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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  • Aubrey says

    My dog was loving, absolutely loyal and helpful. If my wife went out with him a minute earlier than I he would jump for joy when he saw me as if I was away for a month. He would do the same when he saw my wife. He had enough love for both of us and our son and friends. He died 6 months ago and we still miss him.

  • Marie says

    Wow! I am so excited and praising the Lord for this! This day! “August 24, 2017”, in 62 years, is the FIRST TIME I heard that “dog” was “celeb” in Hebrew!!! I, of all people NEEDED to hear this!!! (THIS IS ANOTHER GIFT FROM GOD!!!) Let me explain…I became “born again” at age 7 (secretly on my own), God called and chosen me for something great to do for Him, but my mom tore up my Bible before I knew how to read, I wanted DESPERATELY to know “Jesus” because The Gideons told me “Jesus loves you” < everyone I knew was wicked…never felt loved in this world, my heart was broken, until age 7, and it had to be "Jesus"?) After crying my eyes out, thinking my only "hope" in this world was gone (Bible), I hear (assuming it was my voice) "I KNOW! I can make Jesus my invisible friend, can't take that away from me!" < I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker! (always felt like a fish out of water). "My sheep hear My voice…" Jn 10:27 This is how a prophet is formed to do work for "Jesus"/God. When I asked my mom "Why isn't there 'Love' in this family?" She replied, "Oh you just love LOVE!" < found out later this was God "God is love" 1Jo 4:8. Not that I knew any Scripture, but one day, I realized I had a NEED to surround myself with things that felt like "love"/heaven…teddy bears, roses, crosses, angels, heavenly pictures, and DOGS (but not just any dog), God introduced me to the Schnauzer at 18 (my car ran out of gas and an old guy in a beautiful blue convertable with a PUPPY TOY SCHNAUZER rescued me) and my eyes fell in love! "…He shall GIVE THEE THE DESIRES OF THINE HEART." Ps 37:4. Got married, had 2 boys and bought my first "schnauzer", after that, I made it a business "Schnauzer Hollywood", like today, I was thrilled to find out Schnauzers are known as "The most affectionate dog in the world" and "The dog with human brain". NOW, when people come over to buy a puppy, I can say "This little celeb…"!!! I have stars made with their name and paw prints in, in the walk up to my house, and the front room is my business with "schnauzer" things everywhere! I have witnessed over 100 "miracles, wonders, and signs" Ac 2:22 ("approved of God"), and am writing books on what I have witnessed. For one, I had a miraculous healing with The Lord's hands in my back for 3 days and 3 nights! (I had suffered 9 years from a fractured spine in a diving accident, at the point of death, alone, I cried out for healing!) Years later, I found "operation of His hands" Ps 28:5, Is 5:12 < NUMBERS are my birthday, and LETTERS mean "spine", and I would not have known if I were not a prophet, I heard "Look at the Scripture verses" (3 times before I realized it was God's voice of instruction Dt 4:36). Then, after 17 years from the healing, I realized what those Scriptures meant as a whole…if anyone desregards my testimony, He will destroy! ISN'T THIS LIKE THE LORD to reveal this "celeb" NOW? (See my FULL testimony at http://www.1JMM.com) Look for the "Schnauzer Hollywood" icon and click on.

  • Yadir says

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

  • 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.

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