Tuesday, October 28, 2014

WAS JESUS A VEGETARIAN?

The following is "food for thought",.....Pun intended. The thoughts are taken from a RSSB Sant Mat book, of the Radha Swami faith. It may be Copyrighted, but as an Initiate, I like what the contents share, so think I want the information on my blog for future Seekers to also be able to consider.

In practice, many people who find themselves seeking spirituality slowly come to a realization that they no longer wish to eat the flesh of dead animals. It no longer agrees with them, in one way or another. As their own awareness, love, compassion and sensitivity increases, they automatically find themselves drawing away from the consumption of meat. Then, as they do so, they experience the benefit in terms of a greater lightness of heart and inner peacefulness, and sooner or later they are naturally inclined to take a clear decision to become strictly vegetarian. If they are lucky enough to meet a perfect Master, he will certainly insist that they become so if they wish to receive initiation
into his fold.
 
Was Jesus Vegetarian?

From a careful study of Jesus' teachings, it is quite evident that he taught the law of recompense for sins. And if he also taught reincarnation as so many of the more mystically-minded, early Christians believed, he would certainly have been vegetarian and have taught vegetarianism to his disciples. What is also clear is that he was of such a kind, loving, forgiving, merciful and compassionate disposition that it is difficult to imagine him even hurting another creature, let alone placing it upon his plate and eating it.

Jesus' philosophy of non-violence was as far advanced as that of any other teacher of this subject, probably all of whom have also been vegetarian. How can one who advises turning the other cheek, giving your cloak to one who has already taken your coat and walking two miles with one who has already coerced you into going one mile with them, be thought to have happily eaten up the bodies of slaughtered animals? How can one who is so far removed from thoughts of violence and revenge that he recommends extending unlimited forgiveness to others, advises loving your enemies and doing good to those who treat you badly, have been expected to have condoned the killing of other creatures for his food?

Jesus also reiterated the commandment attributed to Moses, "thou shalt not kill",' as we find it in the King James Version of Mark and Luke.' In many modern translations, however, the key word has bee changed to "murder" in both the Old and New Testaments, though the meaning in Deuteronomy is ambiguous and could mean either or both `Murder' implies only human beings, `killing' refers to all life, and the translators must have been aware of the implications of their change

But there is another passage amongst the books attributed to Moses this time in Genesis, where the meaning is stated clearly:

There is no doubt about the vegetarianism inherent in this piece advice. So although the provenance of these Biblical writings is large a mystery and their meaning often obscure and allegorical, this passage at least is clear enough and applicable to all human beings in ages and cultures. This is one of the reasons why Jesus said:

Jesus, who spoke so definitively about the hypocrisy of the Pharisee and Jewish priests, is hardly likely to have behaved hypocritically him self. How, then, can he be expected to have killed for his food? Can one imagine Jesus with a gun, a knife or a sword, or going out a; hunter or a butcher? The picture is quite inconsistent with everything else he taught.

So although there is no explicit quotation from Jesus recorded the gospels on the subject, the evidence of the remainder of his teacher alone is more than suggestive. It would have been most inconsistent of him if he had not abstained from killing animals and eating meat.

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."

Genesis 1:29, KJV

Did not Moses give you the law,

and yet none of you keepeth the law?

John 7:20

After all, bearing in mind the approach of the orthodox Christian authorities as well as the attitude of the Roman emperors who adopted Christianity, would one really expect any references to vegetarianism to be present in the canonical gospels? They had three or four hundred years and ample opportunity to adjust any `difficult' passages to their own liking. And since everyone in those days changed texts to fit their own beliefs, they could so easily have justified their editorial excursions in the name of `correcting earlier errors'.

Those of rigid, hardhearted, angry and aggressive - even violent - character, as many of the orthodox authorities seem to have been, are hardly likely to have entertained vegetarian leanings. Such people like their food and drink and will go to all lengths to substantiate their position in order to continue in the way they always have done. This is the nature of the human mind. The response and reaction come from a deeply subconscious place to preserve and enforce one's own personal beliefs. So if in the face of Jesus' teachings to the contrary - they could condone causing misery and hardship, even exile, torture and death, to their fellow human beings, they are hardly likely to notice a discrepancy between their killing of animals for food and Jesus' teachings of love and compassion. Nor would they feel any twinges of conscience in adjusting Jesus' teachings to suit themselves. Like the Pharisees and Jewish priests before them, they were already too far away from the teachings they professed to follow.
 
Locusts and Wild Honey

Definitive records of Jesus as a vegetarian may be absent, but with his predecessor, John the Baptist, the case is somewhat different. As we have them now, the gospel texts vary. John's gospel makes no mention of the matter at all. Matthew follows Mark, speaking of "locusts and wild honey":

John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

Matthew 3:4
And:

John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey.

Mark 1:6

While Luke makes no mention of John the Baptist's food, but does introduce an angel who declares that John will abstain from all alcoholic drinks:

He shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

Luke 1:15

It is generally reckoned that Luke is referring to the Nazirite vow, an ancient Jewish rule of asceticism, described in the book of Numbers,; which specifically mentions abstention from "wine and strong drink" and who Epiphanius tells us also "forbid all flesh-eating and do not eat living things at all':` Luke, however, in seeming to designate John the Baptist as a Nazirite, may only have been jumping to conclusions based upon the popular stories that had grown up regarding John's dietary habits.

Locusts, one might observe, are not vegetarian food and advocates of vegetarianism have tried to explain the term away by various means. Some say that it referred to the evergreen locust tree or carob (Ceratonia siliqua), so called because its pods, often curved, resemble locusts. The tree is widely distributed from Spain to the eastern Mediterranean regions where its flat, leathery pods, three to twelve inches long, with their sweet pulpy interior (they contain about 50% sugar) are eaten by animals and also by man, in times of scarcity. Traditionally, the tree has also been called `St John's Bread; indicating how widespread was the belief that John the Baptist's diet did indeed include the pods of the locust tree rather than insects. In all probability, it is also the pods of this tree which are referred to in Luke's parable of the prodigal son as the "husks that the swine did eat”

Incidentally, in North America, the locust tree is the common name given to any tree of about twenty native American species belonging to the genus Robinia, such as the well-known black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), introduced into Europe in 1636. The carob and the North American species are different, but related, both being leguminous.

One group of early Christians in Palestine, the Ebionites, who were undoubtedly vegetarian, claimed that the correct Greek word was not locust (akris) at all, but enkris (cake) and it would certainly have been easy enough for such a mistake to have occurred during the transmission of early manuscripts. But whether or not the "locusts" were carob

The Ebionites and another closely allied group, the Nazoraeans, had their own gospels, neither of which have survived in anything other than brief quotes and citations amongst the writings of the Church fathers. The Gospel o f the Ebionites was probably a `harmony' or a synthesis, in Greek, of the canonical gospels, but we are solely dependent upon Epiphanius for the few extant references. The Gospel of the Nuzoraeans is usually said to have been a translation into Aramaic or Hebrew from the Greek of Matthew, with considerable expansion, but again very little remains and that only in citations by Jerome, Eusebius and Origen. The position is further confused by Irenaeus (120­202, fl. 178-185) who speaks of the Gospel of the Ebionites as a version of Matthew.

Their interest to us in the present context is that, according to Epiphanius, the Ebionites believed that both John the Baptist and Jesus' had been vegetarian, and their Gospel of the Ebionites reflects this. Regarding John, Epiphanius quotes

It came to pass that John was baptizing; and there went out to him Pharisees and were baptized, and all Jerusalem. And John had a garment of camel's hair and a leathers girdle about his loins, and his food was wild honey, the taste of which was that of manna, as a cake dipped in oil.

Gospel of the Ebionites, in Epiphanius, Panarion 30:13.4, NlA l p. 157

And the reference to Jesus comes where Jesus declines to eat the Passover meal with his disciples, though this, as well as the excerpt concerning John the Baptist, probably only reflect the fact that the Ebionites were vegetarian and had modified or written their version of the gospel according to their own beliefs, as did all the other groups at that time. What is of more interest is how this group of early Christians came to be traditionally vegetarian and why they thought that Jesus and John the Baptist had been so, too.

Outside the gospels, information on John the Baptist is scarce, but in the Slavonic edition of the Jewish War, evidently writing from popular hearsay and legend, Josephus relates:

At that time there was a man going about Judaea remarkably dressed: he wore an animal hair (garment) upon those parts of his body not covered by his own. His face was like a savage's. He called on the Jews to claim their freedom, crying, "God sent me to show you the way of the Law, so that you can shake off any human yoke: no man shall rule you, but only the Most High who sent me."

His message was eagerly welcomed and was followed by all Judaea and the district around Jerusalem. All he did was to baptize them in the Jordan and dismiss them with an earnest exhortation to abandon their evil ways: if they did so they would be given a king who would liberate them and master the unruly, while he himself acknowledging no master. Then his promise was derided by some but believed by others.

The man was brought before Archelaus and an assemblage of lawyers, who asked who he was and where he had been. He replied: "I am a man called by the Spirit of God, and I live on stems, roots and fruit."

Josephus, Jewish War (Slavonic), JWF p.404
And:

He was a strange creature, not like a man at all. He lived like a disembodied spirit. He never touched bread.... Wine and other strong drink he would not allow to be brought anywhere near him, and animal food he absolutely refused. - fruit was all that he needed. The whole object of his life was to show evil in its true colours.

Josephus, Jewish 41'ar (Slavonic), JWF p.405

It is uncertain whether these passages in the Slavonic Jewish War - which do not occur in other versions - can be really be attributed to Josephus. But even if they were penned by some other hand and even if the details are somewhat fanciful and inaccurate, they still indicate that the traditional, non-orthodox account of John the Baptist had him as a vegetarian and teetotaller. And if John really was the Master of Jesus, then - considering the high esteem in which Jesus held John - it would be reasonable to suppose that Jesus followed his Master's example and was both vegetarian and teetotal, too.

Wine and Strong Drink

As with abstention from eating meat, there is no direct evidence that Jesus drank no alcohol. But anyone who has ever struggled sincerely with concentrated prayer or spiritual practice of any kind knows that the effect of alcohol or of any mind-affecting substance, legal or illegal, is to seriously disturb concentration. Such substances decrease

He confesses Christ by name, if you please, and says "Christ is king':... He bans burnt offerings and sacrifices, as something foreign to God and never offered to Him on the authority of the fathers and the (Judaic) law, and ... he rejects the Jewish custom of eating meat.

Epiphanies, Panarion I.-L19.3, PES p.46

In fact, from a variety of ancient and reputable sources, such as Philo,14 Josephus15 and Jerome, we learn that other sects of a similar character, including the Essenes of Palestine and the Therapeutae of Egypt, were all vegetarian. It seems to have been characteristic of the esoteric groups of those times - Christian or Judaic. It was also the accepted practice amongst Hellenistic esoteric groups such as the Pythagoreans16 and was attributed to other Greek philosophers and mystics who had also taught transmigration of the soul, such as Empedocles" (c.490­430 BC). Indeed, it has always been the case that those following a spiritual or mystic path have either been strictly vegetarian or have had leanings in that direction. It is still true, even in modern times.

The vegetarianism of the Ebionites and the "Nazoraeans" or "Nazarenes"18 is significant for these groups date back to the time of Jesus. Jesus himself was called the Nazoraean19 and in Acts, Paul was described as a "ring-leader of the sect of the Nazarenes" ;20 though the teachings that he took into the wider Roman Empire differed sig­nificantly from those of the Judaic Nazoraeans. Being descended from the direct disciples of Jesus who had lived in Palestine and the neighbouring area, the traditions they preserved are far more likely to reflect Jesus' real teachings than the groups that formed through the evangelical activities of Paul. The fact that the earliest Christians, directly descended from the time of Jesus, abstained from meat and alcohol is therefore a powerful testimony to Jesus having followed the same practice, for human nature being as it is, the general trend is to drop such restrictions as time passes, not to add them.