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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Green Bible Challenge: Clean and Unclean Animals

Reading: Leviticus 11

In this chapter, God outlines for the Israelites which species they can and cannot eat. No explanation is given for why but modern science suggests that this was a way of God protecting the Israelites from meats that could harm them. Most of the animals designated 'unclean' were species that eat carrion, decaying flesh or are bottom dwellers who eat decaying organic matter from the sea floor.

As nutritionist David Meinz observes: "Could it be that God, in His wisdom, created certain creatures whose sole purpose is to clean up after the others? Their entire 'calling' may be to act exclusively as the sanitation workers of our ecology. God may simply be telling us that it's better for us believers not to consume the meat of these trash collectors" (Eating by the Book, 1999, p. 225).

As we now know, the pig (the most famous 'unclean' animal) is prone to having a disease where cysts in the meat (trchinia worm larvae) can make people very sick. Pigs also have flesh that is very similar to human flesh, meaning that disease transferral is easier from this species than most.

Although the text mentions several times that certain species are detestable or defiling, I don't think this is an indietment on the species itself, but only on their value as food.

Bruce Marcot has another interesting interpretation: "I've been stumped as to why one would be "defiled" by "any manner of creeping thing" (Leviticus 11:44), especially by eating the particular non-domesticated beasts listed here. At first, I thought it was purely a practical manner, in that some animals listed such as the vulture eat carrion, which can be unhealthily full of parasites and disease; or that other animal foods, particularly those being carrion themselves, would likewise be unhealthy. Or that the term "creeping thing" referred to reptiles and amphibians and maybe small terrestrial mammals such as rodents.
But then why deny the consumption of pigs and rabbits, as well as the purely carnivorous diurnal raptors and the owls, the insectivorous bat, the insects (except for locuts, beetles, and grasshoppers!), cursorial species, and so on, which can be healthy and nutritious parts of one's diet, as they are in so many parts of the world? Snakes, guinae pigs, ants, termites, and other "creeping things" are also eaten in many parts of the world.
The answer came to me when I researched the meaning of the word "defile." According to my dictionaries, defile means, in part, to "desecrate," which in turn means "to profane (the name of)," "to violate the chastity of," and, most importantly, to "abuse the sacredness of."
So, to be "defiled" by consuming "any manner of creeping things" may mean to become profaned, unchaste, and unholy. But why, then, would one become profaned, unchaste, and unholy by consuming "creeping things" and other listed animals?
It may be because these animals are, in some sense, to be honored and respected, that is, they themselves are sacred and chaste, and to consume them profanes oneself.
That is, for people to consume something that is sacred (these wildlife) is become unchaste and unholy.
To further explain this, Leviticus 11:44 refers to eating these animals as "unclean;" and "unclean" is defined, in part, as "morally impure (ceremonially impure)." This is a far different definition than simply foul or dirty or unhealthy " (emphasis mine).

I quite like this idea. It is worth noting that many of the species labelled 'impure' are, as mentioned earlier, flesh eaters. Predatory species such as eagles, vultures, ospreys, buzzards, kites and hawks naturally occur in very low numbers, and are thus very vulnerable to overexploitation. Perhaps God named these animals as sacred to protect them from extinction. Another group of species classed as unclean, the shark, is currently showing what can happen to these vulnerable species when they are hunted thoughtlessly. Three sharks are currently dying per second. Half are killed for their fins to make shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. The other half are collateral damage in fishing operations targeting other species. Numbers have declined by 90% already. If sharks become extinct, the joke may be on us, as they play a vital part in many ecosystems and control the numbers of the herbivorous fish that eat phytoplankton. Oh yeah, and phytoplankton are the reason the ocean is the biggest carbon sink on earth. So without sharks we may end up with runaway global warming even faster. Not to mention sharks have intrinsic value as beloved creations of God - sacred creatures.

Maybe it's a bit of both - food value and sacredness. Certainly God wanted us to think about obedience, health and compassion on his creatures.

If you have another interpretation of this topic, feel free to comment!

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+