Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Did Jesus Eat Pork?

By Daniel Harrell

So if Jesus kept the Old Testament law in order to fulfill it, then he had to have kept kosher, right? And if Christians are supposed to do what Jesus did, shouldn’t we be keeping kosher too? And if not, why not? And why kosher in the first place? What’s wrong with lobster? There is that place in the gospels where Jesus says “Nothing that enters a person from the outside can make him ‘unclean’?” Mark interprets this to mean that Jesus thereby cleansed all foods, though whether this is what Mark meant remains disputed. It’s certainly seems to be the case that Jewish Christians continued to obey the dietary laws. Pork roast didn’t show up at church suppers until the Gentiles fully took over. According to the B-Log, Christians have been warming lately to the Jewish kosher laws governing which foods are proper to eat and how to prepare them. "The Maker's Diet," "What Would Jesus Eat?" and other Christian flirtations with keeping kosher tend to stress the health benefits of the God-given dietary conventions, but other Christians contemplate going kosher as a matter of faith. Rabbi Telushkin is clear that keeping kosher was never part of some ancient Jewish health code. But there has to be some reason that it’s commanded in the Bible. It must have been good for something. Could it not still be good for that same thing? I did manage to ask a few people over Blue Ribbon BBQ, but as you can see, their mouths were fairly full of swine flesh.


Kristen said...

If my memory serves correct (always a dicey proposition), isn't Jesus referring to Isaiah there? The rabbis didn't take Isaiah to be tossing out the dietary laws, just putting them in perspective. You still have to keep kosher, just don't think it's the be-all-and-end-all to holiness. Now maybe the rabbis got it wrong, but it's still worth considering.

As I read the NT, when we go out on missionary journeys we are not to worry about kosher. Eat whatever is put in front of you. Don't make your dietary habits a barrier. And a missionary journey can be just around the corner. If you're going over to Cornelius's house for dinner, don't get worked up about what Cornelius is serving. And whatever you do, DON'T say "Sorry Cornelius, I can't come over because you don't keep kosher."

This leaves open the question of what we should serve in our own kitchen. Presumably Cornelius will not be mortally offended if we serve a beef roast when we invite him over to our house. But I think it does establish that trefe foods are not in and of themselves inherently horrible.

I had thought about going vegetarian for January. I'd notice that, it would take some effort, but it'd be certainly doable and I'd automatically stay within the rules. My Consultants tell me that would be missing the point as I'm not actively making distinctions. The point here is to make distinctions.

Why are those particular distinctions important? Not sure yet. I'll figure that one out as we go along.

So my latest plan is to avoid pork, shellfish, etc., not boil a kid in the milk of its mother (that shouldn't be too tough), buy kosher meat (because the blood is the life and the Lord's) but not get worked up about separate dishes or a certain number of hours between meat and milk because we're Living Levitically here, not Living Levitically as Interepreted By Talmud.

Walter Kim said...

In the passage to which Daniel refers, Mark makes the editorial comment that "in saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean." So, did Jesus himself not keep the dietary laws of the Old Testament? Or did he keep them until Mark 7:18-19, and then stop? Well, the presumptive evidence seems to me to be that Jesus did keep those laws. Jesus was a pious Jew, though we affirm that he was also much more.

Moreover, in Acts 10, the apostle Peter had to be convinced by repeated visions that something had happened through Jesus that superceded the Old Testament dietary laws. If Jesus didn't regulate his diet, would Peter have needed such a vision about cleanness? Peter could be obtuse, but I don't think that much so. Eating with a non-kosher-keeping Jesus would certainly have convinced him already. So, I understand the fact that Peter needed convincing implied that Jesus had been a great model of dietary piety.

I also find it interesting that despite these declarations about all foods being clean, the apostles recommended that the early Gentile converts not only abstain from sexual immorality (a good evangelical sentiment) but also from the meat of strangled animals and from blood (see Acts 15). Hey, I thought that a few chapters earlier Peter was persuaded that all foods are clean! What's going on? Can I reach for that bag of pork rinds? Do we keep kosher or not? This is obviously one of the questions that all of us who are living levitically will need to answer. I have some thoughts on the conceptual role of the dietary laws in Leviticus, but let's do some wrestling with the questions first.

This reflection brings me to one last point. Jesus would undoubtedly have observed Old Testament dietary laws, but would he have "kept kosher"? I make this distinction because there is a difference between the levitical laws and the Talmudic interpretations of those laws, which sought to understand and apply them within the context of Jewish identity. Kristen indicates this difference quite well in her closing comments about Living Levitically. Of course, this observation raises the question about our own interpretations of the Bible. Is there an informal "evangelical talmud" that we observe on a subtle, even subconscious, level? And in what ways might we confuse our interpretations for the actual Scriptural text itself? I think that this whole project of Living Levitically will really challenge me to take a fresh look at how I am reading and applying the Bible.

kristen said...

Walter, I cannot tell you how relieved I am that your comment was longer than mine! :)

It strikes me that avoiding blood is different from avoiding the meat of certain animals. Maybe I'm not giving the distinction between clean and unclean animals enough credit, but that seems like a technicality. Avoiding blood isn't just a technicality. Blood is the life force. Don't mess around with that. So it makes sense to me that the Christian community would have hung onto the prohibition on blood for longer.

As far as Jesus' approach, I cannot imagine that he would have stuck to the written Torah and discarded the oral tradition that would be codified in Talmud a couple centuries later. Now, I'm not saying that that the oral tradition was dictated by God to Moses on Sinai and passed on unchanging until it was written down. Everything evolves. Still, the oral tradition is *so* important in Judaism. If Jesus rejected the oral tradition, that would have been HUGE. Almost like one of us saying "Sure, I believe in the Gospels, but not those dumb letters by that Paul guy." The Gospels have a lot of Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees, but I don't think we ever see Jesus saying anything close to that. And that would be such a fundamental conflict -- it would be bizarre to leave it out.

Daniel said...

So I don't think Jesus would have said chuck the Talmud, just those portions that distort the Torah, much like we disregard sermons that are clearly off base, not that I would preach any of those. And I like the mention of an evangelical Talmud, you know, make all the money you want and spend it on yourself as long as you don't get drunk or vote pro-choice. You don't get to choose your ethics.

Texpatriate said...

I found a rather convincing comparison between what is known as the 'Noahide" laws with that of the "Acts 15" injunctions for the "Gentiles who are turning to God".

When Jesus told his disciples that they should follow the teachings of the Pharisees (but do not be hypocritical - Matt 23)...if one were to follow this line...Pharisaism became Rabbinic Judaism. Perhaps this is why they applied a proto-rabbinic or pharisaic view of how the Gentiles can turn to the God of Israel and yet not fully convert (meaning circumcision). Interesting that this "minimal" approach comes from Paul the Pharisee in opposition to those who could only conceive that those who follow Jesus MUST convert to be Jews (circumcision).

ALSO, there are some comparison's to Peter's dreams in the stories of the Talmud. What I do think is interesting is that he was puzzled. He did not get up and start hunting bats and snakes to eat. He realized that eating with Gentiles that God made clean should not be considered unclean. There are many examples of a Jewish method of showing something that is truly forbidden to show how other customs meant for a particular moment should not continue. In other words, you show what cannot be eaten (what God truly commanded) in order to show what God made clean (the actual person or Gentile made clean by Jesus).

Also, there is another thought that the "sheet" that the food was on was a Jewish prayer shawl...the symbolism and meaning would even go deeper if this were the case...

Texpatriate said...

oh, THE TEXPATRIATE is me, Andrew Summey. change as needed.

Anonymous said...

I've read somewhere that there is evidence that Yeshua did keep the 'oral law' where it didn't contradict Torah itself; I can't remember where - it may be in the book "Torah Rediscovered: Challanging Centuries of Misinterpretation and Neglect" by Ariel and D'vorah Berkowitz.

Also, some of those "traditions of men" - the extra laws the rabbis added were intended to be a 'hedge around Torah' with the intention that, if you kept within their 'hedge' you couldn't possibly break Torah, but many of them actually contradicted Torah.

Sharon in the UK

Anonymous said...

I have always assumed that the sheet with the animals was just a metaphor for gentiles rather than a command to eat non-kosher.

I also noticed that when Noah was commanded to take animals onto the Ark, he knew what was 'clean' and 'unclean', before Torah was given. That suggests to me that perhaps non-kosher animals were actually not designed to be eaten.

Sharon in the UK

Anonymous said...

"thank goodness for st. peter..." (i think i remember what he said).

peter didn't have anything to do with changing the food laws. in acts 10:28, it is clear to peter what that vision from God meant. who are we to change the interpretation of that vision to include food?

Anonymous said...

here are a couple of great articles that discuss the food issue and acts 10/mark 7.



Bryce said...

about the noachide laws:

i believe that the sermon, "the sons of noah" (at bottom of linked page) will help you to understand that they certainly weren't referring to this when they came up with those limitations they placed on the gentile believers.


Anonymous said...

It is never said in the NT that it is acceptable to eat Pork. Not only that, there is no mention of not following all 613 commandments. You cannot pick and choose which commandments suit you or your faith. They are laws - commanded by G-D plain and simple. Laws of Kashrut are outlined in Leviticus which, I'm sure, Jesus followed. Jesus gave new commandments (John 13:34-35) but never forsake any of the 613 - as a matter of fact he makes mention that everyone NEEDS to follow all of the commandments (Matthew 5:17-2).

Anonymous said...

Yeah. I'm pretty sure that the animals in the sheet referred to gentiles not being looked at differently than Jews. We are all looked at the same in the eyes of God.
And, knowing that Jesus was a Jew and followed ALL Jewish laws, He didn't eat of unclean foods.
Sometimes I ask people if they think Jesus was trying to play some sort of sick joke on us and say it's ok to eat unclean foods but not enjoy himself... hehe... I highly doubt it.
People hae a way of interpreting the Bible to fit around their wants. If more people would read the Bible and take it exactly how it is written, instead of trying to overanalyze every letter printed... we all might be in a little better shape.
It's the devil, you know.

Ibn Saad said...

From my experiences with Christians, they claim that Jesus would probably have eaten pork and that he only kept a beard, because shaving implements were lacking which I find kind of funny.

The Juanster said...

I have a problem with all of the comments on this topic. Does the Levitical dietary laws take precedence over the Ten Commandments? If not; then please read Deut.5:22. and explain who and why the additional 603 laws were added and why? The "Jot and Tittle reference in the NT, refers to the Law written by the Finger of the Father and given to Moses prior to the writing of any dietary guidelines. Matt.25:15 appears to clarify Jesus' stand on the subject.

The Juanster said...

In regards to the Levitical dietary Laws If these laws were not a part of the Ten Commandments, would by their addition be a transgression of Deut.4:2?