Animal Rights in Religion and Antiquity

What can be demonstrated in regard to historical notions of civilisation is that the very premise of western civilisation, of humanism, of rational thought and reason, and of much of the theological underpinnings constructing the moral templates particularly of the Christian western world, is underpinned by considerable concern for other sentient beings – indeed vegetarianism and concern for animal rights and welfare. This can be seen not only just in theological contexts, as seen in both Islam, in the Quran and the Hadith, as well as the Judaist Torah, and as Christian Scholars state, within Christianity. With suggestions that Christ, certainly his brother were raised as vegetarians and lived as such, and early Christians in general adopted this. It can also be seen in the rational constructs of knowledge from within ancient Greece itself, by philosophers such as Pythagoras, Theophrastus,  Plutarch and Plato. Much of the thought and philosophy in Ancient Greece was also strongly influenced by philosophies from the East, namely India, where the Buddha himself also originated.

The underpinnings of animal rights and vegetarianism are so extensive within the west, that the Monotheistic religions of the west were also either influenced, or concurred strongly with these principles. The prophet Mohammed said “He that is merciful to a sparrow, Allah will be merciful to him on the day of judgement.’’ “A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, whilst an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being.” Finally, on seeing a Camel pushed to the point of being emaciated stated “Fear Allah in these beasts who can not speak.’’ This is a far cry away from the Middle East of today with the treatment of animals such as donkeys as well as non-stunned so-called halal slaughter, as well as sacrifices exist, which are in no way adherent to the Hadith, and to the standards set by Mohammed.

Whilst this does not strictly advocate against the killing of animals for food, the Islamic Hadith does advocate that eating meat is not good, even though it is permissible, the prophet Mohammed rarely ate meat, going as far as picking it out of a vegetable dish he was eating, and only tended to eat it as a guest or on certain occasions. The Hadith strongly advocates that eating meat is not optimum for human beings, as it is ‘’an addiction’’. Consequentially really devout Muslims should therefore listen to the words of Allah in stating that eating meat is not optimum and should be avoided. Certainly animal sacrifice should be avoided. This is even adherent to the notion of Quranic Abrogation in which later verses of the Quran and Hadith usurp the earlier verses, if a Muslim does adhere to this interpretation of Islam. Otherwise these verses stand alone in themselves in more widely contradicting the interpretations of verses discussing animal slaughter or sacrifice. Which even in themselves for that matter demands that the animal is not bound and not aware of its about to be killed.

This is something which is not universally existent in most slaughter of animals in the Middle East, something which is therefore not adherent to Muslim teachings. Pre-stunned slaughter is a requirement for all animals under western laws and fits neatly with Muslim teachings. Whilst animal flesh consumption is seen as undesirable and only at most permissible. It is clearly suggested that one should as far as being optimum, avoid meat. Given the fact that so many meat alternatives, indistinguishable from meat exist today however, it seems so patently wrong even on a religious level that such measures would be still in practice. This is also given what is on the horizon in which plant based meat has the capacity to intensify productivity and create a wealthier world. The poorer, developing parts of the world, in which many Muslims reside would benefit greatly from such innovative substitutes.

Similarly within the Bible, it would be a challenging leap to suggest that Christ explicitly advocated vegetarianism as a general theological argument, even if the Bible itself certainly advocates compassion to animals as well as an only plant based diet for humanity in the beginning. However there is certainly also strong scholarly understanding suggesting that Jesus grew up as a vegetarian as part of the Judaist sect he and his brother belonged to, and was entirely abstaining from eating animal flesh. Whilst this is not explicitly mentioned in Biblical text, with the constant interpretation of the Biblical texts for over 1000 years, it makes sense that distortions and misinterpretations will arise. From a hermenuetic standpoint, the notion of Christian vegetarianism is strongly corroborated.

This would make sense in a theosophical interpretation, given that the preceding religions of Hinduism as well as Buddhism which had significant imprints and influences upon the west in early antiquity, also explicitly promoted vegetarian diets and compassion to all creatures. In Greek antiquity, the very foundation of western civilisation, scholars and great thinkers like Pythagoras and Plato, not only strongly advocated that animals were equal to humans in Pythagoras’s case, as well as being vegetarian (alongside Plutarch, Theophrastus and others), abstaining from all animal flesh, but also suggested that vegetarianism was more morally ideal for society in Plato’s case. Pythagoras upon seeing a group of fishermen and rightly guessing the number of fish they had caught, instructed that they who were immensely shocked at his accuracy, return the fish to the sea where they had been.

Within the Bible there are also many verses making it clear that in the beginning, humanity were only to have a plant based diet, from what is patently clear in specific sections to Hermeneutic scholarly interpretation in others where the precise meaning is laden with symbolism and comparisons to earlier verses and interpretations can be provided to give clearer context and specificity in interpretation. To begin with however, in Genesis, at the beginning one should look at these verses;

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.”
Genesis 1:11

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.”
Genesis 1:24

“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.”
Genesis 1:29-30  

A Hermeneutic appraisal doesn’t need much imagination, as meat naturally refers to food. Any suggestion to the contrary would simply defy logic in that, older versions of this passage use the word ‘food’.

“And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:”
Genesis 2:15-16

A distinct change occurs at the time of the flood, in which humanity was cleansed and Noah was charged with his duty regarding the flood. Hermeneutic interpretations would suggest, that with humanity having fallen to such an extent that the flood was needed, some concession was made, in enabling the consumption of flesh, but not of live animals that is, or those who retained the blood of life. Denoting perhaps to the savagery of humanity at this time in being so separate to the period of Eden that a command was given that an animal must be dead before it is eaten.

“Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”
Genesis 9:3-6

The very fact that this command was given – states or reiterates that at the beginning, before original sin, that humanity was only to be vegetarian. There is also considerable reason to be aware that later interpretations of early Christian texts were influenced by the status quo of Roman life being more greatly omnivorous when compared to the early Christians who knew Christ, and as such, interpretations regarding diet could certainly have faced adaptation.

It doesn’t suggest that god is happy for people to eat meat however, as is seen by the time of Moses in which God angrily smote the children of Israel for eating flesh, when god had provided them with bread. Whilst this could be interpreted in another way, not associated with consumption of flesh, if it is to be interpreted in this way, it certainly suggests, and denotes to the notion that consuming flesh is not optimum to say the least.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God. And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host.
And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.”
Exodus 16:11-13, 15

“And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium. And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil. And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it. Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased. And Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?

Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.

And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.”
Numbers 11:4-11, 13, 18
“And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp. And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.”
Numbers 11:32-33

A clear example of early Christian vegetarianism, distinct to the direction advocated by Paul who did not advocate vegetarian diet as the Early Christians of the Middle East did and who acknowledged that John, as Jesus’s brother as well as Peter were indeed abstaining from eating meat, which in all Hermeneutic interpretations reinforce this. A clear corroborating verse to the early Christian diet is in Daniel 1:8

“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”
Daniel 1:8

Perhaps a more generic expression of compassion to animals and in opposition to merely having dominion over them are the following passages;

“A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
Proverbs 12:10

“For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.”
Ecclesiastes 3:19

Whilst the Bible clearly condemns animal sarifices which is also alluded to in a historical sense when Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers (who sold animals for sacrifices at the temple) – something which some scholars believe most strongly was the catalyst that lead to his crucifixion. For more precise non hermeneutic interpretation are the following passages;

“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
Hosea 6:6

“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”
Hebrews 10:4

“To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
Proverbs 21:3

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.”
Isaiah 1:11

Finally some of the most powerful verses in the Bible illustrate the future Messianic Age, or the Kingdom of Heaven, highlighting the core of Christian teachings;

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
Isaiah 11:6-9

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.”
Isaiah 65:25

“And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely.”
Hosea 2:18

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