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(MT versing)
Laws About Animals for Food Food Permitted and Forbidden Clean and Unclean Animals Animals That May be Eaten Clean and Unclean
a. on land
11:1-8 11:1-8 11:1-2a 11:1-8 11:1-2a
11:2b-8 11:2b
b. in water
11:9-12 11:9-12 11:9-12 11:9-12 11:9a
Avoid the Unclean c. birds
11:13-19 11:13-19 11:13-19 11:13-19 11:13a
d. winged insects
11:20-23 11:20-23 11:20-23 11:20-23 11:20-23
Unclean Animals Contact with Unclean Animals
11:24-28 11:24-28 11:24-28 11:24-28 11:24-28
e. small ground animals
11:29-38 11:29-38 11:29-38 11:29-38 11:29-30
Further Rules on Contact with Things Unclean
11:39-40 11:39-40 11:39-40 11:39-40 11:39-40
The Religious Aspect
11:41-45 11:41-45 11:41-45 11:41-45 11:41-45
11:46-47 11:46-47 11:46-47 11:46-47 11:46-47

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. It is possible to see the literary unit running from chapters 11-16 (i.e., UBS Handbook, p. 199), which describes how to deal with that which is "unclean." However, most scholars divide this into chapters 11-15 (Gordon J. Wenham), which deals with particular kinds of ceremonial uncleanness, and reserve chapter 16 for a unique unit on the Day of Atonement.

  2. The outline of this literary unit is:
    1. clean and unclean animals, Leviticus 11 (see Deut. 14:3-21)
    2. the purification following human childbirth, Leviticus 12
    3. the testing and purification of skin diseases, Leviticus 13-14
      1. in humans
      2. in clothes
      3. in houses
    4. the purification from bodily discharges, Leviticus 15
      1. men
        (1) temporary
        (2) permanent
      2. women
        (1) temporary
        (2) permanent

  3. The distinction between that which is "clean" and "unclean" goes back to the earliest parts of the Old Testament. In Gen. 7:2-3,8-9, Noah talks about clean and unclean animals, but the exact criteria about how to make the distinction is not given. It must be remembered that initially all animals, like all plants, were approved for food (cf. Gen. 9:3). Here, in Leviticus 11, which is also parallel in Deuteronomy 14, a new criteria is given for
    1. domestic land animals, Lev. 11:2-8
    2. water animals, Lev. 11:9-12
    3. birds, Lev. 11:13-19
    4. winged insects, Lev. 11:20-23
    5. that which swarms will be found in two categories, Lev. 11:29-38 and 11:41-45

  4. What is the basis of the food laws? There have been several theories.
    1. Israel had to be different from her pagan neighbors, particularly the Egyptians and the Canaanites (cf. Lev. 18:3). It is possible that the food regulations directly limited table fellowship between the two groups. See SPECIAL TOPIC: OLD TESTAMENT FOOD LAWS.
    2. It was for health purposes because many of these excluded animals carried specific kinds of diseases (see book by S. I. McMillen, None of These Diseases).
    3. As God had limited certain types of food which He accepted on the altar, particularly from the herd, so humans should emulate God and limit their food to that which is from the herd.
    4. Some assume that there are possibly three distinct, but inter-related, reasons concerning:
      1. the cultus of Israel was to exclude fellowship with non-Israelites
      2. the health of Israel
      3. the symbolic nature of the animals which were included or excluded

  5. All plants were considered "clean" and could be eaten (cf. Gen. 1:29), therefore, there are no "plant laws." Animals flesh came to be accepted food for humans after the flood (Gen. 9:3).


1The Lord spoke again to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, 2"Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth. 3Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat. 4Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these, among those which chew the cud, or among those which divide the hoof: the camel, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you. 5Likewise, the shaphan, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you; 6the rabbit also, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you; 7and the pig, for though it divides the hoof, thus making a split hoof, it does not chew cud, it is unclean to you. 8You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you."'

11:1 Notice in the early parts of Leviticus YHWH spoke exclusively to Moses (i.e., Leviticus 1-9), but in Lev. 10:8, YHWH spoke directly to Aaron for the first time (i.e., about no grieving over his two sons' deaths by YHWH's fire). Here, YHWH speaks to them both.
These food laws are directly from YHWH. They are meant to

  1. accentuate that which is clean and unclean
  2. to emphasize ceremonial holiness
  3. to keep the Israelites from table/worship fellowship with non-Israelites

11:2 "These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth" This is further defined in Deut. 14:4-8. The order of the animals here reflects that of Gen. 1:20-30. The criteria for these land animals is given in Lev. 11:3.

  1. they are to divide the hoof
  2. they are to chew the cud

11:6 "the rabbit also, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof" Literally, rabbits do not chew the cud but their mouth moves rapidly back and forth and it seems that they are chewing, like cattle. Maybe the Hebrew word means "to chew thoroughly." The reason that the camel, the rock badger, the rabbit, and the pig are discussed is because they are "half-clean," in the sense that they do one or the other of the criteria.
Other animals are not mentioned because it is obvious that they do not fit.
The Jewish Study Bible, p. 229, adds an interesting note about the approved, large land animals. The domestic ones are part of the sacrificial system (cf. Deut. 14:4) and they can be eaten by

  1. individual Israelites ‒ peace offering
  2. priests ‒ sin, guilt, grain offerings

But, the animals discussed here are non-domestic animals which Israel can eat (cf. Deut. 14:5-6).

  1. deer
  2. gazelle
  3. roebuck
  4. wild goat
  5. ibex
  6. antelope
  7. mountain sheep

11:7 "pig" The pig seems to be singled out as being especially inappropriate for food. This is somewhat unusual because the pig was used widely in the ancient Orient because it grew rapidly on foodstuff that other animals would not eat. One possibility is the presence of large numbers of pig bones found in Canaanite temples in Palestine (see R. K. Harrison, Leviticus, Tyndale OT Series, vol. 5, pp. 121-123). This would mean that the pig had some religious or cultus significance which excluded it. Others say that it was because of the pig's hygienic problems, especially in a hot climate (see Introductory notes D.).

11:8 "You shall not eat of their flesh or touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you" There is something here of ceremonial uncleanliness but also hygienic purposes. If there were a type of infection or possibility of infecting the whole community, then touching a dead animal would be a means of spreading that. Here is the same question, "Are these guidelines for hygienic or ceremonial purposes?" probably it is both.

9"'These you may eat, whatever is in the water: all that have fins and scales, those in the water, in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. 10But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you, 11and they shall be abhorrent to you; you may not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses you shall detest. 12Whatever in the water does not have fins and scales is abhorrent to you.'"

11:9 "These you may eat, whatever is in the water: all that have fins and scales" This refers to freshwater or sea water. This is also discussed in Deut. 14:9. Some would say that these criteria are based on the normal way that these animals move in their own environment; land animals, sea animals, insects, and swarming animals. But this is somewhat vague. We simply do not know why some animals are included and some excluded or why the criteria are given in this exact way.

11:10 "detestable" This is one Hebrew root, שׁקע (BDB1054, 1055) which forms two nouns with just different vowels. They both occur primarily in Leviticus 11 and Deut. 7:26 (NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 243-246).

In the parallel passage of Deut. 14:3 a parallel word is used, "abomination," see SPECIAL TOPIC: ABOMINATION (OT). Remember this is not about ethics or morality but "holiness" and the ability to fellowship with a "holy" God (see SPECIAL TOPIC: WORSHIP and SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HOLY ONE).

This has all passed away because

  1. there is no more Jewish temple
  2. Jesus directly changed the focus in Matt. 15:10-20 and Mark 7:19 (also note Acts 10; 15; Rom. 14:1-12; 1 Cor. 10:23-33; Col. 2:16; 1 Tim. 4:4).

13"'These, moreover, you shall detest among the birds; they are abhorrent, not to be eaten: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard, 14and the kite and the falcon in its kind, 15every raven in its kind, 16and the ostrich and the owl and the sea gull and the hawk in its kind, 17and the little owl and the cormorant and the great owl, 18and the white owl and the pelican and the carrion vulture, 19and the stork, the heron in its kinds, and the hoopoe, and the bat.'"

11:13 "These, moreover, you shall detest among the birds" Leviticus 11:13-19 contains a long list of birds. Most of them seem to be scavenger types (cf. Deut. 14:11-18). We are uncertain as to the exact type of many of these birds (see UBS Handbook, pp. 162-162 for translation options). All birds not listed are clean to eat.
The bat is included with the birds (Lev. 11:19) because in the ANE it was included in lists of winged creatures. Today, we know it is not technically a bird. Remember, like the rabbit, this is about human perception, not modern biological categories.

NASB, TEV, NJB, JPSOA, LXX, Vulgate  "pelican"
NKJV  "jackdaw"
NRSV, NIV  "desert owl"
Peshitta (Lamsa)  "hoopoe"
REB  "horned owl"

  The MT has a root (BDB 866, KB 1059) which is uncertain. Most ancient versions translate it as "pelican" (cf. Deut. 14:17), but this is problematic because

  1. it seems to be a desert creature of ruins (cf. Isa. 34:11; Zeph. 2:14)
  2. it is a symbol of isolation, but pelicans form groups (Ps. 102:7)

The UBS Handbook, p. 163, suggests "owl."

20"'All the winged insects that walk on all fours are detestable to you. 21Yet these you may eat among all the winged insects which walk on all fours: those which have above their feet jointed legs with which to jump on the earth. 22These of them you may eat: the locust in its kinds, and the devastating locust in its kinds, and the cricket in its kinds, and the grasshopper in its kinds. 23But all other winged insects which are four-footed are detestable to you.'"

NASB, NRSV, JPSOA, NET, LXX  "that walk on all fours"
NKJV, Peshitta  "that creep on all fours"
NJB  "moving on all four feet"
REB  "go on all fours"

  The MT has

  1. the "to be" VERB (Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE)
  2. the preposition "upon"
  3. "four," SINGULAR (BDB 916, cf. Lev. 11:27)

  The UBE Handbook, p. 163, says "This expression is surprising, since the ancient Jews almost certainly knew that winged insects had six legs. The expression was probably used in a non-literal sense, meaning 'to crawl' and was used of any flying creature with more than two legs to distinguish the insects from other flying creatures, such as birds just mentioned in the previous verses."

11:21 "those which have above their feet jointed legs" The MT has "which do not have legs." The Masoretic scholars changed this (Qere) to "which have legs." The term "bended legs above their feet" is surely implied by the following VERB "to leap" (BDB 684 I, KB 736, Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT).

24"'By these, moreover, you will be made unclean: whoever touches their carcasses becomes unclean until evening, 25and whoever picks up any of their carcasses shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. 26Concerning all the animals which divide the hoof but do not make a split hoof, or which do not chew cud, they are unclean to you: whoever touches them becomes unclean. 27Also whatever walks on its paws, among all the creatures that walk on all fours, are unclean to you; whoever touches their carcasses becomes unclean until evening, 28and the one who picks up their carcasses shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; they are unclean to you.'"

11:24-25 "whoever touches their carcasses. . .whoever picks up any of their carcasses" Notice that there is ceremonial uncleanness involved even in the touching of the animals mentioned as "unclean," which may imply a hygienic purpose or ceremonial distinction. However, we are uncertain.
There was a procedure for being restored to a state of "cleanness"/"holiness" (cf. Lev. 11:25,28,31,32,40).

  1. wash clothes
  2. be excluded from worship and/or cultic participation for a period of time
  3. if it is a vessel, break it (Lev. 11:33)
  4. if it is made of stone, break it (Lev. 11:35)

God provided a clear and repeated procedure for restoration!
The sacrificial system was a means of restoration of fellowship between sinful humans and a holy God.

29"'Now these are to you the unclean among the swarming things which swarm on the earth: the mole, and the mouse, and the great lizard in its kinds, 30and the gecko, and the crocodile, and the lizard, and the sand reptile, and the chameleon. 31These are to you the unclean among all the swarming things; whoever touches them when they are dead becomes unclean until evening. 32Also anything on which one of them may fall when they are dead becomes unclean, including any wooden article, or clothing, or a skin, or a sack—any article of which use is made—it shall be put in the water and be unclean until evening, then it becomes clean. 33As for any earthenware vessel into which one of them may fall, whatever is in it becomes unclean and you shall break the vessel. 34Any of the food which may be eaten, on which water comes, shall become unclean, and any liquid which may be drunk in every vessel shall become unclean. 35Everything, moreover, on which part of their carcass may fall becomes unclean; an oven or a stove shall be smashed; they are unclean and shall continue as unclean to you. 36Nevertheless a spring or a cistern collecting water shall be clean, though the one who touches their carcass shall be unclean. 37If a part of their carcass falls on any seed for sowing which is to be sown, it is clean. 38Though if water is put on the seed and a part of their carcass falls on it, it is unclean to you.'"

11:29 "Now these are to you the unclean among the swarming things" There is another group of swarming things, as in Lev. 11:41. The difference between these two terms is uncertain. The group found in Lev. 11:29-38 includes the mole, the mouse, lizards, geckos, crocodiles, other kinds of lizards, sand reptiles, and chameleons. Again, moderns are uncertain about the names of thee particular ANE animals. Check other translations to see the variety that is possible.

11:32-35 This shows the ceremonial nature of these laws because some utensils had to be washed; some had to be broken and the contents thrown out. Notice in Lev. 11:36 that a large body of water, like a cistern, was not unclean because of these animals. This shows the very practical nature of these laws.

11:35 "stove" This term (BDB 468) is in the dual form and, therefore, denotes a fire stove on which two cooking pots could be used. It occurs only here in the OT (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 635).

39"'Also if one of the animals dies which you have for food, the one who touches its carcass becomes unclean until evening. 40He too, who eats some of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening, and the one who picks up its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.'"

11:39-40 This shows that even "clean" animals that die of natural causes become "unclean."

41"'Now every swarming thing that swarms on the earth is detestable, not to be eaten. 42Whatever crawls on its belly, and whatever walks on all fours, whatever has many feet, in respect to every swarming thing that swarms on the earth, you shall not eat them, for they are detestable. 43Do not render yourselves detestable through any of the swarming things that swarm; and you shall not make yourselves unclean with them so that you become unclean. 44For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. 45For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.'"

11:41-43 The swarming things mentioned here seem to involve those which crawl on their belly, walk on all fours, or have many feet. All of these were "unclean" and could not be eaten.

11:43 "Do not render yourselves detestable" This VERB (BDB 1055, KB 1046, Piel IMPERFECT) is used in a JUSSIVE sense.
The theologically parallel VERB (BDB 379, KB 375) is "defile oneself," which the NASB translates as "make yourselves unclean." It is used in Lev. 11:24,25,26,27,28,31,32,33,34,35,36,39,40,43,44, but not in the parallel passage of Deuteronomy 14.

11:44 "I am the Lord your God" This is covenant language (cf. Exod. 6:7; 16:12; 23:25). Notice the use of both common titles for Deity.


YHWH was uniquely Israel's God. See the following Special Topics


▣ "Consecrate yourselves" One would expect this, like "be holy," to be an IMPERATIVE, but it is not.

  1. "consecrate" ‒ BDB 872, KB 1073, Hithpael PERFECT with waw, cf. Lev. 20:7
  2. "be holy" ‒ BDB 224, KB 243, Qal PERFECT with waw

Since there is a waw with these PERFECTS, it could be understood as an IMPERFECT (cf. Lev. 19:20. If this is true, then the IMPERFECT could function as a JUSSIVE.
The Tabernacle, its utensils, and its workers were all "consecrated," but now so are its worshipers!

▣ "be holy" See grammatical note above and SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY.
"Holy," in this context, is not ethical or moral but ceremonial. In Lev. 19:2 (cf. Matt. 5:48) it takes on a religious aspect related to how the Israelites deal with:

  1. their idolatrous neighbors
  2. their fellow countrymen (i.e., covenant partners)
  3. their covenant God

▣ "for I am holy" YHWH chose Abraham to choose a family or people who would reflect His character to a pagan world (see a negative example in Ezek. 36:22-36). YHWH has an eternal redemptive plan for all humans made in His image. See SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN and SPECIAL TOPIC: WHY DO OT COVENANT PROMISES SEEM SO DIFFERENT FROM NT COVENANT PROMISES?

11:45 This verse goes back to reiterate YHWH's historical acts of deliverance from Egypt (i.e., Exodus and Numbers), which were prophesied in Gen. 15:12-21.

  1. brought you up from the land of Egypt
    1. exodus from Egypt (cf. Lev. 19:36; 22:33; 23:43; 25:38,42,52; 26:13,45)
    2. wilderness wandering period
    3. conquest of Canaan (i.e., Joshua)
  2. to be your God-covenant Deity (cf. Lev. 11:44)d
  3. you shall be holy for I am holy (see notes at Lev. 11:44). This these is repeated often in Leviticus (cf. Lev. 11:45; 19:2; 20:7,26). The key word in Leviticus is "holy" and the key task is "be clean."

46This is the law regarding the animal and the bird, and every living thing that moves in the waters and everything that swarms on the earth, 47to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten.

11:46-47 This is a summary of Leviticus 11 laws added by the author or editor of Leviticus (cf. Lev. 12:7b; 13:54-59; 14:32,54,57; 15:32-33; for "Law" see SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. What is the purpose of the food laws?
  2. Where does the distinction of "clean" and "unclean" come from?
  3. Has man always been a meat eater?
  4. Does Lev. 11:6 prove the Bible is not accurate?
  5. Explain the difference between sacrificially clean versus clean to eat.
  6. Is this system still God's will for His children? Why or why not?
  7. What does "holy" imply in Lev. 11:44?
  8. Why is Leviticus 11 different from Deuteronomy 14?

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