Director Darren Aronofsky turned the biblical story of Noah green, even though it is "perhaps the least environmentally friendly" story in the Bible, says a Yale Divinity School associate professor.
"It is the movie’s green message that has most rankled its critics, especially those on the religious-political right," writes Old Testament scholar Joel Baden in an opinion piece for Politico
Magazine. "In this case, though, the religious right is unmistakably correct."
The movie "Noah" presents the flood story as a commentary on contemporary environmental issues and an argument against human abuse of natural resources and for vegetarianism, Baden wrote, and it's a "message that is hammered home" from the beginning of the film.
"We learn that the bad guys, the descendants of Cain, have been killing and eating animals — because they think it makes them stronger — and ravaging the land to build cities and craft weapons of war," Baden said. "In contrast, the good guys (i.e., the very few people in Noah’s immediate family) are peaceful vegetarians who refuse even to pick a single flower unnecessarily."
As the film moves along, Noah's nemesis, Tubal-Cain, proclaims that animals exist to serve humanity, but Noah believes it is his mission to preserve wildlife, as it is "man who broke the world."
In the movie, Noah is disappointed that the flood does not end with his return to Eden and a world uncorrupted with sin.
However, the Bible story neither ends in Eden nor changes the behavior of humans.
"Quite the contrary: In the end, the deluge does nothing to wipe out the violence and wickedness that brought it about in the first place," Baden wrote. "It is God who changes, accepting that the human race is inherently superior to mere animals, and bloodthirsty at that. 'Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat,' he says after the waters have cleared. 'The fear and dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the Earth and all the birds of the sky and all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand.'"
In addition in the Bible, it's told that Noah brought not one pair of each animal, but also seven pairs of clean animals that can be sacrificed for God.
"That aspect of the biblical account is nowhere to be found in the film," said Baden. "There is no sacrifice at the end of the movie."
Further, humans make no promises to take care of the earth in the Bible's version of the story, said Baden, but God promised not to destroy the earth again.
"The very rationale for the biblical flood in the first place comes up hard against the green movement," said Baden. "Humanity was violent and wicked, so God conjured a natural disaster."
But Baden insisted that the Bible's flood story is not the only way to tell the tale, as there have been versions of the Noah story floating around for centuries.
"In ancient Mesopotamia, for example, hundreds of years before the biblical account was written, there were several version of the flood story, all with different rationales for humanity’s destruction," said Baden. "In one, people were too noisy for the gods. In another, overpopulation was the cause."
Like critics with Aronofsky's version, "a Mesopotamian reading the later biblical account would think it blasphemous—just as an Old Testament author would be amazed reading the interpretation of the rabbis of the next millennium, who claimed that sexual depravity caused the flood," said Baden.
But Baden believes that Aronofsky has "given us a version of the flood myth that recognizes the contemporary human condition," said Baden, just like others have interpreted the story over the centuries, noting that "every generation gets the flood story it deserves."
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