Chew on This... Again!
Jeffrey A. Justice
Food for thought: Does [ref001]Leviticus 11:6
need rechewing? "The rabbit, though it chews the cud,
does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you" (NIV).
Inerrantists refuse to see this statement as a biological error
that incorrectly classifies the rabbit as a ruminant or cud-chewer.
Instead, they resort to speculation and claim that the statement
refers to another physiological process known as "refection,"
a little known behavior by which some animals reingest food that
has passed through their digestive tracts. The errantist view,
which is the more likely position, argues that the ancients observed
the rabbit's jaw movements, which mimic rumination or cud-chewing,
and mistook them as evidence of cud-chewing. Since the jaw movements
are identical to those of the true ruminants, it is little wonder
that the Bible blunders regarding this animal's biology.
To properly evaluate the inerrantist "explanation" of
, we must examine the difference in refection and rumination.
The former is a behavior by which rabbits eat their own feces
(caecotrophs) for nutritional benefit, whereas rumination or cud-chewing
is the regurgitation of food stored in the first chamber of a
multichambered stomach, so that the food can be further broken
down mechanically by chewing before it goes on to the next chamber
of the stomach, where it continues to be broken down by chemical
processes. (All true ruminants have chambered stomachs.)
Are They Equal Theories?
There are many weaknesses in the attempts to make refection equal
The major ones include these:
Facts About Refection: In _Science_in_the_Bible_,
a work that argues the inerrantist position, Jean Morton makes
the following comments:
Caecotroph formations were first described in The French Veterinary
Journal in 1882. Since that date , many zoologists have
considered this process [refection] as rumination. The identification
of the hare as a ruminant is based primarily on caecotroph formation
and bacterial decomposition of cellulose (Chicago: Moody Press,
Caecotroph formations are the soft fecal pellets reingested by
the rabbit during refection. Since they serve the same nutritional
purpose as a cud when rechewed, some inerrantists argue that the
Bible correctly classified the rabbit as a ruminant.
I disagree with the so-called "many zoologists" [which
zoologists?] because they define "ruminant" inaccurately.
The _American_Heritage_Dictionary_ defines ruminant
as, "Any of various hoofed, even-toed, usually horned mammals
of the suborder Ruminantia, such as cattle, sheep, goats, deer,
and giraffes, characteristically having a stomach divided into
four compartments and chewing a cud consisting of regurgitated,
partially digested food." Thus, the rabbit does not fit this
definition, and trying to classify it as a ruminant is a misuse
of the English language.
Morton further said, "The caecotrophs are generally passed
during late night or very early morning hours, so the average
individual may not have observed this process" (p. 181).
This fact raises an interesting question. Did Moses refer to the
well-known behavior of the camel (cud-chewing) in [ref003]Leviticus 11:5
and then in the very next verse refer to a behavior that
probably no one in biblical times had seen because it usually
occurs while most people sleep or lack of sunlight interferes
with visibility? Even today, most rabbit owners are not aware
of this behavior because it is a nocturnal practice.
This is a major weakness of the refection theory. To show how
weak it is, we have only to consider certain relevant questions:
Did the Leviticus writer refer to a behavior known to the average
Jew? Which behavior did he most likely refer to? Apparent rumination?
Refection? The jaw movements alone? The writer must have alluded
to something the Hebrews could relate to or else he wrote this
passage in vain, because no one would have understood him.
In _The_Private_Life_of_the_Rabbit_, R. M. Lockley
makes the following observations about refection from his five-year
research on the rabbit:
Our watches overnight were almost totally unproductive, except
as negative evidence. On rare occasions, one [rabbit] might return
below for an odd minute, even an hour, to rest and preen, and
reingest. However, so long as we could watch the rabbits underground
we had the ideal opportunity to study the phenomena of coprophagy
or reingestion.... Reingestion or eating of excrement [fecal pellets]
was seen occasionally out of doors.... Reingestion was observed
both out of doors [occasionally] by day and below ground; but
was most easily studied through the window of the artificial burrow....
Here it was most frequent between 0800 hours and 1700 hour [sic]
GMT; that is, for ten hours or so after the night grazing period....
It is an intermittent, not an incessant action.... Within a twenty-four-hour
watch underground, three rabbits reingested a mouthful of pellets,
respectively, on 37, 18, and 16 occasions (Macmillan: NY, 1964,
Did the ancients watch the rabbits refect in underground borrows
at night? Hardly! If the rabbits reingested on 37, 18, and 16
occasions below ground, then Lockely's use of the term "occasionally
out of doors" probably means a much lower number. This deceases
the odds for anyone both ancient and modern to observe this behavior.
Lockely further says, "It could easily be overlooked by the
casual observer..." (_Ibid_., p. 103, emphasis
added). So if the casual observer today can easily overlook this,
what about the ancient casual observer?
According to Lockely, the rabbit quickly retrieves the pellets
from the anus before they hit the ground (p. 103). He states that
the casual observer would probably not catch the rabbit making
this quick movement (p. 103). Even if the ancients had witnessed
the chewing of the feces which can last from one to over a hundred
seconds (p. 105), we should ask: what are the odds for the ancient
to have chanced upon the rabbit quickly retrieving the pellets
before chewing? If he had witnessed this action, what would he
have thought of it? Would the same individual witness this frequently
enough to think this was typical behavior? Would he think it was
rumination? The possibility seems both humorous and doubtful.
If he witnessed only the chewing, would he have assumed the rabbit
was chewing regurgitated bolus? "The observer could not see
the faeces because of the masking action [of the rabbit's mouth
structure] and the closed mouth" (p. 103, emphasis added).
Because of this, an ancient would have had difficulty knowing,
if witnessing reingestion, that the rabbit had feces in its mouth.
Since he could not have seen the feces, he would have more likely
assumed the rabbit was chewing cud.
Lockley goes on to say, "Later writers [after Leviticus],
even authorities on both wild and domestic rabbits, have seldom
referred to this phenomenon. In general, textbooks on rabbit physiology
and management ignore the subject, not because of its lowly theme
but because the authors apparently were ignorant of it" (p.
102, emphasis added). If, therefore, it is true that even authors
of textbooks on rabbit physiology have been ignorant of refection,
why should we believe the unsophisticated ancients were aware
of it? Can we reasonably believe this behavior went unnoticed
for thousands of years even by late rabbit physiologists yet was
common knowledge to the ancient Hebrews? Can the inerrantist believe
this more than that the rabbit's jaw movements were mistaken for
rumination? Every rabbit hunter, owner, and physiologist is familiar
with this frequent behavior! On the other hand, if refection was
such an unobvious behavior that people overlooked it for centuries,
would it have been an obvious enough behavior for Moses and those
who listened to him to be aware of it? Lockley ironically quotes
as an example of refection in the Bible (pp. 101-102)! However,
he gives absolutely no reason to justify his claim. Apparently,
he overlooked the overwhelming implications of his own research.
Phillip Eichman, Ph.D., cited his experience with a pet rabbit
to support Morton's caecotroph-formation view:
We had a rabbit once which was house broken and lived entirely
in the house with us humans.... His normal biological clock was
altered by living with us. He often ate his night feces during
the day. At first we thought that this was just a disgusting habit
which he had developed. However, I was at the time an undergraduate
biology major and happened to learn this was normal, healthy behavior
for a rabbit. In fact, the rabbit needs this material and the
vitamins and special factors produced by the microorganisms for
its survival" ("Does the Rabbit Chew the Cud?"
Does God Exist? March-April 1990, p. 19).
Dr. Eichman concluded from this that the rabbit practiced a "kind"
of rumination. Take note, however, of the rabbit owner's initial
response: he thought this behavior was "just a disgusting
habit which he had developed." Dr. Eichman did not relate
this behavior to rumination or a natural process until he learned
that it involved chemistry similar to rumination. Certainly, the
writer of Leviticus could not have believed that rabbits chewed
the cud because he knew about the role of microorganisms that
break down cellulose in the rabbit's caecotrophs or because he
was aware of the nutritional value of the caecotroph formations,
especially if they were first described in 1882! Cellulose breakdown
is an idea too modern for Moses' time. Would these characteristics
alone be enough to make an animal that has a split hoof clean
Incidentally, this example of a rabbit's refecting by day, because
indoor captivity altered its biological clock, proves that the
casual observer can witness refection in certain circumstances.
How regular this disturbance of the circadian rhythms of rabbits
kept indoors is may be worth further research. However, the Hebrews
probably did not keep rabbits as pets inside their homes.
Like Morton and Lockley, Dr. Eichman, overlooked the significance
of the fact that most people never witness refection in rabbits:
The material from the caecum is then passed on through the intestines
as a special type of feces known as night feces because this normally
occurs at night.... Most people have never seen a rabbit do this"
(Ibid., p. 19, emphasis added).
Yet, Dr. Eichman expects us to believe that Moses was talking
about refection and that most of the Hebrews understood what he
was saying! Lack of Historical Records: Inerrantists have presented
no ancient records that mention refection, which strongly suggests
that it is a recent discovery to which the writer of Leviticus
was not privy.
Ritual Cleanliness: Because of their obsession with ritual
cleanliness, it is doubtful the Jews would have ever thought the
eating of waste made an animal clean! Would God have to tell the
Jews not to eat such an animal because the Jew would interpret
this reingestion of fecal matter as rumination and as a sign of
Ancient Taxonomy: In _The_Encyclopedia_of_Bible_Difficulties
_Gleason Archer made this attempt to resolve the problem:
In this technical sense neither the hyrax nor the hare can be
called ruminants, but they do give the appearance of chewing their
cud in the same way ruminants do. So convincing is this appearance
that even Linnaeus at first classed them as ruminants, even though
the four-stomach apparatus was lacking" (1982, p. 126).
If Archer is correct that even Linnaeus, an inquiring scientist,
mistakenly classified the rabbit as a ruminant because the sidewise
jaw movements fooled him, can we believe that anyone before his
time knew better? So it appears that the writer of Leviticus made
the same error Linnaeus did. To claim the contrary requires verifiable
The Rock Badger: We must not overlook the rock badger mentioned
in [ref005]Leviticus 11:5
. I could find no discussion of this creature in inerrantist
literature, and I think I know why. I stumbled upon some possible
implications presented by this animal for the inerrancy debate.
The rock badger of [ref006]Leviticus 11:5
may "hold the key" to the validity of the refection
argument for the rabbit of [ref007]Leviticus 11:6
. Further inquiry on the rock badger may determine this argument's
success or failure. I have been unable to access any material
that deals specifically with the biology of the rock badger, so
errantists reading this article may wish to research this animal
to develop a better defense. _Fauna_and_Flora_of_the_Bible
_ identifies the rock badger as the Syrian coney [_Procavia
syriacus_] of the order Hyracoidea in the group of subungulates
(1972, pp. 69-70). We find this animal also wrongly listed in
Leviticus as a ruminant. Discussing the rock badger, the authors
of _Fauna_and_Flora_of_the_Bible__point out, "(A)lthough
it does not belong to the ruminants among which it is mentioned
in Lv. 11, when chewing it moves its jaws in a way that resembles
a ruminant" (p. 69). So was the writer of Leviticus deceived
by both the rabbit's and the rock badger's sidewise jaw movements?
Fauna and Flora of the Bible has also tried to make the rabbit
It is generally assumed that the Hebrews thought the rabbit was
a ruminant through observing the peculiar movements of its jaws
when chewing. Today we know that physiologically the hare is a
rodent [highly debatable], although the zoologists Osen and Madsen
[Investigations on Pseudo-Rumination in Rabbits, 1943] have demonstrated
that the hare and the rabbit perform a kind of rumination (p.
Notice that Fauna and Flora... does not say whether the rock badger
refects, although it gives refection as a possible explanation
for the rabbit. Perhaps the writers would have used this explanation
for the rock badger if the rock badger does refect, since they
thought it a plausible alternative explanation for the rabbit.
One wonders whether the rock badger does indeed refect, a matter
important to both the inerrantist and the liberal scholar.
The implications are obvious. If it cannot be proven that the
rock badger refects, then the inerrantist claim that the expression
"chews the cud" can refer either to refection or rumination
[whichever God secretly had in mind] will not stand, since the
rock badger practices neither! Thus, the inerrantist must either
concede that there are scientific errors in the Bible resulting
from ancient misunderstandings or that the Bible is excessively
inconsistent in its use of language, since the phrase "chews
the cud" will have to be stretched to mean jaw movements,
true rumination, or refection! Should it come to this, the inerrantists
will have to modify their present position or devise more plausible
arguments. Any modifications will have to be based on evidence,
not on the usual resorting to speculation that is characteristic
of most of their arguments.
The Hebrew Language: Now here is the clincher! According
to Strong's _Exhaustive_Concordance_of_the_Bible_,
"cud" [gerah] in [ref008]Leviticus 11:6
means, "the cud [as scraping the throat]: --cud"
(word 1625). The _American_Heritage_Dictionary_ defines
cud as, "Food regurgitated from the first stomach to the
mouth of a ruminant and chewed again." Strong doesn't help
the refection theory since his translation is the same as the
English definition, and its root meaning in Hebrew was "scraping
the throat." So cud is cud, not rabbit pellets. In what sense
could rabbit pellets be considered a scraping of the throat?
The word _chews_ in [ref009]Leviticus 11:6
, translated from the Hebrew word `alah, more accurately means,
"[cause to] ascend up" (_Strong's_, word
5927). Thus, the Hebrew phrase for "chews the cud" translated
literally means, "brings up the cud." This conclusively
proves that [ref010]Leviticus 11:6
gives a description of regurgitation, characteristic of true
rumination but in no sense characteristic of refection. Refection
does not involve regurgitation; thus, the phrase "brings
up the cud" cannot refer to the eating of excrement. To claim
this would distort the writer's intended meaning. It would be
very inaccurate to say of an animal, e.g., a dog, seen frequently
eating its feces, "Fido has been bringing up his food."
This would sound ridiculous and would even be misleading, because
it suggests that "Fido has been vomiting." When the
inerrantists use the refection argument, they assume they need
to prove that the rabbit chews, redigests, or forms cud, but this
distracts from the real issue. They need to prove that the rabbit
brings up the cud! The refection argument fails to prove this.
Until it does, we may consider it erroneous, and that is not all!What
inerrantists also need to prove is that gerah in this verse means
something other than regurgitated cud and that `alah means something
other than regurgitation. All of this needs to be proven with
verifiable evidence. Refection has a few characteristics similar
to rumination but not the most important one: regurgitation, the
same characteristic the Bible refers to! The best the inerrantist
can claim is that the phrase "chews the cud" can apply
to refection in some forced, nonsensical, strained, ludicrous,
and unnatural sense. The inerrantist cannot prove it is even unlikely
that "brings up the cud" refers to regurgitation of
cud! So one wonders why the writer of Leviticus did not use the
Hebrew word for "dung" if he meant refection!
Does God Lie... Sometimes?
In their desperate attempts to defend the Bible, some inerrantists
actually portray God as a cunning liar. For example, Gleason Archer,
who is notorious for his speculative arguments, attempts to tackle
the bunny problem in a way very unflattering to God: But we need
to remember that this list of forbidden animals was intended to
be a practical guide for the ordinary Israelite as he was out
in the wild looking for food. He might well conclude from this
sideways movement of the jaws that these animals ruminated like
the larger cattle; and since they fed on the same kind of grass
and herbs, they might well be eligible for human consumption.
Thus it was necessary to point out that they did not have hooves
at all and therefore could not meet the requirements for clean
food" (p. 126).
Now wait just a minute! Notice what Archer is saying. He is saying
effectively that this passage in Leviticus was written for the
common hunter and, therefore, described this phenomenon from the
hunter's mistaken point of view. The hunter might see the jaw
movements and mistake the rabbit for a ruminant and thus consider
it clean. Therefore, God validated this misconception but pointed
out that the rabbit did not have hooves! Mr. Archer doesn't seem
to realize he has contradicted himself. An important inerrantist
argument is that the Bible doesn't echo ancient scientific errors,
but Archer's argument implies that God just "played dumb"
and, to keep them from making a mistake, lied to the gullible
Jewish hunters by telling them the rabbit brings up its cud. Thus,
God had good intentions or reasons for employing this duplicity.
So instead of arguing that [ref011]Leviticus 11:6
does not contain an error, Archer has admitted that it does
contain an error and then proceeded to provide excuses for God's
error! However, excuses or good intentions for making errors do
not make errors not errors!
Some inerrantists will even suggest that God used metaphorical
language to give the Jews the impression that he meant rumination,
while he really meant refection. Millennia would pass before the
truth about the rabbit's feeding habits would become known through
modern science, so God just didn't tell his people this scientific
truth about rabbits. Does such a devious God deserve our respect?
If the ancients were unaware of refection and if God secretly
referred to this process, God knew in advance that the Hebrews
would interpret him to mean what they perceived as genuine rumination.
Why did God fool his own "chosen people"? Why has he
fooled most modern lay Bible students? Why does God bother to
speak to us at all if he does not care about miscommunication?
Do the Scriptures get their intended meaning from the human writer's
language or from God who covertly misuses the writer's language?
Other inerrantists argue that God used "accommodative language"
to refer to the rabbit's alleged rumination. Thus, it is explained,
God didn't mean anything literal or scientifically precise when
he inspired the writer to write this phrase. In other words, God
didn't necessarily refer to refection nor did he mean anything
literal about rumination.
The difficulty with invoking this explanation is the same as the
metaphorical-language explanation: did God, without making it
known that he was using some type of figurative language, use
this deceptive phrase to give the false impression that he validated
an ancient scientific misconception? The Bible was speaking of
clean and unclean animals that required literal characteristics
to determine their edibility. How can an animal figuratively classify
as clean or unclean to God? Would it not have been more direct
to avoid some weird metaphorical or accommodative language by
saying the rabbit is unclean because it really doesn't bring up
its cud? Surely God knows how to express "truth" this
clearly! This, by the way, would have constituted an awesome proof
of "scientific foreknowledge" in the Bible that inerrantists
could have appropriated to use in their evangelistic efforts to
convert unbelievers, not even to mention that God wouldn't have
had to go through the trouble of pointing out that the rabbit
doesn't have hooves! Besides all this, accommodative-language
and metaphorical arguments alone could defend practically any
religious book no matter how erroneous it was! These arguments
should be replaced with verifiable defenses.
Notice that the inerrantist dares never to define precisely what
an irrefutable error is! Since he does not define what an error
is, many gullible people do not know how to find them. Instead,
he arbitrarily argues that particular scriptures are not in error,
because they are true in any sense that he chooses to assign to
them. He might argue a scripture is true historically, chronologically,
or scientifically. If the Bible errs in chronology, he may claim
that chronology is not the issue; the Biblical writer's intent
was to show events in their "order of importance." If
the Bible errs in matters of science, he might argue that science
is not the issue; the writer's intended meaning was merely figurative.
It is as if he is always arguing, "Yes, this may be in error
if interpreted that way, but you are really supposed to interpret
it this way." Therefore, he can always ignore the most valid
or likely meaning of a passage and invent another way of interpretation
to excuse errors. True, the Bible requires different methods of
interpretation, but these methods should demand certain consistent
and nonarbitrary rules for application. If they do not, the inerrantist
cannot tell us what the Bible says since he really does not know
how to interpret it!
Is There a Way Out?
I have formulated below several arguments to support the inerrantist
position. Since the evidence against them is overwhelming and
leaves little room for convincing dispute, they appear weak and
unconvincing, but don't be at all surprised if inerrantists appropriate
some of them if you should ever bring up the cud-chewing problem.
(However, if this is argued, one should know such things as whether
the Hebrews used the term gerah [cud] interchangeably. Could it
mean cud and/or feces? _Strong's_Exhaustive_Concordance_of
the_Bible_ gives us but one choice. As one can see, this
argument is just plainly ridiculous for it ignores the context
and apparent language of [ref012]Leviticus 11:6
it_is_80%_true_that_the_rabbit_is_a_ruminant_. (I would be
surprised to hear this explanation from an evangelical inerrantist,
since the idea is influenced by many non-Christian ideas as Buddhism
and mysticism and conflicts with the Socratic Manichaeism of Pauline
theology. The inerrantist would have to redefine his position,
since if God can state sentences that are 80% true, then it follows
that such sentences are 20% false. This would also mean that 100%
inerrancy does not exist!)
it_for_eating_. (This is just a silly inerrantist argument
that I have fabricated. According to R. M. Lockley, they could
have seen these pellets only if they cut open the stomach and
if they killed rabbits early in the evening. It is doubtful, however,
that the ancients would have thought these soft pellets were for
reingestion. Instead of construing the pellets as anything related
to rumination or refection, the ancients probably would have thought
that the soft pellets were nothing more than ordinary hard pellets
in an early stage of digestion.)
It is, of course, possible some of the ancient Hebrews were aware
of refection, but don't conclude too much too fast! This wouldn't
necessarily imply that [ref013]Leviticus 11:6
is not a reference to rumination. Who knows? The ancients
could have thought that the rabbit chewed both regurgitated and
I have attempted to give many different facts to interpret [ref014]Leviticus 11:6
in its historical, cultural, and linguistic context. I am
sure there are many more factors to consider. Thus, I would strongly
urge all who read this article to take my food for thought and
chew on it. I think, however, I have provided skeptics with adequate
grounds to question the scientific accuracy of [ref015]Leviticus 11:6
. If someone tries to convince you that this passage has already
been explained by the refection argument, "bring up"
this issue and tell him he needs to "chew on this again!"