Photograph by Bruce Zuckerman, West Semitic Research/Courtesy The Louvre Museum

CASE CLOSED? The great medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides explained the Jewish ban on mixing milk and meat—and the Biblical injunction against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Deuteronomy 14:21) from which it is derived—as originating in the Israelites’ objection to certain pagan Canaanite rituals that did precisely this. Modern scholars believed they had found historical confirmation of Maimonides’ suggestion in a 13th-century B.C.E. cuneiform tablet from Ugarit (right) that was initially thought to include a reference to the slaughtering of a kid in milk.

More recent scholarship, however, has challenged this notion. New translations of the Ugaritic text show that the relevant passage makes no mention of goats being cooked, but rather praises pleasing voices that chant about “coriander in milk.” Likewise, Jack Sasson, in the pages of Bible Review, offered a new translation of Deuteronomy 14:21 in which he read the Hebrew word hlv as helev (“fat”) rather than the traditional halav (“milk”). According to this translation, the original Biblical injunction would not have been aimed at outlawing pagan practices, but rather at curbing wasteful slaughtering of both a kid and its mother.