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CATTLE. This word has a wide meaning (see below) but is here taken in its narrower sense of oxen. All words applied to this group are treated.

Hebrew names.

Greek names.

English definitions.

The Eng. terms for cattle in various Eng. VSS are as follows: Bull, masculine, esp. adult used for breeding. Cow, feminine, esp. after first calf. Bullock, young bull, esp. after castration. Steer, in some countries used instead of bullock and bull. Heifer, young cow before calving. Calf, young of first year. Beeves, pl. of beef; now obsolete and poetic only. Kine, archaic pl. of cow; now cows. Ox, oxen. Still widely used for bovine animals, but now mostly in combination, as ox-tail, ox-cart. Becoming obsolete in most contexts for animal itself. Herd, usual group name for cattle and other large animals. Cattle, from old Eng. catel (property), hence livestock. Chattels, from same root, now obsolete or legal. In technical usage cattle are bovines wild and tame; in general use, domestic cattle only.

Origin and domestication.

Cattle are descended from a group of races of the aurochs (Bos primigenius) (see Ox). Nothing is likely to be found of the beginnings of domestication, but it was in Neolithic times, distinctly later than goats and sheep, and its focus was prob. in SW Asia. A more or less settled form of agriculture seems a prerequisite for dealing with animals as large and strong as oxen, that needed both enclosing and feeding. The cattle nomads of central Africa and elsewhere, e.g. Masai, came much later, with their pattern of life based on fully domesticated herds. Meat was prob. the prime object of bringing wild oxen under control; milking followed, then their use for draught purposes, on plows and later on carts. Their hides had always been used. The order and speed of development can only be conjectured, but their use for draught purposes must have been largely dependent on knowledge of the effect of castration in making them docile. The technique used will never be known, yet these primitive people, without even metal tools, undertook successfully the capture and breeding of wild cattle standing some six feet tall, a task now beyond the scope of any but a few experts armed with modern equipment.

Economic importance.

Taming the ox changed the pattern of farming as radically as the horse improved transport some 2,000 years later. By the Bronze Age, long before the patriarchs settled in Pal., it had become part of the farming scene over much of Eurasia and in the Nile valley, with breeds serving particular purposes in various climates. Zoologists recognize several stocks as having contributed to the great complex of domestic cattle, notably longifrons, primigenius and zebu. It is generally thought that these came from geographical races tamed independently and later interbred. Cattle have now become by far the most important domestic animals, with a world population of perhaps 700 million. Of these some 200 million are sacred cattle of India, of no productive use, and many others, of poor quality, are kept in parts of Africa, largely as “wealth.” Milk and/or meat are now the main objects of management, but cattle also provide most of the world’s leather, and many other by-products, including manure. Their value as draught animals is steadily decreasing.

Cattle in early Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India.

Horns and other features are useful for identifying the many paintings, carvings and figurines, often highly stylized, which can now be dated accurately. Several sites of c. 4500 b.c. in Mesopotamia give evidence that distinct types had already developed, including the humped zebu cattle now typical of India and Africa. Mosaics and seals from many sites of 4th and early 3rd millenniums show cattle in a wide range of uses. In Egypt the earliest material is dated about mid-4th millennium, but within a short period four distinct breeds can be found. Painted temple reliefs and models show that these cattle had a range of colors, including black, brown and multi-colored. In early dynastic times the bull became important in Egyp. religion, esp. the deity Apis, which had its origin in prehistoric Egypt. The bull cult reached its peak in Minoan Crete, about the time the Hebrews were in captivity. It had also been a vogue in ancient Mesopotamia, with bull-men, winged bulls, etc. prominent in art and architecture. Early Indian civilization, 4th millennium b.c., had humped cattle, prob. from a local race, as well as other forms. Western Europe was then in a much earlier phase of development; sub-sequently the sudden appearance of several types suggests that immigrant people brought them.

Cattle in Palestine.

Evidence from Pal. is still incomplete as regards races, but the Biblical record makes it clear that cattle were kept widely and in great numbers. To the Hebrews and many contemporary peoples, cattle meant wealth, animals for sacrifice, and providers of everyday needs in food, clothing and labor. Abram brought cattle back from Egypt, and the Hebrews, at the Exodus took their herds. The Hebrews became skilled at animal husbandry and prob. developed several breeds suited to the various natural regions of Pal. (see ¶ 1 above). Oxen were used esp. for plowing and threshing, which was done by pulling a hardwood sledge, on which the driver stood, around the threshing floor. They also used a simple cart, usually drawn by a pair of oxen. Apart from four figs. mentioned, the ox cart features in only two incidents, both concerning the transport of the Ark (1 Sam 6 and 2 Sam 6). Modern experience shows that to thrive in summer in the Jordan valley cattle need to be heat-resistant; modern local breeds have this quality, perhaps derived from the Zebu, which had reached Egypt and become widespread by the 18th dynasty (1570 b.c.). The hump is a good diagnostic feature, and illustrations show that the zebu was in Mesopotamia much earlier. It would be expected that Abram and Lot had this type of semi-tropical breed in the hot plains of the northern Rift Valley, but the oldest evidence from Pal. so far is from the 6th cent. b.c., early in the postexilic period, although this is no proof of its absence. The deeper significance of cattle to the Hebrews and their place in religion is discussed in the detailed analysis of Heb. and Gr. names.


F. E. Zeuner, A History of Domesticated Animals (1963).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(behemah, "a dumb beast"; miqneh, "a possession" from qanah, "to acquire" (compare Arabic qana’, "to acquire," and Greek kienos, "beast," and plural ktenea, "flocks," from ktaomai, "to acquire," flocks being both with the Homeric peoples and with the patriarchs an important form of property; compare English "fee"); tso’n "small cattle," "sheep" or goats (compare Arabic da’n, "sheep"); seh, a single sheep or goat (compare Arabic shah); mela’khah, "property," from la’akh, "to minister" (compare Arabic malakah and mulk, "property," from malak, "to possess"); meri’ "fatling" (1Ki 19); thremma (Joh 4:12), "cattle," i.e. "that which is nourished," from trepho, "to nourish"; baqar, "kine," "oxen" (compare Arabic baqar, "cattle"); shor, tor (Da 4:25), tauros (Mt 22:4), "ox" or "bull"; bous, "ox" (Lu 13:15); ’eleph, only in the plural, ’alaphim, "oxen" (Ps 8:7)): From the foregoing and by examination of the many references to "cattle," "kine" or "oxen" it is apparent that there are important points of contact in derivation and usage in the Hebrew, Greek and English terms. It is evident that neat cattle were possessed in abundance by the patriarchs and later Israelites, which is fax from being the case in Palestine at the present day. The Bedouin usually have no cattle. The fellachin in most parts of the country keep them in small numbers, mostly for plowing, and but little for milk or for slaughtering. Travelers in the Holy Land realize that goat’s milk is in most places easier to obtain than cow’s milk. The commonest cattle of the fellachin are a small black breed. In the vicinity of Damascus are many large, fine milch cattle which furnish the delicious milk and cream of the Damascus bazaars. For some reason, probably because they are not confined and highly fed, the bulls of Palestine are meek creatures as compared with their European or American fellows.

The wild ox or wild bull, the Revised Version (British and American) "antelope" (te’o or to’ of De 14:5 and Isa 51:20), is considered by the writer to be probably the Arabian oryx, and in this he is in agreement with Tristram (NHB). Tristram however thinks that the unicorn (rem or re’em), the Revised Version (British and American) "wild ox," was the aurochs, while the present writer believes that this also may well have been the oryx, which at the present day has at least three names in Arabic, one of which, baqar-ul-wachsh, means "wild ox."

See Antelope.

Our domestic cattle are believed by some of the best authorities to be of the same species as the ancient European wild ox or aurochs, Bos taurus, which is by others counted as a distinct species under the title of Bos primigeniusú The aurochs was widely spread over Europe in Roman times, but is now extinct. Some degenerate wild cattle are preserved in some British parks, but these according to Lydekker in the Royal Natural History are probably feral descendants of early domestic breeds. Tristram cites the occurrence in the Dog River bone breccia of teeth which may be those of the aurochs, but this is a deposit accumulated by prehistoric man of an unknown antiquity to be variously estimated according to the predilections of the geologist at a few thousands or a few score of thousands of years, and is far from proving that this animal existed in Palestine in Bible times or at any time.

The European bison (Bos or Bison bonassus) is thought by some to be the wild ox of the Bible. This is a forest-dwelling species and is now confined to the forests of Lithuania and the Caucasus. It was formerly more widely distributed, but there is no certain evidence that it ever lived as far South as Palestine, and there have probably never existed in Palestine forests suitable to be the haunts of this animal.

About the Sea of Tiberias and the Jordan valley and in the plain of Coele-Syria there exist today Indian buffaloes (Bos bubalus) some feral and some in a state of domestication, which are believed to have been introduced in comparatively recent times.

See Beast; Calf.


J. P. Van Haitsma, The Supplanter Undeceived (1941), private printing.

Additional Material

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

kou, kin (baqar (compare Arabic baqar, "cow"); `eghlath baqar (Isa 7:21); parah (compare Arabic furar, "young of a sheep, goat, or cow"); paroth `aloth (1Sa 6:7,10), "milch kine," from `ul , "to suckle"; ’eleph): In Am 4:1, the term, "kine of Bashan," is applied to the voluptuous women of Samaria. In Ge 41:1-36 is the narration of Pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat and seven lean kine. In Isaiah’s vision (Isa 11:7) we have: "And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together." Cows do not seem to have been sacrificed. The sacrifice of the kine that brought the ark back from the Philistines (1Sa 6:14) was due to the exceptional circumstances.

See Calf; Cattle.

Source 2


(1) ’alaphim, plural of ’eleph, "ox," or "cow," the American Standard Revised Version "cattle," the King James Version and the English Revised Version "kine" (De 7:13; 28:4,18,51);

(2) baqar, "ox" or "cow," the American Standard Revised Version "herd," the King James Version and the English Revised Version "kine" (De 32:14; 2Sa 17:29);

(3) paroth plural of parah, "young cow" or "heifer," the Revised Version (British and American) "kine" in Ge 41:2-27; 1Sa 6:7-14; Am 4:1; in Ge 32:15, the American Standard Revised Version has "cows."

Source 3

COW, KINE, CATTLE (chiefly פָּרָה, H7239, ox, heifer, but varied terms used). These designations include sheep and goats (Gen 32:7). Cattle are specifically mentioned in the account of the sixth day of creation which deals with conspicuous animals of interest to man. Noah took all the cattle according to their kinds into the ark, seven pairs of all clean animals. Flocks were possessed in abundance by the patriarchs. The peasants in Egypt and Syria had a small black breed kept for plowing but not for their milk, for goat’s milk was easier to obtain than cow’s milk. Damascus, however, had large milk cattle. Some have thought cattle came from bison or Indian buffalo, but more likely they descended from wild forms of Europe and North Africa (Bos taurus primigenius, also called Aurochs or Urus). Steers are fattened in abundance in this country, but the Israelites seldom castrated their cattle.

Cows were seldom sacrificed, but when they brought the ark back to the people of Bethshemesh, the two milch cows were promptly sacrificed. Bulls were the usual sacrifices (see Bull). A heifer, along with a goat, a ram and birds became the seal of a covenant God made with Abram (Gen 15:9). Recall that Hindus consider the cow sacred.

Meat was staple food in Solomon’s time; ten fat oxen and twenty pasture-fed cattle were provision for one day. The prodigal son has made the fatted calf famous (Luke 15:23), but it was a common custom to stuff a young ram with food. His jaw was even worked up and down so he developed into tender mutton for the diners. The Israelites, however, while in the desert had no beef or mutton, so lusted for the food of Egypt. In Pharaoh’s dream there were seven fat cows eaten by the seven lean cows which was a prophesy of plenty followed by famine. Since cows are vegetarian, not meat eaters, the dream was all the more poignant.

The cattle of Laban flourished under Jacob’s guidance until Jacob was ready to leave for his home. He bargained for the speckled and spotted and black and received many of the kind he wished because the recessive traits, not apparent in the breeding animals came to expression in the following generations. This is normal Mendelian heredity except that more recessives appeared than expected ordinarily. God’s providence was at work to repay Jacob for his labors.

Symbolic use of the flock is made by Zechariah who said “the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for want of a shepherd” and so he was appointed the shepherd of the flock which God cares for (Zech 10:2, 3; 11:7). “The Lord is my shepherd” is David’s famous psalm. Amos did not hesitate to call the voluptuous women of Samaria “you cows of Bashan,...who oppress the poor, who crush the needy” (Amos 4:1).

When the One comes whom the nations seek, the calf will dwell with the lion, the cow and the bear shall feed and His dwellings shall be glorious (Isa 11:6, 7, 10).

See also

  • Animals