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Term used to denote all domestic animals, the principal possession of nomadic and pastoral peoples.
Cattle were very important in the early life of the Hebrews. The story of Abel, who was a "keeper of sheep," and offered unto the Lord "of the firstlings of his flock" (Gen. iv. 2, 4), is without doubt an indication of the conditions of early times. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob his sons were "shepherds" in all the significance of the word (Gen. xlvi. 34; xlvii. 1, 3, 4, 6); and their respective stories show the importance of cattle in their lives. Their cattle furnished them their dwelling, the tent, their clothing, and their food, the last consisting of milk, cheese, and butter, and, on great occasions, meat. They also supplied them almost exclusively with the material of the sacrifices.In Agriculture.
After having settled in the Land of Promise, the Israelites did not entirely abandon their early mode of life. Some tribes, particularly those of Reuben, Gad, and Simeon, continued in the pastoral life, in which they were encouraged by the nature of their respective territories. Others seem to have continued the rearing of cattle, along with their new agricultural occupations. Therefore the herds and flocks were a part of all blessings (Deut. viii. 13, xxviii. 4) and prophecies (Jer. xxxi. 27, xxxiii. 12, 13; Zech. ii. 4). In the ordinary usage of the language, kings were called "shepherds" (II Sam. v. 2, vii. 7; Isa. xli. 28), and the same figurative language is used to describe Providence (Ps. xxiii. 2).
The live stock of the Israelites consisted chiefly of small cattle, horned cattle, and asses. The camel and the horse were not common in Biblical times. Small cattle—i.e., sheep and goats—were the most numerous, since Palestine, like the other Mediterranean countries, was in ancient times, as in modern, well suited to the habits of these animals. They were known by the collective name
Many passages in the Scriptures enjoin on man kindness and humanity toward domestic animals. God, as Creator and Providence of all animals, gave man sway over them, delegating to him His providence, as well as His dominion. Punishing man, He strikes also the animals; making His peace with mankind, He extends the reconciliation to animals. The firstlings of the domestic animals are His, as are the first-born of Israel. Domestic animals were entitled to their rest on the Sabbath (Ex. xx. 10, xxiii. 12; Deut. v. 14), and during the Sabbatical year were allowed to wander through the fields feeding on the spontaneous products (Lev. xxv. 7; Ex. xxiii. 11). Castration was forbidden, according to Josephus ("Ant." iv. 8, § 40; probably based on Lev. xxii. 24), and, likewise, hybridization (Lev. xix. 19). To plow with an ass and an ox was not allowed, probably because of the superior strength of the ox, which was the plower par excellence (Deut. xxii. 10). The overladen ass must be relieved of part of his burden, and if he should fall under it, his master must help him up (Deut. xxii. 4). The ox treading out the corn was not to be muzzled (Deut. xxv. 4). A cow or a ewe and her young could not be killed in one day (Lev. xxii. 28). The origin of the command not to seethe a kid in its mother's milk (Ex. xxiii. 19, xxxiv. 26; Deut. xiv. 21) is uncertain. Its purpose seems to have been to deter the Israelites from a heathen custom (see Bochart, "Hierozoicon," pp. 634 et seq.; Dillmann, on Ex. xxiii. 19; Nowack, "Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie," p. 117. Maimonides, "Moreh Nebukim").Shelter at Night.
During the summer cattle were left in the open air. At night they were driven into pens or folds, for which the Bible has a great variety of names:
- Bochart, Hierozoicon;
- Nowack, Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie.