#188. Is it permissible to eat a carcass or torn animal OR not? (Lev 17:15-16 vs Deut 14:21; Ex 22:30)


News flash! —- Yahweh has apparently contradicted himself once again at Sinai, claiming at one point that eating a carcass or a torn animal is strictly prohibited and not even a week later—that’s right folks one week later!—claiming that it is permissible to eat. What madness!

Or, we have yet another example of different and contradictory law codes penned by different authors, to address different historical communities, and which were both placed on the lips of Yahweh and at various different places in the narrative: at Horeb (E’s claim), a week later before the Tent of Meeting (P’s claim), and 40 years later on the plains of Moab (D’s claim). When these different textual traditions were brought to stand next to each other in a later editorial endeavor, this and hundreds of other contradictions were created.

The author of Ex 22:30, the Elohist, has Yahweh pronounce as one of its apodictic laws given at Horeb that any carcass or torn animal found in the field is not to be eaten: “You shall throw it to the dog.”

Later, we will see how the Deuteronomist changes this prohibition to allow such carcasses to be eaten by the resident alien who lived among the Israelites. But it remained strictly prohibited to the Israelite:

“You shall not eat any carcass. You shall give it to the alien who is in your gates, and he will eat it” (Deut 14:21).

Yet the author of Lev 17:15-16 has Yahweh declare that the eating of a carcass or torn animal is permissible to both the alien and the Israelite; however, the individual will then become impure and must henceforth purify himself through a ritualized washing. To a large extent, even though the Priestly legislation allows the eating of the meat of a carcass it nevertheless claims that this is an impure act, and thus ought to be avoided. The Deuteronomist’s outright prohibition of the eating of carcass certainly tells us that the Deuteronomist also saw this act as a defilement. So there are points of similarity between both of these authors.

But perhaps the real issue is the alien, and how the alien is perceived differently from the historical perspective of the Deuteronomist and that of the Priestly writer. For example, for the Deuteronomist the alien is just that, an outsider; he is not, nor cannot be, a part of Yahweh’s holy people. Furthermore, it is specifically because the Deuteronomist is making an argument for the holiness of the Israelites that he allows the alien to eat the meat of a carcass seeing that he is already defiled to some extent, an “impure” outsider.

The alien is accorded a completely different standing for the Priestly writer, and in most cases is subject to the same ritual and ethical laws that the Israelite is. So in our current example, both the alien and the Israelite defile themselves when they eat the meat of a carcass. And both must ritually purify themselves in order to expiate this defilement. In the larger picture, what is at stake for the Priestly writer, and absent in the Deuteronomic literature, is a view of the land as pure. All the ritual and ethical laws were created to ensure that the land upon which Yahweh and his holy Tabernacle reside remains in a state of purity. Therefore the alien who shared this land with the Israelite can be no more impure than the Israelite. If an alien were allowed to eat the carcass and thus become contaminated, that would put the land’s purity at risk, which would furthermore place both Yahweh and the people’s security on the land at risk (Lev 26). Conversely for the Priestly writer of Lev 22:8 priests may not eat carcasses.

Finally, each tradition places Yahweh’s revelation at a different time and locale. The Earliest traditions of the giving of the law are found in the Elohist and Yahwist sources, and there Yahweh is presented as giving laws and the Ten Commandments—albeit different Ten Commandments (#134-135)—at Horeb and Sinai respectively (#86). When the Deuteronomist has Moses renarrate this tradition he changes it. In Deuteronomy Moses claims that only the Ten Commandments were given, and 40 years later Moses gave the law code on the plains of Moab. We will look at this in greater detail when we get to the book of Deuteronomy. Lastly, the Priestly writer also creates a narrative where Yahweh gives the Aaronid law code, but this happens at the Tent of Meeting, on the plains of Sinai, about a week or so after the Sinaitic revelation. When these different textual traditions were assembled together to form a continuous narrative, Yahweh is, as a result, seen given contradictory laws and at different time periods, and sometimes this assembled narrative presents the deity given a contradictory law just a week after he originally gave it, as it is now in the combined narrative. Simply divine!

6 thoughts on “#188. Is it permissible to eat a carcass or torn animal OR not? (Lev 17:15-16 vs Deut 14:21; Ex 22:30)

  1. @anon, I think that the proscription on eating blood, with no “cure” for this transgression, actually says just the opposite about P’s attitude about nonpriests’ consumption of carrion. Here are the verses:

    Leviticus 17:14b-16
    You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off. 15All persons, citizens or aliens, who eat what dies of itself or what has been torn by wild animals, shall wash their clothes, and bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the evening; then they shall be clean. 16But if they do not wash themselves or bathe their body, they shall bear their guilt.

    Note that only the failure to bathe after consuming carrion brought about guilt, while consumption of blood merited being “cut off.” Also, look at another P passage, Leviticus 11, and contrast P’s outright ban on “creatures that swarm upon the earth” with the same allowance as in Leviticus 17 for carrion consumption:

    Leviticus 11:39-41
    39 If an animal of which you may eat dies, anyone who touches its carcass shall be unclean until the evening. 40 Those who eat of its carcass shall wash their clothes and be unclean until the evening,; and those who carry the carcass shall wash their clothes and be unclean until the evening. 41 All creatures that swarm upon the earth are detestable; they shall not be eaten.

    1. This is an interesting conversation. Contextually all of Leviticus 17, as posted in #187, deals with, we might say, blood guilt, or what constitutes blood guilt. Lev 17:1-12 prohibits the slaughter of sacrificial animals at any other locale except at Yahweh’s altar where the blood of the slain animal is to be spattered upon Yahweh’s altar, thus in effect atoning for the life taken. Lev 17:13-14 speaks of game animals that don’t require a sacrifice at Yahweh’s altar, and therefore don’t require atonement—only, you must pour the blood out on the ground. Thus Lev 17:1-14 is a unit. Yet we might ask why did the scribe include the prohibition against consuming a carcass (Lev 17:15-16) at the end of the chapter. The scribe must have seen a contextual connection. So I might be inclined to argue that that connection deals with blood. The dead animal, let’s say a game animal, has not had its blood, its life (see Lev 17:14), drained on the ground. In the carcass, the blood coagulates, and draining the blood is impossible. Could this be why the Priestly writer prohibits the consumption of the carcass?

      On another note, E’s prohibition (Ex 22:30) is certainly not presented in this context. However the preceding verse is the commandment to be a holy people which seems to imply that there is even in E an issue of ,and what is impure, so even here the background might imply assigning impure to meat that has not had its blood properly drained. ??

  2. I don’t think P permits eating a carcass either. Lev 17:15-16 is only instructions for how to fix it if you did. It looks even less permitted when looking at the previous verse which explicitly forbids eating blood (granted blood is not the same as the rest of the flesh). But it is curious how a carcass is just fine for the alien in D’s version with no immersion required.

    Side note, may I request that you quote more of the verses that you cite? It’d be easier to understand what you write that way without having to look them up. Love your site, keep it up!

    1. Thanks Rudy.

      So if this wasn’t clear: we have a law code written circa the 8th c. (E), a law code written circa the 7th c. (D), and a law code written circa the 6th-5th c. (P). E most likely has a secular origin, i.e., scribes wrote it; D was written most likely by Levites, and P by an elite priestly guild, the Aaronds. When these three law codes were combined together in a single narrative, E’s is presented first (Ex 20-23) and happens at Horeb; P’s is next (Lev 11-22), which in its new narrative happens all in the month immediately following the Horeb revelation (see Num 1:1). And D’s is the last (Deut 12-26), amended onto the narrative’s end and happens 40 years later on the plains of Moab. So when we do have contradictory laws among these three different law codes, in the assembled narrative—EPD—Yahweh is seen contradicting himself within a week, month, or 40 years later.

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