Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dogs in the Bible

This pottery dish shows Nilotic hunting dogs on leashes. It dates to 4500-4000 BC. (Pushkin Museum)

Alice C. Linsley

The Canaan Dog is a recognized breed today. It is known as Kelev Kanani. Drawings of these dogs have been found in excavations at Beni-Hassan, on the east bank of the Nile, north of Minya, Egypt. They date from 2200-2000 BC. 

The Kanani breed has been employed for many centuries by Bedouin and Druze peoples as herd dogs for their flocks and guard dogs for their camps. From Jesus' statement to the Canaanite woman, we gather that domesticated dogs were fed scraps from the family table. He said, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." (Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27)

Kelev Kanani

These are more domesticated than the pariahs who scavenged at the rubbish heaps outside the cities and roamed the streets in packs at night. We have a sense of the danger posed by packs of wild dogs in Psalm 59:6: "They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city."

The word kelbi in Tigrinya means dog. It is the cognate of kaleb/kelev in Hebrew, and holds the idea of a loyal heart, the ka-lib. The word lib is heart in Hebrew and Amharic. In ancient Nilotic mythology, the jackal, the wolf, and the dog were guides to paradise and the promise land. It is no coincidence that one of the scouts sent to open the way for the advancing Hebrews was named Caleb.

Dogs and Vultures

In the Bible, the pariah dog is likened to and paralleled with the vultures. The bodies of enemies were often left to be eaten by dogs. In this context, dogs were associated with vultures.

Dogs will eat those belonging to Jeroboam who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country. (1 Kings 14:11)

Dogs will eat those belonging to Baasha who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country." (1 Kings 16:4)

And also concerning Jezebel the LORD says: "Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country." (1 Kings 21:23, 24)

Dogs and Swords

"I will send four kinds of destroyers against them," declares the LORD, "the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy." (Jeremiah 15:3)

The association of dogs and swords appears in the Psalms: "Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs." (Psalm 22:20)

The animal totem of the warrior clan of Caleb (Kelev) was the dog.

Dogs and Pigs

The dog was regarded with contempt as ritually unclean, especially during the time of the Second Temple. In this context the dog was associated with the pig. Consider these examples:

Of them the proverbs are true:  "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud." (2 Peter 2:22)

"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6)

Speaking of spiritual waywardness, the Prophet Isaiah said, "But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig's blood, and whoever burns memorial incense, like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations." (Isaiah 66:3)

Humbling Oneself as a Dog

Speaking of oneself as a dog was a way to humble oneself before a superior.  To call oneself a dead dog was to especially debase oneself, as a dead dog was doubly unclean.

Hazael said, "How could your servant, a mere dog, accomplish such a feat?" "The Lord has shown me that you will become king of Aram," answered Elisha. (2 Kings 8:13)

Mephibosheth bowed down and said [to David], "What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?" (2 Samuel 9:8)

The Canaanite sought Jesus' help for her daughter. "Lord,' she said, 'help me.' He replied, 'I was set only to the lost sheep of Israel.' The woman had come and bowed low before Him. Jesus told her. "It is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs," to which she replied, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." (Matthew 15:27)

Dogs and Evil Men

Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. (Psalm 22:16)

Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain. (Isaiah 56: 10, 11)

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. (Philippians 3:2)

Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:15)

Dogs Among the Hebrew Clans

The oldest known site of Horite Hebrew worship is Nekhen on the Nile (4200 BC). Burial sites at Nekhen include dogs. A child's body was found buried with 12 young dogs in a Nekhen cemetery. 

In the Nile Valley dogs were well treated as household pets, for protection, and for their skill in hunting. That they lived with the Nilotic Hebrew is evident from these verses:

But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal. Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (Exodus 11:7)

You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs. (Exodus 22:31)

Long before the time of Moses dogs were kept to herd sheep, as is evident from this verse in Job: "But now they mock me, men younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to put with my sheep dogs." (Job 30:1)

The Calebites

Caleb was the son of Jephunneh, a descendant of Kain which is why he was called a ‘Kenizzite’ הַקְּנִזּי haKenizi (cf. Gen. 15:19). The Kenizzites were a Hebrew clan according to Gen. 36:11 - "And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz.”

Caleb's connection to the Kenites is explicitly stated in 1 Chronicles 2:55 which says that Caleb's sons were Kenites. Kenaz was a son of Eliphaz by Timna, daughter of Seir, a Horite Hebrew ruler named in Genesis 36. The dog was the totem of the Calebites. Caleb or Kelev means dog.

The Canaan Dog (Kelev) was a symbol of the warrior. The Hebrew word for warrior is Gid'on (Gideon). This allusion to the dog clan is found in Judges 7:4-7:

But the Lord said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, 'This one shall go with you, he shall go; but if I say, this one shall not go with you, he shall not go." So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink." Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, "With the 300 men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.

This information makes it possible to trace Gideon’s ancestry back to Caleb whose Horite Hebrew wife was Ephrathah. 1 Chronicles 2:50 tells us that the firstborn son of Caleb and Ephrathah was Hur or HR (a Horite name). Hur’s firstborn son was Shobal, the founder of Kiriath-jearim where the Ark resided until it was moved to Jerusalem in David’s time. Shobal was a Horite Hebrew chief, and the totem of his clan was the lion.

One of Caleb's grandsons was named Korah (1 Chron. 2:43). The term korah refers to a shaved priest. Moses' half-brother was Korah. The Hebrew ruler-priest caste served at the temples and shrines along the Nile. They were known to shave their bodies before their terms of service at the temples and shrines.


  1. Most of the references are so intimidating and unflattering. Guess my yellow Lab is quite the pacifist compared to her ancestors.
    Thank you for writing a dog article!

  2. Growing up I wasn't allowed to have pets because we moved so often and traveled abroad. However, over the past 30 years I have enjoyed the company of several loyal, obedient and affection dogs. The one I have now is part beagle and part blood hound. We enjoy taking walks together around the lake.

    Labradors are wonderful family members!

  3. This is the most recent DNA study (Abstract):
    The origin of domestic dogs remains controversial, with genetic data indicating a separation between modern dogs and wolves in the Late Pleistocene. However, only a few dog-like fossils are found prior to the Last Glacial Maximum, and it is widely accepted that the dog domestication predates the beginning of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. In order to evaluate the genetic relationship of one of the oldest dogs, we have isolated ancient DNA from the recently described putative 33,000-year old Pleistocene dog from Altai and analysed 413 nucleotides of the mitochondrial control region. Our analyses reveal that the unique haplotype of the Altai dog is more closely related to modern dogs and prehistoric New World canids than it is to contemporary wolves. Further genetic analyses of ancient canids may reveal a more exact date and centre of domestication. Ancient DNA Analysis Affirms the Canid from Altai as a Primitive Dog: Druzhkova AS, Thalmann O, Trifonov VA, Leonard JA, Vorobieva NV, et al. (2013) Ancient DNA Analysis Affirms the Canid from Altai as a Primitive Dog. PLoS ONE 8(3): e57754. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057754.


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