Kicking Down an Open Door

Peter Chattaway's been chatting away for a week now (sorry, couldn't resist), adding loads and loads of stuff on his blog post "rebutting" my Noah review and then taking to Twitter to trumpet his findings. "Five minutes of Googling," he says, produced for him a targum, midrash, and pseudepigrapha about the serpent skin being the garment Adam and Eve took from the Garden. By reference, then, to texts like Pseudo-Jonathan3 Baruch1 Enoch, and so forth, Mr. Chattaway has taken it upon himself to track down the sources for Noah that director Darren Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel themselves didn't or wouldn't identify.

I must concede. After a week of Googling Mr. Chattaway has, in fact, definitively shown that Aronofsky and Handel relied heavily on extra-biblical sources for their movie. 

Before you congratulate me for magnanimity, keep in mind there's absolutely nothing at stake in this concession. Because that was my argument in the first place. The Dutch call this the embarrassment of "kicking down an open door."

I'll even quote from one of the sources Chattaway no doubt turned up:

The whole process [of speculation on Adam's loss of glory] was often expressed in metaphoric language of putting off and on the luminous garments. Adam’s fall and his loss of the garments of light, the gnostic and neoplatonic descriptions of the soul’s descent – all these are variations of the theme, of which there are predecessors in ancient Mesopotamian religious texts. The metaphoric imagery and expressions of clothing derive from the antecedent Mesopotamian mythological imagery of losing and regaining the clothes or powers during the descent and ascent of a deity to and from the netherworld.

Gnostic and neoplatonic descriptions, eh? Predecessors in Mesopotamian mythology, huh? If you read on you'll even hear about ancient Zoroastrian antecedents. And on pages 9 and 10 you'll read about how this finds expression in the Book of Zohar in Kabbalah.

Forgive me for being a bit surprised that Mr. Chattaway thinks we're having an argument.

Frankly, I cannot tell what he thinks he's arguing. That if he can find somebody, somewhere in the Jewish or Christian traditions engaged in this kind of speculation then the movie is somehow vindicated? That Christians really ought to be all about opening up the canon of Scripture and letting these books in? That the presence of some sect somewhere embracing these books means that the entire Christian church should? That there's nothing subversive about these forms of speculative theology? That the themes are used but Aronofsky intended them to be interpreted in ways consistent with Christian orthodoxy? That it's possible for a Christian to re-interpret them in good ways? That these books aren't speculative or part of a mystical tradition? That Kabbalah is just grand? That Aronofsky must be given the benefit of the doubt? I can't quite figure it all out. And he's free to figure it out, and I wish him well, but I don't have any real interest in these kinds of questions.

Here's what I'm about: I'm an evangelical theologian who wrote a review directed at evangelical Christian leaders. I don't believe most evangelicals are (or should be) comfortable with the mystical, speculative traditions relied on by the makers of Noah. I asked why they didn't notice these themes, and strongly lamented the fact that they didn't.

I'm not bummed by a single thing Mr. Chattaway has dug up in his Quixotic quest to somehow vindicate the movie. He's kicking down an open door.

Brian Mattson