The law of Moses placed no restriction on eating fruits or vegetables. There were, however, severe restrictions on eating the flesh of animals. Animals that were not to be eaten were “unclean”. There were hundreds of species of animals around in Moses’ time available for food. But the Jews were by the law restricted to a small number. The amazing thing is that, nearly thirty-five centuries later, experience and science have led us to understand some of the benefits of these restrictions.
Under the law of Moses, only certain types of flesh could be eaten.
These restrictions applied to:
Leviticus 11 lays down the basic principle:
Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud–that you may eat.
Leviticus 11 v 3
Meat was permitted from animals which had cloven hoofs and which also chewed the cud. This meant that sheep, cows and deer could all be eaten.
This rule excluded all meat-eating animals. With the exception of pigs, we generally follow the same rule today.
We can safely eat pig meat in many countries today, but only because strict regulations protect us from becoming involved in the life cycle of the pig tapeworm or the pig roundworm. This can happen when people eat raw or undercooked pork or bacon containing the larvae of the tapeworm or roundworm. The results can include blindness, paralysis, epilepsy and even death.
Pigs also transmit a number of other infections, including the well-known salmonella bacteria. An even more serious infectious disease known as “pig-bel” is sometimes seen in the highlands of New Guinea following ritual pig kills and pork feasting.
The Bible restricted eating of unsafe meat
The Bible allowed eating of meat we now know to be safe
Leviticus 11 v 9 and 10 gives the guidelines:
These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers – that you may eat. But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales … they are an abomination to you. Leviticus 11 v 9 and 10
Of all the animals living in water, only fish with fins and scales could be eaten. This excludes all other aquatic animals, including shellfish and crabs.
Most sea-food poisoning today comes from eating shellfish and crustaceans (shrimps, crabs and lobsters), which were forbidden under the law of Moses. If we look closely at these animals we can understand why. Their favourite habitats are shallow tidal waters and estuaries, where they survive by filtering out the suspended organic matter. This will often include products of sewage outfalls, which contaminate the shellfish with bacteria and viruses, causing dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis. Shellfish grown in cool water passed through filtration tanks are safer. But viruses cannot be filtered out, so the restriction of the law of Moses is still the best guide. Bacteria and viruses are killed by thorough cooking, but shellfish poisoning can also come from other sources.
Crabs, crayfish and shrimps were all “unclean.” It is now known that they transmit several different species of lung flukes, which are parasites that live in our lungs. Again, it is safer to follow the regulations of the law of Moses!
The same law prohibited eating fish we now know can be harmful
Again we find the guideline in Leviticus 11:
These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.
Leviticus 11 v 13 to 19 (NIV)
One or two of these birds are difficult to identify precisely, but it is clear that all of these forbidden birds are carnivorous or carrion-eating. This again is the accepted standard today – we do not eat birds such as vultures, but we do eat the birds which are mainly vegetarian, such as chickens and turkeys.
The Law of Moses agreed with modern practice in allowing eating of grain-eating birds
The same Law also agreed by prohibiting eating of carnivorous birds
The regulations God gave to Moses were very clear about eating fat:
Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘You shall not eat any fat, of ox or sheep or goat,… the fat that covers the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; and the priest shall burn them’…Leviticus 7 v 23, 3 to 5
This prohibition of animal fat, especially abdominal fat, is interesting. This fat from which suet and tallow are made is highly saturated and unhealthy. It is significant that the unsaturated fat of fish and vegetable oils is not mentioned here. Again the law given by Moses agrees exactly with modern medical advice that we should eat unsaturated vegetable oils and fish rather than saturated animal fats.
The law of Moses agrees with modern practice when it recommended:
No animal fat to be eaten
No restriction on fish and vegetable fat
Leviticus 17 v 14 forbids eating blood:
... for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of
Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood.
Whoever eats it shall be cut off.’
Leviticus 17 v 14
Blood has a high cholesterol content and so it is good health practice not to eat it. In addition, meat keeps better if it has been drained of blood. For this reason animals killed for meat are always drained of most of their blood after being killed.
The law of Moses did not allow eating of blood
How did Moses come up with such a remarkable law giving knowledge of good community health practice thousands of years ago.
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