Roper Report: Are Greyhounds really mentioned in the Bible?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Are Greyhounds really mentioned in the Bible?

In February of 2008, I posted the article, "Everything You Know Is Wrong," which supports the idea that the Greyhound breed is of Celtic and therefore European origin, not Egyptian or Middle-Eastern as is widely believed. The article has made the rounds on a number of Greyhound web sites, and invariably there is a response to the effect that since Greyhounds are mentioned in the Bible, they have to be of Middle-Eastern origin.

Are Greyhounds really mentioned in the Bible? Technically, the answer is yes. The King James version of the Bible, published in 1611, makes mention of the breed in Proverbs 30:31. The problem is that the King James Bible is the first to do so. James I directed that the Bible be retranslated to represent the beliefs of the Anglican Church. The Old Testament was translated from the original Hebrew, and the New Testament largely from Greek. In Hebrew, the passage in Proverbs reads differently than the King James version:

If the text stands, there appears to be no better rendering than "girt in the loins," which might fairly be taken to refer to a war horse or to a greyhound. The Persian greyhound would in that case be understood, a hairy race, which, according to the Royal Natural History, is less fleet than the English breed and is used in chasing gazelles and in hunting the wild ass, and which according to Doughty (Arabia Deseria) is kept by the Bedouin. "These dogs are said to be sometimes girdled by their owners to prevent them from over-eating and becoming fat" (L. Fletcher, British Museum (Natural History).

- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Persian Greyhound is the obsolete Western name for a Saluki. Since the word Saluki would have been completely unknown to 17th century English readers, the common word "Greyhound" was substituted. Contemporary references to Eastern or Egyptian "Greyhounds" would have to be Salukis, Sloughis or other related sighthounds, not the Celtic dog we call the Greyhound today. The word "Saluki" did not come into common use in the West until the 1920s and was recognized as such by the British Kennel Club in 1923.

Though superficially similar, Salukis and Afghans do not really look like Greyhounds. Their overall conformations and running aptitudes are different. Greyhounds are sprinters and Salukis and Afghans are more suited for endurance. The shape of the head and the ears, especially, are clearly of different types. The dogs pictured in Egyptian murals were unlike the modern Greyhound. The Egyptians had two sighthound breeds, the predecessor of the modern day Saluki, and an extinct breed, the Tesem. The former are depicted as having lop ears and a feathered tail, just as Salukis have today, while images of the Tesem have prick ears and a curled tail. Skeletal remains of Salukis have been unearthed in Iraq that date from 4400-3800 B.C. which make a strong case for it to be considered the oldest extant dog breed. Skeletal remains of dogs with characteristics of Tesems have also been found from the period 3750-3400 B.C., but in Mesopotamia, which suggests they were imported into Egypt from the East. The rose ear, which is typical of Greyhound-type dogs was not depicted in Egyptian art.

The dogs of Celtic origin, the Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Scottish Deerhound, Galgo and Whippet, all have the rose ear and a similar shape of the head. These and the Gaelic Vertragus, their forebear, can be found in the footprint of Celtic culture as indicated in a map of the era ( Other descendants like the Hungarian Greyhound and the extinct Frisian Greyhound also fit the footprint. The last example of the Frisian Greyhound, native to modern-day Holland, passed on prior to WWII. Images of rose-eared dogs exist from the pre-contact period, before literate societies like Rome and Greece encountered the Celts. An Iron Age icon dates from 500 B.C. ( Modern DNA analysis, as shown in the February 2008 article, verifies that the breeds are genetically distinct.

Proverbs dates from approximately 650 B.C., well prior to Celtic contact with Mediterranean cultures. The Saluki would have been the predominant coursing breed of that era and familiar to all who lived in the Middle East. If the Hebrew reference is indeed to a dog, and not a warhorse (or even a rooster as some have speculated), then it's all but certain that the Saluki is the "Greyhound" mentioned in the Bible.


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