That the lion
roamed the region of Palestine in biblical times is evident by the frequent
references to it more than 150, many of them descriptive,
metaphoric, and allegorical. The tribes of Judah
were both compared to the lion. The
mother of the kings of Judah was compared to a lioness and her sons to young
David, whose "heart is as the heart of a lion"
declares in his lament over Saul and Jonathan that "they were swifter than
eagles, they were stronger than lions."
From the Bible it is clear
that lions inhabited primarily unpopulated areas: the "Jordan thickets"
where forestland that the Israelites had not cleared for farming covered both
banks of the river; the mountains of Lebanon;
and the desert regions of the Negev.
From these regions the lions penetrated the populated areas, particularly at times
of drought when wild animals their usual prey
had become scarce.
me from Lebanon, my bride
With me come from Lebanon.
You shall look from the top of Amana
From the top of Senir and Hermon
From the lions dens
From the mountains of the leopards
(Song of Songs 4:8)
The lion is mentioned several
times in the Bible together with the bear as the most powerful beasts of prey.Several
biblical accounts describe the challenge these lions and bears posed to the
shepherd, as they emerged to hunt among the grazing flocks. There was no escaping
the lion when it attacked its prey; a shepherd could rescue no more than "two
legs or a piece of ear" from its jaws.
Even "when the shepherds gather in force against him, [the lion] is not
scared by their noise or cowed by their clamor..."
In parable, the people of Israel in times of danger are described as "scattered
sheep, harried by lions";a
similar metaphor, as: "when a lion comes up out of the thickets of the
Jordan against a secure pasture..."
Lions, however, were a danger
not only to sheep. An encounter between a man and a lion was usually fatal,
and it was generally perceived that this was God's punishment for having flouted
His word: "That is the man of God who flouted the Lord's command; the Lord
gave him over the lion which mauled him and killed him
So, too, did lions kill new settlers in the cities of Samaria, for "when
they first settled there, they did not worship the Lord."
And, according to Jeremiah, lions claimed victims, according to Jeremiah,
in the land of Judah.
Only in exceptional (and
legendary) instances was a lion slain in a clash with a man, and these when
the encounter was with a man of great personal courage: Samson,
and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.
are evidences that there were lions in the country in mishnaic and talmudic
and even in crusader times (in the Negev). The last lions in the Middle
East were destroyed in the 19th century.
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