Sunday, July 15, 2007

Genesis 9:4-6

4 "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.

5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

6 "Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man.

To me, this is a good example of how the Bible can be sufficiently confusing, ambiguous, and self-contradictory that people of faith through the ages have come to markedly different conclusions about what it means and how we are to behave. Remember that God declared that Cain should not be put to death for murdering his brother -- and yet here he seems to proclaim the death penalty for murder. Later, we will see him commanding the Hebrews to massacre conquered people. The contemporary Catholic Church maintains that capital punishment is contrary to Christian morality. (Although they seem little interested, if at all, in pursuing this goal politically, while they are obsessed with abortion, mentioned nowhere in the Bible, and homosexuality.) While God here insists on the death penalty for murder, later he will himself proclaim the death penalty for homosexuality, and for gathering sticks on the sabbath. Presumably the people who carry out those instructions will have "shed the blood of man," but that must be alright with God after all. I'm all confused.

Now, the part about not eating meat that has its lifeblood in it is also hard for us to understand at such a great distance in time. Does it mean that we must not eat animals that are still alive? One has the image of hunters slicing flesh off a dying beast and devouring it raw. Did people used to do that? Perhaps. Or maybe we should take this as the Talmudic scholars did, to mean that slaughtered animals must be drained of blood before they are butchered. The first interpretation would be an injunction against cruelty, but the second turns out to be the opposite. Many people consider kosher (and halal) slaughtering, in which animals are shackled, hung upside down, and their throats cut to let the blood run out, to be cruel.

I have a rather different perspective on all this. I consider it unethical to raise domesticated animals for meat in the first place.