Historia de la recepción de Levítico 11

Leyes dietéticas en el cristianismo primitivo


  • Cristian Cardozo

Palabras clave:

Historia de la recepción — Levítico 11 — Leyes dietéticas — Cristianismo primitivo — Identidad


La actitud del cristianismo primitivo hacia las leyes dietéticas bíblicas es un tema desconcertante.Por un lado, consideraron como vinculantes las leyes dietéticas en Levítico17,10-14 y luego las volvieron a publicar en el decreto apostólico. Por otro lado, consideraroncomo no vinculantes las leyes dietéticas de Levítico 11. ¿Por qué rechazaron las leyesdietéticas de Levítico 11? Este artículo sostiene que el rechazo de estas leyes fue impulsadopor el deseo de distanciar el cristianismo del judaísmo, y no por razones teológicas. Estoes evidente en el estudio de la historia de la recepción de las leyes dietéticas de Levítico 11, junto con la historia de la recepción del texto utilizado comúnmente para respaldar la no validez de Levítico 11, las leyes dietéticas y el papel desempeñado por la comida como una señal de identidad. Cuando se toman juntos estos enfoques, aparece una imagen: el rechazo de las leyes dietéticas de Levítico 11 se basa en el judaísmo de estas leyes, no en la teología detrás de ellas.


Reception history, history of interpretation and Wirkungsgeschichte are interrelated terms that are used almost interchangeably. However, distinctions should be made between them. I retain reception history because it is more focused on how the interpreters received and understood the text while history of interpretation and Wirkungsgeschichte focus on the interpretation of the text in a specific corpus of literature and on the effects on the text upon a reader or community respectively [Ian Boxall, Patmos in the Reception History of the Apocalypse, Oxford Theology and Religion Monographs (Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, 2013), 6-9].

Since the literal interpretation of the O. T. characterizes and was the basis of the entire religion of Judaism, the only way for Christianity to appropriate the Jewish scriptures but at the same time distinguish themselves from Judaism was to assign a new meaning to symbols and rituals in Judaism and interpret them through the lens of the new reality brought by Christ. The allegorical method was handy for the work. Cf. Jefford, Reading the Apostolic Fathers, 11-12. This was done by the author of the epistle of Barnabas constantly (Ep. Bar. 7.6-11; 8.1-7; 9.7-9).

Although the purpose of the epistle of Barnabas is still a current a debate, its anti-Jewish tone is out of the question (cf. Lowy, “The Confutation of Judaism”). Clearly, the epistle is written to differentiate Christianity from Judaism whether the problem is Christians converted to Judaism, imminent rebuilding of the temple or a generalized situation. Regardless of the event that prompted the writing of the epistle, it is clear that was something that impelled Christians to differentiate. Rankin notes: “His only immediate and direct concern is that of the Christian community and of their relationship, or in his view non-relationship, to the then dominant Jewish community. His purpose is polemical exegesis. His purpose is not to see only limited value in Jewish opinion and practice but no value at all. The Jewish dispensation is neither provisional nor preparatory for the Christian. It is nonexistent and even demonic. For Barnabas the Old Testament has only one meaning and that coincides entirely with the Christian” (Rankin, From Clement to Origen, 117)

Clement discussed dietary laws in the context of food but he does not read them as biding. Rather, he sees in them an admonition against pleasure in food. Cf. Clement, Paedagogus 2.17.1. Also, he considers the Levitical food law as characteristic of Jews. He argues that Jews do not ear swine because it destroys the fruits. However, Clement seems to approve the eating of swine (Strom. 7.33).

Clement, Paedagogus 3.76.

Ibid., 3.76. 1. In similar manner, Clement argues in Strom 7.109 that those who chew the cud and divide the hoof are those who approach God through father and son ruminating the word of God. Also, Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.8.4.

Wil Rogan, “Purity in Early Judaism: Current Issues and Questions”, Currents in Biblical Research 16, n.º 3 (2018): 309-339.

Clement, Paedagogus 3.76.2.

Clement, Paedagogus 2.83. As in the Ep. Bar. the ethical teaching is based on anatomical characteristics of the animals.

Clement, Paedagogus 2.88.3 (Sariol). Translations in Spanish are taken from Clemente de Alejandría, El Pedagogo, trans. Joan Sariol, Biblioteca Clásica Gredos 118 (Madrid, ES: Gredos, 1988).

Clement, Paedagogus 3.75.3. Also, Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.8.4.

Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.7.

Jonathan Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 31-32.

Jiri Moskala, “The Validity of the Levitical Food Laws of Clean and Unclean Animals: A Case Study of Biblical Hermeneutics”, Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22, n.º 2 (2011): 14-18.

The consensus among scholars is that the dietary laws of Lev 11 are non-binding for Christians. However, see ibid., 25-30.

To my knowledge, few studies have been devoted to the study of early Christian views on dietary laws. Four works stand out: Moshe Blidstein, Purity, Community, and Ritual in Early Christian Literature, Oxford Studies in the Abrahamic Religions (Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, 2017); Moshe Blidstein, “Between Ritual and Moral Purity: Early Christian Views on Dietary Laws”, in Authoritative Texts and Reception History: Aspects and Approaches, ed. Dan Batovici and Kristin de Troyer, Biblical Interpretation Series 151 (Leiden, NL: Brill, 2016), 243-259; Jordan Rosenblum, The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 140-157; S. Stein, “The Dietary Laws in Rabbinic and Patristic Literature”, SP 2 (1957): 141-54.

“When we read in Leviticus and Deuteronomy about clean and unclean foods—things the carnal Jews and the Ebionites who differ little from them accuse us of violating—we should not think that Scripture means their obvious sense. For if what comes into the mouth does not render one impure, but what comes out of one’s mouth (Matt 15,11)—most of all since in Mark, the Saviour says this declaring all foods to be clean (Mark 7,19)—it is clear that we are not made impure if we eat what the Jews who slavishly want to observe the letter of the Law call impure” [origin quoted in Peter J. Tomson, “Jewish Food Laws in Early Christian Community Discourse”, Semeia 86 (1999): 200].

Currently, modern interpreters consider that the N. T. does not abolish the food laws. Instead, Jesus, Paul and other apostles are considered to be in line with common Judaism. Therefore, they are conceived as food law keepers. Cf. Cecilia Wassen, “The Jewishness of Jesus and Ritual Purity”, Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis 27 (2016): 11-36; Eike Mueller, “Cleansing the Common: Narrative-Intertextual Study of Mark 7:1-23” (doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Maryland, 2015); Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (New York: New Press, 2012); Thomas Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity?, Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series 38 (Stockholm, SE: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2002); Chris A. Miller, “Did Peter’s Vision in Acts 10 Pertain to Men or the Menu?”, Bibliotheca Sacra 159, n.º 635 (2002): 302-17; Colin House, “Defilement by Association: Some Insights from the Usage of Κοινος/Κοινοω”, Andrews University Seminary Studies 21, n.º 2 (1983): 143-53; Clinton Wahlen, “Peter’s Vision and Conflicting Definitions of Purity”, New Testament Studies 51, n.º 4 (2005): 505-18.

Klawans, Impurity and Sin, 31-32; Moskala, “Validity of the Levitical Food”; Jiri Moskala, “The Laws of Clean and Unclean Animals of Leviticus 11 : Their Nature, Theology, and Rationale (an Intertextual Study)” (doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Maryland, 1998).

“Clearly, it is not the contents of Jewish food and purity laws which makes the Church Fathers condemn them, but their being labelled as Jewish. For similar practices observed in their own gentile Christian communities are labelled positively. In the terms used earlier, the community discourse of the Church Fathers is closed and emphasizes antithesis to Judaism. It must perforce confuse “Jewish” food laws in a blanket condemnation since, in contradistinction to “Christian” food laws, they do not constitute Christian community” (Tomson, “Jewish Food Laws”, 247).

Also, Aristides, Apology, 15.4; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 38.4.

Min. Felix, Octavius, 30.

David M. Freidenreich, Foreigners and Their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011), 103.

Freidenreich, Foreigners and Their Food, 102. Also, Blidstein, Purity, Community, and Rituali, 72-77.

Reception history has been catalogued as “the next big thing in New Testament studies”. Among their sub-categories, is a traditional approach to the history of reception which “look at the views of the major theologians. How did famous theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, or Barth interpret this or that passage? This, in fact, is not particularly new and in many ways is what the discipline of historical theology is all about: how theologians and believers have interpreted scripture” [James G. Crossley, Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches, Reading Religious Texts Series (London: Routledge, 2010), 141; William John Lyons, “Hope for a Troubled Discipline? Contributions to New Testament Studies from Reception History”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33, n.º 2 (2010): 217]. The methodology of reception history approach is currently a matter of construction by scholars (for good reflection on reception history´s methodology, see, Boxall, Patmos in the Reception History, 9-11; Jennifer R. Strawbridge, The Pauline Effect: The Use of the Pauline Epistles by Early Christian Writers (Berlin, DE: De Gruyter, 2017), 12-18. Notwithstanding, some steps are recurrent: identification of the material, organization, classification, and analysis. Usually, material is identified using ancient index and organized according to time, place and genre. The classification of the material depends on the purpose of the study. However, the categories are still blurry (for instance, Blackwell Bible Commentaries have designed a set of criteria for categorizing the material). In analyzing the material, it is important to highlight that the frequency of use is not the only indicative regarding the status of a text in the interpretative community. Also, close attention to the context, genre, and historical situation is necessary for a good interpretation of the reception history of a particular text. My method consisted in identifying the material, organizing it by chronology (restricted to second century CE), and analyzing it placing attention to context and hermeneutical method used. In this I keep contact with generally used methodology but also stressing factors useful for this article.

Because of the scope and space of this article, I will limit the investigation to the second century of the Christian era. For this reason, I will trace the history of the reception of Lv 11 through the quotations and allusions listed in J. Allenbach et al., Biblia Patristica: Index Des Citations et Allusions Bibliques Dans La Literature Patristique, vol. 1 (Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1975). By early Christianity I refer to what is commonly known as “Apostolic Fathers” and also as the “Church Fathers”. I use the category of “Church Fathers” to refer to both groups because this category is broader than “Apostolic Fathers”.

Both historical circumstances are held to be influential in church fathers exegesis since they were trying to identify themselves via vis Judaism. Cf. Charles Freeman, A New History of Early Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 88-92; Emily J. Hunt, Christianity in the Second Century: The Case of Tatian (London: Routledge, 2003), 5-11.

Clare K. Rothschild, “Down the Rabbit Hole with Barnabas: Rewriting Moses in Barnabas 10”, New Testament Studies 64, n.º 3 (2018): 410.

This depends on the date assigned to the work. Three dates are the most popular: 70-79 A.D.; 96-100 A. D.; 132-135 A.D. Since evidence is inconclusive, the safest is to opt for the second option placing the document by the end of the first century, cf. Clayton N. Jefford, Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 8.

Ep. Bar. 10.

Ep. Bar. 10.2.

Just as pigs “when it has eaten, does not recognize its master; but when hungry it cries out, and on receiving food is quiet again” (ibid., 10.3).

Ibid., 10.4.

Ibid., 10.12; in this way, Christians are the true heirs of the covenant. Cf. S. Lowy, “The Confutation of Judaism in the Epistle of Barnabas”, Journal of Jewish Studies 11, n.ºs 1-2 (1960): 32.

This is a concern for the author throughout the letter, cf. Jefford, Reading the Apostolic Fathers, 10.

“Barnabé fait la transition entre le spiritualisme de plusieurs milieux juifs qui ajoutent une interprétation symbolique à l´acception matérielle des commandements rituels, et l´antijudaïsme de plusieurs écrivains du christianisme primitif. ” [Pierre Prigent, Épître de Barnabé, Sources Chretiennes 172 (Paris: Les Éditions du cerf, 1971), 159].

Jordan Rosenblum, “‘Why Do You Refuse to Eat Pork?’ Jews, Food, and Identity in Roman Palestine”, The Jewish Quarterly Review 100, n.º 1 (2010): 95-110. Regarding Barnabas´s intention of distancing Christianity from Judaism, see, David Rankin, From Clement to Origen: The Social and Historical Context of the Church Fathers (Aldershot, GB: Ashgate Pub, 2006), 117.

Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers in English, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 172-73.

Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 20.1.

His knowledge of Judaism allowed him to establish firm boundaries between Christianity and Judaism. Since he knew well what characterizes the Jews, he could find the way out to consider as non-binding these particular characteristics of the Jews. Cf. L. W. Barnard, “The Old Testament and Judaism in the Writings of Justin Martyr”, Vetus Testamentum 14, n.º 4 (1964): 395-496.

Terence L. Donaldson, “‘We Gentiles’: Ethnicity and Identity in Justin Martyr”, Early Christianity 4, n.º 2 (2013): 216-241.

Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 47.1-2.

There is a four reception, the demonological. However, this was advanced by Origen and who is out of the time period considered in this article. For comments in this position and for the development of these three ways of reception of Lev 11 in later centuries, see, Blidstein, “Between Ritual and Moral Purity”, 247-249.

This way of reading Lv 11 continues in early Christianity up to fifth century CE. See, Rosenblum, The Jewish Dietary Laws, 146-153.

Theological explanations began to articulate in the early third century with Origen. However, in the second century, no theological explanation was available. The reasons put forward by Origen were two. First, the O. T. should be read spiritually not according to the letter. Second, the only purpose of the law is moral instruction or prefiguration of Christianity. Therefore, since food laws were fleshly and Christianity is spiritual, these must be rejected. Cf. Origen, Commentary on Romans 9.42.8; Homilies in Leviticus 7.4-5. Also, Blidstein, “Between Ritual and Moral Purity”, 245; Rosenblum, The Jewish Dietary Laws Ancient, 141-143.

Tomson, “Jewish Food Laws”, 247.

Mueller, “Cleansing the Common: Narrative-Intertextual Study of Mark 7:1-23”; Yair Furstenberg, “Defilement Penetrating the Body: A New Understanding of Contamination in Mark 7.15”, New Testament Studies 54, n.º 2 (2008): 176-200.

Clement, Paedagogus 2.8.4.

Tertullian, On Fasting 2.

Tertullian, Patience 8.5.

Tertullian uses the text in a similar way writing about theater. For Tertullian, this place is improper for Christians and they should not attend to these events since they will see and hear what they must not speak or do. If what comes out of a man defiles him, the same things defile him when they come in through eyes and ears since these are the immediate attendants of the spirit. Cf. Tertullian, The Shows 17. Also, Tertullian writes “If, then, we keep throat and belly free from such defilements, how much more do we withhold our nobler parts, our ears and eyes, from the idolatrous and funereal enjoyments, which are not passed through the body, but are digested in the very spirit and soul, whose purity, much more than that of our bodily organs, God has a right to claim from us ” (The Shows 13).

Clement, Paedagogus 2.49.1.

For Irenaeus literary work and Gnosticism, see Bryan M. Litfin, Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 61-80.

“The apostles, therefore, did preach the Son of God, of whom men were ignorant; and His advent, to those who had been already instructed as to God; but they did not bring in another god. For if Peter had known any such thing, he would have preached freely to the Gentiles, that the God of the Jews was indeed one, but the God of the Christians another; and all of them, doubtless, being awe-struck because of the vision of the angel, would have believed whatever he told them” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.7).

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.7. Italic is mine.

Miller, “Did Peter’s Vision in Acts 10 Pertain to Men or the Menu?”, 10; Wahlen, “Peter’s Vision and Conflicting Definitions of Purity”.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.15.

Tertullian, On prayer 25.2.

Clement, Paedagogus 2.16.

Rankin, From Clement to Origen 131.

Rankin, From Clement to Origen 125-31.

Allenbach et al., Biblia Patristica, 1:443. Also, none appears at BiblIndex (available at https://www.biblindex.info/).

Tertullian, On Fasting 15.

Clement, Paedagogus 2.11.1.

One of the main discussions is the theoretical model used to analyze the evidence. Currently, the “parting of the ways” model is the predominant championed by James D. G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and Their Significance for the Character of Christianity, 2nd ed. (London: SCM Press, 2006). However, this model has not gone without criticism, see Judith Lieu, “‘The Parting of the Ways’: Theological Construct or Historical Reality?”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 17, n.º 56 (1995): 101-119.

I mean Bar Khoba’s rebellion was a landmark in the process. Nonetheless, the process of the differentiation was to be continued up to the middle ages. See, Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed, eds., The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007).

A good explanation and review of this issues can be found in Dunn, The Partings of the Ways; James D. G. Dunn, ed., Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135: The Second Durham-Tübingen Research Symposium on Earliest Christianity and Judaism (Durham, September 1989) (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999); Craig Evans, “Christianity and Judaism: Parting of the Ways”, in Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Development, ed. Ralph Martin and Peter Davids (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000); Richard Bauckham, The Jewish World around the New Testament: Collected Essays I, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 233 (Tübingen, DE: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 175-192; Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, Divinations (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

Ep. Diognetus 3.1.

Ignatius, Ep. Magnesians 8.1-10.3.

Freidenreich, Foreigners and Their Food.

Josephus, Contra Apionem 2.137; Plutarch, Quaestiones Convivales 5.1-2; Tacitus, Historiae 5.4.1-2. Also, Menaḥem Shṭern, ed., Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, vol. 3 (Jerusalem, IL: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1984), 140.

Rosenblum, “Jews, Food, and Identity”, 98. Also, Jordan Rosenblum, Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 35–102.

Peter Schäfer, Judeophobia: Attitudes toward the Jews in the Ancient World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 81.

Judith Lieu, Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 142–46.