SHEEP. A number of Heb. and Gr. words are used:
עַתּוּד, H6966, which is tr. in the KJV twice as ram and in the RSV as he-goat, which is correct;
אַ֫יִל, H380, which is tr. ram in all Eng. VSS. Of more than 150 occurrences, thirteen are fig., mostly symbolic in prophecy, six refer to the rams’ skins for the Tabernacle covering, five are used generally, and the rest for a wide range of sacrifices;
Aram. אִמְּרִ֣ין is tr. lamb in Ezra only. It speaks of the burnt offering at the dedication of the rebuilt Temple;
כֶּ֫בֶשׂ, H3897, lamb 102 times and sheep twice. The word is used in a proverbial sense once, fig. four times and as a sacrifice ninety-seven times. This is used for nearly all types, including cleansing of the leper and first-fruits.
כִּשְׂבָּה, H4167, is tr. as the ewe lamb six times and lamb twice. It is also used for cleansing leper once, Nazirite vow once, sealing covenant three times, and in the parable told to David three times (
כֶּ֫שֶׂב, H4166. This is a transposition of כֶּ֫בֶשׂ, H3897, lamb, four times and sheep, eight times. It is used mostly for sacrifice, but some lit. includes sheep bred by Jacob (
כִּשְׂבָּה, H4167, f., is used only once—for trespass offering;
שֶׂה, H8445, see Cattle. This word is used for the individual member of a flock, almost always sing.: the Passover lamb (
טָלֶה, H3231, (sing.) and טְלָאִ֔ים (pl.). This word is used for very young lambs, prob. not weaned: “He will gather the lambs in his arms” (
עָלֹ֖ות, ewes, great with young. Sheep is inferred from the context; elsewhere it means milch camels and cows. The Eng. names for sheep have not changed since early Eng. VSS. The male is ram and the female is ewe; young is lamb. In farming communities other names are also used to signify ages and types, and many breeds are carefully named.
The NT word for sheep is πρόβατον, G4585.
Origin and early history.
This is complex and many views have been published about possible wild ancestors, and their period and place of origin. Zeuner’s work is most complete and unlikely to be superseded unless some radically new material or method is found. The following paragraph owes much to his research, which includes a full review of the lit. Although several wild sheep have contributed to the stock, two species are the main ancestors. Urial (Ovis orientalis) is the more important; this is Central and W Asiatic species, living mostly in mountains, from W Tibet to Transcaspia. The adult sheep stands nearly three ft. at the shoulder, with strongly wrinkled horns curled in typical “Ammon” shape at the sides of the head; reddish in summer, with whitish underparts; grayish brown in winter. The other is the mouflon, now found only in Corsica, Sardinia, and Asia Minor: the smallest wild sheep and is dark reddish brown. In winter the adult rams have white or cream side patches. The problem of early dating is discussed under goat (q.v.). The Belt Cave in N Iran supplies earliest known evidence of domesticated sheep, and this is near Urial country. By the Neolithic pottery age (c. 5000 b.c.) sheep were being herded, prob. by dogs, and breeding under some control had started. They then spread rapidly, meeting with other groups domesticated independently, and finally few breeds could be regarded as purely from one source.
Characteristics of domestic sheep.
The sheep became pre-eminent in offerings and sacrifices, and very large numbers were used every year. Certain classes were wholly burnt (see Sacrifice and Offerings), but in others most of the meat was used by offerer or priest. Some Heb. names are seldom used except in this connection. Above all, the sheep has deep metaphorical significance. Typified in OT by the whole of
F. E. Zeuner, A History of Domesticated Animals, ch. 7. (See comment in par. 2 above.)
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The usual Hebrew word is tso’n, which is often translated "flock," e.g. "Abel .... brought of the firstlings of his flock" (
The origin of domestic sheep is unknown. There are 11 wild species, the majority of which are found in Asia, and it is conceivable that they may have spread from the highlands of Central Asia to the other portions of their habitat. In North America is found the "bighorn," which is very closely related to a Kamschatkan species. One species, the urial or sha, is found in India. The Barbary sheep, Ovis tragelaphus, also known as the aoudad or arui, inhabits the Atlas Mountains of Northwest Africa. It is thought by Tristram to be zemer,
3. Sheep of Palestine:
The sheep of Syria and Palestine are characterized by the possession of an enormous fat tail which weighs many pounds and is known in Arabic as ’alyat, or commonly, liyat. This is the ’alyah, "fat tail" (the King James Version "rump") (
In the mountains the sheep are gathered at night into folds, which may be caves or enclosures of rough stones. Fierce dogs assist the shepherd in warding off the attacks of wolves, and remain at the fold through the day to guard the slight bedding and simple utensils. In going to pasture the sheep are not driven but are led, following the shepherd as he walks before them and calls to them. "When he hath put forth all his own, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (
The sheepfolds of Reuben on the plain of Gilead are referred to in
"He chose David also his servant,
And took him from the sheepfolds."
The shearing of the sheep was a large operation and evidently became a sort of festival. Absalom invited the king’s sons to his sheep-shearing in Baal-hazor in order that he might find an opportunity to put Amnon to death while his heart was "merry with wine" (
Sheep were the most important sacrificial animals, a ram or a young male being often specified. Ewes are mentioned in