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In Exodus 23:19 (KJV), Jehovah tells the Israelites, "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk." Searching online for a possible meaning, many suggestions are given, the most compelling of which I find to be that boiling a kid in it's mother's milk and sprinkling the resulting potion on fields was a ritual from some pagan fertility cult. However, I cannot find where this idea originated. I would like to know whether this is simply the result of speculation, or whether there is evidence that such a ritual existed or was common.

The closest thing I can find to a source is footnote F9 on this website, which references Gregory's Notes & Observ. c. 19. p. 97, 98. I searched for this work and found a book titled Gregorii Opuscula, or, Notes & observations upon some passages of Scripture : with other learned tracts (published 1650), of which I found a PDF, which is a collection of works (fewer than 19), none of which is titled Notes & Observations. Pages 97-98 discuss Matthew 2:16 and the Jewish demon Lilith.

Can anyone help me find the book referred to as Gregory's Notes & Observ. in the above citation? Else, can anyone guide me to another source of the idea that Exodus 23:19 refers to a pagan ritual?

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  • Hi Ledge, welcome to BHSE - thanks for contributing! I'd encourage you to take the Site Tour and check out the On Topic post to learn more about the distinctives of this site, as sometimes it can be challenging to figure out overlap with some other SE's.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 22:06
  • @SteveTaylor Thanks for the welcome. I saw the site tour when I first arrived. I actually have had a difficult time understanding exactly what should be asked on this site and what should be asked elsewhere. From what I had read on the site tour page, it seemed to me that this question was appropriate as addressing historical context. Do you think it would have been better for a different SE?
    – The Ledge
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 0:00
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    No, this question looks like a good fit - it has been flagged by a few people as "searching for a text", but I disagree - that's a criteria we use for closure when people are asking us to find a biblical passage for them. To me, this is a good hermeneutical question - you've started with a passage, have presented a question on historical context, and shown your previous efforts. As a general rule, if a question 1) arises from a 2) specific biblical passage and is 3) about its intended meaning, that's a safe bet for on-topic, and captures 95% of the questions on the SE.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 6:40

4 Answers 4

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In the book The Bible and Archaeology by Sir Frederic Kenyon, he does give some historical information about seething or boiling a kid in its mother milk:

enter image description here

[The original question "What is the significance of the command found in Exodus 23:19, 'You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk'?" was in a Watchtower from 1965 and it mentions the book by Sir Kenyon.

I was able to find a pdf file located at Birzeit University. Searching through the file, the information is located on page 162 (183 of the pdf) with the reference in the screenshot above.]

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There have been so many attempts to show this is a Cannanite myth, and whenever I've tried to track things down, it's never been verified. This is true in this case as well. In the entire Ugaritic corpus "kid/goat" and "milk" do not occur in the same stanza or poem. Here is the portion of the poem supposedly containing the description of a ritual in which a kid is seethed in his mother's milk:

1.23 R 1 Let me invoke the gra[cious] gods,

[                 ] and beautiful,


sons of Shap[sh?             ]


Let them give a feast [to those] of high rank,


in the wilderness of the end (of the world).

1.23 R 5 [ ] on their heads,

[                                 ]


Eat from any of the food,


and drink from the vat any wine!

Greetings, king, greetings, queen, priests and temple-

victuallers!9


———————————————————————


The lord and master sat enthroned,


in his hand the staff of sterility,


in his hand the staff of widowhood.


Those who prune the vine pruned him,


those who bind the vine bound him;

1.23 R 10 they let his tendril fall like a vine.

———————————————————————


Seven times shall it be recited on the throne-dais,


and the priests are to respond.


———————————————————————


Now the steppe, the vast15 steppe


is the steppe of Athirat and Rahma<y>.


Over a fire seven times the choristers of fine voice


(seethe) coriander in milk,


mint in butter,

1.23 R 15 and over the cauldron seven times

let incense be burned.


———————————————————————


Rahmay went forth,


[and Athirat] set out.


[           ] they girded themselves.


May the gracious chorister [           ]


and their name let the priest e[xalt.]


———————————————————————


The dwellings of the gods eight [         ]

1.23 R 20 seven times [ ]

———————————————————————


Lapis lazuli, carnelian


scarlet the singers…24


———————————————————————


Let me invoke the gracious gods,


[both gluttonous from] birth26,


who suck at the nipples of Athirat’s breasts,


[from the paps of Rahmay,]

1.23 R 25 Shapsh counts their tendrils,

[                    ] and grapes.


Peace to you, priests and temple-victuallers,


as you proceed to the sacrifice of propitiation.

Wyatt, N. (2002). Religious texts from Ugarit (2nd ed., pp. 325–329). London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press.

I apologize for the lengthy quotation, but the only way to squash these notions or at least show how dubious they are is to present the actual text.

For those of you with the logos package, you can buy the book and investigate yourselves, it's part of the Ugaritic language package, and I've searched through the entire databank looking for "goat", "kid", "milk" and have found nothing to support this notion, yet it keeps coming up. I can only surmise that the default explanation for anything in Leviticus is that it was being done by native tribes that the Israelites were commanded to be separate from. This, I believe, is poor exegetical practice.

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    I fully agree - bad exegesis to base an interpretation on what is unknown as opposed to what is known. Thanks for your efforts. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 9:27
  • +1 @Robert, this is excellent source material, and unfortunately it proved to me once again how completely unreliable and reckless many "authoritative" sources were, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, where they simply fabricated explanations. I will add this example to my library of shame!
    – Dieter
    Commented May 2 at 1:18
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To piggyback upon another post in a related thread may I say that I think the real exegesis of these passages is about the cruelty of killing young people who are still dependent upon their mother for life. One might also want to ponder Deuteronomy 22:6-7 here, its interpretation and application.

Many have surmised this to be a practice of ancient Canaanite ritual magic. As written, it was a warning unto Israel not to follow the practices of those in the land that were preparing to enter into. to not worship their false gods and not to follow their pagan practices. Perhaps, from a more practical understanding today, this passage might be illustrated by the "modern-day" practice of "spirit cooking" and witchcraft ala Marina Abramović. For those unfamiliar with this practice, you might begin with the New York Magazine article "Report: Clinton Linked to Satanic Rituals Involving Kidnapped Children and Marina Abramovic".

There are I believe, also deeper hermeneutical ramifications perhaps involving the termination of a baby's life in the womb of its mother, the very place where their nutrients for life are derived from. בָּשַׁל indicates seething, often transliterated as boiling in the mother "milk" בָּשַׁל. Boiling an infant in the mother's womb might today well be called "instillation abortion".

Drugs used to induce fetal demise prior to abortion: a systematic review

Witchcraft is prevalent in our world today. Sadly, we live in a society today largely calloused and hardened, and not overly concerned with compassion for the life of the unborn and or even the fully grown person or animals. May we turn away from our sin; hear, understand, and obey God's voice, in Spirit and in Truth that He might be merciful to us even now.

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  • Would this line of thinking suggest that it's okay to eat a kid boiled in milk that has not come from its own mother?
    – Dieter
    Commented May 2 at 2:19
  • Yes, that’s the whole point
    – user64483
    Commented May 6 at 6:07
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In view of @Robert's excellent research falsifying the popular myth of a Canaanite origin, I'd like to suggest a likely explanation based on the text alone.

Torah does not provide every possible permutation of dietary prohibitions. This leaves the likelihood that boiling a kid in its mother's milk is an example of the general principle of forbidding "cruel irony" in a kosher diet. This principle could then be extended to other dietary combinations that I prefer not to describe.

I believe that in the Mishna, there's a story of a sage inviting a colleague to dinner, serving him pheasant tongues boiled in milk to start a conversation (i.e. argument). I can't find the reference, but there's more information here about the controversy:

https://www.thetorah.com/article/prohibition-of-meat-and-milk-its-origins-in-the-text

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