Pigs and Their Prohibition

Pigs and Their Prohibition

Richard A. Lobban Jr. (Rhode Island College)

International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Feb., 1994), pp. 57-75


Little is more central to the study of the modern Middle East than religion. Amidst the differences between the Judaic and Islamic traditions, both are unified about the religious prohibition of swine as a source of food. This taboo is one of the more significant common markers of their ethnicity and religious code. Indeed, violations or poor adherence to the taboo can be considered as grave religious insults or cultural transgressions. In India, the meat of swine has been thrown on mosque steps and has provoked major intercommunalrioting. Even as one flies to the Middle East in modern, high-technology European airlines, the companies commonly inform all passengers that the meals contain no pork. In Spain, the ritual public slaughter of pigs, the matanza, has come to symbolize the resistance of Christians to the Muslim occupation. The matanza ritual has come to be a mod- ern element in the formation of Spanish religious and cultural identity (Castaner 1988). Yet, the debate about the origins of this modern taboo is unresolved and still continues.

This article accepts the task of trying to understandthis importantmodern taboo by investigating its deep roots in Middle Eastern antiquity. The data brought into this discussion require a journey back into periods that are more removed than normal for scholars of Islamic or Judaic societies. However, the discovery of the origins of the pig taboo is inherently liberating for those who seek scholarly reflection and inquiry on this subject. Thus, what may appear to be a study of irrelevant antiquity is, in fact, remarkablyapplicable to this contemporarypractice. Ultimately, this study is based upon a realization of the deeper unity of the peoples of this region ratherthan the divisions that so often predominate

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