Acton Institute Powerblog

Josephus and Genetic Engineering

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With the prevalance of moral relativism in the western world, science tends to forge ahead, regardless of opposition from traditional ethics, into whatever realms it deems neccessary for the “advancement” of mankind. To counter-balance the extremity of the scientific community, especially in regard to the genetic engineering of hybrid species, I would like to offer up the thoughts of an historian from 2000 years ago regarding the mixing of species. His ideas come from the long oral and written traditions passed down through the Jews from Moses:

…The seeds are also to be pure, and without mixture, and not to be compounded of two or three sorts, since Nature does not rejoice in the union of things that are not in their own nature alike; nor are you to premit beasts of different kinds to gender together, for there is reason to fear that this unnatural abuse may extend from beasts of different kinds to men, though it takes its first rise from evil practices about such smaller things. Nor is anything to be allowed, by imitation whereof any degree of subversion may creep into the constitution; nor do the laws neglect small matters but provide that even those may be managed after an unblamable manner. (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.8.20)

Jonathan Spalink


  • Flavius Josephus would have a had a hard time with Benedictine Monk Gregor Mendel. Mendel’s research into hybrids broke ground for the green revolution that feeds today’s expanding population.

    I pose the question, should we follow Flavius Josephus thoughts on “nature rejoicing” in mass famine and starvation or take joy in man using his god-given skills to feed the world?


  • While I agree that development of more efficient means of crop production is a good thing, I pose this question in response. Where do we draw the line?

    My post, although purposefully vague, was meant to stimulate thought about issues such as stem cell research, “custom made babies,” human cloning, and genetic profiling. I know, as well as anyone else, the arguments that exist for, and against, these issues and others that are related. My problems with the answers are that they always seem to involve a somewhat arbitrary premise. For example, you suggest that development of hybrid vegitation and genetic engineering of crops is to “take joy in man using his god-given skills to feed the world?” Couldn’t we also argue that using stem-cells from an aborted fetus, or even an in vitro blastocyst, to conduct research on cancer, wounds, and disease is “taking joy in using our god-given skills,” to solve the problems of human sickness and deformity? After we figure out how to solve these problems, does it become moral for us to introduce genes from a fish into us, to “activate the genes that we alreay posses but are simply turned off” in order to allow us to “evolve” and breath underwater? Where is the line?

    I do not necessarily know the answers to these questions, but I do know that they are worth asking. These are questions that should keep us up at night.

  • Hi Jonathan,

    I would suggest the hierarchy given by St. Thomas Aquinas, valuing humans more than animals, and animals more than plants, yet noting that a mouse that eats your grain is not a very valuable mouse.

    I just don’t think Flavius Josephus was recognizing this hierarchy, rather he may have been blindly sticking to a tradition which was not capable of feeding the world.

    Humans are a different story. Really needs some serious thought. Anybody got anything from St. Thomas on this?


  • I think Science has nothing to do with ethics on its way to research and discoveries.

  • A long oral and written tradition about the mixing of species has been noted on this blog before, specifically with regard to Josephus. I just ran across this tidbit in Luther that I though I would share, which points to a continuation of a tradition of t