The hunting of wild animals for sport, or for the defense of men and flocks, or for food, was common in Western Asia and Egypt, especially in early times. Some of the Egyptian and Assyrian kings were great hunters in the first sense, for example Amenhotep III (1411-1375 BC "a lion-hunting and bull-baiting Pharaoh," who boasted of having slain 76 bulls in the course of one expedition, and of having killed at one time or other 102 lions; and the Assyrian conqueror, Tiglath-pileser I (circa 1100 BC), who claimed 4 wild bulls, 14 elephants and 920 lions as the trophies of his skill and courage.
1. Nimrod and His Like:
The Biblical prototype of these heroes of war and the chase is Nimrod, "a mighty hunter before Yahweh" (Genesis 10:9), that is perhaps "a hunter who had no equal," a figure not yet clearly identifiable with any historical or mythical character in the Assyro-Bab monuments, but possibly the Gilgamesh of the great epic, who may be the hero represented on seals and reliefs as victorious over the lion (Skinner, "Gen," ICC, 208). We are reminded also of Samson's exploit at Timnah (Judges 14:5), but this, like David's encounter with the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34) and Benaiah's struggle with a lion in a pit on a snowy day (2 Samuel 23:20), was an occasional incident and scarcely comes under the category of hunting. There is no evidence that hunting for sport was ever practiced by the kings of Judah and Israel. Not until the time of Herod the Great, who had a hunting establishment and was a great hunter of boars, stags, and wild asses (Josephus, BJ, I, xxi, 13), mastering as many as 40 beasts in one day, do we find a ruler of Palestine indulging in this pastime.
2. Hunting in the Old Testament:
Hunting, however, for the two other purposes mentioned above was probably as frequent among the Israelites, even after they had ceased to be nomads, as among their neighbors. We know indeed of only two personal examples, both in the patriarchal period and both outside the direct line of Israelite descent:
Esau (Genesis 25:27) and Ishmael (Genesis 21:20); but there are several references and many figurative allusions to the pursuit and its methods and instruments. Hunting (inclusive of following) is mentioned in the Pentateuch in the regulation about pouring out the blood and covering it with dust (Leviticus 17:13); and there is a general reference in the proverb (Proverbs 12:27): "The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting." The hunting of the lion is assumed in Ezekiel's allegory of the lioness and her two whelps (Ezekiel 19:1-9; compare Job 10:16); of the antelope or oryx (Deuteronomy 14:5; Isaiah 51:20); of the roe (Proverbs 6:5); of the partridge in the mountains (1 Samuel 26:20), and of birds in general in many passages. Hunting is probably implied in the statement about the provision of harts, gazelles and roebucks for Solomon's kitchen (1 Kings 4:23), and to some extent in the reference to the den of lions in Babylon (Daniel 6:7).
3. Methods of Hunters:
The weapons most frequently employed by hunters seem to have been bows and arrows. Isaac (Genesis 27:3) commands Esau to take his bow and quiver and procure him venison or game (compare also Isaiah 7:24; Job 41:28). This method is amply illustrated by the monuments. Ashur-nazir-pal lII (885-860 BC) and Darius (circa 500 BC), for example, are depicted shooting at lions from the chariot. Use was also made of the sword, the spear, the dart or javelin, the sling and the club (Job 41:26,28, where the application of these weapons to hunting is implied). The larger animals were sometimes caught in a pit. The classical reference is in Ezekiel's allegory, "He was taken in their pit" (shachath, Ezekiel 19:4,8; compare also Isaiah 24:17; Jeremiah 48:43; Psalms 35:7, etc.). The details of this mode of capture as practiced at the present day, and probably in ancient times, are described by Tristram in his Natural History of the Bible (118 f). A more elaborate method is described by Maspero in Lectures historiques (285). To make the pit-capture more effective, nets were also employed:
"They spread their net over him" (Ezekiel 19:8; compare Psalms 35:7). When caught, the lion was sometimes placed in a large wooden cage (Ezekiel 19:9, cughar, the Assyrian shigaru; for the word and the thing compare SBOT, "Ezk," English, 132; Heb, 71). The lion (or any other large animal) was led about by a ring or hook (chach) inserted in the jaws or nose (2 Kings 19:28 equals Isaiah 37:29; Ezekiel 19:4,9; 29:4; 38:4). From wild animals the brutal Assyrians transferred the custom to their human captives, as the Israelites were well aware (2 Chronicles 33:11 the Revised Version margin, Hebrew choach; for monumental illustrations compare SBOT, "Ezk," English, 132 f). Nets were also used for other animals such as the oryx or antelope (Isaiah 51:20). The Egyptian and Assyrian monuments show that dogs were employed in hunting in the ancient East, and it is not improbable that they were put to this service by the Hebrews also, but there is no clear Biblical evidence, as "greyhound" in Proverbs 30:31 is a questionable rendering. Josephus indeed (Ant., IV, viii, 9) mentions the hunting dog in a law ascribed to Moses, but the value of the allusion is uncertain.
4. Fowlers and Their Snares:
The hunting of birds or fowling is so often referred or alluded to that it must have been very widely practiced (compare Psalms 91:3; 124:7; Proverbs 1:17; 6:5; Ecclesiastes 9:12; Amos 3:5, etc.). The only bird specifically mentioned is the partridge, said to be hunted on the mountains (1 Samuel 26:20). The method of hunting is supposed by Tristram (N H B, 225) to be that still prevalent--continual pursuit until the creature is struck down by sticks thrown along the ground--but the interpretation is uncertain. Birds were generally caught by snares or traps. Two passages are peculiarly instructive on this point:
Job 18:8-10, where six words are used for such contrivances, represented respectively by "net," "toils," "gin," "snare," "noose," "trap "; and Amos 3:5, which is important enough to be cited in full: "Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin is set for him? shall a snare spring up from the ground, and have taken nothing at all?" The word for "snare" in this passage (pach) probably describes a net laid on the ground, perhaps a circular net like the Egyptian bird-trap represented in the Cambridge Bible, "Amos," 157. The word for "gin," usually ira in the Revised Version (British and American) "snare" (moqesh, literally, "fowling instrument") is supposed to refer either to the bait (ibid., 158) or to the catch connected with it which causes the net to collapse (Siegfried). For a full account of Egyptian modes of following which probably illustrate ancient Palestinian methods, compare Wilkinson, Popular Account, II, 178-83. The two words (moqesh and pach) mentioned above are used figuratively in many Old Testament passages, the former repeatedly of the deadly influence of Canaanitish idolatry on Israel, as in Exodus 23:33, "For if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee" (compare Exodus 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:16; Joshua 23:13). The use of the hawk in fowling, which is at- tested for Northern Syria by a bas-relief found in 1908 at Sakje-Geuzi, is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but there may perhaps be an allusion in Apocrypha (Baruch 3:17, "they that had their pastime with the fowls of the air"). A reference to the use of decoys has been found in Jeremiah 5:27, "a cage .... full of birds," but that is a doubtful interpretation, and in the Greek of Sirach 11:30, "As a decoy partridge in a cage, so is the heart of a proud man," but the Hebrew text of the latter is less explicit.
5. Allusions in the New Testament:
The New Testament has a few figurative allusions to hunting. The words for "catch" in Mark 12:13 and Luke 11:54 (agreuo and thereuo) mean literally, "hunt." The verb "ensnare" (pagideuo) occurs in the Gospels (Matthew 22:15), and the noun "snare" (pagis) is met with in 5 passages (Luke 21:34; Romans 11:9; 1 Timothy 3:7; 6:9; 2 Timothy 2:26). Another word for "snare" (brochos), which means literally, "noose" (Revised Version margin), is used in 1 Corinthians 7:35. The words for "things that cause stumbling" and "stumble" (skandalon and skandalizo) may possibly conceal in some passages an allusion to a hunter's trap or snare. Skandalon is closely allied to skandalethron, "the stick in a trap on which the bait is placed," and is used in Septuagint for moqesh. The abundant use of imagery taken from hunting in the Bible is remarkable, in view of the comparative rarity of literal references.
In addition to the works cited in the course of the article, the article "Hunting" in DB2, HDB large and small, EB, Jewish Encyclopedia;and "Jagd" in German Bible Diets. of Guthe, Riehm2, and Wiener, and in RE3.
William Taylor Smith