BEAR (דֹּב, H1800; ἄρκτος, G760). The only variation in tr. in the main Eng. VSS is in Proverbs 17:12, “Let a man meet a she-bear” (RSV) “bear” (KJV, ASV), “robbed of her cubs.” Gr. ἄρκτος, G760, is found in the Lat. names of most bears, e.g. Ursus arctos syriacus, the Syrian (brown) bear, which is the only form found in this area (Pal.) in recent times.
Brown bears were found earlier over much of the temperate northern hemisphere, and some zoologists regard them all as a single species divided into many geographical forms. The Alaskan and Kodiak bears are the giants, weighing up to 1500 pounds. The Old World forms are the smallest, weighing some 500 pounds. The Syrian bear is paler brown than any other except perhaps the Isabelline bear of the Himalayas. In Biblical times they ranged over much of the hilly regions of Pal., venturing down to the plains occasionally but being absent from the true desert. The last Pal. bear was killed in Upper Galilee just before World War II and in Lebanon and Hermon by the armies a few years later. It is still found in N Syria, S Turkey and NW Persia.
Although carnivorous by classification, brown bears are actually omnivorous and for much of the year they feed on plant material, including roots, fruits and grass, with ants, bees and their combs, any small animals they may happen upon, and even carrion. In suitable areas they catch fish. Left to themselves bears avoid contact with man and seldom attack his livestock, but in late winter and spring, after emerging from their partial hibernation, other food may be scarce and it is at such times that bears in Pal. would venture down to lower ground and try to take a lamb from the flocks feeding on the early grass (1 Sam 17:34). Bears have a single litter once a year, often while the mother is still in partial hibernation, and this consists of up to four small cubs. Bears have relatively smaller babies than any other ordinary mammals and the cubs are never heavier than one pound. For some weeks they are fed while the mother lies up in her den; gradually they begin to follow her around, but they are dependent on her for many months and sometimes stay with her, or perhaps link up again, after the next litter is born.
While accompanied by cubs the she-bear is much more aggressive than usual and three different vv., perhaps quoting a proverb, refer to the danger of a bear robbed of her cubs (2 Sam 17:8, etc). It is possible that this refers to taking the cubs alive, to rear them as performing animals. This practice is ancient but no definite record has been found earlier than about the 4th cent. b.c. The expression “from the paw of the bear” (1 Sam 17:37) is interesting (though in fact the Heb. יָד, H3338, could have a wider tr. than “paw”), for it is with the forepaw that the bear usually attacks, dealing a powerful blow that could smash most animals’ heads. Even though a man might be killed in such an encounter, the bear would be unlikely to eat the body. Another interesting proverb occurs in Amos 5:19, “As if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him,” which is the equivalent of “out of the frying pan into the fire.” Any zoo or circus attendant would agree with this order, and it was also given by David in 1 Samuel 17:36.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Alfred Y. Day
bar, born (nasa’; lambano, anaphero, bastazo): In of the Bible the physical sense is familiar, of supporting or carrying any weight or burden. The translation of the (British and American) is to be preferred in Ps 75:3 ("have set up"); La 3:28 ("hath laid it upon him"); Ze 1:11 ("were laden with silver"); Lu 18:7 ("he is longsuffering over them"); Joh 12:6 ("took away what was put therein"); Ac 27:15 ("could not face the wind").