Animais que aparecem nos evangelhos sinóticos

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Isso sempre me interessou. E, dia sim, dia não, estou azucrinando meus alunos com esta questão que sempre volta: a atuação de Jesus se dá, segundo o Novo Testamento, em um mundo rural, em ambiente bem diferente de nossas metrópoles. Pois – como naquela velha piada do garotinho paulistano, que, chegando pela primeira vez a um sítio, grita deslumbrado: “mãe, uma Knorr” ao ver uma galinha – corremos o risco de nada entender do que é ser pastor, do comportamento de um rebanho, de leões e outros animais selvagens que estão sempre rondando, do perigo e medo associado às trevas e da alegria que representa a luz, do valor do orvalho em terra árida, do bem que significa ter água corrente, da chuva que cai torrencialmente e muitas coisas mais…

Pois aproveite e aumente seu conhecimento sobre os animais que aparecem em parte da Bíblia, no caso, nos evangelhos sinóticos, lendo o post deste físico que também conhece Bíblia: Animals in the Synoptics.

O blog Davide’s Notes é escrito por Davide Salomoni, italiano de Urbino, físico de profissão, que trabalha no Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare em Bologna, Itália, e é também um estudante de “Divinity” da Universidade de Londres.


Animals in the Synoptics – October 02, 2006

This post started out of a bunch of simple questions I recently asked myself: which animals were familiar to the audience of the Gospels? What were their main metaphorical overtones? Did different Gospel authors choose to use different terms? Are there words peculiar to a given evangelist? Are there theological reasons for this? Geographical reasons? Reasons related to the expected audience of the text? To literary/source criticism?

As is often the case, the questions turned out to be not that simple, but gave me the opportunity to spend some good time with the texts in the original languages and with zoology, eventually providing some interesting insights (to me, at least). I decided to limit myself to the Synoptics. Be warned that there are no definite answers in this post, just notes.

When considering zoological terms, it is clear that many times we miss a familiarity with animals that was common in biblical times (and in biblical locations). This means that it is sometimes difficult for us to clearly understand even simple figurative meanings. A plain example is the sheep: to people used to tender flocks, or in general to observe sheeps around them, it is fairly natural that this animal might represent the tendency to get lost, to wander around, being exposed to all sorts of dangers. Take Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The similitude was vivid and obvious to the ancient Israelite, perhaps it is not anymore to our modern eyes.

Here’s a summary of animals explicitly mentioned in the Synoptics (you can find a table with all the occurences I found in the Greek text toward the bottom of this post):

. Mark: camel, locust, dove/pigeon, wild animal, flying animal (bird), swine, sheep, fish, small fish, little dog, worm, young ass (colt), cock, snake.
. Matthew: camel, locust, viper, dove/pigeon, flying animal (bird), dog, little dog, swine, fish, small fish, snake, sheep, wolf, fox, sparrow, big fish/whale, ass, young ass (colt), bull/ox (ταῦρος), fatted animal, mosquito/gnat, hen, birdling, eagle/vulture, young goat, cock.
. Luke: turtle-dove, dove/pigeon, viper, fish, flying animal (bird), swine, fox, lamb, wolf, beast of burden, snake, egg, scorpion, sparrow, raven, ox/cow (βοῦς), ass, hen, birdling, sheep, calf, young goat, eagle/vulture, camel, young ass (colt), cock.

There are some word changes for animals in parallel passages; to identify the passages, I shall use the Latin headings found in Aland, Synopsis Quattor Evangeliorum. I sometimes took the analysis of these loci as an opportunity to try and validate the hypotesis that Mark wrote first, followed by Matthew (who had access to Mark), followed by Luke (who had access to both Mark and Matthew) – specifically not positing the existence of Q. (Without excluding the possibility that other sources were available to the evangelists.) Again, I won’t provide definite answers here, since these, if at all possible, certainly require more serious work than these notes.

In the “tentatio” passage (Mt 4:1-11 // Mk 1:12-13 // Lk 4:1-13), Mark has the detail, not present in parallel accounts, that Jesus ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων. Gundry suggests that one thing that is often overlooked is that Jesus was with the beasts (not the reverse), to indicate that while he stayed with them for the whole forty days, no harm came from them. Perhaps – and I know this is an unsubstantiated link, although maybe still a possibility – one could remember that in Himerius, Or. 39 we find that “Orpheus in the Thracian mountains, where he has no one to listen to him, θεριον την εκκλησιαν εργαζεται = forms a community for himself from the wild animals.” (quotation from the BDAG) At any rate, an interesting question is, why did Matthew and Luke leave out the “wild animals”, and supplied instead a more comprehensive account of the temptations? Certainly, Mk 1:12-13 is lacking in narrative (for example, in these verses we are not told the nature of Satan’s temptations, whether Jesus actually overcame them, and how), and Mt and Lk prefer to concentrate on the dialogue between Jesus and Satan, to show Jesus’ power over the tempter; in this sense, the detail about the “wild animals” was probably seen as unnecessary, and perhaps stressing a bit too much the permanence of Jesus among unclean creatures.
In the “petitio efficax” passage (Mt 7:7-11 // Lk 11:9-13), Luke adds the sentence ἢ καὶ αἰτήσει ᾠόν, ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ σκορπίον, not present in Matthew. The New Bible Dictionary suggests that the association between egg and scorpion may be due to the fact that “the main segment of some scorpions is fat and almost egg-shaped.” (in the same passage, fish and snake could be associated because some fish may look like snakes.) Scorpions were much feared because of their painful (although not necessarily fatal) sting – cf. Rev 9:5, καὶ ὁ βασανισμὸς αὐτῶν ὡς βασανισμὸς σκορπίου, ὅταν παίσῃ ἄνθρωπον.

In the “ne solliciti sitis” passage (Mt 6:25-34 // Lk 12:22-32), Matthew has “Look at the birds of the air” (ἐμβλέψατε εἰς τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), while Luke has “Consider the ravens” (κατανοήσατε τοὺς κόρακας). While “birds of the air” is an idiomatic expression to mean flying animals in general, ravens are specifically voracious and unclean birds (they are scavengers like the vulture); the use of the verb κατανοεω in Luke may point to the fact that he wants the reader to attentively consider how even these despised birds are fed by God. In this sense, Luke corrects Matthew with a more precise determination of the meaning of the sentence. An interesting feature of this verse in Luke, which perhaps also refers to the fact that he corrected Matthew, is that while Matthew speaks only of birds with a generic term (πετεινον), in Luke we do find the ravens in 12:24a, but then 12:24b has πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὑμεῖς διαφέρετε τῶν πετεινῶν, i.e. perhaps Luke changed Matthew’s birds into ravens, but then left traces of the original text in the last part of the verse using the Matthean generic term for “birds” there (for consistency, one may have expected to find ravens in 12:24b too).

In the “missio discipulorum” passage (specifically Mt 10:16 // Lk 9:3), Luke has “I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves” (ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς ἄρνας ἐν μέσῳ λύκων), while Matthew has “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς πρόβατα ἐν μέσῳ λύκων). Why this difference, i.e. ἀρήν vs. πρόβατον? The contrast between lamb and wolf is a well-attested one, cf. Is 65:25, “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together” (LXX: τότε λύκοι καὶ ἄρνες βοσκηθήσονται ἅμα) or even Homer, Iliad 22,263. Luke’s choice could refer to the Isaian passage above or to sacrificial offering, cf. e.g. Is 1:11, “I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (LXX: στέαρ ἀρνῶν καὶ αἷμα ταύρων καὶ τράγων οὐ βούλομαι). There is also a possible reference to the Paschal lamb (a theme much more developed in John and Revelation, though). In the same verse, Matthew also has “so be wise as serpents and innocent [or harmless, simple] as doves” (γίνεσθε οὖν φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις καὶ ἀκέραιοι ὡς αἱ περιστεραί), absent in Luke. Did Luke amend Matthew to refer to Isaiah using ἀρήν (a word found only here in the entire NT) instead of πρόβατον? Note that the contrast between sheep and wolf is also attested (e.g. John 10:12, ὁ μισθωτὸς […] θεωρεῖ τὸν λύκον ἐρχόμενον καὶ ἀφίησιν τὰ πρόβατα…), and the LXX has “sheep” (for the Heb. שׂה, a word with a wide semantic latitude, i.e. sheep, lamb, goat, young sheep, young goat [BDB]) in Gen 22:8, Isaac’s sacrifice: Ὁ θεὸς ὄψεται ἑαυτῷ πρόβατον εἰς ὁλοκάρπωσιν, τέκνον, a verse perhaps providing a possible connection between the full Matthean passage and the ἀκέραιος (simplicity/innocence) of the diad sheep/child. If Luke did change Matthew, perhaps he also removed Mt 10:16b not seeing it as a meaningful addition to the flow of the sentence, while Matthew would have suggested the antiparallels sheep/wolf and serpent/dove to better convey, on the one hand, the contrast between innocent and ravenous conduct; and to underline, on the other hand, the radical changes required for discipleship (while the first diad is negative, the second is positive). Note that Matthew 10:16b is attested in Ignatius ad Polyc. 2:2, Φρονιμος γινου ως οφις εν απασιν, και ακεραιος εις αει ως η περιστερα, and in POxy 655 col. ii, 11-23, […] γει[νεσθε φρονι]μοι ω[ς οφεις και α]κεραι[οι ως περιστε]ρα[ι], cf. Evang. Thomae copt., Logion 39, “you, however, be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.”
In the “qui me confitetur” passage (Mt 10:26-33 // Lk 12:2-9), the zoological term used by Matthew and Luke (στρουθίον, sparrow) is the same. There is a difference in counting, though: Mt 10:29 has “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?”, while Lk 12:6 has “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?” It is possible that Matthew has a reference here to the two small birds mentioned in the cerimonial of purification from leprosy of Lev 14:49ff – and it is possible that Luke wants to show that, if with one ἀσσάριον (rendered “penny”), a very small coin (the tenth part of a drachma), one can buy two sparrows, with two pennies one can buy not four (2 x 2), but five of them – to stress how little value these birds had: and still, ἓν ἐξ αὐτῶν οὐκ ἔστιν ἐπιλελησμένον ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.

In the “ingressus triumphalis in Jerusalem” passage (Mt 21:1-9 // Mk 11:1-10 // Lk 19:28-40), Mark and Luke use only πῶλος (young ass/colt), while Matthew uses both πῶλος and ὄνος (ass). Why did Matthew add ὄνος? Note that Mark and Luke agree verbatim also in the detail – not present in Matthew – that εὑρήσετε πῶλον δεδεμένον ἐφ’ ὃν οὐδεὶς οὔπω ἀνθρώπων ἐκάθισεν. Matthew here apparently wants to remind the reader of Zec 9:9, (“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”), and that’s possibly the reason why he added the reference to the ὄνος. One cultural bias we may have at this point is that it may seem strange to us that Jesus rode an ass, rather than a horse. But horses were associated with power and wars (cf. Rev 6:2; 19:11,14), and asses with peaceful occasions, as Zec 9:9 shows fairly well. In summary, while Luke might have decided to stick to the Markan text, Matthew seems to have amended it, removing the remark that that was a colt “on which no one has ever yet sat”, and adding the reference to the ὄνος, and the typically Matthean explanatory text in 21:4f. (Τοῦτο δὲ γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, etc.)

In the “Jesus in Jerusalem templum purgat” passage (Mt 21:10-17 // Mk 11:15-17 // Lk 19:45-46), Matthew and Mark say that Jesus “overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” (Luke omits this part.) Pigeon here is περιστερά, a word which apparently can mean both pigeon and dove, and actually several translations (see later) have “those who sold doves” rather than “pigeons”.
First of all, let me make a few general comments about the dove. The dove is known to us – to be sure – as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, but its symbolic meaning probably originates in the Ancient Near East with a link between divinity and love; for example, in the episode of the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (“like a dove”, ὡς περιστερὰν), Mark 1:11 has Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα. In this drawing (taken from the Anchor Bible), after an old Syrian cylinder seal impression, one can see “the goddess of love [who] apparently bares herself in front of the storm-god, who strides over the mountains. A dove, which flies from her toward him, symbolizes her love for him and her readiness to make love.” (AB) In early Christianity, it is common to find the dove in connection with the idea of peace, like for example in this titulus found in a Roman catacomb. (note also the orante and the olive branch.)
Now, back to the text of Mt 21:12 and Mk 11:15, it is interesting to note that the ESV translates the same word περιστερά as “dove” in Mark 1:10, but as “pigeon” in Mark 11:15. The latter incident refers to the prescriptions of Lev 12:6,8, i.e. instructions on the purification of a woman who has conceived a male child; in particular, she is to offer a lamb, but (v.8) “if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” This is the ESV translation, which has “pigeon” for both Lev 12:8 and Mk 11:15, and this seems correct at least from the standpoint of consistency, since Mk 11:15 refers to the customs explained in Lev 12. Other translations, like the KJV, WEB, NRSV, do not show consistency of terms between Lev 12:8 and Mark 11:15: they all translate יונה in Lev 12:8 as “pigeon” but περιστερά in Mark 11:15 as “dove”. The NIV, on the other hand, has “two doves or two young pigeons”, thus rendering תּר as “dove” instead of turtledove (why?). A consistent translation is the Vulgate, but using the word “dove” rather than “pigeon”: “duos turtures vel duos pullos columbae” in Lev 12:8 and “cathedras vendentium columbas evertit” in Mark 11:15. I find a bit difficult to imagine how “pigeon” can be the right translation in passages like Lev 12:8, since for example Lev 1:14 clarifies that the only bird fit for sacrifice are the turtledove and יונה, and I (but perhaps that’s a cultural bias) would not easily associate pigeons with purity, given their familiarity with waste and given the fact they can easily carry diseases — doves would seem a more appropriate match. As a matter of fact, the New Bible Dictionary suggests that יונה is the “rock dove (Columba livia), which was domesticated in antiquity and has been used widely as a source of food and for message-carrying.” On the other hand, the BDAG points out that the difference between pigeon and dove “cannot be precisely determined from usage in our texts.”
Anyway, what could have happened here is that Mark had the harshest account: Jesus overturned tables, “and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple”, Mk 11:16 (καὶ οὐκ ἤφιεν ἵνα τις διενέγκῃ σκεῦος διὰ τοῦ ἱεροῦ); Matthew retained the account of the overturning of tables and seats, perhaps assuming the practice was meaningful to his readers (Lev 12:6 etc), but removed the harsh detail of Mk 11:16 that Jesus would block people from bringing anything into the temple; finally, Luke further domesticated the account, retaining only the information that Jesus “began to drive out those who sold”, Lk 19:45 (ἤρξατο ἐκβάλλειν τοὺς πωλοῦντας, compare ἤρξατο ἐκβάλλειν here with the stronger Matthean ἐξέβαλεν), and connecting back to the original (Markan?) source at verse 46, quoting Isaiah 56:7, together with Mark 11:17 and Matthew 21:13.

In the “pseudochristi et pseudoprophetae” passage (Mt 24:23-28 // Lk 17:23-24,37b) we find the word ἀετός, which is normally “eagle”. But in both passages there is apparently some confusion between eagle and vulture; in fact, ad sensum in both Mt 24:28 and Lk 17:37 ἀετός should be translated vulture, rather than eagle. It is interesting that in Hebrew too one word (נשׁר) seems to cover both meanings, perhaps due to the difficulty of identifying who’s who from a distance. Mic 1:16 has “make yourselves as bald as the eagle” (“eagle” is in ESV, NASB, KJV, RSV, NRSV, Vulgate), but eagles have their head covered with feathers, so this may be the griffon vulture, and a proper translation could then be “as bald as the vulture” (“vulture” is in NIV, WEB).

In the “negationem Petri praedicit” passage (Mt 26:30-35 // Mk 14:26-31 // Lk 22:31-34) only Mark has the detail “before the rooster crows twice”, πρὶν ἢ δὶς ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι. (δις is also not in the parallel Jn 13:36-38.) On the other hand, δις is found in the fragment from Fayyum, [πρι]ν αλεκτρυων δις κοκ[κυσει], but then it is fairly difficult to say whether the manuscript the fragment comes from is an abridgement of the Synoptic accounts, or rather a source upon which the Synoptics (notably Mark here) were based – in New Testament Apocrypha, Schneemelcher writes that “a secondary, indeed an abridged, rendering of the synoptic material has to be assumed, and the text must be considered an excerpt or fragment of a gospel hitherto unknown to us. The brevity of the fragment forbids sure statements of any kind: the completions also remain questionable.” (see

Here are some further notes about animals occurring elsewhere in the Synoptics:

To make sense of passages like Mark 5:11 and parallels, where the word χοῖρος (swine) occurs, it is well to remember the purity prescriptions surrounding the swine; indeed the herds of swines mentioned in the Gospels were kept by Gentiles (Mk 5:1, Καὶ ἦλθον εἰς τὸ πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης εἰς τὴν χώραν τῶν Γερασηνῶν), not by Jews. (We can then also understand the command not to throw pearls before swines.) The OT reference here is apparently to Isaiah 65:1-4, speaking of “a nation that was not called by my name”, where there are people who, among other despicable things, “sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places [cf. Mk 5:2]; who eat pig’s flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels [hence the herds of swines]”.

Sometimes we have troubles even figuring out what an animal mentioned in the Bible looks like, if we are unfamiliar with it or with the zoological terms used to identify it. Now, for what regards dogs (κύων), we probably have no such problems; but, given our sensitivities of modern westerners, we may have difficulties understanding how dogs could be seen with contempt and disgust in the biblical world. If you visit cities and towns in the Near East, you will soon find out how many straw, filthy and sick dogs may be there, looking for food among waste, etc. What can be interesting is that the dog (κύων) of Mt 7:6 (Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν) may be different from the little dog (κυνάριον) mentioned in the incident of the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mt 15:26f, where we might have a reference to a pet dog similar to ours, as suggested by Mt 15:27, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν.

The term κῆτος (whale / big fish) is only used in Mt 12:40; it is difficult to precisely understand what type of animal was meant here. Homer and Herodotus use κῆτος for a wide range of sea animals. κῆτος is used in the passage Matthew is directly referring to, i.e. Jonah 2:1, καὶ προσηύξατο Ιωνας πρὸς κύριον τὸν θεὸν αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῆς κοιλίας τοῦ κήτους (LXX).

As for gnats (κώνωψ), the passage in Mt 23:24 only makes sense if one remembers how numerous these tiny insects may be (especially in hot climates), and that – given their impurity, cf. Lev 11:20 – a pharisaic practice was to drink water through a straining cloth (a filter), to avoid swallowing the insects. So, the Pharisees are guilty of filtering the smallest insects, but then τὴν δὲ κάμηλον καταπίνοντες, i.e. gulping the camel, the biggest known animal, which was also unclean (Lev 11:4).

There are two related terms that are sometimes both translated as “ox”, i.e. ταῦρος (Mt 22:4) and βοῦς (Lk 13:15). The BDAG states that βοῦς may mean both ox (when masculine) and cow (when feminine), in which case indeed Lk 13:15 should be “ox”. For what regards oxen and specifically ταῦροι, they were apparently widely used as sacrificial animals, as in Mt 22:4, but also in Acts 14:13 (in a pagan context) and Heb 9:13; 10:4 (in a Jewish context).

Finally, in the following table you can find the explicit occurences of animals I noted in the Synoptics (NA26/27).

E continua…

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2 comentários em “Animais que aparecem nos evangelhos sinóticos”

  1. Ayrton,

    thanks for your kind words. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons why I decided to write that post was exactly something you mention in yours, i.e. the impression I have that several of us “modern” human beings are completely at a loss when confronted with words like “chicken”, “shepherd”, etc. — because we never see (or have never seen) one.

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