No, No, Bad Dog: Dogs in the Bible

Israelite attitudes toward dogs

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015. It has been updated.—Ed.


 
heseding-joshua-caleb

Dogs in the Bible were not well loved. To be called a dog was to be associated with evil and low status. Therefore it is surprising that Caleb, one of the great Hebrew spies, means “dog” in Hebrew. Pictured is a stone relief created in 1958 by sculptor Ferdinand Heseding. The relief, which appears on a fountain in Dusseldorf, Germany, depicts the Biblical spies Joshua and Caleb carrying a cluster of grapes back from the Promised Land (Numbers 13:1-33).

Everyone loves dogs—don’t they? Dogs—or celeb in Hebrew—are humanity’s best friends. We welcome them into our homes, we walk them, feed them, clean up after them and excuse their bad behavior. But in ancient Israel, people had an entirely different view of dogs.

Of the more than 400 breeds of dogs around today, all came from the same ancestor—ancient wolves. Dogs were first domesticated perhaps as far back as 12,000 years ago. Because dogs are the only animals with the ability to bark, they became useful for hunting and herding. Dogs in the Bible were used for these purposes (Isaiah 56:11; Job 30:1).

There is evidence in the Bible that physical violence toward dogs was considered acceptable (1 Samuel 17:43; Proverbs 26:17). To compare a human to a dog or to call them a dog was to imply that they were of very low status (2 Kings 8:13; Exodus 22:31; Deuteronomy 23:18; 2 Samuel 3:8; Proverbs 26:11; Ecclesiastes 9:4; 2 Samuel 9:8; 1 Samuel 24:14). In the New Testament, calling a human a dog meant that the person was considered evil (Philemon 3:2; Revelation 22:15).
 


 
The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.
 

 
Some scholars hypothesize that the negative feelings expressed in the ancient Near East toward dogs was because in those days, dogs often ran wild and usually in packs. Dogs in the Bible exhibited predatory behavior in their quest for survival, which included the eating of dead bodies (1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:19, 23-24; 22:38; 2 Kings 9:10, 36; 1 Kings 21:23).

There is archaeological evidence, such as figurines, pictures and even collars, that demonstrates that Israel’s neighbors kept dogs as pets, but from the skeletal remains found within the Levant, the domestication of dogs did not happen until the Persian and Hellenistic periods within Israel.

The word for dog in Hebrew is celeb, from which the name Caleb derives. Due to the negative attribution of dogs for the ancient Israelites, it is surprising that one of the great Hebrew spies bears this name. As the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, Moses called a chieftain from each tribe to go before them and scout the land. Caleb was the representative of the tribe of Judah. When these spies returned, they reported that the land surpassed expectation but that the people who live there would be mighty foes. The Israelites did not want to go and face the peoples of Canaan, but Caleb stepped forward and urged them to proceed. After more exhortation from Moses, Aaron and Joshua, the people relented. Caleb was rewarded for his faith: Joshua gave him Hebron as an inheritance (Numbers 14:24; Joshua 14:14).
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on January 26, 2015.
 

 
ellen-whiteEllen White, Ph.D. (Hebrew Bible, University of St. Michael’s College), was the senior editor at the Biblical Archaeology Society. She has taught at five universities across the U.S. and Canada and spent research leaves in Germany and Romania. She has also been actively involved in digs at various sites in Israel.
 

 

Further reading in the BAS Library:

John S. Crawford, “Caleb the Dog,” Bible Review, April 2004.

Lawrence E. Stager, “Why Were Hundreds of Dogs Buried at Ashkelon?” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1991.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Bible Animals: From Hyenas to Hippos

Canaan Canine Faces Threat in Israel

Millions of Mummified Dogs Uncovered at Saqqara

Camel Domestication History Challenges Biblical Narrative

Cats in Ancient Egypt
 


 

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  1. Cindy says

    Neither I Samuel 17:43 nor Proverbs 26:17 are indicative of condoning violence toward dogs!

  2. Neil says

    The writer doesn’t say these passages condone violence towards dogs, merely that they seem to imply that beating or otherwise being cruel to them was common practice.

  3. Kurt says

    (Ca′leb) [Dog].
    Faithful Caleb is called “the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite.” (Nu 32:12; Jos 14:6, 14) Jephunneh could have descended from some member of the non-Israelite Kenizzites (Ge 15:18, 19) who associated with the descendants of Jacob (Israel), marrying an Israelite wife. However, more likely the name Kenizzite in his case derives from some ancestral Judean family head named Kenaz, even as Caleb’s brother was so named.—Jos 15:17; Jg 1:13; 1Ch 4:13.
    Father of the Judean spy Caleb and, likely, the father of Kenaz. (Nu 13:2, 3, 6; 1Ch 4:15; Jg 1:13) Jephunneh was a Kenizzite associated with the tribe of Judah.—Jos 14:6, 14.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200271013

  4. Kurt says

    . The dog’s repulsive habit of disgorging food it has gulped down and then returning to eat it again later is used to illustrate the course of those abandoning the way of righteousness and returning to their former state of defilement. (2Pe 2:20-22; Pr 26:11) Morally unclean persons are called dogs. God’s law to Israel stated: “You must not bring the hire of a harlot or the price of a dog [“male prostitute,” AT; “likely a pederast; one who practices anal intercourse, especially with a boy,” NW, ftn] into the house of Jehovah your God for any vow, because they are something detestable to Jehovah your God, even both of them.” (De 23:18) All those who, like scavenger dogs of the streets, practice disgusting things, such as sodomy, lesbianism, viciousness, and cruelty, are debarred from access to New Jerusalem.—Re 22:15;”Outside are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and those who are sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying.” see also Php 3:2″.Look out for the dogs; look out for those who cause injury; look out for those who mutilate the flesh”.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001209#h=0:0-7:324

  5. Ronald says

    Don’t forget the faithful presence of Tobias’ dog in the book of Tobit. One more reason for including Tobit in the biblical canon, but that may just be the pet owner in me speaking.

  6. Tom says

    There’s also the occasional derogatory term “uncircumcised dog”. Male dogs’ organs are so “out there” that they became a symbol of Israel’s enemies, some of whom did not practice circumcision. I’ve always wondered if that’s also how Caleb got his nickname. The usual explanation is that Caleb was so loyal to the Lord, he was like the Lord’s dog. What if the real joke is that the other soldiers, noticing at the latrine that Caleb hadn’t had a certain operation, decided to nickname him after the animals who obviously didn’t have that operation either? Perhaps Caleb, being in the south of Israel, and coming up through Hebron, did not participate in the mass circumcision ritual at Gilgal in Joshua 5. The text at Joshua 14 may be a harmonization, to present a unified conquest, but several things favor a 2-pronged invasion, Caleb from the south and Joshua from the east (which became the north) — the different names for God in the south and the north, the different military and cultural traditions of south and north, the eventual secession of the northern states, etc. We only hear about circumcision a few miles east of Jericho, nowhere near Caleb’s inheritance, Since the responders above mention some questions about Caleb’s ancestry, perhaps his home tribe, before he joined with Judah, did not practice circumcision. Perhaps his fellow warriors, as men will do, decided to tease him about his most obvious and embarrassing distinction.

  7. John says

    A couple of corrections: reference to Philemon 3:2 clearly should be Philippians 3:2; also a common mistake identifying “Revelation” as “Revelations” for Revelation 22:15 reference.

    I also agree with Cindy that “neither I Samuel 17:43 nor Proverbs 26:17 are indicative of condoning violence toward dogs”. 1 Samuel 17:43 merely indicates what someone might use if they were fighting dogs–not a recommendation to do so or indication this was common. Furthermore it was Goliath the pagan Philistine who said this! As far as Proverbs 26:17 is concerned, this clearly shows only the foolishness of someone (a brat child for example) who might seize a dog by its ears.

  8. Andrew says

    A dog has always been “Man’s best friend” – not “humanity’s best friend”. Where did that ridiculous phrase come from?

  9. RG says

    Being in a country in the Middle or Far East for any amount of time would solidify the view that dogs are not looked on with regard in these societies that still take many of their cues from the practices of ancient civilizations. The way many animals are treated in the ‘Western World’ is perverted in that people seem to give them as much or more respect and care as their neighbors, own children, spouse, or people in general. I am not for cruelty, but the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Everything to its suited purpose.

  10. Ben says

    Though dogs were probably not generally appreciated very much in Israel or Judah during OT or NT periods, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman seems to indicate a certain degree of amenity between dogs and people. The Samaritan woman asks for help and Jesus responded that it was not appropriate for children’s bread to be given to dogs. The Samaritan woman’s response, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” seems to indicate that dogs were, at least some of the time, allowed inside and sat there at the feet of their owners, just as they often do today.

  11. Debbie says

    Interestingly, the translation of dog (k’lev) in Hebrew means “like heart / like a heart / of like heart” in connection to it’s human master. I have never seen any Biblical references to support violence towards dogs—that would be an islamic* response and not a Hebraic one. However, I have seen many references implying that we are to have dominion over animals meaning that we are to be caretakers, not aggressors. *According to some explanations of islamic hatred towards dogs comes from Mohammed who was plagued with epileptic fits which frightened dogs causing them to growl at him.

  12. Julio says

    In my opinion their attitude towards dogs was wrong. They also owned slaves, and I think that’s wrong also.

  13. leah says

    It was never ok to be mean to a dog, read the verse.

  14. leah says

    A dog that eats his own vomit refers to someone who goes back to doing the same foolish thing, they once did before

  15. leah says

    They owned slaves for 7 years and then they had to release them with their wife and kids too, God always protected his children, those slaves, live in maids were always treated fairly as long as their owner followed the Lord , like today people start to do what they want and not what God wants and that’s when it starts to go down hill. These slaves were taken care of given homes and food when they had none, they were given a job to raise a family, it was the order of that time. Slavery was not restricted to black people. The Egyptian s were cruel and they paid dearly for that.

  16. Martin says

    Bad news for my family. Our ‘family’ is called People of the Dog-Spirit, and there’s a whole linguistic group in Mexico called Chichimec (People of the Dogs), which includes the Aztec. One son-in-law is Sunni Moslem and a great man, very open and friendly and dogs adore him… Even strays will come up and beg for him to pet them. This is hilarious even when we sympathize with him Eventually, he learned to laugh at it, telling my daughter, well, what do you expect, he did marry one! :) Walk in God’s Beauty!

  17. Arie says

    For a closer look at the name Caleb, see http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Caleb.html

  18. colette says

    The Father used dogs throughout History. He sealed the mouth of Lions and opened the mouths of Dogs. Knowing this, if the Father sends a Dog then it’s not a good thing. It is not the Dog that is evil, rather the Dog is sent to evil. As it is in some Nations where they confuse the teachings of the Father with their own mythology, so it was with Israel. A lot of these fears and interpretations come from the stay in Babylon. They survived a frightening time in History when they, as it is now, were unsure of the lines drawn between their Father and the many other gods they were exposed to. They did the same with cats because of their worship by Egypt. The same thing happened to the snake and a few other animals in History. They need to seriously put it in their minds that all things belong to the Father for his purpose and just because mindless peoples worship animals as if they are above man, does not mean that they are no longer possessions of the Father and created by the Father. They need to do what we call today “own it”. The Father I have been taught of, the owner of ALL things, gives nothing to the pagans.

  19. Kurt says

    From time immemorial, mankind has observed the characteristics and habits of animals and has applied them in a figurative or symbolic sense to persons, peoples, governments, and organizations. The BIBLE makes good use of this effective means of illustration. Examples pertaining to the figurative use of the qualities residing in an animal, or suggested by its characteristics, are listed in the accompanying charts.

    SYMBOLISM OF DESIRABLE THINGS
    ANIMAL,CHARACTERISTIC,SYMBOLISM OR QUALITY:(Find out the animals se link below)

    SYMBOLISM OF THAT WHICH IS BAD AND UNDESIRABLE
    ANIMAL,CHARACTERISTIC,SYMBOLISM,OR QUALITY:(Find out more animals than dogs in the link below)

    Dog:

    Viciousness,Wicked enemies of David uncleanness
    Ps 22:16, For dogs surround me;
    They close in on me like a pack of evildoers,
    Like a lion they are at my hands and feet.

    Ps.59:6, They return each evening;
    They growl like dogs and prowl around the city.

    Ps.59:14, Let them return in the evening;
    Let them growl like dogs and prowl around the city.

    Operating in Sexual pervert: De 23:18, You must not bring the price paid to a female prostitute or the price paid to a male prostitute +Lit., “a dog.” into the house of Jehovah your God to fulfill a vow, for both of them are something detestable to Jehovah your God.

    Packs:Php 3:2, Look out for the dogs; look out for those who cause injury; look out for those who mutilate the flesh.Re 22:15,Outside are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and those who are sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying.

    Unsatisfied: Worthless individual 2Sa 16:9,Then A·bish′ai the son of Ze·ru′iah said to the king: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, please, and take off his head.”

    In sexual,Wicked shepherds of Israel
    Desire:Isa 56:10, 11,His watchmen are blind, none of them have taken note.
    All of them are speechless dogs, unable to bark.
    They are panting and lying down; they love to slumber.
    They are dogs with a voracious appetite;
    They are never satisfied.
    They are shepherds who have no understanding.
    They have all gone their own way;
    Every last one of them seeks his own dishonest gain and says.

    Ancient Jewish view of uncircumcised Gentiles Mt 15:26, 27,In answer he said: “It is not right to take the bread of the children and throw it to the little dogs.” She said: “Yes, Lord, but really the little dogs do eat of the crumbs falling from the table of their masters.”

    Apostates 2 Pe 2:22, What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow that was bathed to rolling in the mire.”
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200000591

  20. tapani says

    Thanks you, Ellen White for your rich raport . The Jews perhaps developed this negative relation between men and dogs. Was there the same attitude to the serpents which had cultic value in the pagan religions? In many respects the Jews adopted the contrast, and the Christians borrowed it from them? Outside the Bible the Book of Tobias feels differently with the dogs. Such one followed Tobit and his friend to a long journey (5:17) and returned with them (11:4). There were already then dogs as “man’s best friends”?

  21. Sandra says

    It’s about what the dog symbolizes. The dog is unclean, revealing what makes us spiritual unclean, and spiritually stink. The cat does not have this offensive odor. Cat and Dog: Spirit and Word, represented by Moses and Aaron (which is why Aaron spoke for Moses, who was “slow of speech”), and Joshua and Caleb. Aaron was directly related to the sin of the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai, the word “Caleb” meaning “dog,” which you mention in your insightful article. It is our word (the dog) that makes us spiritually unclean, not our spirit (the cat). Our word is the culmination of ALL of our false beliefs (religious and personal). Truth is good. Lies are evil. They (like the dog in ancient days) are not to dwell in our spiritual house!

  22. Lynn says

    It is hard to give credence to your words when you cite entering into someone’s else’s fight as foolish as grabbing a dogs ears as “evidence” condoning physical violence towards dogs (your words) . If that is how you interpret bible passages I am no longer interested in any of your biblical conclusions on anything else.

  23. colette says

    If the Dog was biting at the feet LIKE a Lion. Ps 22:16, yet the Lion is used to represent Judah and many other aspects of religion, how do you explaine the comparison. I see a reference to both of these animals at his feet. It seems to me that this reference gave the dog the power of the Lions mouth. If the Lion is no longer feared, no doubt he will send the dogs.

  24. Nancy says

    The only slaves who were released in the seventh year were the Israelites who put themselves into servitude. The slaves who were bought from neighboring peoples could be kept forever and passed down to heirs.

  25. Nelson says

    Thank you for your explanation. Sice some time ago, I was wondering about this specific topic.

  26. DALE says

    dogs are not descended from wolves. They descend from a common ancestor.
    The author’s information is out of date. Scientists USED to believe they were descended from wolves. No longer.

  27. DALE says

    http://news.discovery.com/animals/pets/dogs-not-as-close-kin-to-wolves-as-thought-140116.htm
    Dogs are NOT descended from wolves. They descend from a common ancestor who is extinct.
    The author needs to correct her misinformation. Alot of harm has been done to dogs in part because of this misconception.

  28. sandy says

    dog is God spelled backward

  29. Chris says

    “humanity’s best friend”

    A completely disingenuous statement. It’s Man’s best friend and the word Man and human are not synonyms. Look into the etymology.

    Gen 5:1 proves this. look at Amos 3:2.

    Christ referred to the Canaanite women as a dog.

  30. Howard says

    Dogs that were,feral, pariah, wild, lost, with out owner, were hated among the Jews, however, they had dogs that were allowed in the house as pets.
    Mat_15:27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their MASTER’S table

  31. Charles says

    I am guessing you mean Philippians 3:2 and not Philemon 3:2.

  32. K.L. says

    Don’t go by the English transliterations. The Hebrew pronunciations are different. For some reasons a Hebrew “V” gets transliterated as a “B”. A “Y” (yud) gets transliterated as a “J”. I think it is because it came through the German language.
    Also, dogs were honored in the wilderness as they didn’t bark in the exodus.
    There are many dogs in israel – most of them as working dogs, not pets. They are valuable for guarding cows and sheep and goats in the fields. Few people keep pets in Israel as they are expensive and the apartments are small.

    A dog in evrit is kelev.
    Strong’s Concordance
    keleb: a dog
    Original Word: כָּ֫לֶב
    Part of Speech: Noun Masculine
    Transliteration: keleb
    Phonetic Spelling: (keh’-leb)
    Short Definition: dogs

    This would be better pronounced as Kalev. The vowels are different.
    Strong’s Concordance
    Kaleb: a son of Jephunneh and sent by Moses to spy out the land
    Original Word: כָּלֵב
    Part of Speech: Proper Name Masculine
    Transliteration: Kaleb
    Phonetic Spelling: (kaw-labe’)
    Short Definition: Caleb

  33. David says

    Actually, there are many famous dogs in the Bible…
    כלבי התנ”ך
    http://bibledogs.com/

  34. D. says

    I really am shocked at some of the idiotic responses on this thread. I enjoy reading the BAR articles but am really going to avoid the comments from now on. Unbelievable.

  35. stephanie says

    Question do dogs have souls do they go to heaven

  36. Tre says

    In the movie Omen, Damien was protected by a wat?…Dog! Hades, Greek god of the underworld, companion was a 3-headed wat?… Dog! In Egypt, Anubis, god of the underworld had the head of a wat?…Jackal/ Dog! Make no mistake. The bible always compared men to animals in terms of their character. Doves,serpents, lions,and lambs. To be called anything unclean, meant that that which u r being compared to is also unclean. So dogs are unclean to have as PETS but not as a guard outside the house

  37. donald says

    Ard dogs good or bad? You can know by their fruit.

  38. ilan says

    How funny that dogs are the most loyal of Gods animal servants and seemed to have been created in order to guard the house, the family, the children. I cant think of any animal that shows such selflessness to its master except the dog. Maybe they were dealing with the native Canaan dog only. But how many people owe their lives to dogs intervening between them and hoodlums or dragging them from a burning building.

    And how many videos have I seen where a dog visiting the grave of its master starts weeping and sniffling, and laying its body down in a surrendered pose as though the dog itself was injured? More then my share.

  39. Yadir says

    In revelations 22:15 it says dogs are not allowed in heaven. The dogs will stay outside with murderers and idolaters sinners.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. links: this went thru my mind | preachersmith linked to this post on January 31, 2015

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  2. No, No, Bad Dog: Dogs in the Bible | romanstwelvetwo.com linked to this post on March 5, 2015

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