“One thing God really loves is the sweet stench of burned flesh. In fact, He loves it so much that there are several detailed passages in the Bible on just how to slaughter an animal, what to do with its blood and how to burn its remains just right – all according to God’s taste.”
“Sophia Bestiae” by Edward O’Toole (2006)
The Hebrew Scriptures, edited and used by Christians as their “Old Testament”, contains a great volume of text on the correct methods of animal sacrifice, which is usually by burning, and God itself on many occasions states its love of burnt offerings, especially of the first-born. Adam and Eve’s children are the first to sacrifice produce and give it to God. Cain gives vegetable products, and Abel gives “the first-born of his flock and the fat thereof” (Genesis 4:4). God rejects Cain’s offering, and praises Abel’s. Meat-eating and animal sacrifice remained as God’s preferred actions throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, when Noah finally got back to dry land, the first thing he done was to sacrifice some of his creatures, whereupon God “smelled a sweet savour” (Gen. 8:21).
This emphasis was actually a common feature of many Sumerian religions too, and the Cain and Abel story was a copy from an older Sumerian myth involving the brothers Enkimdu and Damuzi, and “both myths represent the ancient feud between the desert and the sown land, between nomad and farmer”6.
Judaism became a very technical religion, ruled by its priests, who also produced its scripture. The Jewish law details the methods that are to be used during the ritual slaughtering of animals, and is called shechitah. The person who performs the killing in called a shochet. (Shechitah and shochet are both from the Hebrew root, transliterated; shin-chet-tav, which means to kill or eliminate), and must be an adult Jew7.
In the Jewish community all birds and mammals that are to be eaten are slaughtered according to Jewish law7. Jews may not eat animals that died of natural causes (Deut. 14:21) or eat animals killed by other animals. No flaws or diseases must be present in the animals. These restrictions do not apply to fish; only to the flocks and herds (Num. 11:22). During shechitah the animal is killed with a quick, deep stroke across the throat with a perfectly sharp blade with no nicks or unevenness.
The draining of all the blood is part of the shechitah ritual which is considered necessary by Jewish law7, and is attested to multiple times in the Hebrew Scriptures – for example see Gen. 9:4, Lev. 17:10-12 and Deut. 12:15-16. Those verses are also clear that the “don’t eat blood” rule is not to be interpreted so strictly as to mean you can’t eat meat. Shechitah is recognized as a humane method of killing an animal, more so than a bullet, which is often an inaccurate method, and safer than poison or chemical methods that can leave traces of dangerous chemicals in the meat. Other ritualistic components are that the shochet who performs the shechitah must not simply be a butcher, he must be well trained in Jewish law, particularly as it relates to kashrut. The Jewish rabbi and the shochet were often the same person in older times, or in smaller communities.
In the old testament of the Bible, there are many instances of ritual animal slaughter for non-material gain, i.e., for spiritual purposes. It was common practice to slaughter a non-blemished, non-diseased “perfect” animal by slicing exactly down its center, from head to tail, and then separating the two halves of the animal by two feet. A pact was then sealed by walking in between the two animals. Other rituals frequently involve sprinkling the animals blood around the altar and on the human recipients, sometimes on parts of their bodies (such as right thumbs, right ears and right toes), and manipulating, removing fat from certain parts of the animal, and washing parts of the insides. The bits and pieces are often burnt ‘as an offering to the LORD. Such gory specifics are detailed nonchalantly by God in its instructions. Many requirements for burnt sacrifices are given in the OT without any theological reasoning at all. Elisha was seen plowing with 12 yoke (pairs) of oxen, but he wasn’t allowed to stop farming and follow the prophet Elijah until he had boiled the oxen’s flesh – after which Elijah accepted him as a follower (1 Kings 19:19-21). For more examples, see Appendix A.
There are many occurrences of animals being killed, slaughtered and ritualistically abused for the god portrayed in the Bible, particularly the old testament. However, these are not generally carried out in modern times, they are generally disregarded.
The Old Testament is rife with animal sacrifice, sanctioned and willed by the old testament God. God actively participated in these. They also occur in the New Testament. For example Joseph and Mary (the natural mother and father in law of Jesus) sacrifice “a pair of doves or 2 young pigeons” [Luke 2:21-24] without receiving any chastisement. According to Mark 5:1-13 and Luke 8:26-33 Jesus sacrifices a herd of 2000 pigs in order to banish a legion of demons that had possessed a man (Matthew 8:28-32 also tells the same story but says there were two possessed men). It is quite possible (given the way exegesis works) to argue therefore that psychoanalysts could sacrifice pigs when dealing with severely problematic patients in order to help them symbolically; but no-one follows such a line of reasoning in this precise case. Or do they? The highly influential Christian theologian of the 5th century, Saint Augustine of Hippo, argued explicitly that because Jesus “sent the devils into a herd of swine” then refraining from the killing of animals for any reason is “the height of superstition, for judging that there are no common rights between us and the beasts“8. In other words, animals have no rights, and if there you can gain an advantage from killing one, then you should do so. To refrain is to un-christian and superstitious! Thankfully very few treat Christian theology seriously enough for such logic to be followed through, and the rise of informed moral deliberation in Western and developed countries has meant that animal rights are indeed taken into consideration in the modern world.