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

‘And the fly is saying…’: On flies, the campus, and the Bible

Newman University is situated next to a reservoir and, over the last few days, the current system of very warm air over Britain has resulted in the (sort of) annual ‘infestation’ of flies on the Newman campus. I have to admit to rather enjoying the sight of them, dancing lazily in loose veils in the soft afternoon sun and their sudden appearance on a paper I am reading or scurrying across the desk. However, I am also aware that, for those living in halls, it can create feelings that are far less poetic! Nevertheless, it got me thinking about flies in the Bible and the wider Ancient Near Eastern traditions.

James Fly
Image by James Westwood

If I am in the minority among those living and working at Newman for rather relishing this phenomenon, I also have to concede that I appear to be a bit of an oddity where the ancients are concerned too! Flies appear to have been universally disliked, or at least, viewed as worthless pests and nuisances. Continue reading