(`aTaleph; Leviticus 11:19; Deuteronomy 14:18; Isaiah 2:20):
Bats are the most widely distributed of mammals, reaching even the oceanic islands, and modern science has revealed the existence of an astonishing number of species, nearly twenty being recorded from Palestine. These include both fruit-eating and insect-eating bats, the latter being the smaller. It has not always been realized that they are mammals, and so it is not surprising that they should be mentioned at the end of the list of unclean birds in Leviticus 11:19 and Deuteronomy 14:18. It may, however, be significant that they are at the end of the list and not in the middle of it. The fruit bats are a pest to horticulturists and often strip apricot and other trees before the fruit has ripened enough to be picked. On this account the fruit is often enclosed in bags, or the whole tree may be surrounded with a great sheet or net. They commonly pick the fruit and eat it on some distant perch beneath which the seeds and the ordure of these animals are scattered. The insect bats, as in other countries, flit about at dusk and through the night catching mosquitoes and larger insects, and so are distinctly beneficial.
The reference in Isaiah 2:20, "cast .... idols .... to the moles and to the bats" refers of course to these animals as inhabitants of dark and deserted places. As in the case of many animal names the etymology of `aTaleph is doubtful. Various derivations have been proposed but none can be regarded as satisfactory. The Arabic name, waTwaT, throws no light on the question.
Alfred Ely Day