Le 11:1-47. Beasts That May
and May Not Be Eaten.
1, 2. the Lord spake unto Moses and to
Aaron—These laws, being addressed to both the civil and
ecclesiastical rulers in Israel, may serve to indicate the twofold view
that is to be taken of them. Undoubtedly the first and strongest reason
for instituting a distinction among meats was to discourage the
Israelites from spreading into other countries, and from general
intercourse with the world—to prevent them acquiring familiarity
with the inhabitants of the countries bordering on Canaan, so as to
fall into their idolatries or be contaminated with their vices: in
short, to keep them a distinct and peculiar people. To this purpose, no
difference of creed, no system of polity, no diversity of language or
manner, was so subservient as a distinction of meats founded on
religion; and hence the Jews, who were taught by education to abhor
many articles of food freely partaken of by other people, never, even
during periods of great degeneracy, could amalgamate with the nations
among which they were dispersed. But although this was the principal
foundation of these laws, dietetic reasons also had weight; for there
is no doubt that the flesh of many of the animals here ranked as
unclean, is everywhere, but especially in warm climates, less wholesome
and adapted for food than those which were allowed to be eaten. These
laws, therefore, being subservient to sanitary as well as religious
ends, were addressed both to Moses and Aaron.
3-7. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is
cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud—Ruminating animals by the
peculiar structure of their stomachs digest their food more fully than
others. It is found that in the act of chewing the cud, a large portion
of the poisonous properties of noxious plants eaten by them, passes off
by the salivary glands. This power of secreting the poisonous effects
of vegetables, is said to be particularly remarkable in cows and goats,
whose mouths are often sore, and sometimes bleed, in consequence. Their
flesh is therefore in a better state for food, as it contains more of
the nutritious juices, is more easily digested in the human stomach,
and is consequently more easily assimilated. Animals which do not chew
the cud, convert their food less perfectly; their flesh is therefore
unwholesome, from the gross animal juices with which they abound, and
is apt to produce scorbutic and scrofulous disorders. But the animals
that may be eaten are those which "part the hoof as well as chew the
cud," and this is another means of freeing the flesh of the animal from
noxious substances. "In the case of animals with parted hoofs, when
feeding in unfavorable situations a prodigious amount of fœtid
matter is discharged, and passes off between the toes; while animals
with undivided hoofs, feeding on the same ground, become severely
affected in the legs, from the poisonous plants among the pasture"
[Whitlaw, Code of Health]. All
experience attests this, and accordingly the use of ruminating animals
(that is, those which both chew the cud and part the hoof) has always
obtained in most countries though it was observed most carefully by the
people who were favored with the promulgation of God's law.
4. the camel—It does to a certain extent
divide the hoof, for the foot consists of two large parts, but the
division is not complete; the toes rest upon an elastic pad on which
the animal goes; as a beast of burden its flesh is tough. An additional
reason for its prohibition might be to keep the Israelites apart from
the descendants of Ishmael.
5. the coney—not the rabbit, for it is
not found in Palestine or Arabia, but the hyrax, a little animal of the
size and general shape of the rabbit, but differing from it in several
essential features. It has no tail, singular, long hairs bristling like
thorns among the fur on its back; its feet are bare, its nails flat and
round, except those on each inner toe of the hind feet, which are sharp
and project like an awl. It does not burrow in the ground but frequents
the clefts of rocks.
6. the hare—Two species of hare must
have been pointed at: the Sinai hare, the hare of the desert, small and
generally brown; the other, the hare of Palestine and Syria, about the
size and appearance of that known in our own country. Neither the hare
nor the coney are really ruminating. They only appear to be so from
working the jaws on the grasses they live on. They are not
cloven-footed; and besides, it is said that from the great quantity of
down upon them, they are very much subject to vermin—that in
order to expel these, they eat poisonous plants, and if used as food
while in that state, they are most deleterious [Whitlaw].
7. the swine—It is a filthy,
foul-feeding animal, and it lacks one of the natural provisions for
purifying the system, "it cheweth not the cud"; in hot climates
indulgence in swine's flesh is particularly liable to produce leprosy,
scurvy, and various cutaneous eruptions. It was therefore strictly
avoided by the Israelites. Its prohibition was further necessary to
prevent their adopting many of the grossest idolatries practised by
9. These shall ye eat … whatsoever hath fins
and scales—"The fins and scales are the means by which the
excrescences of fish are carried off, the same as in animals by
perspiration. I have never known an instance of disease produced by
eating such fish; but those that have no fins and scales cause, in hot
climates, the most malignant disorders when eaten; in many cases they
prove a mortal poison" [Whitlaw].
12. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales,
&c.—Under this classification frogs, eels, shellfish of all
descriptions, were included as unclean; "many of the latter (shellfish)
enjoy a reputation they do not deserve, and have, when plentifully
partaken of, produced effects which have led to a suspicion of their
containing something of a poisonous nature."
13-19. these are they which ye shall have in
abomination among the fowls—All birds of prey are
particularly ranked in the class unclean; all those which feed on flesh
and carrion. No less than twenty species of birds, all probably then
known, are mentioned under this category, and the inference follows
that all which are not mentioned were allowed; that is, fowls which
subsist on vegetable substances. From our imperfect knowledge of the
natural history of Palestine, Arabia, and the contiguous countries at
that time, it is not easy to determine exactly what some of the
prohibited birds were; although they must have been all well known
among the people to whom these laws were given.
"bone-breaker," rendered in the Septuagint "griffon," supposed
to be the Gypœtos barbatus, the Lammer Geyer of the
Swiss—a bird of the eagle or vulture species, inhabiting the
highest mountain ranges in Western Asia as well as Europe. It pursues
as its prey the chamois, ibex, or marmot, among rugged cliffs, till it
drives them over a precipice—thus obtaining the name of
the ospray—the black eagle, among the
smallest, but swiftest and strongest of its kind.
14. the vulture—The word so rendered in
our version means more probably "the kite" or "glede" and describes a
varying but majestic flight, exactly that of the kite, which now darts
forward with the rapidity of an arrow, now rests motionless on its
expanded wings in the air. It feeds on small birds, insects, and
the kite—the vulture. In Egypt and
perhaps in the adjoining countries also, the kite and vulture are often
seen together flying in company, or busily pursuing their foul but
important office of devouring the carrion and relics of putrefying
flesh, which might otherwise pollute the atmosphere.
after his kind—that is, the
prohibition against eating it extended to the whole species.
15. the raven—including the crow, the
16. the owl—It is generally supposed the
ostrich is denoted by the original word.
the nighthawk—a very small bird, with
which, from its nocturnal habits, many superstitious ideas were
the cuckoo—Evidently some other bird
is meant by the original term, from its being ranged among rapacious
birds. Dr. Shaw thinks it is the safsaf; but that, being a
graminivorous and gregarious bird, is equally objectionable. Others
think that the sea mew, or some of the small sea fowl, is intended.
the hawk—The Hebrew word
includes every variety of the falcon family—as the goshawk, the
jerhawk, the sparrow hawk, &c. Several species of hawks are found
in Western Asia and Egypt, where they find inexhaustible prey in the
immense numbers of pigeons and turtledoves that abound in those
quarters. The hawk was held pre-eminently sacred among the Egyptians;
and this, besides its rapacious disposition and gross habits, might
have been a strong reason for its prohibition as an article of food to
17. the little owl—or horned owl, as
some render it. The common barn owl, which is well known in the East.
It is the only bird of its kind here referred to, although the word is
thrice mentioned in our version.
cormorant—supposed to be the gull.
[See on De 14:17.]
the great owl—according to some, the
Ibis of the Egyptians. It was well known to the Israelites, and so
rendered by the Septuagint (De 14:16; Isa 34:11): according to Parkhurst, the bittern, but not determined.
18. the swan—found in great numbers in
all the countries of the Levant. It frequents marshy places—the
vicinity of rivers and lakes. It was held sacred by the Egyptians, and
kept tame within the precincts of heathen temples. It was probably on
this account chiefly that its use as food was prohibited. Michaelis considers it the goose.
the pelican—remarkable for the bag or
pouch under its lower jaw which serves not only as a net to catch, but
also as a receptacle of food. It is solitary in its habits and, like
other large aquatic birds, often flies to a great distance from its
the gier eagle—Being here associated
with waterfowl, it has been questioned whether any species of eagle is
referred to. Some think, as the original name racham denotes
"tenderness," "affection," the halcyon or kingfisher is intended [Calmet]. Others think that it is the bird now
called the rachami, a kind of Egyptian vulture, abundant in the
streets of Cairo and popularly called "Pharaoh's fowl." It is white in
color, in size like a raven, and feeds on carrion; it is one of the
foulest and filthiest birds in the world. [See on De
19. the stork—a bird of benevolent
temper and held in the highest estimation in all Eastern countries; it
was declared unclean, probably, from its feeding on serpents and other
venomous reptiles, as well as rearing its young on the same food.
the heron—The word so translated only
occurs in the prohibited list of food and has been variously
rendered—the crane, the plover, the woodcock, the parrot. In this
great diversity of opinion nothing certain can be affirmed regarding
it. Judging from the group with which it is classified, it must be an
aquatic bird that is meant. It may as well be the heron as any other
bird, the more especially as herons abound in Egypt and in the Hauran
the lapwing—or hoopoe; found in warm
regions, a very pretty but filthy species of bird. It was considered
unclean, probably from its feeding on insects, worms, and snails.
the bat—the great or Ternat bat, known
in the East, noted for its voracity and filthiness.
20. All fowls that creep, &c.—By
"fowls" here are to be understood all creatures with wings and "going
upon all fours," not a restriction to animals which have exactly four
feet, because many "creeping things" have more than that number. The
prohibition is regarded generally as extending to insects, reptiles,
21, 22. Yet these may ye eat of every flying
creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their
feet—Nothing short of a scientific description could convey
more accurately the nature "of the locust after its kind." They were
allowed as lawful food to the Israelites, and they are eaten by the
Arabs, who fry them in olive oil. When sprinkled with salt, dried,
smoked, and fried, they are said to taste not unlike red herrings.
26. every beast … not
cloven-footed—The prohibited animals under this description
include not only the beasts which have a single hoof, as horses and
asses, but those also which divided the foot into paws, as lions,
29. the weasel—rather, the mole.
the mouse—From its diminutive size it
is placed among the reptiles instead of the quadrupeds.
the tortoise—a lizard, resembling very
nearly in shape, and in the hard pointed scales of the tail, the
30. the ferret—the Hebrew word is
thought by some to signify the newt or chameleon, by others the
the chameleon—called by the Arabs the
warral, a green lizard.
the snail—a lizard which lives in the
sand, and is called by the Arabs chulca, of an azure color.
the mole—Another species of lizard is
meant, probably the chameleon.
31-35. whosoever doth touch them, when …
dead, shall be unclean until the even—These regulations must
have often caused annoyance by suddenly requiring the exclusion of
people from society, as well as the ordinances of religion.
Nevertheless they were extremely useful and salutary, especially as
enforcing attention to cleanliness. This is a matter of essential
importance in the East, where venomous reptiles often creep into houses
and are found lurking in boxes, vessels, or holes in the wall; and the
carcass of one of them, or a dead mouse, mole, lizard, or other unclean
animal, might be inadvertently touched by the hand, or fall on clothes,
skin bottles, or any article of common domestic use. By connecting,
therefore, the touch of such creatures with ceremonial defilement,
which required immediately to be removed, an effectual means was taken
to prevent the bad effects of venom and all unclean or noxious
47. make a difference between the unclean and the
clean—that is, between animals used and not used for food. It
is probable that the laws contained in this chapter were not entirely
new, but only gave the sanction of divine enactment to ancient usages.
Some of the prohibited animals have, on physiological grounds, been
everywhere rejected by the general sense or experience of mankind;
while others may have been declared unclean from their unwholesomeness
in warm countries or from some reasons, which are now imperfectly
known, connected with contemporary idolatry.