CONEY kō’ ni (שָׁפָן, H9176; coney KJV, ASV; badger, rock badger. There is nothing to confirm the RSV tr. badger). A true badger and a honey badger are found in this area, but their habits do not fit the Biblical passages (see below), nor could either be called “a feeble folk” (KJV), “a people not mighty” (RSV Prov 30:26). All authorities agree that this is the Syrian rock hyrax, known frequently and correctly as coney; the former is preferred, for the latter has had various meanings. Originally it came from a Middle English word for rabbit; this is now obsolete generally but still used for the fur and in heraldry. Before the end of the 16th cent, when merchants began calling at S Africa on the way from India, it was being applied to the Cape Dassie or Hyrax. It is just possible that the Biblical tr. intended coney to refer to hyrax; more prob. its true identity was unknown and it is only in more recent years that the Biblical coney has been shown clearly to be the hyrax. Each of the contexts is of interest (Lev 11:5 and Deut 14:7), “chews the cud but does not part the hoof.” The hyrax spends much time chewing with a cross-wise movement of the jaws, suggestive of ruminating, but its feet are unique, with soft pads ideal for jumping on rock (Ps 104:18, “the rocks are a refuge”; Prov 30:26, “their homes in the rocks”). They are properly called rock hyraxes for they are unwilling to venture far from a safe crevice into which they can dash at the least alarm. They are members of a small family found only in Africa and some parts of SW Asia; apart from one species that has taken to the trees in the tropical forest, all are rock dwellers, where they are amazingy agile and sure-footed.
Although rabbit-sized they are quite unlike rabbits in anatomy and are classified near the elephants. The species often seen in zoos is the Syrian rock hyrax that Solomon clearly knew well. The general color is gray-brown, with a yellowish patch on the back surrounding a surface gland. These hyraxes live in loose colonies which feed at intervals during the day, taking a range of vegetable matter but mostly leaves. It is not clear why they are forbidden as food, for although the Arabs consider the meat tough and dry, these animals are eagerly hunted in parts of Africa. With the increase in human population the Syrian hyrax is less common than it was but there are still places in Upper Galilee where it can be seen regularly from the road.
E. P. Walker, Mammals of the World, Vol. II (1964).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(shaphan (Le 11:5; De 14:7; Ps 104:18; Pr 30:26)): The word "coney" (formerly pronounced cooney) means "rabbit" (from Latin cuniculus). Shaphan is rendered in all four passages in the Septuagint choirogrullios, or "hedge-hog," but is now universally considered to refer to the Syrian hyrax, Procavia (or Hyrax) Syriaca, which in southern Palestine and Sinai is called in Arabic wabar, in northern Palestine and Syria Tabsun, and in southern Arabia shufun, which is etymologically closely akin to shaphan. The word "hyrax" (hurax) itself means "mouse" or "shrew-mouse" (compare Latin sorex), so that it seems to have been hard to find a name peculiar to this animal. In Le 11:5 the Revised Version, margin, we find "rock badger," which is a translation of klip das, the rather inappropriate name given by the Boers to the Cape hyrax. The Syrian hyrax lives in Syria, Palestine and Arabia. A number of other species, including several that are arboreal, live in Africa. They are not found in other parts of the world. In size, teeth and habits the Syrian hyrax somewhat resembles the rabbit, though it is different in color, being reddish brown, and lacks the long hind legs of the rabbit. The similarity in dentition is confined to the large size of the front teeth and the presence of a large space between them and the back teeth. But whereas hares have a pair of front teeth on each jaw, the hyrax has one pair above and two below. These
differ also in structure from those of the hare and rabbit, not having the persistent pulp which enables the rabbit’s front teeth to grow continually as they are worn away. They do not hide among herbage like hares, nor burrow like rabbits, but live in holes or clefts of the rock, frequently in the faces of steep cliffs. Neither the hyrax nor the hare is a ruminant, as seems to be implied in Le 11:5 and De 14:7, but their manner of chewing their food may readily have led them to be thought to chew the cud. The hyrax has four toes in front and three behind (the same number as in the tapir and in some fossil members of the horse family), all furnished with nails that are almost like hoofs, except the inner hind toes, which have claws. The hyraxes constitute a family of ungulates and, in spite of their small size, have points of resemblance to elephants or rhinoceroses, but are not closely allied to these or to any other known animals.
The camel, the coney and the hare are in the list of unclean animals because they "chew the cud but divide not the hoof," but all three of these are eaten by the Arabs.
The illustration is from a photograph of a group of conies in the Syrian Protestant College at Beirut, prepared by Mr. Douglas Carruthers, who collected these specimens in a cliff in the neighborhood of Tyre. Specimens from the Dead Sea are redder than those from Syria.