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SWINE (חֲזִיר, H2614, swine, all Eng. VSS; χοι̂ρος, G5956, swine all Eng. VSS). See also Boar. The word swine is now obsolete in most uses, though it is retained in a few technical terms; e.g. swine fever, a major disease of pigs. Normally it has been replaced by an equally old Eng. word pig. The male is known as the boar, the female as the sow and the litter is called a farrow of piglets. In agricultural areas a number of special words denote the sexes at various ages. Wild boar is the general term for the wild ancestor of the domestic pig; most other wild species are called hogs, e.g. Warthog. Pigs were brought into the service of man independently in several different parts of the world, those in Europe and W Asia from Sus scrofa, in its various sub species, and those in China from the E species, S. vittatus. It is hard to suggest exactly when this took place and the position is complicated by migrations that have taken place, man having taken his livestock with him on his wanderings. It seems generally agreed that the pig first became domesticated in the Neolithic period, but after man began living in permanent settlements. The settlements could be protected by fencing while the pigs roamed the forests finding their own food and by grubbing for seeds and tubers allowed grass to replace up-rooted thickets and so prepared the land for agriculture. There is clear evidence of pigs being kept before or about 2,500 b.c. in Greece, Hungary, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.

To the early settlements the pig was of great value once it could be kept under control, for it not only helped break up land but also turned seeds almost or completely inedible to man—beechmast, acorns, etc.—into good fat and meat. In some lands, esp. Egypt, pigs were made to tread the seed into the ground in flooded fields. Their bristles have always had some use and their skins were sometimes made into a special type of leather, but their bones were useless for making into tools. Food production remains their sole use today, for modern breeds of pigs, permanently penned, convert vegetable food into animal food more quickly and efficiently than any other animal. Surprise has often been expressed that pork was so firmly forbidden as food to the Israelites, but modern discoveries about human disease have thrown new light on this. Thoroughly prepared and cooked pork is excellent meat, but the pig is the potential carrier of several dangerous diseases shared by man and pig. The most important of these is trichinosis, caused by a tape-worm which enters one stage in the muscles of a pig and progresses to its second stage only after being eaten by man, or some other host. The development of this second stage involves invasion of various tissues, causing great pain and possibly death. Effective cooking in early days was not always possible and total prohibition was the safest policy. Further, the pig is by nature omnivorous and a scavenger; living around human habitations, it is always likely to pick up infected material, even that which has been buried, and transfer the infection elsewhere.

Of the six OT occurrences, one is a proverb: Proverbs 11:22, “like a gold ring in a swine’s snout,” referring no doubt to the custom of wearing a jewel in the nose (Isa 3:21). The other five refer directly to the pig’s unclean nature; the clear inference is that some of the people whom Isaiah was adressing (Isa 65; 66) were quite deliberately keeping pigs against the law. Pig-keeping was more widespread in NT times. In the incident of the Gadarene swine (Matt 8:30ff.) the owners were apparently Jews, but the pigs looked after by the prodigal son were in a far, i.e. foreign, country. The only other mention of swine is in the proverb in Matthew 7:6 concerning throwing pearls before swine—a proverb which is still current.


F. E. Zeuner, A History of Domesticated Animals (1963), ch. 10. (This brings together all relevant material, with detailed references.)

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

In both ancient and modern times domestic swine have been little kept in Palestine, but wild swine are well known as inhabitants of the thickets of the Chuleh, the Jordan valley, the Dead Sea, and some of the mountains. The species is Susanna scrofa, the wild pig of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.

Figurative: We find the following figurative references to swine:

"The boar out of the wood doth ravage it,

And the wild beasts of the field feed on it" (i.e. on the "vine out of Egypt") (Ps 80:13);

"As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout,

So is a fair woman that is without discretion"

(Pr 11:22);

"The Carmonians (the King James Version Carmanians, perhaps of Kirman or Carmania, in Southwestern Persia) raging in wrath shall go forth as the wild boars of the wood"

(2 Esdras 15:30);

"The dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallowing in the mire"

(2Pe 2:22; compare Pr 26:11).

See also

  • Animals