Biblical Cats Again

The Methuselah of Biblioblogging, Jim Davila, draws attention to an article in Archaeology (19 June 2017) on the domestic cat’s origins in “Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt”.

Noting that “Israel” is included on the list, Jim mentions that the Hebrew Bible and New Testament “never once mention domestic cats”.

This is quite possibly correct. However, in an earlier post I suggested that there might be one mention of a (wild, but possibly able-to-be-domesticated) cat hidden in the pages of the Hebrew Bible. It all depends, though, on how one translates “lilith” in Isaiah 34:14 along with three other (wild) animals.

In later tradition, Lilith becomes a nocturnal demon, greatly feared at least since medieval times. But Lilith has since been reclaimed by feminists, Neopagans, and Magick practitioners, and also features in the TV series Supernatural.

Update (22 June 2017): Jim Davila responds. For much the same reasons he sets out, I only count my suggestion as a possibility at the moment, too. I haven’t seen any peer-review-published identifications of the lilith with a cat (but there may well be some), and I would need to find some other grounds to link the lilith to the domestic house cat (Felis catus) before I’d publish the idea. And the lilith is (as I noted) clearly wild rather than domesticated in Isaiah 34 – although, many cats (Felis catus) are indeed wild or feral. Maybe a future project. Cat-loving Bible-readers of the world must know the truth.


Are there cats in the Bible? Maybe, yes


It’s often said that there are no cats in the Bible – referring to the animal which became the domestic house cat (Felis catus or Felis silvestris catus).

But is that true?

There’s a good case to be made that the biblical Lilith was a cat.

It’s true that later rabbinic tradition understood Lilith to be a demon. In one rabbinic tradition, for example, Lilith is an incubus demon, collecting the sperm ejaculated from men’s nocturnal emissions, and using it to create demonic babies (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 151b). And in one medieval tradition, Lilith becomes the first wife of Adam, before Adam left her for a more submissive woman, who didn’t demand that she always must be on top (The Alphabet of ben Sirach).

But in the Bible, the lilith (לִילִית) appears only in one verse, where she simply appears alongside the mention of ordinary animals. The lilith is quite probably, therefore, simply another animal. In Isaiah 34.14, the lilith is named alongside three other four-footed animals which commonly occupy ruins or the wilderness, probably (depending on the translation), the wildcat, the hyena, and the goat.

The cat was, after all, widely known and partially domesticated by the late first millennium BCE, all the way from eastern Asia through to Africa and Europe. People back then knew that cats were extremely useful in getting rid of rodents and their accompanying disease. So it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if there were one mention of a cat in the Old Testament.

Consider too, that the cat is most active at night, which might explain the apparent connection of ‘lilith’ to the Hebrew for night (לילה). The etymology is not found in other Semitic languages, but there was a wide variety of Semitic terms used for “cat”. Then there’s the old folk wisdom that you don’t let a cat near a sleeping child’s cradle or they snuff out their breath, which might have developed into the later legend about Lilith as a demon who kills infant children. Lastly, the medieval Spanish Jewish representation of Lilith is “El Broosha”, who is … a big black cat.

So, maybe there is one mention of a cat in the Bible. And maybe baby Jesus and the young John the Baptist used to play with their pet cat, as in the painting by Federico Barocci:

Federico Barocci, 'The Madonna of the Cat' (ca. 1575)
Federico Barocci, ‘The Madonna of the Cat’ (ca. 1575)

Archie Wright on The Origin of Evil Spirits in Early Jewish Literature

Archie T. Wright has an article up on Bible & Interpretation for April 2015 entitled “The Origin of Evil Spirits in Early Jewish Literature“.

Archie T. Wright
Archie T. Wright

In the article, Archie Wright explains the link made between giants and evil spirits/demons in the Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36):

the Fallen Watcher Angels in 1 Enoch have sexual relations with human women and produce what are described as giant offspring. These offspring begin to literally eat the humans out of house and home. Once they have eaten all the food that humans produce, they turn on the humans and begin to devour them; it is then that the call goes up to heaven for God to deliver humanity from the giants. These giants are considered a hybrid offspring, they are part human and also part heavenly being (angel); although the percentage of division (e.g. 50/50) between the two is unclear. The result of the call to heaven by the oppressed humans brings about the destruction of the physical giants by the Archangels Raphael, Michael, Sariel, and Gabriel. The death of the ‘giants’ is brought about by the Flood event in Genesis, which, at the same time, cleanses the earth of the blood shed by the giants and also eliminates corrupt humanity. However, the hybrid spirits of the physical giants survive the flood and are identified in 1 Enoch, and other early Jewish texts, as evil spirits (or demons). The fathers of the giants, the Watcher angels, are locked in a deep pit identified as Tartarus and are bound there with chains and covered with rocks, thus the image you see in the movie “Noah” of the giant beings who seem to be assisting Noah in various aspects of the Flood episode. The Watchers will be held there until the Day of Judgment – there is no notion in 1 Enoch that the evil spirits are fallen angels, rather the spirits of the giant offspring become the evil spirits or demons of the age.

The article coincides with the revised edition of Archie Wright’s book, The Origin of Evil Spirits: The Reception of Genesis 6:1-4 in Early Jewish Literature (Fortress Press, 1 April 2015). The original edition was a fine read on the subject, so I am sure the revised edition will be very good too.


h/t: Jim Davila

Enochic Giants vs. Dr Who vs. Lord of the Rings

I learnt of this from Duane Smith’s Biblical Studies Carnival no. 72, which covers the month of February 2012 (a darn good summary of worthwhile biblical studies blogging over the last month).

Gratuitous picture of Karen GIllan (Amelia Pond)
Gratuitous picture of Karen GIllan (Amelia Pond)

James McGrath (Exploring Our Matrix) compares The Doctor Who episode “The Faceless Ones” from the Patrick Troughton era to the story of the disembodied giants of the Enoch tradition:

But now the giants who are born from the (union of) the spirits and the flesh shall be called evil spirits upon the earth
– 1 Enoch 15.8

James says,

It is the revelation of the aliens’ motive, relatively late in the episode, that makes for the most interesting intersection with religion. The aliens in question are from a world that had suffered a catastrophe which had resulted in their loss of their identities – their having become disfigured and so unrecognizable. Having discovered a way to be transformed into the likeness of humans they abduct, they have come to Earth in an effort to save their race. This reminded me of the ancient Jewish stories of powerful entities, the offspring of angels and humans, having had their bodies destroyed during the Flood, so that since then they seek to possess humans of whom they are envious because they still have bodies – in other words demons.

In a response, Jim Davila (PaleoJudaica) emphasises that the similarity between the Dr Who episode and the Enochic tradition of giants-cum-demons is probably not a result of any direct influence, but of “the convergence of independent nightmare traditions”. With that proviso, Jim compares the giant-demons of the Enochic tradition to the story of Sauron in JRR Tolkien’s fiction.

A more general comparison of the Enochic tradition with Tolkien was made earlier by Helge Kvanvig in his article, “The Watcher Story and Genesis: An Intertextual Reading” Scandanavian Journal of the Old Testament 18.2 (2004), 163-183:

For six years the gigantic three parts movie The Lord of the Rings has rolled over the screens globally. The reaction to this cinematic version of Tolkien’s great work has been almost religious…. Tolkien wanted to create a new myth for his own time, and the move is certainly have been able to visualise this myth. The reception shows that our generation has been underfed on engaging mythology. We have mostly been offered superficial science fiction on the one hand, and intellectualised and moralised religion on the other.

Few know that in the Jewish and Christian tradition there exist engaging mythical stories that have been suppressed in the course of history [for] dogmatic and intellectual reasons. One of these stories is the Enochic Watcher Story…. The Watcher Story, and the subplots connected to it through the course of history, is hardly inferior to the Lord of the Rings in vivid imagery. Here we find holy angels and rebelling angels, gigantic, devouring monsters 1500 meters high, enormous battles and catastrophes, haunting ghosts of the dead, high mountains and deep abysses. At the core of the story there are irresistible beautiful women and illegal sexuality, a feature that always have made humans curious. And above all, there is a narrative centred around the combat between good and evil, evolving toward the final battle and judgment, ending in the restoration of the earth in peace and harmony.

Can’t wait for the movie. Will have to put up with the children’s Nephilim fiction and Nephilim conspiracy theorists in the meantime.