There are several names for the lion in the Old Testament (comp. Job iv. 10 et seq.): "aryeh," or "ari," which is the most general name; "labi'" and "lebiyah," for the old lion and lioness; "kefir" and "gur," for the young, strong lion and whelp respectively; while "layish" and "shaḥal" occur in more poetic diction.
The lion is one of the most frequently mentioned animals in the Bible, which would indicate its former abundance in Palestine. Its favorite haunts were the bushy environments of the Jordan (Jer. xlix. 19, l. 44; Zech. xi. 3), caves and thickets (Jer. iv. 7, xxv. 38; Ps. x. 9, xvii. 12), in general the woods (Jer. xii. 8; Amos iii. 8) and the desert (Isa. xxx. 6). Place-names which may be connected with the lion are: Arieh (II Kings xv. 25), Lebaoth and Beth-lebaoth (Josh. xv. 32, xix. 6), Chephirah (Josh. ix. 17, xviii. 28; Ezra ii. 25; Neh. vii. 29), and Laish, the original name of northern Dan (Judges xviii. 29).
Many habits of the lion are incidentally mentioned in the Old Testament. The male assists in the rearing and training of the young (Ezek. xix. 2; Nah. ii. 13); it lies in wait in secret places (Deut. xxxiii. 22; Lam, iii. 10); growls over its prey (Isa. xxxi. 4); breaks the bones of its victims (Isa. xxxviii. 13), and carries them to its lair (Gen. xlix. 9). It not only was the terror of flocks (Mic. v. 8), but also attacked men (I Kings xiii. 24, xx. 36; II Kings xvii. 25). It was, however, fought by shepherds with sling and staff (I Sam. xvii. 34; Amos iii. 12), and was sometimes killed by daring men (Judges xiv. 5; II Sam. xxiii. 20). From Ezek. xix. 4, 8 it may be inferred that the usual manner of catching the animal alive was by pit and net. The custom of Oriental kings of throwing those fallen into disgrace to lions which were kept in dens, is illustrated in Dan. vi. 8 et seq.
The lion is the emblem of strength, courage, and majesty (Prov. xxii. 13, xxvi. 13, xxx. 30). Judah is compared to a lion (Gen. xlix. 9); so also are Gad and Dan (Deut. xxxiii. 20, 23), Saul and Jonathan (II Sam. i. 23), Israel (Num. xxiii. 24, xxiv. 9), and even God Himself (Isa. xxxi. 4; Hos. v. 14, xi. 10). Similes are derived from its terrific visage (I Chron. xii. 9), and especially from its terror-inspiring roar. The latter is ascribed to enemies (Isa. v. 29; Zeph. iii. 3; Ps. xxii. 13; Prov. xxviii. 15); to false prophets (Ezek. xxii. 25); to the wrath of a king (Prov. xix. 12, xx. 2); to God (Jer. xxv. 30; Joel iv. 16; Amos i. 2, iii. 8). In the Psalter the lion is often the symbol of the cruel and oppressive, the mighty and rich (e.g., Ps. x. 9, xxxiv. 11, xxxv. 17).
As an element of decorative art the figure of the lion entered into the design of the brazen Laver in the Temple of Solomon and of Solomon's throne (I Kings vii. 29, x. 20, and parallels).
The Talmud states six names of the lion, namely: "aryeh," "kefir," "labi'," "layish," "shaḥal," and "shaḥaf" (Sanh. 95a; Ab. R. N. xxxix., end). The most general terms, however, are "are," "arya'" (B. Ḳ. 4a), and "aryeh"; for the lioness, "lebiyah" (B. Ḳ. 16b), "guryata" (Shab. 67a), and "kalba" (Yalḳ. ii. 721); and for the young lion, "gurya"(Sanh. 64a). In Ḥul. 59b an animal called "ṭigris" is defined as "the lion of Be-'Ilai" (). By "Be-'Ilai" is probably meant a mountain height or mountain forest, perhaps specially the Lebanon (comp. "bala," ib. 80a, and see Goat); and if by "ṭigris" the tiger is meant, it would appear that the Talmudical writers did not know this animal from personal observation, and it was therefore endowed by them with fabulous proportions and qualities. Thus it is said in the same passages that the distance between the lobes of its lungs was nine cubits, and that its roar at a distance of 400 parasangs brought down the walls of Rome. Kohut ("Ueber die Jüdische Angelologie und Dämonologie," etc., p. 103; comp. also idem, "Aruch Completum," iv. 15) surmises that "ṭigris" is the Persian "thrigaṭ," i.e., the mythical three-legged animal (comp. also Schorr in "He-Ḥaluẓ," vii. 32).
The lion is often enumerated among the dangerous animals (B. Ḳ. 15b and parallels). It is especially dangerous in rutting-time (Sanh. 106a). It begins to devour its prey alive (Pes. 49b), carrying part of it to the lair for the lioness and the whelps (B. Ḳ. 16b; Sanh. 90b). Sometimes, however, the lion will stay among flocks without injuring them (Ḥul. 53a); it attacks man only when driven by hunger (Yeb. 121b), and never two men when they are together (Shab. 151b). Though the lion can be tamed (Sanh. 15b; comp. the expression "ari tarbut," B. Ḳ. 16b), it is, on account of its dangerousness, kept in a cage (Shab. 106b), and when so confined is fed with the flesh of wild asses (Men. 103b). It is forbidden to sell lions to the pagans because the latter use them in their circuses ('Ab. Zarah 16a). In passing a lion's den ("gob") one should recite a benediction of thanksgiving in memory of the miracle which happened to Daniel when he was thrown into such a den (Ber. 57b). The term of gestation of the lion is three years (Bek. 8a). Its tormentor is the "mafgia'," or little Ethiopian gnat (Shab. 77b). For the medicinal use of the milk of the lioness see Yalḳ. 721.
The Talmud makes about the same figurative use of the lion as does the Old Testament. The lion is the king of animals (Ḥag. 13b) and the symbol of true mental greatness; and in this regard it is contrasted with the fox (Shab. 111b; Ab. iv. 15; Giṭ. 83b); it is the type of strength and awe (Pes. 112a; Shebu. 22b; B. Ḳ. 85a). The sound of God's voice is likened to the roaring of the lion (Ber. 3a, b). The name of the lion is applied to God, Israel, and the Temple (comp. Isa. xxix. 1: "ariel"; Pesiḳ. R. 28 [ed. Friedmann, p. 133] and parallels). The lion also symbolizes the mighty spirit of temptation and seduction to idolatry (Sanh. 64a; comp. I Peter v. 8). The Temple of Ezekiel is compared to the lion in its structure, both being broad in front and narrow behind (Mid. iv. 7). The lion is also the fifth sign ("Leo") of the zodiac, corresponding to the fifth month, Ab (Pesiḳ. R. l.c.; Yalḳ., Ex. 418).
- Tristram, Nat. Hist. p. 115;
- Lewysohn, Z. T. pp. 68 and 70.