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[1] and Dan[2] were both compared to the lion. The mother of the kings of Judah was compared to a lioness and her sons to young lions.[3] David, whose "heart is as the heart of a lion"[4] declares in his lament over Saul and Jonathan that "they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions."[5]

With 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)
From the Bible it is clear that lions inhabited primarily unpopulated areas: the "Jordan thickets"[6]— where forestland that the Israelites had not cleared for farming covered both banks of the river; the mountains of Lebanon[7]; the Bashan[8]; and the desert regions of the Negev.[9] From these regions the lions penetrated the populated areas, particularly at times of drought when wild animals — their usual prey — had become scarce.

The lion is mentioned several times in the Bible together with the bear as the most powerful beasts of prey.[10]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.[11] Even "when the shepherds gather in force against him, [the lion] is not scared by their noise or cowed by their clamor..."[12] In parable, the people of Israel in times of danger are described as "scattered sheep, harried by lions";[13]a similar metaphor, as: "when a lion comes up out of the thickets of the Jordan against a secure pasture..."[14]

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…."[15]. So, too, did lions kill new settlers in the cities of Samaria, for "when they first settled there, they did not worship the Lord."[16] And, according to Jeremiah, lions claimed victims, according to Jeremiah,[17] 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,[18] David[19] and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.[20]

There 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.


[1] Gen. 49:9 [back]
[2] Deut. 33:22 [back]
[3] Ezek. 19:2-9 [back]
[4] II Sam. 17:10 [back]
[5] II Samuel. 1:23 [back]
[6] Jer. 49:19 and 50:44 [back]
[7] Song 4:8 [back]
[8] Deut. 33:22 [back]
[9] Isa. 30:6 [back]
[10] Lam. 3:10, Prov. 28:15, I Sam. 17:34-5 [back]

[11] Amos 3:12 [back]
[12] Isaiah 31:4 [back]
[13] Jeremiah 50:17 [back]
[14] Jeremiah 49:19 and 50:44 [back]
[15] I Kings 13:24 [back]
[16] II Kings 17:25 [back]
[17] Jeremiah 5:6 [back]
[18] Judges 14:6 [back]
[19] I Samuel 17:34 [back]
[20] II Sam. 23:20 [back]

Yehuda Feliks, Song of Songs: Nature, Epic and Allegory (Jerusalem: Israel Society for Biblical Research, 1983)
Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter 1971)
Nogah Hareuveni, Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage. Translated from Hebrew by: Helen Frenkley. Published by Neot Kedumim (The Biblical Land Reserve in Israel), 1991.


"Judah is a lion's whelp" Or was that Dan?
The lion in Ezekiel's vision of the divine chariot

LIONS Table of Contents




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