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Animals in the Bible

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The Bible names over 120 species of animals but, as it is not a book of science, does not offer any kind of biological classification. The sacred books were composed by a people almost exclusively given to husbandry and pastoral life and hence in constant communication with nature. To this people references to the animal world and animal customs were quite natural. As may be expected, the more a particular animal abounded in the Holy Land, the more frequent allusions to it may be found.

Species mentioned

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 gives a fair idea of the conditions of the area at different stages of its history. The species, for instance, called in Hebrew 're'em', was very probably the aurochs, or wild ox and 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 alluded to in the Bible are now extremely scarce.

The Bible mentions animals from varying regions of the Middle East. 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, is attributed to the great extremes of elevation and temperature in this small area. Palestinian fauna is not as rich today as it was during the Biblical times. The land is barren today but was well wooded when the Bible was written, especially on the hills east of the Jordan River.

Classification of animals

Although no regular classification is to be sought for in the Bible, 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 and 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 to whether 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 to whether they can, or cannot, be eaten. [1]

See also


  1. Moses, et al. The Bible. Jerusalem:

This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.

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