Movie critics tackling Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic Noah have had some fun disentangling the filmmaker’s innovations from the original scriptural story. Basically: massive earth-destroying deluge, yes; Emma Watson’s character, no. But there’s one element of the movie that reviewers have consistently gotten wrong: Noah’s vegetarianism.
Outlining the ways in which Aronofsky has embellished the story, RogerEbert.com’s Matt Zoller Seitz writes that “Noah and his family are vegetarians and view the consumption of meat as a sin against God.” In the Washington Post, Kristen Page-Kirby observes that Aronofsky takes “Peter Jackson-level liberties with the source material,” given that “some characters have been eliminated and others added, the women wear pants, and Noah … pushes an environmentally conscious agenda (he’s even a vegetarian!).” But these claims tell us much less about Noah and its director, and much more about how unfamiliar the reviewers are with the original biblical account. That’s because Aronofsky didn’t make Noah a vegetarian, the Bible did.
Just look at Genesis 9:2-4, one of God’s directives to Noah after the flood:
“The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.”
In other words, until after the deluge, Noah and his family had not been given divine sanction to consume meat, only vegetables. A careful reading of the Genesis account of Eden turns up no instances of Adam and Eve doing so (indeed, man is actually placed into the Garden to “work it and take care of it.”) The plain-sense reading of the text, in other words, accords with Aronofsky’s depiction of Noah as a vegetarian. Only after the flood does God give man permission to eat animals, though even then, it comes with restrictions.
Now, Aronofsky does not portray this final coda in his film, so less biblically-literate audiences may come away with the impression that Noah’s diet remained constant and meat-free throughout. But Aronofsky’s creative liberty, then, is not in rewriting the Bible–it’s emphasizing one of its elements to accentuate his own environmentalist motif.
Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.