Many of my students come from schools that have bathed them in the idea that the Bible is not scientifically credible. The notion that one can trust the Bible must come from “redneck Bible belt preachers” and now you are in school where you can learn the truth from science. There are various arguments they use. One of the common ones comes from the Levitical law concerning rabbits. It comes up several times a year as I travel and teach, and many students from various universities mention it. Rabbits are not kosher, and are specifically prohibited in the text:
Lev. 11:6 “And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.” (See also Deut. 14:7). The problem is that rabbits DON’T chew cud. Doesn’t that make the Bible wrong scientifically?
This is a popular objection to the Bible by skeptics: Rabbits are not ruminants (regurgitating food); they practice “refection”. As read, the passage seems scientifically wrong, giving rise to some who want to refute the Bible’s veracity and scientific value.
Refection: a process in which rabbits pluck out and eat their own dung mixed with undigested material (usually without allowing it to hit the ground).
Rumination: cows and some other animals “chew the cud.” or regurgiate partially digested food in little clumps called cuds, and chew it a little more after while mixing it with saliva.
The Hebrew word for the rabbit’s practice does not include the term for “dung”. Rabbits practice this normally at night because this behavior usually takes place 3-8 hours after eating. The problem appears to be one of definitions after the fact. Partially digested food is a common element here. The issue is linguistic, in that the definitions of both “cud” and that of “chewing” need to be completely examined. The Hebrew term “gerah” is translated the “cud” (as scraping the throat). Yet it bears noting that this word is used nowhere in the Old Testament besides these verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We have only this context to help us decide what it means in terms of the Mosaic law. In addition, refection is a process whereby rabbits pass pellets of partially digested food, not simply “dung” which likely explains why the word for “dung” was not in the Hebrew text. If the Hebrew word simply refers to any partially digested food — the process is not the issue, just the object. Some translations of the text are translated as ‘bring up’ the cud, which sounds like regurgitation – an inaccurate assessment of what the animal is doing. This Hebrew term ‘alah, is a common word for “going up”, but encompasses many other concepts as well. It can be translated: ascend, carry up, cast up, recover, restore, take up, and much more. The transliteration of the Hebrew text states: “ki-ma’allat gerah hu”, and should be rendered: “restores his partially digested material”, and in that way is not dissimilar to the regurgitation process in effect.
(Examples of ‘alah used as a participle demonstrate the term is not limited to regurgitation at all: see Joshua 24:17 “It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt”, or Nahum 3:3 “Charging cavalry, flashing swords (lifted), and glittering spears!”)