Contradictions Part 4: Hares Chewing the Cud

The first part in this series can be found here.

Leviticus 11:6 tells us that hares chew the cud. They do not. Animals that chew the cud are called ruminants. When they eat plant matter, it goes to their first stomach to soften, and then it’s regurgitated to their mouth. They spend time re-chewing it, and then it is swallowed and fully digested. Ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, etc.) are recognizable because their chewing of the cud is very obvious. Hares (rabbits) don’t chew the cud; however, their mouths do move frequently, so it’s possible to see why some people may have assumed that they do chew the cud. Of course, God would know they didn’t, and this is why the passage is problematic.

There have been some good attempts at explaining this. First of all, it has been suggested that even though God knew hares didn’t chew the cud, the Israelites probably didn’t. Since they would have seen the chewing motion of hares and assumed that they were cud-chewers, God simply used language that they would understand.

I actually think this explanation has some merit. However, God also knew that the Bible would be used by all people in all times. Therefore, he would have known that this passage could be problematic for modern people. So I don’t see why he couldn’t have said “appear to chew the cud,” or something like that in order to clarify things for both groups. Also, he could have taken it as an opportunity to educate them on the fact that hares don’t actually chew the cud, regardless of what their mouths look like.

Another explanation has been to point out that while rabbits aren’t ruminants, they do re-digest some of their food through the process of coprophagia. This process sounds pretty disgusting. Basically, it’s eating feces to gain additional nutrients. Hares don’t do this with their regular droppings, but with a special type of pellet that essentially consists of partially digested plant matter.

A problem with this theory is that hares don’t actually chew these pellets, they swallow them whole. Also, pigs are known to practice coprophagia as well, yet Leviticus 11:7 says, “And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you” (emphasis mine). So it would appear that “chew the cud” does not include coprophagia.

Bottom line: the Bible claims that hares chew the cud, but we know they do not.

We’ll look at another contradiction in the next post.

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29 thoughts on “Contradictions Part 4: Hares Chewing the Cud

  1. Copied and pasted from elsewhere:

    The word “cud” (Hebrew gerah) appears only 11 times in all of Scripture: seven times in Leviticus 11 and four times in Deuteronomy 14—every occurrence is in the two passages that give lists of clean and unclean animals. The rabbit is mentioned in each list as one that “chews the cud” (Leviticus 11:6; Deuteronomy 14:7). Therefore, if the only sections in Scripture where specific animals are mentioned that “chew the cud” include rabbits, then it is entirely proper to conclude that Moses simply defined “cud chewers” more broadly than modern scientists. Today, “cud chewers” (called ruminants) may be strictly defined as animals that “swallow their food without chewing it very much, store it temporarily in one of their stomach compartments, then later regurgitate it and rechew it thoroughly, and then swallow and digest it” (Wenham, 1979, pp. 171-172). It would be completely unjust, however, to force present-day definitions on a 3,500-year-old document. “As with Moses’ classification of bats as ‘birds,’ the modern definition of terms does not take away from Moses’ ability, or even his right, to use words as he sees fit to use them” (Kaiser, et al., 1996, p. 158). What’s more, as Jonathan Sarfati concluded: “It is inconceivable that someone familiar with Middle-Eastern animal life would make an easily corrected mistake about rabbits, and also inconceivable that the Israelites would have accepted a book as Scripture if it were contrary to observation” (1998, 20[4]:56), especially when the Book has so many negative things to say about the Israelites.

    Bottom line: taken out of context.

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  2. That sounds nice, but I don’t think it’s so easily dismissed. Could “cud-chewers” just be referring to something else — a different, broader category that rabbits also fit into? I guess that’s possible. It would mean that the Bible’s been slightly mistranslated (which seems contrary to what God would have wanted), but I won’t split hares (pun intended) about that.

    But to say that it’s the only reasonable conclusion is way overboard. At the very best, this would be an issue up for grabs. People certainly aren’t out of line for thinking it’s suspect.

    Also, it wouldn’t shock me if most Israelites did think rabbits chewed the cud. Their mouths move in a way that would give that impression. So I don’t view this as something that would have made huge amounts of people second-guess the legitimacy of the Bible. In fact, it doesn’t do that now, so why should it have been any different then? And if you think about it, this objection is no different than saying:

    This contradiction is so obvious that no one would have accepted it. And since they accepted it, it must not be a contradiction.

    That just doesn’t strike me as a great foundation to base a belief on. And if we have to make such excuses for a book that God wrote, does it really seem likely that he wrote it?

    Thanks for the quote though — it sums up the other position nicely.

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  3. But wouldn’t an actual contradiction mean that the Bible was wrong without any possible reasonable conclusions? I mean, to make such a serious claim about the Bible ought to have pretty good supporting evidence (this is what skeptics say about the God hypothesis, after all). Otherwise, it’s just an opinion based on today’s standards, right?

    I think you’re placing too much emphasis on the Bible being a “perfect book” in order to be inspired by God. Like I said in the other post, to give us perfect knowledge is call us omniscient, and since we’re not omniscient we can’t possibly have perfect knowledge. God gives ENOUGH information, not ALL of it. Otherwise, where’s the necessity for relational investment?

    For example, if you knew absolutely everything there was to know about your wife, where’s the intrigue? You know enough about her to enjoy a meaningful relationship, and that gives the relationship value, because as you grow in your lives together you are constantly learning new things about her. This analogy fits fairly well with how we interact with God.

    So in summation, it seems like acknowledging a reasonable hypothesis for the legitimacy of this text means that you don’t really have a great foundation to base a belief in this contradiction on. What you’ve boiled yourself down to is: “This could be right, but it could also be wrong, so I’ll choose to think it’s wrong instead of right.” And that’s not a contradiction, friend; that’s an opinion.

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  4. No, I don’t view them as quite that ambivalent. What you’re describing would be more appropriate if the passage in question had only referenced actual ruminants as cud-chewers, but I maintained that the Bible actually meant something else and that passage contained a contradiction. I’d have no real evidence for that point, only speculation.

    But the simple fact is this: The passage in question says rabbits are cud-chewers, and they are not. That is a contradiction. It’s factually inaccurate. If someone wants to accept a theory that tries to clear it up, that’s fine with me. But I don’t buy it because it doesn’t change what the passage says.

    I use this example elsewhere, but you probably haven’t gotten to it yet in my posts. I’m a fan of the Stephen King series The Dark Tower. If King suddenly began calling one of his characters in that series by another name, he’d be creating a contradiction. As fans, we might be able to come up with several reasonable explanations for that change just so we can keep up the verisimilitude. But if King himself never addresses the issue, it’s still a contradiction no matter how much we want it to be otherwise.

    The contradictions in the Bible are the same way. They exist. Other people may be able to come up with marvelous theories that try to explain them, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Bible still contains a contradiction. And for an omnipotent God, these would be very easy things to clear up within the text.

    That may be an area that we won’t reach agreement on. But I’ve thought carefully about this for quite a while, and I’m convinced that referring to these things as outright contradictions is very reasonable.

    But thanks for offering your input on it. I really enjoy your points.

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  5. William

    ““This could be right, but it could also be wrong, so I’ll choose to think it’s wrong instead of right.” And that’s not a contradiction, friend; that’s an opinion.”

    that’s a good point, except that the evidence at hand seems to say otherwise. Look at it like this, the bible says that hares chew cud, but we know that they do not. You are correct to say that that our word for “cud” didnt exist back then, so there could be more to it. Makes it a little more difficult for us, but that’s to be expect in translations. So we then go on to see what else it could be talking about, like maybe it eats it’s own feces. And it turns out that is right, but pigs do as well and the bible says that pigs dont chew the cud.
    Some say that there is still a possible explanation. Can you tell us what it is so that we can consider it? This is more like, it looks wrong, but could still possibly be right, so I’ll choose what seems more obvious.

    And I liked your analogy about the wife, but in this situation (wife being god’s word) it’s more like we’re not even sure if we have a wife. So which woman do we investigate if we should at all? But that’s part of the point, many people look so hard at the bible only, never considering any other religion – and if they do, they do it to disprove the other religion while trying to defend or prove the bible. maybe you’ve been intrigued with the wrong woman all along.

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  6. By the way, I think your analogy of the husband-wife relationship is really good. That’s an excellent point.

    I’m really not saying that God needed to give us all knowledge. But when he does give us info (the Bible, for instance), I expect it to be completely accurate in what it reveals.

    The issue of whether or not rabbits chew the cud is not a mystical thing that God withholds knowledge about. We know that rabbits don’t chew the cud, and we know that Leviticus says they do. That’s a pretty simplistic matter, and I expect those kinds of things to make sense.

    I hope that helps clarify my position a little better. If God exists, I fully expect that he has lots of knowledge that we’ll never possess. In other words, I find Deuteronomy 29:29 to be very reasonable.

    Thanks again.

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  7. Nate and William,

    Rabbits don’t chew the cud by today’s standards of what defines “chewing the cud.” But as the part I pasted in earlier says, you’re saying that a 3,500-year old text must conform to today’s definitions and classifications in order to be accurate? Now who’s setting the high bar?

    P.S. Did you know that Linnaeus, who is responsible for the classification system we used today, initially classified rabbits as ruminants based on what he was able to observe of them? I guess it’s not as cut-and-dry as you would have it be.

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  8. William

    Again, based on the research conducted thus far, there doesn’t seem to be a good explanation as to what “chewing the cud” would have meant in the 3500 year old text, if not what was already described above (chewing a cud, eating feces is clearly not what it meant). If there is a possible meaning that has been overlooked, that would include the Hare in the cud category somehow, then please share it with the rest of us.

    Without that explanation or definition, simply saying that “there is another meaning but we just don’t know what it is” could be said about ANY contradiction.

    Again, the text says Hares chew the cud… yet, they do not. How is that setting the bar high for a text that was supposedly written for all people of all time? What else would that passage be talking about?

    And I appreciate your efforts here, but do you even consider that the bible may not be god’s word? If not, are you being objective? Remember, the bible was penned, copied, and distributed by man; if we believe them, is our faith in god, or those men?

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  9. “Chew the cud” as you talk about it is based on the MODERN definition of what it means to chew the cud. I don’t know how many times I need to say it. I’ve shared not only the possible but probable meaning of the text–that Moses categorized those who chew the cud more broadly than you do. Perhaps if there’s a reasonable and probable explanation for what it says in the text, it’s not a contradiction. Perhaps it’s just an assumption, and to assume just makes an…well, I won’t curse, but you get my drift I think.

    If you really think that this passage was written for all people of all time, you need to do some more study on hermeneutics, friend. We can definitely learn from such passages, but that doesn’t mean their commandments are binding. If so, there is no purpose in having the New Testament, because it contradicts the OT instead of replaces the law.

    If the men who wrote the Bible say God inspired them, then how are we supposed to take it? If Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” what are we supposed to think other than that it is God-breathed? So if that’s what it’s supposed to be, why then would you look at some of its claims at face value (i.e. chewing the cud) but say some of its other claims are erroneous? You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

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  10. William

    I am not sure what you are getting at. All you have said is that Moses must have been using the term “Chewing the Cud” in a broader sense than what we do today. Fair enough… what is that broader sense? How can i, or anyone, be expected to “try the spirits” so to speak, if anything that seems to contradict what we know can be answered by, “the bible said so, so it must be true?” I just don’t see where this is difficult. The bible says that hares chew the cud. they do not. Again, if it means something else, then what is it? because right now, that’s a contradiction, ro a hole, if you will. If you want to cover up that hole, it would be better patched by supplying a definitions to Moses’ broad use of “chewing the Cud.”

    And are you suggesting that we know the bible is from God because Paul, who is from the bible, says it is? And I am not being wishy washy with it. If God wrote the bible for all people of all time, then we all should have an equal ability and availability to understand it. the bible says that God is not a respecter of persons, so if the bible is from god, then ancient people and present day people should be on a level playing field. If we are not on a level playing field, then that’s just one more strike against the notion that god was the author. I am trying to use the rules the bible has set for itself to see it measures up. it says “x”, but “y” seems to be the case – can that be explained, maybe so. But just saying that “it could have a solution, or it could be something else, and since we cant prove that there isnt a way to harmonize the passage, then we just have to accept it at face value” just isnt the way things work. Do you treat other religious texts that way?

    And not to contentious, but it’s you who has said that God wrote the bible, or at least inspired it, but then don’t seem to think that is was written for people today. and do you look at evrything as either all right or completely wrong? the bible has some factual and ethical things in it, but that doesnt mean it’s without its errors as well.

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  11. I think I’m just beating my head against a wall here. Clearly we’re talking apples and oranges. I’m not trying to be contentious either, but you’re most definitely twisting my words around, and that doesn’t help anybody in this discussion.

    So I’m going to let it die, and just agree to disagree.

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  12. William

    I am sorry.. I really dont mean to twist anyone’s words. I guess I have felt pretty frustrated as well, because it just seems so obvious to me. Perhaps you are right, maybe we have said all their is to say on this topic… there are plenty of others…

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  13. Hi, Nate, I am going to post this to my blog as well as your related post. The verse you are talking about where a hare is said to chew its cud, may not be talking about a hare. In my spare time, I decided to look into it as that would be an easy one to do. I went to a blue letter bible app on my phone – which corresponds with blueletterbible.org. It is essentially a website where one can easily find words in the Strong’s concordance or other dictionaries directly from the verse. Here is what I found – 

     H768 – ‘arnebeth (from Leviticus 11:16):

    Outline of Biblical Usage:
    1) hare
    a) probably an extinct animal because no known hare chews its cud, exact meaning is unknown, and best left untranslated as “arnebeth”

    I don’t know if this helps answer your concern at all, but it answers mine. You see, sometimes translating can be a difficult task. 

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  14. Thanks for supplying that information. It’s not an explanation I’d heard before. To me it sounds like they’ve only come to that conclusion because they would otherwise have to say the Bible made a mistake, so I’m still a bit skeptical. But I’m glad it answers the issue for you. Thanks again for taking the time to look at it.

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  15. I’m glad I could shed some light on it. I hope that you continue your search and look at things objectively, instead of holding the opinion you have already made up against what you learn. @Nate

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  16. Haha! Thanks! 😉

    I’m sorry if it looks like I’m not being objective. I truly intend to be. But I feel like there are so many problems with the Bible, it’s hard for me to accept an explanation like the one you found, when it looks so much like a made up excuse. They basically said that they would normally translate this word “hare,” but since that would mean the Bible made a mistake, the word must mean something else. I suppose that’s possible, but I certainly don’t view it as probable. If it were the only issue with the Bible, I might let it go… but it’s not.

    I honestly do appreciate your providing this info though. And I’m glad if it was helpful to you.

    I’d also like you echo your sentiment: I hope we’ll all be objective as we look at these things and not just try to fit them into our preconceptions.

    Thanks!

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  17. William

    @eliezer40
    that is interesting, but I’m not quite sure I follow. Is it saying that the word usually means “hare” but since we now know, without a doubt, that hares don’t chew cud, that word cannot mean “hare” here, although it means “hare” everywhere else? And we know that it couldn’t mean hare, because the bible is always right, and so if that word meant what it always means everywhere else, then the bible would false. but since the bible is never false, that word means something else this time?

    whoa! I’m dizzy.

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  18. William, that is not what it means. It means that arnebeth is used twice in the Bible, Leviticus and Deuteronomy to indicate that they are unclean because this arnebeth chews the cud. The exact meaning of arnebeth is unknown but it is translated as ‘hare’. It could have been an extinct rabbit like creature that chewed the cud. That is what it means.

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  19. William

    @eliezer40

    ah, you may be right. I wonder why they ever interpreted it as “hare” if they had no idea what it was… I guess this word never shows up in other hebrew text?

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  20. William

    @eliezer40
    You know, this just seems weird. I’ve tried looking “arnebeth” up on several different sources, they all either say “hare” or “rabbit” or they say “hare” then follow it up with what you posted above about it likely meaning something else because hares don’t chew cud…

    you have to admit how it looks. But it does make me ask whether this word is ONLY used in the bible. is there no place else in Hebrew literature that would shed light on it?

    And if there is no way to know what that word means, then why did they translate it as hare? and if that’s what they do, just randomly pick an animal, why didn’t they do that with Job’s leviathan?

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  21. Brilliant stuff…”the hare mentioned must be extinct b/c hares don’t chew their cud” and “you can’t put a modern definition on a 3500 year old book”.

    I’m generally not a very argumentative type, but those are simply examples of Wish-thinking at their best (or worst). Wouldn’t it have been a coup to have God reveal something in his Book that scientists wouldn’t discover for MILLENNIA–the fact that Linneaus inaccurately catalogued them only shows that his observations were incomplete and inaccurate…just like Bats are not Birds. Bats not being Birds is not a “modern scientific interpretation”, but a fact of biology. Sure, when People don’t know much about biology it is easy to see a bat as a bird. No problem. But GOD knew they weren’t birds and it would have been a great place to clear it up. Revealed truth that “scientists” wouldn’t discover for how long would be a great Proof of the Bible.

    But this is just like “God put two lights in the sky”. No, there are not two lights in the sky. The people of Texas may be angry b/c Bill Nye the Science Guy contradicted the scriptures, but that’s b/c the people who wrote the scriptures were understandably ignorant of the moon merely reflecting the sun’s light. How could they know? But if the bible was from God, HE would know. Saying “he wouldn’t tell them b/c they wouldn’t be able to believe something so strange” is a poor excuse–they believed in an Invisible God who created One Man and One Woman in a Garden nobody could ever find; they believed Moses when he said God spoke to him from a burning bush; they weren’t very skeptical and so saying “God fudged things b/c he knew the people needed it” just doesn’t cut it.

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  22. Pingback: Letter to Kathy (the Bible Has Problems) | Finding Truth

  23. Tom

    I think it is important to understand the purpose for this passage of scripture, and that is to teach people a way of differentiating animals that may be eaten (clean) from those that may not be eaten (unclean). The animals that may be eaten must have a split hoof and chew the cud. To make this determination a person looks at the animal to see if it appears to be chewing the cud and examines it to see if it has a split hoof. Both rabbits and rock badgers give the appearance they chew the cud, but they do not have a split hoof. Many critics might say; why didn’t Moses say “appear” to chew the cud? This was originally written in Paleo Hebrew (a pictographic language) and translated into modern Hebrew and then into English (possibly Greek first, depending on the translation). There are going to be issues like this in the scriptures. We have to read the context of the message and not get side tracked with the details (chasing rabbits, so to speak).

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  24. Oh, this one is my favorite. I use this example frequently in my talks. Imagine what all the Christians think when I tell them that people become atheists because of rabbits chewing cud. It helps our cause.

    I have written a response, here:
    https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/rabbits-dont-chew-cud-but-can-we-trust-the-bible/

    The biggest flaw is that it imposes a modern definition onto an ancient culture. But again, even if your comment were true, you have not disproven that God exists nor that the Bible teaches us spiritual truth. The liberal denomination Evangelical Lutherans used to use this exact passage to deny inerrancy, but they hold that the Bible is still the source of truth about God. You have not disproven much here, my friend.

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  25. Peter

    Imagine what all the Christians think when I tell them that people become atheists because of rabbits chewing cud.

    In my case it was not one issue that caused me lose confidence in the divine inspiration of the Bible. Whilst this particular issue may seem trivial, it adds to the list of issues and also makes a lie of those claims by some apologists that the Bible is perfect.

    I have found that apologists can, through ingenuity {and in some case disingenuity}. explain away any individual issue. If there was only one issue then such an approach might be persuasive, but that is far from the case. One of the books I have is the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. That there is the need for such a volume is instructive in itself. What became even more illuminating to me was that many issues I came across were not even covered in this 476 page book.

    My faith in the Bible was eroded by the sheer volume of issues, not one issue.

    Now this does not disprove ‘God’ but it certainly does help the case to prove ‘God’.

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