The Teaching of Rabbi Dr. Gabriel Cousens
The following is adapted from Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Conscious Eating (2000), Chapter 18, Sub-Chapter: ‘Jesus and Vegetarianism.’
It is a lot easier to understand Jesus’ teachings about vegetarianism when he is understood in his historical context. He and his family were associated with the Essene movement of the times. The Essenes were Jewish communities of very evolved people who had broken away from the mainstream of Jewish thought several hundred years before the time of Jesus. They were vegetarians in accordance with the highest meaning of the Law of Moses, which said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ They were also against the practice of animal sacrifice. In The Prophet of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ewing quotes Philo of Alexandria, a historian writing during the time of Jesus’ ministry, who said:
They are called Esseni because of their saintliness. They do not sacrifice animals, regarding a reverent mind as the only true sacrifice.
Ewing quotes Professor Teicher in saying:
But we have here (in the Essene scriptures) the emphatic prohibition of eating animals. No consumption of meat means no killing of animals and both together means no sacrifice of animals.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, by Miller Burrows, quotes from the Essene scriptures:
Let not a man make himself abominable with any living creature or creeping thing by eating of them.
The lives of the Essenes required a discipline and purity of mind, body, and spirit that was beyond the practice of the typical religious person of the time. The Essenes developed self-sufficient communities in the peace of the desert in order to make it easier to focus on God. It is thought that Jesus and his parents were part of the Essenes, some of whom were also called the Nazarenes. It is said that Jesus escaped to an Essene community in the desert to avoid the murderous intent of King Herod. It was in the Essene communities that he was raised and trained. Some of the Essenes, such as John the Baptist, as well as the Master Jesus himself, went out into public to uplift the people. As part of their teaching of compassion and love for all life, they taught vegetarianism. For example, in The Essene Gospel of Peace, Boo One (p. 36), Jesus is quoted as saying:
God commanded your forefathers: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ But their heart was hardened and they killed. Then Moses desired that at least they should not kill men, and he suffered them to kill beasts. And then the heart of your forefathers was hardened yet more, and they killed men and beasts like wise. But I do say to you: Kill neither men nor beasts, nor yet the food which goes into your mouth. For if you eat living [uncooked] food, the same will quicken you, but if you kill your food, the dead food will kill you also.
What is important here is that this teaching is a direct quote of Jesus from an original Aramaic third-century manuscript found in the secret archives of the Vatican. It is not a teaching by implication. The message is consistent with Jesus’ own dietary practice and that of his community of birth and where he grew up, which also practiced vegetarianism. Aside from these exciting findings, most of the information concerning Jesus’ explicit teachings on this subject has been lost or destroyed. One exception is the work of Epiphanius (A.D. 315–403), a Catholic bishop of Constantia in Cyprus. In this book Panarion (as explained in A Critical Investigation of Epiphanius’ Knowledge of the Ebionites: A Translation and Critical Discussion of ‘Panarion,’ by Glenn Alan Kochit), Epiphanius points out that according to the Ebionites, a group of early Judaic Christians who were vegetarians:
Whenever you speak to them (Ebionites) concerning flesh food, the Ebionites reply they were vegetarian because ‘Christ revealed it to me.’ [This was a direct teaching they were referring to and not a revelation.]
There is another early book called The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, also known as The Gospel of the Hebrews, the Essene Gospel, the Gospel of the Ebionites, or just plain ‘the Gospel.’ This book has been translated from the Aramaic by the Englishman Reverend Gideon H. Ousley (1835–1906). Ousley claims that it is the translation of the original gospel, and that it had been preserved first by the Essenes and then later in a Tibetan monastery after the Essenes were forced to leave their communities in A.D. 68 by the advancing Romans. The Essenes apparently hid many of their scriptures in the desert (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) and took some with them as they dispersed. Reverend Ousley claims that this Gospel was taken to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery by Essene monks. It was in the Tibetan monastery that Reverend Ousley found it. If this is authentic, as some scholars believe, it would be the most ancient and complete writings available about Jesus and his teachings. Dr. Ewing believed that this might be the original gospel, but it might have been known primarily as ‘the gospel’ and was written in western Aramaic. Jesus’ teaching of vegetarianism in The Gospel of the Hebrews is both poetic and clear as he answers a doubting Sadduce man who asked, ‘Tell me, please why sayest thou, do not eat the flesh of animals …?’ Jesus’ beautiful answer to him was:
‘Behold this watermelon, the fruit of the earth.’ Jesus then broke open the watermelon and said: ‘See thou with thine own eyes the good fruit of the soil, the meat of man, and see thou the seeds within, count ye them, for one melon maketh a hundredfold and even more. If thou sow this seed, ye do eat from the true God, for no blood was spilled, nay no pain nor outcry did ye hear with they ears or see with thine eyes. The true food of man is from the mother of the earth, for she brings forth perfect gifts unto the humble of the land. But ye seek what Satan giveth, the anguish, the dead, and the blood of living souls taken by the sword. Know ye not, those who live by the sword are the ones who die by the same death? Go thine ways then, and plant the seeds of the good fruit of life, and leave ye off from hurting the innocent creatures of God.’
In a teaching to his disciples in Lection XXXII, verse 4, of The Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus is completely clear about the opposition to killing and eating animals:
For the fruits of the trees and the seeds of the herbs alone do I partake, and these are changed by the Spirit into my flesh and my blood. Of these alone and their like shall ye eat who believe in me, and are my disciples, for of these, in the Spirit, come to life and health and healing unto man.
In the same section, verse 9, Jesus explains the problem of the custom of flesh-eating with an understanding of the past and a prophecy for the future return to vegetarianism for the whole world:
Verily I say unto you, in the beginning, all creatures of God did find their sustenance in the herbs and the fruits of the earth alone, till the ignorance and the selfishness of man turned many of them from the use which God had given them, to that which was contrary to their original use, but even these shall yet return to their natural food, as it is written in the prophets (Isaiah), and their words shall not fail.
In Lection XXXVIII, verses 3, 4, and 6 of The Gospel of the Hebrews, the spiritual meaning of the awareness and practice of the oneness with all of life is translated into Jesus’ teachings of vegetarianism and noncruelty to animals and all of life; his words are consistent with the awareness one would expect from someone of Jesus’ great spiritual stature:
3 God giveth the grains and the fruits of the earth for food; and for righteous man truly there is no other lawful sustenance for the body.
4 The robber who breaketh into the house made by man is guilty, but they who break into the house made by God, even of the least of these are the greater sinners. Wherefore I say unto all who desire to be my disciples, keep your hands from bloodshed and let no flesh meat enter your mouths, for God is just and bountiful, who ordaineth that man shall live by the fruits and seeds of the earth alone.
6 And whatsoever ye do unto the least of these my children, ye do it unto me. For I am in them and they are in me. Yea, I am in all creatures and all creatures are in me. In all their joys I rejoice, in all their afflictions I am afflicted. Wherefore I say unto you: Be ye kind one to another, and to all the creatures of God.