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HYENA (אִיִּים, hyenas, RSV; wolves, ASV; wild beasts, KJV, Isa 13:22; 34:14 only; צָבוּעַ, H7380, hyena, LXX; speckled bird, KJV; speckled bird of prey, ASV, RSV, Jer 12:9; some commentators tr. Valley of Zeboim [1 Sam 13:18] from the same root, as Valley of Hyenas). The hyena is a scavenging carnivore larger than a wolf. Whether or not the hyena can be properly identified in these passages, it was then a common member of the Pal. fauna; it is still found in less populated areas, though much rarer than it once was. The striped hyena Hyaena striata ranges from India through SW Asia to N and E Africa; it is about forty inches long, with a very powerful head and forequarters and rather sloping back. It is largely a nocturnal scavenger, though where there is plenty of game it is now known to do more actual hunting than was thought possible. In some countries it was the custom to encourage hyenas to remove refuse from compounds and villages, and even human bodies were left exposed, with no trace being left in the morning. Hyenas must have been known to the Israelites to whom their habits would make them unspeakably unclean, but in a land peopled by a nation having a hygienic code far in advance of its times hyenas would have found fewer pickings than in the countries around.


E. P. Walker, Mammals of the World, II, 1263-1267.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The hyena of Palestine is the striped hyena (Hyaena striata) which ranges from India to North Africa. The striped, the spotted, and the brown hyenas constitute a distinct family of the order of Carnivora, having certain peculiarities of dentition and having four toes on each foot, instead of four behind and five in front, as in most of the order. The hyena is a nocturnal animal, rarely seen though fairly abundant, powerful but cowardly, a feeder on carrion and addicted to grave-robbing. The last habit in particular has won it the abhorrence of the natives of the countries which it inhabits. In the passage cited in Ecclus, it is to be noted that it is to the hyena that the rich man is compared. The jaws and teeth of the hyena are exceedingly strong and fitted for crushing bones which have resisted the efforts of dogs and jackals. Its dens are in desolate places and are littered with fragments of skeletons. "Is my heritage unto me as a speckled bird of prey?" (Jer 12:9) becomes a more striking passage if the Septuagint is followed, "Is my heritage unto me as a hyena’s den?"

Shaqq-ud-Diba`, "Cleft of the hyenas," is the name of a valley north of Wadi-ul-Qelt, and Wadi-Abu-Diba` (of similar meaning) is the name of an affluent of Wadi-ul-Qelt. Either of these, or possibly Wadi-ul-Qelt itself, may be the valley of Zeboim (valley of hyenas) of 1Sa 13:18.

The name of Zibeon the Horite (Ge 36:2, etc.) is more doubtfully connected with "hyena."

See also

  • Animals