Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1, 2. the Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron--These laws, being
addressed to both the civil and ecclesiastical rulers in Israel, may
serve to indicate the twofold view that is to be taken of them.
Undoubtedly the first and strongest reason for instituting a
distinction among meats was to discourage the Israelites from spreading
into other countries, and from general intercourse with the world--to
prevent them acquiring familiarity with the inhabitants of the
countries bordering on Canaan, so as to fall into their idolatries or
be contaminated with their vices: in short, to keep them a distinct and
peculiar people. To this purpose, no difference of creed, no system of
polity, no diversity of language or manner, was so subservient as a
distinction of meats founded on religion; and hence the Jews, who were
taught by education to abhor many articles of food freely partaken of
by other people, never, even during periods of great degeneracy, could
amalgamate with the nations among which they were dispersed. But
although this was the principal foundation of these laws, dietetic
reasons also had weight; for there is no doubt that the flesh of many
of the animals here ranked as unclean, is everywhere, but especially in
warm climates, less wholesome and adapted for food than those which
were allowed to be eaten. These laws, therefore, being subservient to
sanitary as well as religious ends, were addressed both to Moses and
3-7. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and cheweth
the cud--Ruminating animals by the peculiar structure of their
stomachs digest their food more fully than others. It is found that in
the act of chewing the cud, a large portion of the poisonous properties
of noxious plants eaten by them, passes off by the salivary glands.
This power of secreting the poisonous effects of vegetables, is said to
be particularly remarkable in cows and goats, whose mouths are often
sore, and sometimes bleed, in consequence. Their flesh is therefore in
a better state for food, as it contains more of the nutritious juices,
is more easily digested in the human stomach, and is consequently more
easily assimilated. Animals which do not chew the cud, convert their
food less perfectly; their flesh is therefore unwholesome, from the
gross animal juices with which they abound, and is apt to produce
scorbutic and scrofulous disorders. But the animals that may be eaten
are those which "part the hoof as well as chew the cud," and this is
another means of freeing the flesh of the animal from noxious
substances. "In the case of animals with parted hoofs, when feeding in
unfavorable situations a prodigious amount of fœtid matter is
discharged, and passes off between the toes; while animals with
undivided hoofs, feeding on the same ground, become severely affected
in the legs, from the poisonous plants among the pasture" [WHITLAW, Code of Health]. All experience attests
this, and accordingly the use of ruminating animals (that is, those
which both chew the cud and part the hoof) has always obtained in most
countries though it was observed most carefully by the people who were
favored with the promulgation of God's law.
4. the camel--It does to a certain extent divide the hoof, for
the foot consists of two large parts, but the division is not complete;
the toes rest upon an elastic pad on which the animal goes; as a beast
of burden its flesh is tough. An additional reason for its prohibition
might be to keep the Israelites apart from the descendants of
5. the coney--not the rabbit, for it is not found in Palestine
or Arabia, but the hyrax, a little animal of the size and general shape
of the rabbit, but differing from it in several essential features. It
has no tail, singular, long hairs bristling like thorns among the fur
on its back; its feet are bare, its nails flat and round, except those
on each inner toe of the hind feet, which are sharp and project like an
awl. It does not burrow in the ground but frequents the clefts of
6. the hare--Two species of hare must have been pointed at: the
Sinai hare, the hare of the desert, small and generally brown; the
other, the hare of Palestine and Syria, about the size and appearance
of that known in our own country. Neither the hare nor the coney are
really ruminating. They only appear to be so from working the jaws on
the grasses they live on. They are not cloven-footed; and besides, it
is said that from the great quantity of down upon them, they are very
much subject to vermin--that in order to expel these, they eat
poisonous plants, and if used as food while in that state, they are
most deleterious [WHITLAW].
7. the swine--It is a filthy, foul-feeding animal, and it lacks
one of the natural provisions for purifying the system, "it cheweth not
the cud"; in hot climates indulgence in swine's flesh is particularly
liable to produce leprosy, scurvy, and various cutaneous eruptions. It
was therefore strictly avoided by the Israelites. Its prohibition was
further necessary to prevent their adopting many of the grossest
idolatries practised by neighboring nations.
9. These shall ye eat . . . whatsoever hath fins and
scales--"The fins and scales are the means by which the
excrescences of fish are carried off, the same as in animals by
perspiration. I have never known an instance of disease produced by
eating such fish; but those that have no fins and scales cause, in hot
climates, the most malignant disorders when eaten; in many cases they
prove a mortal poison" [WHITLAW].
12. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales, &c.--Under this
classification frogs, eels, shellfish of all descriptions, were
included as unclean; "many of the latter (shellfish) enjoy a reputation
they do not deserve, and have, when plentifully partaken of, produced
effects which have led to a suspicion of their containing something of
a poisonous nature."
13-19. these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the
fowls--All birds of prey are particularly ranked in the class
unclean; all those which feed on flesh and carrion. No less than twenty
species of birds, all probably then known, are mentioned under this
category, and the inference follows that all which are not mentioned
were allowed; that is, fowls which subsist on vegetable substances.
From our imperfect knowledge of the natural history of Palestine,
Arabia, and the contiguous countries at that time, it is not easy to
determine exactly what some of the prohibited birds were; although they
must have been all well known among the people to whom these laws were
the ossifrage--Hebrew, "bone-breaker," rendered in the
Septuagint "griffon," supposed to be the Gypœtos
barbatus, the Lammer Geyer of the Swiss--a bird of the eagle or
vulture species, inhabiting the highest mountain ranges in Western Asia
as well as Europe. It pursues as its prey the chamois, ibex, or marmot,
among rugged cliffs, till it drives them over a precipice--thus
obtaining the name of "bone-breaker."
the ospray--the black eagle, among the smallest, but swiftest
and strongest of its kind.
14. the vulture--The word so rendered in our version means more
probably "the kite" or "glede" and describes a varying but majestic
flight, exactly that of the kite, which now darts forward with the
rapidity of an arrow, now rests motionless on its expanded wings in the
air. It feeds on small birds, insects, and fish.
the kite--the vulture. In Egypt and perhaps in the adjoining
countries also, the kite and vulture are often seen together flying in
company, or busily pursuing their foul but important office of
devouring the carrion and relics of putrefying flesh, which might
otherwise pollute the atmosphere.
after his kind--that is, the prohibition against eating it
extended to the whole species.
15. the raven--including the crow, the pie.
16. the owl--It is generally supposed the ostrich is denoted by
the original word.
the nighthawk--a very small bird, with which, from its nocturnal
habits, many superstitious ideas were associated.
the cuckoo--Evidently some other bird is meant by the original
term, from its being ranged among rapacious birds.
DR. SHAW thinks it is the
safsaf; but that, being a graminivorous and gregarious bird, is equally
objectionable. Others think that the sea mew, or some of the small sea
fowl, is intended.
the hawk--The Hebrew word includes every variety of the
falcon family--as the goshawk, the jerhawk, the sparrow hawk, &c.
Several species of hawks are found in Western Asia and Egypt, where
they find inexhaustible prey in the immense numbers of pigeons and
turtledoves that abound in those quarters. The hawk was held
pre-eminently sacred among the Egyptians; and this, besides its
rapacious disposition and gross habits, might have been a strong reason
for its prohibition as an article of food to the Israelites.
17. the little owl--or horned owl, as some render it. The common
barn owl, which is well known in the East. It is the only bird of its
kind here referred to, although the word is thrice mentioned in our
cormorant--supposed to be the gull. [See on
the great owl--according to some, the Ibis of the Egyptians. It
was well known to the Israelites, and so rendered by the
according to PARKHURST, the bittern, but not
18. the swan--found in great numbers in all the countries of the
Levant. It frequents marshy places--the vicinity of rivers and lakes.
It was held sacred by the Egyptians, and kept tame within the precincts
of heathen temples. It was probably on this account chiefly that its
use as food was prohibited. MICHAELIS considers it
the pelican--remarkable for the bag or pouch under its lower jaw
which serves not only as a net to catch, but also as a receptacle of
food. It is solitary in its habits and, like other large aquatic birds,
often flies to a great distance from its favorite haunts.
the gier eagle--Being here associated with waterfowl, it has
been questioned whether any species of eagle is referred to. Some
think, as the original name racham denotes "tenderness,"
"affection," the halcyon or kingfisher is intended [CALMET]. Others think that it is the bird now called the
rachami, a kind of Egyptian vulture, abundant in the streets of
Cairo and popularly called "Pharaoh's fowl." It is white in color, in
size like a raven, and feeds on carrion; it is one of the foulest and
filthiest birds in the world. [See on
19. the stork--a bird of benevolent temper and held in the
highest estimation in all Eastern countries; it was declared unclean,
probably, from its feeding on serpents and other venomous reptiles, as
well as rearing its young on the same food.
the heron--The word so translated only occurs in the prohibited
list of food and has been variously rendered--the crane, the plover,
the woodcock, the parrot. In this great diversity of opinion nothing
certain can be affirmed regarding it. Judging from the group with which
it is classified, it must be an aquatic bird that is meant. It may as
well be the heron as any other bird, the more especially as herons
abound in Egypt and in the Hauran of Palestine.
the lapwing--or hoopoe; found in warm regions, a very pretty but
filthy species of bird. It was considered unclean, probably from its
feeding on insects, worms, and snails.
the bat--the great or Ternat bat, known in the East, noted for
its voracity and filthiness.
20. All fowls that creep, &c.--By "fowls" here are to be
understood all creatures with wings and "going upon all fours," not a
restriction to animals which have exactly four feet, because many
"creeping things" have more than that number. The prohibition is
regarded generally as extending to insects, reptiles, and worms.
21, 22. Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that
goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet--Nothing
short of a scientific description could convey more accurately the
nature "of the locust after its kind." They were allowed as lawful food
to the Israelites, and they are eaten by the Arabs, who fry them in
olive oil. When sprinkled with salt, dried, smoked, and fried, they
are said to taste not unlike red herrings.
26. every beast . . . not cloven-footed--The
prohibited animals under this description include not only the beasts
which have a single hoof, as horses and asses, but those also which
divided the foot into paws, as lions, tigers, &c.
29. the weasel--rather, the mole.
the mouse--From its diminutive size it is placed among the
reptiles instead of the quadrupeds.
the tortoise--a lizard, resembling very nearly in shape, and in
the hard pointed scales of the tail, the shaketail.
30. the ferret--the Hebrew word is thought by some to
signify the newt or chameleon, by others the frog.
the chameleon--called by the Arabs the warral, a green
the snail--a lizard which lives in the sand, and is called by
the Arabs chulca, of an azure color.
the mole--Another species of lizard is meant, probably the
31-35. whosoever doth touch them, when . . . dead, shall
be unclean until the even--These regulations must have often caused
annoyance by suddenly requiring the exclusion of people from society,
as well as the ordinances of religion. Nevertheless they were extremely
useful and salutary, especially as enforcing attention to cleanliness.
This is a matter of essential importance in the East, where venomous
reptiles often creep into houses and are found lurking in boxes,
vessels, or holes in the wall; and the carcass of one of them, or a
dead mouse, mole, lizard, or other unclean animal, might be
inadvertently touched by the hand, or fall on clothes, skin bottles, or
any article of common domestic use. By connecting, therefore, the touch
of such creatures with ceremonial defilement, which required
immediately to be removed, an effectual means was taken to prevent the
bad effects of venom and all unclean or noxious matter.
47. make a difference between the unclean and the clean--that
is, between animals used and not used for food. It is probable that the
laws contained in this chapter were not entirely new, but only gave the
sanction of divine enactment to ancient usages. Some of the prohibited
animals have, on physiological grounds, been everywhere rejected by the
general sense or experience of mankind; while others may have been
declared unclean from their unwholesomeness in warm countries or from
some reasons, which are now imperfectly known, connected with