[Edit: I just realized I forgot to post my write-up on chapter 10. Too tired now, I’ll do it tomorrow. The chapters are out of order, and that’s not good, because 10 really is a continuation of 9…]

I have been hit by the double-whammy of being very sick (a fever of 38.5/101 yesterday) and being in a very bad place emotionally. But, as Nolan taught us, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” I haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises since it was in theaters. I should make that a priority…

Let’s talk about taxonomy. I remember in my AP Biology class senior year (which was epically fun, tons of good stories there) my teacher talked about how much taxonomy has changed over the years. When he was a kid, living beings were all clumped into two categories: animals and plants. Animals were living things that could move; plants were living things that could. By the time he was in college, they’d added fungi and bacteria to that list. And by the time he was teaching us, the whole system had a new tier on top of it (Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya), as taxonomy moved away from basing itself on structural similarities and started looking at genetic patterns. In short, taxonomy has become about figuring out how animals are related to each other in an evolutionary tree, not just how they’re similar.

Chapter 11 is a taxonomy, based on whether or not something is kosher. Because yes, this is where the kosher laws come from, or at least some of them. Laws about eating blood and not eating goat’s milk and meat together have already shown up.

Basically it divides animals (all plants are kosher, except maybe venus fly traps because they have contact with dead insects) into different categories and then defines a “type” for each of them. The categories are “land animals” (upright land mammals), things that live in the water, things that fly, insects, and things that crawl. They’re not categories that would pass muster in current biology. Why are weasels lumped in with snakes? Bats shouldn’t be with birds! But the connection the passage seems to be making between the creatures is how they move, rather than whether they even look alike.

As for the “type,” that’s a model of what an acceptable version of this animal is. Upright land mammal? Has to have cloven hooves and chew the cud. Lives in water? Has to have scales and fins. Insects? Have to be a narrow range of locust. This pattern stumbles with flying and swarming creatures, where it simply lists unacceptable ones. The names are also not always clear, and so Jewish law has set all reptiles and amphibians off limits, and cut out any birds of prey or scavengers. They also discourage even trying to eat locust, since it’s not 100% clear which of the many species of locust are acceptable.

None of the terms are completely clear, and it was insane doing the Japanese for it, because I did not know the names of most of these creatures. One trick of how to look words like these up is to use Wikipedia; stick the name in the Japanese version, and usually it lists the English name. Failing that, find the equivalent English article in the sidebar (there’s a little more after the giant block of text, so scroll down).

The Japanese: hidzume “hoof,” hansuu suru “to chew the cud” (v 3), iwadanuki “hyrax” (v 5), hire “fin,” uroko “scales” (v 9), kegarawashii “untouchable, filthy,” atsukau “to handle an animal” (v 11), hagewashi “vulture,” higewashi “bearded eagle,” kurohagewashi “black vulture” (v 13), tobi “kite,” hayabusa “falcon” (v 14), washimimizuku “Eurasian eagle owl,” komimizuku “short-eared owl,” torafuzuku “long-eared owl” (v 16), morifukurou “tawny owl,” uomimizuku “fish owl,” ookonohazuku “Sunda scops owl” (v 17), kokinmefukuro “little owl,” konohazuku “screech owl,” misago “osprey” (v 18), kounotori “ibis, stork,” aosagi “gray heron,” yatsugashirachou “hoopoes” (v 19), nasu “to form,” konchuu “insect,” chouyaku suru “to jump, to leap” (v 20), hanenagainago “rice grasshopper,” ooinago “big grasshopper” (?), koinago “little grasshopper (?)” (v 22), fukurami “swelling,” but in this case “the pads of paws” (v 27), moguranezumi “zokor,” tobinezumi “jerboas, jumping mice,” togeotokage “spiny-tailed lizard” (v 29), yamori “gecko,” ootokage “monitor lizard,” tokage “lizard,” kusuritokage “?” (v 30), tanan “any other,” hitasu “to soak” (v 32), konro “stove” (v 35), tameike “reservoir” (v 36), taremomi “seed rice,”v 37), gyorui “fish species” (v 46).

Some of these are radically different translations than what the NRSV chose, particularly among the birds and creeping critters. The most curious was the use of “zokor” instead of “weasel” – because zokors are native to East Asia, not the Middle East. There is a perfectly good Japanese word for “weasel” (itachi), but instead they went with a creature no one who wrote the Bible would ever have seen. Why?

Overall, though, what really struck me was just how many creatures were “unclean.” It’s not just that they’re off-limits to eat, it’s that they’re “detestable” (NRSV) or “filthy” (NCT). It’s as if God looked at all his creation and went, “You know, I said it was all good at the beginning, but now that I think about it, most of these animals are awful.” Maybe it’s my tref Christian bias talking here (and it probably is), but I don’t buy that. All animals are good. Sure, you may put some off-limits to eat, but there are no animals that are detestable.

Except maybe cockroaches.

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