Why are there no cats in the Bible?

Of the hundreds of different animals named in the Bible, the cat lovers among us might be disturbed to find that there is no mention of their beloved companion/house-guest in the Bible.

‘Helping with research’. Image: Isabella Wray

Were there no cats in biblical Israel?

Confidently identifying the presence of the domestic cat (Felis Silvestris catus), rather than its ‘wild,’ untamed cousins in any ancient setting is difficult. The process of domestication, for most animals, creates certain stresses that result in morphological changes; for example, there is often a reduction in size (see Clutton-Brock, 1981: 21-22; Borowski, 1998: 24-27). Consequently, identifying changes like these can make it possible to distinguish between domestic and wild strains. However, cats tend (at least initially*) to lack such clear markers of domestication. One reason for this might be due to their rather aloof demeanour that often characterises their relationships with humans. Borowski (1998:144) argues that this meant that humans could not so easily control their breeding as they could with other animals. The process of domestication could therefore have emerged from the development of a negotiated collaborative/symbiotic relationship between cats and humans rather than selective breeding (see Driscoll et al., 2009; Russell, 2012: 217). This general lack of evidence for a human-controlled breeding regime creates problems when trying to identify between domestic and wild cats. Current thinking suggests that feline domestication – or the forming of a relationship between human and felines – occurred roughly 5-6000 years ago. Although a recent study by Andrew Kitchener of an apparent burial of a cat with its owner in Cyprus has pushed that date back to about 9000 years (see below). Nevertheless, whether wild or domesticated, zooarcheological evidence shows that cats were living in the ancient Levant at the time of biblical Israel; for example, remains of cats were found during excavations of Neolithic Jericho, ca. 7000 BCE (Borowski, 1998:114). If cats were present in biblical Israel, why then is there this silence about them in biblical writings? Continue reading