Bible Review 8:6, December 1992

Food and Faith: The Ethical Foundations of the Biblical Diet Laws

The Bible has worked out a system of restrictions whereby humans may satiate their lust for animal flesh and not be dehumanized. These laws teach reverence for life.

By Jacob Milgrom

Bible Review

The biblical diet laws are most often thought of as health measures dictated by the primitive hygienic conditions of the ancient world. However, this theory cannot explain even one of the laws’ three basic rules. First, the prohibition against ingesting blood is incumbent on all people, not just the Israelites (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3). Second, animals that are permitted as food—to take quadrupeds as an example—are limited to three domesticated species: sheep, goats and cattle (the seven permitted wild species are largely unidentifiable; see Deuteronomy 14:4–5) and there is no restriction whatsoever in the vegetable and fruit kingdom—not even in regard to unhealthy or poisonous plants. Third, even those animals that are permitted must be slaughtered according to a divinely prescribed method (Deuteronomy 12:21; see below). These laws can only be explained by an ethical hypothesis: They comprise a system whereby man will not be brutalized by killing animals for their flesh.

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