In a recent excavation in Jerusalem, archaeologists uncovered an intriguing mystery within the remnants of a building dating back to the First Temple period. The focal point of this discovery was the 2,700 year old Pig Skeleton skeletal remains of a small pig, seemingly crushed amidst the debris from a catastrophic event that befell the structure.
A Menagerie of Bones
Within the same room, the archaeologists unearthed a diverse collection of skeletal remains belonging to various species, including cattle, goats, sheep, fish, birds, and gazelles. Remarkably, most of these bones exhibited signs of deliberate cutting and burning. Accompanying these finds were large storage vessels and small cooking pots, shedding light on a culinary aspect of ancient Jerusalem.
Forbidden Fare: Pork on the Menu?
The revelations from the excavation paint a vivid picture of on-site animal slaughter, suggesting a culinary tradition among the ancient residents of Jerusalem during the First Temple Kingdom of Judah. Surprisingly, the small pig in question seemed to have met its demise while the building collapsed, hinting at an unknown force as there is no record of an earthquake in Jerusalem during that time.
Breaking Religious Bounds
The significance of this discovery lies in the fact that the consumption of pigs and pork is strictly forbidden in the Jewish religion under the laws of Kashrut, derived from the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. This find raises questions about the adherence to these dietary prohibitions during ancient times and whether exceptions existed.
“It appears that this articulated pig may be evidence that, although pork was largely not consumed in Judah and Jerusalem, this was not necessarily based on a very strict taboo,” suggest the co-authors Lidar Sapir-Hen, Joe Uziel, and Ortal Chalaf in their article for the journal Near East Archaeology.
Social Disparities: Wealth and Rules
Adding another layer to the mystery, evidence points to the building housing the pig remains belonging to a wealthy family. Excavations revealed valuable artifacts and a stamping device known as a bulla, suggesting the residents were affluent and possibly influential.
The discovery raises the intriguing possibility that the wealthy in ancient Jerusalem may have operated under a different set of rules, a historical pattern seen in many societies. This duality of rules, one for the rich and another for the rest, poses questions about the social dynamics of the time.
The Threads of History: The Role of the Bible
Scarcity over Scripture
Co-author Lidar Sapir-Hen proposes an alternative perspective, suggesting that the scarcity of pig remains in the Ancient Near East during that era might have been more influential in limiting their consumption than strict Biblical prohibitions. Evidence from Late Bronze Age sites and other Iron Age locations in the region supports the idea that pig populations were low, making pig meat a rarity.
The Evolution of Religious Texts
Contrary to popular belief, most scholars now argue that the Old Testament was compiled during the Second Temple period, rather than the First Temple era. This revelation implies that religious practices in First Temple Jerusalem were diverse, and the Biblical rules might not have universally applied.
The discovery of the forbidden pig skeleton in ancient Jerusalem adds a layer of complexity to our understanding of dietary practices and societal norms during the First Temple period. Whether driven by scarcity, social privileges, or a nuanced interpretation of religious laws, the remnants of this pig offer a tantalizing glimpse into the culinary and cultural landscape of ancient Jerusalem.