As Easter gets closer, many
newspapers and news services are covering People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals‘ “Jesus Was a Vegetarian”
campaign. PETA has been paying for billboards around the country proclaiming
“Jesus Was A Vegetarian” and garnering lots of controversy.
In addition PETA has sent letters seeking the support of Christian evangelists
including Jerry Falwell; no word on whether PETA might interest Falwell
in a “Tinky Winky Was a Vegetarian” campaign.
Thankfully there’s been a
lot of good comments coming from religious authorities. Sister Sylvia
Schmidt, executive director of the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry, told the
Daily Oklahoman that “dumping guilt on people about eating or not
eating meat is not what Jesus is all about.”
Several people have attacked
the theological and historical claims of PETA’s Bruce Friedrich, who is
directing the campaign. One might sum up the consensus by saying “Bruce
Friedrich Isn’t a Historian.”
As Dave Henry, editorial page
writer for the Amarillo Globe-News, pointed out, one doesn’t have to be
a biblical scholar to read several positive references to fishing in the
New Testament. Friedrich apparently believes these are later interpolations
into the text. Similarly, the PETA web site on the matter claims the narrative
describing Jesus multiplying fish was a later interpolation by Greek scribes.
Without going into a long debate about Biblical scholarship, it should
be pointed out that this sort of textual criticism opens the New Testament
open to a lot more challenges than simply Jesus’ dietary habits.
PETA also makes a lot of hay
over the fact that Jesus is described eating on several occasions, including
the Last Supper which, by tradition, would have included lamb – and yet
the New Testament doesn’t give us complete menus for these meals. Which
is hardly remarkable – although I eat meat, I don’t always relate what
I have at every dinner in letters to friends. I would be especially loathe
to do so if I had to painstakingly transcribe by hand such menus
as the original authors and their copyists had to do with the New Testament.
L. Michael White, professor
of classics and director of religious studies at the University of Texas
at Austin, summed up the PETA’s campaign rather succinctly: “This
is just another cause making bad use of Scripture. I’d say to them: You
can’t make the Bible do that.”
“Jesus was a vegetarian” ad makes critics cross. Reuters, March 4, 1999.
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