|Is the Bible wrong about hares chewing cud?|
Lev. 11:6 And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. (See also Deut. 14:7)
The above represents one of the most popular objections in the skeptics book, and this is their take on the meaning: Hares (or some say rabbits, but "hare" is what is in mind here) are not ruminants; they practice refection. Refection is a process in which animals, like hares, eat their own dung mixed with undigested material. The Hebrew language does not use the word for "dung"; therefore, this passage is in error.
The objection is also registered against the verses mentioning the coney, or hyrax; however, the identification of this animal is uncertain -- we will assume it to be an animal that also does refection.
Two issues are at hand: the definition of "cud" and that of "chewing." Let's take a closer look at the Hebrew version of both. Here is the word for "cud" according to Strong's:
gerah, the cud (as scraping the throat): cud.
There are a few factors we need to keep in mind here. First, this word is used nowhere in the Old Testament besides these verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We have only this context to help us decide what it means in terms of the Mosaic law.
Second, refection is a process whereby these animals pass pellets of partially digested food, which they chew on (along with the waste material) in order to give their stomachs another go at getting the nutrients out. It is not just "dung" that the hares are eating, which is probably why the Hebrew word for "dung" was not used here.
Contrast this with what cows and some other animals do, rumination, which is what we moderns call "chewing the cud." They regurgitate partially digested food in little clumps called cuds, and chew it a little more while mixing it with saliva.
So then: partially digested food is a common element here. We therefore suggest that the Hebrew word simply refers to any partially digested food -- the process is not the issue, just the object.
Objection: Are you more of an expert in Hebrew than all those Bible scholars, like Strong, who decided that 'cud' was the best word to use here?
More of an expert in Hebrew, no -- the problem is that those Hebrew experts aren't experts in animal biology. It's commonly noted, in a weaker defense of this verse, that hares look like they chew cud, such that even Linnaeus was fooled by them and classified them as ruminants -- and even many modern books on rabbits and hares have no reference to it. Everyone sees rabbits and hares chewing and might come to the same conclusion, but few know about refection, least of all experts in Hebrew who spend most of their days indoors out of the sight of hares.
Hares refect at night and underground, all the more reason that Moses likely made a similar Linnaeus-like mistake that was, for the most part, based largely on appearances.
Hares actually do this mostly at night and underground, although not always, and the reason for this is that this behavior usually takes place 3-8 hours after eating. But the reason so few people know about this behavior today is because we spend so much time indoors, and because when we are outdoors, we tend to stomp around and scare timid creatures like hares.
So, little wonder we don't see refection behaviors that much, if at all. Even rabbit owners don't see it because they of course feed their bunnies on their schedules, while refection happens when they are asleep.
In contrast, the ancients lived mainly outdoors and many of them were pastoral sorts who spent hours in the field. So, don't think for a moment that this wasn't something the average ancient wouldn't have known about. They were a lot more observant than we are (because they needed to be to survive) and spent a lot more time in places where they could observe and understand this behavior.
At the same time, it would be rather pointless -- and an argument from silence -- to make the point that refection is not mentioned in any other ancient documents. For this objection to have merit, one must produce a surviving ancient documentation that should have mentioned it, but didn't -- and that's rather a hard row to hoe.
The verse says 'bring up' the cud -- sounds like regurgitation to me.
Our other key word here is 'alah, and it is found in some grammatical form on literally every page of the OT. This is because it is a word that encompasses many concepts other than "bring up." It also can mean ascend up, carry up, cast up, fetch up, get up, recover, restore, take up and much more. It is a catch-all verb form describing the moving of something to another place. (The literal rendering here is, "maketh the gerah to 'alah.")
Now, in the verses in question, 'alah is used as a participle. Let's look at the other verses where it is used this way (NIV only implies some of these phrases, and shown in parentheses, the phrase is in the original, sometimes in the KJV):
Josh. 24:17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt....
1 Sam. 7:10 While Samuel was sacrificing (offering) the burnt offering...
Nahum 3:3 Charging cavalry, flashing swords (lifted), and glittering spears!
Isaiah 8:7 ...therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River...
Ps. 135:7 He makes clouds rise (up) from the ends of the earth...
2 Sam. 6:15 ...while he and the entire house of Israel brought the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. (Similar quote, 1 Chr. 15:28)
So, the Hebrew word in question is not specific to the process of regurgitation but is instead merely a phrase of general movement. And related to the specific issue at hand, the rabbit is an animal that does "maketh" the previously digested material to "come" out of the body (though in a different way than a ruminant does) and does thereafter chew "predigested material." The mistake is in our applying of the scientific terms of rumination to something that does not require it.