Shellfish and Pigs, So Good…

shellfishI posted this the other day on Facebook because it made me laugh. It reminded me of a book I read a long time ago, way back when I was a young man at Penn State: Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches by Marvin Harris.

Not to go into too great of detail, but if I remember correctly, he postulates that the reason why early Judaism would have put a taboo on the shellfish was more for a socioeconomic reason. It makes no sense for a bunch of pastoral nomads to be spending their time trying to gather shrimp and lobsters when they needed to be spending their time with the sheep. Well, he does not put it quite that simply, I would recommend reading the book. It is quite good.

He also has a section on the pork taboo as well. His idea is that you would not want to raise pigs in that region because they need to be kept cool and moist, in an area where water is at a premium. Plus they would be competing for the same foods as humans, such as grain, etc. I always found that interesting, especially after I took a class on animal bone archaeology. One of the interesting things we talked about was the distribution of pig bones at sites in the region that had obvious butcher marks/been cooked or eaten (make sense?).

What archaeologists found was that when a group of people moved into the region, they brought pigs with them. Then as they got settled they started to cut the pigs out. The early Canaanites ate pig, but then as they built cities, they got rid of them at about the same time the taboo in their religion took hold. Same with the Israelites. We later see this with the Phillistines. They come to the region and it is like 70% pig meat, but then after a short period of time, the pig bones start to disappear. The main reason, if I remember correctly, is that pigs are great sources of protein (obviously: bacon-mmmmmmm) and the breed rather quickly. Unfortunately, they need tons of land and resources to maintain large populations, so after awhile, it is better to grow food to sustain people than to sustain pigs. So once your people are in place and have a season or two to start growing crops, you just give up on the pigs. Raise chickens or something.

Anyways, this is just a long-winded way of saying that I still remember stuff from college! My degree has value. Unless all of this stuff was wrong and someone posts that I am an idiot. Then I will fall back with the “hey, that was a long time ago” excuse.