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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Beasts

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In the Bible, this word, when used in contradistinction to man (Psalms 36:6), denotes a brute creature generally, when in contradistinction to creeping things (Leviticus 11:2-7; Leviticus 27:26), it has reference to four-footed animals; and when to wild mammalia, as in Genesis 1:25, means domesticated cattle.

The zoology of Scripture may, in a general sense, be said to embrace the whole range of animated nature but after the first brief notice of the creation of animals recorded in Genesis, it is limited more particularly to the animals found in Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, Syria, and the countries eastward, in some cases, to beyond the Euphrates. It comprehends mammalia, birds, reptiles, fishes, and invertebrate animals: but in a work like the Bible, written for a far different purpose, we might naturally expect that only a small part of these would be found described, and that generic indications would more frequently occur than specific characteristics. As the intention of Scripture, in its allusions to animate or inanimate objects, was not scientific description, but the illustration of arguments and precepts by images drawn from objects familiar to those to whom it was addressed, it is not to be expected that zoology or botany should be treated systematically, or in terms such as modern science has adopted; yet where we can now fully ascertain the true meaning of the text, the imagery drawn from natural history is always forcible, correct, and effective, even where it treats the subject under the conditions of the contemporary popular belief; for, had the inspired writers entered into explanations on matters of science not then commonly understood, the poetical force of the imagery, and consequently its intended effect, must necessarily have been greatly diminished; yet, where system is appropriate, we find a classified general distribution of the creation, simple indeed, but sufficiently applicable to all the purposes for which it was introduced. It resembles other parts of the philosophy of the earliest nations, in which the physical distribution of matter, excepting so far as man is concerned, proceeds by triads. Botany is treated under the heads of grass, shrubs, and trees: in animated nature, beginning with the lowest organized in the watery element, we have first 'the moving creature that hath life,' animalcula, crustacea, insecta, etc.; second, fishes and amphibia, including the huge tenants of the waters, whether or not they also frequent the land, crocodiles, python serpents, and perhaps even those which are now considered as of a more ancient zoology than the present system, the great Saurians of geology; and third, it appears, birds, 'flying creatures' (Genesis 1:20); and still advancing (cetaceans, pinnatipeds, whales and seals being excluded), we have quadrupeds, forming three other divisions or orders: first, cattle, embracing the ruminant herbivora, generally gregarious, and capable of domesticity; second, wild beasts, carnivora, including all beasts of prey; and third, reptiles, minor quadrupeds, such as creep by means of many feet, or glide along the surface of the soil, serpents, annelids, etc.; finally, we have man, standing alone in intellectual supremacy. The classification of Moses, as it may be drawn from Deuteronomy, appears to be confined to Vertebrata alone, or animals having a spine and ribs, although the fourth class might include others: taking man as one, it forms five classes—first, Man; second, Beasts; third, Birds; fourth, Reptiles; fifth, Fishes. It is the same as that in Leviticus 11, where beasts are further distinguished into those with solid hoofs and those with cloven feet. But the passage specially refers to animals that might be lawfully eaten because they were clean, and others prohibited because they were declared unclean, although some of them, according to the common belief of the time, might ruminate; for it may be repeated that the Scriptures were not intended to embrace anatomical disquisitions aiming at the advancement of human science, but to convey moral and religious truth, without disturbing the received opinions of the time on questions having little or no relation to their main object. In like manner, fishes and birds are divided into clean and unclean; and, taken altogether, the classification now described forms an excellent series of distinctions, which, even at the present day, and in countries far distant from the scene where it was ordained, still remains applicable, with little exception, and from its intrinsic propriety will remain in force, notwithstanding our present knowledge of the manners and opinions of the East and of Egypt has rendered many of the earlier comments upon it in a great measure useless.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Beasts'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/b/beasts.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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