Thursday, December 25, 2008

Murdered: Jesus, the vegan animal rights activist

Akers wrote, "In ancient times the temple in Jerusalem was not like a modern synagogue or church — it was the place where the Jews brought animal sacrifices, and thus resembled a butcher shop or slaughterhouse more than a modern place of worship." The priests in the temple were able to keep much of the meat from the sacrificed animals and thus benefitted economically from this practice. For the Ebionites, this was a religious sanction to kill animals, which had no place in their religion. Jesus says (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7), "I require mercy, not sacrifice," a saying which the Homilies and Recognitions cite as well. The Ebionite gospel quoted Jesus as saying, "I have come to abolish the sacrifices, and if you cease not from sacrificing, my wrath will not cease from you" (Panarion 30.16.5).

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables, exchanging money. So he made a whip of cords and drove all from the Temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (John 2:13-16 NIV)

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew,Mark,and Luke) as well as the Gospel of John, record this event. It is the only time that Jesus is reported to have committed an aggressive act. And it was the slaughter of animals, in the name of God, that led to this uncharacteristic action.

Most Christians know about this incident which is euphemistically called "the cleansing of the Temple." But few realize that it is the pivotal event of Holy Week. It set in motion the arrest, trial, and death of Jesus because in trying to end the slaughter of animals, he was attacking the economic foundation of Jerusalem. The Holy City had become the center of sacrificial religion 600 years earlier when the Temple there had been declared the only legitimate place for sacrifice.

The entire city and all its inhabitants were dependant upon the Temple for their survival. Laborers, artisans, craftsmen and farmers were as committed to the maintenance of the sacrificial cult as were the priests, Levites, and others directly involved in its daily activities. In modern terms, ancient Jerusalem would be classified as a tourist-dependent city.

There were always many pilgrims in the Holy City and three times a year, during the major religious observances of Judaism, the many became a multitude. And never more so than during Passover. Because such great crowds would be gathered in Jerusalem, it was the perfect time for Jesus to carry out his assault on the sacrificial system. Not only would there be many witnesses to what he did, thousands more would hear about it as the story of what took place was passed around among the pilgrims lodged in and around the city.

Mark's Gospel makes it clear that the attack on the sacrificial system was a planned event, not an impulsive act. After describing the triumphal entry into the Holy city when the crowds called "Hosanna," his gospel reports that "Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the Temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went on to Bethany with the twelve." (Emphasis added)

The action Jesus planned was to be a very public spectacle. But by the time he had gotten past the cheering crowds who thronged the entry road to Jerusalem, most people had returned to their homes or to the overcrowded inns that housed them during the Passover season. So he went on to Bethany, where he would spend the night at the home of Lazarus.

But before Jesus left the city for the night, when he "looked around at everything," he would have seen the animals who were jammed into the Temple enclosure. The next day was the 10th of Nisan, the traditional day that the male head-of-the-household picked out the animal who would be killedemdash in honor of its Creator.

The victim was chosen according to a strict protocol: the number of people eating together dictated the size of the animal they could eat. But the animal purchased on the 10th of Nisan would not be killed until the 14themdash the eve of Passover. Because each man killed his own animal at this season, the number of sacrificers and the number of their victims was so great that the purchase and the killing could not be carried out on the same day.

From ancient records, scholars have reconstructed the events that took place on the day of sacrifice. The killing began at three p.m. and by sundown about 18,000 animals would be dead. Because the Temple could not accommodate all the "worshipers" at the same time, the victims had to be killed in three shifts.

Approximately 6,000 people comprised each shift and since the sacrifice was a yearling, the men usually carried the lambs on their shoulders. Once in the place of slaughter, they lined up in long rows next to a row of priests. The shofar would sound and the men would wrest the lambs to the ground, slitting their throats. As they bled to death, the priests standing next to them would catch the blood in large buckets. When these were full they would be passed up the line to those who stood by the altar. They would throw the blood against the side of the altar. The empty buckets would be recycled and refilled with the blood of more lambs.

Although it was set up efficiently, neither the human nor the nonhuman creatures who were part of the slaughter process always behaved efficiently. Sometimes the knife was not sharp enough, or the lamb struggled too hard, and although the blood had started to flow from its throat, a frantic yearling had to be wrestled into submission before a better cut could be made.

Of course the slaughtered animals lost all control of their bladders and kidneys. The smells, the frenzy of the dying creatures, and the endless buckets of blood thrown on the altar in the name of God, make it obvious that this ritual of terror and violence was the worship of an idol. This god-of-the-slaughter was created by human beings in their own, fallen image.

Because this slaughter of the innocent was idolatrous worship, Isaiah and the other Latter Prophets had called for the end of sacrificial religion. But they had not taken action against the Temple cult. Now, hundreds of years later, Jesus Christ, who began his ministry claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy (Luke 4:16-20) took direct action against that system.

The final result was that the Romans crucified Jesus. Pilate, the Roman governor, would hardly have crucified someone just because of a Jewish theological dispute. But if someone were causing a riot or disturbance in the temple precincts, this demanded Roman action. It is much more plausible that Jesus objected to the practice of animal sacrifice itself, and that his disruption of the temple business during the volatile Passover week was the immediate and most important cause of his death. It was this act, and its interpretation as a threat to public order, that led immediately to Jesus’ crucifixion.

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  1. What a story! Christ at the temple told this way - I never knew... but it makes so much sense. Of course such a scene would anger a truly holy man - And of course "killing animals" was a "business" even then. Thank you for this post - it really makes a lot of things much clearer for me to understand.

  2. Very enlightening. Could I translate it into Portuguese to publish on my vegan blog please?

  3. Hi Lobo,
    Yes you may ;-)
    Rock on!

  4. Hi Dave, the Portuguese translation is online - thanks so much, a great read and I'm glad to help take it further afield.

  5. Is it possible that Jesus' main mission was to put an end to the ritual slaughter of animals ?
    According to the Jesus story, he was born in a manger in Bethlehem, now it seems to me that Jesus would have carefully chosen to be born in that exact place .some say it was a birthing tower for the sheep. The Shepard's that were guarding their flock, and comforted by the angels, were watching over some very special sheep.The sheep were being specially raised, none of them had any blemishes, they ate a special diet, these sheep were destined for slaughter at Solomon's Temple, and were raised by strict standards. These were the very sheep over whom Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, the term money changers is misleading, they were selling the sheep and other animals for slaughter. The Temple was a giant slaughter house, their blood and screams were everywhere throughout the Temple The floor was a river of blood, the stench of the poor creatures Death and fear permeated the place. That's why he was throwing these abominable demons out of his Fathers house, not over money, but about turning the place into a hell hole for both the animals and all sensitive beings. These are the sheep that Jesus was allegedly born amongst.
    That is the real reason for his assassination, he was tearing down their Temple of Demonic Ritual Sacrifice.
    A lot of good Christians celebrate Jesus's triumph on Easter by roasting a murdered lamb. I

    The primary reason that Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemony,was because he disrupted the Passover ritual slaughter at the temple for that he must die, he was trying to overthrow the whole basis for the religion.

    Jesus died on the cross so to atone for our sins instead of the false atonement by animal ritual sacrifice set up by the Pharisees.

    There are plans to rebuild Solomon's Temple and continue the sacrifices. Maybe this will be the event that triggers the second coming of Jesus, to set things right for the animals and humans once and for all.

    The argument can be made that Jesus was a member of the Essene community, along with Mary and Joseph.The Essenes were a Jewish sect that did not eat animals for ethical reasons.They also believed in reincarnation.

    The miracle of the fishes and the loaves,the fish was actually a vegetarian concoction.The Bible has lost an awful lot in translations over the years.

  6. Here is the translation of your material in Romanian (videos& photos too):
    So, the 12 disciples and Jesus didn't have meat at the last supper, did they? the last meal of a man who was aware of his sentence to death ... isn't this a message as well?

  7. You say this was Jesus' only act of violence? What about when he cursed the fig tree, causing it to wither and die?

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