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Are praying mantises kosher?
To most westerners, the idea of eating insects is so disgusting that they find it surprising that God would have to give Moses (Leviticus 11:20) a law to forbid it: “All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you.”
Many evolutionists scoff at the Bible, and this is a text they love to mock. Dr Gilbert Waldbauer, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Entomology (the study of insects) at the University of Illinois and member of the Society for the Study of Evolution, makes this jibe at Moses: “The specification of creeping things that go on all fours is a bit confusing. Insects have six legs. But the author of Leviticus seems not to have noticed that.”1
Is Dr Waldbauer right? Actually, no. Because there are insects—all of which have six legs—which do indeed “walk on all fours”. How so? The ultimate “author of Leviticus”—the Creator of all insect kinds about 6,000 years ago—also inspired Moses (Leviticus 11:21–23) to qualify the description (v. 20) of insects that walk “on all fours”: “There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. But all other winged creatures that have four legs you are to detest.” Now, it’s interesting to note that Dr Waldbauer acknowledges that “The first two pairs of a grasshopper’s legs are of the walking type, but the hind legs are very evidently modified for jumping”2—which matches what Leviticus actually says. That is, just because we call them legs, it doesn’t follow that the Hebrews did.3 They tended to classify according to function. It is chronological snobbery to dismiss this classification as wrong. Indeed, it’s absurd even on the face of it to think that the Hebrews didn’t notice the prominent limbs when they considered eating them.4
Are there any other insects that “walk on all fours”? Praying mantises hold their front pair of legs up in front of them in a “prayerful” pose. These are covered with sharp barbs which help the mantises catch their food. When another insect walks past, the mantis’s front “legs” whip out and capture lunch! It uses its rear four legs for walking.
Imagine an ancient Israelite who found a praying mantis. He knows that the Law of Moses bans eating nearly all insects, except for some that “walk on all fours”. Here is an insect that walks on four legs, but does he eat it? No, because praying mantises do not “have jointed legs for hopping on the ground”. Thus it depended upon the legs’ function, i.e. insects with four legs for walking and two legs for hopping were okay to eat.
So, based upon leg function, praying mantises are not “kosher”, but locusts are. Why did God allow the eating of locusts, but not praying mantises? One possible factor may have been the insects’ diet—locusts are herbivores, while most carnivores are designated “unclean” in the Law of Moses. Another factor may be related to God’s mercy. Remember that locusts could devastate crops, leaving famine in their wake. Even in the midst of judgment (e.g. Deuteronomy 28:38; 2 Chronicles 7:13–14) God was gracious and let Israel eat this protein-rich food source.
References and notes
- Waldbauer, G., The Handy Bug Answer Book, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, 2003, p. 246. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 49. Return to text.
- Similarly, we know that when the English Bible includes bats in the category of “birds” (Leviticus 11:13–19), it is using different definitions from those used by modern-day science. The Hebrew word rendered “bird” is עוף (‘ôph) which just means “winged/flying creature”. See: Holding, J., Does the Bible call the bat a bird? Tektonics, tektonics.org/af/batbird.html, 29 August 2006. Return to text.
- For more on this see: Holding, J., Four legs good, six legs bad, Tektonics, tektonics.org/af/buglegs.html, 24 March 2006. Return to text.