Animals and Social Identity in the Gospels

My earlier posts and many of my posts to come have focused on “actual” animals: that is, animals as animals, whether for food, sacrifice, work, or clothing.  But what if an animal isn’t always an animal?  Or, put another way, when is a human not always a human?  One of the more striking – and socially interesting – mentions or usages of animals in the canonical gospels is for animalizing humans.  It is the flip side of anthropomorphizing animals.  What does it mean to call a human being or group of people the names of animals?  In the next few posts, I will consider “out-group” animalizations (turning rival groups into animals) in what usually amounts to name-calling, “in-group” animalizations, in which one seeks to cultivate a quality associated with an animal with a human being (though it can also serve other purposes as well), and, finally, cases when Jesus (usually) compares humans as a group to animals or a certain kind of animals in usually lesser (animals) to greater (humans) comparisons, in sayings that display Jesus’ anthropocentrism most clearly. 


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