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Because of Israel’s attitude most dogs were semi-wild, like the pariahs that still haunt districts in India and other countries. Such dogs were descended from individuals that had “gone wild,” when they soon lost any breed characteristics and reverted to a general type. Several possible exceptions can be found in the Biblical record. In speaking of the dogs of his flock (Job 30:1) Job can be referring only to sheep dogs, but it is not certain that Job was an Israelite. Isaiah 56:10 is a fig. passage but the expression “dumb dogs, they cannot bark” certainly suggests that it was the custom to keep guard dogs; prob. sheep dogs, since the preceding v. mentions “beasts of the field come to devour.” Another is found in the incident of the Syrophoenician woman (Matt 15:26, 27), where the Gr. diminutive is used. This could refer to young dogs; more prob. to small pet dogs allowed to enter the house; but the owners were not Jewish. For the rest, the contexts, both lit. and fig., portray the dog as contemptible, whether as a filthy scavenger or “a dog that returns to its vomit” (Prov 26:11) which is one of several proverbs in which it features. To make the metaphor even stronger, David and others, always referring to themselves, spoke of a dead dog (2 Sam 9:8, etc.)

In Deuteronomy 23:18 dog seems to be a technical term, perhaps a euphemism, for a male temple prostitute, perhaps echoed by Revelation 22:15, listing those who are outside the Holy City. Just one or two mentions are neutral (e.g. Eccl 9:4), quoting the still current proverb that a live dog is better than a dead lion. Conditions have since changed radically and so allowed the dog to assume a role of assistant and companion in countries over much of the world today, even though they may still carry rabies, one of the most unpleasant diseases that can affect man.


K. Z. Lorenz, Man Meets Dog (1954); F. E. Zeuner, A History of Domesticated Animals (1963), ch. 4.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

kelebh; (compare Arabic kelb, "dog"); kuon; (and diminutive kunarion): References to the dog, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, are usually of a contemptuous character. A dog, and especially a dead dog, is used as a figure of insignificance. Goliath says to David (1Sa 17:43 ): "Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves?" David says to Saul (1Sa 24:14): "After whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea." Mephibosheth says to David (2Sa 9:8): "What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?" The same figure is found in the words of Hazael to Elisha (2Ki 8:13). The meaning, which is obscure in the King James Version, is brought out well in the Revised Version: "But what is thy servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?" The characteristically oriental interrogative form of these expressions should be noted.

There is further the reference to the greyhound (Pr 30:31 English Versions) as one of the four things which are "stately in their going." But the rendering, "greyhound," rests solely upon inference, and is contrary to the Septuagint and Vulgate, which have respectively alektor and gallus, i.e. "cock," the King James Version margin "horse." The Hebrew has zarzir mothnayim, which the King James Version margin renders "girt in the loins." the Revised Version, margin has "warhorse," Hebrew "well girt (or, well knit) in the loins." In support of the meaning, "girt," for zarzir, there is the word zer, which, with zarzir, is assigned to the obsolete root zarar and the Arabic zirr, "button," from zarr, "to button", "to compress." Further, to render zarzir by "cock" logically requires a change in the text, for mothnayim, "loins," becomes superlative and inappropriate (see Encyclopedia Biblica, under the word "Cock"). On the other hand, the Arabic zarzur is a starling (compare Arabic zarzar, "to utter cries," said of birds; carcar, "to cry out"; carcar, "cockroach," or "cricket"). Also, according to Encyclopedia Biblica (s. v. "Cock"), "the Talmudic zarzir .... means some bird (a kind of raven)." If the text stands, there appears to be no better rendering than "girt in the loins," which might fairly be taken to refer to a war horse or to a greyhound. The Persian greyhound would in that case be understood, a hairy race, which, according to the Royal Natural History, is less fleet than the English breed and is used in chasing gazelles and in hunting the wild ass, and which according to Doughty (Arabia Deseria) is kept by the Bedouin. "These dogs are said to be sometimes girdled by their owners to prevent them from over-eating and becoming fat" (L. Fletcher, British Museum (Natural History)).

Domestic dogs have probably been derived from various species of wolves and jackals. In this connection, it is noteworthy that the dogs of certain regions greatly resemble the wolves of those regions. The pariah dogs of Syria and Palestine resemble the jackals, especially in color and in the tail, differing in their greater size and in the shape of muzzle and ears. It is fair to assume that they are much the same as existed in Bible times. They are in general meek and harmless creatures, and are valuable as scavengers, but disturb the night with their barking. Each quarter of the city has its own pack of dogs, which vigorously resents any invasion of its territory. A dog which for any reason finds itself in foreign territory gets home as quickly as possible, and is lucky if it does not have to run the gauntlet of a pack of vicious foes. The pariah dog is sometimes brought up to be a sheep dog, but the best shepherd dogs are great wolfish creatures, which are usually obtained from Kurdistan.

See also

  • Animals