A small herbivorous animal (Hyrax Syriacus or Hyrax Daman) mentioned in the Bible. "Coney" is the traditional rendering of the Hebrew "shafan" (), which occurs four times in the O. T. (Lev. xi. 5; Deut. xiv. 7; Ps. civ. 18; Prov. xxx. 26). In the first two places the "shafan" is classified among the unclean animals, along with the hare, "because he cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof" (Lev. xi., R. V. 5). In the Book of Proverbs the shefannim are described as one of the "four things which are little upon the earth," but "are exceedingly wise." They "are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks" (Prov. xxx. 24, 26). The rendering "coney" is principally supported by the Jewish interpreters and lexicographers of the Middle Ages. None of the ancient versions, however, lend it support in more than one out of the four passages—for instance, the Septuagint in Psalms, and the Vulgate in Proverbs (see Bochart, "Hierozoicon," pp. 1002-1003). Besides, this interpretation is inadmissible for one if for no other reason: the "coney" is a European animal, unknown to the Israelites; and it does not live in the rocks.
Bochart, who refuted the Jewish opinion, tried to demonstrate that the shafan, which, he says, the Septuagint generally and rightly translates χοιρογύλ-, λιος, and which St. Jerome rightly identifies with the ἄρκτομυς, can not be anything else than the jerboa. His arguments are: (1) the authority of the Copto-Arabic lexicon, the "Scala Magna" of Kircher ("Lingua Ægyptiaca Restituta," p. 165); (2) the analogy between the habits of the two animals (ib. p. 1016). Since then, however, travelers who have made on the spot a thorough study of the habits of the jerboa have pronounced that identification impossible (see Bruce, "Voyage," v. 145, Paris, 1791). Shaw ("Travels," p. 386) was the first to propose to identify the shafan with an animal called "ghanam Isra'il" (Israel's lamb). This identification found a warm supporter in Bruce (l.c. p. 165), who further identifies it with the "ashoko" of the Abyssinians. The Arabs call this animal "wabr" also, which, it may be added by way of confirmation, is the word used by the Arabic versions to render "shafan" in the first two passages, Lev. xi. 5 and Deut. xiv. 7. Finally, Fresnel ("Journal Asiatique," 3d series, v. 514) says that in the Ehkili dialect (Sabean) the wabr is called "thufun," from the root "thafan," Hebr. "shafan."
The shafan, it is said, does not chew the cud. But here, as in many other cases, Scripture speaks according to appearances. Bruce, who studied carefully the habits of this animal, says that it certainly chews the cud (l.c. v. 168). "The shafan," says Shaw, "is a harmless creature of the same size and quality with the rabbit, having the like incurvating posture and disposition of the fore teeth. But it is of a browner color, with smaller eyes and a head more pointed. . . . The usual refuge of it is in the holes and clefts of the rocks" (l.c. p. 376). Like the ants they live in large numbers, and display considerable wisdom in guarding themselves against surprises from their enemies.
Their habitat extends from Abyssinia into Arabia, Palestine, and Syria. In Abyssinia both Christians and Mohammedans abstain from their flesh; but the Arabs of Arabia Petrea, and also the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon, consider it a great relish. For the place of the coney in the totemistic theories, see Totemism.