Help Now >
Animals in the Bible
FREE Catholic Classes
The Bible makes no pretensions to science ; we must not therefore expect to meet in its pages with any kind of elaborate classification, whether zoological or otherwise. The sacred books, on the other hand, were composed by, and for a people almost exclusively given to husbandry and pastoral life, hence in constant communication with nature. To such a people references to the animal world, animal customs, etc., are quite natural, and the more animals abounded in the country, the more frequent and varied these allusions may be expected to be. In point of fact, the names of a large number of animals — over a hundred and twenty species — occur in the Scriptures. A closer examination of the way in which references to animals are introduced, the frequency of allusions to certain species, and the date of the documents in which they are found, may give a fair idea of the conditions of the country at the different stages of its history. The species, for instance, called in Hebrew re'em, very probably the aurochs, or wild ox, totally disappeared about the time of the Babylonian captivity; the wild ass, the lion, and a few others long ago became extinct in Palestine; other species are now so scarce that they could hardly afford a familiar subject for illustration. The variety of animals spoken of in the Bible is remarkable; the ostrich, for instance, a denizen of the torrid regions, and the camel, of the waterless districts around Palestine, are mentioned side by side with the roebuck and deer of the woody summits of Lebanon. This variety, greater probably in Palestine than in any other country in the same latitude, should be attributed to the great extremes of elevation and temperature in this small country. Furthermore, that the Palestinian fauna is not now as rich as it used to be during the Biblical times, must not be wondered at; the land, now bare, was then well wooded, especially on the hills east of the Jordan ; hence the changes. Although no regular classification is to be sought for in the Bible , it is easy to see, however, that the animal creation is there practically divided into four classes, according to the four different modes of locomotion; among the animals, some walk, others fly, many are essentially swimmers, several crawl on the ground. This classification, more empiric than logical, would not by any means satisfy a modern scientist ; it must be known, however, if we wish fairly to understand the language of the Scriptures on the matters connected therewith. The first class, the behemôth , or beasts, in the Biblical parlance, includes all quadrupeds living on the earth, with the exception of the amphibia and such small animals as moles, mice, and the like. Beasts are divided into cattle, or domesticated ( behemoth in the strict sense), and beasts of the field, i.e. wild animals. The fowls, which constitute the second class, include not only the birds, but also "all things that fly", even if they "go upon four feet", as the different kinds of locusts. Of the many "living beings that swim in the water" no particular species is mentioned; the "great whales" are set apart in that class, while the rest are divided according as they have, or have not, fins and scales ( Leviticus 11:9, 10 ). The reptiles, or "creeping things", form the fourth class. References to this class are relatively few; however, it should be noticed that the "creeping things" include not only the reptiles properly so called, but also all short-legged animals or insects which seem to crawl rather than to walk, such as moles, lizards, etc. From a religious viewpoint, all these animals are divided into two classes, clean and unclean, according as they can, or cannot, be eaten. We shall presently give, in alphabetical order, the list of the animals whose names occur in the Bible ; whenever required for the identification, the Hebrew name will be indicated, as well as the specific term used by naturalists. This list will include even such names as griffon, lamia, siren or unicorn, which, though generally applied to fabulous beings, have nevertheless, on account of some misunderstandings or educational prejudices of the Greek and Latin translators, crept into the versions, and have been applied to real animals. (In the following list D.V. stands for Douay Version, A.V. and R.V. for Authorized and Revised Version respectively.)
ADDER . — A poisonous snake of the genus Vipera . The word, unused in the Douay Version, stands in the Authorized Version for four different Hebrew names of serpents.
ANT . ( Proverbs 6:6 ; 30:25 ). — Over twelve species of ants exist in Palestine; among them the ants of the genus Atta are particularly common, especially the atta barbara , of dark colour, and the atta structor , a brown species. These, with the pheidole megacephala , are, unlike the ants of northern countries, accustomed to lay up stores of corn for winter use. Hence the allusions of the wise man in the two above-mentioned passages of Proverbs.
ANTELOPE . — The word, first applied as a qualification to the gazelle, on account of the lustre and soft expression of its eye, has become the name of a genus of ruminant quadrupeds intermediate between the deer and the goat. Four species are mentioned in the Bible :
- (1) the dîshon (D.V. pygarg; Deuteronomy 14:5 ), commonly identified with the antilope addax;
- (2) the çebhî ( Deuteronomy 12:15 , etc.; D.V. roe) or gazelle, antilope dorcas;
- (3) the the'ô ( Deuteronomy 14:5 ; D.V. wild goat; Isaiah 51:20, D.V. wild ox), which seems to be the bubale ( antilope bubalis ); and
- (4) the yáhmûr ( Deuteronomy 14:5 ), the name of which is given by the Arabs to the roebuck of Northern Syria and to the oryx (the white antelope, antilope oryx ) of the desert.
APE . — Nowhere in the Bible is the ape supposed to be indigenous to Palestine. Apes are mentioned with gold, silver, ivory, and peacocks among the precious things imported by Solomon from Tharsis ( 1 Kings 10:22 ; 2 Chronicles 9:21 ).
ASP . — This word, which occurs ten times in D.V., stands for four Hebrew names :
- (1) Péthén [Deut., xxxii, 33; Job, xx, 14, 16; Ps., lvii (Hebr., lviii), 5; Is., xi, 8]. From several allusions both to its deadly venom ( Deuteronomy 32:33 ), and to its use by serpent-charmers [Ps., lvii (Hebr., lviii), 5, 6], it appears that the cobra ( naja aspis ) is most probably signified. Safely to step upon its body, or even linger by the hole where it coils itself, is manifestly a sign of God's particular protection [Ps., xc (Hebr., xci), 13; Is., xi, 8]. Sophar, one of Job's friends, speaks of the wicked as sucking the venom of péthén , in punishment whereof the food he takes shall be turned within him into the gall of this poisonous reptile ( Job 20:16, 14 ).
- (2) 'Akhshûbh , mentioned only once in the Hebrew Bible, namely Ps., cxl ( Vulgate, cxxxix), 4, but manifestly alluded to in Ps., xiii, 3, and Rom., iii, 13, seems to have been one of the most highly poisonous kinds of viper, perhaps the toxicoa , also called echis arenicola or scytale of the Pyramids, very common in Syria and North Africa.
- (3) Sháhál is also found only once to signify a snake, Ps., xci ( Vulgate, xc), 13; but what particular kind of snake we are unable to determine. The word Sháhál might possibly, owing to some copyist's mistake, have crept into the place of another name now impossible to restore.
- (4) çphônî ( Isaiah 59:5 ), "the hisser", generally rendered by basilisk in ID.V. and in ancient translations, the latter sometimes calling it regulus. This snake was deemed so deadly that, according to the common saying, its hissing alone, even its look, was fatal. It was probably a small viper, perhaps a cerastes , possibly the daboia zanthina , according to Cheyne.
ASS . — The ass has always enjoyed a marked favour above all other beasts of burden in Palestine. This is evidenced by two very simple remarks. While, on the one hand, mention of this animal occurs over a hundred and thirty times in Holy Writ ; on the other hand, the Hebrew vocabulary possesses, to designate the ass, according to its colour, sex, age, etc., a supply of words in striking contrast with the ordinary penury of the sacred language. Of these various names the most common is hamôr , "reddish", the hair of the Eastern ass being generally of that colour. White asses, more rare, were also more appreciated and reserved for the use of the nobles ( Judges 5:10 ). The custom was introduced very early, as it seems, and still prevails, to paint the most shapely and valuable donkeys in stripes of different colours. In the East the ass is much larger and finer than in other countries, and in several places the pedigrees of the best breeds are carefully preserved. Asses have always been an important item in the resources of the Eastern peoples, and we are repeatedly told in the Bible about the herds of these animals owned by the patriarchs ( Genesis 12:16 ; 30:43 ; 36:24 , etc.), and wealthy Israelites ( 1 Samuel 9:3 ; 1 Chronicles 27:30 , etc.). Hence the several regulations brought forth by Israel's lawgiver on this subject: the neighbour's ass should not be coveted ( Exodus 20:17 ); moreover, should the neighbour's stray ass be found, it should be taken care of, and its owner assisted in tending this part of his herd ( Deuteronomy 22:3, 4 ). The ass serves in the East for many purposes. Its even gait and surefootedness, so well suited to the rough paths of the Holy Land, made it at all times the most popular of all the animals for riding in those hilly regions ( Genesis 22:3 ; Luke 19:30 ). Neither was it ridden only by the common people, but also by persons of the highest rank ( Judges 5:10 ; 10:4 ; 2 Samuel 17:23 ; 19:26 , etc.). No wonder therefore that Our Lord about to come triumphantly to Jerusalem, commanded His disciples to bring Him an ass and her colt; no lesson of humility, as is sometimes asserted, but the affirmation of the peaceful character of His kingdom should be sought there. Although the Scripture speaks of "saddling" the ass, usually no saddle was used by the rider; a cloth spread upon the back of the ass and fastened by a strap was all the equipment. Upon this cloth the rider sat, a servant usually walking alongside. Should a family journey, the women and children would ride the asses, attended by the father ( Exodus 4:20 ). This mode of travelling has been popularized by Christian painters, who copied the eastern customs in their representations of the Holy Family's flight to Egypt. Scores of passages in the Bible allude to asses carrying burdens; the Gospels, at least in the Greek text, speak of millstones run by asses ( Matthew 18:6 , Mark 9:41 ; Luke 17:2 ); Josephus and the Egyptian monuments teach us that this animal was used for threshing wheat; finally, we repeatedly read in the O.T. of asses hitched to a plough ( Deuteronomy 22:10 ; Isaiah 30:24 , etc.), and in reference to this custom, the Law forbade ploughing with an ox and an ass together ( Deuteronomy 22:10 ). From Is., xxi, 7, confirmed by the statements of Greek writers, we learn that part of the cavalry force in the Persian army rode donkeys; we should perhaps understand from 2 Kings 7:7 , that the Syrian armies followed the same practice; but no such custom seems to have ever prevailed among the Hebrews. With them the ass was essentially for peaceful use, the emblem of peace, as the horse was the symbol of war. The flesh of the ass was unclean and forbidden by the Law. In some particular circumstances, however, no law could prevail over necessity, and we read that during Joram's reign, when Benadad besieged Samaria, the famine was so extreme in this city, that the head of an ass was sold for fourscore pieces of silver ( 2 Kings 6:25 ).
ASS, WILD , corresponds in the O.T. to two words, péré' and 'arôdh . Whether these two names refer to different species, or are, the one, the genuine Hebrew name, the other, the Aramaic equivalent for the same animal, is uncertain. Both signify one of the wildest and most untamable animals. The wild ass is larger and more shapely than the domestic one, and outruns the fleetest horse. Its untamableness joined to its nimbleness made it a fit symbol for the wild and plunder-loving Ismael ( Genesis 16:12 ). The wild ass, extinct in western Asia, still exists in central Asia and the deserts of Africa.
ATTACUS ( Leviticus 11:22 ). — Instead of this Latin word, the A.V. reads bald-locust. According to the tradition enshrined in the Talmud, the common truxalis , a locust with a very long smooth head is probably signified.
AUROCHS , or wild ox ( urus, bos primigenius ), is undoubtedly the rimu of the Assyrian inscriptions, and consequently corresponds to the re'em or rêm of the Hebrews. The latter word is translated sometimes in our D.V. by rhinoceros ( Numbers 23:22 ; 24:8 ; Deuteronomy 33:17 ; Job 39:9, 10 ), sometimes by unicorn ( Psalm 21:22 ; 28:6 ; 91:11 ; Isaiah 34:7 ). That the re'em , far from being unicorn, was a two-horned animal, is suggested by Ps., xxi, 22, and forcibly evidenced by Deut., xxxiii, 17, where its horns represent the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasses ; that, moreover, it was akin to the domestic ox is shown from such parallelisms as we find in Ps., xxviii, 6, where we read, according to the critical editions of the Hebrew text: "The voice of Yahweh makes Lebanon skip like a bullock, and Sirion like a young re'em "; or Is., xxxiv, 7: "And the re'em shall go down with them, and the bulls with the mighty"; and still more convincingly by such implicit descriptions as that of Job, xxxix, 9, 10: "Shall the rêm be willing to serve thee, or will he stay at thy crib ? Canst thou bind the rêm with thy thong to plough, or will he break the clods of the valleys after thee?" These references will be very clear, the last especially, once we admit the re'em is an almost untamable wild ox, which one would try in vain to submit to the same work as its domestic kin. Hence there is very little doubt that in all the above-mentioned places the word aurochs should be substituted for rhinoceros and unicorn. The aurochs is for the sacred poets a familiar emblem of untamed strength and ferocity. It no longer exists in western Asia.
BABOON , a kind of dog-faced, long-haired monkey, dwelling among ruins (gen. Cynocephalus ); it was an object of worship for the Egyptians. Some deem it to be the "hairy one" spoken of in Is., xiii, 21 and xxxiv, 14, but it is very doubtful whether it ever existed west of the Euphrates.
BADGER . — No mention of the badger ( meles taxus ) is found in the D.V., whereas the A.V. regularly gives it as the English equivalent for táhásh . The skin of the táhásh is repeatedly spoken of as used for the outer cover of the tabernacle and the several pieces of its furniture. The old translations, and the D.V. after them, understood the word táhásh to mean a color (violet; Exodus 25:5 ; 26:14 ; 35:7, 23 ; 36:19 ; Numbers 4:10, 25 ; Ezekiel 16:10 ); but this is a misrepresentation; so also is the rendering of the A.V.; for though the badger is common in Palestine, yet the Hebrew name most probably indicates the dugong ( halicore hemprichii or halicore tabernaculi ), a very large species of the seal family living in the Red Sea, the skin of which is used to the present day for such purposes as those alluded to in the Bible .
BASILISK occurs in the D.V. as an equivalent for several Hebrew names of snakes:
- (1) Péthén (Ps. xc, 13), the cobra; had the Latin and English translators been more consistent they would have rendered this Hebrew here, as in the other places, by asp;
- (2) Céphá' and Cíphe 'ônî (Prov., xxiii, 32; Is., xi. 8; xiv, 29; Jer., viii, '17;
- (3) 'éphe'éh ( Isaiah 59:5 ), a kind of viper impossible to determine, or perhaps the echis arenicola;
- (4) flying sãrãph ( Isaiah 14:29 ; 30:6 ), a winged serpent (?), possibly also a reptile like the draco fimbriatus , which, having long ribs covered with a fringe-like skin, is able to glide through the air for short distances.
BAT . — The bat, fourteen species of which still exist in Palestine is reckoned among unclean "winged things" ( Leviticus 11:19 ; Deuteronomy 14:18 ). Its abode is generally in dark and desolate places such as ruins and caverns.
BEAR . — The bear spoken of in the Bible is the ursus syriacus , scarcely different from the brown bear of Europe. Since the destruction of the forests, it is now rarely seen south of Lebanon and Hermon, where it is common. Not unfrequently met in the Holy Land during the O.T. times, it was much dreaded on account of its ferocious and destructive instincts ; to dare it was accordingly a mark of uncommon courage ( 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ). Its terror-striking roars and its fierceness, especially when robbed of its cubs, are repeatedly alluded to.
BEAST, WILD . — The expression occurs twice in the D.V., but much oftener in the A.V., and R. V., where it is in several places a substitute for the awkward "beast of the field", the Hebrew name of wild animals at large. The first time we read of "wild beasts" in the D.V., it fairly stands for the Hebrew zîz [Ps. lxxix (Hebr., lxxx), 14], albeit the "singular wild beast" is a clumsy translation. The same Hebrew in Ps. xlix, 11, at least for consistency's sake, should have been rendered in the same manner; "the beauty of the field" must consequently be corrected into "wild beast". In Is., xiii, 21, "wild beasts" is an equivalent for the Hebr. Ciyyîm , i.e. denizens of the desert. This word in different places has been translated in divers manners: demons ( Isaiah 34:14 ), dragons ( Psalm 73:14 ; Jeremiah 1:39 ); it possibly refers to the hyena.
BEE . — Palestine, according to Scripture, is a land flowing with honey ( Exodus 3:8 ). Its dry climate, its rich abundance, and variety of aromatic flowers, and its limestone rocks render it particularly adapted for bees. No wonder then that honey bees, both wild and hived, abound there. All the different species known by the names of bombus, nomia, andrena, osmia, megachile, anthophora, are widely spread throughout the country. The hived honey bee of Palestine, apis fasciata , belongs to a variety slightly different from ours, characterized by yellow stripes on the abdomen. Wild bees are said to live not only in rocks [Ps. lxxx (Hebr., lxxxi), 17], but in hollow trees ( 1 Samuel 14:25 ), even in dried carcasses ( Judges 14:8 ). Syrian and Egyptian hives are made of a mash of clay and straw for coolness. In O.T. times, honey was an article of export ( Genesis 43:11 ; Ezekiel 27:17 ). Bees are spoken of in Holy Writ as a term of comparison for a numerous army relentlessly harassing their enemies. Debôrah , the Hebrew name for bee, was a favourite name for women.
BEETLE , given by A.V. ( Leviticus 11:22 ) as an equivalent for Hebrew, árbéh , does not meet the requirements of the context: "Hath the legs behind longer wherewith it hoppeth upon the earth", any more than the bruchus of D.V., some species of locust, the locusta migratoria being very likely intended.
BEHEMOTH , is generally translated by "great beasts"; in its wider signification it includes all mammals living on earth, but in the stricter sense is applied to domesticated quadrupeds at large. However in Job, xl, 10, where it is left untranslated and considered as a proper name, it indicates a particular animal. The description of this animal has long puzzled the commentators. Many of them now admit that it represents the hippopotamus, so well known to the ancient Egyptians ; it might possibly correspond as well to the rhinoceros.
FREE Catholic Classes Pick a class, you can learn anything
BIRD . — No other classification of birds than into clean and unclean is given. The Jews, before the captivity, had no domestic fowls except pigeons . Although many birds are mentioned, there occur few allusions to their habits. Their instinct of migration, the snaring or netting them, and the caging of song birds are referred to.
BIRD, DYED . — So does the English version, Jeremiah 12:9 , wrongly interpret the Hebrew 'áyit . which means beast of prey, sometimes also bird of prey.
BIRD, SINGING . — This singing bird of Soph., ii, 14, according to the D.V., owes its origin to a mistranslation of the original, which most probably should be read: "And their voice shall sing at the window "; unless by a mistake of some scribe, the word qôl , voice, has been substituted for the name of some particular bird.
BIRD, SPECKLED , Hebrew çãbhûá' ( Jeremiah 12:9 ). A much discussed translation. The interpretation of the English versions, however meaningless it may seem to some, is supported by the Targum, the Syriac, and St. Jerome. In spite of these authorities many modern scholars prefer to use the word hyena, given by the Septuagint and confirmed by Ecclesiasticus, xiii, 22 as well as by the Arabic ( dábúh ) and rabbinical Hebrew ( çebhôá' ), names of the hyena.
BISON , According to several authors, the re'em of the Bible . It belongs to the same genus as the aurochs, but being indigenous to America (whence its name, bos americanus ), and specifically different from the aurochs, cannot possibly have been known by the Hebrews.
BITTERN (botháurus vulgaris), a shy, solitary, wading bird related to the heron and inhabiting the recesses of swamps, where its startling, booming cry at night gives a frightening impression of desolation. In the D.V., bittern stands for Hebr. qã'ãth ( Leviticus 11:18 ; Isaiah 34:11 ; Zephaniah 2:14), although by some inconsistency the same Hebrew is rendered Deut., xiv, 17, by cormorant, and Ps. ci (Hebr., cii), 7, by pelican. The pelican meets all the requirements of all the passages where qã'ãth is mentioned, and would perhaps be a better translation than bittern.
BLAST certainly, designates, Deut., xxviii, 42, a voracious insect; the Hebrew çelãçál , "chirping", suggests that the cricket was possibly meant and might be substituted for blast. In Ps. lxxvii (Hebr., lxxviii), 46, blast stands for hãsîl , "the destroyer", perhaps the locust in its caterpillar state, in which it is most destructive.
BOAR, WILD . — The only allusion to this animal is found Ps. lxxix (Hebr., lxxx), 14; however, the wild boar was undoubtedly always, as it is now, common in Palestine, having its lair in the woods, and most destructive to vineyards.
BRUCHUS . — Though it occurs once ( Leviticus 11:22 ) as an equivalent for Hebrew, 'ârbéh (probably the locusta migratoria ), the word bruchus is the regular interpretation for yéléq , "licker". The Biblical bruchus may be fairly identified with the beetle, or some insect akin to it. Anyway the yéléq of Jer., li, 14, 27, should have been rendered in the same manner as everywhere else.
BUBALE , antilope bubalis , or alcephalus bubalis , which should not be confounded with the bubale, bos bubalus , is probably signified by the Hebrew, the'ô , interpreted by the Douay translators, wild goat, in Deut., xiv, 5, and wild ox, Is., li, 20. It still exists in Palestine, but was formerly much more common than now.
BUFFALO (bos bubalus). — So does the D.V. translate the Hebrew, yáhmûr , 1 Kings 4:23 (Hebrews 1 Samuel 5:3 ). Being a denizen of marshy and swampy lands, the buffalo must have been scarcely known by the Hebrews. Moreover, its coarse, unpleasant smelling flesh seems to exclude the identification with the animal referred to in the above mentioned passage, where we should probably read roebuck.
BUFFLE . — Another word for buffalo, D.V., Deut., xiv, 5. According to good authorities, the oryx, or white antelope, might be here intended, the Hebrew yáhmûr possibly meaning, as its Arabic equivalent does, both the roebuck and the oryx.
BULL . — A symbol of fierce and relentless adversaries [ Psalm 21:13 ].
BUZZARD (Hebr., rã'ah ). — Probably the ringtail of D.V. and the glede of A,V. ( Deuteronomy 14:13 ); possibly, through a scribe's error, might be identified with the kite, dã'ah , of Leviticus 11:14 . The buzzard, three species of which exist in Palestine, has always been common there.
CALF , One of the most popular representations of the deity among the Chanaanites. The calf is, in Biblical poetry, a figure for vexing and pitiless foes [Ps., xxi (Hebr., xxii), 13]. The fatted calf was a necessary feature, so to say, of a feast dinner.
CAMEL , a prominent domestic animal of the East without the existence of which life in the Arabian deserts would be impossible. It was perhaps the first beast of burden applied to the service of man ; anyway it is mentioned as such in the Biblical records as early as the time of Abraham. It constituted a great element in the riches of the early patriarchs. There are two species of camel: the one-humped camel ( camelus dromedarius ), and the two-humped camel ( camelus bactrianus ). The camel is used for riding as well as for carrying loads; its furniture is a large frame placed on the humps, to which cradles or packs are attached. In this manner was all the merchandise of Assyria and Egypt transported. But the camel is appreciated for other reasons: it may be hitched to a wagon or to a plough, and in fact is not unfrequently yoked together with tIme ass or the ox; the female supplies abundantly her master with a good milk; camel's hair is woven into a rough cloth wherewith tents and Cloaks are made; finally its flesh, albeit coarse and dry, may be eaten. With the Jews, however, the camel was reckoned among the unclean animals.
CAMELOPARDALUS , occurs only once in the D.V. ( Deuteronomy 14:5 ), as a translation of zémér , The word, a mere transcription of the Latin and the Greek, is a combination of the names of the camel and the leopard, and indicates the giraffe. But this translation, as well as that of the A.V. (chamois), is doubtless erroneous ; neither the giraffe nor the chamois ever lived in Palestine. The wild sheep or mouflon, which still lingers in Cyprus and Arabia Petrala, is very likely intended.
CANKERWORM , the locust in its larva state, in which it is most voracious. So does A.V. render the Hebrew, gãzám ; the word palmerworm, given by the D.V. seems better.
CAT . — Mention of this animal occurs only once in the Bible , namely Bar., vi, 21. The original text of Baruch being lost, we possess no indication as to what the Hebrew name of the cat may have been. Possibly there was not any; for although the cat was very familiar to the Egyptians, it seems to have been altogether unknown to the Jews, as well as to the Assyrians and Babylonians, even to the Greeks and Romans before the conquest of Egypt. These and other reasons have led some commentators to believe that the word cat, in the above cited place of Baruch, might not unlikely stand for another name now impossible to restore.
CATTLE . — Very early in the history of mankind, animals were tamed and domesticated, to be used in agriculture, for milk, for their flesh, and especially for sacrifices. Many words in Hebrew expressed the different ages and sexes of cattle, West of the Jordan the cattle were generally stall-fed; in the plains and hills south and east they roamed in a half-wild state; such were the most famous "bulls of Basan".
CERASTES (Hebr., shephîphõn ) should be substituted in D.V. for the colourless "serpent", Genesis 49:17 . The identification of the shephîphõn with the deadly horned cerastes ( cerastes hasselquistii or vipera cerastes ) is evidenced by the Arabic name of the latter ( shúffon ), and its customs in perfect agreement with the indications of the Bible . The cerastes, one of the most venomous of snakes, is in the habit of coiling itself in little depressions such as camels' footmarks, and suddenly darting on any passing animal.
CHAMELEON (Hebr., kôâh ). — Mentioned Leviticus 11:30 , with the mole (Hebr., tínshéméth ). In spite of the authority of the ancient translations, it is now generally admitted that the tínshéméth is the chameleon, very common in Palestine; whereas the kôâh is a kind of large lizard, perhaps the land monitor ( psammosaurus scincus ).
CHAMOIS ( antilope rupicapra ) is now totally unknown in western Asia, where it very probably never existed. The opinion of those who see it in the Hebrew zémér ( Deuteronomy 14:5 ) should consequently be entirely discarded (see Camelopardalus ).
CHARADRION (Hebrew anãphah , Leviticus 11:19 ; Deuteronomy 14:18 ) would be the plover; but it rather stands here for the heron, all the species of which (this is the sense of the expression "according to its kind"), numerous in Palestine, should be deemed unclean.
CHEROGRILLUS ( Leviticus 11:5 ; Deuteronomy 14:7 ), a mere transliteration of the Greek name of the porcupine, corresponds to the Hebrew shãphãn , translated, Psalm 113:18 , by irchin, and Proverbs 30:26 , by rabbit. As St. Jerome noticed it, the shãphãn is not the porcupine, but a very peculiar animal of about the same size, dwelling among the rocks, and in holes, and called in Palestine "bear-rat", on account of some resemblance with these two quadrupeds. We call it coney, or daman ( hyrax syriacus ). Its habit of lingering among the rocks is alluded to, Psalm 103:18 ; its wisdom and defencelessness, Proverbs 30:24-26 . "It cannot burrow, for it has no claws, only nails half developed ; but it lies in holes in the rocks, and feeds only at dawn and dusk, always having sentries posted, at the slightest squeak from which the whole party instantly disappears. The coney is not a ruminant (cf. Leviticus 11:5 ), but it sits working its jaws as if re-chewing. It is found sparingly in most of the rocky districts, and is common about Sinai " (Tristram).
COBRA ( naja aspis ), most likely the deadly snake called péthén by the Hebrews, found in Palestine and Egypt and used by serpent-charmers.
COCHINEAL ( coccus ilicis ). — A hemiptera homoptera insect very common on the Syrian holm-oak, from the female of which the crimson dye ( kermes ) is prepared. The complete name in Hebrew is equivalent to "scarlet insect", the "insect" being not unfrequently omitted in the translations.
COCK, HEN . — Domestic poultry are not mentioned till after the captivity. No wonder, consequently, that the three times we meet with the word cock in the D.V. it is owing to a misinterpretation of the primitive text.
- (1) Job 38:36 , the word sékhwi means soul, heart: "Who hath put wisdom in the heart of man ? and who gave his soul understanding?"
- (2) Proverbs 30:31 , zãrzîr should be translated as "hero".
- (3) Isaiah 22:17 , where the word gébhér , great, strong man, has been rendered according to some rabbinical conceptions.
In Our Lord's time domestic poultry, introduced from India through Persia, had become common, and their well-known habits gave rise to familiar expressions, and afforded good and easy illustrations ( Mark 13:35 ; 14:30 , etc.). Jesus Christ compared His care for Jerusalem to that of a hen for her brood.
COCKATRICE . — A fabulous serpent supposed to be produced from a cock's egg brooded by a serpent; it was alleged that its hissing would drive away all other serpents, and that its breath, even its look, was fatal. The word is used in A.V. as the regular equivalent for Hebrew, çíphe'ônî .
COLT . — See ASS'S COLT ( sup .).
CONEY . — See Cherogrillus ( sup .).
CORAL , Hebrew, rãmôth , should probably be substituted, Job 28:18 , for "eminent things", and Ezekiel 27:16 , for "silk" in the D.V. The coral dealt with at Tyre was that of the Red Sea or even of the Indian Ocean; coral seems to have been scarcely known among the Jews.
CORMORANT ( Leviticus 11:17 ; Deuteronomy 14:17 ), very frequently met with on the coasts, rivers, and lakes of Palestine, probably corresponds to the shãlãk of the Hebrew, although this name, which means "the plunger", might be applied to some other plunging bird.
COW . — See CATTLE ( sup .).
CRANE ( grus cinerea ). — The word does not occur in D.V., but seems the best translation of Hebrew, 'ãghûr , read in two passages: Isaiah 38:14 and Jeremiah 8:7 , where its loud voice and migratory instincts are alluded to. There is little doubt that the two above indicated places of D.V., where we read "swallow", should be corrected.
CROCODILE . — We do not read this word in any other place than Leviticus 11:29 (D.V.), where it corresponds to the Hebrew, çãb; the animal is, nevertheless, oftener spoken of in the Holy Books under cover of several metaphors: ráhâb , "the proud " ( Isaiah 51:9 ); tánnîn , "the stretcher" ( Ezekiel 29:3 ); líweyãthãn (leviathan) [ Psalm 73:14 ; Job 40:20 , 41:25 ]. See DRAGON ( inf .). The crocodile ( crocodilus vulgaris ) is still found in great numbers, not only in the upper Nile, but also in Palestine. A remarkable description of the crocodile has been drawn by the author of the Book of Job. He depicts the difficulty of capturing, snaring, or taming him, his vast size, his impenetrable scales, his flashing eyes, his snorting, and his immense strength. Dreadful as he is, the crocodile was very early regarded and worshiped as a deity by the Egyptians. He is, in the Bible , the emblem of the people of Egypt and their Pharao, sometimes even of all Israel's foes.
CUCKOO , according to some, would be the bird called in Hebrew shâhâph ( Leviticus 11:16 ; Deuteronomy 14:15 ), and there reckoned among the unclean birds. Two species, the cuculus canorus , and the oxylophus glandarius live in the Holy Land; however there is little probability that the cuckoo is intended in the mentioned passages, where we should perhaps see the shear-water and the various species of sea-gulls.
DABOIA ZANTHINA , See Basilisk ( sup .).
DAMAN . — See Cherogrillus ( sup .).
DEER . — (Hebr., 'áyyãl ). Its name is frequently read in the Scriptures, and its habits have afforded many allusions or comparisons, which fact supposes that the deer was not rare in Palestine. Its handsome form, its swiftness, its shyness, the love of the roe for her fawns, are alluded to; it seems from Proverbs 5:19 and some other indirect indications that the words 'áyyãl and 'áyyãlah (deer and hind) were terms of endearment most familiar between lovers.
DEMONS ( Isaiah 34:14 ). — So does D. V, translate çíyyîm; it is certainly a mistake. The word at issue is generally believed to refer to the hyena ( hyœna striata ), still found everywhere in caves and tombs, So also is the word "devils" of Baruch 4:35 , We possess no longer the Hebrew text of the latter; but it possibly contained the same word; anyway, "hyena" is unquestionably a far better translation than the mere meaningless "devils".
DIPSAS . — The D.V., following the Vulgate ( Deuteronomy 8:15 ) thereby means a serpent whose bite causes a mortal thirst ; but this interpretation seems to come from a misunderstanding suggested by the Septuagint ; the original writer most likely intended there to mean "drought", as the A.V. rightly puts it, and not any kind of serpent.
DOG . — The dog in the East does not enjoy the companionship and friendship of man as in the western countries. Its instinct has been cultivated only in so far as the protecting of the flocks and camps against wild animals is concerned. In the towns and villages it roams in the streets and places, of which it is the ordinary scavenger; packs of dogs in a half-wild state are met with in the cities and are not unfrequently dangerous for men. For this reason the dog has always been, and is still looked upon with loathing and aversion, as filthy and unclean. With a very few exceptions, whenever the dog is spoken of in the Bible (where it is mentioned over forty times), it is with contempt, to remark either its voracious instincts, or its fierceness, or its loathsomeness; it was regarded as the emblem of lust, and of uncleanness in general. As the Mohammedans, to the present day, term Christians "dogs", so did the Jews of old apply that infamous name to Gentiles.
DOVE (Hebr., yônah ). — Though distinguishing it from tôr, the turtle-dove, the Jews were perfectly aware of their natural affinity and speak of them together. The dove is mentioned in the Bible oftener than any other bird (over fifty times); this comes both from the great number of doves flocking in Palestine, and of the favour they enjoy among the people. The dove is first spoken of in the record of the flood ( Genesis 8:8-12 ); later on we see that Abraham offered up some in sacrifice, which would indicate that the dove was very early domesticated. In fact several allusions are made to dove-cotes, with their "windows" or latticed openings. But in olden times as well as now, besides the legions of pigeons that swarm around the villages, there were many more rock-doves, "doves of the valleys", as they are occasionally termed ( Ezekiel 7:16 ; Song of Songs 2:14 ; Jeremiah 48:28 ), that filled the echoes of the mountain gorges with the rustling of their wings. The metallic lustre of their plumage, the swiftness of their flight, their habit of sweeping around in flocks, their plaintive coo, are often alluded to by the different sacred writers. The dark eye of the dove, encircled by a line of bright red skin, is also mentioned; its gentleness and innocence made it the type of trust and love, and, most naturally, its name was one of the most familiar terms of endearment. Our Lord spoke of the dove as a symbol of simplicity; the sum of its perfections made it a fitting emblem for the Holy Spirit.
DRAGON , a word frequently found in the translations of the Bible as substitute, so it seems, for other names of animals that the translators were unable to identify. It stands indeed for several Hebrew names :
- (1) thán ( Job 30:29 ; Isaiah 34:13 ; 35:7 ; 43:20 ; Jeremiah 9:11 ; 10:22 ; 14:6 ; 49:33 ; 51:37;Micah 1:8 ; Malachi 1:3 ), unquestionably meaning a denizen of desolate places, and generally identified with the jackal;
- (2) tánnîm , in a few passages with the sense of serpent [ Deuteronomy 32:33 ; Psalm 90:13 ; Daniel 14:22-27 ), in others most likely signifying the crocodile [ Psalm 73:13 ; Isaiah 51:9 ; Ezekiel 29:3 ], or even a sea-monster ( Ezekiel 32:2 ), such as a whale, porpoise, or dugong, as rightly translated Lamentations 4:3 , and as probably intended Psalm 148:7 ;
- (3) líweyãthãn (leviathan), meaning both the crocodile [ Psalm 73:14 ] and sea-monster [ Psalm 103:26 ];
- (4) çiyyim ( Psalm 73:14 ; Jeremiah 1:39 ), which possibly means the hyena.
Other places, such as Esther 10:7 ; 11:6 ; Ecclesiasticus 25:23 , can be neither traced back to a Hebrew original, nor identified with sufficient probability. The author of the Apocalypse repeatedly makes mention of the dragon, by which he means "the old serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world" ( Revelation 12:9 , etc.). Of the fabulous dragon fancied by the ancients, represented as a monstrous winged serpent, with a crested head and enormous claws, and regarded as very powerful and ferocious, no mention whatever is to be found in the Bible . The word dragon, consequently, should really be blotted out of our Bibles, except perhaps Isaiah 14:29 and 30:6 , where the draco fimbriatus is possibly spoken of. See BASILISK, 4 ( sup .).
DROMEDARY . — The word so rendered, Isaiah 60:6 , signifies rather a swift and finely bred camel.
DUGONG . — See BADGER ( sup .).
EAGLE So is generally rendered the Hebrew, néshér , but there is a doubt as to whether the eagle or some kind of vulture is intended. It seems even probable that the Hebrews did not distinguish very carefully these different large birds of prey, and that all are spoken of as though they were of one kind. Anyway, four species of eagles are known to live in Palestine: aquila chrysœtos, aquila nœvia, aquila heliaca, and circœtos gallicus . Many allusions are made to the eagle in Scripture : its inhabiting the dizziest cliffs for nesting, its keen sight, its habit of congregating to feed on the slain, its swiftness, its longevity, its remarkable care in training its young, are often referred to (see in particular Job 39:27-30 ). When the relations of Israel with their neighbours became more frequent, the eagle became, under the pen of the Jewish prophets and poets, an emblem first of the Assyrian, then of the Babylonian, and finally of the Persian kings.
ELEPHANT . — We learn from Assyrian inscriptions that before the Hebrews settled in Syria, there existed elephants in that country, and Tiglath-Pileser I tells us about his exploits in elephant hunting. We do not read, however, of elephants in the Bible until the Machabean times. True, 1 Kings speaks of ivory, or "elephants' teeth", as the Hebrew text puts it, yet not as indigenous, but as imported from Ophir. In the post-exilian times, especially in the books of the Machabees, elephants are frequently mentioned; they were an important element in the armies of the Seleucides. These animals were imported either from India or from Africa.
Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.