The word lion occurs some 155 times in OT, all Eng. VSS. אֲרִי, H787, and אַרְיֵה, H793, are the general words for lion and lioness; and כְּפִיר, H4097, is properly tr. “young lion,” though the word applies to grown cubs as well as young; e.g.
The two giant cats—lion and tiger—are usually regarded as African and Asiatic respectively, but this is not wholly correct. The tiger’s range is from the borders of Europe, in the Caucasus Mountains, through to NE and SE Asia. The lion’s main home is now in Africa S of the Sahara, yet it still has a small outlier in the Kathiawar Peninsula of NW India. The position was once very different. Lions lived in most parts of Africa including Egypt and the N coast, outside the deserts, swamps and jungles. In prehistoric times there were still lions in parts of Europe. In David’s reign lions were found more or less continuously from Greece through Asia Minor to India. The African lion was generally reckoned to be long-maned and the Asiatic, or Persian form short-maned, but there is much variation and the black mane is found in individuals rather than in races. Thus the lion and tiger overlapped for much of their range, but the lion kept to grassland and dry open forest; the tiger to the dense forest and jungle, where its striped coat served as camouflage. Up to the 1900s man had reduced the tiger’s numbers more than its overall range but by 1971 the tiger was on the danger list. Today the lion is confined to warm regions and shows less variation in color, size and habitat than the tiger.
The lion began to lose ground as soon as man made settlements and kept flocks and herds that needed protection. The cultivable parts of Egypt were occupied early and its lions disappeared many centuries b.c. Elsewhere in Africa the pressure did not build up until recent years. The Cape lion was lost about 1865, and the Barbary lion of the N coast, in the early 1920s. Lions were extinct in Greece about the end of the 1st cent. a.d. and in Pal. during the time of the Crusades, the last prob. being killed near Megiddo in the 13th cent. Lions were reported in Syria by Burton as late as 1851; they still survived in Persia and Iraq in this cent., but these too had vanished before 1930. The lion is the only plain-colored large cat, but the young, born in litters of two to five, have more or less obvious dark markings, sometimes not losing them until two years old. Unlike the rather solitary tiger, the lion is sociable and lives in family groups, called prides, so it is not surprising that Heb. pl. forms occur nearly fifty times. Lions normally feed on fairly large game, often combining in the hunt for it. They feed to capacity and then rest before killing again. (Cf.
Although there are occasional incidents in which humans are killed by lions, such events are unusual and are often provoked by the victims, for the habitual man-eating lion is rare. Such evidence as the Biblical record provides suggests that this was true also at a time when lions were fairly familiar objects of the countryside. Three cases are reported: (1) the disobedient prophet (
Not all ancient rulers regarded lions in this brutal way.
H. B. Tristram, Theof the Bible 9th. ed. (1898), 115-121; G. Loisel, Histoire des Ménageries de l’Antiquité a nos Jours (1912); G. S. Cansdale, Animals and Man (1952).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(1) Occurring most often in theis ’aryeh, plural ’ardyoth. Another form, ’ari, plural ’arayim, is found less often.
Compare ’ari’el, "Ariel" (
(2) kephir, "young lion," often translated "lion" (
(3) shachal, translated "fierce lion" or "lion" (
(4) layish, translated "old lion" or "lion" (
Compare Arabic laith, "lion": layish, "Laish," or "Leshem" (
(5) lebhi, plural lebha’im, "lioness", also labhi’, and ’lebhiya’ (
(6) aur, gor, "whelp," with ’aryeh or a pronoun, e.g. "Judah is a lion’s whelp," gur ’aryeh (
(7) leon, "lion" (
(8) skumnos, "whelp" (1 Macc 3:4).
The lion is not found in Palestine at the present day, though in ancient times it is known to have inhabited not only Syria and Palestine but also Asia Minor and the Balkan peninsula, and its fossil remains show that it was contemporary with prehistoric man in Northwestern Europe and Great Britain. Its present range extends throughout Africa, and it is also found in Mesopotamia, Southern Persia, and the border of India. There is some reason to think that it may be found in Arabia, but its occurrence there remains to be proved. The Asiatic male lion does not usually have as large a mane as the African, but both belong to one species, Fells leo.
Nearly all references to the lion are figurative. The only notices of the lion in narrative are of the lion slain by Samson (
The Arabic language boasts hundreds of names for the lion. Many of these are, however, merely adjectives used substantively. The commonest Arabic names are sab`, ’asad, laith, and labwat, the last two of which are identified above with the Hebrew layish and labhi’. As in Arabic, so in Hebrew, the richness of the language in this particular gives opportunity for variety of expression, as in
"The roaring of the lion (’aryeh), and the voice of the fierce lion (shachal),
And the teeth of the young lions (kephirim), are broken.
The old lion (layish) perisheth for lack of prey,
And the whelps of the lioness (bene labhi’) are scattered abroad."