The Beginning of Wisdom p.625

Earlier we learned that the Egyptians abominate eating with the Hebrews (43:32), perhaps because they eat lamb. And much later, Moses will refuse Pharaoh’s permission to “sacrifice to your God in the land,” because “we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians [most likely, sheep] to the Lord our God; lo, if we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” (Exodus 8:21-22). The Egyptians abominate what the Hebrews eat, how they gain their livelihood from animals, and what they choose to sacrifice to their God. From extrabiblical sources, we learn that the Egyptians are well known for their worship of certain animals. Accordingly, they may regard the Israelite assumption of human superiority over the animal world as an abomination, a deep violation of Egyptian belief in the unity (or at least the interchangeability) of man, nature, and the divine. The Egyptians, on this interpretation, abominate those who make too much of the difference of man.

Abominable or loathsome are those sexual practices said to be characteristic of the land of Egypt behind and the land of Canaan before: incest (Leviticus 18:6-18), male homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), and bestiality (Leviticus 18:23). Abominable too are child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31 and 18:9-10) and, most especially, idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25-26), as well as the related practices of divination, soothsaying, augury, and sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). In short, abominable in Israel are those activities that deny or efface the fundamental distinctions of creation: child sacrifice, which make a child into an animal; bestiality, which makes an animal into a human being; homosexual sodomy, which makes a man into a woman; and idolatry, which makes an animal or a man or some other creature or object into a god. For the Israelite way, with its view that man – and man alone – carries the divine image, failure to see the superiority of man vis-à-vis the animals is necessarily connected with failure properly to apprehend that which is truly divine. Setting itself in direct opposition to Egyptian (and Canaanite) ways, Israel eventually will separate itself by loathing the chaos-inducing denial of the importance of separation itself.

 

Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.625