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DEER. This word apparently is not found in any modern Eng. VSS, other than in combination “fallow deer” (KJV), but this animal is clearly recognizable in hart and hind (q.v.), possibly also in doe (q.v.). Brief notes only are given under these and other related names, with more detailed discussion under this head. At least three species of deer lived in Pal. during OT times, but they were prob. not distinguished. It seems agreed that Heb. אַיָּלָה, H387, and derivatives (see Hart, Hind) applied to all three species, or at least to the larger two. Those once native to Pal. are:

Red deer.

This formerly had a wide distribution living in all suitable wooded parts of Europe and SW Asia, and also in N Africa. Its range has been reduced and with the destruction of forest it has sometimes become a moorland and mountain animal. Red deer were often preserved strictly as royal game and with continuing protection they have survived even in industrialized lands. It stands between four and five ft. at the shoulder and the stag has large spreading antlers with ten or even more points, which are shed and renewed annually, as with all deer. This species disappeared from Pal. early, perhaps several centuries b.c. It became extinct in Iraq less than one cent. ago and the nearest survivors are prob. in Anatolia and Greece.

Fallow deer

are much smaller, standing only three ft. All deer are spotted at birth but in this species the coats remain spotted at all ages, esp. in summer. Their antlers are palmate. This deer has been used as a park animal for so long and introduced so often that its distribution is confused. In early times there were two species in the Middle E, both living in hill forests. They disappeared long ago, but one, Dama mesopotamica, known as the giant fallow deer, survives in the Zagros Mountains of Luristan, Persia. Both red and fallow deer are herd animals for most of the year and more likely to be obtainable in quantity.

Roe deer

are much smaller still, standing only about twenty-eight inches, with short upright antlers. In contrast to the others it is solitary and stays mostly under cover, coming out only to graze on field margins. As a result it exists almost unknown in many woodland areas and recorded facts about it are scanty, but it has long been lost to Pal. Although it was prob. the commonest kind, it was rarely depicted in ancient art whereas the others were often illustrated. All deer make excellent eating when in good condition and, being ruminants, they were clean meat to the Israelites. The first five mentions of hart and hind are all in literal contexts and they imply clearly that deer were familiar animals and regularly eaten—e.g. Deuteronomy 12:22, “Just as...the hart is eaten” suggests that it was a standard meat. The meat was available daily for Solomon’s kitchen and it could be that he had a deer park where fallow deer were kept in readiness. All other references are fig., suggesting graceful animals, sure-footed and swift, e.g. 2 Samuel 22:34, twice repeated later, “He made my feet like hind’s feet.”


H. B. Tristram, The Natural History of the Bible. 9th. ed. (1898) (valuable for account of conditions in mid-19th cent.); F. S. Bodenheimer, Animal Life in Palestine (1935); Animal and Man in Bible Lands (1960).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(’ayyal, feminine ’ayyalah, and ’ayyeleth (compare Arabic, ’ayyal and ’iyal, "deer" and ’ayil, "ram," and Latin caper and capra, "goat," caprea, capreolus, "wild goat," "chamois," or "roe deer")); yachmur (compare Arabic, yachmur, "deer"); ya`alah, feminine of ya`el (compare Arabic, wa`l, "Pers wild goat"); tsebhi, and feminine tsebhiyah (compare Arabic, zabi and feminine zabiyah, "gazelle"); `opher (compare Arabic, ghafr and ghufr, "young of the mountain goat"):

Of the words in the preceding list, the writer believes that only the first two, i.e. ’ayyal (with its feminine forms) and yachmur should be translated "deer," ’ayyal for the roe deer and yachmur for the fallow deer. Further, he believes that ya`el (including ya`alah) should be translated "ibex," and tsebhi, "gazelle." `Opher is the young of a roe deer or of a gazelle.

’Ayyal and its feminine forms are regularly in English Versions of the Bible rendered "hart" and "hind," terms which are more commonly applied to the male and female of the red deer, Cervus elaphus, which inhabits Great Britain, the continent of Europe, the Caucasus and Asia Minor, but which has never been reported as far south as Syria or Palestine. The roe deer, Capreolus caprea, however, which inhabits the British Isles, the greater part of Europe, the Caucasus and Persia, is certainly found in Palestine. The museum of the Syrian Protestant College at Beirut possesses the skeleton of a roe deer which was shot in the mountains near Tyre. As late as 1890 it was fairly common in southern Lebanon and Carmel, but has now (1912) become very scarce. The fallow deer, Cervus dama, is a native of Northern Africa and countries about the Mediterranean. It is found in central Europe and Great Britain, where it has been introduced from its more southern habitat. A variety of the fallow deer, sometimes counted as a separate species under the name of Cervus Mesopotamicus, inhabits northeastern Mesopotamia and Persia. It may in former times have been found in Palestine, and Tristram reports having seen the fallow deer in Galilee (Fauna and Flora of Pal), but while Tristram was a remarkably acute observer, he appears sometimes to have been too readily satisfied, and his observations, when unaccompanied, as in this case, by specimens, are to be accepted with caution. Now ’ayyal (and its feminine forms) occurs in the Bible 22 times, while yachmur occurs only twice, i.e. in the list of clean animals in De 14:5, and in 1Ki 4:23, in the list of animals provided for Solomon’s table. In both places the King James Version has "fallow deer" and the Revised Version (British and American) "roebuck." In view of the fact that the roe deer has within recent years been common in Palestine, while the occurrence of the fallow deer must be considered doubtful, it seems fair to render ’ayyal "roe deer" or "roebuck," leaving yachmur for fallow deer.

The Arabs call the roe deer both ’ayyal and wa`l. Wa`l is the proper name of the Persian wild goat, Capra aegagrus, and is also often used for the Arabic or Sinaitic ibex, Capra beden, though only by those who do not live within its range. Where the ibex is at home it is always called beden. This looseness of nomenclature must be taken into account, and we have no reason to suppose that the Hebrews were more exact than are the Arabs. There are many examples of this in English, e. g. panther, coney, rabbit (in America), locust, adder and many others.

Ya`el (including ya`alah) occurs 4 times. In Job 39:1; Ps 104:18; 1Sa 24:2, English Versions of the Bible render ya`el by "wild goat." For ya`alah in Pr 5:19, the King James Version has "roe," while the Revised Version (British and American) has "doe," which is non-committal, since the name, "doe," may be applied to the female of a deer or of an ibex. Since the Arabic, wa`l, which is etymologically closely akin to ya`el, means the Persian wild goat, it might be supposed that that animal was meant, were it not that it inhabits the plains of the Syrian desert, and not the mountains of Southern Palestine, where the ibex lives. At least two of the passages clearly indicate the latter locality, i.e. Ps 104:18: "The high mountains are for the wild goats," and 1Sa 24:2: "Saul .... went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats." The conclusion then seems irresistible that ya`el, and consequently ya`alah, is the ibex.

’Opher is akin to `aphar, "dust," and has reference to the color of the young of the deer or gazelle, to both of which it is applied. In So 2:9,17 and 8:14, we have `opher ha- ’ayyalim, English Versions of the Bible "young hart," literally, "fawn of the roe deer." In So 4:5 and 7:3, we have `opharim te’ome tsebhiyah, the King James Version "young roes that are twins," the Revised Version (British and American) "fawns that are twins of a roe," the Revised Version, margin "gazelle" (for "roe"). For further reference to these questions, see Zoology.

With the exception of mere lists of animals, as in De 14 and 1Ki 4, the treatment of these animals is highly poetical, and shows much appreciation of their grace and beauty.

See also

  • Animals