What was new about the myth of the deluge in this film, for me, was the way it brought home the pathos of Noah’s vision of a world made more perfect by the extinction of humankind, as a husband and father whose sons wish to beget children. This hits close to home, as someone raised by atheists who tend to see humanity as a curse on the planet Earth. It’s a theory that is hard to dismiss in the face of global warming – the theory that our world would be better off without us – meaning ALL of us. Helluva thing for a patriarch to embrace though.
Simone Weil writes beautifully of the tension between justice and Creation in her essay on classical science, written at Marseilles in 1941:
“Our simplest actions are ruled by a necessity which, when we relate it to all things, presents the idea of a world so totally indifferent to our desires that we feel how very nearly nothing we are. By conceiving ourselves, if one may so express it, from the point of view of the world, we attain to that indifference about ourselves without which there is no deliverance from desire, hope, fear, and becoming, without which there is no virtue or wisdom, without which one lives in a dream. .. [classical science] tries to read behind all appearances that inexorable necessity which makes the world a place in which we do not count, a place of work, a place indifferent to desire, to aspirations, and to the good. The sun which it takes for an object of study shines indifferently upon the just and the unjust. … [but while] it is true that the matter which constitutes the world is a tissue of blind necessities, absolutely indifferent to our desires [and] spiritual aspirations .. if there has ever been real sanctity in the world then in a sense sanctity is something of which matter is capable; since nothing exists except matter and what is inscribed in it .. We are ruled by a double law: an obvious indifference and a mysterious complicity, as regards the good, on the part of the matter which composes the world; it is because it reminds us of this double law that the spectacle of beauty pierces the heart.”
I also love how, instead of reifying the tribalistic post-hoc analyses of why the children of Ham were “not-us” and disinherited, the film shows how totally human and at the same time utterly unexpected Noah’s reaction was when Ham walked in on him in the nude.
Simone Weil has some intriguing ideas about a lost prophecy of Ham that I’d like to track down, somewhere in her essay Waiting on God. She mentions this in a fragment on Greek philosophy:
“Concerning this Pherecydes there is an extraordinary text of Clement of Alexandria, which is a strange confirmation of my hypothesis about the sons of Noah and also throws a singular light – which could be used in propaganda – upon the origin of Yggdrasil of the nordic mythologies: ‘Pherecydes the Syrian has said: ‘Zeus made a large and beautiful cloth and embroidered on it the Earth and the Ocean and the dwellings of the Ocean’ … Isidorus [a contemporary gnostic] .. taught what are the winged oak and the embroidered cloth that hangs on it, allegories which Pherecydes included in his theology and whose basis he borrowed from the prophecy of Ham.’ ”
This poem, in which Noah speaks to and prays for his family, is based on the 29th Psalm. It is situated before the end of the deluge, and thus before Noah’s escapade of skinnydipping in Iceland, and all that follows from that.
Grant only to God, my sons, glory and strength,
grant to the children of God no such conceit.
Acknowledge our maker, grant His name’s glory.
Humble yourselves before His perilous might.
Listen – His voice rises over the rivers.
Our Creator bore witness – now, he thunders.
God is unfurling all the mighty waters.
Can you not hear the Lord’s voice, in His anger?
Can you not feel the Lord’s awful majesty?
The Lord’s voice tearing out cedars by the roots?
His voice shattering proud Lebanon cedars?
He makes Lebanon’s mountains dance like a fawn,
Syria’s valleys toss like a young wild foal.
The Lord’s voice hewed my doubts in portents with flames.
Can you not hear Him make the wilderness shake?
The Lord’s voice makes the near wilderness tremble.
Who but the Lord brings on the birth pangs of does
and lays waste the mountain forests in a flood?
His glory says all, the world in ruin waits.
Our God was enthroned in this monstrosity
and by this flood, His will be done, for all time.
May the Lord give strength to our sons; forgive them.
May He look on their ways kindly when they err.