Do Rabbits Chew The Cud?—Resolving Seeming Errors In Leviticus 11:3-6.

Bible critics are often quick to point out Leviticus 11:3-6 in a bid to disparage the concept of Bible inerrancy. This concept affirms that the Bible contains no errors whatsoever in all that it reveals (you can read about Bible Inerrancy here). The Leviticus 11:3-6 text, these critics say, reveals that the Bible is not 100% flawless and without error.

It reads, “Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud—that you may eat. Nevertheless these you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves: the camel, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; THE ROCK HYRAX, BECAUSE IT CHEWS THE CUD but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; THE HARE, BECAUSE IT CHEWS THE CUD but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you.

The Jews had “kosher laws” (laws regarding ritually acceptable food) to which they adhered. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 lists edible substances were and were not “kosher.” Amongst food which was not “kosher” (ritually acceptable to eat) was animals which chew the cud and had divided hoofs.

To “chew the cud” refers to a biological process in which ruminants regurgitate partially-digested food into their mouths to further masticate it, before finally swallowing it.

These critics point out the fact that rabbits (“hares“) and the rock hyrax are grouped as animals which “chew the cud” in the Bible (in Lev 11:6, cf. Deu 14:7), although modern science has disproved this fact. Rabbits do not regurgitate food back into their mouths to chew it again. Therefore the Bible records a scientific blunder in this regard, they say. This seeming error may however be resolved by simply examining the text in its original language (Hebrew).

The phrase “chew the cud” (in Lev 11:6) translates the Hebrew “ma-‘ă-laṯ gê-rāh” (גֵּרָה֙ מַעֲלַ֤ת), which does not correspond strictly to the 21st century understanding of rumination (i.e. to spew food from the stomach back to the mouth to chew on it again).

Ma-‘ă-laṯ gê-rāh” (גֵּרָה֙ מַעֲלַ֤ת) simply means “to eat what is brought forth again,” (either orally, or anally). It simply refers to the act of eating partially-digested food, without giving the specifics of how this would be done.

Although rabbits do not regurgitate food back into their mouths, it is now known that they “chew the cud” in the sense that they eat their own partially-digested excreta again, to further digest it. This process is known as reflection or cecotrophy, in which rabbits and other mammals (such as the rock hyrax) consume food pellets which they had previously passed out. So in a sense, rabbits do “chew the cud” (i.e. partially-digested food), only that it is not “brought forth” orally, but anally.

The Bible was therefore not wrong to classify hares and the hyrax as animals which chew the cud. They eat what is brought forth again, only that they do so AFTER they have passed the same out (without the aid of multiple stomach compartments, which ruminants have).

The reader need not impose a strict 21st century scientific understanding of the phrase “chew the cud” on a pre-scientific book. The Bible was not written to be a biology/science textbook. Therefore, it used simple language which its readers would readily understand.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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