The Meatless Kingdom | 4

The Meatless Kingdom | 4

In our last study,[1] we looked at what I called the "apex" of the issue, suggesting that the "manna and quail" event recorded in Scripture actually gives us a conclusion altogether different from the mainstream understanding, which is that God has sanctified animal killing for the purpose of eating meat. Indeed, we saw from Exodus and Numbers that God's "provision" of quail was in fact a curse, not a blessing. What this study will do is further support this claim by considering some archeological and historical information that will, once and for all, disparage animal sacrifice and meat eating. The information provided in this section anticipates the rebuttal, "God has ordained animal sacrifice and meat eating because he established the temple and priesthood in charge of animal sacrifices. Why would he do this if he didn't want us killing and eating animals?" The person giving such a rebuttal is sincere, though misinformed; this presupposition depends on an idea of Biblical inerrancy and that God said and did these things. In light of our previous studies, we should ask, "Did he?"

The true origin of animal sacrifice

We've already looked at several reasons why God never ordained animal sacrifice and meat eating by considering the contexts of some popular passages used to support the practices. Here, we now look at even more enlightening and damning evidence. If we can show that animal sacrifice as justification for meat eating didn't originate with the Almighty, then we can safely conclude that any and all related passages in "Scripture" that detail such rites and all things related to them (like the temple, priesthood, and possibly feast days) are later interpolations to justify something pagan.

In my research into this topic, I endeavored to source as much evidence both for and against the practice of animal sacrifice and meat consumption. All of the "evidence" in support of the practice come from all sides. It won't be denied by any reader of this series that the mainstream view is that God desired animal sacrifice, for atonement, anticipated and prescribed meat eating, and designed an entire religion centered around such (temple and priesthood). Yet the opposing view, although obscure, sees a more nuanced and unbiased understanding of this topic. Here's an interesting admission from researchers I find unavoidably damning, albeit controversial--especially for Biblicists and Inerrantists.[2] The following is an excerpt from a short entry from the Biblical Archeology Society titled Ritual Sacrifice in Ancient Israel.[3] We read, 

In his article, Hallo discusses not only the evidence for ritual sacrifice in ancient Mesopotamia, but also some of the possible motivations for the development of such a practice. He suggests that ritual sacrifice to the gods in Mesopotamia developed as a means of justifying meat consumption by human beings–a privilege generally reserved for the elite of society–and that by the beginning of the third millennium B.C.E. ritual sacrifice was understood as a means of feeding the Mesopotamian gods.

Ancient sacrifice in Israel was also a means of sanctifying meat consumption, but Hallo argues that it also took on several additional layers of meaning and significance. Ancient sacrifice in Israel was seen as a method for sanctifying certain human activities and as a way of imparting greater significance to certain rituals. Animal sacrifice was also a means of redress and was seen as a way of atoning for human transgressions.

This gives us a great introduction into the controversies actual researchers are discussing--controversies not well-known by the average Bible reader. At the very least, we can see there exists researchers and scholars who admit the origin of the sacrificial system was pagan, not Godly.

In this same article, we're linked to Hallo's piece.[4] The entirety of what's available to read of Hallo's article is provided here (with my emphasis added):

Sacrificing animals to God—a major activity in the Temple—must certainly seem odd to us in the 21st century. Where did the practice come from? The Israelites didn’t invent it.

Scholars have hypothesized its origin in prehistoric times, not long after the domestication of plants and animals. Others argue for a Greek origin as reflected in early Greek literature.

The most convincing evidence, however, comes from Mesopotamia. Here we have not only, as in Israel, the canonical (literary) formulations of how sacrificial rites are to be performed, but also economic texts providing accounts of events after the ritual and objectively recorded, detailing the expenses of each step in the ritual against the possibility of a future audit by a higher authority. These records leave no doubt that in Mesopotamia, animal sacrifice, though ostensibly a mechanism for feeding the deity, was at best a thinly disguised method for sanctifying and justifying meat consumption by human beingsa privilege routinely accorded to priesthood, aristocracy and royalty, and sporadically, notably on holidays and holy days, to the masses of the population.

Hallo admits that the most persuasive evidence of the origin of animal-sacrificial rites and meat consumption isn't original with the Hebrews. What's also interesting is that these practices were "a privilege routinely accorded to priesthood, ...notably on holidays and holy days, to the masses of the population." What this information provides is the key to understanding why we find passages in the Hebrew Scriptures detailing, not only animal sacrifice, but alleged distinctions between "clean and unclean" meat and the offices and functions related to a "set apart" "priest class" who were supposed to enforce such things. Consider this entry from Encyclopedia Brittanica:

...for the Levites, unlike the 12 tribes of Israel, were not assigned a specific territory of their own but rather 48 cities scattered throughout the entire country (Numbers 35:1–8). Other scholars, however, argue that it would have been improper for the Levites to possess land, even if they were a secular tribe, for as priestly officials “the offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance” (Joshua 13:14). The history of the Levites is further obscured by the possibility that their ranks may have included representatives of all the tribes.[5]

The pertinent information here is consistent with the "Biblical Narrative," which is that God allegedly sanctified a tribe of people called the Levites who had a variety of religious functions, not the least of which concerned the rites of animal sacrifice for atonement of sins. These priests enjoyed the "allowance" of eating certain parts of the sacrifices as part of their inheritance. This system, though not exactly identical to the surrounding systems of pagan nations, was undoubtedly informed by them like Hallo and other scholars suggest.

Some Jews agree

You might be surprised that some Jews agree with the claims these scholars and I are making. In one study titled Weaning Away from Idolatry: Maimonides on the Purpose of Ritual Sacrifice,[6] we're given an analysis of Maimonides' view. If you're unacquainted with this figure, Maimonides was a prolific and influence Torah scholar and Jewish philosopher during the Middle Ages. In this essay, we learn, 

Maimonides seems to maintain that the Torah’s concept of ritual sacrifice is simply a means of weaning the Jews away from idolatrous sacrifices. It is a sort of concession to the frailties of mankind who, by the time the Torah was given, were steeped in idolatry.6 At face value, Maimonides seems to understand that ritual sacrifices have no inherent value.7 They are just a means—albeit a valuable means—towards the end of weaning people away from idolatry, but they are not an end in their own right.8
Maimonides presents a series of Biblical passages that seem to downplay the importance of ritual sacrifice:
  • Is Hashem’s desire in burnt-offerings and sacrifices like in listening to the voice of Hashem? (I Sam. 15:22).
  • “Why [do you offer] to Me the multitudes of your sacrifices?” says Hashem (Isa. 1:11).
  • [F]or I did not speak to you forefathers and I did not command them on the day I took them out of the Land of Egypt on the matter of burnt-offerings and sacrifices; rather this matter I commanded them saying, “listen to My voice and I will be for you as God and you will be for Me as a nation” (Jer. 7:22–23).
On the surface, these passages and others like them seem to eschew ritual sacrifice altogether. However, Maimonides explains that they actually convey the message that God’s primary concern is that the Jewish people worship Him exclusively. Sacrifices are a means towards that end, because they allowed the Jews to transfer a deeply-ingrained religious practice from idol worship to Divine worship. Under this theology, the sacrifices themselves are less important than the underlying goal of “knowing [the true] God” and following His rules.

The verses above downplay the importance of ritual sacrifices because when the Jews do not follow God’s rules in other aspects, He finds their ritual sacrifices entirely superfluous.9 Ritual sacrifices might be the proverbial icing on the cake, or the spoonful of sugar which helps the medicine go down; but when there is no cake, or no medicine, then there is no need for icing and sugar.

The view held by Maimonides is a popular view held by vegetarian/ vegan Jews and Christians today. It's believed that animal sacrifice and eating is a "concession" that God allowed in order to wean the people from their idolatry. This view isn't uncommon, but it ignores recent scholarship suggesting the origin is entirely pagan. It's my view God never made such concession, for God despises idolatry and bloodshed.

In the essay, objections made by other Jewish leaders to Maimonides' view are presented. But an unbiased observer can't help but wonder if the objections aren't based in bias. If one is completely wedded to the traditional system, then any contrarian view is seen as blasphemous. But should we concern ourselves with popular opinion when we're questing for truth? The evidence I've presented based on modern archaeological and scholarly inquiry suggests both Maimonides and his opponents are wrong. 


Evidence suggests that the practice of the Hebrews to sacrifice animals was borrowed from surrounding pagan nations. This was used to justify meat eating, and it also became the central religious rite of the priesthood. It can safely be said that the entire system of religion enjoyed by the Israelites--from the temple to the altar and the dietary allowances of "clean meat"--has its origin in paganism. Thus, we must abandon those passages which carefully and descriptively outline those rites as interpolations. What remains is a meatless system without the dangerousness of idolatry and bloodshed and is more true to God's original design. If we doubt whether or not these particular passages are later interpolations, our next study will explore evidence found in the Bible itself suggesting this is the case. We might ask the question, "What does God say about this?" Does what God think and say about this oppose or accept the scholarship we've considered here? We'll see soon enough!  

[2] A "Biblicist" is someone who interprets the Bible literally. An "Inerrantist" is someone who believes the Bible is "inerrant" or "without error."   

[4] It appears to be behind a paywall. Still, reading what text is provided for free to the site visitor, it's clear that Hallo's conclusions are that sacrificial rites in ancient Israel is inspired by pagan practice, not by God, and that it developed into a more significant system of religion beyond justification for meat eating.