Bible Review 1:3, Fall 1985

“You Shall Not Boil a Kid in Its Mother’s Milk”

An archaeological myth destroyed

By Jacob Milgrom

One of the oldest prohibitions in the entire Bible is the injunction against boiling a kid in the milk of its mother. It is repeated three times in identical words: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”a

From these words, the rabbis extrapolated a complex set of dietary laws, which to this day prohibit observant Jews from mixing foods containing milk or milk byproducts with foods containing meat.b The prohibition against mixing milk and meat is an essential element of the dietary laws of kashrut; it is a significant part of what it means to “keep kosher.”c

Yet the basis for the biblical prohibition itself is elusive. Why would the ancient Israelites even have contemplated boiling a kid in its mother’s milk?

The cognoscenti know how modern archaeology has solved the puzzle. It is a beautiful story, especially because the archaeological solution was presaged by a famous medieval Jewish exegete, Maimonides, who somehow managed to intuit from the text itself the same solution archaeology produced centuries later.

In 1195, Maimonides suggested:

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.