Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Noah": A Southern Christian's Review

I saw the new Russell Crowe movie "Noah" last night and thought you might find some thoughts about it to be of interest.

First, I am a Christian and I grew up attending a small Baptist church in the Florida Panhandle. If you aren't familiar with the culture of the Panhandle, it is as Southern as you can get. Most of us came of age doing farm work, attending public school, going to church when the doors were open and saying "please" and "thank you" to all. We were taught the great stories of the Bible as part of our culture, just as we were taught to open doors for others and to show respect to our elders.

The story of Noah and the Ark was always one of my favorites. Like thousands of children before and after, I marveled at the thought of a giant flood that brought so much water onto the face of the earth that even the tops of the highest mountains were covered. I pondered how Noah managed to get all of the animals into the ark and what it must have been like for him to build a gigantic boat in a dry place while his friends and neighbors ridiculed his efforts.

Because I have always loved this wonderful story, I was among the first in line to see the new film from director Darren Aronofsky. I had seen Mr. Aronofsky mention on television that he was an Atheist and that "artistic liberties" had been taken with the story, so I approached it with an open mind. Unlike many who showed up for the screening that I attended, I did not expect the movie to be overly true to the Biblical account of the Great Flood. It was good that I went with such low expectations.

Perhaps the best way to explain Aronofsky's strange vision of Noah is to compare his film with the story of the real Noah as told in Genesis. Let's start with the account of what led to the Great Flood and building of the ark as told in Genesis Chapter 6 of the King James Bible:

(5) And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
(6) And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

The movie portrays this "wickedness of man" from an environmentalist standpoint. Basically, as Aronofsky portrays it, Noah as a child witnesses men hunting down one of the last scaly dog-looking creatures to eat and is appalled to see humans eating animals instead of only plants. An industrial culture has spread across the face of the earth, destroying all of the forests and ruthlessly mining the ground for minerals and glowing rocks.

Back to Genesis:

(7) And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
(8) But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

God never speaks in the movie and is referred to only as "the Creator." The movie's theory is that "the Creator" determines upon a flood to sweep man from the face of the earth so it will be a paradise for the animals and only the animals.

Moving ahead in Genesis:

(12) And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.
(13) And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

In the movie, as noted above, God decides not to destroy the earth, but to wash it clean with water so that it will become a paradise for the animals. "The Creator" of the movie never speaks to Noah, but instead Noah has a dream of a coming flood. Finally, the corruption of man in the movie is the destruction of the environment; in the Bible it was man's obsession with violence.

(14) Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch in within and without with pitch.
(15) And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.
(16) A window shalt though make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt though finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt though set in the side thereof; with lower, second and third stories shalt thou make it.

Simple enough. In the movie, though, God (or "the Creator") never speaks to Noah. Noah obtains the plans for the ark after crossing a region inhabited by fallen angels who have been turned into rock monsters. He then visits his grandfather (Methuselah) on what appears to be the last green mountain on earth. Methuselah gives Noah drugged tea, which causes Noah to hallucinate and see the plans for the ark. Methuselah also provides the last seed from the Garden of Eden, which when planted causes a great forest to grow overnight. The giant fallen angel rock monsters then help build the ark.

(17) And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
(18) But with thee I will establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee.
(19) And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

The movie's version is that all mankind - including Noah and his family - will be destroyed. Noah builds the ark strictly for the animals. Only one of this sons has a wife and the other two spend great time worrying about where they will find wives. Meanwhile. Tubal Cain (the Biblical discoverer of the process for forging metal) arrives with his vast army and threatens Noah. The birds, snakes and animals arrive to fill the ark.

Moving on to Genesis  Chapter 7:

(13) In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark;
(14) They, and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every sort.
(15) And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.
(16) And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.

Back to the movie: The animals go into the ark pretty much as described in the Bible, but two of Noah's sons go in without wives contrary to the account given in Genesis. Meanwhile, Tubal Cain and his army launch an attack on the ark but the giant fallen angel rock monsters join Noah in battling to save the boat. As the fallen angel rock monsters are destroyed by Tubal Cain's army, they burst forth into the light. The door to the ark is never closed by God, but by Noah who comes in and out multiple times as the battle for the ark takes place.

(17) And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.
(18) And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.

The flood is accurately portrayed in the movie, although Tubal Cain manages to chop a hole in the side of the ark as the water is rising. He slips in and hides among the animals where one of Noah's sons finds him and feeds him.

The movie then moves on to a fight to the death between Tubal Cain and Noah for control of the ark and the women aboard it. One of Noah's sons steps in and kills Tubal Cain.

Noah, meanwhile, because more and more crazed and more and more convinced that "the Creator" plans to wipe all mankind from the earth. He tells his family that they will die without replenishing mankind on the earth. When he learns that his daughter is pregnant, he plans to kill her child if it is a girl so that "the Creator's" plan of turning the earth into a paradise for the animals will be carried out.

The daughter-in-law gives birth to twin girls and Noah prepares to stab them to death, but finds himself unable to do so and the babies are spared.

The ark grounds pretty much as described in the Bible and the waters slowly dry from the earth. The animals go out and Noah and his family set foot on the earth. There is discussion about saving the earth from future environmental destruction at the hand of man and one son leaves in resentment because he has no wife.

That's pretty much it. For those hoping for a big screen treatment of the dramatic story of Noah and the Ark as told in the Bible, this isn't it. It is a more than two-hour long environmental and pro-vegetarian lecture.

I wasn't as offended by all of that as much as I was by the fact that the movie simply is not good. The story doesn't make sense and the fallen angel rock monsters make even less sense. If you like being preached at for two hours on environmental issues, then you will enjoy "Noah." If you are hoping for an inspiring and dramatic account of Noah and the Ark, you probably will not be happy with it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bicentennial of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was fought 200 years ago today in the Creek Nation of Alabama. The outcome forever changed the history of the United States.

The Creek War of 1813-1814 had been underway for more than nine months when Major General Andrew Jackson left Fort Williams near present-day Sylacauga with an army of 3,300 men. The general and his men arrived within six miles of the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River on the evening of March 26, 1814.

Tallapoosa River at Horseshoe Bend
The next morning Jackson sent Brigadier General John Coffee with a force of 1,300 men to cross the Tallapoosa and surround the bend from its opposite shore. He then moved forward with the rest of his army and sealed off the neck of the peninsula. Receiving word that Coffee was in place to cut off any attempt at retreat by the Red Stick Creek army, Jackson began his attack at 10:30 in the morning, 200 years ago today.

U.S. artillerymen manhandled two cannon - a 3-pounder and a 6-pounder - to the top of a hill overlooking the massive fortification that the Creeks had built to defend their town of Tohopeka ("Horse's Flat Foot"), a village that took its name from the unusual shape of the Horseshoe Bend. As Jackson's troops formed into lines of battle facing the barricades, the gun crews opened fire.

Site of the Creek fortification
For two hours the guns blasted away at the Red Stick defenses, but the solid iron cannonballs either ricocheted off the solid wall or flew over it. At noon, however, General Coffee's blocking force changed the course of the battle.

Among the 1,300 men assigned to Coffee were 600 Cherokee and Creek warriors who had allied themselves with the United States. With the battle in doubt, the Cherokee soldiers swam the river and launched an attack on the rear of the Red Stick line. The famed scholar Sequoyah was part of this attacking force.

Grave of Major Lemuel Montgomery
Facing attack from both directions, the Red Sticks had no choice but to divide their army. The main body of their warriors remained behind the wall to oppose Jackson while a smaller force rushed to the rear to battle Coffee's oncoming warriors. Seizing the moment, General Jackson ordered his infantry to attack.

Surging forward, the 39th U.S. Infantry struck the Creek fortifications. Major Lemuel Montgomery was killed and Ensign Sam Houston (later President of Texas) was severely wounded, but the 39th went up and over the wall. Jackson's Tennessee militia troops followed.

Led by the war chief Menawa, the Red Sticks continued to fight. For hours the sounds of gunfire, screams and war cries echoed through the smoke that covered the Horseshoe Bend. A couple of hundred Red Sticks tried to escape by swimming the Tallapoosa, but Coffee and his riflemen shot them in the water. So many were slain that the river ran red with blood. Almost all of Menawa's other warriors fought to the death.

When night fell, the severely wounded war chief crawled out from under a pile of bodies and slipped away. He was disfigured for life. A few of his warriors also managed to swim away, but the Creek Nation would never recover from the devastating defeat.

Andrew Jackson
Jackson and his men counted the dead the following day by cutting off the noses of Menawa's slain warriors and then doing a "nose count." The bodies of 557 Red Stick warriors were found on the battlefield and Coffee estimated that another 200-300 were slain in the river. The bones of the dead littered the scene for years to come.

U.S. losses in the battle were 49 killed and 157 wounded. Many of the latter died in the days, weeks and months that followed.

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend did not end the Creek War of 1813-1814, but its outcome was never in doubt after March 27, 1814. The engagement started Andrew Jackson on his road to the White House and the Creek Nation on its journey to the Trail of Tears.

Five months later, the United States forced the Creeks to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The document exacted severe terms on Red Stick and U.S. allied chiefs alike, forcing the cession of 23 million acres of Creek land to the United States.

To learn more about the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, please visit

To learn more about the Creek War of 1813-1814, please visit

To learn more about the Creek Trail of Tears, please visit

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

200th anniversary of Battle Horseshoe Bend is tomorrow

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
Tomorrow (March 27, 2014) will mark the 200th anniversary of the cataclysmic Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama.

Fought on March 27, 1814, between the U.S. Army of Major General Andrew Jackson and the Red Stick Creek army of Menawa, the battle broke the power of the Creek Nation and started the Creeks on their journey to the Trail of Tears.

The Red Sticks were followers of a religious movement started in the Creek nation by the Prophet Josiah Francis. They believed in a return to traditional ways and a disassociation with the so-called "Plan of Civilization" introduced into the nation by United States through its agent for Indian affairs, Benjamin Hawkins.

Fort Mims State Historic Site
The Red Sticks had gone to war against the traditional leaders of the nation in 1813 after several of their party had been assassinated for involvement in an attack against white settlers on the Duck River in Tennessee. The Creek War of 1813-1814 began as a civil war among the Creeks themselves, but spilled over after Mississippi Territorial Militia attacked a Red Stick supply party at Burnt Corn Creek in Escambia County, Alabama.

The Red Sticks won the Battle of Burnt Corn Creek then retaliated against the United States by attacking Fort Mims and killing more than 250 men, women and children. The destruction of Fort Mims stunned the American frontier and led to the invasion of the Creek nation by three U.S. armies.

Holy Ground Battlefield Park
An army under Gen. F.L. Claiborne pushed up the Alabama River and destroyed the primary town of the Prophet Francis at the Battle of Holy Ground. A second army under Gen. John Floyd built Fort Mitchell on the Chattahoochee River and then fought the Creeks at Autossee (Atosi) and Calabee Creek in eastern Alabama. The third army, under Andrew Jackson, pushed south from Tennessee and fought the Red Sticks at Tallushatchee, Talladega, Emuckfau and Enitichopco before closing in on the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River 200 years ago today.

Site of Tohopeka at Horseshoe Bend
One of the two main forces of Red Stick warriors had fortified themselves at Horseshoe Bend, building a village there they called Tohopeka ("Horse's Flat Foot") after a unique looping bend of the Tallapoosa River that looks like a  horse's hoof from the air. Led by the war chief Menawa and the prophet Monahoe, the Creek army numbered perhaps 1,000 men.

Jackson's army, which included both Cherokee and U.S. allied Creeks, outnumbered the Red Sticks by more than 3 to 1 but the fortifications erected by the defenders were extremely well constructed. The outcome of the fight was in no way clear on the evening before the battle as the U.S. troops approached Tohopeka.

I will post more on the Battle of Horseshoe Bend tomorrow. If you would like to read more now, please visit

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mississippi's Singing River - The Mysterious Song of the Pascagoula

The Pascagoula - Mississippi's "Singing River"
Roughly 80 miles long and draining an area of 8,800 square miles along the border of Mississippi and Alabama, the Pascagoula River is a major source of clean, fresh water for the Gulf of Mexico. It holds a unique place in Southern culture as the "Singing River" of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

When French settlers arrived in the region in 1699, they heard a remarkable sound rising from the waters of the Pascagoula. The river takes its name from the Pascagoula Indians, a tribe with with a name that translates literally to "bread eaters."

The people of this tribe told the French that an earlier people had lived on the modern site of Pascagoula. These Native Americans, they said, had worshiped a mermaid who lived in the river. In their temple was a beautifully carved idol of the mermaid, around which the villagers gathered each night to sing and chant.

A strange, repetitive humming sound rises from the river.
At around the time of the Hernando de Soto expedition (1539-1540), however, the Pascagoula said that a strange white man had appeared in the town of the mermaid worshipers. He brought a book and a cross and sought to convert them to Christianity. This angered the mermaid herself, prompting her to rise from the bottom of the river with dramatic fury:

...One night, when the moon at her zenith poured on heaven and earth, with more profusion than usual, a flood of light angelic, at the solemn hour of twelve, when all in nature was in repose and silence, there came, on a sudden, a rushing on the surface of the river, as if the still air had been flapped into a whirlwind by myriads of invisible wings sweeping onward. - Charles Gayerre, History of Louisiana, 1867.

The Pascagoula River.
The water rose up into a "towering column" and at the top stood the mermaid herself. She began to sing a haunting song, calling out to her followers. One after another every man, woman and child in the village walked into the river and were never seen again. According to a 19th century historian, the Pascagoula and other tribes that lived in the area "have always thought it was their musical brethren" who made the sounds of the singing river. Their ghosts, they said, lived on in the palace of the mermaid far beneath the waves.

It is a tragic and unusual story but appears to be the oldest version of a legend still repeated in Mississippi about the American Indians who once lived along the banks of the Pascagoula. Other versions hold that the villagers walked into the river to avoid losing their freedom at the hands of a neighboring tribe or the Spanish conquistadors.

The story was the Pascagoula's way of explaining the strange music that came from the river that bore their name.

Does the river really sing?  Find out by visiting our new page: The Pascagoula - Mississippi's Singing River.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

New mini-documentary on Battle of Natural Bridge, FL

Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park
My new mini-documentary on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, is now online. You can view it for free by visiting the main Battle of Natural Bridge page.

Fought on March 6, 1865, just south of Tallahassee, the engagement was the last significant Confederate victory of the War Between the States (or Civil War). Its significance comes from the fact that it prevented the Union capture of Florida's capital city, leaving Tallahassee as the only unconquered Southern capital east of the Mississippi.

The new mini-documentary follows the story of the Natural Bridge Expedition from its beginning moments in Fort Myers and Key West to its end with the bloody defeat of Federal forces along the banks of the St. Marks River. During the main engagement the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) made 8 separate charges, but were driven back each time by the massed fire of a Confederate force that included the Cadets from what is now Florida State University.

Be sure to take the time to watch it and learn more about the battle by visiting