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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Fig. 249—Lizard—Lacerta Stellio

Under this denomination the modern zoologist places all the cold-blooded animals that have the conformation of serpents with the addition of four feet. Thus viewed, as one great family, they constitute the Saurians, Lacertinae, and Lacertidae of authors; embracing numerous generic divisions, which commence with the largest, that is, the crocodile group, and pass through sundry others, a variety of species, formidable, disgusting, or pleasing in appearance—some equally frequenting the land and water, others absolutely confined to the earth and to the most arid deserts; and though in general harmless, there are a few with disputed properties, some being held to poison or corrode by means of the exudation of an ichor, and others extolled as of medical use in pharmacy; but these properties in most, if not in all, are undetermined or illusory. Of some genera, such as the crocodile and chameleon, we have already made mention [CHAMELEON; CROCODILE; DRAGON; LEVIATHAN], and therefore we shall confine our present remarks to the lizards that are inhabitants of Western Asia and Egypt, and to those more particularly noticed in the Bible. Of these commentators indicate six or seven species, whereof some indeed may be misapprehended; but when it is considered that the regions of Syria, Arabia, and Egypt are overrun with animals of this family, there is every reason to expect allusion to more than one genus in the Scriptures, where so many observations and similes are derived from the natural objects which were familiar to the various writers. In mention is made of a species called tzab, which Bochart refers to one of the group of Monitors or Varanus, the Nilotic lizard. Like the other of this form, it is possessed of a tail double the length of the body, but is not so well known in Palestine, where there is only one real river (Jordan), which is not tenanted by this species. We have already shown that the true crocodile frequented the shores and marshes of the coast down to a comparatively late period; and therefore it may well have had a more specific name than Leviathan—a word apparently best suited to the dignified and lofty diction of the prophets, and clearly of more general signification than the more colloquial designation. Jerome was of this opinion; and it is thus likely that tzab was applied to both, as waran is now considered only a variety of, or a young, crocodile. There is a second of the same group, Lacerta Scincus of Merrem (Varanus Arenarius), Waran-el-hard, also reaching to six feet in length; and a third, not as yet clearly described, which appears to be larger than either, growing to nine feet, and covered with blight cupreous scales. This last prefers rocky and stony situations. It is in this section of the Saurians that most of the gigantic fossil species, the real 'children of the giants,' are found to be located; and of the existing species some are reported to possess great strength. One of the last-mentioned pursues its prey on land with a rapid bounding action, feeds on the larger insects, and is said to attack game in a body, sometimes destroying even sheep. The Arabs, in agreement with the ancients, assert that this species will do fierce and victorious battle with serpents.

We come next to the group of lizards more properly so called, which Hebrew commentators take to be the letaah, a name having some allusion to poison and adhesiveness. The word occurs only once (), where Saurians alone appear to be indicated. If the Hebrew root were to guide the decision, letaah would be another name for the gecko or anakah, for there is but one species which can be deemed venomous; and with regard to the quality of adhesiveness, though the geckos possess it most, numerous common lizards run up and down perpendicular walls with great facility. We, therefore, take chomet, or the sand lizard of Bochart, to be the true lizard, several (probably many) species existing in myriads on the rocks in sandy places, and in ruins in every part of Palestine and the adjacent countries. There is one species particularly abundant and small, well known in Arabia by the name of Sarabandi. We now come to the Stelliones, which have been confounded with the noxious geckos and others from the time of Aldrovandus, and thence have been a source of inextricable trouble to commentators. They are best known by the bundles of starlike spines on the body.

Next we place the Geckotians, among which comes anakah,in our versions denominated ferret, but which is with more propriety transferred to the noisy and venomous abu-burs of the Arabs. The particular species most probably meant is the lacerta gecko of Hasselquist, the gecko lobatus of Geoffry, distinguished by having the soles of the feet dilated and striated like open fans, from whence a poisonous ichor is said to exude, inflaming the human skin, and infecting food that may have been trod upon by the animal. Hence the Arabic name of abu-burs, or 'father-leprosy,' at Cairo.

To these we add the Chameleons, already described [CHAMELEON]; and then follows the Scincus.

Of the species of Seps, that is, viviparous serpent lizards, having the body of snakes, with four weak limbs, a species, with only three toes on each foot, appears to extend to Syria.





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Lizard'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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