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Oxford Bible Atlas Contextualizes the stories and lands of the Bible through user-friendly maps and illustrations.

Animals

Animals

Vegetation in Biblical Times

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There are numerous references to animal life in the Bible. The account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis speaks of the creation of winged creatures and aquatic creatures on the fifth day (Gen. 1: 20–3 ) and of the land animals on the sixth day (Gen. 1: 24–5 ). The land animals are subdivided into wild animals, cattle (domesticated animals), and creeping things. Evidence of an awareness of a considerable variety of species of animal comes not only from narrative passages, but from different types of biblical material including poetry and prophecy, legal and wisdom material. The regulations concerning clean and unclean animals in Leviticus 11 and the references to various creatures in God's responses to Job (Job 38: 39–39: 30; 40: 15–41: 34 ) are but two examples, and more will be given below. (The precise identification of some of the creatures mentioned in such passages is uncertain.)

Domesticated animals

Animals

Sheep and goats are guided along a road with pillars from the Roman period at Sebasṭiyeh (ancient Samaria).

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Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

The herding of animals was an important part of the way of life in rural communities, not only among true nomads and semi‐nomads, but also in settled communities around which shepherds would lead their flocks from pasture to pasture. And the raising of other domesticated animals was a vital part of the rural economy. Particularly important were sheep and goats, kept as a source of meat and of milk (and thence various dairy products). They also provided wool and goats' hair and their skins could be used for a number of purposes, not least as containers for liquids. Larger cattle were also raised. Oxen were primarily draft animals, and their hides were a useful commodity. They were probably little used for meat, but the cows were a source of milk. Donkeys and mules were beasts of burden and also used for riding, sometimes in prestigious circumstances. Solomon rode on a mule to his anointing at Gihon (1 Kgs. 1: 38; see also Zech. 9: 9 where a king is envisaged as riding on a donkey). Horses were predominantly used for military purposes, for riding or drawing chariots. The widespread use of the camel was probably relatively late (see the final chapter , on ‘Archaeology and the Bible’). Evidence for the domestication of fowls is limited, but chickens appear to have been used in the Levant from the Persian period, and perhaps earlier.

Wild creatures

There is frequent reference to wild animals in the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Bible. Some familiar stories speak of the encounter between humans and wild animals. An example of Samson's strength is seen in his ability to tear apart a young lion which roared at him (Judg. 14: 5–6 ). In the story of David and Goliath, part of David's justification of his claim to be able to confront the Philistine warrior is that he has in the past killed lions and bears (1 Sam. 17: 34–6 ). When Joseph's torn and bloodstained coat is shown to Jacob, his immediate reaction is that a wild animal must have killed his son (Gen. 37: 33 ). Lions seem to have been particularly associated with the thick vegetation of the Jordan Valley (see Jer. 49: 19; Zech. 11: 3 ).

References to wild animals are frequent in imagery. For example, God's coming to punish his people is likened to the activity of animals (see Hos. 5: 14; 13: 7–8 ). The roaring lion is a simile of the devil in 1 Peter 5: 8 . The officials and judges of Jerusalem are described as lions and wolves respectively in Zephaniah 3: 3 . Amos's graphic description of the ‘Day of the Lord’ as something from which there will be no escape suggests that it will be as if someone succeeds in escaping from a lion only to encounter a bear, or manages to reach the apparent safety of the house only to be bitten by a snake (Amos 5: 19 ).

That the people of Israel were observant of the ways of animals and birds is suggested in numerous passages, of which the following are a few examples. The migration of birds is mentioned in Jeremiah 8: 7 , and the soaring flight of the hawk and nesting habits of the eagle are referred to in Job 39: 26–7 . A psalmist in distress likens his situation to that of an owl of the wilderness and waste places, or a lonely bird on a housetop (Ps. 102: 6–7 ). Jesus is presented as making allusion to the raven (Luke 12: 24 ) and the commonness of the sparrow (Matt. 10: 29, 31; Luke 12: 6–7 ). The abodes of various birds and animals are mentioned in Psalms 104: 17–18 . And even the smallest of creatures, such as ants, badgers, locusts, and lizards (or perhaps spiders) could be used to teach a lesson (Prov. 30: 24–8 ).

Knowledge of some animals may have come from further afield. The account of the wealth of Solomon includes a statement that, every three years, ships of Tarshish would come, bringing not only gold, silver, and ivory, but also apes and what have traditionally been though of as peacocks, but the word may refer to baboons or to another type of monkey (1 Kgs. 10: 22 ). It has been suggested that the ‘Behemoth’ of Job 40: 15–24 was probably the hippopotamus, and known from Egypt, but there is now evidence that the hippopotamus may have lived in the Palestine area prior to the 8th century BCE. That the ‘Leviathan’ of Job 41 is the crocodile, known from Egypt, rather than the mythological monster, is widely accepted. But it is noteworthy that part of the description moves beyond what might reflect actual observation to suggest that it breathed fire and smoke (Job 41: 19–21 ). This raises the possibility that, in the popular imagination, there were creatures which lived on the fringes of the inhabited world which had strange and mysterious features. In Numbers 21: 6 and Deuteronomy 8: 15 there are references to the ‘fiery serpent’ (the translation reflects the fact that the word is probably associated with the verb ‘to burn’, and this is perhaps an allusion to the effect of its venom rather than to any literal fire). But in Isaiah 30: 6 , at the beginning of an oracle concerning the animals of the Negeb, there is mention, among other creatures, of a winged fiery serpent (NRSV ‘flying serpent’). In the ocean depths there were thought to be great sea‐monsters, but they too came to be envisaged as part of God's creation (Gen. 1: 21 ).

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