By: Emil G. Hirsch
A term used in the English versions of the Bible interchangeably with bit to represent the three Hebrew words , and , which, however, do not as a rule denote the usual head-gear of a horse or other beast of burden, consisting of a head-stall, a bit, and reins. In many passages "halter"—i.e., a simple rope or leathern strap where-with to hold the animal in check—would seem to be the more appropriate rendering.
No description of the head-harness is found in the Hebrew Bible. As horses came into use only at a late period, and then more for purposes of luxury than utility, the pictures of steeds with elaborate head-gear found on the Assyrian monuments (see Layard, "Nineveh") can not be held to throw any light on the contrivances employed by the Hebrews, though the arrangement with bells mentioned in Zech. xiv. 20 was in all probability adopted in imitation of Assyrian fashion. The ox, the ass, as well as the mule, and to a less extent the camel, took the place of the horse. To guide and control the first-mentioned animal the goad sufficed; and, if Arabic custom may be supposed to retain the primitive habits of the ancient Hebrews, the camel was led by a rope attached to a ring of either copper ("burrah"), or hair ("ḥizamah"), which was passed through one of the nostrils.
Still, bridles were not altogether unknown, as distinct names for them were employed according as they were used for the horse or the camel. These bridles were very simple affairs, often made of mere twine; while the bits were, at least in pre-Mohammedan days, of wood ("sajarah"). Even among the modern Arabs the iron bit passes underneath the chin (jaws) of the horse, or is in front of the mouth (see Socin, "Diwan aus Central-Arabien," i. 288). This arrangement explains some passages in which the usual translation by "bridle" has produced confusion. Job xxx. 11, R. V., "they have cast off the bridle," refers to the slipping of the halter. Isa. xxx. 28, "bridle in the jaws" should be rendered "halter (or bridle with iron) on the jaws." A bridle with a ring arrangement through the nose is meant in II Kings xix. 28 by the Hebrew word ("in thy nose"), to which ("over thy lips") is a parallel. See also Prov. xxvi. 3; Isa. xxxvii. 29, A. V.; Ps. xxxii. 9, R. V., "bit and bridle"; more accurately, "bridle and halter."
In Ps. xxxix. 2 (A. V., 1) is properly translated in the Revised Version by "muzzle." The allusion there is to the use of a basket-like network which was passed over the head of the animal and fastened behind the ears and around the neck; enveloping the mouth as with a bag, to prevent the bearer biting the yoke-mate or other animals in the caravan. In the psalm it is the tongue which thereby is hindered from "biting." As this "muzzle" also interfered with the taking of food, the humane law of Deut. xxv. 4 forbade its being put over the mouth of the ox while on the threshing-floor.