The Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting has just published my article, "Other Voices: Remembering the Marginalized Vegetarian in the Study of Christian Origins." The article can be read here. A few thoughts:
Most people associate vegetarianism with Eastern religions like Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but there are also ancient vegetarian traditions in Judaism and Christianity. These are not so well known, but a divinely mandated vegetarianism is embedded in the biblical narrative of Genesis and was further idealized by the prophet Isaiah. The first chapter of Genesis established the foundation of a covenantal and prophetic narrative envisioning the primordial purity of a nonviolent relationship between humanity and the animal kingdom. The loss and restoration of that purity became a major theme in Judaism.
Today this ancient discourse coexists in tension with the legislation of meat-eating and sacrifice inscribed in the Torah. The Torah prohibits inflicting suffering on animals and stresses compassion, a mandate reiterated in the Talmud. Yet the Torah also permits the consumption of meat. Moreover, the central religious institution of early Judaism was the sacrificial cult, where animal sacrifice and meat consumption were integral components of prayer, thanksgiving, worship, purification, and atonement.
My article argues that the vegetarian traditions in early Judaism and (Jewish) Christianity have been obscured and overshadowed by normative assumptions about the efficacy of Jewish sacrificial worship, the early Christian rejection of animal sacrifice, and a heresiological discourse that regarded vegetarianism as deviance, but that these "other voices" can still be heard, however faintly, in the ancient sources.