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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ka -mē´lē̇ -un ( כּח , kōaḥ , the Revised Version (British and American) LAND-CROCODILE (Leviticus 11:30 ); תּנשמת , tinshemeth , the King James Version mole , the Revised Version (British and American) CHAMELEON (Leviticus 11:30 )):
Kōaḥ , which in the King James Version is rendered "chameleon" and in the Revised Version (British and American) "land crocodile," means also "strength" or "power," as in Genesis 4:12; 1 Samuel 2:9; Psalm 22:15; Isaiah 40:29 , and many other passages. The Septuagint has χαμαιλέων , chamailéōn , but on account of the ordinary meaning of the word, kōaḥ , it has been thought that some large lizard should be understood here. The desert monitor, Varanus griseus , one of the largest of lizards, sometime attaining the length of 4 ft., is common in Palestine and may be the animal here referred to. The name "monitor" is a translation of the German warnen , "to warn," with which has been confused the Arabic name of this animal, waran or waral , a word of uncertain etymology.
The word tinshemeth in the same verse is rendered in the King James Version "mole" and in the Revised Version (British and American) "chameleon." The Septuagint has ἀσπάλαξ , aspálax (= spálax , "mole"). Tinshemeth also occurs in the lists of unclean birds in Leviticus 11:18 and Deuteronomy 14:16 , where it is rendered: the King James Version "swan"; the Revised Version (British and American) "horned owl"; Septuagint πορφυρίων , porphurı́ōn (i.e. "coot" or, according to some, "heron"); Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible , 390-405 ad) cygnus , "swan." It appears to come from the root nāsham , "to breathe"; compare neshāmāh , "breath" (Genesis 2:7; Job 27:3 the King James Version, etc.). It has therefore in Leviticus 11:30 been referred to the chameleon on account of the chameleon's habit of puffing up its body with air and hissing, and in the other passages to the pelican, on account of the pelican's great pouched bill.
The common chameleon is abundant in Palestine, being found also in North Africa and in Spain. The other species of chameleons are found principally in Africa and Madagascar. It is not only a harmless but a decidedly useful creature, since it feeds upon insects, especially flies. Its mode of capturing its prey is most interesting. It slowly and cautiously advances until its head is from 4 to 6 inches from the insect, which it then secures by darting out its tongue with great rapidity. The pigment cel ls in its skin enable it to change its color from pale yellow to bright green, dark green and almost black, so that it can harmonize very perfectly with its surroundings. Its peculiar toes and prehensile tail help to fit it for its life in the trees. Its prominent eyes with circular lids, like iris diaphragms can be moved independently of each other, and add to its striking appearance. See LAND CROCODILE; MOLE; SWAN; HORNED OWL; PELICAN .
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Chameleon'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/c/chameleon.html. 1915.