Friday, October 24, 2014

Cruel Vegetable Soup

From the September 2011 E-Block.
By request we are examining an article titled, "Did Abel or Cain Offer a Lamb in Sacrifice to God?" by John Vujicic, in which just about every hook or crook in the book is used to explain away Abel's sacrifice of an animal. The motivation here appears to be some sort of misplaced vegetarianism, or perhaps some sort of primer against animal cruelty; but of course the arguments remain the same even if the motive is for Vujicic to earn enough money to buy a new bicycle. Vujicic's treatment, however, is remarkably long, tedious, and tendentious, so we will pare it down to the basics. 

Not that any motive would do much to improve the arguments. The first resort is to suggest -- using Jeremiah 8:8's "lying pen of the scribes" as a bludgeon -- that conveniently, the particular text on Abel and Cain was changed in such a way that it happened to obscure the point of view Vujicic prefers, which is to suppose that the sacrifices were reversed, and it was Cain who killed an animal and was punished for it. Textually, this one is a no-brainer: There is no evidence for any such textual change in Genesis at all in any manuscript from any period. The Jewish historian Josephus certainly doesn’t have any awareness of a different text; so likewise Philo makes it clear that Abel performed an animal sacrifice. 

Vujicic's desperation is such, however, that he seeks any possible external confirmation for a textual change in Genesis, and he believes he has found one such in a document called the "Essene Humane Gospel" in which Jesus is quite specifically said to indicate that Abel "offered up the grains and fruits of the earth" while it was Cain who offered the blood sacrifice. As you might expect, no credentialed scholar is aware of such a text at all; I found one vegan source that claimed it was found as a third century manuscript in (of course) the Vatican library, but naturally, there is no documentation for this anywhere, and as far as I am concerned, barring evidence, this is to be dated no earlier than the 20th century in which it was printed. 

Due credit may be offered in that Vujicic at least admits to his readers that the words ascribed to Jesus "may or may not be authentic". That's putting it mildly.
Vujicic offers a second document where Cain and Abel's roles are reversed, but this one is no better off. Let us deepen the irony with his detailed description:

The World Bible Publishers have put a book together which is compiled of ancient manuscripts which did not find their way into the canonical Bible. This book is entitled The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden. Various translators were used to translate the manuscripts from their original tongues. The manuscript we are interested in is entitled Adam and Eve. For the translation of this manuscript we are indebted to two great Bible scholars: Dr. S.C. Malan, Vicar of Broadwindsor and Dr. E. Trumpp - Professor at the University of Munich. Ethiopic and Arabic originals were used for the current English translation.

Bible scholars? Not quite. Malan was an orientalist of the 19th century, and Trumpp was an earlier translator. You’ll find this work put out today by esoteric, not scholarly presses. The very fact that the alleged “original” is said to be in Ethiopic or Arabic tells us enough of how little a case can be made for its authenticity. Scholars who do take it seriously suggest dates between the fifth and eleventh century AD.

Vujicic's next point says:

...we also know for certain that the Jews who lived in Egypt, in an area known as the Elephantine, although they built a Temple there - an exact replica of the Jerusalem one - did not kill the lamb during their Passover observance nor did they ever offer blood sacrifices. They only authorized and sanctioned the practice of a “pure oblation”. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. 2, on p. 60, says:

“Meal offerings [oblations] and incense are specified as the only ritual procedures to be followed, as was done formerly. Another smaller Aramaic text dealing with the proposed reconstruction of the temple states specifically that sheep, oxen, and goats were not offered there.”

This is accurate as far as it goes, but there’s nothing in the ISBE entry to suggest that the lack of animal sacrifice at Elephantine had anything to do with some distaste for sacrifices; more likely it was because that was considered the exclusive province of the Jerusalem temple.

The next non-canonical book Vujicic turns to is the Clementine Homilies, where Peter is said to have reported that Adam disliked bloody sacrifices. In this case, Vujicic has the virtue of at least some scholarly support; some will date these texts to the third century AD. However, it is far from clear that this offers any authentic word of Adam; much less does it offer a motive that aligns with Vujicic’s, or indicate that Adam's distaste is universal. It is as well to suggest that Adam disliked sacrifices because it reminded him too much of the original sin episode, when animals were killed to make clothes for him.

There is next a section in which, having assumed the Essene Humane Gospel correct, he then uses Hebrews 11:4 as silent validation (that is, assuming Hebrews shares the view of the Essene Humane Gospel!). Vujicic's one attempt to find the re-reading in Hebrews 11:4 is to point out that whereas Hebrews describes Abel's "gifts" in the plural, Cain's "gift" is described in the singular, and this is said to cohere better with Abel offering fruit (plural) and Cain offering a lamb (singular). From what can be determined, however, both words refer to what Abel offered.

Next on Vujicic's fringe-documents list: A reputed Ebionite book called The Ascents of James in which James the brother of Jesus spoke against sacrifices. This one to has some potential as an older work (though far from first century) and has even received attention from worthy scholars. However, it is clear from the text that James’ motive was the end of the old covenant, not Vujicic’s concern for animal rights.

It is also noted that the "Church Fathers unanimously testify that James from his birth never tasted animal flesh." No citation is given, but even if this is true, it does not establish a motive in line with Vujicic’s; as it is, the low availability of meat in the ancient world just as well frames this as James being ascetic, as opposed to concerned with animal rights that way Vujicic is.

Next up, Vujicic appeals to Jeremiah 7:22 (as also alluded to by the Epistle of Barnabas) -- yes, that same one we've dealt with before -- and also another fake document, but this time one we've seen before, The Gospel of the Holy Twelve (link below). Based on the above -- not textual evidence -- Vujicic declares the text of Leviticus 7 to be forged.

The next Biblical text appealed to is Is. 43:22-24 -- as it appears in the Septuagint:

I have not now called thee, O Jacob; neither have I made thee weary, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me the sheep of thy whole-burnt-offering; neither hast thou glorified me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with sacrifices, neither have I wearied thee with frankincense. Neither hast thou purchased for me victims for silver, neither have I desired the fat of thy sacrifices.

There's no need for a fresh answer here: This is simply another version of Jeremiah 7:22, and of the same negation idiom in use. Vujicic simply interprets the text the same way a fundamentalist atheist does. The same may be said of his appeal to Is. 1:11-12 and Ps. 40:6-7, 51:16-17, and other passages in which sacrifice is said to be less preferred than mercy and good works. The use of negation idiom is a much simpler, much better attested notion than Vujicic's tendenetious and paranoid suggestion that scribes wildly altered texts all over the place. If that is the game to play, why not suggest that what the scribes actually altered was the texts that Vujicic thinks forbid animal sacrifice? In the end, he is compelled to declare many chapters of Leviticus to be fraudulent, out of preference for a mere handful of verses -- an incredibly radical suggestion made worse by both the lack of textual evidence and by his misreading of the texts (see link below) as referring to God literally using sacrifices for food.

Much space is then devoted to emotional descriptions of animal sacrifices, as well as a tendentious description of God as reputedly comparable to a little child having a temper tantrum if He's really demanding animal sacrifices. Atonement theory is rather more complex than that, but it matters little since ultimately Vujicic's solution is to say that the "lying pen of the scribes" is responsible for the introduction of these texts (or else,were written by people who didn't know that the lying scribes inserted those texts). Further, texts that decry animal sacrifice without faith are simply designated as wholesale condemnations of sacrifice based on this assumption.

So far Vujicic has been honest if incomplete in what he presents, but he does step over the line in this one:

Please note the text of Isaiah 22:12-14: “…You KILLED SHEEP AND CATTLE TO EAT, and you DRANK WINE…This EVIL will NEVER BE FORGIVEN THEM as LONG AS THEY LIVE” [Good News Bible].

The ellipsis hides a certain sin, though – look at the whole text:

And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.

Vujicic dishonestly omits the special command to mourning, which is what defines the sin here – not performing sacrifices per se. In similar fashion, Amos 6:4-7, which is properly read as a condemnation of the indolently wealthy who have no regard for God, is imaginatively taken as a condemnation of animal cruelty; eg, Amos point out that these people sleep on ivory beds, not because to do so signifies wealthy indolence, but because, “[i]n order to enjoy this luxury, one must slaughter many elephants.” That reading is as doubtful as one that would say that winebibbers are condemned in the same passage because wine drinking requires the squeezing of so many grapes.

Further on, Prov, 23:20 is read as a condemnation of all eating of meat; it is ignored that what is condemned is gluttony (excess), not meat eating per se. The most obnoxious mishandling of Scripture occurs, however, in the use of Zechariah 11:4-6:

The LORD my God said to me, act the part of the shepherd of a FLOCK OF SHEEP THAT ARE GOING TO BE BUTCHERED. THEIR OWNERS KILL THEM AND GO UNPUNISHED. They sell the meat and say, praise the LORD! We are rich! Even their own shepherds have no pity on them.

Vujicic takes this as God condemning those who kill actual sheep, but the context clearly indicates that the “sheep” here is those in Jerusalem who are about to be judged.

The article closes with some ethical arguments about vegetarianism that are beyond our scope. However, we have seen enough to say that Vujicic is not a reliable exegete. He calls on documents with little concern for their provenance, merely assuming they reflect early teachings; he arbitrarily declares as late insertions any texts he disagrees with, and mishandles texts to make them say what he wants to hear.

It’s enough to make me want to go get a burger.

Jer. 7:22
Gospel of the Holy Twleve
Relevant item from the ThinkTank

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