Saturday, December 09, 2006

Amateur Theologian: Did people eat meat before the Fall?

As you read this, keep in mind that I don't know Hebrew; my specialty is making meaning(s) of the English language.

At the creation of the world in the book of Genesis, God gives man dominion over the earth and all the animals. He says in 1:26 "let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth" and in 1:28 "have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

Interestingly, in 1:29, God says "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food." I find it interesting that even after giving man "dominion" over the animals, God specifies that man can have the plants for food.

Now, I'm not going to pretend this is clear enough to give a message that it is either acceptable or not acceptable to eat meat before the Fall. However, many people do justify eating meat by pointing to God giving dominion over the animals to man. I see this as justification of desired behavior; there is no specific mention that man can or should eat the beasts he has dominion over. In fact, God explicitly tells people they have the plants to eat. Again in 2:9, "And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food..." And then before prohibiting man from eating from one particular tree, God says in 2:16, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden." Again, God explicitly tells people they can eat the plants He created, but there is no explicit mention of whether the animals are available for food.

So before the Fall, there is no mention that people eat animals. I find this absense striking. God commanded man to have dominion over the animals, AND God explicitly commanded man to eat plants. With such explicit mention of dominion over animals AND explicit mention of what people are supposed to eat, it seems like a loud silence on animal consumption. It would seem perfectly within context to mention eating animals at this spot, but it doesn't happen. Based on the translation of Genesis I am reading, it is a reasonable interpretation to suggest that people did not eat animals before the Fall. Even after the Fall, God talks about man eating from the ground (3:17), plants of the field (3:18), and bread (3:19) without mentioning eating animals. Only in 3:20, where God makes Adam and Eve "garments of skins" is ther even a clear suggestion that animals are being killed for the benefit of humans.

At least worth pondering. I for one don't think it's ridiculous to suggest that maybe people didn't eat animals and that animal consumption is part of man's fallen nature.

Possible Flurries adds another point: in Christian theology, there was no death before the Fall. So could people "kill" animals to eat them? That's different from eating the "fruit" of plants.

(Addendum: I said I'd comment on the plays I read, but I didn't want to write a new post for this one. Let's keep my Amateur Theologian question at the top for a few days. So here's the comment: notice how in Sartre's No Exit, the door opens and they could leave...but they don't.)

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if it is true or not, but I remember hearing once that the first mention of people eating animals in the bible is after the flood, as a part of the compact God made with Noah. It might be worth checking that section.

    Of course, the flaw with this is, as always, the many translations we have of the bible and the fact that things may have been lost or added in after the original text was published. But any discussion of the bible has that flaw, and so I don't mean to suggest we can't learn anything from discussion of the bible. I just don't neccesarily trust the word-for-word close readings of it to be truth, more like guidelines and guesses as to what God originally meant. And I really don't think he intended animals to be food, at least not at the point of their creation.

    Humanity's fall brought death into the world, to all living things. It sucks for all the non-serpent animals, who didn't contribute to the fall in any way but are now being punished anyway. I guess maybe if people want to eat meat, they should just eat snake meat?? Kidding.