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This Review Reveals General Details About the Plot.

Epic Stories From the Bible On the Big Screen

The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966) on IMDb

Plot Overview

The titular goal of the whole Bible in a film was pared down to the first twenty-two chapters of Genesis. It begins, of course, with (Heb. 11:3) the creation. Lots of period special effects here.

Naturally enough, we proceed to the special creation of man in the image of God: Adam & Eve. The narrator says God made a woman for Adam. The theatrical trailer adds the important detail that she was made from the man, although we might infer that from Adam laying his hand on her head and saying, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh." In good Protestant tradition, Eve is tempted by the serpent, yields, and brings Adam along with her. God pronounces their punishment.

The plot thickens (Heb. 11:4) with the murderous conflict between Cain and Abel. This is fleshed out some­thing along the lines of (Jasher 1:13-33):

And [Eve] called the name of the first born Cain, saying, I have obtained a man from the Lord, and the name of the other she called Abel, for she said, In vanity we came into the earth, and in vanity we shall be taken from it. And the boys grew up and their father gave them a possession in the land; and Cain was a tiller of the ground, and Abel a keeper of sheep. And it was at the expir­ation of a few years, that they brought an approxi­mating offering to the Lord, and Cain brought from the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought from the first­lings of his flock from the fat thereof, and God turned and inclined to Abel and his offering, and a fire came down from the Lord from heaven and consumed it. And unto Cain and his offering the Lord did not turn, and he did not incline to it, for he had brought from the inferior fruit of the ground before the Lord, and Cain was jealous against his brother Abel on account of this, and he sought a pretext to slay him.

And in some time after, Cain and Abel his brother, went one day into the field to do their work; and they were both in the field, Cain tilling and ploughing his ground, and Abel feeding his flock; and the flock passed that part which Cain had ploughed in the ground, and it sorely grieved Cain on this account.

And Cain approached his brother Abel in anger, and he said unto him, What is there between me and thee, that thou comest to dwell and bring thy flock to feed in my land?

And Abel answered his brother Cain and said unto him, What is there between me and thee, that thou shalt eat the flesh of my flock and clothe thyself with their wool? And now therefore, put off the wool of my sheep with which thou hast clothed thyself, and recompense me for their fruit and flesh which thou hast eaten, and when thou shalt have done this, I will then go from thy land as thou hast said? And Cain said to his brother Abel, Surely if I slay thee this day, who will require thy blood from me?

And Abel answered Cain, saying, Surely God who has made us in the earth, he will avenge my cause, and he will require my blood from thee shouldst thou slay me, for the Lord is the judge and arbiter, and it is he who will requite man according to his evil, and the wicked man according to the wickedness that he may do upon earth. And now, if thou shouldst slay me here, surely God knoweth thy secret views, and will judge thee for the evil which thou didst declare to do unto me this day.

And when Cain heard the words which Abel his brother had spoken, behold the anger of Cain was kindled against his brother Abel for declaring this thing. And Cain hastened and rose up, and took the iron part of his ploughing instrument, with which he suddenly smote his brother and he slew him, and Cain spilt the blood of his brother Abel upon the earth, and the blood of Abel streamed upon the earth before the flock.

And after this Cain repented having slain his brother, and he was sadly grieved, and he wept over him and it vexed him exceedingly. And Cain rose up and dug a hole in the field, wherein he put his brother's body, and he turned the dust over it.

And the Lord knew what Cain had done to his brother, and the Lord appeared to Cain and said unto him, Where is Abel thy brother that was with thee? And Cain dissembled, and said, I do not know, am I my brother's keeper? And the Lord said unto him, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground where thou hast slain him. For thou hast slain thy brother and hast dissembled before me, and didst imagine in thy heart that I saw thee not, nor knew all thy actions. But thou didst this thing and didst slay thy brother for naught and because he spoke rightly to thee, and now, there­fore, cursed be thou from the ground which opened its mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand, and wherein thou didst bury him.

And it shall be when thou shalt till it, it shall no more give thee its strength as in the beginning, for thorns and thistles shall the ground produce, and thou shalt be moving and wandering in the earth until the day of thy death. And at that time Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, from the place where he was, and he went moving and wandering in the land toward the east of Eden, he and all belonging to him.

Generations follow with their arts and crafts depicted. Through Seth—the replacement good bro for slain Abel—, comes a line of good seed down to, "From Seth's seed was Noah born." (Jasher 5:14-17) "And the Lord said unto Noah, Take unto thee a wife, and beget children, for I have seen thee righteous before me in this generation. And thou shalt raise up seed, and thy children with thee, in the midst of the earth; and Noah went and took a wife, and he chose Naamah the daughter of Enoch, and she was five hundred and eighty years old. And Noah was four hundred and ninety-eight years old, when he took Naamah for a wife. And Naamah conceived and bare a son, and he called his name Japheth, saying, God has enlarged me in the earth; and she conceived again and bare a son, and he called his name Shem, saying, God has made me a remnant, to raise up seed in the midst of the earth." (Heb. 11:7) Noah is called by God to construct an ark by which he and his family will survive the coming deluge. (Jasher 5:34-35) "In his five hundred and ninety-fifth year Noah commenced to make the ark, and he made the ark in five years, as the Lord had commanded. Then Noah took the three daughters of Eliakim, son of Methuselah, for wives for his sons, as the Lord had commanded Noah."

The animals-in-the-ark scenes are the most picturesque in the whole movie. A concession is made to Protestants who don't hold much with genuflecting. The 'true account' is along the lines of, (Jasher 6:4) "And Noah went and seated him­self by the door of the ark, and of all flesh that crouched before him, he brought into the ark, and all that stood before him he left upon earth." In "The Bible: In the Beginning", Noah merely pronounces upon the arriving-by-twos animals that "They are good beasts in their hearts."

Once settled on the now dried earth, a cursory genealogy is depicted. Descending from Ham, Noah's youngest, comes Cush—in Hebrew Cush means black—who begets Nimrod. (Jasher 7:44-46) "And Nimrod dwelt in Shinar, and he reigned securely, and he fought with his enemies and he subdued them, and he prospered in all his battles, and his kingdom became very great. And all nations and tongues heard of his fame, and they gathered themselves to him, and they bowed down to the earth, and they brought him offerings, and he became their lord and king, and they all dwelt with him in the city at Shinar, and Nimrod reigned in the earth over all the sons of Noah, and they were all under his power and counsel. And all the earth was of one tongue and words of union, but Nimrod did not go in the ways of the Lord, and he was more wicked than all the men that were before him, from the days of the flood until those days." From the movie's narrator: "And Nimrod was king set to build a tower that would soar like his pride." There follows the Tower of Babel fiasco.

Moving right along we get to Abraham and his nephew Lot. (Heb. 11:8) Lot gets into a spot of trouble; Abraham rescues him militarily.

Then comes Sarai (later named Sarah) wife of Abram (later named Abraham) (Heb. 11:11) who in her old age is supposed to bear a chosen son. The movie's denouement prefigures the saving sacrifice of Christ. (Heb. 11:17-19)


At first blush this is straightforward, standard fare such as one might find in any Sunday School. If one can stay awake for the whole three hours, though, and compare some embellishments here with some lacunas there, he may discover some thorny issues dealt with.

Take the tent scene of Abraham (George C. Scott) and Sarah (Ava Gardner), "Lo, here I bring my love beside thee in the tent." Its lines are taken straight from The Song of Solomon, as if that later king merely transcribed existing material. Furthermore, they are discretely acted out as they are spoken providing the neophyte at lovemaking with a template to follow, not some over­whelming rush as is Hollywood's custom.

There's the peculiar question of why Noah's wife (Pupella Maggio) didn't produce any more off­spring after the flood, and at a time when they were supposed to be fruitful and multiply. But she had stopped bearing. It's given away by how she measures time in the closed-up ark: her monthlies are never mentioned. Likely, she had stopped bearing long before the trip.

The departure of Hagar When we get to barren Sarai in the chapter, "The Handmaiden's Tale," she tells Abram (George C. Scott), "The Lord hath restrained me from bearing. I pray thee go in unto my maid according to that law which says when a wife is barren, her hand­maid may bear for her." That was an existing law, probably from the time of Noah if not earlier. Could Noah have done the same when his wife was barren? In Sarai's case when the friction became too much, she told her hand­maid Hagar (Zoe Sallis), "Go away from me," who then departed. To Sarai's doubts Abraham comforted her with, "But the child is thine by thy maid­servant's hand, by the l love I bear thee." If we transfer this scheme back to Noah's situation, the kid would be theirs, their youngest, Ham—it's doubtful they'd have survived more than one—, the stand-in mother would be long gone, and they'd all be one happy family with­out doing any violence to the biblical story. This movie gives us one major clue, how­ever, when Noah keeps referring to his wife not by name, but pointedly as "Wife," five times in all during their sparse dialog. It's as if they had had an argument about the other woman—who­ever she was—and Naamah had won the argument, she was the wife, and now Noah won't let her forget it.

Researcher Mark DeWayne Combs posits that, "Although Jasher specific­ally references the births of Japheth and Shem, there is no such reference to the birth of Ham. … that Ham may have been much younger than his brothers and that he may have had a different mother" (389). (See my review of "Project Almanac" for a fuller explanation.) Combs also observes, "Fathering a child, particularly a son, through a hand­maiden or servant girl would not have been an uncommon or forbidden practice in that time period" (165). Historian Kenneth M. Stampp remarks that "Apologists for slavery traced the history of servitude back to the dawn of civilization and showed that it had always existed in some form until their own day" (14).

(Gen. 9:18-19) Noah had three sons through whom the earth would be populated.

In William Graham Cole's book Sex and Love in the Bible, he says of "the curious tale of Noah's drunken sleep in Genesis, a revulsion against both sexual perversion and filial impiety lay behind this story" (382): (Gen. 9:20-23)

According to The Interpreter's Bible: "In the primary, popular form of the story there probably occurred here—as shown by the reference in verse 24 to 'what his younger son had done unto him'—an account of an indecent attack by [Ham] on his father" (Gen. 9:24-27) Noah was trusted by God in his judgment on Ham's line—Canaan was Ham's youngest—on the order of (Heb. 12:9-10) remedial discipline. That is, Noah wanted to populate a righteous world.

The servitude of the Gibeonites of Canaan is written about in the book of Joshua, which this movie doesn't get to, of course, but indirectly it's taken care of with Ham's grand­son Nimrod who instead of serving became king and brought about the disaster shown in the movie. It illustrates (Prov. 30:21-22) what can go wrong when a person exceeds his station.

The movie eliminates the scene of Noah in the tent but incorporates some reworked elements of it elsewhere. Noah's wife addresses but one son calling him disrespectful of his father, "Will you question your father's under­standing, or doubt his ways? You should be ashamed." Noah's wife asks for but one son to serve her at home: "The ground is unsown, and the house is unmended. Give me one of them to [help] out." She is spooked by but one of the good-hearted animals in the ark, the black hippo. And when Noah's three sons are sleeping on the job, he comes down on only one of them, spilling the pitch indecently on his head.

Production Values

This film "" (1966) is unrated. Eve (as well as Adam) shows a lot of skin, but the frontal shots are from the waist up, and Eve's long hair covers most of that. The violence of the flood is not so graphic, but one may hear the wailing in the back­ground. It would just be boring to a young audience, anyway.

John Huston directed as well as played Noah. The actors—many of them big name—are strong, but their lines are few, and, of course, we don't want them to add to the Bible, do we? The special effects took a lot of work with­out a computer, but they hold up today, just not as cutting edge. It clocks in at just under three hours, but there is an intermission, and the individual scenes are well enough labeled to allow one to skip around if he wishes. Both the Bible lines and the extra-biblical additions are in the easy-to-follow sacred dialect of the KJV. The sets are marvelous and Noah's animals charming; they're a diverse zoological offering.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

If you haven't read the Bible in general or the Book of Genesis in particular, here's three hours of it that will be well spent. If you are familiar with parts of it but want to brush up on others, well, the scene selection option can be very handy. If you are familiar with the full scope of Genesis, you may ponder how material from one part of the movie reflects off another to give added insight. Preschool children can just enjoy looking at Noah's animals. Something for everybody here.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for all ages. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Predictable. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. I, p. 556. As referred to by Cole, 382, footnote 1.

The Book of Jasher. Translated from the Hebrew into English (1840). Photo litho­graphic reprint of exact edition published by J.H. Parry & Co., Salt Lake City: 1887. Muskogee, OK: Artisan Pub., 1988. Print, WEB.

Cole, William Graham. Sex and Love in the Bible. New York: Associated Press, 1959. Print.

Combs, Mark DeWayne. End the Beginning. USA: Splinter in the Mind's Eye Pub., 2014. Print.

Stampp, Kenneth M., Professor of American History at the University of California (Berkeley).
   The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South. Vintage Books, 1955. Print.