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ARTICLES

JESUS, OVID, AND VEGETARIANISM
 By: J. R. Hyland

Ovid was a Roman citizen who lived most of his life under the rule of Caesar Augustus: the same Augustus whose demand for a worldwide census brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ.  He died A.D. 18 when Jesus was still a very young man and although they shared a common time period, their lifestyles were very different.  Jesus was the product of a village culture, in which the labor of men and women was necessary for their sustenance and their survival. Ovid was born of wealthy parents and was a favorite among the fashionable people who enjoyed the luxury and diversions of the Imperial court which, under Augustus, has been characterized as a place where "wit and good manners took the place of morality."

But as he grew older, this favored son of a hedonistic, pagan society developed an understanding beyond that of most of his contemporaries.  Although he did not have the revelation of the Hebrew scriptures to tell him that God created humankind to be vegetarian, he rejected the carnivorism that was a perversion of human nature.  "From whence such hunger in man after unnatural and unlawful foods?  Do you dare, O mortal race, to continue to feed on flesh?  Cease, I adjure you, and give heed to my admonition."(1)

Ovid was repulsed by those who ate the animals entrusted to their care and saw it as a terrible betrayal.  "Why have you deserved to die, you sheep, you harmless breed who serve men with the nectar you carry in your full udders; who give your wool as soft coverings for us--who assist us more by your life than by your death?"

Those who refuse to consider the vegetarianism of Jesus are faced with the implication that the Christ who likened himself to a Good Shepherd, who safeguarded and protected his flock from all danger, was less developed than Ovid and would not have safeguarded his sheep from the worst predators of all: the human beings who lusted after their flesh.

Ovid also understood that killing the gentle animals who had no defense against man's savagery could only be done by those who had become unmerciful.  He asked: "To what wicked habits does he accustom his palate...who cuts the throat of a calf, turning a deaf ear to its piteous moans.  Or, who has the heart to pierce the throat of a kid which utters cries like those of a child, or, who can feed on the bird whom he had fed with his own hand?"

Unfortunately, the answer was--and is--that many people could do it.  Whether in ancient or modern society, consensus often determines morality.  And in all times and places, people can be persuaded to harden their hearts against the God-given compassion that is a safeguard against brutality.  But the writings of Ovid and other men of antiquity give witness that there were always those who refused to support an immoral status quo that sanctioned the killing and consumption of the most helpless among them.(2)

Ovid also denounced the cruelty of sacrificial religion that was a pretense for eating the flesh of animals killed in the name of God.  He refused to believe that God demanded, or blessed the slaughter of any animal and wrote, movingly, about their death.

"And is it not enough that such wickedness is committed by men.  They have involved the gods themselves in this abomination, and they believe that a Deity in the  heavens can rejoice in the slaughter of the hard-working and useful ox.  The victim...is placed before their altars, and ignorant of the purpose of the proceedings, it hears the prayers of the priest...It is placed before their altars, it sees the fruits of the earth, which it cultivated, placed on its head between its horns and, struck down, its life blood dyes the sacrificial knife, which it had perhaps already seen, lying in wait in the clear bowl of water...And when you present to your palates the limbs of slaughtered oxen, know and feel that you are feeding on the tillers of the ground

The Romans of Ovid's time refused to reject sacrificial religion just as the Jewish people had refused to do hundreds of years before, when it was condemned by the Latter Prophets.(3)  And contemporary Christians and Jews also refuse to recognize that slaughtering and consuming animals as an act of worship was a perversion of godliness.  In fact, many await the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple site, so the slaughter can be resumed.(4)

Along with refusing to accept prophetic denunciations of animal sacrifice, traditional Christians do not want to consider the vegetarianism of Christ.  Of course, many of them have never been exposed to any information that would cause them to question whether or not the only-begotten-Son-of-God was a carnivore.  For a very long time carnivorism, like slavery, was accepted by most people as God-blessed.  This, in spite of the fact that the Bible clearly states that God created humans to be vegetarian and created animals as their companions and helpmates--not as their food source.(5)

In their retroactive support of animal sacrifice, Christians  also have to ignore the biblical fact that Jesus took the only aggressive act of his ministry when he tried to dismantle the system of animal sacrifice at the Jerusalem Temple.  Millions of words and centuries of "explanations" have tried to conceal the reality that this pivotal event was exactly what it seemed to be: a condemnation of the sacrificial religion that slaughtered God's creatures under the pretext of worshipping their Creator.(6) 

Faced with the evidence of the bible, how can those who believe
that Jesus was the most highly developed being who ever walked
the earth, deny him the understanding, compassion, and mercy that
characterized Ovid and was manifested in the repudiation of both
animal sacrifice and human carnivorism.

"Blessed Are The Merciful, For They Shall Obtain Mercy." 
(From a sermon given by Jesus Christ.)
        
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1. Quotations are from Ovid's "Metamorphoses"
2. E.g., Pythagoras, Empedocles, Epicurus, Ovid, Plutarch, Seneca
3. Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah
4. See "The New Yorker," July 20, 1998, Letter From Jerusalem by 
   Lawrence Wright, p. 42
5. Genesis 1:29; 2:18,19
6. For a discussion of this event see "Jesus, The Moneychangers  
   And Animal Sacrifice" at www.HumaneReligion.org

Copyright 1998 & 2002, Viatoris Ministries.

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