The Salad of the Christ

Humans are naturally omnivorous, but at the same time our capacity for reason and knowledge of mortality have led to considerable debate about whether eating meat is really a good idea. There have been many religious and philosophical movements that have encouraged vegetarianism for various reasons. While Christianity is usually not considered to be among them, such might not have always been the case. I’ve heard it pointed out before that, if you look at the book of Genesis, it’s apparently not until after the Flood that God gave humans permission to eat meat. Now, Genesis is a collection of different stories that don’t always mesh with each other, but God does specifically say in Genesis 1:29, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

Then in Genesis 9:3-4, he changes this to “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”

And after this, the recorded human lifespans become gradually shorter. Also, even though God is allowing people to eat meat, he doesn’t seem entirely happy about it. The preceding verse, Genesis 9:2, says, “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.” It almost seems to be saying, “You’re all such jerks to the animals that you might as well just go ahead and eat them.” Pretty strong words from a deity who would have just wiped out all animal life if Noah hadn’t taken a bunch of creatures on the ark with him. The recent Noah movie acknowledged this by making Noah and his family vegetarians, while the wicked people led by Tubalcain indiscriminately killed and ate animals. Animal sacrifice became a significant part of early Judaism, but I’ve seen it suggested that this might have grown out of a sense of guilt for destroying another being’s life to prolong your own. In the New Testament, Paul acknowledges that some followers of Jesus are keeping a vegetarian diet, and while he says it isn’t necessary he also doesn’t discourage it. I’ve seen arguments that Jesus himself was a vegetarian, although that doesn’t explain why he hung out with so many fishermen.

Maybe a pescetarian would make more sense, although it’s not like we have much evidence either way.

Now, I am neither a Christian nor a vegetarian, but I find it noteworthy that whether or not to eat meat has been a struggle throughout known human history.

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2 Responses to The Salad of the Christ

  1. dianestranz says:

    Paul did not say that some of Jesus’ followers were vegetarians while others were not: both groups ate meat, and ‘being vegetarian’ was never an issue. The issue was whether gentile followers of Jesus were obligated to ‘keep kosher’ (i.e., observe the Jewish dietary laws). Jesus’ original followers were Jewish and continued to follow the Torah’s rules for keeping kosher, so when non-kosher gentiles joined the movement, this complicated the primary ritual of early Christianity — which was the eating of a common meal in imitation of the Last Supper.

    The gentile converts wanted to eat pork and other non-kosher foods, yet Jesus’ brother James, the apostle Peter, and other of Jesus’ Jewish followers insisted that the common meals remain kosher. Paul insisted that everyone must eat in common, regardless of the type of food consumed. His utter lack of interest in the Jewish dietary laws, and insensitivity to the beliefs and practices of Jesus’ Jewish disciples, has led generations of Jewish scholars to question whether Paul ever was, in fact, actually a Jew — because a devout first-century Jew (as Paul claimed to have been) would have had a very hard time dismissing and disregarding Torah’s dietary laws as easily as Paul did!

    Finally, it is true that kosher-observant Jews did not eat meat ‘with the blood still in it’ and they did not eat pork. But otherwise they ate meat regularly and were not, at all, vegetarians. Torah actually MANDATES the eating of meat at certain times. For example, it is mandatory for a Jew to eat lamb at Passover because lamb, bitter herbs and matzo are symbolic elements of the Passover ritual.

    • Nathan says:

      What about Romans 14:2, where Paul claims that people “weak in the faith” keep plant-based diets? The people he was mentioning probably weren’t total vegetarians by today’s standards, but they might have been mostly vegetarian. And I’m not sure whether the people he was referring to were Jews and not Gentile converts. As for breaking the dietary laws, that really seems to me like it’s mostly Paul trying to expand the movement beyond Judaism.

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