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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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According to the Talmud, a species of toad which lives on land but enters the water at the breeding season (Ḥul. 127a; Lewysohn, "Z. T." §§ 277, 278). It generally appears, however, as a fabulous animal, generated in fire and perishing in air, this being the view concerning it held by R. Akiba himself (Sifra, ed. Weiss, p. 52b; Ḥul. 127a). God showed the animal to Moses in fire (Ex. R. 15:28); and when glass-blowers stoke their furnace unceasingly for seven days and seven nights, the great heat produces a creature which is like a mouse (or spider), and which is called a salamander. If one smears his hand or any other part of his body with its blood, the spot is proof against fire; for the animal is created of fire (Tan., Wayesheb, 3). When King Manasseh was about to sacrifice Hezekiah to Moloch, the child's mother anointed her son with the blood of a salamander, that the fire might not injure him (Sanh. 63b; "Z. D. M. G." 28:15). The fire of hell does not harm the scribes, since they are all fire, like the Torah; and if flames can not hurt one who is anointed with salamander blood, still less can they injure the scribes (Ḥag., end).

The name "salamander" itself indicates the adoption of a foreign belief by the Jews. According to Aristotle, "At Cyprus, where the stone chalcites [a kind of copper ore] is heated for several days, winged creatures, somewhat larger than our housefly, appear in the midst of the fire, walking and flying through it, but dying immediately on leaving the flame. The salamander shows that certain animals are naturally proof against fire, for it is said to extinguish a flame by passing through it" ("Historia Animalium," 5:19; Lewysohn, c. § 279). Akiba likewise speaks of animals other than the salamander which are generated in fire, while Pliny declares ("Historia Naturalis," 10:68,87) that the salamander does not propagate by copulation, and that, like ice, it extinguishes fire by touching it.

While the fire, according to the Midrash, need burn only seven days and seven nights to produce a salamander, Rashi says that it requires seven years (Ḥag.), and the 'Aruk (s.) postulates seventy years. The trend toward magic appears, furthermore, in the statement that myrtle wood is required for the fire.

The Zohar (2:211b) even mentions garments of salamander skin; and this legend is found in non-Jewish sources also. According to Grässe ("Beiträge zur Litteratur und Sage des Mittelalters," p. 81, Dresden, 1850), "The poets, e.g., Titurel (ch. 341), say that cloth of gold is woven from salamanders, and Marco Polo (Latin. translation, ch. ) says that at Rome there is a cloth of the same material as that from which the salamander is made" (comp. Jellinek, "Beiträge zur Gesch. der Kabbala," 1:48, Leipsic, 1852). A recipe in Hebrew, though termed Hindu, and in which salamander is the chief ingredient, is quoted by Steinschneider ("Pseudepigraphische Litteratur," p. 88, Berlin, 1862; see also Grunwald, "Mitteilungen," 5:10,47; Wuttke, "Deutscher Volksaberglaube der Gegenwart," 3d ed., § 714). On the salamander as the elemental spirit of fire in the Middle Ages see "Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon," 14th ed., 6:14, s. "Elementargeister."

  • Lewysohn, Z. T. §§ 278-280, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1858;
  • Krauss, Lehnwörter, 2:395, with bibliography by I. Löw.
E. C.
L. B.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Salamander'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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