Cannibalism Part 2: The Last Supper

The eating of the body and drinking the blood of a god has a long history: from the ancient world to the present epoch. Most of the accounts come from the theologies of old religions of the Middle East, Asia, and country people (pagans) in Europe (northern Italy and the islands of Greece), but precision of detail comes from ancient Egypt.

We read in The Papyrus of Ani of one such feast—a Last Supper.  It translates as follows:

Egyptian Papyrus of Ani (c. 3333 BCE)

(v. 517) The father of the gods, Unås, repeats his rising [ascension] into the heavens and he is crown Lord of the Horizon. He has reckoned up [put on] the bandlets and the arm-rings, [and] he has taken possession of the hearts of the [other] gods. (v. 518) Unås has eaten the Red Crown [blood], and he has swallowed the White Crown [flesh]; the food of Unås is the intestines, and his meat is hearts and their words of power. (v. 519) Behold, Unås eats of that which the Red Crown sends forth, he is increased [he is stronger and wiser] and the words of power of the gods are in his belly. (v. 520) His attributes are not removed from him. Unås has eaten the whole of the knowledge of every god, and the period of his life is eternity, and the duration of his existence is (v. 521) everlastingness in the form of one who does what he wishes, and does not have to do that which he hates, and he abides [lives] in the horizon for ever and ever and ever. The Souls of the gods is in Unås, their Spirit-souls are with (v. 522) Unås and the offerings made unto him are more than those which are made unto the [other] gods. The fire of Unås (v. 523) is in their bones, for their soul is with Unås, and their shades are with those who belong unto them. (v. 524) Unås has been with two hidden [parts of or persons within] Kha [soul of gods into one god: the Egyptian Trinity] gods who are without power… (v. 525) the seat of the heart of Unås is among those who live upon this earth for ever and ever and ever.

Ancient Egypt Trinity: Osiris, Isis, Horus (c. 4000 BCE)

This cannibalism was known widely among the Arabs before Muhammad. Tradition ascribes it to the wild race of Cahtân who had the practice of eating some parts (e.g. the liver) of dangerous carnivore, in order that the courage of the animal may pass directly into them—in much the same way as ritual religious cannibalism would develop the theology that by drinking the blood and eating the body of a god or a son of a god would transmit the power of that god into the worshipper.

According to the Christian New Testament, Jesus was born “of the flesh” and was “made [a] man” (Matthew 1:16. John 3:4, Romans 1:3; Catechism of the [Roman] Catholic Church The Profession of Faith, Section 2, Article 3, paragraph 1, lines 456-459; cf. III.464; online at http://www.christusrex.org/www1/CDHN/creed2.html).  Jesus did not just represent an actual human being, he was an actual human being, and in the days that texts were written (first century CE) little time or thought was given to alliteration. What Jesus said was what was intended to be heard and understood as real without any imagery or interpretation. In John 6:53-56 we read, clearly: Accordingly, Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourself. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day, for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me, and I in union with him.” (53ειπεν ουν αυτοις ο ιησους αμην αμην λεγω υμιν εαν μη φαγητε την σαρκα του υιου του ανθρωπου και πιητε αυτου το αιμα ουκ εχετε ζωην εν εαυτοις 54ο τρωγων μου την σαρκα και πινων μου το αιμα εχει ζωην αιωνιον και εγω αναστησω αυτον τη εσχατη ημερα 55η γαρ σαρξ μου αληθως εστιν βρωσις και το αιμα μου αληθως εστιν ποσις 56ο τρωγων μου την σαρκα και πινων μου το αιμα εν εμοι μενει καγω εν αυτω (1550 Stephanus text).

Communion, or “Holy Communion” as the Roman Catholic and many Protestant churches officially calls it, means the actual reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Bible states what is found in numerous Egyptian papyri, Akkadian script, and the testaments of Aztecs, Mayans, and Inkas: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed (see my “Cannibalism: Part 1” of this blog).

As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, “For real reception of the Blessed Eucharist it is required that the sacred species be received into the stomach. For this alone is the eating referred to by our Lord (John 6:58).” (Morrisroe, Patrick. “Holy Communion,” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 13 Feb. 2011, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07402a.htm citing Roman Ritual: CATALANI, Rituale Romanum de communione (Rome, 1850); BARUFFALDO. Rituale romanum commentarum, XXIII,XXIV (Florence, 1847); LEHMKUHL,Theoliga Moralis II, De Eucharistiae Sumptione (Frieburg, 1900); GIHR, L’Eucharistiae Sacramento (Rome 1900); DE HARDT, Praxis Liturgiae Sacrae, III, De Eucharistiae Administratione (Frieburg im Br., 1904); DALGAIRNS, Holy Communion (Dublin, 1892); HEDLEY, The Holy Eucharist (London, 1907); MOUREAU AND DUBLANCHY in VACANT, Dictionnaire de theologie catholique, s.v. Communion Eucharistique).

Eucharist describes the name given to the “Blessed Sacrament of the Altar,” (older religions also used blood sacrifices to an altar. Some used virgin humans (usually male), bulls, lambs, etc.). The Christians use it to mean an actual sacrifice by Jesus where they truly believe the bread and wine turns into the actual corporal flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Christians also use other titles such as, “Table of the Lord” (Mesa Domini; originally τράπεζα του Κυρίου; 1 Corithians 10:14-22 which acknowledges that a similar feast and consumption of the blood of other gods is current and a rival to the Christian celebration: 14διοπερ αγαπητοι μου φευγετε απο της ειδωλολατρειας  15ως φρονιμοις λεγω κρινατε υμεις ο φημι 16το ποτηριον της ευλογιας ο ευλογουμεν ουχι κοινωνια του αιματος του χριστου εστιν τον αρτον ον κλωμεν ουχι κοινωνια του σωματος του χριστου εστιν [Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?] 17οτι εις αρτος εν σωμα οι πολλοι εσμεν οι γαρ παντες εκ του ενος αρτου μετεχομεν 18βλεπετε τον ισραηλ κατα σαρκα ουχι οι εσθιοντες τας θυσιας κοινωνοι του θυσιαστηριου εισιν 19τι ουν φημι οτι ειδωλον τι εστιν η οτι ειδωλοθυτον τι εστιν 20αλλ οτι α θυει τα εθνη δαιμονιοις θυει και ου θεω ου θελω δε υμας κοινωνους των δαιμονιων γινεσθαι 21ου δυνασθε ποτηριον κυριου πινειν και ποτηριον δαιμονιων ου δυνασθε τραπεζης κυριου μετεχειν και τραπεζης δαιμονιων 22η παραζηλουμεν τον κυριον μη ισχυροτεροι αυτου εσμεν) or the morbid term, “Lord’s Body” (Corpus Domini; cf. http://www.duomofirenze.it/feste/corpusdomini_eng.htm).

In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ the theology of the church argues that those who consume the body and drink the blood of the son of god is ipso factor a foretelling or prophecy of the sacrifice demanded of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be untied with his offering and they are to continue their cannibalistic exercise as often as possible.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1368

Moreover, you must never deny the priesthoods power of consecrating the flesh and blood:

Eating the body of Jesus

If any one shall say that in the New Testament there is no visible and external priesthood nor any power of consecrating and offering the Body and Blood of the Lord, as well as of remitting and retaining sins, but merely the office and bare ministry of preaching the Gospel, let him be anathema.

Council of Trent, No. 961

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Hildebert of Tours (~1079) probably first used the term transubstantiation and the Church later adopted the practice in the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) and the Council of Lyons (1274), and finally, the Council of Trent (1545-1563).

Transubstantiation (Latin, transsubstantiatio is a word that is no where found in the Bible) basically means the transition or conversion of one thing into another in some aspect of being. Turning water into wine gives one example of transubstantiation, and turning bread into flesh and wine into blood gives another. Transubstantiation, however, doesn’t just describe a simple conversion of one thing into another but a substantial conversion (conversio substantialis). Transubstantiation differs from every other substantial conversion in this, that only the substance gets converted into another.  Jesus’ words shocked many and many of his apostles and disciples abandoned him (John 6:66: εκ τουτου πολλοι απηλθον των μαθητων αυτου εις τα οπισω και ουκετι μετ αυτου περιεπατουν).  The disciples noted that the preaching on consuming blood and flesh was blasphem as it defied all ancient Israeli ritual and religious laws (see Genesis 9:4, Lev 17:10-14, cf. Acts 15:19-21 [19διο εγω κρινω μη παρενοχλειν τοις απο των εθνων επιστρεφουσιν επι τον θεον 20αλλα επιστειλαι αυτοις του απεχεσθαι απο των αλισγηματων των ειδωλων και της πορνειας και του πνικτου και του αιματος 21μωσης γαρ εκ γενεων αρχαιων κατα πολιν τους κηρυσσοντας αυτον εχει εν ταις συναγωγαις κατα παν σαββατον αναγινωσκομενος] and Council of Jerusalem).

In the Eucharist, two extremes of conversions occur, namely the bread and wine as the terminus a quo, and the Body and Blood of Christ as the terminus ad quem (before and after). In other words, the substance of the bread and wine departs in order to make room for the Body and Blood of Christ. Transubstantiation, as a conversion of the total substance, is the transition of the entire substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, comes as the express doctrine of the Church (Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, can. ii).

This theophagy (θεός φαγητό: god eating) of course did not come first from the Catholics but had occurred throughout pagan religions long before Christianity. The notion that eating another living human being lies at the belief of absorbing his nature into his own, thus becoming, in some sense, more godlike, similar to the even more primitive belief that eating one’s enemies makes one more powerful.

The early Christians were openly accused of cannibalism (Minucius Felix, Octavius, R. E. Wallis, trans. in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, N. Y.: The Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), Vol. 4, pp. 177-178:

And now, as wickeder things advance more fruitfully, and abandoned manners creep on day by day, those abominable shrines of an impious assembly are maturing themselves throughout the whole world. Assuredly this confederacy ought to be rooted out and execrated. They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another; everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous: it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes.

Nor, concerning these things, would intelligent report speak of things so great and various, and requiring to be prefaced by an apology, unless truth were at the bottom of it. I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of creatures, consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion, a worthy and appropriate religion for such manners. Some say that they worship the genitals of their pontiff and priest, and adore the nature, as it were, of their common parent. I know not whether these things are false; certainly suspicion is applicable to secret and nocturnal rites; and he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve.

Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily – O horror! they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs. By this victim they are pledged together; with this consciousness of wickedness they are covenanted to mutual silence.

From Minucius Felix, Octavius, R. E. Wallis, trans. in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, N. Y.: The Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), Vol. 4, pp. 177-178. Cf. Hippolytus Achelis, Die Canones Hippolyti (Leipzig, 1881), pp. 48-55; cp. “Jesus said, ‘Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.’” (The Gospel of Thomas) The Gospel of Thomas, NHC, Logion 7, Translated by Thomas O. Lambdin, on: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gthlamb.html; ref. “If, however, you (Christians) bite and devour one another, take care that you (Christians) are not consumed by one another.” (Paul, Ga 5:15) and Re 17:18-19 NRSV: 17 …”Come, gather for the great supper of God,18  to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and their riders—flesh of all, both free and slave, both small and great.”

The Koran argues that Jesus was never crucified: That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of Allah”. But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not… Koran, Yusuf Ali Edition of 1935, Sure 4:157

Christians practiced cannibalism even in the crusade epoch. Radulph of Caen, an eyewitness to events at Ma’arra in 1098, wrote, “In Ma’arra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking-pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled.” Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, trans. Jon Rothschild (News York:  Schocken Books, 1984), p. 39. The chronicler Albert of Aix (late 11th century; cf. Susan B. Edgington, “Albert of Aachen and the Chansons de Geste” in The Crusades and their sources: essays presented to Bernard Hamilton ed. John France, William G. Zajac (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998) pp. 23–37) seemed to rank Muslims lower than dogs when he wrote, “Not only did our troops not shrink from eating dead Turks and Saracens; they also ate dogs!” (Ref. Albert of Aix, “Historia Hierosolymita” in Recueil des historiens des croisades, OCC IV.)

Guibert of Nogent, in his work Historia Hierosolymitana, provides more details on the incident of cannibalism at Ma’arra. There he notes that whenever the Tafurs who took part in the expedition discovered “scraps of flesh from the pagan’s bodies” cannibalism was practiced with little discretion.  According to Guibert, the Tafurs were well aware that the Muslims feared them because of cannibalism. For that reason, on at least one occasion, the Tafurs publicly “roasted the bruised body of a Turk over a fire as if it were meat for eating, in full view of the Turkish forces.” Guibert notes that the Franks also practiced cannibalism, but they did so “in secret and as rarely as possible.” 

Fulcher of Chartres also refers to the same instance of cannibalism at Ma’arra. In his Historia Hierosolymitana, also known as A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, Fulcher confirms that when the crusaders “suffered from excessive hunger” at Ma’arra, they engaged in cannibalism. He wrote, “I shudder to say that many of our men, terribly tormented by the maddness of starvation, cut pieces of flesh from the buttocks of Saracens lying there dead. These pieces they cooked and ate, savagely devouring the flesh while it was insufficiently roasted.” In most accounts, those who practiced cannibalism declared that they ate the flesh and drank the blood of their victims “in remembrance of Our Lord Jesus the Christ” since communion bread was unobtainable, and that it was the spirit of the practice and not the deed that mattered. (See: http://www.everything2.org/node/1944447 which is repeated at http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php?topic=14089.30;wap2)

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Filed under Church history, crucifixon, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Roman Catholicism

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