"No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that is says what he means." -- George Bernard Shaw
"It is... clearer than the sun and moon that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses." -- Spinoza.
I love the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Bible, planet Earth's bestselling book translated to over 2,400 languages. I like it so much that I started teaching workshops on the wonderful mischievous, sexy, hilarious, absurd and transformative tales of the good book and how they can help us lead a better life. I believe that what make the stories of the bible so captivating is that most of its heroes and heroines are flawed and imperfect. Take King David, for example, known as "the beloved" who was a "man after God's own heart" and yet he was a liar, a thief, an adulterer and a murderer (already four of the 10 Commandments out the window). In other words, he was human, like you and me, but he was also the paragon of the bloodline of the messiah according to both Jews and Christians. How come? Because the bible's principle creed is that no one is perfect. Everyone, even the best of us can sin, and therefore, everyone can redeem themselves. The stories of the bible are a string of redemption tales, one linked to another, one leading to the other. The Bible gave Hollywood the greatest storytelling tools that helped it conquer the hearts and imagination of people across the globe: the Great Character's Arc, the transformation of the hero. And this leads me to the subject of this email, a different kind of Ark, Noah's...
Bans and Pettiness
Noah was a righteous man, and he walked with God, so why are all these fundamental Muslims and Christians so upset with him and the way he is depicted in the newly released Darren Aronofsky adaptation? Why do they boycott and censor him in Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia (Egypt's has not decided yet and the jury is out since these pious men are too busy sentencing hundreds of people for the murder of the same person.)
I don't get these censors who have no respect towards their own people, thinking that the watching a few hours of movie will corrupt their citizen's soul, sentencing them to burn in the flame of hell. Why would the men in the Middle-East, Malaysia and Indonesia be so alarmed by an artistic interpretation of stories written by a bunch of Israelis (who are themselves boycotted from most of these countries) a few thousand years ago? I do not understand why these censors feel that Allah will be offended from movies, pictures, songs or YouTube videos. What has happened to monotheism? If "God is great," all mighty, and all powerful, can't he take care of himself? Why does he need clerics and mullahs and suicide bombers to defend him and his fragile honor? How could they believe in a God with such a small ego that anyone, anywhere, can shutter and break so easily? And it's not only Muslims; some Christian groups in the United States, also exhibited Taliban mentality and expressed their concern with the artistic interpretation of the moviemakers. The marketing team of Paramount Pictures had to bow to the will of the National Religious Broadcasters and add a disclaimer saying the movie Noah is only inspired and not based on the story of Noah. Wait, what? Since when was the biblical account of Noah is a real story that something can be based on?
Let me tell you a secret known to scholars since 1853: The story of Noah as it is told in Genesis 6-9 is actually stolen, or to be politically correct, inspired by an older story that was very popular in the Near-East, the Gone With the Wind of the ancient world. The story tells of a man building an ark to save creation from a deluge. What? You thought Hollywood invented end-of-the-world stories? It was a very familiar motif known to the writers of the bible. It goes like this: Man meets God; man builds big boat; God makes rain; mankind survives, end titles.
The biblical authors changed the names and added their ingenious, timeless, storytelling abilities and of course copyrighted it by insisting that Moses wrote it. The original flood story was written about 1000 years before the Torah as part of a poem called the "Epic of Gilgamesh." (c 1700BCE) In that story, a chap called Utnapishtim or Atrahasis (I agree it is an unpronounceable name and Noah is a far better choice for a protagonist's name) is contacted by the god Enki and instructed to build an ark that can save the animals while the gods bring down a flood. The ark eventually landed on Mt. Nimush in the Kurdish area of modern day Iraq. Familiar, ha? Those of you who do yoga instead of going to temple or church don't have to feel left out. An ancient story in the Satapatha Brahmana tell of a character called Manu, the first man, who is asked by Vishnu to build a big boat in order to survive the flood. There is even a yoga pose named after that ark: Vavasana (Nav means boat).
The Boy's Boycott
As you can see, the Bible's many authors, like Shakespeare, borrowed stories from other sources and retold them in a far more entertaining way. The "logic" of the censors in the Muslim world was that since Noah is mentioned in the Koran, the depiction of his image in the media is forbidden. But Moses and Jesus are mentioned in the Koran as well so how come Indonesia didn't censor Mel Gibson's S&M adaptation of the Passion of the Christ or Spielberg's Prince of Egypt? (Malaysia actually did by the way).
Christian Muslim Solidarity
Some pious Christians complained to Paramount Pictures that Noah should not be seen drunk in the movie. He was a righteous man, they claim, and kids will get the wrong ideas. Well, if you actually read the Bible you will find that indeed, Noah did have a drinking problem. They might also be shocked to know that according to Genesis 9:21 Noah not only drank wine (after he planted a vine) but was also so drunk he lay naked in his tent, stupefied but somewhat content. What I am trying to say is that for centuries religious fundamental Jews, Christians and Muslims have kidnapped God, stolen the Bible and abused it, keeping us ignorant of how wonderful the book really is by telling us what passages to read and what chapters to skip. It is time we reclaim the book from these zealots and start seeing the book not wholly as holy but as a wonderful storytelling machine that inspires, like a true work of art, creativity and interpretations. After all, the word Amen used by Jews, Christians and Muslims at the end of prayers, means in Hebrew both believe and art...
Stay dry and go watch whatever they tell you not to, read whatever they boycott and listen to whatever they try to silence. God is One and therefore is everywhere, even in what they censor, block or hide. Give God a chance...