The Claim: Jesus Promoted Cannibalism Which Violates the Torah Making Him a False Prophet
So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink." (John 6:53-55)
Jesus' own words condemn him as a false prophet who told others to violate the Torah.
There is no evidence that the disciples of Yeshua performed any type of cannibalism: ritual or actual. It is also notable that those who wished to put Him to death never brought forth this charge against Him. If Yeshua had indeed promoted cannibalism, it would have been an easy matter to dismiss Him as a false prophet, and yet none of His (highly educated and greatly motivated) opponents ever leveled this charge against Him.
This claim stems from a modern misunderstanding of Jewish literature and Jewish forms of discourse regarding Scripture. For example...
Midrash is a form of Jewish study that "searches out" the meaning of passages in Scripture. Some time before the first century, Rabbi Ishmael wrote a series of rules of interpretation for the Book of Exodus in his book entitled Exodus Mekhilta. In his book, Rabbi Ishmael included a midrash on Exodus chapter 13 and the story of the manna that came down from heaven:
The Holy One, blessed be He, said, "If I now suffer Israel to enter the land, then they will at once seize each his field and each his vineyard and be idle in the study of the Torah. Instead I will lead them about in the desert for forty years that they may eat manna and drink the water of the well and (thereby) the Torah will be united with their body." (Exodus Mekilta 13:17)
Even before the first century, the manna and the water were considered to be symbolic of Scripture (i.e. the Torah).
First Fruits of Zion, in their Torah Club Volume 4: The Good News of Messiah, provides this excellent insight:
Yeshua is the New Manna from Heaven because He is the "word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." Just as the manna imparted life to those who partook of it, so too, He is the Bread of Life, imparting life to those who partake of Him. The manna of the wilderness, however, did not impart eternal life. The new manna-- Yeshua-- does. "Your fathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."
He bids them to eat His flesh and drink His blood. How are they supposed to eat Him? Though the Passover symbolism of the Last Seder is certainly influencing this text, that Last Seder is yet several years away. Yeshua is not talking about taking the Eucharist or Communion or even Passover per se; He is speaking metaphorically about manna. His words will later come to be recalled in that sacramental context, but as for John 6, the subject is still the manna metaphor derived from Torah and Midrash.
It will come as no surprise to the reader to realize that Yeshua wasn't actually made of manna, nor does He expect the congregation in the Capernaum synagogue to gather around and begin to cannibalize Him. How then are they to eat and drink Him if not literally? He has already made that much explicitly clear in the discourse:
The work [required by] God is this: to believe in the one He has sent. (John 6:29)
Come to the Son, look to the Son, and believe in Him. (John 6:35,40)
Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me. (John 6:45)
He who believes has everlasting life. (John 6:47)
In the Torah and the Midrash from Mekilta (see above), eating the bread from heaven is symbolically understood as the study and incorporation of Torah. So too, as Messiah is compared to manna, eating the manna which is Messiah is symbolically understood as "coming to Him, looking to Him, and believing in Him."
Beasley-Murray points out a similar teaching on Messiah by Hillel (probably not Hillel the Elder) who said, "There shall be no Messiah for Israel for they have already eaten him in the days of Hezekiah." In that passage, "eating Messiah" was understood as enjoying the blessings of the Messianic King. Beasley-Murray goes on to point out we are "more acquainted with the metaphor of eating and drinking than we sometimes allow: we 'devour' books, 'drink in' a lecture, 'swallow' a story... 'ruminate' on an idea or poem...."1
The "difficult teaching" of Yeshua's words (John 6:60) is not then "eating and drinking" but His claim to have descended from heaven. He responds to His disciples grumbling with the statement: "What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?" (John 6:62).
Clearly, Yeshua was not promoting cannibalism.