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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

26. Did South Park Predict the End of the World?

Updated: Apr 8

The story of how five red cows led to a genocide.

Parshah Shemini

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • The South Park view on the End of the World

  • Did Moses kill Aaron’s sons?

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Leviticus 9:12-14*

“He slaughtered the elevation-offering; the sons of Aaron presented the blood to him and he threw it upon the Altar, all around. They presented the elevation-offering to him in its pieces with the head; and he caused it to go up in smoke on the Altar. He washed the innards and the feet, and caused them to go up in smoke on the elevation-offering on the Altar.” 

Gross. The whole thing is just… really, really gross. We look at the Aztecs with their child sacrifice and think, wow, how awful; how could they have done that? But I hope that at this point in history, most of us get sick to our stomachs when we picture the events this passage describes.

I have a confession to make. I am weirdly obsessed with eschatology, which is the study of “End Times” theories across different belief systems. I find it fascinating. And we’re in the middle of one of the biggest religious controversies in many years because of the Jewish belief in the “red heifer” prophecy. It’s one of the reasons Hamas cited as motivation for their October 7th attack. 

I’ll try to explain the backstory in the shortest way possible. One of the key elements of the purification ritual for people to be able to attend Temple services was a solution made from the ashes of a perfectly red cow mixed with water. If this sounds like a South Park episode, it’s because it was. 

A glamor shot of the ginger cow from South Park's episode "Ginger Cow"

A couple hundred years ago, a famous rabbi predicted the red heifer would directly precede Jewish End Times. Because Christian eschatology is based on Jewish eschatology, Christians also have a vested interest in this red cow thing happening, albeit for different reasons. 

Part of Jewish and Christian eschatology is the rebuilding of the Third Temple… on what is now Al-Aqsa Mosque. Muslims see the “red heifer” conversation as a thinly disguised intention to destroy Al-Aqsa. 

Christians from Texas sent rabbis from Israel a few red cows. Hamas kept up with the news, and when the red cows turned “of age,” it motivated them to commit October 7th. 

All this for a red cow! 

In a stroke of genius, South Park made Cartman the one who announced the red cow. It’s perfect because this whole global prophecy is based on something a rabbi said a few hundred years ago. The rabbi was just a random guy! No one believes God said it - including the Jews. Consensus holds that this random dude made a prediction, and now billions of people are invested in the outcome. 

This has to be a test. It’s too ridiculous not to be. People kill people, commit and condone genocide, vigilantes incite pogroms, all because of cows.  

For atheists, agnostics, and people who were never brought up in religion, it all sounds obviously insane. But I fervently hope these types of things are also starting to sound insane to religious people, and to those of us who grew up with religion, and therefore have a lifetime’s worth of work to do to unlearn its mental models. So many world events are working to tear the mask of sanity off of our social structures. 

Red cows cause massacres, which prompt genocide; the idea of cows being holy animals and justifying pogroms against Muslims, the idea of a human blood sacrifice (Jesus) replacing animal sacrifices as a somehow more normal option, the idea of animal sacrifices to gods in general… It all sounds like it’s from the Dark Ages because it is. We’ve outgrown the need to sprinkle blood on stone, haven’t we? 

Leviticus 10: 1-6*

“The sons of Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, each took his fire pan, they put fire in them and placed incense upon it; and they brought before Hashem an alien fire that He had not commanded them. A fire came forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem. 

Moses said to Aaron: Of this did Hashem speak, saying: 'I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me, thus I will be honored before the entire people'; and Aaron was silent…

Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Elazar and Ithamar, 'Do not leave your heads unshorn and do not rend your garments that you not die and He become wrathful with the entire assembly.' 

Okay. Let’s pretend for a second that this is an extremely poorly-written TV show about an empire. 

We’re following a violent, primitive community which, up until this point, has been led entirely by its nearly all-powerful political leader. The political leader’s claim to power is predicated on his direct access to God. Two young priests disappear into the Sanctuary to provide incense and are killed by fire, never to be seen again. The political leader tells everyone God killed them, and moreover, no one can mourn them. 

If this were a TV show, we could guess the big reveal. Upon commencing religious services in the Sanctuary, the political leader became concerned that he’d now have to share power with the priestly class. Two popular young priests represented a particularly strong threat to his rule, so he waited until they entered the Sanctuary and killed them with their own incense fire. Easy. 

Aaron’s silence in the passage deserves a note, because in the very next verse, the Torah says, “Hashem spoke to Aaron.” The men who were killed were Aaron’s sons - if God could speak to Aaron in the very next verse, why wouldn’t he have told Aaron he killed his sons directly? Instead, Moses told Aaron. No wonder Aaron remained silent. 

Leviticus 10:8*

“Hashem spoke to Aaron saying: ‘Do not drink intoxicating wine, you and your sons with you, when you come to the Tent of Meeting.’”

Not “don’t drink intoxicating wine,” but “don’t drink intoxicants when you have to do something important.” Very reasonable. 

Leviticus 11: Kosher Dietary laws

I was going to include my thoughts on kosher dietary laws here, but as I wrote and researched, I realized they needed their own article. 

Leviticus 11:35*

“Anything upon which part of their carcass may fall shall be contaminated - an oven or a stove shall be smashed - they are contaminated and they shall remain contaminated to you…”

Aaaand, some of the kosher rules were ridiculous. I have to destroy my oven because a dead bug landed in it? Nope.

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


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