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Bible Encyclopedias
Wolf

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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(the invariable rendering in the A. V. of זְאֵב, zeeb, so called either from. its fierceness or its yellow color, or perhaps the word is primitive; λύκος ), a fierce carnivorous animal, very nearly allied to the dog, and so well known as to require no particular description, excepting as regards the identity of the species in Palestine, which, although often asserted, is by no means established; for no professed zoologist .has obtained the animal in Syria, while other travelers only pretend to have seen it. Unquestionably a true wolf, or a wild canine with very similar manners, was not infrequent in that country during the earlier ages of the world, and even down to the commencement of our era. At this day the true wolf is still abundant in Asia Minor, as well as in the gorges of Cilicia, and, from the traveling disposition of the species, wolves may be expected to reside in the forests of Libanus. Hemprich and Ehrenberg, the most explicit of the naturalists who have visited that region, notice the dib, or zeb, under the denomination of Canis lupaster, and also, it seems, of Lupus Syriacus.

They describe it as resembling the wolf, but smaller, with a white tip on the tail, etc.; and give for its synonym Canis anthus and the wolf of Egypt,that is, the λύκος of Aristotle and Thoes anthus of Ham. Smith. This species, found in the mummy state at Lycopolis, though high in proportion to its bulk, measures only eighteen inches at the shoulder, and in weight is scarcely more than one third of that of a true wolf, whose stature rises to thirty and thirty-two inches. It is not gregarious, does not howl, cannot carry off a lamb or sheep, nor kill men, nor make the shepherd flee; in short, it is not the true wolf of Europe or Asia Minor, and is not possessed of the qualities ascribed to the species in the Bible. The next in Hemprich and Ehrenberg's description bears the same Arabic name; it is scientifically called Canis sacer, and is the piseonch of the Copts.

This species is, however, still smaller, and thus cannot be the wolf in question. It may be, as there are no forests to the south of Libianus, that these ravenous beasts, who never willingly range at a distance from cover, have forsaken the more open country, or else that the derbonn, now only indistinctly known as a species of black wolf in Arabia and Southern Syria, is the species or variety which anciently represented the wolf in Syria an appellation fully deserved if it be the same as the black species of the Pyrenees, which, though surmised to be a wild dog, is even more fierce than the common wolf, and is equally powerful. The Arabs are said to eat the derbonn as game, though it must be rare, since no European traveler has described a specimen from personal observation. Therefore, either' the true wolf or the derbonn was anciently more abundant in Palestine, or the ravenous powers of those animals, equally belonging to the hyena and to a great wild dog, caused several species to be included in the name. See Dog. " There is also an animal of which travelers in Arabia and Syria hear much, under the name of the shib, which the natives believe to be a breed between a leopard and a wolf. They describe it as being scarcely in its shape distinguishable from the wolf, but with the power of springing like a leopard, and attacking cattle. Its bite is said to be mortal, and to occasion raving madness before death.

In 1772 Dr. Freer saw and measured the forepart and tail of one' of these animals, and supplied Dr. Russell with the description which he has inserted in his book. The animal was one of several that followed the Basrah caravan from Basrah to the neighborhood of Aleppo. Many persons in the caravan had been bitten, some of whom died in a short time raving mad. It was also reported that some persons in the neighborhood of Aleppo were bitten, and died in like manner; but the doctor saw none of them himself. Dr. Russell imagines that the shib might be a wolf run mad. But this is a hazardous assumption, as it is doubtful whether canine madness exists in Western Asia; and unless we conclude with Col. Hamilton Smith that the shib is probably the same as the Thous acnon, or the wild wolf-dog of Natolia, it is best to await further information on the subject. Burckhardt says that little doubt can be entertained of the existence of the animal, and explains its fabulous origin (between a wolf and leopard) by stating that the Arabs, and especially the Bedawin, are in the common practice of assigning to every animal that is rarely met with parents of two different species of known animals"(Kitto, Phys. Hist. of Palest. 2, 364).

The following are the scriptural allusions to the wolf: Its ferocity is mentioned in Genesis 49, 27; Ezekiel 22:27; Habakkuk 1:8; Matthew 7:15; its nocturnal habits in Jeremiah 5, 6; Zephaniah 3:3; Habakkuk 1:8; its attacking sheep and lambs in Sirach 13:17; John 10:12; Matthew 10:16; Luke 10:3; Isaiah (Isaiah 11:6; Isaiah 65:25) foretells the peaceful reign of the Messiah under the metaphor of a wolf dwelling with a lamb. Cruel persecutors are compared with wolves (Matthew 10:16; Acts 20:29). (See ZEEB).

Wolves were doubtless far more common in Biblical times than they are now, though they are occasionally reported by modern travelers (see Russell, Nat. Hist. of Aleppo, 2, 184): "The wolf seldom ventures so near the city as the fox, but is sometimes seen at a distance by the sportsmen among the hilly grounds in the neighborhood; and the villages, as well as the herds, often suffer from them. It is called dib in Arabic, and is common all over Syria." The wolf is now, as of old, the dread of the shepherds of Palestine. Not so numerous, but much more formidable than the jackal, he lurks about the fields, hunting not in noisy packs, but secreting himself till dark among the rocks; and without arousing the vigilance of the sheep- dogs, he leaps into the fold, and seizes his victim by stealth. Their boldness at times, however, is very remarkable, especially in the less-frequented regions. "In every part of the country we occasionally saw the wolf. In the open plain of Gennesaret my horse one day literally leaped over a wolf. In the hill country of Benjamin the wolves still remain. We found them alike in the forests of Bashan and Gilead, in the ravines of Galilee and Lebanon, and in the maritime plains" (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 154).

Wolves, like many other animals, are subject to variation in color. The common color is gray with a tinting of fawn and long black hairs. The variety most frequent in Southern Europe and the Pyrenees is black; the wolf of Asia Minor is more tawny than those of the common color. The Syrian wolf likewise is of a lighter color than the wolf of Europe, being a pale fawn tint, and seems to be a larger and stronger animal. See Fox.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Wolf'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​w/wolf.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
 
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