Is this about Christians no longer needing to adhere to Mosaic law?

Jesus quotes from Hosea, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." He continues the prophetic critique of the temple sacrifices.

It almost sounds like you're setting up a conflict between the "rule" books—like Leviticus—and the Hebrew prophetic books in terms of how to treat animals.

I don't want to do that, because so much of the Levitical commandments have to do with animal compassion. The Sabbath regulations applied to domestic animals. Why does the text mention the cattle? It could have just said, "Let everyone take the day off." It's interesting that the cattle are enumerated.

There are many such rules: An ox and ass are not to be yoked together since the difference between them would put a strain on the weaker one. Mother cattle are not to be slaughtered on the same day as their young (Lev 22:28)--which would cause anxiety to the mother.

A lot of people say that's just some obscure law. "Why should God care if the mother and offspring are killed on the same day? Thank goodness we Christians have overcome these superstitious rituals!" But if you read it with the eyes of animal compassion, you start piecing together a real pattern. For example, you're obligated to help your neighbor's donkey if it falls under too heavy a load. The rabbis read that text to mean that you should help any animal that looks to be in distress. I think Jesus read the text the same way.

Another example is the manna in the wilderness, when the Israelites were fleeing Egypt. God gave them a diet. God provided them with something white and fluffy that tasted something like coriander seed.

But didn't God also give them quail?

The manna was clearly a non-animal diet, and some people got tired of it. Numbers 11:4 reads "if only we had meat to eat…" They longed for the "fleshpots of Egypt," which quite literally means the abattoirs, the places where animals were sacrificed. God gets angry with this and sends them a ton of quail to eat. When you read it from an animal-compassion perspective, it's almost like God is saying, "You want meat? I'll give you so much meat it will make you sick. That's how I feel about your desire for meat."

Sure enough, it happens. Number 11:34 says that God struck the ungrateful people with the plague and they had to bury "the people who had the craving."

Some people would read that story naturalistically, saying maybe the quail carried disease. And I would say, yeah. But look what the story says: God gave the people a vegetarian diet. The people weren't satisfied.

The image of manna gets picked up in Jesus' teaching.  He often talks of himself being the bread of life. When he had an ideal meal with his disciples, it was a frugal dinner of bread and wine.

But wasn't it likely that they would have eaten lamb at a Passover meal? Wasn't it a traditional part of the meal?

It was, but there's no mention of lamb in the gospel accounts. I think the omission is intentional. To me, it makes sense that they didn't eat lamb at the Last Supper. Why? Because here was Jesus: he'd just gone to the temple and driven out the animals, he'd just said the temple would be destroyed. He brought disciples together to tell them the secret of his ministry: that he was going to be the last sacrifice. That he was going to be killed like an animal, and that the mystery of his death would somehow bring an end to the need for the sacrificial system. People would have a more direct and immediate access to God through his death, and would no longer need to sacrifice animals in order to placate God.When he said "This is the blood of the new covenant," I think it would have been ridiculous if he'd had lamb sitting there. Serving lamb would have made a mockery of his own death.

In your book, you seem to say that fish are a slightly different case-they're not bloody, for one thing. The gospel tells the story of the loaves and fishes, and we see Jesus eating fish after his resurrection, after he's presumably put an end to the sacrificial system, as you say. How does that fit with your theory?

The only time we see him eating fish is in the post-resurrection accounts. Many scholars argue that those are later additions to the gospels.You'd rather see Jesus not resurrected than eating fish?

[Laughs] No, I believe in the resurrection. But the point of those stories is to persuade the readers that Jesus was fully resurrected, and what better way than to show him eating fish. But I have no problem thinking Jesus ate fish. If he had been a strict vegetarian, he would have sent the wrong message to his followers. Vegetarianism at the time of Jesus meant Gnostic dualism.Meaning the spirit is good and matter is bad.

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