Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Genesis 7 orders Noah to take "clean" and "unclean" animals with him into the Ark, but this is way before people received kosher laws on what animals could be eaten. So what is meant here by clean and unclean animals, especially since people were still vegetarian before the flood? God only gave permission to eat animals after the flood.


share|improve this question
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It is the generally accepted view in Midrashic literature that G-d communicated to the Patriarchs which animals were clean (Heb.טָהוֹר) and which were unclean (Heb.טָמֵא) for the purpose of sacrifice. Evidence to support this is that the Patriarchs only sacrificed clean animals before (and after) the time of Noah. For example, in Genesis 4:4 Abel brings a sacrifice from the firstborn of his flock, which is usually considered to be sheep. In Genesis 22:13 Abraham sacririces a ram from the thicket in place of his son Isaac.

When sacrifices began being consumed, the rule for consumption was the same for sacrifice. Specifically, if it were permissible to sacrifice the animal then it were permissible to eat it.

share|improve this answer

Those same phrases of clean and unclean (in Hebrew, טהור and טמא, Vulgate: mundus and inmundus) appear in Leviticus chapter 11, with lists and guidelines regarding certain animals. For example, "Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean" (Lev. 11:26 ESV). The camel, hyrax (or rock badger), hare, and pig are all "unlcean" (11:4-8). "And these are unclean to you among the swarming things that swarm on the ground: the mole rat, the mouse, the great lizard of any kind, 30 the gecko, the monitor lizard, the lizard, the sand lizard, and the chameleon (11:29-30).

The context is a list of animals that may or may not be eaten, as well as what "should be detestable to you", i.e. not to be touched (See Leviticus beginning of chapter 5 and chapter 7:19-21). However, these phrases are never used in the context of what may or may not be offered to God as a sacrifice.

share|improve this answer
You are correct, however the Cohanim (priests) and laymen Israelites ate most of the species which were sacrificed. This would only be possible if these animals were kosher. – Tim Biegeleisen May 11 '14 at 14:55
@TimBiegeleisen It's true that the sacrificial animals are also 'kosher', but the question asked what the terms mean in the Noah story. The only animals discussed in Leviticus are sheep, cattle, goats, doves, and pigeons, but never are these animals specifically referred to as 'clean' as opposed to other 'unclean' animals. – Matt May 13 '14 at 3:22

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.