Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(usually some form of the verb טָמֵא, which is the technical term for ceremonial pollution; ἀκάθαρτος, impure; but occasionally עֶרְוָה , quaked; קָדֵשׁ, consecrated; נַדָּה , filth; κοινός, commons). In this article we treat of food prohibited by the Mosaic law, reserving defilements of the person for the following article. (See CLEAN).
The Jews were forbidden to eat things strangled, or dead of themselves, or through beasts or birds of prey; whatever beast did not both part the hoof and chew the cud; and certain other smaller animals rated as "creeping things" (שֶׁרֶוֹ ); certain classes of birds mentioned in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 twenty or twenty-one in all; whatever in the waters had not both fins and scales; whatever winged insect had not besides four legs the two hind legs for leaping; besides things offered in sacrifice to idols; and all blood or whatever contained it (save perhaps the blood of fish, as would appear from that only of beast and bird being forbidden [Leviticus 7:26]), and therefore flesh cut from the live animal; as also all fat, at any rate that disposed in masses among the intestines, and probably wherever discernible and separable among the flesh (Leviticus 3:14-17; Leviticus 7:23). The eating of blood was prohibited even to "the stranger that sojourneth among you" (Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 17:12-14), an extension which we do not trace in other dietary precepts; e.g. the thing which died of itself was to be given "unto the stranger that is in thy gates" (Deuteronomy 14:21). As regards blood, the prohibition indeed dates from the declaration to Noah against "flesh with the life thereof which is the blood thereof," in Genesis 9:4, which was perhaps regarded by Moses as still binding upon all Noah's descendants. The grounds, however, on which the similar-precept of the Apostolic Council, in Acts 15:20-21, appears based, relate not to any obligation resting still unbroken on the Gentile world, but to the risk of promiscuous offence' to the Jews and Jewish Christians, "for Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him." Hence this abstinence is reckoned among necessary things" (τὰ ἐπάναγκες ), and "things offered to idols," although not solely, it may be presumed, on the same grounds, are placed in the same class with "blood and things strangled" (ἀπέχεσθαι εἰδωλοθύτων καὶ αἵματος καὶ πνικτοῦ, Acts 15:28-29). Besides these, we find the prohibition twice recurring against "seething a kid in its mother's milk." It is added, as a final injunction to the code of dietary precepts in Deuteronomy 14 after the crowning declaration of Deuteronomy 14:21, "for thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God;" but in Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26, the context relates to the bringing first-fruits to the altar, and to the "angel" who was to "go before" the people. To this precept we shall have occasion further to return.
The general distinction of clean and unclean is rightly observed by Michaelis (Smith's Transl. art. 202, etc.) to have its parallel among all nations, there being universally certain creatures regarded as clean, i.e. fit for food, and the rest as the opposite (comp. Leviticus 11:47). With the greater number of nations, however, this is only a traditional usage based merely, perhaps, either on an instinct relating to health, or on a repugnance which is to be regarded as an ultimate fact in itself, and of which no further account is to be given. Thus Michaelis (as above) remarks that in a certain part of Germany rabbits are viewed as unclean, i.e. are advisedly excluded from diet. English feelings as regards the frog and the snail, contrasted with those of Continentals, supply another close parallel. Now, it is not unlikely that nothing more than this is intended in the distinction between "clean" and "unclean" in the directions given to Noah. The intention seems to have been that creatures recognized, on whatever ground, as unfit for human food, should not be preserved in so large a proportion as those whose number might be diminished by that consumption. The dietary code of the Egyptians, and the traditions which have descended among the Arabs, unfortified, certainly down to the time of Mohammed, and in some cases later, by any legislation whatever, so far as we know, may illustrate the probable state of the Israelites. If the law seized upon such habits as were current; among the people, perhaps enlarging their scope and range, the whole scheme of tradition, instinct, and usage so enlarged might become a ceremonial barrier, having a relation at once to the theocratic idea, to the general health of the people, and to their separateness as a nation.
The same personal interest taken by Jehovah in his subjects, which is expressed by the demand for a ceremonially pure state on the part of every Israelite as in covenant with him, regarded also this particular detail of that purity, viz. diet. Thus the prophet (Isaiah 56:17), speaking in his name, denounces those that "sanctify themselves (consecrate themselves to idolatry), eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse," and those "which remain among the graves and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels" (Isaiah 65:4). It remained for a higher lawgiver to announce that "there is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him" (Mark 7:15). The fat was claimed as a burnt-offering, and the blood enjoyed the highest sacrificial esteem. In the two combined, the entire victim was by representation offered, and to transfer either to human use was to deal presumptuously with the most holy things. But, besides this, the blood was esteemed as the life" of the creature, and a mysterious sanctity beyond the sacrificial relation thereby attached to it. Hence we read, "whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people" (Leviticus 7:27; comp. 17:10, 14); whereas the offender in other dietary respects was merely "unclean until even" (Leviticus 11:40; Leviticus 17:15). Blood was certainly drunk in certain heathen rituals, especially those which related to the, solemnization of a covenant but also as a pledge of idolatrous worship (Psalms 16:4; Ezekiel 33:25). Still there is no reason to think that blood has ever been a common article of food, and any lawgiver might probably reckon on a natural aversion effectually fortifying his prohibition in' this respect, unless under some bewildering influence of superstition. Whether animal qualities, grosser appetites, and inhuman tendencies might be supposed by the Hebrews transmitted into the partaker of the blood of animals, we have nothing to show; see, however, Josephus, Ant. 3, 11, 2. (See BLOOD).
It is noteworthy that the practical effect of the rule laid down is to exclude all the carnivora among quadrupeds, and, so far as we can interpret the nomenclature, the raptors among birds. This suggests the question whether they were excluded as being not averse to human carcasses, and in most Eastern countries acting as the servitors of the battle-field and the gibbet. Even swine have been known so to feed; and, further, by their constant truncation among whatever lies on the ground; suggest impurity, even if they were not generally foul feeders. Among fish, those which were allowed contain, unquestionably, the most wholesome varieties, save that they exclude the oyster. Probably, however, sea fishing was little practiced by the Israelites; and the Levitical rules must be understood as referring backward to their experience of the produce of the Nile, and forward to their enjoyment: of the Jordan and its upper lakes. The exclusion of the camel and the hare from allowable meats is less easy to account for, save that the former never was in common use, and is generally spoken of in reference to the semi-barbarous desert tribes on the eastern or southern border and, some of whom certainly had no insuperable repugnance to his flesh; although it is so impossible to substitute any other creature for the camel as the "ship of the desert" that to eat him, especially where many other creatures give meat much preferable, would be the worst economy possible in an Eastern commissariat-that of destroying the best, or rather the only, conveyance in order to obtain the most indifferent food. The hare was long supposed, even by eminent naturalists, to ruminate, and certainly was eaten by the Egyptians. The horse and the ass would be generally spared from similar reasons to those, which exempted the camel. As regards other cattle, the young males would be those universally preferred for food, no more of that sex reaching maturity than were needful for breeding, while the supply of milk suggested the copious preservation, of the female. The duties of draught would require another rule in rearing neat cattle.
The laboring steer, man's fellow in the field, had a life somewhat ennobled and sanctified by that comradeship. Thus it seems to have been quite unusual to slay for sacrifice or food, as in 1 Kings 19:21, the ox accustomed to the yoke. And perhaps, in this case, as being tougher, the flesh was not roasted, but boiled. The case of Araunah's oxen is not similar, as cattle of all ages were useful in the threshing-floor (2 Samuel 24:22). Many of these restrictions must be esteemed as merely based on usage, or arbitrary. Practically, the law left among the allowed meats an ample variety, and no inconvenience was likely to arise from a prohibition to eat camels, ‘ horses, and asses. Swine, hares, etc., would probably, as nearly as possible, be exterminated in proportion as the law was observed, and their economic room filled by other creatures. Wunderbar (Bibliscch- talm. Medicin 2, 50) refers to a notion that "the animal element might only with great circumspection and discretion be taken up into the life of man in order to avoid debasing that human life by assimilation to a brutal level, so that thereby the soul might become degraded, profaned, filled with animal affections, and disqualified for drawing near to God." He thinks, also, that we may notice a meaning in "the distinction between creatures of a higher, nobler, and less intensely animal organization as clean and those of a lower and incomplete organization as unclean," and that the insects provided with four legs and two others for leaping are of a higher or more complete type than others, and relatively nearer to man. This seems fanciful, but may, nevertheless, have been a view current among Rabbinical authorities. As regards birds, the raptors have commonly tough and indigestible flesh, and some of them are, in all warm countries, the natural scavengers of all sorts of carrion and offal. This alone begets an instinctive repugnance towards them, and associates them with what was beforehand a defilement.' Thus to kill them for food would tend .to multiply various sources of uncleanness. Porphyry (Abstin. 4:7, quoted by Winer) says that the Egyptian priests abstained from all fish, from all quadrupeds with solid hoofs, or having claws, or which were not horned, and from all carnivorous birds. Other curious parallels have been found among more distant nations. (See ANIMAL).
But as Orientals have minds sensitive to teaching by types, there can be little doubt that such ceremonial distinctions not only tended to keep Jew and Gentile apart, but were a perpetual reminder to the former that he and the latter were not on one level before God. Hence, when that economy was changed, we find that this was the very symbol selected to instruct Peter in the truth that God was not a "respecter of persons." The vessel filled with "four footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air," was expressive of the Gentile world, to be put now on a level with tie Israelite, through God's "purifying their hearts by faith." A sense of this, their prerogative, however dimly held, may have fortified the members of the privileged nation in their struggle with the persecutions of the Gentiles on this very point. It was no mere question of which among several means of supporting life a man chose to adopt, when the persecutor dictated the alternative of swine's flesh or the loss of life itself; but whether he should surrender the badge and type of that privilege by which Israel stood as tile favored nation before God (1 Maccabees 1:63-64; 2 Maccabees 6:18; 2 Maccabees 7:1). The same feeling led to the exaggeration of the Mosaic regulations, until it was "unlawful for a man that was a Jew to keep company with, or come unto, one of another nation" (Acts 10:28); and with such intensity were badges of distinction cherished that the wine, bread, oil, cheese, or anything cooked by a heathen was declared unlawful for a Jew to eat.
Nor was this strictness, however it might at times be pushed to an absurdity, without foundation in the nature of the case. The Jews, as, during and after the return from captivity, they found the avenues of the world opening around them, would find their intercourse with Gentiles unavoidably increased, and their only way to avoid an utter relaxation of their code would lie in somewhat overstraining the precepts of prohibition. Nor should we omit the tendency of those who have no scruples to "despise" those who have, and to parade their liberty at the expense of these latter and give piquancy to the contrast by wanton tricks, designed to beguile the Jew from his strictness of observance, and make him, unguardedly, partake of what he abhorred, in order to heighten his confusion by derision. One or two instances of such amusement at the Jew's expense would drive the latter within the entrenchments of a universal repugnance and avoidance, and make him seek the safe side at the cost of being counted a. churl and a bigot. Thus we may account for the refusal of the "king's meat" by the religious captives (Daniel 1:8), and for the similar conduct recorded of Judith (12, 2) and Tobit (Tobit 1, 11); and in a similar spirit Shakespeare makes Shylock say, "I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you" (Merchant of Venice, Acts 1, sc. 3). As regards things offered to idols, all who own one God meet on common ground; but the Jew viewed the precept as demanding a literal objective obedience, and had a holy horror of even an unconscious infraction of the law: hence, as he could never know what had received idolatrous consecration, his only safety lay in total abstinence; whereas Paul admonishes the Christian to abstain, "for his sake that slewed it and for conscience sake," from a thing said to have been consecrated to a false god, but not to parade his conscientious scruples by interrogating the butcher at his stall, or the host in his guest-chamber (1 Corinthians 10:25-29); and to give opposite injunctions would doubtless, in his view, have been "compelling the Gentiles to live as did the Jews" (ἰουδαϊ v ζειν, Galatians 2:14). (See ALISGEMA).
The prohibition to "seethe a kid-in its mother's milk" has caused considerable difference of opinion among commentators. Michaelis (art. 210) thought it was meant merely to encourage the use of olive-oil instead of the milk or butter of an animal, which we commonly use in cookery, where the Orientals use the former. This will not satisfy any mind by which the clue of symbolism so blindly held by the Eastern devotee, and so deeply interwoven 2 Jewish ritual, has once been duly seized. Mercy to the beasts is one of the under-currents which permeate that law. To soften the feelings and humanize the character was the higher and more general aim. When Paul, commenting on a somewhat similar precept, says, "Doth God care for oxen, or saith he it altogether for our sakes?" he does not mean to deny God's care for oxen, but to insist the rather on the more elevated and more human lesson. The milk was the destined support of the young creature: viewed in reference to it, the milk was its "life," and had a relative sanctity resembling that of the forbidden blood (comp. Juvenal, 11:68, "Qui plus lactis habet quam sanguinis," speaking of a kid destined for the knife). "No doubt the abstinence from the forbidden action in the case of a young creature already dead, and a dam unconscious probably of its loss, or whose consciousness such a use of her milk could in nowise quicken, was based on a sentiment merely. But the practical consequence, that milk must be foregone or elsewhere obtained, would prevent the sympathy from being an empty one. It would not be the passive emotion which becomes weaker by repetition, for want of an active habit with which to ally itself. And thus its operation would lie in indirectly quickening sympathies for the brute creation at all other times. The Talmudists took an extreme view of the precept, as forbidding generally the cooking of flesh in milk (Mishna, Cholin, 8; Hottinger, Leg. Hebr. p. 117, 141).
It remains to mention. the sanitary aspect of the case. Swine are said to be peculiarly liable to disease in their own bodies. This probably means that they are more easily led than other creatures to the foul feeding which produces it; and, where the average heat is great, decomposition rapid, and malaria easily excited, this tendency in the animal is more mischievous than elsewhere. Ameazel or mezel, from whence we have "measled pork," is the old English word for a "leper," and it is asserted that eating swine's flesh in Syria and Egypt tends to produce that disorder (Bartholinus, De Morbis Bibl. c. 8; Wunderbar, p. 51). But there is an indefiniteness about these assertions which prevents our dealing with them scientifically. Meazel or mezel may well; indeed, represent "leper," but which of all the morbid symptoms classed under that head it is to stand for, and whether it means the same, or at least a parallel, disorder in man and in pig are indeterminate questions. (See LEPER).
The prohibition on eating fat was salubrious in a region where skin diseases are frequent and virulent, and that on blood had, no doubt, a similar tendency. The case of animals dying of themselves needs no remark: the mere wish to insure avoiding disease, in case they had died in such a state, would dictate the rule. Yet the beneficial tendency is veiled under a ceremonial difference, for the "stranger" dwelling with the Israelite was allowed it, although the latter was forbidden. Thus is their distinctness before God, as a nation, ever put prominently forward, even where more common motives appear to have their turn. As regards the animals allowed for food, comparing them with those forbidden, there can be no doubt on which side the balance of wholesomeness lies. Nor would any dietetic economist fail to pronoun in favor of the Levitical dietary Code as a whole, as insuring the maximum of public health, and yet of national distinctness, procured, however, by a minimum of the inconvenience arising from restriction. Literature. — Bochart, Hierozoicon; Forskal, Descriptiones Animalium, etc., quce in Itinere Orientali Obsesrvavit, with his Icones Rerum Naturaleim; and Rosenmü ller, Handbuch der bibl. Alterthü ms kunde, vol. 4 Natural History, may be consulted on some of the questions connected with this subject; also, more generally, Maimonides, De Cibis Vetitis; Reinhard, De Cibis Hebraeorum Prohibitis. See Foo. 1)
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Unclean'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/u/unclean.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.