In Leviticus 7:21 does "abominable" mean that pigs and rats are "disgusting and repulsive" or in some sense "spiritually horrible" or "idolatrous"?:

Lev 7:21 Moreover the soul that shall touch any unclean thing, as the uncleanness of man, or any unclean beast, or any abominable unclean thing, and eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which pertain unto the LORD, even that soul shall be cut off from his people.

In other words, is Leviticus suggesting that pigs and rats are naturally intrinsically unsuitable as food or that it is idolatrous or otherwise spiritually unacceptable to eat them because they are forbidden?

The reason I ask is that if they are intrinsically disgusting and unfit as food then release from the Torah will not change that. If they are merely forbidden for symbolism or what have you then lifting the ban would make them perfectly acceptable to eat just like lettuce or carrots.

Is eating pigs and rats, for example, intrinsically disgusting or simply forbidden by Torah?

And if they were intrinsically disgusting in Leviticus are they not still intrinsically unfit as food even for a "liberated Christian"?

See also:

Isa 66:17 "Those who consecrate and purify themselves to enter the groves, following the one at the center of those who eat the meat of pigs, disgusting things, and rats, are all alike," says the LORD.





10 Answers 10


I'm not trying to trump the other answers but I did want to report that I consulted a rabbi and am reproducing the discussion below:


I notice that "abominable" and "abomination" are often associated with foods such as in Leviticus 7:21 (translated as "detestable"): "Lev 7:21 And when any one shall touch any unclean thing, whether it be the uncleanness of man, or an unclean beast, or any unclean detestable thing, and eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace-offerings, which pertain unto the LORD, that soul shall be cut off from his people. " So my question is, are pigs and such forbidden because they are disgusting? Or are they disgusting because they are forbidden? Thank you.


Thank you for your interesting question. The word in the verse you are quoting does not mean abominable but detestable (as closely as we can translate it from the Hebrew). It refers specifically to a specific number of small animals - like lizards, mice and toads - which the Torah establishes can become ritually unclean (see Leviticus 11:29-30). Thus, we can appreciate that the Torah considers them not only unclean but "unlikable" as well.

We do find the same term used several times in Leviticus 11, in the context of non-kosher foods (vv. 10, 11, 12, 13, 20, 23, 41 & 42). There as well, the term is not used in conjunction with large animals (in the beginning of the chapter) but in conjunction with non-kosher birds, fish and insects. So interestingly, the Torah does not want us to consider pigs as "detestable" just at not kosher, yet at the same time, non-kosher birds and fish (including crabs, lobster, clams etc.) are in fact called detestable.


My thought is that "it was all very good" (Bereshit 1) applies to pigs, rats, etc. but as far as being fit to eat they are detestable. I can't see any meaning in saying a pig is "unlikable". Am I correct that the Hebrew word in question comes from the root for "filth"? I would never consider a dog or cat to be less than a cow in terms of their "goodness" but in terms of suitability to eat consider them "nasty" and inappropriate as food. I don't know hebrew but in the context it certainly seems like the idea is that eating a cat would be "nasty" and "gross" but "unlikable" suggests something regarding the character and/or personality of the animal, which to my mind is not in view.


The words means disgusting or contemptible. But again, it is not said by large animals at all but only regarding small ones. Either way, you are right that the Torah never told us to dislike such animals, just that we should eschew them as food.

The rabbi I consulted is at AISH.com


Wikipedia says that according to the Hebrew Bible, mammals that both chew their cud (ruminate) and have cloven hooves, such as cattle, goats and sheep, are kosher. It explicitly declares the pig unclean, because it has cloven hooves but does not ruminate. In other words, pigs are considered unclean, not because they are repulsive but because they are not members of a closely defined class of permitted animals. Because they do not chew their cud or have cloven hooves, one would expect rats to be ritually unclean but, while 'crawling creatures' such as mice are specifically forbidden by the Torah, no mention is made of rats.

Leviticus 7:11-21 is concerned with partaking of the 'peace offering'. Anyone who has touched anything ritually impure and then eats of the peace offering is to be cut off from the people. As long as Christians do not offer and consume peace offerings, at least this part of the law can not apply.

  • Rats are basically mice on steroids. They crawl around and do the same basic things mice do. So isn't that sufficient enough evidence to conclude that rats are also unclean? We use this same kind of general logic with lots of other laws/commandments in scripture.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 23:42

OP asks whether šeqeṣ ("abominable") in Leviticus 7:21 should be taken as

"disgusting and repulsive" or in some sense "spiritually horrible" or "idolatrous"?

I think it's probably none of these. The word šeqeṣ is consistently used in the realm of ritual purity:

All eleven attestations of the [noun] שֶׁקֶץ connote detestable animals and other creatures that Yahweh designated as unclean... 1

This is clearly the case in Lev. 7:21 which concerns the state in which one must partake of the peace offering.

[OP]: [I]n other words, is Leviticus suggesting that pigs and rats are naturally intrinsically unsuitable as food...

Neither pigs nor rats are mentioned in this verse, and there's nothing here about eating them.

Which animals are they, and what is forbidden?

The phrase šeqeṣ ṭāmēʾ (KJV: "abominable unclean thing") in Lev. 7:21 is problematic not because its connection with ritual purity is in question, but because it is apparently a tautology: both words designate ritually unclean animals. Jacob Milgrom has argued that ṭāmēʾ animals may be neither eaten nor touched, whereas most šeqeṣ animals convey impurity only through eating, a pattern he discerns in Leviticus 11 (vv. 10–13, 20, 23, 41).2 Most seqeṣ animals, then, are not ṭāmēʾ since they defile only by ingestion.3

Using Milgrom's scheme, the difficulty with Lev 7:21 is not one of tautology but of contradiction, since the two groups are largely mutually exclusive. He resolves this by pointing out that Leviticus 7:21 concerns defilement incurred by touching (nāgaʿ). A subset of seqeṣ is then identified which overlaps with ṭāmēʾ:

The eating of forbidden animals is not defiling, while touching is defiling only if the carcass is that of a quadruped (11:8, 24–28) or one of the named eight nonquadrupeds (11:29–31). Hence the term šeqeṣ ṭāmēʾ [in Leviticus 7:21]....must refer to the eight nonquadrupeds singled out in 11:29–31, whose contact is defiling.2

This list includes mice, rats, and a variety of lizard-like animals. No pigs here (ṭāmēʾ only).

Notably, BHS suggests the variant šereṣ ("swarming creature") for šeqeṣ, with the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Peshitta (cf. Lev 5:2), a reading apparently accepted by the NIV. If correct, this would remove any reference to "abominable" such as concerns the OP. Milgrom argues that this variant does not change the identification of še?eṣ ṭāmēʾ. Certainly by either reading Lev 7:21 remains focused on the ritual state of the one who would eat of the offering, without mention of consumption of the še?eṣ animal and with little semblance to the modern English connotation of "disgusting".3

1. Michael A. Grisanti, "שָׁקַץ (šāqaṣ)", in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Ed. Willem A. VanGemeren, 4:243ff.

2. Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, The Anchor Yale Bible; (YUP, 1974) pp. 425, 655-656.

3. There is another, more common Hebrew term frequently translated "abomination" -- tōʿēbāh -- with a somewhat broader semantic range: "something offensive to a person’s values, culture, or religion" (NIDOTTE, 4:314). It may be for this reason that "detestable" is preferred for šeqeṣ in modern translations.


I found the translation you use provides the answer within the text.

“Moreover the soul that shall touch any unclean thing, as the uncleanness of man, or any unclean beast, or any abominable unclean thing, and eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which pertain unto the Lord, even that soul shall be cut off from his people.” ‭‭Leviticus‬ ‭7:21‬ ‭KJV‬‬

If you take the KJV the context specifies touching and it includes uncleanness of man, which would be any excrement from the human body be it faeces, urine, pus, or otherwise.


any abominable unclean thing

Would likely be referring to excrements.

The second portion about eating does not say that they eat these excrements but if after they touch these detestable things they then partake in eating a sacrifice to the Lord, then they should be cut off. They are not consuming detestable anything, they are merely coming into contact with.

and (then) eat(s) of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which pertain unto the Lord

Isaiah 66:17 you quoted would likewise explain the abominable thing to be excrement or faeces and in the verse I read all of them together and think GMO. Pork that has been genetically modified with e-Colin found in faeces, cultivted in rats and introduced into the pig genome. But that’s a different subject.

The reason pigs and mice were said to be unclean was based on their categorization and probably had a lot to do with their diet which included dead things including other unclean animals. I don’t know that the verse you quoted speaks about consuming unclean animals just coming into contact with them.


The abominable animals described in Leviticus are "dirty" because they are scavengers.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, death was "dirty." As this passage in Leviticus indicates, contact with anything dead (whether animal or man) made the Israelite unclean in the ritual sense. In this respect, any scavenger was not appropriate for human consumption, much less touching, since such animals consumed the refuse and/or carcasses of other animals. Only animals who chewed the cud (and split the hoof) were consumed for food, since they were vegetarians that consumed living grasses and plants (like other certain fowl and insects as well, which were also edible ritually). Likewise, fish with scales and fins were ritually clean and therefore edible, because the principal diet of fish with scales and fins consists of consuming what was alive.

What cleaned away death in the ritual sense was water, which could not be contaminated by things dead. For example -

Leviticus 11:35-37 (NASB)
35 Everything, moreover, on which part of their carcass may fall becomes unclean; an oven or a stove shall be smashed; they are unclean and shall continue as unclean to you. 36 Nevertheless a spring or a cistern collecting water shall be clean, though the one who touches their carcass shall be unclean. 37 If a part of their carcass falls on any seed for sowing which is to be sown, it is clean.

The running water of the spring, or cistern collecting water, is unending and continuing and therefore cannot become "dirty." (The water is eternal, because it is unending and continuing.) In the Hebrew Bible it was such water that was filtered through the ashes of the red heifer that was used to "wash away" the dirtiness of those who were ritually contaminated by things dead (Numbers 19:1-22).

This imagery of death-impurity which was cleansed by continuous-water transitions from the Hebrew Bible into the Christian New Testament as "living water" or eternal life that takes away spiritual death, which is what makes the man "dirty" (what is on the inside versus what is on the outside). Being cleansed by this water (and being washed from spiritual death) is the backdrop of Christian baptism.

In the Christian New Testament therefore the guidelines of ritual impurity from the Hebrew Bible no longer apply, since cleanliness with eternal life occurs from within. (External ritual impurity therefore is moot.) That is, the Christian receives eternal life, and this water (unending, and continuing eternal life) cleans away spiritual death, which was what was "dirty." Just like the unending water of the spring or cistern (eternal source), anything dead cannot make the living water unclean. Thus the Christian may enjoy all foods with an open and clean conscience before God, although such liberty may cause Jewish Christians to stumble, and therefore should be avoided (Acts 21:25-26).

  • 2
    So are you saying that a Christian is immune to the biohazard of contact with a corpse because of their baptism?
    – user10231
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 4:22
  • @WoundedEgo - the saved Christian is no more immune to the biohazard of contact with a dead corpse than he is of the moral hazard of willful engagement in immoral behavior. While baptism provides the declaration of cleansing, the cleansing provides no justification to engage in anything "dirty."
    – Joseph
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 13:02
  • 1
    Haha. Doesn't that negate the entire point of what you said?
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 23:47

They are literally 'dinner theater' to teach us about handling the word of God. See answer here: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/39021/205


What does detestable/abominable mean? And by extention what is an uclean animals/beasts.

Leviticus 7:21 (NASB)

" When anyone touches anything unclean, whether human uncleanness, or an unclean animal, or any unclean [a]detestable thing, and eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belong to the Lord, that person shall be cut off from his people.’”

What does detestable/abominable refer to?

We find the answer in Leviticus 14:10 and Deuteronomy 14:10 . Most translations translate "detestable" some others abominable.

Leviticus 11:10 (NASB)

" But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you."

Leviticus 11:10 (AMPC)

" But all that have not fins and scales in the seas and in the rivers, of all the creeping things in the waters, and of all the living creatures which are in the waters, they are [to be considered] an abomination and abhorrence to you."

Deuteronomy 14:10 (NASB)

"But anything that does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you."

With regards to unclean animals/beasts.

Deuteronomy 14:7 (NASB)

" Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these among those which [a]chew the cud, or among those that divide the hoof in [b]two: the camel and the [c]rabbit and the [d]shaphan, for though they [e]chew the cud, they do not divide the hoof; they are unclean for you."

Other translations: Shaphan= rock badger=coney.


Some theologians purport that since the New Testament was ratified, we are no longer under the dietary restrictions found in Leviticus/Deut. However, it seems to me that clean and unclean animals existed in Noah's even day before the law. Only clean animals were accepted as sacrifices. By having taken seven pairs of the clean animals and clean birds on the ark, Noah is able to offer a sacrifice to God of those clean animals while still allowing those species to repopulate the earth. So, in this context, clean animals were animals that were considered apt to sacrifice to God. So it seems reasonable to believe that these creatures were unclean before the New Testament and remain unclean after. Case in point. In Revelation 18:2, Babylon the Great is described as being “a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird.” Yes, we have freedom in the Lord but why would anyone want to eat what the Lord calls disgusting or unclean? 1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

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    – agarza
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 17:05

is Leviticus suggesting that pigs and rats are naturally intrinsically unsuitable as food or that it is idolatrous or otherwise spiritually unacceptable to eat them because they are forbidden?

It is intrinsic; the distinction between clean and unclean animals was already made long before people ever even ate meat. In Genesis 7:2, when God instructed Noah, he didn't need to explain the difference between clean and unclean:

You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female

The meat from clean animals can become unclean (or common) if it is contaminated. Long after the crucifixion, Peter distinguished between these two states in Acts 10:14:

But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”

Similarly the unclean animals are in two categories. Animals such as horses, camels, or dogs are unfit for eating or sacrificing to God, but there is nothing wrong with having physical contact with them. Animals such as swine and rats though are natural carriers of human diseases; they are not only unclean, they are also called abominations and are to be avoided.

Rats carry plague in their fleas, and rat droppings can contain many other diseases.

Shellfish are natural filters, removing chemical and bacterial contamination from bodies of water. Those diseases (cholera is a common example) become highly concentrated within the creature and can easily be spread to humans by contact or consumption.

Swine are especially bad as their digestive system is very similar to that of humans, and so both are susceptible to the same diseases. This is one reason so many flu epidemics originate in China, where ducks and swine are typically raised together. The ducks contract viruses from other kinds of birds, and these viruses are eaten by swine where some of the bird disease DNA is incorporated by the swine's own flu viruses, which are then easily passed on to humans.

Many other human epidemics originate from eating unclean meat. For instance Ebola outbreaks usually result from eating infected bats (ditto for COVID-19), and the HIV virus (AIDS) spread from chimpanzees to humans:

According to the natural transfer theory (also called "hunter theory" or "bushmeat theory"), in the "simplest and most plausible explanation for the cross-species transmission" of SIV or HIV (post mutation), the virus was transmitted from an ape or monkey to a human when a hunter or bushmeat vendor/handler was bitten or cut while hunting or butchering the animal.
History of HIV/AIDS - Wikipedia

  • Oh no, you did it again. There are seven specific animals that the Torah lists, that touching their dead body, makes you impure/unclean. This is something spiritual, because even if you lift their dead body, in a packed hermetic bag, you still become impure, although there is no direct contact, and everything is sterille.
    – Kapandaria
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 22:49
  • @Kapandaria — The Israelites had hermetic bags? ¶ "This is something spiritual", even though Israel's covenant was strictly physical: only actions counted, not thoughts. Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 23:36

Leviticus 7 does not discuss pigs or rats. These animals, like many others, are forbidden to eat because kosher meat must come from animals that have split hooves AND chew their cuds. Rats are disqualified on both counts, and pigs do not chew their cuds. In fact, however, many "unclean" animals were kept and used by the Israelites for other purposes than eating - camels, horses, mules, donkeys and dogs being the most obvious examples. So the fact of its being "unclean" does not mean that the animal is "abominable" at all.

Regarding Isaiah 17, the adjective "disgusting" or "abominable" does not describe pigs and rats but is a category unto itself. As @user10231 mentioned, this probably refers to reptiles, grubs and insects. However, since non-Israelites often consumed pigs and swine are infamous for wallowing in filth, it is definitely possible that Israelites considered them disgusting.

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