P.S.: Please don’t eat the chimpanzee

Surfing around for an image to enlist for the previous post on the story of Peter’s vision from Acts 10-11, I came across some rather odd bits of artwork.

Like this one, for example, from a Sunday school curriculum illustrating the story.

Acts 10 says Peter fell into a trance and: “saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.”

I’d just like to point out that a chimpanzee is not a four-footed creature.

And while Southern Baptist bishop Al Mohler and I may disagree about the meaning of Peter’s vision, I’m guessing that Mohler would completely agree with me on this point: Nobody should be eating chimpanzees.

Chimps are fun to draw, which is probably how one ended up in this Sunday school sketch. But the creepy implication of this artwork seems to be that God is telling Peter that it’s perfectly fine to eat a chimpanzee. That’s just wrong.

Here’s another illustration of the story complete with another chimpanzee.

And look at the other animals shown here. There’s the delicious pig, of course, but also a lion, a leopard and what I think is meant to be a wolf.

Think of the poor children in Sunday school staring at this picture. If they get past the horror of the chimpanzee coupled with the words from the story — “kill and eat, kill and eat, kill and eat” — then they’re bound to start pondering how they would rank these animals in some kind of “What if you had to?” scenario. OK, they’ll think, first the pig, then the rabbit then which? … the skunk? the bear? the horse? the buzzard?

These kids are going to be traumatized.

Maybe this explains why this story from the book of Acts is so widely misunderstood — everyone was too distracted by the terrifying Sunday school illustrations to pay any attention to the story itself.

Bonus question — and this one doesn’t involve killing and eating anything, so vegetarians and vegans can feel free to play along in this round: Which animals in these illustrations would the apostle Peter have recognized?

Different Cornelius.

That’s not an entirely frivolous question. It implies something about how we understand divine revelation.

Here we have the story of the apostle Peter receiving a vision directly from God — a vision specifically intended for and designed for Peter and only for Peter, an unschooled fisherman from Galilee who hasn’t yet traveled beyond Palestine and Syria.

Why would God send such a man a vision that included skunks and raccoons — creatures native to the Americas that Peter would have no way of recognizing and no basis for understanding?

If God wished to communicate with this particular man, Simon Peter of Galilee, then wouldn’t it make more sense for the vision only to include those “unclean” animals that Peter would recognize as such?

But here we’re again approaching the realm of controversy, hinting at questions about the cultural constraints and culturally constrained meanings of divine revelation. That raises the possibility of another heated disagreement with Team Mohler, and since the idea here was for something more light-hearted and irenic we’ll just back away from such questions here and save them for another time.

Here we’ll just focus on those things that Team Mohler and I can fully agree on. Such as that no one should be eating chimpanzees. And that it’s probably wise to avoid any mention of chimpanzees in the Sunday school materials for a story about a man named Cornelius.

 

  • friendly reader

    The first one’s too small for me to get a good look at it, but in the second:
    - The pig
    - The rabbits
    - The wolf
    - The donkey
    - The bear (though not that size, since that looks to be a Grizzly)
    - The leopard (no, seriously, there are still leopards in Arabia, and they used to be much more widespread)
    - Maybe the lion, though more likely through art*, since Asiatic lions were already getting scarce by then

    The vulture looks suspiciously like a condor (North America), but Peter’d probably still recognize it as a vulture.

    Definitely wouldn’t know:
    - The raccoon (North America only)
    - The chimpanzee (Sub-saharan Africa only)

    Actually, checking this made me realize how much that picture represents the diminishing of biodiversity. The wolf, leopard, lion, and bear are probably all now impossible to find in that region, yet they existed in the past.

    *The prohibition on all images by practicing Jews post-dates Jesus’ era; there are synagogues from the time with pictures on the walls.

  • friendly reader

    Oh, and this same line of thinking  reminds me of something an atheist friend once remarked upon: the concept of evolution would have made no sense to ancient Israelites because there were no apes or monkeys around. The only other primates in the area are hamadryas baboons, which don’t have the immediate “holy cow, they look like people!” effect that chimps, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos possess.

    Though I might add, with monkeys that look like this, the K’iche Mayans described them as a rough draft of humans made by the gods. Seriously, read the Popul Vuh. It’s what happens when your world is created by committee.

  • LouisDoench

     I’ll have to disagree partly (although its an interesting point).  Human evolution might be  a bit of a stretch for our ancient Hebrew friends. But they were descendants of herdsman.  They most certainly understood selection by breeding of animals.  Once you have that, the steps to natural selection in the animal world are pretty easy to explain.  Of course as we are painfully aware of today, the next step of convincing them that the earth is 4.5 billion years old in order for there to be time for natural selection to take hold… not so easy.

  • arcseconds

    I’m not too sure that Mohler would agree that chimps can’t be eaten.

    I mean, I personally think they’re far too close to human beings in more ways than one to even consider eating (unless as a dire last resort, but I’d probably eat human then, too).  

    But why would Mohler think that? 

  • Robyrt

    In fact, selective breeding appears in Genesis 30 – so yeah, it was pretty well understood even by the ancient Hebrews. The harder part of evolution to explain, I’d think, is why it would take billions of years, when you can create dramatic changes in just a few generations when doing it by hand.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I’ve been meaning to ask this for three posts now, but keep on failing to get around to it. The literalists say that we must interpret the vision narrowly, right?  In their minds it only applies to the food animals Peter was shown.

    So where do the shrimp come in?  Shrimp have *googles* 10 or 20 feet depending on how you define “foot”, they are not reptiles and neither are they birds of the air.

    How does the vision possibly relate to seafood if we’re to interpret it as strictly narrowly literal?

  • Mark

    It’s worth noting that it wasn’t chimps that prompted Darwin to develop his theory, it was the wide variety of finches in the Galapagos. What would the world look like today if some clever Jewish prophet had made a similar observation while wandering the wilderness and put down a sketch of evolutionary theory (maybe with a religious slant) in a book that would make it into the Bible?

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    You could probably eat your way through about half that list before getting too grossed out:
    The pig: the delicious, delicious pig.Rabbit: not too bad.Wolf: probably like really gamey dog. I never have, but lots of folks eat dog. Donkey: probably a lot like horse. See (Wolf).Bear: I’ve heard very fatty, but not too bad. I think Polar Bears have an overabundance of something that might kill you, though. 
    Everything else is kind of gross; felines are said to be really bad, esp. the big cats (except, oddly, tigers), raccoon looks close to skunk — no idea whether people eat those. 
    Now, if Peter has to kill the animals himself, with period weaponry, the big cats, bear, and probably wolf pose a different problem. 

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Which animals in these illustrations would the apostle Peter have recognized?

    That, actually, was the first question that came to my mind when I saw the chimps and the lion.  And the bear.  And the wolf.  It’s actually possible that Peter knew of those animals or analogs thereof, as he was in a Roman province and the Romans had a long and storied history of bringing exotic animals in from all over the empire to, y’know, slaughter them.

    I don’t imagine that he was often in the places where the Romans took the menageries, however, since I don’t think that Judea was high on the list of places to make triumphal marches and hold the sort of high level games that would incorporate that sort of animal.  So that leave pictures.  He might have seen pictures.  But even the Roman reach wasn’t enough to bring in a grey wolf, a grizzly bear, a raccoon, or a polecat.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The difficulty comes from the fact that species can, for long periods of time, become so well-adapted to the environment they inhabit that all selective pressure appears to cease (consider the startling discoveries of species essentially unchanged from their ancestors).

    This is why the theory of punctuated equilibrium has gained some popularity, since it explains the observed phenomenon of natural selection better than the gradualistic modes of human artificial selection* or Darwin’s ideas.

    * And really they only appear gradual to us because we live a lot less long than geological time scales. In retrospect human-induced changes would probably appear very startling and very sudden, to anyone examining a fossil record from the 20th century.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    “If God wished to communicate with this particular man, Simon Peter of Galilee, then wouldn’t it make more sense for the vision only to include those “unclean” animals that Peter would recognize as such?”

    I don’t know, Peter seemd very careful not to generalize:

    10:28 God has shown me that I should not call anyone I meet in the next few days profane or unclean.

    10:34 I truly understand that God shows marginally less partiality than I had previously thought, 35but in every nation I’m familiar with anyone I’d recognize who adequately fears him and does what I understand to be right is quite possibly acceptable to him.

    11:17 If then they claim God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, well, I mean, it sound suspicious, but hey, who was I that I could hinder God? Only the guy who had the friggin’ vision! So, yeah, I’ll vouch for Cornelius (and the two slaves he sent to meet me if they don’t act up) but I draw the line at any people- I mean animals- I mean- whatever, if it wasn’t literally in the vision then I, uh, I gotta go, I don’t feel so good. Must have been something I ate.

  • Tonio

    Maybe this explains why this story from the book of Acts is so widely
    misunderstood — everyone was too distracted by the terrifying Sunday
    school illustrations to pay any attention to the story itself.

    It’s reasonable to speculate that such illustrations have distorted not just interpretations of the Bible but views of Christianity itself. I remember “The Bible Story” having a full-page portrait of Eve resembling a 1940s starlet with makeup, with the accompanying chapter titled “Fairest Creature of Creation.” I suspect that the Dick and Jane nature of the entire genre has helped perpetuate the racism that is part of modern fundamentalism.

  • http://glaurung-quena.dreamwidth.org/ Glaurung Quena

    Point of information: Chimpanzees are considered a delicacy in the Congo region.

  • Mau de Katt

     @Tonio — omg, was that that big picture book that one saw in doctor’s offices back in the 60s-80s?  Yeah, I remember that picture of Eve; what a hottie!  (And the Garden of Eden looked suspiciously like the sort of manicured garden in which one would expect white-gloved matrons wandering around clutching small white porcelain cups of tea.)

  • Mau de Katt

    Well, okay, the Garden is a bit more unkempt than I remember as a kid (I think I’m conflating two or more pictures in my memory), but is this the picture of Eve you’re talking about?

  • JustoneK

    sorry but I gotta get this printed large on a poster now.  EAT A CHIMP FOR CHESUS!

  • Tonio

     Ding! Good find.

  • noob

    Lobsters are also fun to draw. Peter might have freaked out completely if he saw those, there. Got a few more than four feet, I guess.

  • MikeJ

    He would have recognized the bear as the animal god sent to eat children that made fun of bald people.   Perhaps not the species if that picture is in fact a grizzly, but it wouldn’t be anything too weird. 

    The first camelleopard was brought to Rome in 46bce, so the author may have at least heard about it. 

    To answer Marc, the liver of polar bears can cause vitamin A overdose, but as far as I know the rest of it is safe to eat. Seals and husky dogs.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    I had a friend in college who said he would be willing to eat whale precisely because of this passage.  He probably would have been fine with chimp too.  He was also quite conservative when it came to LBGT rights.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t made the connection with this story then, as I think it would have come as surprising to him.

  • Beau Quilter

    The more common poster of cute animals found in Sunday Schools are those of Noah’s Ark. Did noone else find it disturbing as a child, that the animals depicted on the Ark were the lone survivors of God’s mass-drowning of every other living thing on earth.

  • AnonymousSam

    Reminds me of Exodus 28:15-30, in which the breastplate which should be made for the priests is described. Pretty much every translation has a different list of stones, and only a couple of the stones are agreed upon among each translation. Worse, some of the stones people list were nowhere to be found at the time the Bible would have been written.

    My favoritest part of the Bible! Nothing like a huge section on how lavishly the priesthood should be treated, how they should never have to lift a finger for the rest of their lives to get meat, gold and precious jewelry, etc. And for anyone who disagrees? God shall smite them with the plagues! No, totally not self-serving at all.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     He would have recognized the bear as the animal god sent to eat children that made fun of bald people.

    Oh, yeah.  I forgot about that story.  Like I said, there probably would have been some analogs.  I think the point I was trying to get around to was, wow, that’s one North-America-centric illustration there…

  • http://twitter.com/jclor jclor

    Which animals in these illustrations would the apostle Peter have recognized?

    Why, all of them, of course.  I’m sure Noah kept very careful records.

  • Worthless Beast

    Chimps… bushmeat trade… tragic… Yes, there are people who eat chimp.

    I’ve had bear before. Strangely enough, I’ve never had rabbit.

    If I were called upon to illustrate this scene, I’d do my research and include creatures a first century Jew would likely know.  Bear would be there, as well as lion… horses, asses, mice (if I recall History Channel correctly, the Romans loved them some stuffed mice), the mighty swine – bearer of bacon-King of Foods – would be there, crocodile would likely make an apperance, maybe a rock hyrax, too, since I recall them being mentioned somewhere in the Old Testament…  There are actually quite a lot of non-Kosher animals in the Middle East-area that could be showcased for the nerdy kids.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Great stuff on the link of dietary laws to slavery, sexuality, etc.  Right now I do have a nagging curiosity about something else.  Can anyone explain to me how some Evangelicals have taken this divine license to eat any particular animal as a divine MANDATE to consume meat?  I.e. this equation of vegetarianism with ‘Gaia Worship’ and other such rot. Are they simply unable to imagine anyone of sound mind not wanting to exert physical control over something when they have the freedom too? 

    I once had a male family memeber tell me in complete seriousness that ‘if I can shoot a deer that means I’m better than the deer’  That’s it then?  Not all of our great medicine and technology or our languages of a million words but only our ability to physically dominate other creatures?

  • EllieMurasaki

     Not all of our great medicine and technology or our languages of a
    million words but only our ability to physically dominate other
    creatures?

    Seems like your family member would do well to learn from the Native Americans who believe that killing a deer is the deer doing a favor to the Native American, by providing food, leather, etc, and should be thanked appropriately.

  • Worthless Beast

    Another thing about doing the research – regarding the domestic animals, horses, pigs and such, one would have to look up what breeds and kinds existed at the time.  Pigs, for instance – I doubt would be quite the same as the giant white pigs we have today. That took generations of animal husbandry. Likewise, one wouldn’t want to base the horse on modern breeds, like throughoubred, which was created for racing.  

    I hope I’m recalling my breed-stuff correctly, I might not be.

  • The_L1985

    Don’t forget bats! :D

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Yeah.  He would do well to learn a lot of things I can tell you.  Or just not be an asshole generally.  But I guess, fish gotta swim….

  • The_L1985

    You’re still not better than the deer just because you shoot it. You just have a ranged weapon and a fair amount of skill and good luck.

    Deer don’t make war on other herds of deer.

  • Tricksterson

    I gotta ask, if Adam and Eve were alone in the garden, who did her hair to make it look like that?  Was it perchance Steve?

  • Tricksterson

    If one really wants to prove one’s superiority in a truly macho way one should forgo guns or even bows.  Go one on one, hand to hoof.  Maybe a knife to offset the antlers but that’s it.

  • Tonio

    Are they simply unable to imagine anyone of sound mind not wanting to
    exert physical control over something when they have the freedom too?

    The more I read about the RTC mindset, the more it resembles that of a person abused in childhood, with a particularly toxic blend of guilt and grandiosity. The RTC take on the Flood amounts to innocent animals dying because humans were wicked. Same thing with the creationist claim that meat-eating didn’t enter the world until the Fall.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Well, they do fight and kill each other for the sake of establishing pecking order.

    If they were capible of organized warfare; deer lining up in opposing troops of thousands and having at each other would be soooo awesome, you have to admit.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    I don’t imagine that he was often in the places where the Romans took
    the menageries, however

    Though legend does have it that he made it to Rome itself eventually. 

  • Robyrt

    The traditional comeback to that sort of meat-lover’s argument is to bring up Daniel 1:15, where our heroes go vegetarian with this result:

    At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Yeah. If you can stealth up to deer and slit its throat, then I’d say you could call yourself better than the deer. Using a shotgun means you didn’t even have to AIM, just kinda point the gun vaguely towards the animal.

  • Worthless Beast

    They could forge little machine-guns to hide in the tips of their antlers!  Battle bucks! 

  • LoneWolf343

    I don’t know of any place in the world that does eat chimps, though some eat smaller monkeys. Allegedly, it is how AIDS spread to humans.

  • LoneWolf343

     I would like to point out that they wanted kosher food, not necessarily just veggies.

  • http://lightningbug.blogspot.com lightning

    I Timothy 4 (New International Version 1984)

    The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.   Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.  They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.  For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

    “Forbid them to marry …”, hmmm?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    I’m not too sure that Mohler would agree that chimps can’t be eaten.

    I mean, I personally think they’re far too close to human beings in
    more ways than one to even consider eating (unless as a dire last
    resort, but I’d probably eat human then, too).  

    But why would Mohler think that?

    Probably because he finds the idea icky and gross for no particularly rational reason.

    Y’know, pretty much the same reason as the actual reason he rails so loudly against homosexuality.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I once had a male family memeber tell me in complete seriousness that
    ‘if I can shoot a deer that means I’m better than the deer’  That’s it
    then?  Not all of our great medicine and technology or our languages of a
    million words but only our ability to physically dominate other
    creatures?

     Yes. Yes. To hold in my hand a capsule that contains such power, to know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure on my thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything. Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the gods. And through the Daleks, I shall have that power!

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Or how about…. fucking antler lasers? 

  • Trixie_Belden

    As it happens, the outdoors section of my local paper ran a feature which interviewed hunters who had eaten some unusual prey.  One fellow claimed that he had enjoyed raccoons (I forget how he prepared them – either fried or barbecued) and had even served them to guests who found the meat to be very tasty.  In the very next outdoors section issue, however, the paper had to walk back from that article quite a bit when an official from the state conservation agency contacted them and pointed out that eating raccoons was a terrible and dangerous  idea as raccoons are notorious vectors for rabies. 

  • AnonymousSam

    And that in turn reminds me of the end of The Butter Battle Book, where both sides have created weapons of mass destruction that are the size of peas.

    “You should be down that hole!
    And you’re up here instead!
    But perhaps this is all for the better, somehow.
    You will see me make history!
    RIGHT HERE! AND RIGHT NOW!”

    The book depicts the leaders of each side, weapons grasped between fingers, each daring to drop theirs before the other, and it ends with no closure whatsoever.

    It was a very unsubtle metaphor for nuclear weaponry and the Cold War, which makes it all the more wonderful for being intended for children.

  • Tricksterson

    I was thinking shoulder mounted rocket lauchers.  Maybe frikkin’ lasers.

  • c2t2

    Now I want to make a spoof of Acts. God sends down his sheet. It contains:
    penguins
    rattlesnakes
    koalas
    sloths
    polar bears
    komodo dragons
    kangaroos
    dodo birds
    boa constrictors
     tapirs

    Peter: “WTF, God? Are you high?”

    God: “Oops, forgot one!” *adds a duckbilled platypus*

    Peter: “Okay, now you’re just fucking with me.”

  • Tempus Vernum

     

    Can anyone explain to me how some Evangelicals have taken this divine license to eat any particular animal as a divine MANDATE to consume meat?  I.e. this equation of vegetarianism with ‘Gaia Worship’ and other such rot. Are they simply unable to imagine anyone of sound mind not wanting to exert physical control over something when they have the freedom too?

     
     These people remind me of the model Stross used for an AI in his book Rule 34.
     
     

    If the subject of consciousness is not intrinsically pinned to the conscious platform, but can be arbitrarily re-targeted, then we may want AIs that focus reflexively on the needs of the humans they are assigned to – in other words, their sense of self is focussed on us, rather than internally. They perceive our needs as being their needs, with no internal sense of self to compete with our requirements.

     
     Similarly these Evangelicals seem to have no internal motivations of their own and their sense of self is instead purely focused on God. They do things because God wants them to, or they don’t do things because God says they can’t. There’s no ‘I’ there, only Gods Will for my Life.


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