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Down the Rabbit Hole with Barnabas: Rewriting Moses in Barnabas 10

  • Clare K. Rothschild (a1)


Barnabas 10 offers an allegorical discussion of kashrut. The writer addresses dietary laws in two groups of three: prohibitions against the eating of pig, vulture and eel, followed by prohibitions against eating hare, hyena and weasel. In each case, the allegorical interpretation construes diet as comportment (e.g. one should not behave like a pig, vulture etc.). Concerning the hare, readers are admonished not to emulate its corruption of children – a behaviour linked to its annual acquisition of an anus. Parallel allegorical interpretations of the Jewish food laws can be found in the Letter of Aristeas and Philo, De specialibus legibus 4 and similar quasi-scientific observations about animals occur in texts ranging from the rabbis to Physiologus. However, the rabbit poses a particular problem since no known precedent exists for either its behaviour or its physiology. The present investigation thus focuses on the rabbit, attempting to reconstruct the literary and historical background for its unusual characterisation.



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ibi jacet lepus

Rabelais, Gargantua

I wish to express gratitude to Robert A. Kraft for the generous bequest of a large part of his library on the Epistle of Barnabas and to Henk Jan de Jonge, R. Matthew Calhoun, Janet Spittler and members of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas Seminar #1, ‘Apostolic Fathers, Apologists, and the History of Early Christianity’, August 2017 for critical feedback on a prior version of this article.



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1 Cf. e.g. Philo, Mos. 1.31 (175), 36 (201), 50 (277).

2 Rabbits represent the somewhat rare group of vertebrate burrowers, whereas hyenas and weasels sleep and breed in dens.

3 Commentaries consulted for this article: Prigent, P., Les Testimonia dans le christianisme primitif: l’Épître de Barnabé i–xvi et ses sources (EB; Paris: Gabalda, 1961); Kraft, R. A., The Apostolic Fathers: A Translation and Commentary, vol. iii: The Didache and Barnabas (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1965); Prigent, P. and Kraft, R. A., Épître de Barnabé (SC 172; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1971); Prostmeier, F. R., Der Barnabasbrief (KAV 8; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999). Other literature consulted: Hilgenfeld, A., Die Apostolischen Väter: Untersuchungen über Inhalt und Ursprung der unter ihrem Namen erhaltenen Schriften (Halle: Pfeffer, 1853); Lightfoot, J. B. and Harmer, J. R., eds., The Apostolic Fathers: Revised Greek Texts with Introductions and English Translations (London: Macmillan, 1891; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1984); idem, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of their Writings (ed. and rev. Holmes, M. W.; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992 2); Lake, K., Apostolic Fathers (LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1912); Robinson, J. A., Barnabas, Hermas, and the Didache: Donnellan Lectures, University of Dublin, 1920 (London: SPCK/New York: Macmillan, 1920); Windisch, H., Die apostolischen Väter, vol. iii: Der Barnabasbrief (HNT Ergänzungsband; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1920); Muilenburg, J., The Literary Relations of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929); Thieme, K., Kirche und Synagoge: Die ersten nachbiblischen Zeugnisse ihres Gegensatzes im Offenbarungsverständnis: Der Barnabasbrief und der Dialog Justins des Märtyrers (Olten: Otto Walter, 1945); Kleist, J. A., The Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistles and the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Fragments of Papias, the Epistle to Diognetus (ACW 6; New York: Newman, 1948); Goodspeed, E. J., The Apostolic Fathers: An American Translation (London: Independent Press, 1950); Bihlmeyer, K., ed., Die Apostolischen Väter: Neubearbeitung der Funkschen Ausgabe (SAQ 2.1; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1956 2); Wengst, K., Tradition und Theologie des Barnabasbriefes (AKG 42; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1971); Paget, J. C., The Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background (WUNT 2/64; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1994); Hvalvik, R., The Struggle for Scripture and Covenant: The Purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas and Jewish-Christian Competition in the Second Century (WUNT ii/82; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996); Holmes, M. W., ed., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999); Rhodes, J. N., The Epistle of Barnabas and the Deuteronomic Tradition: Polemics, Paraenesis, and the Legacy of the Golden-Calf Incident (WUNT ii/188; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004); Wengst, K., Schriften des Urchristentums: Didache (Apostellehre), Barnabasbrief, Zweiter Klemensbrief, Schrift an Diognet (Darmstadt: WBG, 2004).

4 About hares, modern science shows that they differ from rabbits in that they do not dig burrows and their young are born more mature. Rabbit young, or kits, have an approximately 28–31 day gestation. They are born naked and blind and require a period of time to grow in safety before they can run. The hare, on the other hand, is born after a gestation of approximately forty-two days. The young, called leverings, are born fully furred, eyes open, and are ready to run immediately after birth. You can't necessarily tell a hare from a rabbit just by its common name. The jackrabbit is actually a hare and the Belgian Hare is actually a rabbit. Hares (Lepus) have twenty-four pairs of chromosomes while the domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus) has twenty-two and the cottontail (Sylvilagus), twenty-one. Mating is possible between the different species, but the resulting embryos will die after a few cell divisions because of the differences in the number of chromosome pairs. I acknowledge these differences between hares and rabbits, but make no attempt to distinguish between them in this essay because in the ancient sources it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell which genus is intended and whether that designation is intentional.

5 ‘The heart of chapter 10 is the material on “Moses’ three doctrines” in 10:1, 3–5 (and vs. 9?). To it have been added, in various stages: (1) the complementary tradition about David's gnosis (10:10), which obviously parallels 10:3–5, and might be of equal age with that tradition; (2) the interpretation of Moses’ positive food laws in 10:11, which goes beyond the “three doctrines” idea but otherwise accords well with 10:1–5 (and vs. 9), and is filled with stock ideas from Pseudo-Barnabas’ tradition; (3) the additional “three doctrines” material on sexual abnormalities in 10:6–8, which breaks the continuity of 10:3–5, 9 and is a unity in terms of style, content, and background; (4) various editorial comments that may represent diverse stages in the development of this tradition block – 10:9 sounds like the “original” conclusion (with 10:10e?) to 10:3–5, while 10:2 seems to be an (early?) expansion on the pattern of 10:9. The comments in 10:11e–12 draw the whole matter to a close, and relate back to 8:7 and 9:1, 4a’ (Kraft, Didache and Barnabas, 109–10).

6 Kraft sees similarities with other Hellenistic Jewish texts as well: ‘Similar ethical interpretations of the negative and positive food laws were well known in Hellenistic Judaism, if the “Epistle of Aristeas” and Philo are representative. The former argues that Moses who had “understanding of all things”, gave these laws as moral lessons for the sake of righteousness (139, 144, 150, 168 f.). Thus certain rapacious birds (cf. 10:4) are forbidden for food as a sign that a righteous person must not tyrannize (145–148), and the “unclean” weasel, which conceives through the ear and gives birth by the mouth (cf. 10:8b), symbolizes informers who transmit hearsay evidence (163–167). The “divided hoof” (cf. 10:11d) signifies discernment between right and wrong, and distinction between God's righteous people and the immoral nations (150–152); to “ruminate” (cf. 10:11c) means to remember God and to meditate on his creative acts (153–160). Philo elaborates on the positive injunctions in a similar vein, and at one point compares men who indulge their passions to the “unclean” pig (Agric. 131–145, Spec. leg. 4:100–118)’ (Kraft, Didache and Barnabas, 110–1).

7 Kraft, Didache and Barnabas, 112. Kraft acknowledges that the connotations of such physical observations are not obvious: ‘In the light of such ideas, it is difficult to determine what 10:6 is about – excessive sexual activity? Homosexuality? Abortion? General filthiness? … In short, the special background of 10:6–8 is popular Hellenistic natural history which has been transformed into moral lessons in association with Mosaic food prohibitions. This process had already begun centuries before in Hellenistic Judaism (see Pseudo-Aristeas, above)’ (Didache and Barnabas, 111–12). In turn, such allegorical interpretations of dietary restrictions may also be found in other traditions such as the Pythagorean akousmata or symbola, e.g. ‘Don't eat a black-tail [a fish]’ means: ‘Don't associate with people of bad character.’ I wish to express my gratitude to Johan Thom for that example. Cf. Prostmeier, Barnabasbrief, 395–7. Kraft also comments on Barnabas’ use of Psalm 1: ‘Early Christian writers found a very congenial base for symbolism in Ps. 1:1. The ethical approach of 10:10, however, was not dominant; instead, later interpretations tend to apply these three parts of the quotation to three groups of people classified according to beliefs – for example, Gentiles, Jews, heretics (Clement [in part], Irenaeus; cf. R. Loewe, TU 63 [1957] 492 ff.). Similarly, the symbolism of “split-hoof” and “cud-chewing” animals (10:11) also had become doctrinally oriented already in the time of Irenaeus and Clement, so that the true Christians are those who do both, while Jews only “ruminate” (study scripture) and heretics only “part the hoof” (acknowledge Father and Son) – since Gentiles do neither they are totally “unclean”. In these matters again (cf. 2:4–3:6; 9:4–6), Barnabas stands closer to Hellenistic Judaism and the Two Ways approach than to the developing Christian interest in doctrinal distinctions’ (Didache and Barnabas, 112–13). Concerning Barnabas 10, James Carleton Paget follows Kraft closely referring to the type of material as learned zoological speculation (Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background, 154). Likewise, Hvalvik, Struggle for Scripture and Covenant, 187–89 and Rhodes, Epistle of Barnabas and the Deuteronomic Tradition, 59–60 make no new contribution to discussion of the rabbit exemplum. Rhodes interprets Barnabas 10 as one part of the author's ‘radicalized Christian version of the Deuteronomistic view of history’ that ‘Israel was abandoned as God's chosen people not at Sinai but only with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce’ (Epistle of Barnabas and the Deuteronomic Tradition, 87).

8 Prigent and Kraft, Épître de Barnabé, 153. ‘Clément allègue d'autres traditions zoologiques et conclut: “Cette interdiction énigmatique nous conseille de nous abstenir des désirs violents et des accouplements qui se succèdent sans interruption, des unions avec des femmes enceintes, de l'homosexualité et de la pédérastie, de la fornication et du libertinage.” Barnabé veut-il suggérer que la multiplication des orifices naturels du lièvre est une preuve de ses copulations fréquentes qui en font le symbole des accouplements stériles et déréglés? Dans ce cas il faudrait comprendre παιδοφθόρος dans le sens: qui fait avorter, qui refuse la procréation’ (153).

9 ‘Die Vv 6–8 folgen dem triadischen Schema in Vv 3–5; die sprachliche Fassung indes hebt sie als Einheit von den Vv 3–5 ab. Gliederungssignal dieser Trias und äußeres Kennzeichen gegenüber dem vorangegangenen Dreierblock sind ἀλλὰ καί und einfaches ἀλλά. Anstelle der mit οἵτινες angefügten Beschreibungen der ἄνθρωποι τοιοῦτοι ist in diesem Dreierblock zweimal die Sache beim Namen genannt: παιδοφθόρος (V 6b), μοιχὸς οὐδὲ φθορεύς (V 7b). Nur in V 8b liegt, eingeführt vom Relativum οἵους, eine mit Vv 3b.4b.5b vergleichbare Sequenz vor. Die Begründungsfunktion des Abschnitts über die Physis des Tieres tritt durch ὅτι (Vv 6c.7c) und γάρ (V 8c) deutlicher hervor. Die rhetorischen Fragen πρὸς τί in Vv 6a.7b verraten die Hand des Vf. und seine didaktische Absicht (vgl. 6.17; 7,; 8,4.6; 9,8b). Dies gilt auch für das καλῶς in V 8a (vgl. V iic.e)’ (Prostmeier, Barnabasbrief, 394–5).

10 ‘Von dieser rhetorischen Absicht her geht es bei der Physis des Hasen (V 6c), aber ebenso bei jener der Hyäne (V 7c) und des Wiesels (V 8c), vor allem um die Fremdartigkeit oder Absurdität der dem Tier beigelegten Eigenart, auf daß die angemahnte Distanz zur Lebensorientierung der mit dieser Physis umschriebenen Personengruppe sowie der Ernst der Mahnung plausibel erscheint’ (Prostmeier, Barnabasbrief, 397)

11 Wengst, Barnabasbriefes, 121–2; cf. Tradition und Theologie des Barnabasbriefes, 36–9.

12 ‘Die redaktionellen Bemerkungen in 10,12 ordnen c 10 der Thematik von 8,7; 9,1–3 zu, wodurch die Ausführungen in 9,4–9 als Exkurs ausgewiesen werden. Demnach soll c 10 ein Beispiel für das Unverständnis der Juden und für das durch die Ohren- und Herzensbeschneidung ermöglichte Verstehen der Christen sein. Daß aber dieses Kapitel nicht einheitlich konzipiert ist, sondern daß ein traditioneller Grundbestand Erweiterungen erfahren hat, wird ein Überblick zeigen’ (Wengst, Tradition und Theologie des Barnabasbriefes, 36–7).

13 Prigent-Kraft, Épître de Barnabé, 153. Prostmeier does not see pederasty as a necessary ethical interpretation (Physiologus dedicates no section to rabbits); ‘Der Barn verfährt diesbezüglich wie die Physiologustradition, die sich ebenfalls nicht scheut, die Schrift ihren Bedürfnissen anzupassen’ (Barnabasbrief, 392); ‘Die dreigliedrige Anlage berührt sich eng mit Tiergeschichten und deren christlichen Allegoresen, die erstmals im 2 Jh. unter dem Titel Physiologus gesammelt wurden’ (ibid., 382).

14 Concerning the debate over the origin of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (whether it was originally a Jewish document that has been interpolated by Christians or a Christian document written originally in Greek but based on some earlier Semitic material), today most who have investigated the question agree that the Greek form in which we have the text is a Christian composition in which Jewish traditions have been used, and that it is impossible to isolate Jewish elements without distorting the whole composition. While true that there existed a Hebrew Testament of Levi and an Aramaic Testament of Naphtali, with which the Greek Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs shares traditions, no evidence suggests that the complete series of twelve Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs existed in a pre-Christian, Hebrew or Aramaic form. The Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs as we have it now is a Christian work, transmitted solely by Christians. I wish to express gratitude to Henk Jan de Jonge for this information. See de Jonge, H. J., ‘The Earliest Traceable Stage of the Textual Tradition of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs’, Studies on the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: Text and Interpretation (ed. de Jonge, M.; Leiden: Brill, 1975) 6386; de Jonge, M., ‘The Main Issues in the Study of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs’, Jewish Eschatology, Early Christian Christology and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Leiden: Brill, 1991) 147–63; idem, ‘The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: Christian and Jewish’, Jewish Eschatology, 233–43; Kugler, R. A., From Patriarch to Priest: the Levi-Priestly Tradition from Aramaic Levi to Testament of Levi (Atlanta: Scholars, 1996).

15 The LXX text of this law is as follows: καὶ τὸν δασύποδα, ὅτι ἀνάγει μηρυκισμὸν τοῦτο καὶ ὁπλὴν οὐ διχηλεῖ, ἀκάθαρτον τοῦτο ὑμῖν· καὶ τὸν χοιρογρύλλιον, ὅτι ἀνάγει μηρυκισμὸν τοῦτο καὶ ὁπλὴν οὐ διχηλεῖ, ἀκάθαρτον τοῦτο ὑμῖν. English translations of the Epistle of Barnabas are my own, except where noted.

16 In this article, I use the name Barnabas to refer to the author for convenience and without bias as to the author's actual identity, although I am currently not inclined to equate the author with the early Christian leader mentioned in Galatians 2 and elsewhere in the New Testament. The LXX (Lev 11.5) version is as follows: καὶ τὸν δασύποδα, ὅτι ἀνάγει μηρυκισμὸν τοῦτο καὶ ὁπλὴν οὐ διχηλεῖ, ἀκάθαρτον τοῦτο ὑμῖν (‘The hare, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you’). The hare, like the rock badger, is not a true ruminant, although its sideways jaw movement sometimes suggests it. Chewing food twice offers ample opportunity to view this motion.

17 Cf. Greek χοιρογρύλλιος (‘hare’, Lev 11.6; Deut 14.7; Ps 103 [104].18; Prov 30.26). This animal was most likely the hyrax, the closest living relative of the elephant.

18 Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2.10, 83; cf. Strom. 2.67, 5.51–2. See van der Horst, P. W., The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides (Studia in Veteris Testamenti Pseudepigrapha 4; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 250–1. Other Christian authors attesting this meaning postdate Barnabas and are reliant on Clement, including Chrysostom, Novatian, Physiologus et al. See Boswell, J., Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). Boswell assumes that Barnabas is too early to rely on Pliny (139).

19 Ioannis Zonarae Lexicon (2 vols.; ed. Tittmann, I. A. H.; Leipzig: S. L. Crusius, 1808) ii.1496.

20 οἰδοῦντές εἰσι ξηρότεροι, πατροφόνοι τε καὶ μητροφόνοι παιδοφθόροι τε καὶ φαρμακοὶ καὶ τὰ ὅμοια τούτων.

21 Barn. 6.1, 9.2 uses παῖς (with meaning ‘servant’) to refer to Jesus, suggesting the additional possibility that references to ‘child-slayer’ derive from Heb 6.6 and related passages with the theological meaning of recrucifying Christ. Resurrection may be suggested by the reference to ‘holes’ (i.e. burial caves). However, these interpretations do not (to my knowledge) arise in the extant tradition.

22 The second triad of teachings also inserts the rhetorical question πρὸς τί twice (vv. 6, 7).

23 E.g. Wengst, Tradition und Theologie des Barnabasbriefes, 36–9.

24 Phil 2.10; Rev 5.4.

25 English translations of Aelian, Pliny, Varro and other classical literature are taken from the Loeb Classical Library except where noted.

26 λαγνότερος δὲ τῶν λοιπῶν· λασαρὰ διετησίους φύσει, ὑφ᾿ ὧν οἰστρεῖταί τε καὶ ἐκμαίνεται, ὅταν ἐπὶ τὰς θηλείας ᾄττῃ.

27 In place of λασαρὰ διετησίους φύσει (see n. 26 above), the manuscript records only λαίσθα διετήσιος. The vox nihili λαίσθα cannot be correct. The context requires a remark on the sexual greed or lustfulness of hares. A masculine adjective ending in -os is needed. Since iota and gamma are often confused and the same applies to alpha and the combination of omicron–sigma, λαίσθα is probably best taken as a corruption of λάγνος, ‘lecherous’, ‘horny’. Aelian is then saying that the hare is ‘horny by nature all through the year’, ‘during the whole year’, ‘all year long’, ‘which causes it to go completely crazy with sexual passion when it goes after the female’.

28 This was a trend present also, if to a lesser extent, in Pliny.

29 Different from Aelian's, Pliny's account most likely predates Barnabas. Those who thought that the historical Barnabas wrote the Epistle argued that it could not rely on Pliny. Not only is that argument no longer salient but the source-critical concerns surrounding the second triad of animals suggest that vv. 6–8 are among the latest traditions in this letter.

30 The word ‘coney’ is probably an Etrurian derivation.

31 Varro explicitly cites Archelaus on two additional occasions: (1) ‘There are also other species not unlike them, such as the teal, coot, and partridge, which, as Archelaus writes, conceive when they hear the voice of the male’ (Agr. 3.11; cf. 2.1.19; Aristotle, Hist. an. 5.2). This myth may be Egyptian and resembles one the Church Fathers repeated about the vulture. (2) ‘In the first place, bees are produced partly from bees, and partly from the rotted carcass of a bullock. And so Archelaus, in an epigram, says that they are “the roaming children of a dead cow”; and the same writer says: “While wasps spring from horses, bees come from calves”’ (Agr. 3.16).

32 Full reference: 8.81.(55.)218.

33 In book 10, Pliny discusses the lifespan of dogs, which he says is 10–12 years, noting also that cats and mongooses are in many respects similar to dogs only with slightly shorter (i.e. six-year) lifespans. Following this comment, he turns to the gestation periods in various animals, addressing rabbits first. ‘Rabbits breed in every month of the year, and superfetate, as do hares; after giving birth they become pregnant at once. They conceive although still suckling their previous litter, but the young are blind (or perhaps “not blind”) (dasypodes omni mense pariunt, et superfetant, sicut lepores; a partu statim implentur. concipiunt quamvis ubera siccante fetu; pariunt vero caecos)’ (Nat. 10.83; trans. Rackham, LCL, with the notable exception of implentur, ‘become pregnant’ (Lewis and Short, s.v. impleo B2)). Cf. the variant noted by Rackham in LCL. Although the content is similar, this passage does not appear to shed light on Nat. 8.81.

34 The typical (but not potential) lifespan of a rabbit is one year. Hare lifespans differ.

35 Important related work on paradoxography includes: Baldwin, B., ‘Pliny the Elder and Mucianus’, Emerita 63/2 (1995) 291301; Wenskus, O. and Daston, L., ‘Paradoxographoi’, Der neue Pauly 9 (2000) 309–14; Johnson, S. F., ‘Greek Wonders: Classical Models for Christian Miracle Collections’, The Life and Miracles of Thekla: A Literary Study (Hellenic Studies 13; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies, 2006) 172220; Lehmann, Y., ‘Le merveilleux scientifique dans le Logistoricus Gallus Fundanius de admirandis de Varron’, ‘Aere perennius’: en hommage à Hubert Zehnacker (ed. Champeaux, J. et al. ; Paris: Pr. de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2006) 553–62; M. Leigh, ‘Counting Lobes on the Liver of a Shrew: Science and Paradoxography in the Ancient World’ (paper delivered at Classical Association, South West Branch, 12 February 2009, University of Exeter, (unpublished)); Pataricza, D., ‘Father or Mother? Stories of Male Pregnancies in Phlegon's De mirabilibus’, Acta classica Universitatis scientiarum Debreceniensis 45 (2009) 129–33; Capel, B. R., Filostefano di Cirene: testimonianze e frammenti (Milan: LED Edizioni Universitarie, 2010); Pataricza, D., ‘Monsters of Phlegon – Hermaphrodites, Sex-changers and Other Strange Beings in Phlegon's Marvellous Stories’, Orvostörténeti Közlemények 56 (2010) 153–69; Guthrie, C. G., ‘The Creation and Development of an Ancient Scientific “Fact”’: Paradoxography in the Peripatos’, Common Sense Geography and Mental Modelling (ed. Geus, K. and Thiering, M.; Berlin: Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 2012) 139–44; Doroszewska, J., ‘Between the Monstrous and the Divine: Hermaphrodites in Phlegon of Tralles’ Mirabilia’, Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 53/4 (2013) 379–92; Leigh, M., ‘Polypragmosyne, Periergia, and the Language of Criticism’, From Polypragmon to Curiosus: Ancient Concepts of Curious and Meddlesome Behaviour (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) 161–94; Musitelli, S. and Bossi, I., ‘Early Traces of Paleoanthropology and Comparative Anatomy in Ancient Paradoxography’, Research 1 (2014) 729; Geus, K. and King, Colin Guthrie, ‘Paradoxography: Wonder Stories, Tall Tales, and the Limits of Reason’, Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World (ed. Keyser, P. et al. ; Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, in press).

36 For convenience sake, I refer to both Pliny and Varro (below) as directly reliant on Archelaus, although I acknowledge that Pliny may have had one or more intermediary sources for this information.

37 Whether related to astral biology or not, Rackham's translation ‘folds in the bowel’ cannot be correct.

38 Plutarch's Moralia, LCL xv.211.

39 On astral biology, see Jiménez, A. P., ‘Plutarch's Attitude towards Astral Biology’, Plutarch in the Religious and Philosophical Discourse of Late Antiquity (Studies in Platonism, Neoplatonism, and the Platonic Tradition 14; ed. Roig, F. L. and Gallarte, I. M. O.; Leiden: Brill, 2012) 159–70, at 162. The point of the passage is to warn against changes occurring in reverse of the moon's cycle.

40 Lydus, Mens. 3.11: ἀλλὰ καὶ Ἀρχέλαός φησι τὰ τῶν μυῶν ἥπατα λοβοὺς ἔχειν πεντεκαίδεκα, οἵτινες οὐκ ἀθρόοι πάντες ἐγγίνονται, ἀλλ᾽ ἕκαστος καθ᾽ ἡμέραν σεληνιακὴν εἷς ἐπιγινόμενος ἐξ οὐκ ὄντος προστίθεται ἀπὸ τῆς νεομηνίας μέχρι τῆς πανσελήνου, πάλιν δὲ ἀπὸ τῆς πανσελήνου εἷς ἐφ᾽ ἑνὶ καθ᾽ ἡμέραν φθίνων λοβὸς πάντες μέχρι τῆς νεομηνίας ἐκλείπουσι. καὶ αὖθις ἐξ ἐκείνης ἄρχονται γίνεσθαι πρὸς τὴν τῆς σελήνης περίοδον καὶ τὸν ἀριθμὸν τῆς ἐκείνης ἡμερῶν καὶ αὐτοὶ γινόμενοι καὶ ἀπογινόμενοι καὶ πληθυνόμενοι καὶ μειούμενοι. Cf. ‘Archelaos 84’, RE ii.1 (1895) col. 453.

41 Lewis and Short, s.v. annus: ‘periodical return’, not necessarily one year.

42 Healy, J. F., Pliny the Elder on Science and Technology (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) 81.

43 Die antike Kunstprosa vom vi. Jahrhundert v. Chr. bis in die Zeit der Renaissance (2 vols.; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1995 [11898]), i.314.

44 Both passages are cited from Healy, Pliny the Elder on Science and Technology, 80. Healy relies in turn on Rottländer, R. C. A., ‘The Pliny Translation Group of Germany’, Science in the Early Roman Empire: Pliny the Elder, his Sources and Influence (ed. French, R. and Greenaway, F.; Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1986) 14. The term Pliny uses for rabbit, dasypus (Nat. 8.219; 10.179), is a Greek loanword (δασύπους). As procurator in the province of Hispania Tarraconensis, Pliny also brought words over from Spanish (Healy, Pliny the Elder on Science and Technology, 91). The word laurex (‘rabbit’) comes from the Balearic Islands.

45 Healy, Pliny the Elder on Science and Technology, 81–2.

46 Naturalis historia < Lat. naturalis, Gk. ἱστορία (Healy, Pliny the Elder on Science and Technology, 83). Horace recommended Latinising Greek words: Ars 48–72.

47 He did also, however, invent a number of neologisms including many ending in -mentum such as duramentum (‘hardening’, Nat. 17.208), incantamentum (‘charm’, 28.10), nucamentum (pl.) (‘fir cones’, 16.49) and piamentum (‘a means of expiation’, 25.30, 107). See Healy, Pliny the Elder on Science and Technology, 95–7.

48 alterae partes quattuor sunt, cum iam emeris, observandae, de pastione, de fetura, de nutricatu, de sanitate (Rust. 2.16).

49 quis item nescit, paucos si lepores, mares ac feminas, intromiserit, brevi tempore fore ut impleatur? tanta fecunditas huius quadripedis. quattuor modo enim intromisit in leporarium, brevi solet repleri. etenim saepe, cum habent catulos recentes, alios in ventre habere reperiuntur.

50 Rust. 1.20; cf. 2.13–14.

51 For example, if lambs are too young their babies are weak and parturition weakens the lamb.

52 itaque de iis Archelaus scribit, annorum quot sit qui velit scire, inspicere oportere foramina naturae, quod sine dubio alius alio habet plura (Rust. 3.12).

53 hos quoque nuper institutum ut saginarent plerumque, cum exceptos e leporario condant in caveis et loco clauso faciant pingues (Rust. 3.12). Pliny, Nat. 11.85 states that hares do not grow fat, and 28.81 that deaf hares fatten more quickly.

54 ‘And so Archelaus writes of them that one who wishes to know how old they are should examine the natural openings, for undoubtedly one has more than another’.

55 ‘Archelaus states that a hare is as many years old as it has folds in the bowel: these are certainly found to vary in number. The same authority says that the hare is a hermaphrodite and reproduces equally well without a male’.

56 Of fifteen occurrences of foramen in the Natural History, eight (54%) refer to the presence or absence of holes in a human or animal body: cicada without opening for excretion, 11.32; tribe without noses or mouths having one hole to breathe and suck, 6.35; ear-replacement holes, 1.11 (table of contents); aperture for smelling birds, snakes and fish, 11.59; avoidance of inhalation when burning lead for a medical purpose, 34.50; nomads of India with holes in place of nostrils, 7.2; holes in vertebrae for spinal cord, 11.67; and absence of ears in fish, 10.89. Three occurrences refer to holes in pipe-like instruments: holes in flute, flute-reed and pipe-reed, 16.66 (2x); holes of ‘making music’ in a marsh reed, 10.44. Two occurrences refer to the boring work of insects: ant hole (to stop up and kill), 19.58; beetles boring holes in hearths at night, 11.34. Two further occurrences refer to artificial holes drilled by humans for some purpose: small hole for air in tall vessel for making butter, 28.35; nard poured in holes to help timber resist decay, 16.79.

57 Foramen refers to ears and nostrils in Nat. 11.59; nostrils, 34.50; holes in place of nostrils, 7.2; vertebral holes, 11.67; holes in reed pipe, 10.43 (cf. Servius, Comm. Aen. 9.16); absence of ear holes in fish, 10.89.

58 solum argumentum should probably be solidumargumentum, i.e. ‘strong indication that they live on dew’. I wish to credit Henk Jan de Jonge for this observation.

59 Contrast the use of foramen for the cleft in a rock in the Vulgate – potentially confusing for Barnabas.

60 Of thirty-five total occurrences of caverna in Naturalis History, twenty-four refer to a human or animal abode: sea snake, 9.43; jackdaw (stores seeds), 17.22; cricket (home in dirt), 30.32; locust (nest location), 9.74; fox (cave), 11.70; cricket, 29.39; animals hunted by deer, 28.42; hornets (nest location), 11.24 (2x); spider, 11.28; land scorpion, 11.30; gold-digger ants, 11.36; flying maggots, 11.39; weasel, 8.33; squirrel, 8.58; land-dwelling fish (Babylon), 9.83 (2x); woodpecker, 10.20; ant, 28.23; snake, 8.50, 22.46; cave (earthquake), 2.82; Aristotle says pygmies live in caves, 7.2; and mice, 22.32. Six occurrences refer to bodily orifices: owl apertures for hearing, 11.50; hollowed out tooth (causing ache), 22.49; seal, dolphin, viper ear aperture for hearing, 11.50; and three occurrences are of a subset ‘anus’: rabbit, 8.55; hyena, 28.27; lizard, 30.15. Five refer to other cavities, such as those in soil: oak-apples in hollow of a tree, 16.9; in pot to aerate plant during transportation, 12.7; in ground for seed, 19.26; for dung if sowing parsley, 19.36; and hiding place out of sunlight for poultice rag from sunlight, 28.11. Since some animals burrow homes in the ground, overlap may exist between categories (1) and (3).

61 Trans. Jones, LCL, with minor modifications.

62 Lewis and Short, s.v. corpus ii.

63 ‘Burrows range in complexity from simple, short tubes to elaborate networks of connected chambers and tunnels’ (, accessed on 25 June 2017).

64 Cf. LSJ s.v. ὀρύσσω A.iii, Aristotle used to describe the underground burrowing of moles.

65 Pliny describes Nature's generosity in making something so delicious as rabbit fetuses so plentiful (i.e. through superfetation).

66Natura was a widespread euphemism for the sexual parts of either sex. It was neither overtly technical nor vulgar, but generally acceptable in the educated language’ (Adams, J. N., The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (London: Duckworth/Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982) 5960). Foramen is, however, not attested with sexual meaning and Varro uses neither word with a sexual connotation in the Res rusticae.

67 The word for rabbit lairs or dens is leporarium (domestic breeding place for rabbits) or cuniculum (tunnel) (purportedly related to cuniculus, ‘coney’, another name for rabbits. Vivarium sometimes replaces leporarium, but Varro is clear that this expression is no longer used only for rabbits only, but may refer to the domestic breeding and dwelling location of other animals as well.

68 If these enlarged scales were at one time more than cosmetic features, I have not been able to figure out what their function was.

69 Pliny writes: ‘The hyena is popularly believed to be bi-sexual and to become male and female in alternate years, the female bearing offspring without a male; but this is denied by Aristotle. Its neck stretches right along the backbone like a mane, and cannot bend without the whole body turning round. A number of other remarkable facts about it are reported, but the most remarkable are that among the shepherds’ homesteads it simulates human speech, and picks up the name of one of them so as to call him to come out of doors and tear him in pieces, and also that it imitates a person being sick, to attract the dogs so that it may attack them; that this animal alone digs up graves in search of corpses; that a female is seldom caught; that its eyes have a thousand variations and alterations of colour; moreover that when its shadow falls on dogs they are struck dumb; and that it has certain magic arts by which it causes every animal at which it gazes three times to stand rooted to the spot’ (Nat. 8.44).

70 The genitals of the female hyena have a strongly male appearance that can be erected at will. To mate, the male has to insert his penis into her pseudopenis. The pseudopenis is thus a protuberance disguising an opening.

71 Adams comments, ‘The identification of the cunnus (or rectum) with a cave is an obvious enough image’ (The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, 85); cf. specus. Virgil uses caverna for ‘womb’: insonuere cavae gemitumque dedere cavernae (Aen. 2.54). ‘Caverna (of various bodily parts, including that here) achieved some currency in scientific prose’ (The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, 85). See also Penella, R. J., ‘A Note on (De)glubere’, Hermes 104 (1976) 118–20; TLL iii.646.41.

72 Sedes implies ad excrementa and, thus, is not accompanied by this prepositional phrase.

73 Greek and Latin references to body parts, sex organs in particular, are ample, descriptive and often euphemistic. Greek: see J. Henderson, The Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy (Oxford/New York/Toronto: Oxford University Press, 19922); Latin: Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary.

74 Hist. an. 6.35.

75 Latin tended to borrow directly from Greek on the topic of homosexuality.

76 Aesop uses τρώγλη (or specus) to refer to a hole formed by gnawing, i.e. mouse hole or serpent hole), and κατάδυσις to refer to an underground habitat such as a burrow. Archelaus’ word for caverna may have been ἀντρώδης or a related τρωδ-stem noun. It is difficult to say why Pliny avoids specus (‘cave’, ‘cavity’, ‘cavern’, ‘chasm’, even ‘canal’, ‘drain’ – natural or artificial). He uses it to refer to the nest or caves of spiders and some animals, although often when applied to the body it refers to the stomach. In Phaedr. 4.6.10, specus (pit denoting the weasel's belly) contrasts with cavus (the safe mouse home or hole) in 4.6.3.

77 Excrementum can refer to any bodily excretion. Columella states: ‘Also at the time when the hens cease to lay, that is, from the 13th of November, the more expensive food must be withheld and grape-husks be supplied, which form quite a suitable diet, if refuse (excrementa) from wheat is added from time to time’ (Rust. 8.5). Furthermore, excrementum (< excresco) refers to a growth or protuberance as for example observable of vertebrae (see Sidonius Apollinaris, Ep. 1.2.3). Although Pliny may use excrementum to refer to animal faeces, his word of choice to denote this meaning is fimus. In e.g. 30.39, fimus denotes faeces four times (sheep, ewe, mouse, weasel), juxtaposed with excrescentia (three times) denoting an unhealthy growth or tumour that the fimus purportedly heals. Belly excrescence aptly characterises the pregnant state in many animals: see, however, Cael. Aurel. Acut. 1.114 excrementa uentris (Graeci scybala dicent). See Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, 234–9: ‘The derivative excrementum is used from Pliny the Elder onwards, of any type of bodily secretion (e.g. at Tac. Hist. 4.81, Ann. 16.4, of the mouth and nose)’ (242). Novatian might suggest this interpretation by comparing the rabbit and the hyena (De cib. jud. 3.16–17). See Windisch, Barnabasbrief, 360.

78 Among arctic hares, this metric can be applied at any age.

79 Lewis and Short, s.v. annus.

80 Barn. 10.6 justifies the rejection of rabbits by way of a priestly explanation of their behaviour in relation to the moon. See Jiménez, ‘Plutarch's Attitude towards Astral Biology’, 162. Thirty-day gestation corresponds to the lunar cycle (hence the ‘madness’ allegation). Greeks and Romans connected the rabbit to Selene and Artemis/Diana, the moon goddess, a protector of vulnerable animals, as well as the love goddess, Aphrodite/Venus, for its fertility. Aphrodite's son, Eros (Cupid) is often depicted carrying a hare.

81 See Adams, Latin Sexual Vocabulary, 103–4.

82 Annus and aetas can be synonymous indicating a ‘phase’ or ‘period’ of time. It is also possible that Pliny reflects a double entendre in which the womb is like a lair.

83 Pliny's general interest in the incredible in nature resembles the Epistle of Barnabas and also lies not far from 1 Clement 25's treatment of the phoenix. Pliny attributes rabbit licentiousness to its abundance of hair: ‘Shaggy hair grows out of a thick skin, whereas women have finer hair; horses have abundant hair in the mane, lions on the shoulders, rabbits on the cheeks inside and also under the feet, hair in both places being also recorded in the case of the hare by Trogus, who infers from this example that among human beings also the hairy ones are more licentious: the hare is the shaggiest animal there is’ (Nat. 11.94). On Pliny's moralising tendency as a sign of the times see Healy, Pliny the Elder on Science and Technology, 97–9. In the following passage Pliny moralises using the hare: ‘The view is held that dull creatures are those whose heart is stiff and hard, bold ones those whose heart is small, and cowardly ones those in which it is specially large; but it is largest in proportion to their size in mice, the hare, the ass, the stag, the leopard, weasels, hyenas, and all the species that are either timid or rendered dangerous by fear’ (Nat. 11.70).

84 Henderson refers to ἄφοδος as ‘more euphemistic’ in terms of scatological humour (Maculate Muse, 192); and τὰ ἀφόδια (‘excrement’) suggests anal intercourse (Maculate Muse, 194).

85 John Philoponus, in his commentary on Aristotle's De generatione animalium (14.3, p. 138.30), refers to the fact that hares are bad because they reject their offspring as soon as they have given birth. In this sense, a hare or rabbit could perhaps literally be considered a ‘child-destroyer’.

86 Henderson, Maculate Muse, 192 and 142 respectively.

87 Clement's interpretation may correspond to Barn. 19.4 (cf. T. Levi 17.11), which mentions ‘child-slaying’ in the immediate context of sexual immorality: οὐ πορνεύσεις, οὐ μοιχεύσεις, οὐ παιδοφθορήσεις. οὐ μή σου ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξέλθῃ ἐν ἀκαθαρσίᾳ τινῶν. οὐ λήμψῃ πρόσωπον ἐλέγξαι τινὰ ἐπὶ παραπτώματι. ἔσῃ πραΰς, ἔσῃ ἡσύχιος, ἔσῃ τρέμων τοὺς λόγους οὓς ἤκουσας. οὐ μὴ μνησικακήσεις τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου. Although it may have given rise to Clement of Alexandria's interpretation, Barnabas 18–20 is, on most arguments, a later addition. See Kraft, Didache and Barnabas, 134–6. I wish to express my gratitude to Clayton Jefford for this suggestion.

88 Rabbits are born blind and hairless (i.e. altricial). Hares are born with hair and good vision (i.e. precocial).

89 It is unclear which came first – the goddess or the nome. Thoth is the primary deity of this nome not Wen.

90 I wish to express my gratitude to Kate Elise Lockhart for the information in this section.

91 There is likewise probably no attested writing of her name in Coptic. Coptic texts mentioning traditional Egyptian deities tend to use Greek names (e.g. Shenoute complains about people worshipping Pan rather than Min). Pagan gods tend to keep their Egyptian forms in their theophoric names.

92 Later the hare's connotation in Christian theology reverses. See Dines, I., ‘The Hare and its Alter Ego in the Middle Ages’, Reinardus 17 (2004) 7384. In this article, among other arguments, Dines points to an iconographic image from the Douce 88(i) Bestiary of an antelope arriving at the Euphrates and becoming entangled in a thicket – thus threatened by hunters. Meanwhile a rabbit sits safely in a cave at the bottom right corner of the image, safe from harm. The inscription reads: cave ergo, homo dei, ebrietatem, ne obligeris luxuriae et voluptati, et interficiaris a diabolo: vinum enim et mulieres apostatare faciunt homines a deo. Dines notes his temptation to read the warning cave (‘take heed’) as a pun with cavus (‘cave’) (‘The Hare and its Alter Ego in the Middle Ages’, 83–4).

I wish to express gratitude to Robert A. Kraft for the generous bequest of a large part of his library on the Epistle of Barnabas and to Henk Jan de Jonge, R. Matthew Calhoun, Janet Spittler and members of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas Seminar #1, ‘Apostolic Fathers, Apologists, and the History of Early Christianity’, August 2017 for critical feedback on a prior version of this article.

ibi jacet lepus

Rabelais, Gargantua


Down the Rabbit Hole with Barnabas: Rewriting Moses in Barnabas 10

  • Clare K. Rothschild (a1)


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