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God's Covenant with Animals

by J R Hyland

reviewed by Rhona Zaid, PhD

Man, do not pride yourself on your superiority to {animals}, for they are without sin, and you with your greatness defile the earth.   Feodor Dostoyevsky, cited by J.R. Hyland

Written in an accessible and amenable style, which retains remarkable intellectual integrity, minister and scholar J.R. Hyland's meticulous study of the Bible's relationship to nonhuman animals spans both the Old and New Testaments.   The author reflects a "positive traditionalism", that seeks to honor God as Creator; she avoids the influence of that egregious brand of modern Bowdlerism, "political correctness", which only serves as a further obstacle to a frank discussion of this most important issue: the biblical justification-if any exists-of the misuse and abuse of nonhuman animals.

While it is easy to fault purposeful mis-translation as the root cause of misinterpretation-although surely it is an undisputed contributor to confusion-Hyland's choice of the "high road", genuinely to follow the Bible as written, to identify the inconsistencies in human behavior-not God's Law-demonstrates not only a superior knowledge of the Bible, but a profound understanding of human nature. The Bible is not so contradictory as doubters and detractors insist: it is human arrogance, selfishness, and ignorance of God's Law which are responsible for the abuse of the Creator's creatures.

Within the chapters of Genesis, both nonhuman and human animals were created with a nonviolent nature, and all dwelt peacefully and harmoniously in the Garden of Eden, where the earth provided its bounty; no creature fed on another, for there was no death.  Literally and metaphorically,  "in the beginning" there was indeed paradise.  It is the human element that occasions the well-known end to this paradisiacal existence, whose disobedience, according to literal interpretation introduced the knowledge of evil, and which degeneration resulted in eviction from the Garden. While, and this is increasingly true in these secular and "scientific" modern times, it is short work to dismiss the Fall as unduly simplistic, an absurd fable for children and the weak-minded, the fact remains that, as metaphor, it is a profound explanation of the difference between good and evil, as manifest in the two disparate natures: human, which now knows and invariably chooses evil, and the nonhuman, which continues to know only the good. When human nature becomes separate from that of its fellow creatures, it exchanges the Garden for an existence where "cursed is the ground because of you..." (Gen. 3:17) . Hyland's insightful interpretation of Original Sin bolsters her contention that "the Bible tells a story of regression, not progression."

Central to her thesis is the ritual of animal sacrifice, present in both Testaments.  Although, for centuries, the Hebrew Scriptures appeared to endorse the practice, there was an undercurrent that opposed it. With the prophet Isaiah in the eighth century B.C., that undercurrent became vocal, and opposition to ritual animal slaughter became a part of biblical record. While the priests, who wielded enormous religious and political power clearly had vested interest in continuing the practice, the voices of Isaiah and his successors, Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea, clamored to renounce the ungodly custom. In the progression of the struggle between the temporal representatives of religious authority and God's Law, "we see that it is conflict-not contradiction-that the Bible is reporting."  Such evidence can only lead to one logical conclusion: "It was man himself who had instituted sacrificial worship."

The New Testament even more overtly recognizes a God of love and justice, who is concerned with all of creation.  Jesus, in fact, committed his sole act of aggression against the ungodliness of animal sacrifice . "So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the Temple..." (John 2:13).  Hyland posits the radical interpretation that this act is the pivotal event in the subsequent arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus: "In trying to end the slaughter of animals…(he) was attacking the economic foundation of Jerusalem."  Such theory gives new meaning-or perhaps merely restores the authentic one-to the definition of Jesus as the lamb of God, for like the innocent creatures whose cause he championed, he too was "sacrificed".

Nonhuman animals participate in the heavenly chorus reported by the disciple John in books four and five of Revelations.  Because John's prophetic vision of the afterlife includes nonhuman animals, it is clear that the Bible does acknowledge that nonhuman animals not only have immortal souls, but will enter the kingdom of God.  By juxtaposing John's vision with his interpretation of the nature of nonhuman animals, a constant nature, before and after the Fall, Hyland concludes that it is only "prompted by human chauvinism  (that) many scholars have gone to great lengths to obfuscate the scriptural message of animal worth and... the afterlife."  It is human selfishness that accepts and promotes such misinterpretation, for in perpetuating the lie that animals are mere soulless 'things", objects created for the use and pleasure of humans, it can comfortably continue to exploit them. "Even the biblically illiterate," Hyland notes, benefit from this interpretation, as they, if ignorant of the source, "use these self-serving interpretations to justify the torment and slaughter of…God's creatures."

Many parallels exist in the modern world: the nefarious practice of wearing furs, hunting, and most particularly vivisection, which secular cult and its principal "priests", like its religious predecessor, enjoy a monopoly of terror over its adherents. Even as in the days of Isaiah, Jesus, and John, modern prophets point the way to salvation in condemning and publicizing its atrocities; yet they are silenced, as were their biblical models, often literally, not only by an entrenched authority with clearly vested interest, but by a populace whose cruelty is exceeded only by the ignorance in which it revels.

Hyland's book is a straight road through a millennia-old labyrinth: how to extricate God and Divine Law from the morass of "organized" religious interpretation.  Her unique exegis exalts the Bible's intent, and demonstrates that even a literal, as well as a metaphorical interpretation of Scripture can be consistent with God's purpose. Her spiritually enriching work is a joyous encounter with those radically logical conclusions that celebrate the purity of the unchanging nature of Divine Law     

Ordering information:

God's Covenant with Animals
by J.R. Hyland        Lantern Books, 2000
107 pps.      Referenced

$15 from Lantern Books,

One Union Square W.

New York NY 10003

or www.lanternbooks.com

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The Civil Abolitionist

Spring 2000-2001