote that the downfall of the ancient Roman Empire and other great civilizations was caused, not by external enemies, but by internal moral degeneration. Describing the Greek Empire before it fell, Mr. Gibbon wrote: “The music of the young people became wild and coarse. Popular entertainment was brutal and vulgar. Promiscuity, homosexuality, and drunkenness became a daily part of life. And all moral and social restraints were lost leading to greater decadence.”
What does all of this say to modern Western society?