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Are cats mentioned in the Bible?

There appears to be no mention of cats in the Hebrew Bible.  This is rather surprising as domestic cats were very widely kept in nearby  Egypt and even worshipped at some periods.  There is debate about whether the Babylonians had domestic cats from an early period - it is quite possible they did.  Certainly the Romans had domestic cats and from the Roman period they may have been introduced to Israel and if they were not already there, to Babylon.

Cats do get a brief single mention in some Christian bibles - they are mentioned once in the 6th chapter of the book of Baruch in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox Bibles - a fragment of this book was found, written in Greek, in the caves at Qumran so it is at least 2,200 years old.  (The passage is also known misleadingly as the “Letter of Jeremiah”, being neither a letter nor by Jeremiah.)

 Talking disparagingly about graven images:  Bats, swallows, and birds of every kind perch on their bodies and heads, and so do cats.”

supra corpus eorum et supra caput volant noctuae et hirundines et aves etiam similiter et cattaeBaruch 6:21-22 (talking about idols)

 The Vulgate


This single mention seems to imply cats wandering around freely in either houses or temples at the location period it was written.  The book is generally dated to between 500 BCE and 100 BCE.  It is quite possible it was written in Babylon as it reads like a polemic targeted at Jews in the diaspora there are some references to Babylonian religion. 

Cats are mentioned fondly in the Talmud, which is written in Babylon somewhere around 500CE:   

“If the Torah had not been given, we could have learned modesty from the cat.”

(Talmud Eruvin 100b)

Cats also get a good press in Islam which is written later still.

 It is really odd that they are not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, since cats were apparently widely domesticated (and worshipped) in neighbouring Egypt from very ancient times.

The Semitic languages have a common single word for dog but no common single word for cat.  This may suggest that cats were not generally present in Semitic countries. See for an interesting article on the etymology of the Hebrew / Aramaic word "chatul" (cat) and this article which is points to on the many Arabic words for cats 

One theory is that the worship of cats in ancient Egypt led them to be discouraged as domestic animals in ancient Israel – though I doubt if that would be sufficient to explain it.  Generally something being prohibited means it gets a mention or two!

So here it is:-
My speculative novel explanation of the absence of references to cats in the Hebrew Bible:
In a grain growing and storing culture like Egypt you need cats to keep down the mice, whereas in a (predominately) sheep farming culture like ancient Israel dogs were more useful to protect the livestock from Lions (and dogs can also keep down rodents to some extent).   So there may have been no domesticated cats in Israel in Biblical times, just dogs.

Similarly perhaps in ancient Wales, another sheep farming culture.   The Welsh the word for cat is from the Latin, where as the word for dog is pre-Roman - suggesting the Romans introduced domesticated cats to Wales (and probably to the whole of Britain).

Cat   =      cath
Dog   =     ci

Welsh: ciOld Irish  (dog, hound), from Proto-Celtic *kū from Proto-Indo-European *ḱwṓ (dog).

Dogs are mentioned 29 times in the Hebrew Bible.

Lions are mentioned more than 150 times and 6 different words are used.

Cats are mentioned 0 times.



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February 2017

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