The Missing Mammal. Why This Domesticated Pet is Absent From the Bible

Introduction

The Bible contains references to dozens of animals, describing their characteristics and symbolic meanings. Lions, eagles, sheep, and fish are frequently mentioned and hold special significance. However, there is one notable domesticated animal that does not get referenced at all – the cat.

The absence of cats in the Bible raises fascinating questions. Why would such a familiar household pet not merit a single mention? What does this reveal about the cultural role of cats in ancient Biblical times? And how did cats go from being ignored in the Bible to become one of the most beloved companion animals today?

In this article, we will explore the mysterious omission of cats from the Bible. We’ll examine what other animals are included, trace the history of cat domestication, and delve into possible reasons why the cat failed to leave a mark on Biblical scripture.

Common Domesticated Animals in the Bible

The Bible frequently mentions domesticated animals that were common in Biblical times. Sheep in particular are referenced over 700 times in Scripture and were extremely valuable to the ancient Israelites (Source). Sheep provided wool, milk, and meat and were used in religious sacrifices. Goats were also important for their milk, meat, and hair. Cattle provided milk, meat, labor for plowing fields, and dung for fuel (Source).

Other domesticated livestock included camels, donkeys, and horses. Camels were used as beasts of burden while donkeys and horses provided transportation and carried goods. The Bible also mentions oxen which were cattle trained to pull plows and carts. In addition to livestock, cats and dogs appear in the Bible as domesticated pets and guard animals (Source).

Obscure Animals Referenced

The Bible contains references to some rather strange and mythical creatures. Though the common domesticated animals like sheep, goats, and cattle feature prominently, the Bible also mentions more obscure beasts. For example, the book of Job describes “behemoth” and “leviathan” – powerful creatures often interpreted as a hippopotamus and crocodile respectively or sometimes as mythical beasts (The Craziest Creatures Described In The Bible – Grunge). Other odd animals include cockatrices, which seem to be a kind of serpent or dragon, and satyrs, creatures that are half-man and half-goat (Five weird Bible animals – but did they really exist? | Christian News on Christian Today). Though we cannot confirm whether these strange creatures existed in reality, their inclusion in the biblical text reveals the cultural fascination with fantastical beasts during that time period.

The Missing Domesticated Animal

When examining the domesticated animals mentioned in the Bible, there is one notable omission. Horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats are referenced numerous times throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Even more obscure domesticated animals like the llama are mentioned in some translations. However, there is one familiar furry creature missing from the biblical menagerie – the cat.

Cats were domesticated and living alongside humans during biblical times, as evidenced by archeological digs in the Middle East. Ancient Egyptians in particular revered cats, considering them sacred animals. Yet this beloved pet is never directly referenced in the Judeo-Christian Bible. Their absence is particularly puzzling when contrasted with the many references to lions, leopards, and other big cats.

So what explains this glaring omission? Why is the cat the only domesticated animal not mentioned in the Bible? Examining the history and mythology around cats provides some intriguing theories.

Reveal: The Cat

It may come as a surprise that cats are not mentioned at all in the Bible. In fact, the domesticated cat is the only domesticated animal not referenced in the text of the Protestant Bible. Dogs, camels, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, and horses are repeatedly mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments. However, there is no explicit reference to domesticated cats.

This absence is confirmed by an examination of various lists documenting the animals included in the Bible. For example, the Wikipedia list of “Animals in the Bible” does not contain any mention of cats [1]. Likewise, a Bible study guide on Bibleresearchtoday.com highlights that cats are missing from the hundreds of animal species named in the text [2]. The evidence clearly shows that while many animals are referenced, domesticated cats are curiously absent from the Bible.

History of Cat Domestication

Cats became domesticated around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent region of the Near East, which includes modern day Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, southeastern Turkey, and western Iran (The Natural History of Domestic Cats). This was during the Neolithic period when humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer cultures to settling in agricultural communities. As rodents were attracted to early farming settlements and stored grains, cats likely began interacting with humans as they hunted the rodents. Over time, the cats that were less aggressive and more tolerant of living near humans were able to thrive and reproduce.

The earliest evidence of cat domestication comes from a 9,500 year old burial site excavated in Cyprus that contained a human skeleton with a cat laid across the person’s body (A Brief History of House Cats). This suggests cats had already begun coexisting with humans and held cultural significance at this time. Ancient Egyptian art depicting cats dates back over 4,000 years. Cats became revered in ancient Egypt, likely because they protected grain stores from vermin. The devotion ancient Egyptians showed cats indicates domestication was well established by that time.

Genetic studies show that domestic cats descended from at least five maternal lines of the Near Eastern wildcat Felis sylvestris. As cats integrated into human agricultural settlements, they underwent physical changes compared to wildcats – becoming smaller, more social, and developing more docile temperaments. Over thousands of years, cats were bred into the domesticated companions we know today.

Cultural Significance of Cats

Cats have had a close relationship with humans for thousands of years, and this is reflected in their cultural significance across many ancient civilizations. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered and associated with the goddess Bastet. Ancient Egyptians considered cats sacred animals and they were a symbol of grace and poise. Killing a cat was a crime punishable by death in ancient Egypt (Cultural depictions of cats). Egyptians mummified cats and dedicated them to Bastet. The importance of cats is evident in Egyptian art, which often depicts cats in paintings and sculptures.

In Norse mythology, the goddess Freyja had a chariot pulled by cats. Ancient Celtic cultures also revered cats and associated them with femininity. Cats were seen as mystical creatures with magical powers in many ancient cultures. Black cats in particular have an extensive folklore and mythological history of being associated with witchcraft, magic, and the supernatural across many parts of Europe (The Wild World of Cat Beliefs).

Possible Explanations

There are several theories as to why cats are not mentioned in the Bible, despite being domesticated at the time.

One possibility is that cats, being originally from Egypt, were not as common in Canaan and ancient Israel where most Biblical events took place. Cats may have still been seen as exotic or foreign animals. Dogs and livestock like sheep and goats, on the other hand, were already prevalent in the region before Biblical times.

Cats are also not as easily trained or domesticated as dogs, who could help with hunting, herding, and guarding. Perhaps cats were not considered as useful or valuable at the time. The independent nature of cats may have made them less likely to be mentioned alongside domesticated animals like donkeys or cattle.

Some scholars believe cats may have been omitted due to their association with female deities in Egyptian mythology. Ancient Israelites were strongly monotheistic and tried to distance themselves from polytheistic practices of neighboring cultures. Thus, referring to cats may have seemed inappropriate.

It’s also possible that cats are simply not mentioned due to chance, and they did not feature prominently in any of the particular stories and events recorded in the Bible. The absence of cats may not have any deeper theological or cultural significance.

Overall, historians and scholars still debate the exact reasons. But the aloofness, exotic origins, and pagan religious associations of cats may have contributed to their lack of appearances in Biblical texts.

Impact and Significance

The cat’s exclusion from the Bible is noteworthy for several reasons. First, as one of the most common domesticated animals today, the omission is glaring. Given how prevalent cats were in ancient Egyptian society, it is strange they are not mentioned in the Bible. Some scholars posit this was an intentional omission due to cats’ association with Egyptian polytheistic religious practices that were at odds with early Judaism.[1]

Additionally, the cat’s absence raises questions about why certain animals were included or excluded. According to biblical creation, God made animals for humanity’s benefit. If this is true, why exclude an animal as beneficial as the domestic cat? Perhaps there is more nuance to the relationship between humans and animals implied in the Bible. Or the omission points to incidental oversights in the human-authored text rather than divine perfection.

Regardless of the reasons, the cat’s exclusion displays the cultural biases and limitations inherent in the Bible. As with any ancient text, even divinely inspired scripture reflects the context of its time and place. The cat’s absence is a reminder to read the biblical depictions of animals in view of the cultures in which the books originated.

Ultimately, the lack of cats in the Bible does not diminish the validity of scripture or the Christian faith. But it does provide an intriguing point of dialogue about the Bible’s rendering of the natural world and relationship to its cultural context.


[1] https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/10-biblical-truths-about-animals/

Conclusion

In summary, we have learned that the cat is the only major domesticated animal not mentioned in the Bible. Despite being domesticated over 9,500 years ago, there are no direct references to cats in the Christian or Hebrew scriptures.

We reviewed the most commonly mentioned animals like lions, bears, and sheep as well as more obscure animals like the hyrax and ostrich. It seems clear the writers of the Bible were aware of many animals, wild and domesticated.

While dogs, cattle, sheep, goats, and even camels are directly referenced, the cat is a striking omission. We explored several theories as to why cats may have been left out, from their association with female deities in other cultures to Egyptian worship of cats during Biblical times.

Ultimately, the absence of cats remains a mystery. But their long history alongside humans and rich mythology across cultures cements their status as one of the most beloved companion animals today.

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