Snakes and Scorpions, Fish and Eggs

I am now winding down the discussions of eating animals in the (mostly synoptic) Gospels. There was one place that eluded my attention until now. It is part of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and paralleled in Luke (part of the “double tradition” or “Q”). I quote from the NRSV:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:9-10

Luke’s version is even more interesting in this case:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion.

Luke 11:11-12

In both cases, this comes in the context of the famous paragraph, “Ask and it will be give you.” Jesus’ rhetoric here – as it does throughout much of the Sermon on the Mount, works from lesser to greater. If you – who are evil (what a great view of humanity Jesus has here) – know how to give good gifts (bread and fish) rather than evil gifts (stones and snakes), how much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts, and, implied in Matthew is gives even better gifts than bread and fish. Luke is more explicit: the good heavenly gift the Father will give is the Holy Spirit (11:13).

While eating is not explicit here – no one is literally or parabolically sitting to eat a meal – and the context is gift-giving, the actual gifts here are food. It is the ubiquitous (in the gospels at least) bread and fish (in Matthew). This likely reflects the food available to Jesus’ audience in daily life, the food of regular folks who could not likely afford a fattened calf. Luke’s version is an interesting case, however, because, to my knowledge, this is the only place in the gospels (or New Testament) that even alludes to humans eating eggs – and vegetarians and vegans can debate whether or not egg consumption counts as eating animals.

In a final post, I hope to recap all of the animals mentioned as food in the gospels and think more about the gospel dietary staples of bread and fish.


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