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LIONS AND THE BIBLE

Anonymous

(Investigator 87, 2002 November)

 

DISAGREEMENT

The Bible refers to lions about 150 times. Lions existed in Europe until about 100 CE and in Palestine until about 1400 CE.

Until the 1970s naturalists believed that lions killed their prey by biting through the neck or by breaking the neck with a swat of a paw. C B Rutley, an authority on lions, wrote: "…it kills it by biting at its throat or at the back of its neck." (1967)

George B Schaller (1972) summarized the pervading 20th-century view:

 
There are many opinions about the way in which lions kill their prey. "Lions generally kill by seizing the animal by the nose with one paw, dragging the head down and biting through the back of the neck" (Brocklehurst, 1931). Or the lion seizes the nose of the quarry and "pulls the head sideways and downward with such force as almost invariably to break the neck at once, or else gives the beast a tremendous bite at the back of the head" (Tjader, 1911). Percival (1924) found that kills usually showed "a bite in the neck, usually at the back, but sometimes also in the throat." Guggisberg (1961) noted that "small animals are knocked over with a quick blow of the paw, and finished off with a bite in the neck or throat," and that large ones are often killed by pushing the nose down with a paw so that "in falling forward the animal breaks its neck." According to Eloff (1964), lions in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park kill a gemsbok by biting it in "the haunches and with a jerking motion upwards" breaking its back.


The 20th-century observers probably had modern equipment such as binoculars, vehicles and cameras. If an ancient writer contradicted them we'd, therefore, expect him to be the one who's wrong. Observation is hindered by undergrowth, the presence of other lions, the speed of the chase and, often, by dust. (Carr 1965 pp. 61-62)

Schaller observed lions for 2,900 hours spread over three years. (Rensberger 1977)  He also examined corpses of their prey to determine how they died.


THE LION STRANGLED

The Bible says:

The lion...strangled prey for his lionesses. (Nahum 2:12)


The lion strangled? Most Bible translations that I checked, especially the literal translations, had "strangled". Some had "tore up" or "killed". The Hebrew for "tore up" is "taraph" and for "strangle", "choke" or "suffocate" it is "chanaq". (Young 1939)

The quote from Nahum 2:12 has "chanaq" in the Hebrew. This word also occurs in 2 Samuel 17:23 to describe a man's suicide:

When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed…he set his house in order, and hanged himself; and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.


It seems, then, that some Bible translators found Nahum 2:12 so implausible that they decided to mistranslate it!

Schaller observed:

They [lions] creep up, rush the prey, hook a flank to bring it down, then slowly kill by strangulation. (Reader's Digest, June, 1978)


Schaller found no evidence of broken necks in the prey. Small prey is often eaten alive. Large prey such as pig, zebra and warthog are strangled by the lion clenching his teeth over the throat or nose. Death takes five or ten minutes.

Rudnai (1973) similarly observed:

Strangulation is induced by holding on to the throat and suffocation by clamping down on the muzzle covering and closing the nostrils and the mouth.


Norman Carr (1965), warden of the largest national park in Africa, recognized the truth even before Schaller, "Finally, death comes from strangulation rather than any deft fatal blow to a vital part of the body…" (p. 127)


HUNTING

Schaller found that lionesses do 90% of the hunting and lions (males) only 10%. Furthermore the female leads the cubs to the freshly killed animal. (Rudnai 1973) This seems inconsistent with the Bible:

The lion tore enough for his whelps. (Nahum 2:12)


It's possible that Palestinian lions exhibited more varied behavior than African lions which Schaller and Rudnai studied. Alternatively Nahum 2:12 may refer to the 10% of hunting. After the male kills and has eaten, the female and cubs eat what's left.

Popular jungle movies often show lions on the prowl in daylight. The Bible contradicts this image and says that lions hunt at night and lie in their dens by day. (Psalm 104:20-22) Carr writes: "The great majority of kills occur at night." (p. 77) Schaller confirms that lions lie down 20 hours each day and prowl mainly at night.
 
 

LIONS AT PEACE

In picturing future world peace the prophet Isaiah wrote:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together. (11:6-7)


Lions raised among humans often remain tame enough as adults to stay among humans. Author Tippi Hendron lived with "20 big cats" in a canyon north of Los Angeles. (Hendren 1986) Norman Carr raised two lions which, "came bounding up to their master’s whistle and rubbed their mighty heads against him, at the same time thundering out their happy but terrifying greeting." (Carr 1965 p. 6)

Would a lion necessarily kill a lamb in its company? Note that lions learn to catch and kill:

…he learned to catch prey. (Ezekiel 19:3, 6)


Carr says:

Most people who bring up lions in captivity are careful to cut up the meat in order that the lions will not associate live animals with their food, thus deliberately inhibiting the instinct to kill for food. (p. 107)


Schaller (p. 263) writes:

LEARNING To HUNT
However, young lions have the opportunity to learn stalking techniques and killing methods by observing adults. They trail along on hunts when only a few months old, and on one occasion, when a lioness captured a zebra in a streambed, 13 cubs lined up along the bank and watched her strangle it. That house cats are able to learn a task rapidly by observing another animal perform it has been repeatedly shown in laboratory experiments (Adler, 1955; John et al., 1968). Thus cubs may have learned the hunting techniques before they have had much experience. Errors in the actual performance are not critical to the survival of cubs, for their association with adults continues until they are at least 2½ years old, longer than for any other cat. The role of the lioness is largely one of providing "the correct situation for evoking the developing repertoire of responses of the young who are thus enabled to educate themselves" (Ewer, 1969).


If the catching and killing of prey is "learned" could lions learn the alternative behavior of living peacefully with their former prey? The magazine Star Enquirer (1984) described a 1,000-hectare estate in central France where, "Lions, pumas and tigers live peacefully with gazelles, zebras, and antelopes."

Similar events are staged at the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem. The book The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (c. 1980) – although not specifically mentioning lions – says:

In order to stage this most important of prophecies, the Biblical Zoo has put panthers and goats together with wolf-cubs and lambs in an enclosure among the rocks. While panthers and wolves are still young, they can safely be left with goats and lambs. As soon as their instincts come to the fore, at about the age of eight months, they must be removed to their own enclosures…

These animals are under supervision. Before they are placed on display, they are kept separately and well fed so that, when they do meet, they are not hungry. Zoological experience has shown that young carnivores which have not yet killed or hunted do not attack their cage companions unless they are ravenously hungry. As they get older, they are replaced in the same way that the lambs and goats are removed as they mature since they are also quite capable of attacking the other animals. (p. 70)
 

In the above examples the tame lions were fed meat of animals killed by humans. In describing future paradise Isaiah writes:

…the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 65:25)


Lions sometimes eat grass. Carr says:

I am sure it is also the desire to make up a dietary deficiency which sometimes makes lions eat quantities of fresh grass. I have noticed that the habit is more prevalent in mine when they are hungry or out of condition. This habit is also quite common with wild lions… (p. 108)


For lions to subsist entirely on vegetation would require different digestive apparatus. This might one day become feasible by genetic engineering. However, it's probable that Isaiah merely mentioned the less common part of the lion’s diet the "straw" or grass because of its association with tameness and peace. In other words Isaiah's prophecy would be fulfilled if future lions were tame, ate animal meat supplied by humans, and supplemented their diet with straw/grass/vegetation.
 
 

CONCLUSION

Nowadays wildlife documentaries often show lions closing their jaws over the prey’s windpipe or nose and killing by throttling/strangling. Until the 1970s naturalists did not know this – they got it wrong. The Bible, however, got it right even though its writers lacked modern research methods.

For years I've demonstrated in Investigator that the Bible got numerous scientific points correct thousands of years before science did. What does this prove? Perhaps the following:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God...his understanding is unsearchable. (Isaiah 40:28)
 

References:

Carr, N. 1965. Return to the Wild. Fontana Books. Britain.
Hedren, T. & Taylor, T. Life with the Big Cats. New Idea, 18 October, 1986, pp. 38-43.
Reader's Digest, June, 1978, pp 54-57.
Rensberger, B. 1977. The Cult of the Wild. Anchor Press. USA.
Rudnai, J.A. 1973. The Social Life of the Lion. Washington Square East Publishers. USA.
Rutley, C.B. 1967. In, "Childrens' Encyclopedia of Knowledge Book of Wildlife". Collins. Britain. p. 43.
Schaller, G.B. 1972. The Serengeti Lion. University of Chicago Press. USA.
Star Enquirer, February 29, 1984. pp. 32-34.
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. c.1980. Published by Friends of the Swiss Youth Village of Kiryat Yearim. Israel.
Young, R. 1939. Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible. Eighth Edition, Revised. Lutterworth Press. London.


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