The Bible is devoid of reference to the domestic cat - photo Arpingstone (Wikimedia Commons)
Only large wildcats are referred to in the bible and even those seem to be barely mentioned. There is apparently no mention of domestic cats. On first glance this might seem strange and a lot of people speculate why. I thought I would join in!
There are words in the bible for the big cats. The lion and leopard are referred to. But no domestic cats. Apparently the dog (and I presume this to be the domestic dog) is referred to 15 times and the word “dogs” 24 times (King James version of the bible)1. As there are 774,746 words in the bible1 that is not a lot! So the dog doesn’t do that well either.
For what it is worth, in the bible, four-footed animals with paws are considered unclean animals. Unclean animals are unfit for human consumption. This includes cats and dogs2 so we cannot differentiate between them on that basis.
As far as I am aware specific animals or species of animals are not referred to in the story about Noah’s Ark. Genesis says that seven pairs of each of the clean animals and one pair of each of the unclean animals and birds and seven pairs of clean birds where shipped. That doesn’t help us figure out why there are no domestic cats in the bible.
Just to remind ourselves; it is thought that wild cats were first domesticated (by mutual arrangement) about 9,000 years ago in Cyprus. The Egyptians domesticated the African wildcat some 2,000 BC so the cat was well and truly domesticated at the time of Christ.
One major factor that I feel is relevant for not mentioning the domestic cat in the bible is because it was written a long time after the events. Exactly how long seems to be in dispute. Some experts say hundreds of years but for example the Gospel according to Luke was written it is thought by Luke. But it is also thought that he was was not an eye-witness of Jesus' ministry and that his version of events came in part from Mark. In fact there is a great deal of repetition between Mark, Luke and Mathew in the New Testament. So when Mark did not mention the domestic cat neither would Luke.
…(dates) composition of the gospel to the early 60s, while higher criticism dates it to the later decades of the 1st century3.
On my reckoning that means this gospel (as an example) was written some 60 years after Jesus’s death when he was about 30 years of age4.
To put that into perspective it is like me writing about about events in 1950 without first hand experience (The Gospel of Luke is a secondary source based on earlier accounts of the life of Jesus3). The date of this post is June 2010.
Without any clear information and on the basis that the most common sense and obvious answer is probably the correct answer it becomes reasonable to argue that the reason why the domestic cat is not mentioned is because the account is a bit like an historical novel. Under these circumstances the broader picture is discussed but not fine detail to the point where domestic cats need be mentioned. They have no significance in the stories of the bible.
The domestic dog is mentioned in the bible but that is probably because they were more “visible” or conspicuous and more directly of use (e.g. put to use as sheep dogs) in those harsher times. Also the word “dog” is used more often in a derogatory manner in common usage, which is still the case. That would result in it being used more frequently.
..When David approaches Goliath, Goliath asks "am I a dog that you're coming to with sticks?" Also, raw unclean meat is to be thrown to the dogs (is this from Exodus 23)1.
The big cats, the lion particularly, were mentioned because they were very much in evidence in the wild throughout the middle east at the time of Jesus. The lion roamed Palestine until the 16th century at which time it was extirpated. Such an imposing animal at large would demand a mention I would have thought.
The only remaining question is, is there some sinister underlying or deliberate reason why the domestic cat was omitted from the bible? I have read that the fact that the cat cleans itself all over by licking itself is considered the work of the devil or some such bizarre theory but I don’t think that that is significant.
Another theory is that the Israelites disliked the Egyptians. As we know the Egyptians supposedly revered the cat so this may have lead to the Israelites disliking the domestic cat. Personally, this does not ring true. It certainly wouldn’t be the kind of thought process that would exist today, in my opinion, and on that basis it would exist then either.
Of all the above the biggest reason why there is no mention of domestic cats in the bible is because it was written many, perhaps hundreds of years after the events and the focus of the bible is people. Animals are seen as lesser creatures…which leads me to another gripe. Without wishing to be disrespectful, people who read the bible religiously as a verbatim model upon which to live life in the modern age are deluded. The principles are sound of course but reading it as a source of accurate representation of what happened and what should happen today, is unwise.
One final point may have a bearing on this matter. The bible has been translated into thousands of languages. Perhaps the best known version in the English language is the Authorized King James Version. This is a translation from the Greek text by 49 Church of England scholars. There is considerable latitude in translations. It was commenced in 1604 and completed in 16115.
In 1611 people still believed in “witches familiars”. These were a toad, hare or cat. Of these three the cat is the most firmly associated with witchcraft, particularly the black cat. It was believed that the devil appeared to a witch in one of these animals. Witches constantly confessed to this…
Could this have had an effect on the translation of the bible and be a contributing reason as to why there is no reference to domestic cat in the bible?
P.S. The Islam faith is kinder to cats..