Learn the History of the Red Heifer

Within the Holy Bible and religious works from many belief systems, cows have appeared in many stories. In Christianity, there are many parables and tales in which cattle are featured prominently. This is unremarkable in itself. After all, the Old Testament chronicles the creation and development of a largely agricultural and pastoral people.

For religious scholars and historians, the red heifer is one of the most curious and contested symbols in biblical scripture. It is mentioned in Numbers 19 as Moses and Aaron lead the Jews into Israel, when the Lord makes an uncharacteristically specific request of the Israelites: to be cleansed of death, each person must be purified with a mixture of water and the ashes of a sacrificial "red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came a yoke."

This passage has generated interest and conflict among historians, rabbis, evangelists, anthropologists and cattle breeders. Exactly what is the red heifer and why is it so special?