Friday, May 13, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Legend of the Boar

The urban legend is that Jews didn’t eat pigs because pigs don’t thrive in the Middle East, which is hot and dry. 
The fact is that wild pig remains in the Holy Land turn up from Neanderthal times into the 21st century CE.
That’s right.  There are wild pigs in Israel today – not feral domestic pigs, but the old wild boar type that generated the Tammuz story and were hunted in Merrie Old England by the barons, as depicted in T.H. White’s Once and Future King.
The wild pigs live in the highlands; newspaper stories told of them destroying crops in 2010 CE, in the middle of a seven-year drought, and attacking the farmers who tried to drive them off.  Israel even puts up road signs meaning “pigs crossing” to warn motorists to watch out for them.  It’s the same kind of sign I used to see in my youth in an area full of wild deer, warning motorists that deer might skitter across the road.
In the Skhul caves with their layers of alternating Neanderthal and modern human remains, wild pig remains make up about 2% of the refuse of animals the residents ate more than 40,000 years ago.  In Dor of the 900s BCE, an archaeological dig in a place that was apparently an abattoir, turns up 1% of remains as coming from wild pigs.  Butchered domestic pigs date to the remains of Ashurbanipal’s palace in the 600s BCE.  Yeah, they didn’t truck that meat in from hundreds of miles away – no refrigerated trucks or train cars – they raised them right there and killed them for immediate consumption.
But in the highland settlements of the Holy Land dating between 1200 and 900 BCE, there are no pig bones.  People all around them are eating pigs, but the people in those settlements not only don’t eat the pigs, they don’t allow remains to be dragged into the settlement by their dogs.  If they have to kill wild pigs in self-defense, they drag the carcasses outside of the settlement to somewhere other than the refuse pits where they put the uneatable parts of sheep, goats, or cattle.
All those settlements have to be part of one culture with a strict prohibition on pigs from the time the settlements started up on bare ground, and they did not backslide as long as people lived in them. 
What’s more, those same settlements made their own pottery out of local materials.  They didn’t trade pottery with the lowlands.  They didn’t copy the pottery forms used in the lowlands. 
Pottery is fragile.  Among Bedouins, only the farming Bedouins have much pottery.  A nomadic Bedouin chief might have had one prized porcelain teacup; his people used wood or metal but not crockery.
There is no transition in these ancient hilltop settlements between thrown away broken pottery brought from the lowlands, and finds of the local ware.  The local ware shows up at once at the time of settlement.
Both of these issues have serious consequences for who lived in those settlements, and the consequences bust another urban legend.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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