The Return of the Pig

Leviticus 11 gives the list of a permitted and prohibited foods. “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, Say to the Israelites: Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud. There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof, it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.”

In the books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings, King David maintained his fealty to God alone, but subsequent kings, notably in the Kingdom of Israel, did not. Ahaziah worshipped Baal, and the kings Jehoahaz, Jehoash and Jeroboam II each “did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat.” In the Kingdom of Judah, the kings Jehoram and Ahaziah “followed the ways of the kings of Israel.”

In the archaeological record, it appears that the Bible’s stories of the worship of God alone not being honored are matched by a change in pig consumption.

At the end of the Late Bronze Age and into the Iron I period, a new population emerges in the central hill country, the area of the Samarian and Judean highlands. This population settles in villages at new sites, lives in unique pillared houses, utilizes poorer quality pottery, and in a cultural phenomenon similar to the biblical prohibition, avoids pig in their diet. This lies in contrast with the Philistines who settled in the coastal region, for whom pigs were central to their diets.

In the Iron IIB period, this pattern changes.

In the Iron IIB, in the northern Kingdom of Israel, pig appears to be an important part of the local diet. By contrast, in the southern Kingdom of Judah, pig is not a part of the local diet, in continuity with the pattern established in the Iron I and Iron IIA period.

This food consumption pattern mirrors the Bible’s account of the northern Kingdom of Israel’s lessening attachment to God in the Iron IIB period, while the southern Kingdom of Judah for the most part maintained its fealty to God. In the books of 1 and 2 Kings, the northern kings are chastised for worshipping other gods, while the southern kings for the most part do not worship other gods.

If pig avoidance was indeed connected to a biblical prohibition, than the pig consumption patterns could be an indicator for a declining attachment to God’s laws in the northern Kingdom of Israel.

The image above is of a pig skull, the type that might be found in the refuse dumps of ancient northern Kingdom Iron IIB towns.