Lev. 11, clean and unclean animals

Discussion in '2003 Archive' started by Helen, Nov 10, 2002.

  1. Helen

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    Aug 29, 2001
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    This is a fascinating chapter. It is also one which causes a great deal of scorn by some, who take a look at the way animals are classified and try to say this shows how wrong the Bible is.

    What these folk are forgetting is that our current way of classifying animals and plants is not the 'forever' way --- it's pretty new, actually. Long before the modern system arose, people in different cultures classified animals in ways that made sense to them: usually by where the animal was found and how it moved. And this is also what we find in the Bible. Animal groups are classified several ways, at different times, in the Bible. Here are some:

    1. By kind: Genesis 1
    2. By 'nephesh' or soul: Genesis 1 and 7
    3. By locomotion: Genesis 1, here in Leviticus 11, and consistently through the Bible
    4. By where the animal is found.
    5. By clean and unclean, as seen here.

    I will be referring to these in the following comments. It should be noted that there is NO reference to mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. Fish and birds are mentioned as groups, though, although each includes animals we would not include with them.

    First of all, in this chapter, God says the Israelites may eat any animal that has a split hoof and chews the cud. A food animal must meet both criteria and God gives several examples of some that meet one and not the other. In these examples, the rabbit is mentioned as an animal that chews the cud. This has caused enormous scorn among many Bible detractors.

    Does a rabbit chew the cud? Yes. A rabbit is not what is referred to as a ruminant, which refers to the extra stomach cattle and sheep have where partially digested food is stored and brought back up to the mouth to be chewed more thoroughly later, but a rabbit does re-chew partially digested food. Instead of having the 'extra stomach', the rabbit has an 'extra' section of the intestinal tract called the cecum. Normally early in the mornings, rabbits will pass greenish pellets from the cecum that are NOT feces. These they then turn around and re-ingest. The Bible considers this undigested food cud. A good article on rabbit digestion is here for those who are having problems with this:


    Thus, 'chewing the cud' depends on the definition of cud! If it is simply undigested food which is reingested, then there is no doubt but that rabbits chew the cud.

    The next classification is not by locomotion but by place the animals are found -- in the water. The very precise definition of only those things with fins and scales -- which we would define as fish. But this definition of 'scales and fins' in the water excludes all water mammals such as dolphins and whales, all amphibians and reptiles, all worms and shelled animals and crabs and lobsters. Nevertheless, in other parts of the Bible, a good many of these are lumped together with fish, as in the 'big fish' that swallowed Jonah? A type of whale? A type of.....??? It swam in the sea. It was a 'fish.'

    But here in Leviticus, when discussion what may be eaten, it had to have both fins and scales. Just as with the land animals, with everything excluded but cud-chewing animals which had fully split hooves, it was not so much what was excluded in the diet, as defining what could be included.

    We then read, not which birds are INcluded, but which must be EXcluded, unlike the first two categories. Excluded are all birds which eat flesh. Because it flies, the bat is included with birds, and is excluded as something that could be eaten.

    And then there is another category which arouses laughter and scorn among Bible detractors: insects that 'walk on all fours'. It was pointed out to me years ago by a Jewish Christian that this is a known idiomatic expression for 'more than two feet'. There were two general categories of flying anything: two feet and more than two feet. Birds and bats were two-footed. Everything else was 'more than two-footed' or, for the sake of convenience, 'four-footed.' The fact that insects have six legs is neither here nor there. The Hebrews knew how to count! It was simply that they were more that two feet.

    Those "four footed" flying critters with jointed back legs for hopping were legal for food. It should be noted as well that all of these animals are strict vegetarians (crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, locusts, etc.).

    Thus, while it did not matter if something with fins and scales ate other things in the sea that were animals, they were considered clean. From the look of the animals and birds and insects on land that were permitted, however, none that were not strict vegetarians were considered clean for them to be able to eat.

    Further directions are given for touching unclean animals or things that did touch them. In addition, animals such as mice and rats were considered not just 'unclean', but 'detestable.' So were reptiles, such things as centipedes and spiders , etc. Not just unclean. Detestable.

    The chapter closes with the command from God to 'be holy because I am holy.' The Israelites were a called-out, specially formed people through whom God would reveal more of His character to the world. Judging from what they were allowed to eat, they were going to be quite healthy if they obeyed, too!

    [ November 10, 2002, 07:27 PM: Message edited by: Helen ]
  2. Clint Kritzer

    Clint Kritzer
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    Oct 10, 2001
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