In A Nutshell
According to the Bible’s Numbers 19, a pure red heifer is needed as a sacrifice to ensure the purification of the unclean and prepare them for the End Times. Clyde Lott, a US cattle breeder, is hoping to hurry along the Second Coming by breeding that perfect red heifer. With the support of the Temple Institute (an organization dedicated to restoring the world to the times, values, and animal sacrifices of the Old Testament), the Evangelical preacher has been breeding his cattle since the early 1990s, hoping for the genetic anomaly of a pure red heifer.
The Whole Bushel
For almost as long as we’ve been aware of our own mortality, we’ve been fascinated with the end of the world. Prophets and soothsayers have been making predictions about the end of the world for a long time, but we’re pretty sure that not many of them have been taking an active role in kick-starting the end times.
Especially not by breeding cattle.
In 1989, Clyde Lott was enjoying what we’d think would be a relatively good life, known for breeding cattle that were going to go into the Future Farmers of America program. It’s ironic, really, that when he stumbled across a passage in the Bible his life would become dedicated to making sure that there was no future—on this plane, at least.
There are a lot of cows in the Old Testament, and one passage in particular—Numbers 19—says that a particular red cow was going to be instrumental in the end. The passage is terrifyingly specific as only the Old Testament can be.
In it, God chats with Moses and Aaron. A red heifer “without blemish or defect” is to be presented to Eleazar the priest, then slaughtered and burned in its entirety. A man who’s deemed “clean” should collect the ashes, which would then be used for purification rituals.
There’s an extensive list of who’s unclean. It includes anyone who enters a tent where someone has died, anyone who’s touched a corpse/bone/grave, anyone who’s been killed by a sword, and anyone who’s died of natural causes. All these unclean people needed to purify themselves, or be cast off from God forever.
That sounds a bit harsh, and in the context of the times, it was extra worrisome. The cows that would have been familiar back in the day were always described as brown, spotted cows—so a solid red one would have been extra special.
But red cattle are much more common in the US, and confirmed Evangelical preacher and cattle breeder Clyde Lott had all the tools needed to make sure a red heifer was born, sent to Israel, sacrificed for the purification of those who would be saved during the Second Coming.
So Lott headed to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. They wrote a letter to the State Department, who sent it on to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, who then sent it on to Temple Institute, who was looking for just this sort of thing.
The goals of the privately organized Temple Institute are lofty and include restoring all the priestly castes and animal sacrifices of Iron Age Israel. Lott found the rabbis at the organization incredibly interested in what he had to offer, partly because of the Biblical connection to his name. Lot—of Sodom and Gomorrah fame—was also a cattle breeder and a Gentile.
Lott says that he was told the ceremony with the red heifer had already been performed nine times, and when the 10th heifer appears, it’ll be the herald of the Second Coming. In 1994, Lott thought that he had found the heifer in an animal his daughter had named Dixie. It takes two years for a calf to grow into a heifer, though, and another candidate had been found in Israel by that time.
That calf, named Tslil (Melody), started to show a few white hairs that would disqualify her, but the competition was still very real. As protesters called for the cow to be shot and killed, her tail turned white and saved her from an angry mob.
In 1997, Lott reached an agreement to move the operation closer to Israel, signing a deal to raise his cattle on the West Bank after breeding them in the US.
Show Me The Proof
PBS Frontline: Forcing The End
The Mystery of the Red Heifer, by Rabbi Chaim Richman