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In a post about an hour ago, Deputy Editor Matthew Schmitz draws our attention to a Think Progress post that (until it was revised) stated “Social conservatives are worried about some decline in social morays and norms.” Schmitz then identifies the moray as the Leviathan from the book of Job. However Schmitz, either out of ignorance or perfidy, fails to quote Job 41:12 and 41:15, which respectively describe the Leviathan as having limbs and scales, meaning that the Leviathan can not possibly be an eel, but is more like a crocodile, or perhaps a dragon (since in Job 41:21 it breathes fire).

Nonetheless, Schmitz is right to observe that Think Progress has stumbled upon nefarious identification with morays and other eels by the more extreme factions within the religious right. I await confirmation from the researchers at Think Progress, but I suspect that the religious right’s obsession with morays in particular and eels in general, derives not from the canonical Book of Job but from the non-canonical early church writing, The Epistle of Barnabas, which in verse 10:5 reads: 

And thou shalt not eat, saith He, lamprey nor polypus nor cuttlefish. Thou shalt not, He meaneth, become like unto such men, who are desperately wicked, and are already condemned to death, just as these fishes alone are accursed and swim in the depths, not swimming on the surface like the rest, but dwell on the ground beneath the deep sea.

This is a truly scary identification insofar as it involves a resurgence of extreme antinomian supersessionism, since the main thrust of the Epistle of Barnabas is a radical allegorical interpretation of the Law as part of a polemic against Jews. Barnabas was already non-canonical and borderline heretical in late antiquity, but it is especially tragic to see social conservatives take up its interest in morays and so reverse the ecumenical work of recent decades made towards thoroughgoing rejection of and repentance for Christian antisemitism.

Rest assured gentle readers, First Things will not rest as we bring you continuing coverage of the nature of eels in all strands of Christianity, and if possible its fellow Abrahamic faith traditions. Now someone needs to find an early Christian writing regarding beating a dead horse. I nominate Alan Jacobs and Helen Andrews to take the eel challenge. 

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