In antiquity, ritual slaughter and animal sacrifice was one and the same. Thus, as argued by Detienne et al(1). for the Greeks, consumption of meat not slaughtered ritually was unthinkable, so that beyond being a tribute to the gods, Greek animal sacrifice marked a cultural boundary, separating “Hellenes” from “barbarians“. Greek animal sacrifice was Christianized into slaughter ceremonies involving Greek Orthodox Christian ritual, known as kourbania.
Kourbania (Greek) via Turkish Kurban; from the Arabic qurban “sacrificial victim”; compare Hebrew korban) refers to a practice of Christianized animal sacrifices in some parts of Greece. It usually involves the slaughter of lambs as “kourbania” offerings to certain saints.
The practice involves the blood sacrifice of a domestic animal to either a saint, taken as the tutelary of the village in question, or dedicated to the Holy Trinity or The Virgin. The animal is slaughtered outside the village church, during or after the Divine Liturgy, or on the eve of the feast day.
I am writing this for the twittersphere and one tweeter who espouses a Judeo-Christian traditions and eschews Islamic ritual with no apologies. She makes no secret of her alienation to dhabiha or zabiha. I am sorry if it’s too brief.
When you look into the history of sacrificial ritual you discover that there is no such thing as “ritual slaughter” – rather it is an unhelpful term along with the word “sacrifice”. That is how they killed their animals to eat.
Martin Henig, in his “Religion in Roman Britain” (Routledge; New Ed edition (5 July 1995)), describes how the people of Britain would have had feelings of guilt when killing. He refers to animals, in his words, needing to be willing. Perhaps animals should not resist or baulk but be relaxed, at ease and stress-free. This presumably made sense because a tense and stressed animal firstly would not have been easy to cut cleanly and secondly presumably produced tough meat.
We can surmise that with the concept of the “sanctity of life” people would not have killed what few animals they had just to waste the meat. It is also reasonable to presume that a typical nuclear family could not polish off a goat or lamb or small male calf in one sitting. (Females were kept for milk and they would not have wasted resources on raising males like we do – it’s inefficient.) They could not store meat easily in hot climates hence the concept of community festivals whereby at least extended families or whole villages or tribes came together to celebrate a significant family event, the return of the prodigal son, or a saint or some other community event, such as harvest festival or passover.
Seemingly all the meat that could be eaten would have been eaten. The inedible parts of the carcass that could not be used or eaten was offered to God (or the gods) by burning – in effect sterilising them. Not doing so would have presented public health risks – rat infestations and diseases from infection. Given that they could not possibly have known about germs and micribiology they would have worked out good and bad practice. Bad practice would have equated to sins and God (or their god) would have punished them.
Seemingly also they gathered on what today we call consecrated (clean) ground – specifically in The Temple (latterly synagogues). That’s what Christian Churches and Mosques are modelled on. Apparently, according to Greek sources the meat could not be taken away – that makes sense as even today extreme care is needed if you are going to store cooked meat. Eating in the temple meant that cooking and eating was supervised, as it were, and the whole was conducted by trained operatives, priests, for the want of a better word.
The priests were trained to kill humanely. In Islamic tradition it is forbidden to eat meat from an animal that have been treated badly at any time in its life. Bludgeoning or clubbing to death was clearly not a humane option. They would have no idea how successful or how quick that would have been – and that appears to have been the case in modern slaughterhouses until the last decade of the twentieth century where modern clubbing techniques are in use. Check out Animal Aid investigation.
Modern “high welfare” slaughterhouse conditions are not necessarily good. Here is a 2009 example of a Soil Association approved “high welfare” slaughterhouse that was later unapproved. In fairness modern slaughterhouse conditions are improving but most significant changes have been in this century but welfare at slaughter is probably not uppermost in many peoples’ minds when they pick meat from a supermarket shelf.
To understand the role of the priest in ancient time it’s helpful to learn what is required to train a Jewish shochet. My father, a farmer’s son, trained as a butcher before the Second World War when farmers killed their own animals to take to the local town markets. They would have learned to kill, at least small animals, without stunning and would have needed to know that if any meat was unfit for human consumption.
Sadly I did not realise the significance of a picture that I saw in a book in the British Library and did not keep the reference but it described the initiation of Mithraic priests and one of the skill they required was what we would call “meat inspection” today. I have seen other references to what must be the same need in other cultic and religious practices.
Christians and Secularists are very quick to mock halal and I have written here because I recently discovered that followers Greek Orthodox Christianity traditions may not only be familiar with slaughter practices we associate with Jews and Christians but they have also retained the word “kourbania”, which is an obvious cognate of the Arabic and Islamic word “qurban”.
Other Christian practices ally with Jewish and Muslim practice.
Among many Christian sects, the restrictions were interpreted to be lifted by Peter’s vision of a sheet with animals. However, Seventh-day Adventists consider pork taboo, along with other foods forbidden by Jewish law. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church(2) does not permit pork consumption, while the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is divided on the subject(3)
It seems that those who criticise ritual slaughter need to think outside the box. Western Christians apparently may have absorbed pagan or heathen practices.
(1) M. Detienne, J.-P. Vernant (eds.), The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks, trans. Wissing, University of Chicago Press (1989)
(3) “Egypt Copts Divided Over Pork”. OnIslam.net. 25 August 2007. Retrieved 8 March 2014.