Noah’s Ark – retold for realism #noah

You may have heard that Rusty Crowe is starring in a new film about Noah’s Ark – you may also have heard that some Christians have a problem with its historical accuracy and have forced it to be edited.

Yes, really.

I won’t spend any time discussing the sheer hilarity of the idea that an obvious and clear myth – which is itself an obvious and clear reboot of at least one prior Babylonian flood story – could be at all “accurate” in any meaningful sense of the word.

However, I do believe a Noah film could be shot realistically. Make it from the point of view of one of Noah’s neighbours. It’d start off with Noah being a normal, decent chap but a little quiet. After a little while, he starts being a bit withdrawn, even reclusive; you don’t see his family much any more either. When you do see him he’s furtive and glances at you sideways; he’s always hurrying somewhere, always ushering his wife or family members back inside. People start talking – is he drinking? Does he hit his wife? Then the noises start. Sawing. Nailing. Is it a house extension? Eventually something takes shape. It’s big. A barn? You go over to ask Noah what he’s doing. He’s up a ladder and shouts something unintelligible; he seems angry. You leave it for the moment.

Months later, Noah’s construction is still growing – but it’s still just framework. Noone knows what it is but noone bothers to ask anymore. It appears he’s spending all his time and money on building whatever it is. It’s too big for a barn. A marketplace? A new temple? Maybe, but of wood? Surely stone or even mud bricks would be more appropriate. You ask the local elders and merchants and priests but none have any idea what’s going on. The whole family seem to be involved now; always up ladders, fetching tools, timber, following instructions barked by an increasingly preoccupied (and dishevelled) Noah.

The thing – now called “Noah’s Folly” by the people in town – is taking shape and there’s cladding on it now. It’s shaped like a boat but there’s no rudder, no masts, no oarlocks, barely even a porthole. It’s also far too big to be practical as a river boat – you’re not even convinced it’ll float, let alone be able to manouevre downstream where it becomes shallow. The smell of pitch now fills the air; Noah’s sealing it against the water. It’s a boat after all.

Eventually curiosity, and hatred of the smell of pitch, gets the better of you. Over you go to ask what Noah’s up to; this time you’ll not leave without an answer. Noah arcs up, enraged and perhaps a little terrified. He rages on and on about how all are doomed, including you; only Noah and his family are righteous and deserving; all will be judged by God and washed from the Earth. You glance at his wife; she just looks haunted and avoids your gaze. Noah’s children don’t even look up from their tasks. Something very curious – very wrong – is happening at Noah’s house.

After a while, things go quiet. Construction appears to have stopped. No more hammering, no more smell of pitch. You think maybe it’s over and Noah’s giant boat – which must surely bankrupt him if it hasn’t already – will sit there as testament to what you now assume is his madness (or perhaps his well-known love of wine) until it rots.

But then the noise starts again – it’s different this time. Livestock. Goats, geese, camels, sheep. Maybe this boat is a barn after all! It will be the rainy season soon – maybe he’s starting a new career as a breeder and wants to protect his investments. But it doesn’t end with livestock. Noah’s even bringing creatures in from the wilderness: wolves, ostriches, even a pair of lions. All restrained (barely) with ropes. Maybe it’s a menagerie like the ones you’ve heard princes and kings keep! They keep coming, brought in by his family. You marvel at how eight people could do all this; you notice how tired, hungry and defeated they all look – all except Noah, who seems consumed, obsessed – perhaps possessed. Noah ushers or just drags all the creatures into the boat. At night you can hear them complain – has he any water or food for them? You hope the ropes on the lions are strong, lest they roam the decks in search of prey. How do they even breathe with just a single window in the top cabin? How can they not suffocate on the stench of their own waste? This isn’t constructed like any barn or boat you’ve ever seen – even in this winter weather, it must be like an oven during the day and a dank, stinking cave by night.

Noah stops bringing the animals after a while. Then all he does is stand atop his boat and watch the sky all day, as if waiting for something. He becomes increasingly agitated. After a week, the rains come – just like they always do. The river floods, just like it always does. It’s a little bigger than last year (though smaller than some you can remember from your youth) and you thank God you built your house halfway up the hillside instead of moving further down on the valley floor, like Noah (you recall asking him why during the last planting season; he just smiled and continued pushing his barrow).

The river widens and deepens as the rains continue. Eventually the water laps at the sides of Noah’s boat. He hurries his family on board, carrying what seems to be a bare minimum of supplies. The water keeps coming (it’s definitely a big one this year!) and consumes Noah’s yards, enters his house. He seems unconcerned, just watching the sky. Some of his other neighbours wade through his submerged yard to confront him; they plead with him to get to higher ground. They’re very concerned about the safety of this boat or floating barn or whatever it is. Noah curses them and spits at them. They retreat back up the hill and watch the water rise.

Two days later; nobody’s seen anybody on the top deck but Noah and the water’s a few feet up the side of Noah’s boat; you’re wondering if the pitch will keep such a large thing watertight, let alone whether it’ll float. You’re not the only one; the hillsides are packed with people curious (perhaps morbidly so) about the fate of Noah’s boat. After a few more hours of steady rain, the boat shifts a little. You hear a gasp from the assembled spectators. More rain. More water. Just before dusk, the giant craft creaks, groans, protests and is finally shifted from its cradle of gopher logs. No sound from the crowd – everyone’s just staring, breaths held. Noah’s boat is now floating. Maybe it’s seaworthy after all! Maybe Noah’s some kind of strange, misunderstood genius (though that still wouldn’t explain the animals).

As the boat is taken downstream, you hear Noah bellowing something over the sound of the rushing water and falling rain – you can’t make it out but it sounds triumphant. Then you hear a sound that chills you to the bone. A creaking, groaning sound. It graduates to a cracking, splintering sound. The vessel is visibly twisting as it’s turned by the current – as if some unseen giant is wringing it out like a large wet cloth. Cladding bursts free from the side of the vessel. Water rushes in, animals fall out. You see a lion, an ostrich, a goat, all fall in to the river. Then a man – one of Noah’s sons? Frantically they paddle and kick but more cladding and beams fall on top of them. You and the crowd are now running down the hill to the riverbank. Perhaps you’ll be able to help save one of the crew. The stricken craft, now waterlogged, runs aground on a sandbar downstream, but it doesn’t stop dead. It starts to tip over, one side dug into the sand. The weight of its own timbers and waterlogged lower decks makes it collapse in on itself. Above the roar of snapping timbers you can hear the desperate screams of animals and people alike.

When you draw level with the sandbar you see among the cracked, twisted ribs of the boat some of the dead: sheep, an ox, some people floating face down. From your vantage point on the riverbank you see Noah on a small patch of sand. As he was on the top deck he was thrown clear by the impact. He’s on his side, still moving. The wreck of the boat is forming a dam, diverting the still-rising water around him. You and some neighbours start talking about a rescue plan – how can we get across the river to the sandbar? Will the wreck hold long enough for us to bring him back? Another grisly cracking sound answers your question as the rest of the hull begins to give way. You and your neighbours rush back up the hillside and turn just in time to see the hapless Noah engulfed by the merciless grey river and the shattered remnants of his creation. You and the other villagers sit in silence as the wreckage flows beyond the sandbar and out of sight down the river. Some of it remains where it fell, stuck in the sand or snagged on the riverbank. As the rain eases and the river subsides, the full extent of the carnage is revealed. Gopherwood beams, planks and logs and the carcasses of animals and people litter the riverbank from the sandbar onward. Noah’s body is never found.

After the funerals are held for Noah’s family, the dead animals disposed of and the remnants of Noah’s vessel cleared away (and reused – it was good timber!), people start retelling the tale of Noah and his “ark”, as people are now calling it. Each time you hear the story, whether in the marketplace, the tavern or via some passing travellers, it appears to grow in magnitude. Some giraffes here, two hippopotami there. By the time you hear a version where Noah’s floating menagerie is an astonishing three hundred cubits (!) long, contains a breeding pair of every animal on the Earth, endures forty whole days of rain and spends a year afloat without any creatures starving to death, you give up trying to correct people. Yes, you were actually there, knew Noah personally and saw the whole thing unfold, but noone wants to hear that. Nobody wants to hear the truth when it’s so much more fun to tell a good story. Next thing you know people will be saying he was called on by God!

______________________________
Update 16 March 2014: Yo, Aronofsky – this is the film you should have made, brah! 😀

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I know how to make Christianity more logically coherent

Yes, I do. I can fix it so it’s less ridiculous. It involves a couple of major changes which would likely get me burned at the stake, but at least it’d make more sense.
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First, let’s recap the current story: God creates man, man defies God, God condemns man to death (first by eviction from Paradise and eternal life, next by global flood), God (as his own son, the avatar Jesus) later returns to earth to a) try and convince everyone he’s God and b) have himself executed as the ultimate scapegoat in order to take on all of man’s sin against himself and spare man from the eternal Hellfire he presumably created. Got that? God sacrifices himself to himself in order to save mankind from his own wrath (with the proviso that man believes God did precisely that, otherwise the deal is off).

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story. I’m equally sure we’re all familiar with the objections: God is all-powerful – in fact, the supreme power in and outside space and time – so he shouldn’t have needed to be tortured and killed as a mere man by other mere men and have those same men believe he did so in order that they be saved from him. God is all-loving – in fact, we’re led to believe that even Hitler might be in Heaven if he recanted his many sins – so if he chose he should be able to simply forgive us all our imperfections, without demanding we accept his sacrifice. God is all-seeing – in fact, we’re told God can see all of us, all the time, all the way into our hearts and minds through and past all our thoughts and feelings – so he shouldn’t need us to pray or worship him or abstain from sex or wear certain things or not eat other things or even do good works in order for him to see the truth of our characters.

If God is the god, the most powerful god, the only god, he shouldn’t have needed to make such a horrid spectacle of himself in order that we all be spared hellfire. If he loved us all and wanted to forgive us all our trespasses and keep us from torment, he has the power to do so without imposing upon us rules & beliefs unsupported by evidence. So, the logical conclusion is that God probably isn’t all-powerful, all-loving or perhaps … he’s simply not alone.


What I suspect is this: the one named “God” is not the only god out there and Christians have been lied to for thousands of years. God did not have himself (as avatar Jesus) sacrificed to himself in order that we be saved. Instead God, out of his all-consuming love for man, had himself sacrificed to another, at least equally powerful god – a god he had been at war with for thousands of years up to the point of the crucifixion. A god who he expelled to Hell in the Beginning. A god who was once an angel, one of God’s own children, who he then left alone in the deep darkness and who then became more powerful, more vengeful and more evil than even God himself could predict or prevent (otherwise, being all-powerful and all-knowing, he could have done so): Lucifer. Also known as Be’elzebub, Satan, Lord of Evil, Prince of Darkness – The Devil Himself. God, who created the world and created life, left the dead and the underworld to Lucifer as a bargain, to do with what he wished as he did with Adam and as he did with Noah’s wicked neighbours. Lucifer, at the beginning, accepts this. But, Lucifer being Lucifer, wishes an advantage. As men die, his numbers increase & his new damned souls – the demons – outnumber the angels. God notices what Lucifer does to souls in Hell and God does not like it. God becomes angry and vengeful. War is inevitable. Souls, angels, devils are thrown together in battle between Heaven and Hell. Neither gains an advantage. Even if God is indeed all-powerful and could smite Lucifer in the blink of an eye, his very love for Lucifer – his first son, older than man – stays his hand from annihilation.

God, after two thousand years of stalemate with Lucifer, decides that the obliteration and torment of souls must stop and begs a parlay. Lucifer halts his armies and demands a sacrifice: God is to manifest as human, live a human life and suffer and die as a human. He may try and gain as many souls for Heaven as he can – he may even perform what miracles he can to as many people as he can to save as many as he can from being conscripted into Lucifer’s army or consigned to his pits – but he only has one human lifetime in which to do it. Whosoever accepts the sacrifice of God may be granted Heaven for eternity; whosoever denies it will join Lucifer in Hell to suffer or serve as Lucifer sees fit. Lucifer, being outside time & space just as his Father is, chooses ancient Palestine & Judea as the setting: the region is occupied by Roman forces; written communication is possible but difficult to disseminate quickly; word-of-mouth reigns but the languages used will soon be dead; existing religious & political powers will be hostile toward any radical philosophy; lives are short and punishment is brutal. God knows the odds are against him but, out of love for mankind, he agrees. God knows this is the best chance – the only chance – that he has to save man. But even as he agrees to the terms, he knows that most people will not accept his sacrifice and will join Lucifer – either as solider or slave – once they die.

The rest we know: Lucifer chose wisely. Romans and Pharisees identify the charismatic rabbi named Jesus as a threat to both the political and religious status quo, torture him and later have him executed in a most brutal and agonising fashion. Although God, working as Jesus Christ, is able to perform great deeds and gain traction among the Hebrew population, his life is short even by the standards of the time. Though he cheats even death itself and tales of his deeds spread it takes a generation, long after Jesus’ disciples were dead, before written accounts surface. Once they do the going is slow, but eventually the cult of Christ the Anointed One is adopted by the very people who murdered him. The Roman Empire, almost five hundred years after Jesus’ execution, make Christianity the state religion, eclipsing Roman paganism (but appropriating the major pagan festivals as markers of Jesus’ birth and death – a shrewd political decision as it leaves Romans free to indulge & feast in the same way at the same times of the year).

In time however, the Roman Empire declines and is replaced by numerous self-governing states around Europe and the Mediterranean. But the Empire is not dead: building on what wealth and power it has left, the Roman military empire becomes a boundary-crossing spiritual empire, spreading and defending Christianity (and gaining more wealth and power than the early Romans could have dreamed) by word, deed, fire and the sword. But, since the fifth century, they have always been careful not to speak of God’s deal with the Devil. You cannot admit weakness in the face of your flock – equally in the face of your enemies. Any texts describing God’s pact with Lucifer are hidden in vaults or crypts or simply burned (as are heretics who dare to speak of such things) and only selected texts are allowed to become Gospel – even texts which do not agree with each other or have little spiritual value are preferable to those which belie God’s supremacy.

And so, we come to today: the Empire still exists, but has challengers and dissenters: even after many years of Inquisition, torture and death there are still Jews who do not accept Jesus as the saviour and a different type of Christian, the Protestant (of which there are countless varieties), does not agree that the only way to Heaven is through the Empire. Persecution has been carried out and war has been waged over differences in theology. A prophet named Mohammed, who claims to have received the last & final version of God’s word, is revered in the places Christianity could not reach and again, wars are fought. Lucifer’s forces become strong, as do those of God but once again God, seeing so many join Lucifer’s ranks in both servitude and suffering, is reaching his breaking point. He ponders another sacrifice. God became man’s sacrificial lamb at Lucifer’s demand but after two thousand years of losing more souls than he gains he wishes something more definite. He wishes confrontation. He wishes an end to the war. For the first time, God desires victory – to defeat & if necessary vanquish his son, Lucifer. He long ago revealed his desire to John, who wrote it down for all to read – a final battle between Light & Darkness on the plains of Armageddon. Lucifer also knows what’s coming, but he does not know when, so he too builds his forces in preparation. For thousands of years, Christians are told “when God decides the time is right, he will return as Jesus the Conqueror and vanquish the Devil and his minions; the righteous shall be forever blessed and the wicked forever damned”.

Christians still wait and the Cold War between Heaven and Hell continues.

But at least now it makes a bit more sense.

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The Space Opera That Never Was

Yesterday I wrote a cool sentence.

Well, not actually a sentence – more of a statement. Well, not even a statement – more of a descriptive title to what I thought could be a chapter in a science fiction novel. Look, whatever it was, I was very proud of it. It was so conducive to creative thought that I actually began to write the introduction to a science fiction novel (it was here that the author decided that the makers of Word for Windows were the most annoying bastards in the entire world. Every time he began to write the word “novel”, he’d get to the first ‘e’ and a little box would pop up next to the with “November” in it, implying that he didn’t have the intelligence or presence of mind to put a capital letter at the start of a proper name. Naturally, being an educated person, he would have put a capital “N” if he was going to write “November”. But he wasn’t going to. He was about to write “novel”, because that’s what he started to talk about and he wasn’t planning on writing “November” until the bloody programme starting annoying him by suggesting it every time he started to write a word with N, O, V, and E as the first four letters. Damn programmer geeks think they’re being so bloody helpful, popping up little squares every time you type something, thinking they’re helping you get things done quicker…it’d be a lot quicker if they didn’t keep implying that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing all the time. And if they’re so smart and so helpful, why couldn’t their programme have figured out that it would’ve been completely out of context to write “November” in that position: “…a chapter in a science fiction November…”? Now, because of those well-meaning, over-cautious but more likely bloody-minded programmer bastards, not only has most of the introductory paragraph been taken up by a bracketed and completely unplanned rant about an annoying little “help” function, the author has ended up writing “November” six times when he didn’t intend to mention it at all unless it was relevant to the story, which it was never going to be [stardates don’t use Earth months, as any decent science fiction writer should know]).

Ahem.

I had a loose introductory plot idea for my space opera (although massively clichéd): a flotilla of space vessels disappears without a trace, the fleet commander wants answers and the only guy who can possibly help is a (wrongly) convicted ex-special forces space-felon with borderline psychosis! Not the most originaltreatment in the world, but I just wanted to start somewhere solid and then see where my brain would lead the story.

Unfortunately, once I completed to the second paragraph of my Pulitzer-winning epic, Ihad to go to lunch and I foolishly (or perhaps fortunately, for the reading public at large) forgot to save my work. I found that out when I returned to work and couldn’t find my story anywhere. Someone had closed the programme in my absence and not saved changes to “doc1.doc”. Some people have no respect for literary masterpieceswritten during work time on work equipment. God-damned barbarians.

The story opened with a repeated hail to the lost flotilla: “Flotilla nine…flotilla nine, do you copy?” It was meant to drop the reader straight into the story, straight into the action, straight into unsettling uncertainty and suspense. I was going to give background on everything later in the narrative, including plenty of interchapters dedicated to our no-nonsense flawed hero figure: “…he leaned against a bulkhead, one hand in a pocket and the other playing absent-mindedly with a beret which had been jammed beneath the epaulet on his left shoulder…” Very sexy. I was tossing up an eye-patch, but hey – this is the far future and he’d either have a bitchin’ multifunction cybernetic eye or a perfect new one made from his own stem cells. The last thing I remember writing was something about the commander, red-faced, shouting “Forty-nine ships don’t just disappear!” as the hero smirked to himself, clearly in contempt of “the brass” and their ignorance (because he alone knew what they were up against – he’d seen it before and these bastards hadn’t believed him; they just threw him in the hole for a decade … the bastards). Upon reflection, it may have been for the best that I stopped if I was going to continue writing, shall we say, tried and true material like that.

The thing is, it looked great in my mind. I could see how the film version of my novel was going to open: a shot from behind of a dozen or so monolithic, battle-scarred warships covered with multi-barrelled turrets; massive photon engine exhausts emitting an eerie blue-green glow; lusciously rendered starfield in the background; over in one corner of the screen hangs a reddish-brown planetoid or moonlet with a few gigantic scorch marks on the surface, giving the viewer the impression that they’ve missed something awesome but can expect to see even better later on; perhaps even a few lithe little scout ships flitting in and amongst and around their larger counterparts, fixing stuff. Over this, you’d hear the repeated hail, then you’d zoom to a close up of the concerned-looking comms officer, eyes flitting, hands on buttons, face illuminated by the various screens in front of him. The camera would then pan across & up to the rather perturbed face of the commander of the fleet.

It was all a great idea. All from one little grouping of words that just popped into my head. I originally wrote it in the subject box of a humourously abusive e-mail I was sending to a friend because I wasn’t sure if the people at his work would see “You’re a gaping porn anus” as utterly hilarious as my friend and I would. I also didn’t want anyone at my work to see it because my friend undoubtedly would reply, using my original. “RE: You’re a gaping porn anus” would also not be perceived as hilarious by anyone who didn’t know the context in which it was written (because, of course, anything can be flat-out hilarious in right context, even [or especially] gaping anuses). So, to avoid reprimand or perhaps just to avoid being given a wide berth in the tea-room, I decided to use something innocuous, neutral, or even a tad perplexing to the naked brain.

What popped out was: “Juncture Group Omega nearing Respite Zone W1-K/3D”.
Cryptic, jargon-y, even nonsensical on a surface level (like most good science fiction terminology) and a great catalyst for a story. But the lack of auto-save betrayed me. Perhaps it’s best in hindsight that I lost that first couple of paragraphs – realistically I should have known that my short attention span would never have allowed me to stick with one great idea for as long as it takes to write a November.

Shit.

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