In developing the script, you have the biblical text, obviously. What attention did you pay to other sources, such as the Book of Enoch [an extrabiblical Jewish source traditionally attributed to Noah's great-grandfather]?
Ari Handel: We read a lot. We read Enoch, we read the Jubilees, we read a lot of midrash [Jewish literature that explains Torah], we read a lot of different legends, and in midrashic tradition, there are tons of competing stories and legends and ideas circulating.
Some of those extrabiblical stories posit that God wanted to wipe out everybody, including Noah.
AH: I don't remember seeing that specifically, but almost every idea you can imagine is floated, because they're all debated. Certainly, the righteousness of Noah and what that means is something that people have thought about a lot.
DA: There's that one line, he's "righteous in his generation" [Gen. 6:9].
AH: And a lot of people have said that, compared to some prophets of later generations, Noah would not have been righteous. Particularly compared to Abraham.
DA: Abraham pled with God [on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah]. He said let me go and try to save humanity.
AH: He said, "Don't, don't. What if there are 50 righteous men? What if there are 10?" But Noah didn't say, "God, don't." Noah just built the boat. So it's not that he was a bad man, but where was the mercy in that? Whereas Abraham was merciful. So a lot of people have been exploring these ideas, to try to make sense of the tale. We tried to read everything we could.
DA: Is it okay that we're getting so theological?
DA: Oh good. What intrigued me and Ari was that Noah is the fourth story in the Bible. You have creation, original sin, the first murder, and then it jumps forward and everything's terrible, and God wants to start over again. What was clear to us was that Noah is a descendant of original sin. There are three sons, and he's a descendant of Seth, so his ancestors are Adam and Eve, so he has that inside him. That brought to us this weird question: Why restart if that possibility [of being sinful] is still there? Man still has the possibility of being tempted.
AH: Especially because you finish reading Noah and all the wicked people have been wiped out, and one family survived, and you flip the page and it's Babel. So it immediately raises the question, what does that mean? If you look at the context of the story within the Bible, what is that trying to say about the sinfulness and wickedness within us? That was what we had to explore, not the good guys and the bad guys, but both the good and the bad within us.
DA: Within our tradition, being Jews—a long tradition of thousands of years of people writing commentary on the biblical story—there isn't anything we're doing that's out of line or out of sync, but within that, you don't want to contradict what's there. In all the midrash tradition, the text is what the text is. The text exists and is truth and the word and the final authority. But how you decide to interpret it, you can open up your imagination to be inspired by it.