One of the enduring questions with the COVID-19 virus is its origin. We know that it came from the wet markets in Wuhan, China, but it is essential to look at what practices led to this pandemic. No one in the scientific community denies that epidemics and pandemics begin when a pathogen moves from one species to another. We need to consider how God’s hygienic food laws which He gave to the Israelites prevented epidemics and pandemics.
When you read the Old Testament, you see all kinds of restrictions on food. Those include not only what the Israelites could eat, but also how it was procured and prepared. From the earliest times, eating blood was forbidden (Genesis 9:4). Any preparation that allowed blood to remain in the meat was prohibited, so an animal that was strangled could not be eaten. Eating anything that had died on its own was forbidden (Exodus 22:31 and Leviticus 17:15). Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 give a long and tedious list of what could be eaten and what could not. There were even instructions on how to prepare the meat (Exodus 12:8-9).
The practice in the Old Testament was that eating meat of any kind (other than fish) was a rare situation and usually only for the wealthy. The main diet was grains and fruits. When humans began to build cities, this dietary practice changed, but the early Christians retained much of the Old Testament diet and restrictions. (See Acts 15:29; 21:25.)
As humans moved away from the biblical instructions of God’s hygienic food laws and the handling of animals, they instituted some very dubious practices. The July/August 2020 issue of Skeptical Inquirer (pages 20-24) carries a discussion titled “Did Superstition Cause the COVID-19 Outbreak?” The article describes traditional Chinese beliefs about meat and other byproducts of wild animals.
In China, much of the food is distributed in wet markets. In these markets, fish and a variety of other animals such as bats are slaughtered and gutted on-site to guarantee freshness. In places like Wuhan, the ground is wet with melted ice and the blood of various species. The animals to be slaughtered are kept alive in closely packed open cages where the blood and feces intermingle.
When we read through Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we may feel burdened with what appears to be an endless list of restrictions and rules. However, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand that the wet markets’ environment is conducive to the spread of disease. Epidemics of the past can be related directly and indirectly to cultural practices that would not have happened in the Israelite culture in the day of Moses. We have new problems today because of the size of the human population and the closeness of animals of all kinds and humans. The COVID-19 tragedy is a reminder of the wisdom we see in God’s hygienic food laws in the Old Testament.
— John N. Clayton © 2020