Thursday, June 16, 2011

Clean and Unclean - Reflections on Kosher (Part II)

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Clean bird

Lessons We Can Learn From Clean Animals (more speculations)

Beyond this observation, my speculations go farther afield. But if you’ve made it this far, join me the rest of the way! Rule Number Two is interesting because fish would ordinarily never interact with the earth; they are in the sea, of course. And the sea has similar but slightly different connotations in the Bible. The Sea, in the ancient world, was a place of confusion and dread. In Genesis 1, the Holy Spirit hovers over the sea; in Psalm 2, the author compares the ungodly nations to the raging of the sea; in the Gospels, Jesus both calms and then walks upon the sea; in Revelation, a Beast arises from the sea. It seems to be a place of Chaos and darkness.

But the sea creatures that are clean are not completely separated from the sea. They do not have thick shells to protect themselves. But they do have scales; there is some insulation between them and the sea. But they are true parts of it. They are not like the whales and dolphins that live in the sea, must constantly leave the depths to breathe from Heaven; clean creatures can breathe in the sea itself. Like fish, we need to be insulated from the confusion of this life by the armor of God, but we are still residents here. We will never understand the darkness, at least not in this life. Further, though we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, we are true residents of this world and cannot be like the whales, constantly be escaping into our churches; we must learn to breathe its air.

But what of the birds? Even if it were true that birds are a holy category, what’s wrong with these twenty? Well, for one, the Raven pretty well abandoned Noah, so there is some bad blood there. In general, the birds excluded are mostly carnivorous or scavengers. Owls, eagles, hawks and vultures are all excluded. And, looking over to the ‘beast’ category, there aren’t any carnivorous animals included in the split hooves plus cud-chewing category. But carnivorous fish are included. Perhaps it has to do with ‘the breath of life.’ This seems to be an important Biblical division throughout the Bible; it roughly correlates to our modern notion of ‘higher animals,’ and like that concept, give special status to animals that have greater ability to be good or bad, to feel pain, be conscious, etc. So these rules seem to call holy only those animals which never shed the blood of anything that has the breath of life. And perhaps the dove and the sheep have a lesson for us: holy creatures love peace and would prefer to avoid violence. Christ tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”  In the future, it seems that we will all become vegetarians: Isaiah promises that, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.”

What of the chewing of the cud? Why is that holy? This is the only feature that I have heard speculation on. Animals that ruminate chew their food, and have a special stomach to pre-digest it; they then spit it back up, and continue chewing it. The Hebrew word for ‘cud’ comes from ‘garar,’ which is an onomatopoetic root suggesting sawing or grating (which is indeed what ruminants do). We can learn from the way these animals eat. When we eat our spiritual food, we need to digest it slowly. We need to repeat it, again and again. When we read or hear God’s word, it cannot be well understood on a first pass. We need to memorize it; we need to meditate on it. Truly, we need to ruminate on it.

What of the cloven hoof? This one is a challenge. I have shared my guess as to why a hoof was holier than a paw. But why is a cloven hoof holier than a single one? Why are horses unholy and cows holy? Perhaps it’s a symbol of humility and brokenness. Indeed, horses are quite proud, as is pointed out in Job, “He laughs at fear.” Most importantly, it is a picture of division. What do we have to learn from this? We know that we are a race that is divided in many ways. Male and female; rich and poor; body and soul. But the division is not permanent; indeed, it is only in the superficial plane, where the animal is in contact with the world where these differences exist. Travel heavenward, and the divided hoof comes together in the unity of the leg. And we too shall be united, one with Christ as He is one with His Father.


  1. I've heard that the sea in biblical terms could be seen as a symbol of gentile nations.

    Also, the part about garar is quite interesting. If it's related to the greek word for gnaw, such as to gnaw on meat, then it would have intriguing implications for John 6.

  2. I've heard that the Gentiles/heathen are like the sea. I think that's probably got some truth to it.

    I hadn't thought of connecting this thought to John 6, but I'm interested. What were you thinking?

  3. I've heard that when Christ speaks of eating and drinking his flesh and blood in John 6 and his followers express disbelief, instead of clearing up the confusion like He does in other instances, the Greek text shows that He intensifies His point by switching from using the common word for eat "phago" to the word "trogo" which was a word typically used for animal mastication or chewing and gnawing, i.e. its a concrete physical action. It seems to me that's one way that chewing could be considered holy? It occurs to me, too that He is the lamb of God, and in Exodus the Angel of Death passed over the homes of everyone that both ate the unblemished lamb and spilled its blood on the doorposts.

  4. Very interesting indeed! I'll have to re-study John 6! Thank you!

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