Welby discusses Gnostic Noah and Kabbalah with Crowe
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was granted an audience yesterday with actor Russell Crowe. Mr Crowe, who is something of a Hollywood icon, is shown flanked in this photograph by two saints of the Church, at least one of whom is also something of an icon. Mr Crowe was in London to promote 'Noah' - his latest film based on.. well, it's kind of based on the biblical story, but there's some debate about the theology. And maybe a few questions about the spirituality. And possibly a few about the history.
It is reported that the two discussed faith and spirituality at Lambeth Palace, which is all very wholesome and proper, and much more edifying than arguing over whether it is Ham or Noah who gets the Edenic relic snakeskin when Tubal-Cain dies. His (present) Grace is clearly engaging with art and culture, and that is also very wholesome and good.
His (former) Grace has received quite a few emails about this film, and has been exhorted by a number of Christians (mainly from the United States) to repudiate its Gnostic themes and Kabbalah mysticism.
He will do no such thing.
Instead he exhorts believers everywhere to watch this film and enjoy it firstly as a work of great cinematographic artistry. And then reflect on its Manichean cosmology, and consider that it contains sufficient spiritual truth to be of enormous theological use in discussing certain key elements of the Judæo-Christian faith, if not the great themes of faith in general - good versus evil; light versus dark; order versus chaos. It is no secret that the film's director Darren Aronofsky is heavily influenced by Kabbalah - a highly esoteric branch of Judaism which has syncretised with what many Christians call 'New Age' spirituality. But Jewish mystics have much to teach us, not least about the great ontological questions about human existence and eschatological mysteries about spiritual revelation and temporal culmination.
The film is manifestly Jewish:
Mr. Aronofsky chose to pull together a variety of stories in this epic film to best position it for popular consumption. There are the love stories, there are battles waged between the forces for evil and goodness, there are the sacrifices made to save the future, and there even are “Watchers,” Transformer-like characters who aid Noah in fulfilling his mission. There is even a moment when we see an Abraham story element introduced. Mr. Aronofsky was quick to say he inserted it “as a way to characterize God … that he is going to wipe out humanity … his creation. We were trying to put that in human terms.” There are enough moral questions and theological issues detailed onscreen to allow for great post-viewing discussions and Bible study. We even are treated to a refresher course on Creation and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. “Noah” is pure enjoyment, though because of some of the brutality, it is not for the very young.Indeed, you will find its Jewish roots discussed all over the internet, with The Tablet (not that one) calling it “the most Jewish biblical blockbuster ever made”:
Here we have Noah’s key theological innovation. For some Christian fundamentalists, Noah prefigures Jesus Christ as a savior who dies and is resurrected. (In this sense, the Flood can be seen as an extreme form of baptism in which the world’s sins are washed away.) It’s worth noting that Noahides, meaning children of Noah, is a Talmudic synonym for gentile. Aronofsky’s Noah is something else. He is recognizably Hollywood, with something of the hardness John Wayne displayed in The Searchers toward his Commanche-defiled niece and more than a bit of James Mason’s cortisone-induced mania in Bigger Than Life: “God spared Isaac but GOD WAS WRONG!!!” But he is also scarily Old Testament. The hero of Noah prefigures Abraham in that, however guilt-racked, he is prepared to slaughter an innocent child to demonstrate his fealty to God. Impossibly stubborn, his neurosis fueled by sexual competition, this Noah is not a savior but an all-too-human punitive patriarch.And yet, according to The Jewish Daily Forward, "Evangelical Christians are right to be angry about Noah":
..all of Aronofsky’s mythmaking and magic is nothing compared to the radical psychological reading he provides of Noah. Here, he is absolutely in accord with Jewish traditions, and absolutely opposed to Christian ones.We can either condemn 'Noah' as theological heresy and ahistorical blasphemy (indeed, it has already been banned throughout the Middle East), or we sit down with others, as the Archbishop of Canterbury manifestly does, to discuss profound matters of faith and spirituality. Alternatively you can just watch the film for no other rational reason than to enjoy it, as Maimonides himself might exhort.
Aronofsky’s Noah is a zealot. He obeys God too much, even to the point of threatening to kill his own family in order to extinguish the human race. He is troubled by the deaths of innocent people, but does not intervene to save them. For the rabbis, this renders him “righteous for his age” but not more than that: unlike Abraham, who argued to save the lives of the wicked, Noah just follows orders.
..In Christian tradition, however, Noah is a saint. He remains righteous amid a wicked society – just as early Christians did in Rome. He has absolute faith in God – just like Christians are called to possess. He is, in short, a paragon of virtue, quite unlike Russell Crowe’s complicated antihero.
“Noah,” then, is a film that fundamentalist Christians are right to abhor. It is midrashic, magical, and radical. Its characters are deeply flawed and deeply complicated. It questions the meaning of faith. It is, in the best senses of the word, quintessentially Jewish.