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.
Friend and scholar Keith Akers has published his new book about the importance of vegetarian diet to Jesus and his earliest followers.
My new book, Disciples: How Jewish Christianity Shaped Jesus and Shattered the Church (Apocryphile Press, 2013) has now been published. You can order it on Amazon here. (I will not be selling it through my website.)
A book about the disciples of Jesus would typically start with Jesus himself: first there was Jesus, then he had disciples.Disciples suggests a fundamentally different story: first there was a movement, then Jesus emerged as its leader. This movement was markedly different from both rabbinic Judaism and gentile Christianity. It became known to history as “Jewish Christianity”— Jews who followed both Jesus (as they understood him) and the Jewish law (as they understood it).
These first disciples affirmed simple living, nonviolence, and vegetarianism, and rejected wealth, war, and animal sacrifices. Some two decades after Jesus was crucified, they split with their most famous missionary, Paul, over the issues of vegetarianism and eating meat from animal sacrifices. These events become clear through examination of the letters of Paul and the Jewish Christian literature: the Recognitions, the Homilies, and testimony about Jewish Christianity in the early church fathers. The history of Jewish Christianity takes our understanding of Christian origins into a completely new realm.
My interest in early Christianity was prompted in an unusual way — through my becoming vegetarian. I was raised Christian, but then adopted vegetarianism (and shortly thereafter, veganism) for straightforward ethical reasons; I didn’t want to cause suffering to innocent animals.
I did not become vegetarian because of Christianity, but in spite of Christianity, which seemed to be indifferent or even hostile to vegetarianism. Most Christians ate meat and could invoke the example of their savior in support. Within Judaism, there was actually considerable support for vegetarianism (Genesis 1:29, Isaiah 11:6-9, etc.), but it seemed that Jesus and the Christians had betrayed this wise tradition. “Does God care for oxen?” Paul asks rhetorically (I Corinthians 9:9). Of course not!
But then I discovered the book Jewish Christianity by Hans-Joachim Schoeps, the foremost twentieth-century historian of Jewish Christianity. Schoeps concludes that the heretical Jewish Christians were not only vegetarian, but represented the oldest tradition of the apostles themselves. Schoeps’ book implies that vegetarianism was not only present in early Christianity, but was part of the original gospel of Jesus.
Understanding “Jewish Christianity” has been a special project of mine for over 30 years. It became clear to me that the history of these early Christians was not just a vegetarian fantasy. Schoeps himself was neither a Christian nor a vegetarian, but an objective historian of religion with no axe to grind. Other nonvegetarian scholars, such as Walter Wink, also saw the truth of the vegetarianism in early Jewish Christianity (The Lost Religion of Jesus, p. xi).
I have been continually astounded that — with a few exceptions — modern Christians and modern scholars know virtually nothing of Jewish Christianity. Those who are at least aware that it exists typically dismiss Jewish Christianity with statements like “some of Jesus’ followers didn’t understand that Jesus was to liberate us from the confines of Jewish rituals.” This blindness of Christians to their own history is the deeper lesson which the history of Jewish Christianity holds for us today.
Why should people so casually dismiss the idea that the Prince of Peace might make compassion for animals a key part of his program? This idea of compassion is hardly foreign to the history of religion. Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism take the idea of vegetarianism seriously. No orthodox Hindu will eat beef, and Buddhists honor as their very first precept “not to take the life of any sentient creature.” In the modern era, even atheists and humanists like Peter Singer understand the vital importance of compassion to animals. Do these people understand something that Jesus didn’t?
Even in the West this philosophy of compassion had a strong presence at the time of Jesus. Pythagoras, who coined the term “philosophy,” was a vegetarian, as well as his follower Plato and at least some sects of the neo-Pythagorean Essenes. The Jewish tradition held that God created the world vegetarian (Genesis 1:29) and would one day return the world to that state from which it had fallen (Hosea 2:18, Isaiah 11:6-9). A vegetarian Jesus would hardly be introducing a completely new idea out of the clear blue sky, and there are even hints of these ideas in the gospels, where Jesus declares sympathy for the “least of these,” and says that God will not forget even a single sparrow.
Any consideration for sparrows goes right over the heads of modern scholars and Christians generally. Christianity has rejected the very idea of compassion for which Jesus gave his life, when nearly two millennia ago he went into the temple and disrupted the animal sacrifice business there, an act which led to his arrest and crucifixion.
Considering all the problems the world faces, such as climate change, massive extinctions, environmental destruction, peak oil, resource depletion, nuclear proliferation, and financial collapse, some may question whether there are not more important topics on the planet than the history of early Christianity. But for those with an appreciation of how religion both shapes and is shaped by human existence, the story of the early disciples of Jesus has lessons for all of us.
It is those lessons which I hope that Disciples will impart. The message of Jesus and the first Christians was about simple living, nonviolence, and vegetarianism, three practices which the modern world desperately needs.
Obama’s 5 Biggest Sellouts to the Meat Industry
When Barack Obama won the presidency in November 2008, taking on the meat industry surely ranked somewhere behind managing the financial crisis and wrangling two wars on his list of priorities.
Still, he had explicitly promised to crack down on some of Big Meat’s excesses. In his campaign literature targeted at rural voters, he deplored “anticompetitive behavior” and “market consolidation” by big meatpackers, and vowed to “strengthen anti-monopoly laws” and “make sure that farm programs are helping family farmers, as opposed to large, vertically integrated corporate agribusiness.” He also insisted his administration would “strictly monitor and regulate pollution” from factory-scale animal farms, backed by “fines for those who violate tough air and water quality standards.”
Five years and another election later, “how’s that hopey-changy thing working” (to quote Sarah Palin) when it comes to challenging the meat industry’s power? The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production’s landmark report, released months before the presidential election in 2008, provides a good framework for examining Obama’s record. Led by adistinguished set of public-health, agriculture, and animal-welfare experts, the Pew Report delivered a blunt assessment of the health and environmental effects of factory meat production—and a set of policy recommendations for cleaning it up. And just last week, the Center for a Liveable Future at Johns Hopkins University (which worked with Pew on the original report) came out with an updated assessment of how things have gone over the past five years—a period that roughly coincides with Obama’s presidency.
Unfortunately, Big Meat continues to enjoy a rather friendly regulatory environment nearly a half-decade into Obama’s presidency, the report shows. Drawn (mostly) from CLF”s update, here are five ways the Obama Administration has kowtowed to the meat industry.
1. Factory farms don’t have to register with the EPA.Remember the tough talk about how the administration would “strictly monitor and regulate pollution” from concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs)? Turns out, if you run one of these gargantuan operations—which accumulate vast cesspools of manure that regularly pollute water and air—you’re under no obligation to inform the Environmental Protection Agency of your existence, which makes it hard to monitor and regulate your pollution. In a 2008 report, the Government Accountability Office concluded that, because of this information void, the EPA “does not have the information that it needs to effectively regulate these operations.”
Under pressure from a lawsuit by environmental groups back in 2010, Obama’s EPA proposednew rules that would have remedied the situation by requiring CAFOs to file basic information on their operations with the agency. Then, in 2012, the EPA unceremoniously withdrew the proposed rules, CLF reports. So now we’re back to where we were in 2008. Meanwhile, new peer-reviewed research has found that that the closer you live to a large hog operation, the likelier you are to be infected with a dangerous antibacterial-resistant pathogen called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or (MRSA).
2) Factory farms are exempt from the most important pollution laws. MRSA isn’t the only threat faced by people who live near factory animal farms. As this 2011 paper by North Carolina researchers shows, the foul odors emitted by these operations likely cause a host of problems ranging from eye irritation to difficulty breathing. CAFOs concentrate animal waste and emit ammonia, particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds into the air.
In a craven move just before leaving office in early 2009, President George Bush exempted CAFOs from having to report hazardous air emissions under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund—an exemption that remains in place.
The Obama EPA has not taken back that gift to Big Meat. The holdup, as Tarah Heinzen, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, explained to me, is that the EPA says it doesn’t have a reliable way to gauge CAFOs’ air emissions (not surprising, given the dearth of data the agency has on CAFOs). The EPA’s attempts to get the data necessary to regulate air emissions has been vexed—and the dysfunction dates to the Bush II administration. In an industry-funded collaboration beginning in 2005, the EPA conducted air-quality monitoring at 15 livestock confinements and 9 manure lagoons across the country. When the EPA finally released data from the study in 2011, 11 of those 15 operations exceeded exceeded federal reporting thresholds for ammonia emissions, according to an analysis of it by Environmental Integrity Project. But when the EPA finally released its own analysis of the data, its own Science Advisory Board (SAB) found the EPA’s methodologies to be woefully inadequate—and essentially sent the agency back to the drawing board.
And so, under Obama, the EPA’s effort to create a system for measuring exactly what enters the air from CAFOs—much less protecting communities from it—has stalled indefinitely, the report finds.
3) Big Meat has only gotten bigger, unchecked by antitrust action. Not long after taking office in 2009, President Obama announced a series of public hearings, bringing together farmers with antitrust officials from the Justice Department, to talk through anticompetitive practices in the meat industry. After years of nearly unchecked consolidation—big meat packers combining with and/or buying up smaller meat packers, concentrating market power—this seemed like a radical move. Meanwhile, the 2008 farm bill required USDA to come up with a set of policies, known collectively as the GIPSA rule, designed to level the playing field between livestock farmers and the big meatpackers, which dominate the industry with their contracts. The effort that began promisingly; “Small Farmers See Promise In Obama’s Plans,” a 2009 NPR report declared.
What has Obama’s challenge to the industry’s market power amounted five years into his presidency? “[N]ear-total collapse,” CLF laments. The DOJ hearings resulted in a 24-page report and little else. The Obama USDA ended up watering down its initially strong GIPSA rule proposal—only to see it essentially gutted by Congress, CLF reports. Meanwhile, “consolidation in the meat industry has continued unabated worldwide,” Pew finds.
4) CAFOs continue to generate antibiotic-resistant pathogens. There’s no more depressing section of the CLF update than the one on the meat industry’s reliance on routine antibiotic use. Back in 2008, the commission recommended that the federal government “phase out and then ban the nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials” in livestock production. The rational was simple: when you feed tightly confined animals daily doses for antibiotics, microbes quickly evolve resistance to those antibiotics. And some of those microbes—like salmonella and certain forms of E. coli—can cause severe damage to people.
Antibiotics should be reserved for cases when animals are actually sick, not used to stimulate their growth or to try to prevent them from getting sick, Pew concluded.
Five years later, CLF reports, evidence has accumulated linking routine farm antibiotic use to human disease—everything from potentially deadly MRSA to urinary-tract infections. This year, the Centers for Disease Control bluntly acknowledged the problem. The Obama Administration’s response to the threat? Amid much fanfare in 2012, the Food and Drug Administration rolled out a voluntary approach—one that, even if the industry chooses to follow it, will likely be inadequate, because it contains a massive loophole, CLF reports (more details here). As a result, “meaningful change” to Big Meat’s antibiotics fixation is “unlikely in the near future.”
5) Obama’s USDA is pushing to speed up poultry slaughterhouses, workers be damned.Working conditions in slaughterhouses are beyond the scope of the Pew Commission’s original report, but no list of Obama’s sellouts to Big Meat is complete without a mention of the US Department of Agriculture’s proposed new plans for inspecting poultry line. They’re essentially a privatizer’s dream: Slash the number of USDA inspectors on the kill line, saving the government some money; hand much of the responsibility for inspection to the poultry packers themselves; allow them to substitute random testing and plenty of antimicrobial spray for the onerous task of inspecting every bird, which means the kill line can speed up, thus saving the industry loads of money.
All of which sounds great, unless you’re a worker about to find that your already-hazardous job just got more dangerous; or you’re a chicken eater, because, according to a Food and Water Watch analysis of USDA data on its pilot program for the new system, the new system lets some pretty foul stuff through.
Worker and food-safety advocates have pushed back hard against the new rules, but the USDA appears to be sticking to its guns. The department is in the process of finalizing the new plan, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Guest: Christianity calls for vegetarianism
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
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.
Professor Charles C. Camosy of Fordham University published “For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action” on the feast of St. Francis, Oct. 4. He can be reached@nohiddenmagenta and firstname.lastname@example.org
GREEK AND PERSIAN LEGEND AND THE LINK BACK TO THE GOLDEN ERA
THE DELPHIC ORACLE
Delphi lies to the north and west of the Corinthian Isthmus of Greece. The Oracle of Delphi, originally the Oracle of Pythia, is at least as old as the Mycenaean era, 14th Century B.C.E., and probably older. There are similar legends about the oracles of Dodona (Homer, Odyssey 14:326-7, Iliad 16:127; Herodotus 2:54-58) and Cumaea.
Ancient kings consulted the earliest Pythic Oracle; so too did ordinary people. An “inquirer” would speak directly to a priestess who would deliver her answer face to face. A priestess had to be over 50 years old, and could be married or widowed. There were one to three priestesses. There is mention of at least one male priest of the earliest Oracle. The theatre-like temple was located on the lower slopes of Mt. Parnassus. A stone in the temple was regarded as the omphalos, the navel of the world. Some kind of gas, probably methane, may have emerged from underground to intoxicate the priestess and stimulate her visions.
The priestess was called the Pythia, which is a term for serpent or python. The python had mantic powers, the ability to tell the future and protect the Earth. Recall that the caduceus, the coiled serpent on a cross, was a symbol of healing, which Moses erected in order to heal the Israelites. (Numbers 21:8, 2 Kings 18:4.)
Aeschylus said the goddess of the Oracle was the primeval goddess. Ancient authors say the name of the original deity of the oracle was Gaea, the earth-goddess and that Gaea was protected by the she-dragon Pythia. Poseidon shared the oracle with Gaea and assisted in its protection. Gaea was the goddess of the Pelasgians, the indigenous people of Greece, Crete, and the Levant, who spoke pre-Indo-European languages. Homer said that Poseidon was the god of the Pelasgians. (Iliad 16:127.) The Cretan Minoans were Pelasgians as probably were the Philistines of Palestine-Israel and the Etruscans of Italy.
According to legend, Apollo slew Pythia, the she-dragon. In oldest Greek myth, the Pythia which Apollo slew was female, but later Greek writers switched her gender, calling her Python instead, perhaps to magnify Apollo’s conquest—a historical “sex change operation.” The town of Delphi was known as Pythos before it was known as Delphi. Around 1050 B.C.E. the savage Dorians—another Indo-European speaking, Aryan tribe—invaded Greece and overwhelmed the Mycenaeans. The Mycenaeans were descended from patriarchal invaders and had adopted various matristic, Minoan, and Egyptian customs. From around 850 B.C.E., the oracle came to be referred to as the oracle of Apollo.
The male priests of Apollo reduced the priestesses to subject status. They did not evict the priestesses from Delphi because the oracle continued to speak only through them, never through the new priests. So the priests of Apollo changed the ancient procedures. A consultant seeking to question the oracle was no longer allowed to meet directly with a priestess. Instead he met with a priest of Apollo to submit his question and make his donation, usually sizeable. The priest in turn submitted the question to a priestess. She prepared her answer and gave it in writing to the priest, who then delivered it in written form to the consultant. Legend says that Poseidon was forced to yield his part in the oracle to Apollo. The oracle of Delphi was shut down by the Christian Roman emperor Arcadius in 398 C.E. Pan was silenced. (T. Dempsey, The Delphic Oracle: Its Early History, Influence and Fall, p. 3 ff., 21-30, 36, 53-55, 183 ff.; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979 ed., “Delphi,” III, p. 452; Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman, p. 202 f.; Howatson & Chilvers, The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, “Dorians,” “Apollo,” “Mycenae.”)
From such surviving data about the Oracle, we can theorize that following a peaceful era in which the goddess was worshiped at Pythia, cruel patriarchal invaders killed off or enslaved much of the early goddess-worshiping population and almost all of the priestesses of the old matristic religion, allowing only a few priestesses to carry on in subordinate position and only because they were useful to the patriarchs. (Cf. Exodus 22:18; Numbers 31:13-18, 32-35.) The oracles may have been among the last surviving remnants of the matristic civilizations of Old Europe.
PYTHAGORAS, MUSICIAN, PHYSICIAN, PHILOSOPHER, MATHEMATICIAN, VEGETARIAN, 569-470 B.C.E.
Until the 1800s, when the word “vegetarian” was coined, vegetarians were referred to as “Pythagoreans.” Pythagoras was born in Samos, Greece. He was the son of a Greek mother and a Phoenician father. Herodotus said the Phoenicians had come from India. His parents may have named him after the goddess Pythia. “Pythagoras” might mean “assembly of Pythia.” He extended the concept of ethics and justice to include animals and
… commanded [people] to consider these [animals] as their familiars and friends; so as neither to injure, nor slay, nor eat any one of them. (Iamblichus’ Life of Pythagoras, p. 90.)
Pythagoras and his followers believed in metempsychosis, today referred to as reincarnation, including the belief that humans sometimes are reincarnated as animals and animals as humans.
Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Apollonius of Tyana, Ovid, Plotinus, Porphyry, the Jewish Essenes of Palestine, the Jewish Therapeutae of Egypt, John the Baptist, Jesus, James the brother of Jesus, Simon Peter, Matthew, the original Judeo-Christians of Jerusalem, the Ebionites, the Nazaraeans, Copernicus, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Gottfreid Leibniz can be considered Pythagoreans or strongly influenced by Pythagoreanism.
These individuals and groups held to most or all of the following Pythagorean beliefs and customs: an emphasis on high ethical standards; an opposition to returning violence for violence; dressing in white robes and in some cases an opposition to the wearing of wool along with a preference for wearing linen; opposition to slavery; an optional communalism coupled with the belief that wealth inevitably interfered with spiritual development; knowledge of herbs, medicine, and healing; an optional celibacy; elevation of the status of women; an emphasis on sexual purity; abstinence from wine; opposition to animal sacrifice; and a vegetarian diet. Eating a vegetarian diet was one part of a “Pythagorean package” of beliefs and values which all these individuals and groups shared.
Pythagoras received a scholarship at age 31, in around 538 B.C.E., and went to study in Egypt. There he learned the Egyptian language and hieroglyphics. He had access to Egyptian temples and partook of the religious mysteries. In pursuit of spiritual insight as part of these mysteries, he consumed mind-altering drugs of some kind. It is assumed that he became a priest of Isis. These priests ate no meat because of their belief in reincarnation, and they even refused to wear wool. (Peter Gorman, Pythagoras: A Life, p. 59.) It is possible that Brahman, Jain, and Buddhist ideas about reincarnation and vegetarianism arose not in India, but traveled there from Egypt and Greece?
After Pythagoras had been in Egypt for 13 years, the Persians conquered the country around 525 B.C.E. They took Pythagoras, along with others, into captivity in Babylon. There he studied Eastern thought for 12 years, and it may have been there that he learned the Golden Ratio and the Pythagorean Theorem. He may have had contact with Jews who had been exiled in large number to Babylon around 586 B.C.E. Vegetarianism was a strong tradition among some Jews by this time, and Pythagoras’ contact with them may have reinforced his vegetarianism and theirs. (See the sections of this book entitled Judaism and the History of Food, p. 51, and Jesus Quoted the Vegetarian Hosea, Opposed the Sacrifices, p. 178.)
Likewise, both Pythagoras and the Jews may have had contact in Persia with Buddhist missionaries; Persia at that time controlled Babylon and part of India, and there were close connections between Persia and India. Pythic-Delphic, Buddhist, and Hebrew traditions may have reinforced each other. This may explain why the teachings of the Buddhists, the Hebrew prophets, the Pythagoreans, and the Judeo-Christians overlap so much. Certain Buddhist values even survive in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, such as the asceticism of the monks and Christianity’s early five-day and two-day-per-week vegetarianism. (See the section of this book entitled Early Christian Fasting and the Didache, p. 158.)
Around 510 B.C.E., Pythagoras returned to Greece. He set up a communal society at Croton in southern Italy, which was then a frontier province of Greece and an area from which the Greeks customarily kidnapped and enslaved powerless, perhaps indigenous people. Pythagoras abolished slavery in Croton and set up abolitionist towns throughout southern Italy. He also abolished the sacrificing and eating of animals. The Pythagoreans aroused the enmity of neighboring dictators. Unfortunately, the Pythagoreans were strict pacifists and had developed no defensive skills. The dictators easily destroyed Pythagorean towns and killed or enslaved thousands of Pythagoras’ followers. Pythagoras himself fled Italy and returned to Greece.
Although his followers adulated him, Pythagoras refused to allow them to exalt him. He denied that he knew everything. He would not even allow himself to be called a sage; he coined the term “philosopher,” or lover of wisdom, and used that term to refer to himself. Pythagoras and his followers wore their hair long, and they wore white robes, as later did the Hebrew Essenes and Therapeutae—vegetarian Hebrew sects active in the First Century C.E. (See the sections of this book entitled The Therapeutae, p. 88, and Stephen, Hellenist, Foe of the Sacrificial System, p. 98.)
Women were admitted to Pythagorean schools on an equal footing with men. Theano, wife of Pythagoras was a noted teacher. She wrote a treatise on the Golden Ratio and carried on Pythagoras’ teaching after he died. Pythagoras’ daughter Myia wrote on the rearing of children.
Throughout this section, note the similarities between the teachings of Pythagoreans and those of the Essenes and Jesus and his brother James. Pythagoras’ followers were divided into two classes, the first class being the acusmatici and politici, those who lived in the world at large, and the second being the mathematici, higher level followers who lived as celibates in communes. Likewise, the Jewish Essenes later had two classes, a larger group that lived in the world at large and married and a core group that lived communally and were celibate. (Cf. Acts 2:44, 4:34; 1 Corinthians 7:26; 1 Timothy 4:3.)
Pythagoras opposed taking oaths, saying “… that their language should be such as to render them worthy of belief even without oaths.” (Cf. Matthew 5:34, James 5:12.) Pythagoras counseled his followers to avoid responding to violence with violence. (Cf. Matthew 5:39, James 1:19.) His biographer Iamblichus said of him, “And he said, that it is much more holy to be injured than to kill a man.” Pythagoras advised his followers to “… have an unstudied contempt of and hostility to glory, wealth, and the like… .” (Iamblichus’ Life of Pythagoras, p. 36, 83, 90; cf. Matthew 19:24; James 2:6, 5:1 ff.)
Pythagoras was a noted physician, having studied medicine in Egypt and Babylon. He employed various techniques including music therapy. (Iamblichus’ Life of Pythagoras, p. 87-88). Recall that the Pythagorean Essenes were noted physicians (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, ed. Whiston, p. 477) and that Jesus, the Pythagorean Essene, was famous first as a healer. Pythagoras opposed the eating of animal food and the drinking of wine. (Iamblichus’ Life of Pythagoras, p. 36, 58, 90, 98, 99, and 116; Vaclavik, The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ, p. 38.) He advised his followers not “… to sacrifice animals to the Gods, nor by any means to injure animals, but to preserve most solicitously justice towards them.” However, there is some confusion on this point, for Pythagoras allegedly ordered the acusmatici and the politici, those Pythagoreans who lived in the outside world and did not live communally “… to sacrifice animals, such as a cock, or a lamb, or some other animal recently born, but not frequently.” (Iamblichus’ Life of Pythagoras, p. 58, 80.)
Pythagoras opposed the wearing of wool; there is no consensus as to why. Perhaps he saw it was intertwined with the slaughter and eating of mutton. Maybe he was aware of the environmental impacts of grazing, that sheep and goats destroy oases and eat small tree seedlings and girdle and kill saplings and even large trees, thus hindering the recovery of wooded areas after humans have cut down the trees. On the other hand Ovid (43 B.C.E.-17 C.E.) said that Pythagoras lauded sheep for giving milk and wool. (Ovid, Metamorphoses, book 15, line 115, Loeb Classical Library, p. 373.) The Pythagoreans may have been lacto-vegetarians or even lacto-ovo-vegetarians. Bear in mind that Ovid and Iamblichus wrote centuries after Pythagoras’ death, and they may have gotten some of their facts wrong.
Instead of wool, Pythagoras wore linen, which is produced from flax or hemp. (Iamblichus’ Life of Pythagoras, p. 80.) If Pythagoras and his community wore linen, then they too would have eaten flax and/or hemp. Without eating flax, hemp, or chia, a diet free of meat is not sustainable or healthy, given that they are the best vegetable sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Another source is greens, however, a very large quantity must be eaten.
Pythagoras’ disciples referred to him as “the man,” saying, for example, “the man said such and such.” (Vaclavik, The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ, p. 36; See Ovid, Metamorphoses, book 15, line 60, Loeb Library, p. 368 ff.) Recall that Jesus referred to himself as “the son of man.” Although there are numerous references to “the son of man” in the Old Testament (e.g., Daniel 7:13), it is possible that Jesus adopted this terminology because he considered himself a disciple of Pythagoras and was referring to himself as a son of Pythagoras. It is not impossible that the author of Daniel also considered himself a Pythagorean and derived the term “son of man” from the Pythagoreans, since the book of Daniel—although it describes events that allegedly happened around 600 B.C.E.—was written or last rewritten and edited around 168 B.C.E. (Harper’s Bible Dictionary, “Daniel,” p. 205 f.)
Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.E.-17 C.E.) said of Pythagoras: “He was the first to decry the placing of animal food upon our tables.” Ovid quotes Pythagoras as saying:
O mortals, do not pollute your bodies with a food so impious! You have the fruits of the earth, you have apples, bending down the branches with their weight, and grapes swelling to ripeness on the vines; you have also delicious herbs and vegetables which can be mellowed and softened by the help of fire. Nor are you without milk or honey, fragrant with the bloom of thyme. The earth, prodigal of her wealth, supplies you her kindly sustenance and offers you food without bloodshed and slaughter… .
But that pristine age, which we have named the golden age, was blessed with the fruit of the trees and the herbs which the ground sends forth, nor did men defile their lips with blood. Then birds plied their wings in safety through the heaven, and the hare loitered all unafraid in the tilled fields, nor did its own guilelessness hang the fish upon the hook. All things were free from treacherous snares, fearing no guile and full of peace. But after someone, an ill exemplar, who envied the food of lions, and thrust down flesh as food into his greedy stomach, he opened the way for crime. It may be that, in the first place, with the killing of wild beasts the steel was warmed and stained with blood. This would have been justified, and we admit that creatures which menace our own lives may be killed without impiety. But, while they might be killed, they should never have been eaten. (Ovid, Metamorphoses, book 15, line 95 ff., Loeb Classical Library, p. 370 ff.)
Pythagoras had great influence on those who came after him. He is important to my study because he constitutes evidence that there were vegetarian societies in pre-historic times. My argument goes like this: Pythagoras did not get his vegetarian values from thin air. He admitted that he learned much of what he knew, which would have included his vegetarian values, at the feet of Themistoclea, a priestess of the Oracle of Pythia-Delphi. (See Mary Ellen Waithe, “Early Pythagoreans: Themistoclea, Theano, Arignote, Myia, and Damo,” A History of Women Philosophers; www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/9974/old.html.) And we can presume that Themistoclea was not a solitary vegetarian but that all the priestesses of the Oracle shared the same values. The Oracle was apparently part of a religious tradition that extended back past written history, back through that Dark Age that began with the Aryan invasions around 4300 B.C.E. and was reintensified with the coming of the Dorians. The Oracle appears to have been a surviving remnant of the pre-Aryan, goddess culture, which I would argue was at least in part vegetarian.
It is possible that Pythagoras got not only his vegetarian ideas but also his mathematical and scientific ideas from the priestesses of the Oracle, who in turn had preserved them for thousands of years.
Pythagoras may be the missing link between Old Europe and the classical and modern worlds.
THE ORPHIC MYSTERY, THE CULT OF DIONYSUS
Early Dionysian rituals included omophagia, the eating of animal, human, and even infant flesh. However, the religion of Dionysus was reformed by Orpheus, and for flesh was substituted a eucharist of bread and wine. Old line adherents of the cult of Dionysus murdered Orpheus. Followers of Dionysus came to reject the eating of meat. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, p. 74-76; “Asceticism,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979 ed., 2, p. 136.)
Relatively little is know of the religion of Orpheus and the Orphic mystery. Its followers believed that man’s wicked tendency should be suppressed and his heavenly nature cultivated, and this could be done by “… living an Orphic life, which included abstention from meat, wine, and sexual intercourse.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979 ed., Micropaedia, VII, p. 594; Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, p. 74.) The Latin Church Father Jerome, a vegetarian who extolled vegetarianism but regarded it as optional for Christians, said, “Orpheus in his song utterly denounces the eating of flesh.” (Jerome, “Against Jovianus,” Schaff & Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume VI, II:14, p. 398.)
SOCRATES AND PLATO
Plato studied under Socrates and transcribed his dialogs, or perhaps he reworked them or even created them out of whole cloth. In Book 2 of The Republic Plato wrote of Socrates’ discussion of the development of a city, in light of its economy, specialization by occupation, and considerations of justice, health, and conflict. There Plato advocated specialization of occupations as being good for the economy and also discussed the problem of developing a full-time, specialized army that would be skilled enough at war to defend the city but also principled enough to abide by the law. Plato spoke sympathetically of vegetarianism.
According to Plato in The Republic, Socrates envisioned a city in which the diet was loaves of wheat and barley, olives, cheese, onions, greens, figs, chick-peas, beans, toasted myrtle berries, acorns, and wine. It is clear from the context that he intentionally omitted meat.
So they will spend their days in health and peace, living to old age as you might expect and leaving another such life to their children.
Plato’s Socrates was asked how things would be different if the diet of the city included meat. He described how such a city would develop:
A city of that sort might show us possibly how justice and injustice grow up in states. However, the real city seems to me what we have described, a healthy sort; but if you wish us to examine one in a high fever, there is nothing to hinder… . [T]hat healthy city is not enough now; it must be swollen and filled with people and things which are not in cities from necessity—hunters of all sorts… . And besides we shall want swineherds; there were none in our first city, because they were not wanted, but they will be wanted in this one, and lots of all kinds of other pasturing animals will be wanted if anyone is to eat them… . And shan’t we need physicians much more than before in such a manner of life?… Take the land also; what was enough to feed them then will not be enough now, it will be too small… . Then we must take a slice of our neighbors’ land, if we are to have enough for grazing and plowing, and they also must take a slice of ours, if they, too, pass the bounds of the necessary, and give themselves to the boundless getting of wealth… . The next thing is, we shall go to war… . [W]e have discovered the origin of war now, from that whence cities get most of their troubles… . (Great Dialogues of Plato, p. 165 ff.)
THE ZOROASTRIAN VISION OF THE VEGETARIAN PEACE SURE TO COME
The Indo-Europeans invaded Persia sometime around 2000 B.C.E., several centuries before they invaded India. Persian prophet Zarathustra, known in the West as Zoroaster, lived probably around 1400 to 1300 B.C.E., although scholars radically disagree as to his dates. Until Moslems conquered the Persian Empire in the 600s C.E., Zoroastrianism was a strong influence on all the other major world religions. Zoroastrianism survives as an organized religion today primarily in India. Zoroastrian priests were called magi (singular magus) A “magus” is a seer or wizard or wise one. According to Christian legend magi attended the birth of Jesus. (Matthew 2:1, where the Greek word magoi is used.)
In the Zoroastrian myth the first man and woman were charged by god as follows:
You are the seed of man, you are the parents of the world, you have been given by me the best perfect devotion; think good thoughts, speak good words, do good deeds, and do not worship the demons.
The first man and woman were misled by the evil Ahriman to conclude that the world derived from evil. This was their original and worst sin. They began to offer sacrifices [animal?] which were not pleasing to god. They started drinking milk. (John R. Hinnells, Persian Mythology, The Greater or Iranian edition of the Bundahishn, 14:11, p. 62.)
The Zoroastrians believed the history of the world began in 9660 B.C.E. and would last some 12,000 years. (Martin A. Larson, The Religion of the Occident, p. 96.) At some point a second savior will come, born of a virgin. “The original paradisal state will draw yet nearer. Men will no longer need to eat meat, they will become vegetarians and drink only water.” A third savior will come, born in the same way. “All disease, death and persecution will be overcome, vegetation will flourish perpetually and mankind will eat only spiritual food. The world is now to be perfectly and finally renovated.” The world will end around 2340 C.E., and then all will be judged. Those who have committed evil will be punished to a level that is exactly proportional to the wrongs they have done. Then their punishment will end, and all humanity will be reunited. (John R. Hinnells, Persian Mythology, p. 69.)