Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – The Life of the Flesh

“If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).


To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

We have already seen how spectacularly weak Comfort’s approach to the biblical texts tends to be. And not only does he routinely misunderstand the Bible, he also exhibits a less than rudimentary knowledge of science. In the twenty-first century, both are without excuse. Biblical scholarship and science are clicks away on the Internet and so for Comfort to make the errors that he does reveals either one who argues in bad faith or one who simply wishes to remain in his cognitive bubble. Comfort may somehow fall into both camps.

The next claim Comfort makes in Scientific Facts in the Bible is that Levitical law revealed that

blood is the source of life. Up until 200 years ago, sick people were “bled,” and many died because of the practice. We now know that blood is the source of life. If you lose your blood, you will lose your life.1

As support for this, Comfort quotes Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” But does this text support Comfort’s claim? And is it really a sign that the Bible contains advanced scientific knowledge?

The Importance of Blood 

Human blood is actually a mixture of a variety of organic structures including plasma, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells are what give blood its color as the hemoglobin on them binds with iron which then binds with oxygen which causes oxidation. And this brings us to the primary purpose of blood: oxygenation. When you breathe in oxygen, the blood pumping through your body absorbs it in the lungs and transports it to all the cells in your body via capillaries. The oxygen in turn is processed by the cells’ mitochondria which turn that oxygen into energy for those cells. If you are deprived of oxygen you die because your cells’ mitochondria are not provided with what they need to produce energy to keep those cells alive.2 

But ancient people had no idea what red blood cells were, let alone things like oxygen molecules or mitochondria. But they did know that if you slit the throat of a sacrificial animal or stabbed your enemy in the chest with your sword that the resultant loss of blood invariably meant the loss of life. Humanity quickly learned that blood was vital to the life of an organism. The reason for this was because it was how the gods had created humanity. The Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish describes how Marduk, the one who defeated Tiamat, plans to create humanity telling the gods, “Let me put blood together, and make bones too. Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name.”3 Then at the prompting of the Igigi (i.e. the great gods), Marduk uses the blood of Qingu, a warrior of Tiamat, to create mankind.4

Blood Eating in Priestly Literature

The association between blood and life is strongly correlated by the biblical authors. In the original creation envisioned by the Priestly author (i.e. Genesis 1:1-2:4a), humanity and the animal kingdom were not permitted to consume meat (Genesis 1:29-30). But this changed as humanity became more corrupt and the earth became “filled with violence” (Genesis 7:12), causing God to destroy the world with a Flood save for Noah and his family. This reset on the creative order brings with it new rules and regulations that in some ways parallel those of the original order. One key difference between the original and the reset is that humanity was now allowed to consume meat (Genesis 9:3) but comes with a prohibition: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4).

Other P literature reiterates this prohibition. In Leviticus 3 we read of the “sacrifice of well-being” (Hebrew, zebaḥ šĕlāmîm) wherein an Israelite offers an unblemished animal at the tent of meeting. The Aaronid priests take the blood of the animal and dash it on the sides of the altar and then the animal is burned such that its fat and blood are wholly consumed. After going through the protocols for various kinds of animals, P says this, “It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood” (Leviticus 3:17). Why? Because P knows the prohibition given by God to Noah: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). The zebaḥ šĕlāmîm was not intended to be one of expiation but rather was meant to be a way to provide consumable meat to the Israelites.5

Further instructions for the zebaḥ šĕlāmîm are given in Leviticus 7. There we again read a prohibition against consuming blood. But this time is comes with a warning “You must not eat any blood whatever, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Any one of you who eats any blood shall be cut off from your kind” (Leviticus 7:26-27). The penalty for consuming blood is to be “cut off” (Hebrew, krt), that is, die prematurely.6 

Blood Eating in the Holiness Code

Having observed certain differences in themes and vocabulary between Leviticus 17-26 and the rest of the book, many scholars have dubbed that section as deriving from a separate source and call it “the Holiness Code” (H).7 Within it are a variety of regulations that were intended to set Israel apart from its neighbors, to make them qōdeš (“holy”).8

“The LORD spoke to Moses saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy [qĕdōšîm], for I the LORD your God am holy [qādôš]” (19:2; cf. 20:7, 20:26).

It is within the first chapter of H that we see the text at the center of our inquiry in this post. Let’s briefly consider the context of the words of Leviticus 17:11.

If we were to outline Leviticus 17 we would notice a pattern.9

  • Introduction (17:1-2)
    • Prohibition (17:3-7)
      • Animals eligible for sacrifice must be sacrificed at the tent of meeting (17:3-4) so that Israel might stop offering sacrifices to goat-demons (17:5-7).
      • Both Israelites and resident aliens must not sacrifice to anyone but Yahweh at the tent of meeting (17:8-9)
        • Central Prohibition (17:10-12)
          • The blood of all animals is not to be consumed (17:10) because the blood is functions as a ransom for human life in sacrifice (17:11-12).
      • Reiteration of Central Prohibition (17:13-14)
        • The blood of game is not to be consumed because blood is life (17:13-14).
    • Regulating governing consuming carcasses (17:15-16)
      • The regulation (17:15)
      • Consequences for disobedience (17:16)

As the outline suggests, 17:10-12

is…the axis upon which the chapter revolves. 

The merest glance at the content leads to the same conclusion: all five paragraphs [of Leviticus 17] deal with the legitimate and correct manner of disposing of the blood of those animals which may be eaten. The first two speak of sacrificeable animals – which, in the view of this chapter, must indeed be sacrificed – and the last two speak of animals which, though they may be eaten, may not be sacrificed. At the center, between the first two and the last two, stands the axiom upon which all four depend: that partaking of blood is prohibited. The first two lead to this axiom and provide its rationale; the last two derive from this axiom and implement it.10 

And the rationale for the central prohibition of 17:10-12 is this: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (17:11).

So why does the Levitical law prohibit the consuming of blood? Because blood was not intended for consumption but for the making of atonement. To eat blood is to use it in an inordinate way.  That’s what lies behind the prohibition. It has absolutely nothing to do with any advanced scientific revelation that blood is the body’s oxygen transport system. It had to do with the observation that 1) the loss of blood leads to death and 2) the claim of the Priestly author that blood in animals is that which atones for sin. In other words, the claim is religious, having to do with the sacrificial cult and not scientific, having to do with the composition of blood and its biological function.

Sorry, Ray. You’re wrong again.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016), 5.

2 For an excellent overview of blood, see Chris Cooper, Blood: A Very Short Introduction, e-book (OUP, 2016), 68-113.

3 The Epic of Creation, Tablet VI, in Stephanie Dalley (translator), Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (OUP, 1989), 260.

4 Ibid., 261.

5 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Doubleday, 1991), 222.

6 Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, e-book (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 42.

7 See Henry T. C. Sun, “Holiness Code,” in David N. Freedman (editor), Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 3:256-257.

8 See H. P. Müller, “קדש qdš holy,” in Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann (editors) and Mark E. Biddle (translator), Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 3:1103-1118.

9 Adapted from Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible (Doubleday, 2000), 1449.

10 Baruch J. Schwartz, “The Prohibitions Concerning the ‘Eating’ of Blood in Leviticus 17,” in Gary A. Anderson and Saul M. Olyan, Priesthood and Cult in Ancient Israel (Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 43.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Hopelessly Confused: Heather Schuldt Takes on Bart Ehrman, part 4

This is the fourth post in a series examining pop-apologist Heather Schuldt’s attempt to take down New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. The three previous posts can be viewed here:

In this post we will be looking at Schuldt’s attempt to reconcile the Synoptics version of Passion Week with that of the Gospel of John.

PASSION WEEK PROBLEMS

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem is also his last. The final chapters of Mark’s Gospel are devoted to what has become known as “Passion Week.” Beginning with the “Triumphal Entry” episode and finishing with the crucifixion, the events take place over a seven-day period.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus has made multiple trips to Jerusalem over the course of a few years (see John 2:13, 5:1, etc.). And in John, Passion Week doesn’t begin with the Triumphal Entry but with an anointing at Bethany. Let’s begin with the Markan Passion Week.

Markan Passion Week

The sequence of events in the Markan narrative is fairly clear and we have the benefit of certain time markers to guide the way. Let’s briefly look at each day.

  • On Sunday, Jesus enters the city on the back of a colt, goes into the temple complex to survey it, and departs that evening for the city of Bethany (Mark 11:1-11).
  • On Monday morning, Jesus and the disciples make another trip to the temple (Mark 11:12-19).
  • On Tuesday morning, Jesus and the disciples make yet another trip to the temple (Mark 11:20-13:37).
  • On Wednesday, “two days before the Passover,” Jesus is anointed by an unnamed woman in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany (14:1-9) and Judas seeks out the religious authorities to betray Jesus (14:10-11).
  • On Thursday, Jesus’s disciples prepare to eat the Passover Seder and that evening they share the Seder and Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper (14:12-31). Following this, Jesus takes the disciples to Gethsemane where he is subsequently arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin (14:43-72).
  • On Friday morning, Jesus is brought before Pilate who then crucifies him at 9am (15:1-32). At 3pm Jesus dies (15:34-41). That evening, Joseph requests Jesus’ body from Pilate for burial (15:42-47).
  • On Saturday, Jesus’ body lay in a tomb.

The sequence of events is quite clear. The first major event of the week is the Triumphal Entry. The next major event is the cleansing of the temple. Then comes the anointing in Bethany. After this is the Seder meal and Jesus’ arrest. Finally comes Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.

Johannine Passion Week

The sequence of events in the Johannine version of Passion Week differs greatly from the Markan version as can be seen in some very obvious discrepancies.

  • Whereas in Mark the Triumphal Entry takes place before the anointing in Bethany, in John’s Gospel the Triumphal Entry (John 12:12-19) takes place after the anointing in Bethany (12:1-8). John has rearranged events such that the Wednesday anointing in Mark takes place on Sunday and the Sunday Triumphal Entry in Mark takes place on Monday.
  • Whereas in Mark Jesus cleanses the temple complex the day after the Triumphal Entry, in John the cleansing of the temple takes place years before not long after Jesus performs his first miracle in Cana (2:13-22).
  • Whereas in Mark Jesus shares in a Seder meal with the disciples, in John the meal is not a seder meal as the context makes abundantly clear. For example, we are told that the meal of 13:21-30 takes place “before the festival of the Passover” (13:1). Furthermore, the religious authorities refuse to enter Pilate’s headquarters to turn Jesus over “so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover” (13:28). We are also told that the day Jesus was crucified “was the day of Preparation for the Passover” and that it “was about noon,” the time when the Passover lambs would have been slaughtered. So in John, the Passover coincided with the sabbath making that sabbath “a day of great solemnity” (19:31).

So we have in John’s Gospel a Passion story that contradicts quite clearly that found in the Gospel of Mark.

Schuldt’s Response

How does Schuldt respond to this? She offers five points that demonstrate that “Jesus ate the Passover meal on Thursday night.”

First of all, the Old Testament is very clear in several different books of the Pentateuch when the Israelites were supposed to eat the Passover meal (Lev. 23:4-8, Nu. 28:16-25). It says the Passover meal is supposed to be eaten on the first calendar Jewish month (Abib, also called Nisan), on the fourteenth day at twilight. The Passover dinner was supposed to be a one time dinner once a year.1

In a sea of misinformation and poor scholarship, Schuldt gets this one right! So let’s not linger.

Second, the Jewish day would begin at twilight and extend into the night and throughout the next sunlight part of the day. Ehrman completely overlooks this important cultural difference between the culture back then to the culture today. So the fifteenth can also be called Passover day, but the Passover dinner was supposed to be eaten at twilight on the fourteenth day of Nisan (Abib). Jesus knew all these festival rules and regulations. He followed them by eating the Passover meal that we refer to as his Last Supper, but other corrupt priests might have planned on eating a Passover dinner on another night during the seven days that followed, which they were not supposed to do. In other words, corrupt priests may not have been following the rules for when to eat the Passover meal.

Schuldt is absolutely correct that the Jewish day in the first century was reckoned from evening to evening, roughly 6pm to 6pm. She is wrong that “Ehrman completely overlooks this” fact. Ehrman writes in his textbook on the New Testament that “in Jewish reckoning, a new day begins when it gets dark (that is why the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening).”2 She is correct that the Passover Seder was to be eaten on the evening of the Passover, which would have been Thursday evening in Mark. But what she claims next is just downright dirty.

Schuldt claims that while Jesus followed the rules and regulations set forth in the Torah concerning the Passover, “corrupt priests” may have acted against those regulations and celebrate it at a different time not prescribed by Levitical law. But this is not only pure speculation that she brings in to rescue inerrancy (i.e. eisegetical), it also flies directly in the face of the textual evidence. In Mark’s Gospel we are clearly told that before the Seder of Thursday night the disciples made preparations to celebrate it “[o]n the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed” (Mark 14:12). The lambs were sacrificed before the Seder meal. Since the Deuteronomic code forbade sacrificing Passover lambs anywhere but the temple (Deuteronomy 6:5-6) the disciples would have acquired their lamb at the temple from a priest that Thursday.

But this plainly contradicts what John says. It is John (not the priests) who note that the meal of John 13:21-30 takes place before the Passover (13:1). It is John (not the priests) who are said to not enter Pilate’s headquarters lest they become defiled and are therefore unable to eat the Passover meal that would have taken place later that evening (18:28). It is John (not the priests) who tell us that the day Jesus was crucified was the day of the Preparation for the Passover, i.e. the day when the lambs were slaughtered for that evening’s Seder (19:14). It is John (not the priests) who inform us that the coming sabbath day was one “of great solemnity” (19:31) because the Passover Seder would be eaten the evening the sabbath began.

The lengths to which people like Schuldt will go to rescue inerrancy never cease to amaze.

Schuldt continues.

Third, the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted seven days beginning with Passover (day) on the fourteenth/fifteenth. Some people may have referred to the seven day celebration by calling all seven days the Passover Week. In the gospels, we hear what the people were actually saying and doing, but the law of Moses describes what was actually supposed to happen (Ex. 23:14-15).

I have no idea why Schuldt has brought this up here. Clarification on her part would be needed. So let’s move on to what she says next.

Fourth, the “preparation day” most likely refers to Friday, the day before the Sabbath day. Every Friday was called the Jewish day of preparation in order to rest on the Sabbath (Saturday). On the fourteenth of the first month, however, the Israelites still had to prepare for the Passover meal. Thursday that year was also a kind of preparation day, preparing for the Passover dinner that night. According to the law of Moses, the Feast of Unleavened Bread required food preparations on all seven days of the celebration. If Ehrman would take the time to understand some of these things, he would not be concluding with contradictions. Further explained in this way: Thursday the fourteenth of Nisan is when Jesus had the Last Supper at its proper time when the Passover dinner was supposed to occur, according to the law of Moses. Jesus was arrested after dinner. The next day was Friday the fifteenth of Nisan when Jesus was crucified, but it was technically still called Passover Day. Friday happened to be the day of preparation for the Sabbath, but it was also the day of preparation for the first Day of Unleavened Bread when the sacred assembly celebrated. John 19:14 does not contradict any other gospel book. Some people began to call the seven day celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, “Passover Week.”

Here again Schuldt needs to change the wording of the texts to fit her narrative. Regardless, this doesn’t actually change the narrative details found in the Gospel accounts themselves. In Mark, the lambs were sacrificed on Thursday afternoon before the Seder which happened Thursday evening. In John, the lambs were not sacrificed until Friday afternoon in preparation for the Seder which happened on Friday night.

Things that are different are not the same.

Next, Schuldt writes,

Fifth, in the Pentateuch, some people asked if they could still participate in the Passover meal even if they had been around a dead person. According to the books of Moses (Nu. 9:7-16; 19:11-16), a person who touched or was around a dead person was considered to be unclean for seven days. After Moses asked the Lord about this, the Lord instructed those unclean people to celebrate the Passover dinner in the following month, the second month of the Jewish calendar, at twilight on the fourteenth. In other words, no… anyone who touched a dead person or anyone who was around the dead person cannot participate in the ceremony because they are unclean for seven days. This might be why some people backed away from Jesus when he was dying on the cross: they didn’t want to be counted as unclean for seven days. 

This has nothing to do with the sequence of events in the Gospels so we will not comment on it.

Summary

Schuldt’s explanation for the discrepancies between Mark’s version of Passion week and John’s version is very contrived. It denies the language used by the authors in a bid to rescue the doctrine of inerrancy. It also shows how utterly out of her depth she is when it comes to reading the New Testament and dealing with scholars like Ehrman. Calling his expertise into question actually serves to call her own into it.

NOTES

1 Heather M. Schuldt, “5 Examples Why Bart Ehrman Is Not a Gospel Expert” (10.17.18), Ladyapologist.com. Accessed 8 Nov 2018.

2 Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 89.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Michal D. Coogan: Dating the “Holiness Code” of Leviticus

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 153.

Since the late nineteenth century, scholars have identified chapters 17-26 of Leviticus as a separate source, named the Holiness Code because of its repeated use of words having to do with holiness…. This source (often abbreviated as “H”) is comparable to other collections of biblical law, especially the Covenant Code…and the Deuteronomic Code…. In some details, it also overlaps with these collections, for example, the ritual calendar (Lev 23) and the obligations to the land concerning its sabbath or fallow period (Lev 25).

Until the late twentieth century, the scholarly consensus was that the Holiness Code, while later than the other two collections, is earlier than P, which included it in its final edition of the Pentateuch; a generally accepted date is sometime in the seventh century BCE. It is, however, from the same larger priestly school as P, and thus presumably originated among priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. More recently, some scholars have argued that the Holiness Code is later than most of the rest of P in the Pentateuch and that the editors of the Holiness Code may have been responsible for a revision of P and thus for the final formation of the Pentateuch itself. Agreement remains, however, that the two sources (P and H) are distinct, in part because they are not entirely consistent.

Important evidence for the date of the Holiness Code is the close parallels in vocabulary and theme between it and the book of Ezekiel, named for the prophet Ezekiel who was also a priest in the Jerusalem Temple before his exile to Babylonia in 597 BCE. These parallels have led many scholars to conclude that the Holiness Code in some form preceded Ezekiel, although it is also possible that both were independently drawing on established priestly traditions.

Michael D. Coogan: Leviticus and P

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 146-147.

[T]he book of Leviticus is a composite work. This is confirmed by the many editorial notes inserted throughout the text. The phrase “The LORD spoke to Moses” occurs over thirty times (and “to Moses and Aaron” another four times, in 11.1; 13.1; 14.33; 15.1; and once in 10.8, “to Aaron” alone). These variations may indicate originally distinct sources, as does the presence of several concluding statements (see 7.37; 26.46; 27.34).

It was P who preserved and edited the disparate traditions that comprise the composite work. As with the descriptions of the tabernacle and the ark in Exodus, P inserts into the sojourn at Sinai the rituals and practices of later times. P thus both preserves traditions from the Temple liturgies and also establishes a program for their restoration by the postexilic community in the late sixth century BCE and beyond. At the same time, however, Leviticus is not a consistent work, and it likely preserves traditions not just from the Jerusalem Temple but also from other sanctuaries throughout the land, as does the book of Psalms…even at the cost of some redundancy and inconsistency.

Michael D. Coogan: The Covenant Code and the Code of Hammurapi

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 132.

Both the Code of Hammurapi and the Covenant Code set the laws in an explicitly religious context. In both, it is the deity who is ultimately the source of legal authority, and in both, there is a human intermediary. Thus, as in most other aspects of life in the ancient world, the distinction between sacred and secular was not nearly as sharp as it is in much of the modern world. In both codes, violation of the law is ultimately an offense against the deity.

The Bible, Bats, and Birds: Brief Thoughts

The Bible has its problems: implied geocentrism (Joshua 10:12-14), divinely sanctioned genocide (1 Samuel 15:1-3), explicitly failed prophecies (Ezekiel 26:12; cf. Ezekiel 29:17-18), and much more. Those who see it as scientifically accurate have to write thousands of pages to defend it where it is clearly and blatantly wrong (for example, the sun is created after the earth in the book of Genesis) while those who think it records true history resort to gymnastic level stunts to make it reflect events about which we have no real records (for example, the Exodus event). The doctrine of inerrancy that is maintained and proclaimed by evangelicals and fundamentalists alike is, frankly, untenable.

But that isn’t the subject of this particular post. While it would be easy to enumerate the Bible’s faults, instead I wish to focus on an area where it is attacked when it simply should not be. It involves this passage from the book of Leviticus.

And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat. (11:13-19, ESV; cf. Deuteronomy 14:11-18)

You can see the problem. In a list of detestable birds, the Bible lists a bat. On the face of it, this is a glaring mistake. After all, aren’t bats mammals? Mammals, unlike birds, give birth to live young (the platypus notwithstanding), feed their young using mammary glands (marsupials notwithstanding), and have fur or hair (sufferers of alopecia notwithstanding). How is it that the Bible, a book proclaimed as inerrant by many Christians, could get this basic fact about bats so wrong?

The Bible Isn’t Wrong

For starters, the Bible isn’t wrong. The problem, you see, is that when we read the Bible in English we are doing so in black-and-white. But in Hebrew we see the color, the nuance. This is an instance where the black-and-white causes us to miss something that resolves the issue.

Here in Leviticus 11, we read of prohibitions against eating this or that animal based on whether it is “clean” or “unclean,” terms which have no relevance to us today but were important for ancient Israelites concerned with ritual purity. The author categorizes them based on simple criteria: whether they roam the land, roam the sea, roam the air, or swarm the ground. It may seem too obvious to say but we should do so anyway: these are not intended to be scientific categories. For example, in the list about “swarming things that swarm on the ground” we read of rats and lizards (v. 29) Do we fault the Levitical author for confusing mammals and reptiles? Of course not.

“But,” you object, “the text clearly says ‘birds’ in the English Standard Version or ‘fowls’ in the King James Version.” Indeed, they do. But these translations merely take a Hebrew word or phrase and attempt to put it into English for us to understand. And in this case, the translation is a little off for both.

Flying Things

The word translated as “birds” in the ESV (and NRSV) or “fowls” in the KJV is the Hebrew word עוֹף (‘ôp). It is related etymologically to the Hebrew word ‘ûp which means “I fly.” That verb, ‘ûp, is used to describe the flying of birds (Proverbs 23:5), angelic beings (Isaiah 6:2, 6), and other soaring creatures that are typically winged. ‘ôp is a collective noun derived from the ‘ûp root and is simply describing animals that fly. (Harris, Archer, and Waltke, 1980, 655)

So is Leviticus 11:19 claiming that bats, a mammal with wings, are birds? Of course not. The failure of the English translators to render ôp as “flying creatures” or “flying animals” is not the fault of the author(s) of Leviticus. Yet we cannot fault all English translations equally. For example, the ESV has a footnote next to the word “birds” in Leviticus 11:13 that reads, “Or things that fly.” Clearly the translation team for Leviticus knew that ôp meant more than just “birds.”

So bats, a flying thing, are grouped with other flying things in the category of unclean animals that should not be consumed. As far as the categories that the Levitical code is concerned with, bats are in their appropriate group. If the author of Leviticus was making scientific pronouncements about a Linnaean type of animal classification system, he would obviously be wrong. But that isn’t what is in view here.

Printed Works Cited

R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, editors, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 1980.