Monday, May 21, 2007

Egyptians and the Unclean Pig

"The pig is regarded among them as an unclean animal, so much so that if a man in passing accidentally touch a pig, he instantly hurries to the river, and plunges in with all his clothes on. Hence, too, the swineherds, notwithstanding that they are of pure Egyptian blood, are forbidden to enter into any of the temples, which are open to all other Egyptians; and further, no one will give his daughter in marriage to a swineherd, or take a wife from among them, so that the swineherds are forced to intermarry among themselves. They do not offer swine in sacrifice to any of their gods, excepting Bacchus and the Moon, whom they honour in this way at the same time, sacrificing pigs to both of them at the same full moon, and afterwards eating of the flesh. There is a reason alleged by them for their detestation of swine at all other seasons, and their use of them at this festival, with which I am well acquainted, but which I do not think it proper to mention. The following is the mode in which they sacrifice the swine to the Moon:- As soon as the victim is slain, the tip of the tail, the spleen, and the caul are put together, and having been covered with all the fat that has been found in the animal's belly, are straightway burnt. The remainder of the flesh is eaten on the same day that the sacrifice is offered, which is the day of the full moon: at any other time they would not so much as taste it. The poorer sort, who cannot afford live pigs, form pigs of dough, which they bake and offer in sacrifice.

To Bacchus, on the eve of his feast, every Egyptian sacrifices a hog before the door of his house, which is then given back to the swineherd by whom it was furnished, and by him carried away. In other respects the festival is celebrated almost exactly as Bacchic festivals are in Greece, excepting that the Egyptians have no choral dances. They also use instead of phalli another invention, consisting of images a cubit high, pulled by strings, which the women carry round to the villages. A piper goes in front, and the women follow, singing hymns in honour of Bacchus. They give a religious reason for the peculiarities of the image. "

-Herodotus, Book 2

Egyptians considered the pig an unclean animal. Hmmm...


Baal Habos said...

Yes, and as I recently posted in an XGH thread, I just recently discovered that Circumcision in Egypt pre-dated Avrohom Avin. See

So that's Hammurabi, Pig, Milah and Tzitis that all seemed to pre-date the Torah.

And what else?

Baal Habos said...

OP, but in looking at your link to Herotodus I see a difference. That's 400 BC quite after the Jews, so they could have picked that up from us.

Orthoprax said...


Yes, I was about to say that this behavior only dates back to the 5th century BCE. But I don't think it's something they picked up from the Jews. Maybe it's just a common distaste for the animal.

I wonder when Egyptians started being anti-pig.

Btw, tzitzis? What source have you got?

zach said...

Margaret Murray in "The Splendor that was Egypt" p 104 adds this interesting tidbit about the Osiris sacrifices: "It seems also that it was obligatory for every householder to slaughter the animal at his own door, presumably that the blood might be on the threshold or the sides of the door".

Orthoprax said...


I was thinking that too, but it's quite a presumption.

Baal Habos said...


Tsitsis is not necessarily Egyptian rather generically Ancient Near east.

The custom however, clearly predates these codes, and was not limited to Israel; images of the custom have been found on several ancient Near East inscriptions, in contexts suggesting that it was practiced across the Near East[2

And see slide 16 of the following

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

BHB, even the Torah indicates that milah predated Avraham. Otherwise, how would he have known what "himol lachem" meant? Obviously, the term in Hebrew already existed, just like "yibum".

What makes these institutions unique is the purpose they serve in the Torah system. Millah is transformed from a puberty rite to a sign of covenantal relationship. Emotionally charged taboos on animals are changed to legal prohibitions that distinguish the diets of Jews from those of non-Jews.

BTW, the Egyptians treated many other animals besides pigs as taboo. And they clearly made exceptions to these rules on certain occasions. Furthermore, there are many, many things Egyptians were obsessed with - most notably death and funerals - that are treated in exactly the opposite way by the Torah.

So drawing parallels between Egyptian and Jewish religious practices is not so simple.

Allen said...

I must agree with Rabbi Joshua Maroof. I'm disappointed but must admit that one can't simply point a finger and say, "Yes the Biblical swine injunction was from Egypt." I found a wonderful, detailed and cited discussion in an unexpected place: