THE VEGETARIAN THEME IN CHRISTIAN TRADITION
MISASSUMPTIONS ABOUT JESUS AND CHRISTIANITY
Most Christians assume that Jesus ate fish and Passover lamb and therefore could not have been a vegetarian. Most feel that their religion does not place any limits on what animals they may kill and eat. Most believe that the Christianity of today is the same as the religion of Jesus’ original followers. Most assume that Jesus was a fundamentalist. I challenge all these assumptions.
OVERVIEW: THE CONNECTION BETWEEN JESUS AND MY THEME
My thesis is this: There was a Judeo-Christian “church” before Jesus, an Essene group from which Jesus got his values. That church lasted until the early 400s, when they were scattered by the newly Christian Roman emperors. They disappear from history, save one mention by a Moslem historian in the 800s. I refer to this group loosely as “Judeo-Christian,” although they did not call themselves “Christian,” at least not initially. They probably called their church a synagogue.
My thesis is that Jesus was one of a long line of those prophets, one of the greatest. His aim was the moral perfection of humanity. Sadly, his legacy was derailed. His memory and teachings were hijacked by the Romans and their religious allies, the new gentile Christians, particularly the Latin Christians, and transmogrified into a New Testament and a Creed that get his story all wrong, omit many of his most significant ideas, and introduce ideas he would have disagreed with, first and foremost, his deification. As I like to say, Jesus did not want to be worshipped; he wanted to be followed.
Legend has it that from Adam to Noah humankind sacrificed no animals and ate no meat, which I believe indicates that there were societies which were vegetarian or which had a vegetarian religious or class priesthood. (Genesis 1:30, 9:3.) Moses tried to return Israel to the vegetarianism of the matristic Eden but failed. (Exodus 16:15; Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 6; Recognitions of Clement, 1:35 ff, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 8:87-88; Numbers 11:7, 18-34.)
Moses predicted that a prophet would come after him who would complete his work. (Deuteronomy 4:12, 36.) Jesus’ followers believed Jesus was that prophet (Acts 3:22) and that Jesus’ aim was to complete Moses’ work of returning the world to its Edenic peaceful state, as it was before the patriarchal invasions. Part of Moses’ work was to eliminate animal sacrifice from the Jewish religion. Jesus shared this goal and actually shut down the sacrificial system in the Jerusalem Temple for some short period of time. (John 2:14-16.) Jesus and his immediate circle of apostles were vegetarian, and so too was his Judeo-Christian church for 400 years until it was persecuted out of existence. That’s my theory.
OVERVIEW: WHAT WAS GREAT ABOUT JESUS?
Christians generally consider Jesus to have been great because he made the cosmic sacrifice—trading his life for our sins. However, the churches acknowledge he was great for a second reason—although, they rarely mention it—and that is because of the content of his ethical teachings. The points I make here will be developed more fully below.
He took over the temple, drove out all those who bought and sold animals, and also drove out all the animals. Thus, he abolished animal sacrifices in the Temple for some period—as the messiah was to do: “In the time of the Messiah the sacrifices will cease (except that of thanksgiving).” (Pesik 9:79, “Antinomianism,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com; see the section of this book entitled Jesus Stopped the Animal Sacrifices in the Temple, p. 179.) And he was crucified as messiah-king of the Jews. The sign on the cross said “King of the Jews.” (Mark 15:2, 25.)
Jesus and those around him were vegetarian, and his followers were encouraged to “bear what they were able” regarding eating meat, which I believe meant they were to observe a vegetarian fast at lest two days per week (Didache 8:1-2), always to avoid eating the flesh of animals killed in connection with pagan sacrifices and sold in the public market, and always to avoid cruelty to animals. The rule against “eating things strangled” was a term of art or code name that stood for the rule against eating the meat of animals tortured or painfully killed. (Acts 15:20.) It is probable that vegetarianism was not an immediate or absolute requirement but a goal to be striven for. (See the sections of this book entitled James, Brother of Jesus, p. 108, and The Burden Theme, “Bear What Thou Art Able”, p. 158.)
The Judeo-Christian movement was persecuted out of existence by the 400s, although Muslim sources make mention of it as late as the 800s. Their books were banned. They were forbidden to be copied, which meant that after a few hundred years they rotted out of existence. Probably some were burnt in the bonfires that thug monks set alight in the streets.
Jesus did not succeed in establishing his kingdom of ethical monotheism in his lifetime, but that does not mean he was a failure or that his followers will not yet someday succeed in his name. He pointed the way. He was a major player in the process that I am trying to describe in this book, the process of trying to return the world to a state of peace, justice, high ethical and environmental standards; to put an end to slavery; to find a balance between the sexes; to end child abuse; and achieve a sensitivity to the suffering of the animals.
Paul, John, and their disciples—who aimed their teachings at gentiles—completely dropped all references to Jesus as prophet and son of man. They preferred “son of god,” and not in the sense of adopted son of god but as pre-existent logos, and only-begotten son of god. They referred to Jesus as “Lord Jesus Christ,” and they used the term “christ” to mean “messiah-god” instead of “messiah-king.”
Ultimately, through a process of “christological inflation,” a term I have coined, Paul, John, and their successors made Jesus into god coequal with the father. Matthew and Luke taught Jesus was begotten of god at the time of his conception. (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:35.) The author of Mark taught that Jesus became god’s son at his transfiguration or enthronement. (Mark 9:7.) Paul taught that Jesus was designated son of god and begotten at his resurrection. (Romans 1:4; Acts 13:33.) John taught Jesus was begotten of god from the beginning of time. (John 1:2.) The original Ebionites teaching was that Jesus was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary, that Jesus had been “begotten” at his baptism, meaning he had been adopted, like all Israel’s kings at their coronation, as god’s honorary and preeminent son. (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7; Mark 1:11; Acts 10:38, 13:33; Hebrews 1:5, 5:5.)
Because the denomination known as “orthodox” or “catholic” or the “great church” was so well organized, because it so fiercely attacked all other Christian and pagan sects, and ultimately because it made an alliance with the Roman government, it ended up as the official religion and used that position to suppress or destroy all other pagan religions and all other sects of Christianity. In its many councils it perfected the theory that Jesus was the cosmic sacrifice in the Greek mystery religion sense that wiped away the sins of those who believed in him. Those who expressed doubts were excommunicated and told they would go to hell. Later, doubters were killed.
How could so much Christological inflation have occurred so quickly? See the section of this book entitled Information from Moslem-Nazarene Sources, p. 134, for my theory as to how it happened.
Christological inflation may seem a little far afield from my topic, which is the diet of Jesus and his early followers. However, bear in mind that the process of elevating Jesus to status as deity coequal with god the father included a simultaneous deemphasis of Jesus as a teacher of ethical principles about making peace, which principles included making peace with the animals. Gentile Christians found it more convenient to worship a god who demanded certain beliefs but who put few restrictions on behavior, less convenient to follow a prophet who demanded that they make great changes in their behavior, including their dietary behavior.
FOLLOW JESUS BY BEING DEEP HISTORIANS AND STUDENTS OF ETHICS
The Christianity of today focuses too much on the New Testament and too little on the many other sources of information about Jesus, too much on Jesus’ cosmic sacrifice and too little on Jesus’ ethical teachings, too much on getting forgiveness for sins and too little on stopping the sinning—including the sins we commit against innocent animals and the physical environment.
As you read this section, you will see that I am an admirer and follower of Jesus—not as the cosmic sacrifice but as our greatest teacher of peace, law, and justice. I am an admirer and follower not of the Jesus you read about in our mangled New Testament, but of the Ebionite Jesus of Judeo-Christian history.
Fundamentalists will have problems with my hypothesis that Jesus ate no meat, because the gospels clearly say Jesus ate fish, fed fish to others, and called apostles who were fishermen. (Matthew 7:10, 4:19, 14:17, 15:36, 17:27; Mark 1:17; Luke 24:42, John 6:9, 21:9. See the section of this book entitled What About the Fish Stories? p. 191, for an explanation of how the fish passages arose.)
I will discuss the surviving sources of information regarding these vegetarians. The sources are extensive, and some are right in the New Testament. The revisionist editors did a haphazard job of purging vegetarian references as they edited the gospels. And some of what we know comes from quotations which ultra-orthodox heresy fighting Church Fathers made of now lost Judeo-Christian writings.
I will have much to say about Paul, who was not a vegetarian and who was contemptuous of vegetarians. He referred to them as being weak in faith because they would not eat meat. (1 Corinthians 8: 4-13.) He was contemptuous of the Jerusalem founders of Christianity, referring to them as “superlative apostles” and the “circumcision party.” (2 Corinthians 11:5,13, 12:11; Galatians 2:12. See Paul, James, and the Jerusalem Council, p. 122.)
Why do I take a critical approach? Shouldn’t I just focus on the evidence for Jesus’ vegetarianism and leave everything else about Christianity untouched—which is what groups like the Christian Vegetarian Association do? (www.christianveg.com.) Why risk upsetting the faith of unlearned Christians? Because, simply put, the CVA approach is not convincing. It appears to focus arbitrarily on the verses that favor vegetarian theory and ignore those that disfavor it.
For me to demonstrate the high probability that Jesus was a vegetarian, I must teach you the critical method and teach you the method in full. Using this tool, you will be able to read our highly edited New Testament and understand how to tell the oldest layers from those added later. A little bit of the critical method might just be enough for you to conclude that nothing in the New Testament is true. But if I take you all the way through the process, you will come out on the other side possessing tools sufficient to understand what Jesus stood for.
There is one final reason why I take a critical approach: I think if Jesus is looking over the balcony rail and observing what goes on down here on earth, he is probably tired of Christians inflating him into something he was not and completely missing what he actually was. Clarifying who he really was is a service I think he would appreciate. Something similar could be said of poor, confused Saul of Tarsus. He would probably appreciate someone undoing all the damage he did.
Most theologians take little notice of dietary matters as they construct their theories. I believe they overlook a powerful analytical tool. A focus on diet can lead to insights they otherwise might miss. I will return to this point frequently in this chapter, so I will say no more about it here.
Essenes were strict vegetarians, and older Essenes were generally celibate. I take the position that Jesus was of Essene background, while others say he was a Pharisee. The two positions are not irreconcilable because Essenes and Pharisees respected each other and shared most beliefs and customs.
Josephus, Philo, Eusebius, and Plinius say the Essenes were vegetarians. The Essenes shared vegetarianism and many other customs with the Pythagoreans.
The quest for the historical Jesus is a worthy one. At the end of this quest we do not find a Jesus of doctrinal quibbles or a Jesus who focused on finding an innocuous inner peace.
We find instead a Jesus of action who challenged injustice and illegality and sought an end to poverty, war, slavery, subjugation of women, abuse of children and prisoners, and violence in general. We find a Jesus of compassion, ethics, and right-living, all of which extend not just to other humans but to the animals as well. As I say elsewhere, we do not find a Jesus who wanted to be worshiped but one who wanted to be followed.
It is often said that Jesus was a failed messianic pretender, such as Jesus Bar Kokhba, because he did not succeed in bring peace to the world. Even after 2,000 years, I would suggest that this might be a hasty judgment. We who are part of Jesus’ tradition may yet complete his work. Is there a time limit on how long a true prophet and messiah-king has to achieve results? Christians should not give up but should rechannel their efforts in the ethical direction in which Jesus pointed us.
It is not too late for us to learn what Jesus was challenging us to do and do it.
In Review | Books The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals, by Laura Hobgood-Oster. Baylor University Press, 230 pages, $19.95.
BUILDING ON HER RECENT Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition (2008), which aimed to recover the lost history of animals in Christianity, Laura Hobgood-Oster in her new book, The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals, offers a passionate call to Christians to attend to animal suffering. A religion and environmental studies scholar, Hobgood-Oster reminds the Christian world of the long-standing mutual relationship between people and animals, and seeks to broaden narrow views of traditional Christian theology that would limit God’s incarnation to Jesus alone—and his salvific regard only to human beings. “At its core,” she asks, “is Christianity only about human beings?” (168).
In extending the range of the Incarnation, Hobgood-Oster takes a different tack than others before her. For example, the British trinitarian theologian Andrew Linzey focuses on the imperative of imitatio Dei in Christ’s kenotic self-emptying for creatures lesser than himself; so we, following his example, need to serve animals. Animals, Hobgood-Oster says, have not only been chronic victims throughout Christian history, but have been a persistent presence in religiously meaningful ways, sanctified by divine regard. They are God’s creatures, and our friends. They are therefore worthy not only of pity or compassion, but of the religious attention that comes with theological standing. Christian political energies are therefore rightly directed in liberating them from present-day systemic forms of abuse, such as factory farming, meat-eating, hunting, product research, thoroughbred horse racing, puppy mills, and dog fighting. The rubrics of friendship and hospitality, informed by her own relationships with particular beloved animals and by her extensive work as a rescue volunteer for abandoned and injured animals are her main platforms, and they are compellingly presented.
If we are to avoid cruelty to animals, Christian ethics call for vegetarianism in the era of factory farming, writes guest columnist Charles C. Camosy.
WILLIAM BROWN / OP ART
MOST of us are totally disconnected from the process of food production. When taking a bite of pepperoni pizza, we don’t think about the fact that we are eating pig. When grabbing a burger, it seldom crosses our minds that we are about to bite into a piece of cow.
As Christians, if someone confronts us with these uncomfortable facts, we justify our behavior by noting that God gave human beings “dominion” over animals in the Genesis creation stories.
But those same stories also insist that God gives us plants to eat, not animals. God creates animals “because it is not good man should be alone.” Look it up. Furthermore, both Isaiah and Paul insist that all of creation will be redeemed such that both human and nonhuman animals will live together in a peaceable kingdom of nonviolent companionship.
Sadly, that time seems a long ways off. Most of the meat we eat comes from huge corporations via monstrous factory farms, in which more than 100 million chickens are slaughtered each week in the U.S. alone.
The lives of these chickens — like those of most animals in factory farms — are miserable, short and often terribly painful. They spend their pitiful lives in almost complete darkness and in only about one-half of a square foot of living space.
To ensure that they reach full size and move to slaughter quickly, chickens are now genetically altered so that they feel constant hunger and eat as much as they can as quickly as possible. The all-consuming goal of factory farms is to maximize protein-unit output per square foot of space.
The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches that: 1. It is seriously wrong to cause animals to suffer and die without great need; 2. We owe animals kindness. Those who buy chickens and other animals from factory farms cooperate with a cruel evil and make a mockery of our duty to show animals kindness.
Furthermore, virtually no one needs to eat factory-farmed meat — especially given that we can get more than enough protein from eating relatively cheap lentils, peas, beans and nuts. Eating meat is also one of the major causes of cancer and heart disease; it is hardly surprising that cultures that rarely eat meat have higher life expectancy than those that eat meat regularly.
We also know that the methane produced by the excrement and other bodily emissions of the 50 billion factory-farmed animals killed each year does more to affect climate change than all the emissions of cars and planes combined.
The easiest and most productive thing one could do to lower one’s carbon footprint — a solemn duty for Christians committed to protect God’s creation — is simply to stop eating meat from factory farms.
Interestingly, from the very first Council at Jerusalem, concern about ethical meat-eating has been central for Christianity. The Middle Ages produced St. Francis, perhaps the greatest animal-lover of all time.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, just before he became Pope Benedict XVI, described the issue of factory farming as “very serious” and claimed that “degrading of living creatures to a commodity” directly contradicts the Bible’s understanding of animals. Given that his predecessor spoke out about factory farming, might Pope Francis also speak out about it? Given both his namesake and his willingness to try new things, we shouldn’t be surprised if he does.
But we need not wait to make good on our obligations to treat animals with kindness and resist the horrifically cruel practice of factory farming. Christians already have a long tradition of refusing to eat meat on holy days.
If full-blown vegetarianism is too intimidating, perhaps we should return to the ancient practice of refusing to eat meat on Fridays and during the holy season of Lent. It would be an important first step toward meeting our serious moral obligations to nonhuman animals.
The stories of Genesis are symbolic and allegorical. For one who is not afraid to interpret them in a non-literal way, there is much history to be found there. Scholars such as J.J. Bachofen and A.M. Hocart believed in the “historicity of myth.” (J.J. Bachofen, Myth, Religion, and Mother Right; p. 75.) Greek historians such as Herodotus and Strabo acknowledged the ancient Greek stories to be mere legends and distilled history out of them. Those who insist that Genesis or any other book of the Bible be taken completely literally are, ironically, the only ones who are unable to identify the real historical facts they contain. Judaism regards the creation story as part of “esoteric lore.” (Encyclopedia Judaica, “Creation,” 1997 CD edition.) Judaism never accepted the Christian theory of Adam’s fall as constituting an original sin which affects all humanity. This theology first appears in the Christian 2 Esdras 3:10. Genesis belonged to the Jews first, and their interpretation of it should prevail over the Christian interpretation. The first chapters of Genesis and Ezekiel formed the core of the highly symbolic kabbalah. (“Cabala,” www.JewishEncyclopedia.com.)
There was peace in Eden as there was peace in Old Europe before 4300 B.C.E. and in the Old Near East before 5500 B.C.E. All that changed when Semitic patriarchs stormed into the Old Near East and Aryan Kurgans invaded Old Europe. Genesis tells of the loss of peace and the descent into constant warfare. One aspect of the peace was that animals were treated peaceably. There is a legend referred to in the Talmud and the Bible that from the time of Adam to the Deluge, Adam’s descendants did not eat meat. According to Sanhedrin 59b: “Adam was not permitted meat for purposes of eating.”
According to Genesis: And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Genesis 1:29 f.)
And to Adam he said, “…[T]horns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (Genesis 3:17 ff.)
Note that even the animals eat only plant-based foods.
The reason why early humans were forbidden meat to eat, according to 13th Century Jewish scholar Nachmanides, was
… because living creatures possess a moving soul and a certain spiritual superiority which in this respect make them similar to those who possess intellect (people) and they have the power of affecting their welfare and their food and they flee from pain and death. (Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 2; quoting from Rabbi Alfred Cohen, “Vegetarianism from a Jewish Perspective,” Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Vol. I, No. II, (Fall, 1981), p. 45; see www.all-creatures.org/articles/jvrsfaq.html.)
The Jewish literature on vegetarianism is enormous, fascinating, and a door to many other aspects of Judaism and ancient history in general. Schwartz’ book and web site are a good place to start.
The life spans of the legendary patriarchs who lived before the Deluge were very long, Methuselah living to be 969 (Genesis 5:21), and the reason for this, according to Jewish scholar Nachmanides, was their vegetarianism. (I.B. Levinson, The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 12, p. 405; cited by Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 3.)
“Adam” may derive from the Hebrew word adamah, a feminine noun which means “earth.” I hypothesize that there had been a matristic version of this legend, before the patriarchal invasions, in which the hero of the story was Adamah, a woman. I hypothesize that the patriarchal editors put Adamah through a historical “sex change operation.” According to Theodore Reik, the predecessors of the Hebrews worshiped a female goddess. (Pagan Rites in Judaism, p. 100.)
Another role reversal involved the vilification of the serpent. The serpent had been the symbol of the goddess religion and a symbol of healing. Moses employed the Caduceus, a serpent coiled around a cross, as a healing symbol (Numbers 21:8, 2 Kings 18:4), and this harkened back to the matristic era. The Pythagorean and vegetarian physician Hippocrates—supposed author of the Hippocratic Oath—used it as a symbol of healing, and it is still the symbol of physicians today. Nevertheless, the patriarchal redactors of Genesis 3 presented the seducer of Adam and Eve as a serpent.
Scholars are generally mystified as to the meaning of the Genesis legend of the ‘sons of God” and the Nephilim:
[T]he sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in man for ever for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown. The Lord 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…?. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. (Genesis 6: 1-9.)
I find my own theory the most convincing: The “sons of God” in this story represent the patriarchal Semitic invaders of the Old Middle East. The Semitic patriarchs conquered the old pre-Hebrew matristic, partnership culture, in many cases killing off all the men, women, and boys, sparing only the virgin girls, and taking them as wives or concubines, referred to in this story as “the daughters of men.” The Nephilim were their offspring. (See Ronald S. Hendel, “When the Sons of God Cavorted With the Daughters of Men,” ed. Hershel Shanks, Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader from the Biblical Archaeology Review, p. 167 ff.; Cf. Numbers 13:28, 33; Deuteronomy 9:2; Joshua 15:13.) The term “Nephilim” itself is a reference to some kind of angel, however, their behavior was not at all angelic, and the application of the term to them was probably made at a later date in the development of the myth. This is perhaps a story of a holocaust, as revised and recorded in a garbled form by later patriarchal editors. It was not a holocaust of water but of invasion, murder, rape, child abuse, and enslavement.
The patriarchs, referred to in Genesis 6 as the “sons of God,” conquered the pre-Hebrew partnership cultures, but they were outnumbered by those they conquered, and they may have brought few women with them. So they married or took as concubines enormous harems of those pre-Hebrew virgin girls who survived the holocaust. (Compare Numbers 13:28, 33, quoted on page 44.) The girls became the mothers of the second generation, the Nephilim. I suggest that the virgins knew their goddess traditions well and were able to pass them on to their children. The patriarchal culture allowed only the boys to become priests, unlike the partnership culture which preceded it, in which it appears that both boys and girls could aspire to the priesthood.
In the long history of the pre-Hebrews this is the narrow middle of the hour glass. I speculate that much of the sand of tradition never flowed through and was lost forever. But enough of the tradition did flow through to make it possible for us to reassemble the pieces. I suggest that the warlike, masculinist religion of the invaders was blended with the matristic, partnership religion to produce an initially warlike, pre-Hebrew religion which killed off entire tribes and introduced animal sacrifice.
On the mother side of the pre-Hebrew religion, god may have been female or may have had a feminine side, the ruach, or spirit of god. Judaism today considers god to be both male and female. This combined maleness and femaleness of god can be seen in the Jewish mystical tradition known as kabbalah, in which the feminine side of god is called the shekinah. (Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, p. 112.)
The original root of the pre-Hebrew religion was very strong on the mother side, and as time passed the partnership paradigm was reasserted, with the invader religion surviving as a thin veneer: While men continued to control the leadership of the Hebrew religion, the core of the religion reverted to many aspects of the pre-invasion-holocaust partnership paradigm.
By the time of Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah, after 500 B.C.E., feminine themes—justice, ending the violence to fellow humans, and ending the killing and sacrificing of animals—worked their way into the consciousness of such prophetic leaders. In most other ancient patriarchal religions such as Brahmanism and Zoroastrianism, the feminine root was expunged much more completely. Druidism, the religion of the European Celts, was likewise a merger of the masculine dominator and feminine partnership religions; among the Celts, some feminine themes survived, and women could own property and divorce.
My hypothesis is that the old teachings from the matristic, partnership era survived by being grafted into legends from the father side. The religion of mostly priestesses and some priests was replaced by a religion of priests only. The gender of god was changed from female to male, from a goddess of ethics, law, and medicine into a god of war, conquest, and ethnic cleansing. Stories were revised by the invader religion; matriarchs became patriarchs.
I suggest, however, that the goddess side of the pre-Hebrew religion survived and gradually reasserted itself in Judaism, which by the time of the Prophets had become a progressive, philosophical religion that stressed high ethical standards. Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Judaism allow women to become rabbis, and Orthodox Judaism is now ordaining a few women as rabbis. Women have never been barred from studying the tradition. Both the feminine side of god and the ancient teachings from the mother side are stronger in Judaism than in the other major patriarchal religions—Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Brahmanism, and Hinduism.
In the Cain and Abel story as we have it (Genesis 4), Cain sacrificed grain and vegetables, and his sacrifice was not pleasing to god. Able sacrificed animals, and his sacrifice was pleasing to god. According to my theory, Cain and Abel were reversed by meat eating patriarchs who rewrote the story. I suggest that in the original pre-patriarchal story, Able offered a vegetable sacrifice that was pleasing to god, while Cain offered an animal sacrifice, which was not pleasing. I suggest the story was changed to make meat the preferred sacrifice in order to validate the customs of the conquering patriarchs.
That this reversal has taken place in Genesis 4 is quite plausible because Adam’s progeny—in the original matristic vegetarian version of pre-Hebrew history—did not eat meat from Genesis 1 thorough Genesis 9. Abel was one of Adam’s pre-Hebrew progeny, and it is unlikely he would have offered an animal sacrifice if he did not eat meat. It was generally food items that were sacrificed, vegetables, grain, meat, and wine—although incense was sacrificed too. In sacrifices in the Bible, only a few animals were burned entirely, leaving nothing to eat—referred to as “burnt offerings” or “whole burnt offerings.” Of the majority of sacrifices, only a part was burned. The remainder was distributed to the priests and those who brought the animal to be sacrificed. The priests kept all the leather. My point is that sacrifices were primarily made of things that were eaten, and if animals were not being sacrificed, they probably were not being eaten; conversely, if animals were not being eaten, they were probably not being sacrificed, and the meat sacrifice of Cain would have been displeasing to god.
However, there is another interpretation of this strange story, and it comes from Henry Bailey Stevens. Eden was a place where the tree was central. God had a special relationship with the trees, as would be appropriate in a time when trees where worshiped. Cain offered as fertilizer to the trees a mulch of only plant matter. They grew well enough. However, Abel poured the blood, bones, and manure of animals around the trees, giving them a large dose of nitrogen and minerals. They grew better and produced more fruit. In this way the god of the trees preferred Abel’s sacrifice. (The Recovery of Culture, pp. 64-67. This is on my list of must-read books.)
THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL EDEN
Can we prove there were vegetarian societies in prehistoric times? I know of no archeologist who has reported finding village dumps from 5000 B.C.E. in which there are no animal bones. Would a village dump containing no bones completely biodegrade and be harder to find? I would think that broken pottery and cutting tools would still survive.
Did a vegetarian Eden ever exist? Were there tribes that gathered but did not hunt? The tentative proof is threefold: First, there is historical documentation of the existence of Pythagorean vegetarian societies in southern Italy in the Sixth Century B.C.E. and in Palestine and Egypt by the time of Jesus. Second, Pythagoras, Plato, and other Greeks claimed there was a Golden Era in the distant past when the best societies did not kill animals for food. Third, Genesis and the Talmud claim that humans from Adam to Noah ate a vegetarian diet. Greek and Hebrew myth generally grows around a seed of historical fact. Fourth, there have been and are many religions which practice a part-time vegetarianism or a vegetarianism of the priesthood, which would mean that some within these religions and societies admired vegetarianism and pursued it to different degrees.
On the other hand, mythological statements about what happened in the past are sometimes best interpreted not as statements of how things actually were in the past, but how things should be in the present. Perhaps Pythagoras, Plato, and the writers of Genesis and the Talmud said there had been a vegetarian Golden Era in order to say that their own ages should be vegetarian.
The Near East and Old Europe, before around 5500 B.C.E. and 4300 B.C.E. respectively were largely free of warfare. Women were the equal of men or even their superiors. Things took a big change thereafter, with the invasions of Aryan and other patriarchal invaders and the massive increase in animal herding which they introduced. These invasions mark the beginning of generalized war, genocide, slavery, the abuse of women and children, environmental destruction, the domestication and abuse of animals on a mass scale, and a great increase in the consumption of meat.
For most of our species’ duration, animal-based foods made up a smaller part of the human diet than they do today. The earliest humans ate mostly vegetation, supplemented with insects. They lacked the weapons to kill large animals. The bow and arrow appeared only around 30,000 years ago. For most of human history we did not herd animals, and when we hunted, it provided an occasional, not a daily, source of food. Fish was probably commonly eaten in coastal and riparian societies, although the Phoenicians refused to eat fish. Meat of land animals probably did not become a regular source of food for most humans until agriculture developed starting around 10,000 years ago, and even then meat was probably not consumed on a daily basis as it is today. Even in the 20th Century, even up until the end of World War II, the typical diet in the United States contained much less animal products than it does today.
THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL DELUGE
An inquiry into the flood story is relevant to our topic because it is a dividing line in legends regarding food history. Before the Flood, the descendants of Adam were vegetarians; thereafter they were allowed to eat meat.
There are legends of a Deluge in ancient traditions around the world. The Hebrews told of Noah. The Greeks told of Deucalion—mentioned by Apollodorus, Apollonius Rhodius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ovid, Hesiod, and others. (http://www.geocities.com/tmartiac//thalassa/themis.htm).
The flood stories may have come from vague memories of an especially destructive local flood or tsunami. For example, the mega-volcano island of Santorini near Crete blew up around 1450 B.C.E., and this created huge tsunamis. Ash may have fallen on Egypt, creating plagues that helped Moses get the Israelites out of Egypt. Ash probably covered wide areas, disrupting agriculture, and causing population decline. The partnership Minoan civilization declined after this time and was overrun by the patriarchal Mycenaeans.
However, there could be other sources for the flood myths: For example, as the last Ice Age was ending around 10,000 years ago, there was a pluvial age in which there were lengthy periods of extremely heavy rain. Glaciers were melting, sometimes very quickly, with entire ice sheets slipping off land masses, raising sea levels perhaps several meters in a matter of days. The sea level rose around 400 feet shortly after the end of the last Ice Age. Ice dams broke, flooding low areas and quickly filling lakes.
A combination of generally rising sea levels combined with rapidly calving glaciers, combined with large storms, low atmospheric pressure, high tides, and high winds, could have produced disastrous floods. Continental shelves were submerged. Perhaps the legend of the Deluge derives from this rapid rise in sea level.
Before the end of the last Ice Age, most lived along sea coasts, just as most do today. Speculative historians look for the mythical Atlantis out in the Atlantic or on some other continent, however, they should be looking on the submerged continental shelves of the world—under 400 feet of water—along the old coastlines. As the oceans rose, those who lived along the coastlines journeyed inland to what became the new coastlines. In moving inland they may have displaced upland herders, perhaps forcibly. Perhaps these evicted herders, resentful of the coastal people who drove them north and east, became the Aryan Kurgans and the Semitic patriarchs which later took revenge and invaded Europe, the Near East, and India.
While the oceans, including the Mediterranean, were rising, the Black Sea was not. It was a fresh water lake, walled off from the Mediterranean by a solid Bosporus barrier. However, around 5500 B.C.E., the barrier gave way, and the level of the Black Sea rose quickly, flooding out those who lived on its old banks. The fast and devastating flooding of the Black Sea could have given rise to the legend of the Deluge.
Albert Einstein endorsed the theory that the end of the last Ice Age a Deluge of worldwide proportions could have been caused by the shifting of the lithosphere, that is the earth’s relatively thin crust, in relation to the more elastic mantle it floats on. Einstein and Dr. Charles H. Hapgood considered this to be the only plausible explanation for the abrupt end of the last Ice Age in North American around 12,000 years ago, at the same time as the abrupt cooling of the climate of eastern Siberia.
According to their theory, the location of the north pole moved at that time from the central area of Hudson Bay to its present location at our North Pole. Such a shift, occurring in stages over a period of months, years, or decades would have caused huge waves. (Charles H. Hapgood, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age, p. 177.)
Orthodox geologists do not find a large pole shift or a lithosphere shift occurring around 12,000 years ago. However, such a theory is not outlandish: Scientists acknowledge that shifts have occurred at earlier times, perhaps as a result of the destabilizing effect of the enormous weight of Ice Age ice. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Rock Magnetism,” 1979 ed., 15:946; Jon Erickson, Ice Ages: Past and Future, p. 97 f.) German Scholar Martin Claussen of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and others, say that around 9,000 years ago the earth’s tilt on its axis shifted from 24.14 degrees to 23.45 degrees, where it is today, and that this contributed to the drying up of the Sahara and other climate changes. (Claussen, M. ; Kubatzki, C. ; Brovkin, V. ; Ganopolski, A. ; Hoelzmann, P. ; Pachur, H.J., 1999, “Simulation of an Abrupt Change in Saharan Vegetation in the Mid-Holocene,” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 26 , No. 14 , p. 2037, 1999GL900494; J.E., Kutzbach and P.J. Guetter, “The Influence of Changing Orbital Parameters and Surface Boundary Conditions on Climate Simulations for the Past 18,000 Years,” Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, 43, 1726-1759, 1986.)
These authors do not say whether the 24.14 to 23.45 degree shift resulted from the lithosphere shifting or from the entire earth from the core out to the surface shifting. It would appear that Einstein and Hapgood were right at least at least in some way about the poles shifting but wrong about the mechanism. The serious flaw in their theory can be seen by looking at the string of volcanoes that make up the Hawaiian Island chain. They represent new and old volcanoes which are situated over a hot spot in the mantle, which punches through the lithosphere. The island chain runs from east to west because the crust moves slowly from west to east over the hot spot as the Pacific shrinks in size. The same pattern appears in the case of Yellowstone. Assuming that the poles do shift, which seems to be true, the only mechanism which could accomplish this would be the entire earth shifting on its axis—or at least the lithosphere and mantle together sifting over the molten outer core of the earth. But what enormous force could accomplish such shifts? The weight of polar ice is extremely great, but it is still tiny compared with the weight of the entire earth. Dr. Walter O. Peterson points to the one force great enough to shift the entire earth on its axis: solar electromagnetism. www.poleshift.org.) Even a small pole shift of 24.14 to 23.45 degrees, by whatever mechanism, would have caused enormous waves, which could have given rise to flood legends.
Plato believed there had been a worldwide cataclysm. He relied on the reports of his ancestor Solon. After Solon wrote a new constitution for Athens that radically redistributed land ownership, he departed for Egypt where priests allegedly showed him ancient historical records telling of a cataclysmic destruction of most of humanity. Solon told of flood and fire that destroyed not only the mythical Atlantis but also wiped out all life in Greece and the rest of the world except for a few shepherds who lived in the highest mountains. (Plato, Timaeus, Critas, Cletophon, Menexenus, Epistles, Loeb Classical Library, p. 29 ff.; Plato, Laws, Book III, Loeb Classical Library, p. 177 ff.) The Zoroastrians of Persia believed that history began in the year 9660 B.C.E. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident: The Origin and Development of the Essene-Christian Faith, p. 96.)
According to my hypothesis, the Biblical story of the Flood in Genesis 7-9 could represent a confusion or conflation of two legendary but historical holocausts. It may combine the legend of Plato’s flood of water, which was some kind of indiscriminate killer of much of humanity around 9600 B.C.E. with a second holocaust, which was not accomplished by water but by patriarchal invaders on horseback, and which wiped out most of the pre-Hebrew matristic tribes. The story of the Nephilim in Genesis 6 could also refer to the patriarchal invasions. Note that if this is the case, the stories are out of order: The Noah story should have come first, as a legend which dates from the end of the last Ice Age, followed by the Nephilim story, which is a legend about the invasions of the patriarchal Aryan and Semitic tribes, which came in several waves starting around 5500 B.C.E. The Genesis legends are not necessarily set forth in correct order because redactors did not necessarily understand what the legends symbolized.
The Genesis flood story says that the population of the world was destroyed almost completely. (Genesis 7:23.) According to Plato’s story of Deucalion, only a few shepherds in the hills survived. Like the historical holocaust carried out by the patriarchal invaders, the Genesis legend tells how the patriarchal sons of God and the Nephilim took the daughters of men. (Genesis 6:2-4.) It was immediately after the coming of the Nephilim that “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth….” (Genesis 6:5.; Compare Numbers 31:7-9, 13-18, 32-35.) Because of the mention of the wickedness of man, I would presume that the taking of the daughters of men was part of a forcible conquest. Consider also the possibility that the flood is a recollection of the annihilation of almost all humans by the ash of the Toba eruption some 74,000 years ago. Toba set off large tsunamis, which swallowed up coastal cities. Most humans lived close to the oceans, and so almost everyone was killed by water. The few survivors were killed by the ash and then by the following decades of cold weather.
MEAT EATING ALLOWED AFTER THE DELUGE
After the legendary Deluge, the eating of meat was allowed to Noah and his descendants:
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” (Genesis 9:1.)
Perhaps this change took place in the context of a world that had become less civilized or perhaps colder because the pre-Hebrew tribe was living further north or at higher altitudes. Or perhaps it occurred in the context of a partnership religious tradition that was primarily or relatively vegetarian that had been conquered by patriarchal herdsmen and then blended into a new Hebrew religion that allowed meat eating.
I hypothesize that before the patriarchal invasions, the pre-Hebrew tribe followed a lacto-vegetarian or lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, in either case, one that excluded sacrificing animals and eating meat. After the conquest by the patriarchs, this rule was revised to include meat eating. Certain quick and relatively painless methods of slaughter were required as a part of a compromise with the vegetarians. Perhaps the early vegetarian kosher had always included rules for how to kill animals and eat meat when that was the only thing to eat, or for those who insisted on eating meat. It is easy to imagine the occasional application of the rule evolving into the regular bad habit. This hypothesis would explain better than any other why in orthodox Jewish homes, there are separate pots, pans, plates, utensils, sinks, and even separate ovens for products containing meat versus products containing no animal products except for milk and/or eggs. The only problem with this theory is that fish is considered “pareve” or neutral, and may be eaten either with milk or meat dishes, although some Jews will not eat fish with other kinds of meat. Maybe the pre-Hebrew vegetarians were fish-vegetarians.
According to Jewish scholar Joseph Albo (died 1444), the reason for the vegetarianism of humanity from Adam to Noah was this:
In the killing of animals there is cruelty, rage, and the accustoming of oneself to the bad habit of shedding innocent blood…. (Joseph Albo, tr. Isaac Husik, Sefer ha-Ikkarim, Volume III, Chapter 15; quoted by Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 2.)
Killing animals on a regular basis was bad for the innocent animals, but it was also bad for the moral structure of the killer.
But what about Deuteronomy 12:20? It says: “When the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat flesh,’ because you crave flesh, you may eat as much flesh as you desire?” This appears to be a carte blanche advocacy of meat eating, however, the Talmudic commentators say otherwise. They put this Biblical passage into the context of the times and explain it as follows in Hullin 84a:
Our Rabbis taught: [It is written,] when the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy borders, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say, “I will eat flesh.” The Torah here teaches a rule of conduct, that a person shall not eat meat unless he has a special appetite for it… and shall eat it only occasionally and sparingly.
Maybe the rabbis took this position because they recalled that meat eating in ancient times had not been allowed at all. The granting of the right to eat meat was a limited right. According to the Talmud, meat is not considered a necessity for life. The meat that Israelites were permitted to eat is called “meat of lust.” (Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume II, p. 1152, cited in Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 8; Numbers 11:18-34.)
According to Schwartz,
… Rabbi Elijah Judah, author of Animal Life in Jewish Tradition, (1984), concedes that “[s]cripture does not command the Israelite to eat meat, but rather permits this diet as a concession to lust.” (Schochet, Animal Life in Jewish Tradition, 1984, p. 300, quoted in Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 8.)
Dr. William Harris says we are a genetically fat-addicted species. Eating fat in lean times was such a lifesaver that the early humans who had a strong taste for it were most likely to survive to become our ancestors. They passed along their genes and their addiction to us. (William Harris, M.D., The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism, p. 24.) “Lust,” also translated “craving,” is the term frequently used in the Bible and Talmud for the desire for meat. (Numbers 11:4,21; 33:16; Deuteronomy 12:15,20,21; Psalms 78:18, 30; 81:12, 106:14.) “Lust” might be a synonym for addiction or for a craving for the essential fatty acids.
Although the Israelite cult developed a strong tradition of sacrificing animals, Rabbi David Kimchi (1160-1235) suggested that the sacrifices were never mandatory, only voluntary. He ascertained this from the words of Jeremiah:
[I]n the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.” But they did not obey… From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me…. (Jeremiah 7:21-26.)
Jeremiah implies that one of the major messages of the prophets was that animal sacrifice should cease. The emphasis should be on ethical living. He says that the Hebrew people got off the track in their emphasis on a meat-sacrificing cult and their de-emphasis of ethical living. I suggest this happened when the animal herding, pastoral patriarchs conquered the pre-Hebrew people of the south. They rewrote early versions of pre-Biblical literature to require animal sacrifice. (See The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1905, p. 628, cited by Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 88.)
Judaism’s greatest scholar, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204 C.E.) wrote:
“…[T]he prophets thus distinctly declared that the object of the sacrifices is not very essential, and that God does not require them. For it is distinctly stated in Scripture, and handed down by tradition, that the first commandments communicated to us did not include any law at all about burnt-offering and sacrifice.”
Of Maimonides it was said, “From Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses.” (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. xxv, 325, 326.)
The Temple sacrifices, the slaughter and eating of the Passover lamb, and the smearing of the lamb’s blood on the door post all ended in 70 C.E. with the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. Along with the Judeo-Christians, many Pharisees fled Jerusalem before its destruction. Johanan ben Zacchai petitioned the Roman authorities to be allowed to set up an academy at Jamnia in Palestine. He and his fellow rabbis established the Rabbinic Judaism we known today. They chose not to reinstitute animal sacrifices, however, they did not put an end to the slaughtering of animals for food. Why should they? They believed only the messiah would do that, and for them the messiah had not yet come. Prayer and repentance were substituted for animal sacrifice as the way of obtaining forgiveness of sin or atonement. Similarly, John the Baptist and Jesus offered prayer, and a “baptism of repentance” for forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4; Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:2; Didache 9:5.)
RECOVERY OF THE PARTNERSHIP PARADIGM
My theory is that within the bosom of the Hebrew tradition there continued to survive a glimmer of the ancient consciousness that dated back to the partnership paradigm. Although the Hebrew tradition had come to be led by men, it has always been more liberal towards women than most other traditions. Its consciousness of ethics as the second law after monotheism gradually overcame the dominator paradigm. (Deuteronomy 6:4 ff., 11:13 ff.; Numbers 15:37 ff.; Leviticus 19:14-18, Mark 12:31.) Along with the growing emphasis on ethics, opposition to cruelty survived and grew ever stronger in Jewish tradition.
The first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, Abraham Isaac Kook, who died in 1935, was a vegetarian for religious reason. He believed that the option to kill and eat animals was temporary and
… that the permission to eat meat “after all the desire of your soul” was a concealed reproach and a qualified command. He states that a day will come when people will detest the eating of the flesh of animals because of a moral loathing, and then it shall be said that “because your soul does not long to eat meat, you will not eat meat.” (Joe Green, Chalutzim of the Messiah—The Religious Vegetarian Concept as Expounded by Rabbi Kook, p. 2, and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, and “Fragments of Light: A View as to the Reasons for the Commandments,” in Abraham Isaac Kook, both cited in Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, pp. 3, 9; “Abraham Isaac Kook,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979 edition, Micropaedia, Volume 5, p. 887.)
According to Kook, as explained by Schwartz,
People are not always ready to live up to God’s highest ideals. By the time of Noah, humanity had degenerated greatly…. [B]ecause people had sunk to an extremely low level of spirituality, it was necessary that they be given an elevated image of themselves as compared to animals, and that they concentrate their efforts into first improving relationships between people. [God] feels that were people denied the right to eat meat, they might eat the flesh of human beings due to their inability to control their lust for flesh. He regards the permission to slaughter animals for food as a “transitional tax” or temporary dispensation until a “brighter era” is reached when people would return to vegetarian diets. (Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 3-4.)
The same logic appears in the Clementina. It was probably Judeo-Christians who wrote the original versions of the Clementina, of which we have modified versions in the form of the Recognitions of Clement and the Clementine Homilies. (Recognitions of Clement, 1:35 ff, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII, p. 87-88.)
As a relevant aside and in all fairness, I should point out that one author says that the son of Rabbi Kook told him that his father was not a vegetarian. (Alfred S. Cohen, “Vegetarianism from a Jewish Perspective,” Judaism & Animal Rights, ed. Roberta Kalechofsky, p. 193, n. 11.)
Human sacrifice—particularly child sacrifice—was a serious problem in some ancient societies. Some of the ancient worshipers of both male and female gods did practice human and child sacrifice. (Deuteronomy 12:31; Ezekiel 16:20, 20:26, 23:30; Isaiah 57:5; Leviticus 18:21; 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 16:3, 21:6, 23:10; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5; Ezekiel 16:20; 20:26.) While Hannibal menaced northern Italy, terror-stricken Romans reverted to the human sacrifice they had long before replaced with animal sacrifice. (Donald Keegan, On the Origins of War, p. 232.)
Hebrews struggled with the problem of child sacrifice, as can be seen in the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac and his sacrificing of a ram in his place. (Genesis 22:13.) I theorize that the pre-Hebrew patriarchs practiced human sacrifice and that Genesis 22 represents the point when it stopped.
The fact that there were goddess-worshiping religions in Old Testament times that sacrificed children, however, is no proof that goddess-worshiping religions as they existed before the patriarchs invaded had sacrificed children. It is my theory that these sinful practices were introduced by the patriarchal invaders, and that the patriarchs gradually learned from the women they had conquered to renounce them.
When we get to early historical times, we find that surviving, subordinated matristic religions coexisted with patriarchal religions. There were temples dedicated to the various goddesses. By classical Greek times, pagan religions showed a high degree of tolerance for each other. However, the matristic religions had probably been modified by the patriarchal religions. For example, the Pythic-Delphic Oracle before around 1400 B.C.E. was a small cult of only a few priestesses atop a hill, which was considered the navel of the world. By the time of the Doric invasions of around 1050 B.C.E., the priestesses had been reduced to captive status. Those who came to consult had to speak to male priests of the cult of Apollo, who in turn communicated with the oracular priestesses. (See the section of this book entitled Delphic Oracle, page 67.)
Early Christian preachers vilified the pagan religions; pagan spokesmen such as Porphyry countered the attack. Christians refused to declare allegiance to the state and its representative pantheon—which was done by making a token sacrifice of incense to the gods and obtaining a certificate. Suspecting the Christians of disloyalty, the Roman state persecuted Christians, although only on rare occasions. Religious pagans, for the most part, tried to tolerate the Christians. Christians, on the other hand considered theirs the only valid religion and all others as perverse. Christianity became first a tolerated religion and then the official state religion. Then all other religions except Judaism were banned, and Theodosius and other emperors confiscated pagan temples, lands, and other property and gave them to the orthodox church. By the 500s the last of the Greek temples and academies were shut down.
David Bakan, scholar of psychiatry and Judaica, suggests that the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17 ff.) is a reference to child sacrifice and child cannibalism as the original sin. Knowledge is a euphemism in the Bible for sexual intercourse (Genesis 3:7, 4:1, 4:17, 4:25, 19:8, 24:16), and the fruit or outcome of sex is the child. There were many ancient societies in which people sacrificed and ate their children. (David Bakan, And They Took Themselves Wives: The Emergence of Patriarchy in Western Civilization, p. 16.)
In response to Mr. Bakan, I would suggest that the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge could just as well be a symbol for the killing and eating of animals. The casting of Adam and Eve out of Eden into a life of toil in the fields might be a symbol for the transition from life as gatherer-hunter to settled agricultural life.
THE RULE OF NOAH
Although humans were allowed to eat meat under Noah’s new ethical guidelines, they were prohibited in Genesis 9:4 from eating blood: “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” (See also Leviticus 17:10, 12, 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16-25, 15:23.) The blood symbolizes life. Thus, the rule not to eat blood is a reminder not to eat animals at all. According to Moses Cassuto:
Apparently the Torah was in principle opposed to the eating of meat. When Noah and his descendants were permitted to eat meat this was a concession conditional on the prohibition of the blood. This prohibition implied respect for the principle of life (“for the blood is the life”) and an allusion to the fact that in reality all meat should have been prohibited. This partial prohibition was designed to call to mind the previously total one. (Leibowitz, Studies in Bereshit, p. 77, cited by Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 5.)
I hypothesize that Noah’s new Kosher rule was this: God does not want humans to kill and eat animals, but if humans insist on doing so, they must treat animals well while they live and must kill animals in a relatively painless way. And they must adhere to rules regarding meat eating that will act as a memory device that will help humans remember that there was a time when they did not eat meat at all and that someday they will renounce it. The memory device is the prohibition against consuming the blood of animals and the many other rules of kosher slaughter. As one slaughters a cow and drains out the blood, he or she will always ask why there is such a restriction. Judaism is replete with such memory devices. Judaism at its core is memory and consciousness, including a consciousness of ethics. Bear in mind that in Judaism the concept of god is inseparable from ethics.
Immediately after god granted Noah and his descendants the right to eat meat (Genesis 9:3) there came a warning (Genesis 9:5) of the consequences: “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning…?.” Noah was the last of the especially long-lived patriarchs. The shortening of the life span of humans was part of this legend (Genesis 6:3-5), and the connection between wickedness, eating meat, and dying younger is obvious.
In the section of this book entitled Paul, James, and the Jerusalem Council, p. 123, I go into greater detail about the Rule of Noah.
Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. They wandered in the wilderness of Sinai and ate manna, a plant-based food. (Exodus 16:15, Numbers 11:7.) Rabbinic scholar Isaac Arama (1420-1494) regarded this as an attempt to reinstitute a plant-based diet. (Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 6; See Recognitions of Clement, 1:35 ff, Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII, p. 87-88.) The attempt failed. The Israelites may have been vegetarians before they moved to Egypt, but in Egypt they had grown accustomed to meat. They clamored for it in the desert. Perhaps there were non-Israelites who had joined in the Exodus, and meat eating was their custom. God sent quail, and
[w]hile the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.
The place where this happened was called “The Graves of Lust.” (Numbers 11:18-34.) The moral of the story is clear: Eating meat is not a good thing.
The five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, contain detailed instructions on how the Hebrews were to conduct their animal sacrifices. A vegetarian interpretation of these is that they were not part of the original tradition about Moses but were added at a later date, after the First Temple had been built in Jerusalem by Solomon and animal sacrifices had been instituted. The Judeo-Christians regarded these passages as not having been authentic. Jesus suggested there were parts of the Hebrew Bible which were falsified. (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Frank Williams, tr., 18, Book I, pp. 44 ff.; Matthew 22:29; see the section of this book entitled Simon Peter, the Clementina, p. 102; compare Deuteronomy 12:15-28; Psalms 78:17-31.)
SAGA OF THE VEGETARIAN DANIEL
The book of Daniel (1:8-17), written in the Second Century B.C.E. about events that occurred around 600 B.C.E., when the Hebrews were being held in captivity, tells how a Babylonian king brought Israelite youth into the royal court for education. The story is worth retelling here:
… Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s rich food [meat], or with the wine which he drank; therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs; and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear lest my lord the king, who appointed your food and your drink, should see that you were in poorer condition than the youths who are of you own age. So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel…; “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s rich food be observed by you, and according to what you see deal with your servants.” So he hearkened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s rich food. So the steward took away their rich food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. As for these four youths God gave them learning and skill in all letters and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. (My comments are in square brackets.)
King Nebuchadnezzar fell into mental illness for a period of seven “times,” during which he “ate grass like an ox,” after which his reason returned. (Daniel 3:28 ff.) The Lives of the Prophets adds more detail. The period of mental illness lasted for seven months, during which Nebuchadnezzar “neither ate bread nor meat nor drank wine, since Daniel had enjoined him to appease the Lord with soaked pulse and herbs.” So Nebuchadnezzar recovered his mental health by eating sprouted lentils and greens. (David Satran, “Biblical Prophets and Christian Legend: The Lives of the Prophets Reconsidered,” Messiah and Christos: Studies in the Jewish Origins of Christianity, p. 199 ff.; C.C. Torrey, The Lives of the Prophets.)
The book of Daniel was very popular among the Jewish Essenes and was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls; it may have been written or edited by the Qumran Essenes, who were vegetarian. As discussed below, vegetarians such as John the Baptist and Jesus, and the vegetarian Judeo-Christians probably came out of the Essene tradition or were influenced by it.
JUDAISM AND THE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM
The Talmud forbids hunting except when necessary and stipulates that animals be fed and treated well. It establishes a cult of the ritual slaughterer—the shochet—whose role is to sacrifice animals as painlessly as possible. The proper method is so complex that according to the Talmud:
Only a scholar of Torah may eat meat, but one who is ignorant of Torah is forbidden to eat meat. (Pesachim 49b, quoted by Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 9.)
Nevertheless, there developed in Judaism an enormous system of animal sacrifice, accompanied by the mass marketing of the resulting meat. Josephus reports that a minimum of ten and up to twenty people would share each sacrificed lamb. He estimated that 256,000 animals would have been slaughtered during Passover week.
Josephus estimated that when the armies of Vespasian and Titus surrounded Jerusalem in 68 C.E. and sealed it off, there were 2,700,200 people trapped inside—of which approximately 1,100,000 died during the next two years as a result of starvation and war. Some were regular residents, but probably most were there to visit the Temple as part of yearly religious observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. All of these would have been observant Jews who would have felt obligated to participate in the sacrificial system, and hence the estimate of 256,000 animals slaughtered in a few days makes mathematical sense, although the number of those trapped in Jerusalem seems incredibly high. Nevertheless, there would have been rivers of blood and intestinal contents flowing down from the Jerusalem Temple. (Whiston, The Complete Works of Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3, p. 587 f.)
Robert Eisenman, in his monumental James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, suggests, without citing authorities, that the Essenes and John the Baptist adopted vegetarianism only in reaction to the fact that the sacrificial system in Jerusalem had been compromised, that is, that priests not descended from the family of Aaron were presiding over the sacrifices, and that gentiles were being allowed to offer sacrifices. (He could have added that many believed the calendar?being used was incorrect so that sacrifices were being offered on the wrong days.) Eisenman suggests that their reason for not eating meat was a technical problem with cult procedures and not some fundamental moral objection to the practice.
Eisenman points out that the eating of meat had been permitted to Noah only after an approved sacrificial system had been established. (Genesis 8:20; 9:3.) Before Noah emerged from the ark, there had been no approved sacrificial system, and it was for this reason, says Eisenman, that god’s people had originally been vegetarians. Eisenman derives some support for this theory from the story of Judas Maccabee. When the Seleucid Greeks appointed a high priest not of the proper line,
Judas, called Maccabaeus… with about nine others, withdrew into the wilderness and lived like wild animals in the hills with his companions, eating nothing but wild plants to avoid contracting defilement. (2 Maccabees 5:27.)
The reason why Daniel and the young scholars in the king’s school in Babylon ate no meat and only vegetables is not entirely clear. Daniel believed that eating meat would defile him. (Daniel 1:8,16.) He might have objected to meat of any kind or just to the fact that there was no Hebrew temple or kosher slaughterhouse in Babylon where kosher meat could be obtained.
Eisenman suggests that it was only because there was no authorized sacrificial system during the wandering of the Israelites in Sinai that the Israelites during this period had been vegetarians. (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 265 ff., 275 ff., 293.)
Eisenman’s thoughtful, speculative, 1,100-page tome is a must-read book for anyone interested in the origins of Judeo-Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, but I do not agree with him on this point. Why at various times and particularly in legendary times was sacrifice not authorized? Was there no eating of meat before Noah and in Sinai simply because there was no proper sacrificial cult? Or was there no sacrificial cult because there was no meat eating? He would prefer the first alterative; I would prefer the second. Eisenman never explores the possibility that there might be something unethical about the way food animals are treated, despite that fact that the Bible shows sensitivity to the rights of animals. (See Deuteronomy 25:4.) For example, in the messianic time all sacrifices except the thank-offering will cease. (Pesachim 79a; Lev. R. ix., xxvii.) See the sections of this book entitled Jesus Quoted the Vegetarian, Hosea, Opposed the Sacrifices, p. 178, and Jesus and the Right Treatment of Animals, p. 188, where I respond to Eisenman’s theory in greater detail.)
ANCIENT JUDAISM CHALLENGES MODERN JUDAISM
Why did animal sacrifice and eating flesh have its opponents in Judaism? Was the objection grounded in some technical objection such as the wrong priestly family conducting the sacrifices or the wrong calendar being followed and thus the sacrifices being made on the wrong day? Or was there an ethical objection to sacrificing and meat eating in general?
Judaism has never been a completely unified tradition, and a counter-strain continued to survive within it which rejected animal sacrifice. The prophet Isaiah (7:11, 65:25) foresaw an ideal time when the sacrifices would end, when even carnivorous animals would become herbivorous (as they had been in Genesis 1:29): “The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” It is also possible that the bear and lion are allegorical references to certain nations or sects which were in conflict with each other.
The prophet Hosea said: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6.)
Jesus the Jew refers to this theme (Matthew 9:13) when he says: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” He refers to it again (Matthew 12:1-8) when he says, “I tell you, something greater than the temple [sacrifices?] is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” I posit that the guiltless are the animals who were sacrificed on the Temple mountain by the tens of thousands. It is clear here that Jesus opposed the use of animals for religious sacrificial purposes. (See also Amos 5:21 ff., Proverbs 21:3, and the sections of this book entitled Jesus Quoted the Vegetarian Hosea, Opposed the Sacrifices, p. 179, and Jesus Stopped the Sacrifices in the Temple, p. 180.)
The vegetarian theme is part of the ethics and justice theme that runs through Jewish messianic literature. One refrains from savagery towards animals as part of refraining from savagery in general. There is a connection between the way we treat animals and the way we treat fellow humans.
Jewish theory about the messianic era is well developed. It is to be a time of peace, justice, and the observance of high ethical standards. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold,… he will bring forth justice to the nations…?. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.” (Isaiah 42: 1-4; see Isaiah 7:11, 65.25.) The messiah was to be a leader who would introduce justice and ethics, including right treatment of the animals. There was no suggestion the messiah would be a deity.
In Judaism there are two acceptable theories as to how the messiah will come: According to the first, an individual messiah will come—at a time when all appears hopeless and the moral level of society is at its lowest—and will initiate the messianic era. According to the second theory, the messianic era will come gradually through the efforts of people of messianic purpose, and the messiah will appear at the end and fulfill the ceremonial role of announcing that the work has been accomplished. Therefore,
… modern Jewish religious ethical vegetarians are pioneers of the messianic era; they are leading lives that make the coming of the messiah or the coming of the messianic era more likely. (Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 12, referring to Joe Green, Chalutzim of the Messiah, p. 1.)
This second theory of how the messianic era will come is a powerful stimulus for people of good will to work to improve the moral level of society. It states that there is something people can do to help realize the better era.
In Judaism, the messianic era will be Edenic: There will be a return to the plant-based diet of the garden. The anti-animal diet and anti-sacrifice references in Genesis, Numbers, Isaiah, Hosea, Proverbs, and Amos quoted above all look back to an ideal time in the past or look forward to an ideal messianic era in the future.
Many Jewish scholars believe that animal sacrifices will not be reinstated in messianic times, even with the reestablishment of the Temple. [Animal sacrifices ceased in Judaism with the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E.] They believe that at that time human conduct will have advanced to such high standards that there will no longer be a need for animal sacrifices to atone for sins. Only non-animal sacrifices (grains, for example) to express gratitude to God would remain. (Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 89. My comments are in square brackets.)
It is time for Jews who want to follow the oldest Jewish traditions and heed the call of the Jewish prophets to return to a plant-based diet. In ancient Hebrew tradition, eating meat was allowed when it was absolutely necessary. It is no longer necessary. It is not consistent with the Jewish project to bring the better era. Furthermore, conditions have changed: Animals are raised in conditions of filth, cruelty, and terror unlike those of ancient times. Additionally, we have learned in recent decades that eating animal-based foods is not conducive to good health or to a sound environment.
PROFESSOR SCHWARTZ LEADS THE CHALLENGE
Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island. He is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Mathematics and Global Survival. He has posted scores of articles on the Worldwide Web, which deal with Judaism and vegetarianism. It is called The Schwartz Collection on Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights. (www.jewishveg.com/schwartz.) In July, 2000, he and other rabbis issued an extensive proposed Resolution on Judaism, the Environment, and Dietary Health to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which asked that the Rabbis affirm the importance of vegetarian and health conscious diets as a Jewish value.