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Jeff's Afghan Diary: The Sheep and The Goats
June 25, 2007

      I often think about Bible stories over here, because the culture seems not to have changed at all since the times of Christ or the Old Testament.  I gain new insights almost every day into passages I have learned.

      Today, for instance, I was eating some eggs with the ABP commander and some of his policemen.  We all sat on the floor, as is their custom, and took pieces of flat, unleavened bread and dipped it into the eggs, taking some between their first three fingers (it’s Afghan custom to eat with their hands out of a common bowl or plate).  I suddenly thought of Jesus eating with his disciples in the upper room on the night he was betrayed by Judas, commonly referred to as the Last Supper.  I was struck by how our eating must have been almost exactly like Jesus and his 12 followers – Jesus said he would be betrayed by one who dipped his hand in the bowl with the bread.  Here I was, dipping my hand into a bowl of eggs with a piece of bread, just like the Gospel story.

      I have wondered quite a bit about the story in Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about separating the sheep from the goats.  In the story, the goats get the judgment, which made me wonder why Jesus would pick goats as his villains.  In Jewish law, there is the scapegoat, which bears the sins of the nation of Israel and is let loose into the desert.  But it was only when I saw a goat up close that I realized the biggest difference between sheep and goats (they look similar from a distance): goats have cloven hooves, which are considered unclean in Jewish law.  So Jesus was comparing a kosher animal (sheep) with unclean animals (goats) in Matthew 25.  I would not have known this if I had not seen a goat up close.

      Muslims have no dietary restrictions against eating goats, and Afghans eat goats routinely.  However, before they eat a goat, they say a prayer over it, then ritually kill the goat by cutting open its neck.  This is similar to the Old Testament prescribed method of killing animal sacrifices.  It’s like taking a page out of the Bible to watch this done.  In America, most of us eat meat slaughtered far away from us, delivered to a supermarket for us to buy and take home and cook.  Here, I see goats alive only a couple hours before it’s served as dinner.  This is much closer to what Jesus would have grown up seeing himself.

      Although Islam began over 600 years after the time of Christ, the customs and traditions of the world, and particularly the Middle East, had not changed much since Jesus’ day.  Here in rural Afghanistan, it hasn’t changed much since then, either.

-- Jeff Courter

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

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