Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Surprising Background of the Apostolic Decree: Pig Sacrifice

Some musings from today...

The Apostolic Decree says:
"But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols [alisgematon ton eidolon] and from fornication [porneias] and from things strangled [pniktou] and from blood [haimatos]," (Acts 15:20)
The only other place in the New Testament that I know of where a version of “pniktou” occurs in here:
“And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked [pnigo] in the sea.”
According to Philo (Special Laws), the pagans used to choke the sacrifice and drink the blood:
“'But some men, with open mouths, carry even the excessive luxury and boundless intemperance of Sardanapalus to such an indefinite and unlimited extent, being wholly absorbed in the invention of senseless pleasures, that they prepare sacrifices which ought never be offered, strangling their victims, and stifling the essence of life [Leviticus 17:11], which they ought to let depart free and unrestrained, burying the blood, as it were, in the body.
The ancient pagans—even back to the Canaanites—loved to sacrifice pig:
"A people who continually provoke Me to My face, Offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks; Who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places; Who eat swine's flesh, And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots," Isaiah 65:3-4.
They would funnel pigs blood into caves where the gods were thought to dwell:
"The religion of Canaan...Thus at Gezer, under the level belonging to the first Semitic period, Macalister found, in connection with certain caves, rock-cuttings and other things which suggested to him that these caves must have played some role in the sphere of religion.  
1. One cave had, leading into it through the roof, an orifice which was connected with a rock-hewn channel four feet long
for the evident purpose of conducting fluid offerings within.  Besides this channel there were "two or three circular depressions in the rock, built around with stones set on edge, but so arranged that they drained into the opening." Beneath the orifice and on the rock floor of the cave below the earth containing finds of the first Semitic period were found '*a number of pig bones" in a contracted mass which clearly bore evidence of sacrifice," (Journal of Biblical Literature Volume XXXY, 1916).
A variant of this practice survived to Roman times:
"My discussion of the Mysteries [of Demeter and Kore] necessarily focusses on purification rituals of the mystae and especially the sacrifice of pigs as part of these....A central rite in this process of purification was the sacrifice by each initiate of a piglet, after the initiate bathed in the sea with it.
The Thesmophoria does not stand in such a close relationship with the Mysteries, nor was its celebration restricted to Eleusis or Agrai.  This festival was held in Pyanopsion (October/November), the month of sowing, and its central rite was the throwing of piglets into underground chambers (megara).  After two or three days the rotting remains were retrieved and then mixed with seed to bestow fertility in the sowing soon to follow...It is likely that with the throwing of pigs into the megaron there were sacrifices that in turn may have been eaten:  Farnell reports that it is attested of the festival that worshippers at pig's flesh and took 'very probably...a sacramental meal.'
     Three other aspects of this festival are of particular relevance....its sexual themes are very likely connected to the fertility themes...associated with the festival are sacrificial cakes made into the shape of phalli, which also were thrown into and brought out of the underground chamber...."
"The excavations of the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on Acro-corinth add the weight of evidence...Also found were chthonic elements and symbols, torches and lamps strongly suggesting pannycheis, evidence of sacrifice of pigs, pits perhaps serving as megara..."  (Dangerous Food:  1 Corinthians 8-10 in its Context by Gooch)

It's also important to note that there was always a link between cultic sacrifice and orgy (porneias):
"Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality [eidolothuta kai porneusai]," (Rev. 2:14) 
"Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols [porneusai kai eidolothuta]" (Rev. 2:20)

In conclusion, I don't think the Apostolic Decree is necessarily about pig sacrifice specifically.  But I do think that pig sacrifice and its associated rites (choking the animal, drinking the blood, committing sexual immorality) were the ultimate form of the evil that the Decree was addressing.  

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