Animal Parables in the Bible (III): Jeremiah was not PC

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.

Jeremiah 13:23

Jeremiah wanted to tell us, that even if we believe we cannot change our ways – we can!

We are accustomed to do evil. It does not mean we were born evil.

The people in his time had this saying: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” which ment: you are born in a certain way and there is nothing you can do about it.

And he told them: No! doing evil is not what you were born to do!

Like he used to do in other places, Jeremiah liked to use parables.

In this case, two parables: one of the Ethiopian, and one of a leopard.

I want to go a little deeper to understand why he used those two examples:

Cheetah in Kruger NP South Africa, Photo by Amir Silberman

Can a leopard change its spots?

Leopards lived in Israel until the beginning of the 21st century in the Negev and Judean desert. In the last decade there were no leopards reported.

But we know that in the time of Jeremiah, there were leopards, lions and cheetahs in Israel. All of them are extinct now.

The word Namer (נָמֵר) can refer probably to both leopard or cheetah, as both have spots.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin?

Today, many educated people who call themselves “progressive” boycott the Bible. They say that the stories are not good for children, and lead to violence and discrimination.

Certainly, Jeremiah was not afraid from being considered “Not politically correct”

The word Ethiopian that is used here in almost all English translation is not accurate.

The right word is Cushite – a man of the land of Cush.

The land of Cush is mentioned in the Bible in several places, and also the word cushite – a person that comes from Cush.

Moses took a wife that was a Cushite and his brother and sister did not like this. (again, translated to Ethiopians in most English translations)

The true meaning of “Cush” is probably “Africa” and a “Cushite” is a man or woman with a dark skin. The point of this parable is that a man cannot change the color of his skin from dark to pale.

Some may say that speaking like this is not PC, but the Bible never claimed to be PC!

Author: Ran Silberman

I am a tour guide in Israel with a passion for the Bible. For many years I work in the software industry as a software consultant. I blog in http://ransilberman.blog

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