Discernment is the act of recognising the distinction between two categories.
Judgement is the act of recognising a preference between the two categories.
In the Biblical perspective, true and final judgement is God’s work, not ours.
Yet we may and must exercise our discernment, an obligation imposed by the lines of division between two categories which fill every part of the
The Creator and the Creation
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
There is the most fundamental division, right from the start.
On the one hand, the Creator. On the other hand, what was created.
Because creation has no independent existence, the relationship between the two is asymmetrical.
Beyond the initial distinction between God and the created world, there is a distinction within
the created world between what is, and what is
not, in line with God’s will.
And again this division is asymmetrical. The two sides of the boundary line do not have equal value. What is right (being God’s will) takes
precedence over what is not right, just as the Creator himself takes precedence over his created world..
The rest of the Bible is about the long project of bringing us back into harmony with God’s will.
One of the first steps in this journey is the re-discovery of the true boundary between good and evil, the boundary which follows God’s
That is the intended purpose of the Law. The Law provided by Moses fulfils that purpose imperfectly, but it serves to encourage people and train
people to look for
the difference between the two.
The fundamental distinction in the Law is between “treating people the right way” and “treating people the wrong way”, and I looked at the
social side of the Law in a previous series; God's Law
But the difference is also expressed in the ritual distinctions between “holy and unholy”, and between “clean and unclean”.
The clean and the unclean; Food and sacrifice
For example, the Law distinguishes between clean and unclean animals (Leviticus ch11).
Since the sacrifice of animals began as a way of surrendering part of a meal to the God who provided the food, this distinction serves for both
On the whole, the list of acceptable food corresponds with the natural diet of a pastoral society (there is no mention of plant life). Pride of place
belongs to the hooved animals, which are bred and kept for the purpose. In other words, the sheep and the goats and the cattle.
The official criterion is that they should be cloven-footed animals which also chew the cud, though the text does not try to explain why
should be a criterion. The same consideration rules out any animals which have paws instead of hooves. The dog is notoriously unclean (at least in the
Four animals are singled out as not fully passing the test. The camel, the rock badger or hyrax, and the hare are described (mistakenly, in the last
case) as chewing the cud but not having cloven hooves. The camel would not have been much known in Israel before about 900 B.C., and was then used as
a work-animal. The next two animals had not been domesticated, making them food for hunters rather than pastoralists (“First catch your hare” is
the opening line of one legendary English recipe).
Modern translators appear to be uncertain about the difference between the hare and the rabbit; this is hardly surprising, given that Bugs Bunny, the
most famous member of either species, seems to be confused himself about his real identity. As far as I can ascertain, ancient Israel would have known
the hare (a solitary animal living above-ground) rather than the rabbit (a communal animal living in underground burrows), so the “hare”
translation would be more correct.
At the opposite extreme, the pig is domesticated, but would not fit into the pastoralist lifestyle. It’s the kind of animal that would be kept by
sedentary farmers. The objection specified here is that the pig does not chew the cud. Though many modern scholars believe that the pig was really
banned as the sacred animal of the female rivals of Israel’s God.
The ass, a working beast and another animal which does not chew the cud, is not mentioned in this chapter, but is classed as “unclean” in the
chapters about sacrifice.
Israel was an inland nation, with no recent experience of desperate food-gathering along the coast, so they were not interested in molluscs. They
would eat the larger fish (those with fins and scales), but nothing else that can be found in the waters.
Other categories of living creatures are banned wholesale.
Pigeons had been domesticated, evidently, and could be offered in sacrifice, but the list of unclean birds seems to cover most of the local wild forms
of bird life. There is no suggestion that the Israelites can hunt down the more palatable varieties.
Insects and reptiles are also banned, with the curious exception of the locust and its relatives. The official reason is that the locust has the
ability to jump, though again the text does not try to explain why this should make a difference.
A more practical explanation would be that ancient Israelites developed a taste for eating locust, when they appeared in large numbers- “their
flesh, tasting when roasted like fried shrimps” (Winston Churchill, “The River War”, p85)- and that was enough to qualify them as
For practical purposes, then, the list of unclean animals in Leviticus is really a list of “living things which we don’t care to eat”. With the
exception of the pig, as already mentioned, the list appears to be governed by, instead of governing, the normal diet of the Israelites.
What was the need, then, that it should be presented as a religious command?
In the first instance, it may have been built up on the pig taboo as a way of preserving the difference between the Israelite people, as
Abel-resembling pastoralists, and the Cain-resembling farmers of the land, worshipping local gods. The boundary was getting blurred as the Israelites
themselves settled down to a farming life.
One possible benefit, in the long-term, is that having a list of clean and unclean food sets up a distinction, and gets people’s minds into the
habit of looking for distinctions. (The same might be said of the taboos against mixing different kinds of animal, or seed, or clothing- Leviticus
ch19 v19, Deuteronomy ch23 v9)
This, in turn, gets them trained into looking for the one distinction that really matters- the distinction between good and evil.
edit on 24-7-2020 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)