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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Deer

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dēr ( איּל , 'ayyāl , feminine איּלה , 'ayyālāh , and איּלת , 'ayyeleth (compare Arabic, 'ayyāl and 'iyāl , "deer" and איל , 'ayil , "ram," and Latin caper and capra , "goat," caprea , capreolus , "wild goat," "chamois," or "roe deer"); יחמוּר , yaḥmūr (compare Arabic, yaḥmūr , "deer"); יעלה , ya‛ălāh , feminine of יעל , yā‛ēl (compare Arabic, wa‛l , "Pers wild goat"); צבי , cebhı̄ , and feminine צביּה , cebhı̄yāh (compare Arabic, ẓabi and feminine ẓabı̄yah , "gazelle"; עפר , ‛ōpher (compare Arabic, ghafr and ghufr , "young of the mountain goat")):

Of the words in the preceding list, the writer believes that only the first two, i.e. 'ayyāl (with its feminine forms) and yaḥmūr should be translated "deer," 'ayyāl for the roe deer and yaḥmūr for the fallow deer. Further, he believes that ya‛ēl (including ya‛ă̆lāh ) should be translated "ibex," and cebhı̄ , "gazelle." ‛Ōpher is the young of a roe deer or of a gazelle.

'Ayyāl and its feminine forms are regularly in English Versions of the Bible rendered "hart" and "hind," terms which are more commonly applied to the male and female of the red deer, Cervus elaphus , which inhabits Great Britain, the continent of Europe, the Caucasus and Asia Minor, but which has never been reported as far south as Syria or Palestine. The roe deer, Capreolus caprea , however, which inhabits the British Isles, the greater part of Europe, the Caucasus and Persia, is certainly found in Palestine. The museum of the Syrian Protestant College at Beirût possesses the skeleton of a roe deer which was shot in the mountains near Tyre. As late as 1890 it was fairly common in southern Lebanon and Carmel, but has now (1912) become very scarce. The fallow deer, Cervus dama , is a native of Northern Africa and countries about the Mediterranean. It is found in central Europe and Great Britain, where it has been introduced from its more southern habitat. A variety of the fallow deer, sometimes counted as a separate species under the name of Cervus Mesopotamicus , inhabits northeastern Mesopotamia and Persia. It may in former times have been found in Palestine, and Tristram reports having seen the fallow deer in Galilee (Fauna and Flora of Pal ), but while Tristram was a remarkably acute observer, he appears sometimes to have been too readily satisfied, and his observations, when unaccompanied, as in this case, by specimens, are to be accepted with caution. Now 'ayyāl (and its feminine forms) occurs in the Bible 22 times, while yaḥmūr occurs only twice, i.e. in the list of clean animals in Deuteronomy 14:5 , and in 1 Kings 4:23 , in the list of animals provided for Solomon's table. In both places the King James Version has "fallow deer" and the Revised Version (British and American) "roebuck." In view of the fact that the roe deer has within recent years been common in Palestine, while the occurrence of the fallow deer must be considered doubtful, it seems fair to render 'ayyāl "roe deer" or "roebuck," leaving yaḥmūr for fallow deer.

The Arabs call the roe deer both 'ayyāl and wa‛l . Wa‛l is the proper name of the Persian wild goat, Capra aegagrus , and is also often used for the Arabic or Sinaitic ibex, Capra beden , though only by those who do not live within its range. Where the ibex is at home it is always called beden . This looseness of nomenclature must be taken into account, and we have no reason to suppose that the Hebrews were more exact than are the Arabs. There are many examples of this in English, e.g. panther, coney, rabbit (in America), locust, adder and many others.

Yā‛ēl (including ya‛ălāh ) occurs 4 times. In Job 39:1; Psalm 104:18; 1 Samuel 24:2 , English Versions of the Bible render yā‛ēl by "wild goat." For ya‛ălāh in Proverbs 5:19 , the King James Version has "roe," while the Revised Version (British and American) has "doe," which is non-committal, since the name, "doe," may be applied to the female of a deer or of an ibex. Since the Arabic, wa‛l , which is etymologically closely akin to yā‛ēl , means the Persian wild goat, it might be supposed that that animal was meant, were it not that it inhabits the plains of the Syrian desert, and not the mountains of Southern Palestine, where the ibex lives. At least two of the passages clearly indicate the latter locality, i.e. Psalm 104:18 : "The high mountains are for the wild goats," and 1 Samuel 24:2 : "Saul ... went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats." The conclusion then seems irresistible that yā‛ēl , and consequently ya‛ălāh , is the ibex.

Cebhı̄ (including cebhı̄yāh ) is uniformly rendered "roe" or "roebuck" in the King James Version, while the Revised Version (British and American), either in the text or in the margin, has in most cases "gazelle." In two places "roe" is retained in the Revised Version (British and American) without comment, i.e. 2 Samuel 2:18 : "Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe," and 1 Chronicles 12:8 : "were as swift as the roes upon the mountains." 'Ayyāl and cebhı̄ occur together in Deuteronomy 12:15 , Deuteronomy 12:22; Deuteronomy 14:5; Deuteronomy 15:22; 1 Kings 4:23; Song of Solomon 2:9 , Song of Solomon 2:17 , i.e. in 7 of the 16 passages in which we find cebhı̄ ̌ . If therefore it be accepted that 'ayyāl is the roe deer, it follows that cebhı̄ must be something else. Now the gazelle is common in Palestine and satisfies perfectly every passage in which we find cebhı̄ ̌ . Further, one of the Arabic names of the gazelle is ẓabi , a word which is etymologically much nearer to cebhı̄ than appears in this transliteration.

‛Ōpher is akin to ‛āphār , "dust," and has reference to the color of the young of the deer or gazelle, to both of which it is applied. In Song of Solomon 2:9 , Song of Solomon 2:17 and Song of Solomon 8:14 , we have ‛ōpher hā -'ayyālı̄m , English Versions of the Bible "young hart," literally, "fawn of the roe deer." In Song of Solomon 4:5 and Song of Solomon 7:3 , we have ‛ŏphārı̄m te'ōmē cebhı̄yāh , the King James Version "young roes that are twins," the Revised Version (British and American) "fawns that are twins of a roe," the Revised Version, margin "gazelle" (for "roe"). For further reference to these questions, see ZOOLOGY .

With the exception of mere lists of animals, as in Dt 14 and 1 Ki 4, the treatment of these animals is highly poetical, and shows much appreciation of their grace and beauty.

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Deer'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/d/deer.html. 1915.

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