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In the Bible, reptiles are a connecting link between beasts and fishes. They are divided into the "moving creatures of the sea" (Gen. i. 20), amongst fish; and the "creeping things" of the land (Gen. i. 25), after the Mammalia. Modern naturalists give us six orders of Reptilia, each of which is represented in Scripture; but they are not very clearly distinguished. The following Table will present a general sketch of them, arranged alphabetically for facility of reference.


N.B.–The names printed in Italics do not occur in the A.V., though the reptiles so called are now found, and probably were intended by the Hebrew writers. H.= Rev. W. Houghton; T.= Canon Tristram; R.= Prof. Rolleston.

English Name. Hebrew and Greek. Zoological Species. Remarks.


 (Ps. lviii. 4.)

1. Pethen.



"Adder" is the translation in the A.V. of four Hebrew words, viz. pethen, shephiphon (once), 'achsub (once), and tziph'oni (once). Of these the first is generic, and the remaining three all denote a venomous serpent. The second (horned snake) is well known in the sandy deserts of Arabia, Egypt, Sahara, &c.; about one foot long, pale brown, with black irregular spots, and two horns above the eyes. It lies in ambush, bites horses' heels, and is often found in the wilderness of Judæa. It is thought to have been the instrument of Cleopatra's death. Mentioned six times in Bible. Poisonous; dwelling in holes; some are proof against snake-charmers; distends its neck, and stands erect. It is the sacred and royal emblem on Egyptian monuments; the symbol of the protecting divinity.


 (Gen. xlix. 17.)

2. Shephiphon.


Cerastes Hasselquistii.


 (Ps. cxl. 3.)

3. 'Achsub.


Vipera Euphratica.



Job xx. 14-16.)

4. Tziph'oni,


Daboia xanthina.


 (Is. xi. 8.)



Egyptian cobra {Naja naje).





See Locust, Gazam, p. 93. It is doubtful whether the Jews knew that butterflies came from caterpillars. R.


 (Lev. xi. 30.)

1. Coäch.


Psammosaurus scincus. T.

The coäch, rendered "chameleon," is thought to be the monitor lizard, which is highly prized for its fondness for crocodile eggs. Of the two kinds, the former is common in Egypt, the Sinaitic peninsula, and Judæa, and is about five feet long; the latter, resembling it, is common in Egypt, where it was reverenced, and is figured on Egyptian sculptures. T.

Hydrosaurus Niloticus. T.

2. Tinshemeth.


Chameleo vulgaris. T.

Tinshemeth, translated "mole," is, from its derivation, supposed to be the chameleon, a kind of lizard, living in trees, and feeding on insects; very common in Palestine and Egypt. T.


 (Is. lix. 5.)

Tzeph'a. Tziph'oni.


Daboia xanthina.

See Serpent, No. 7. It is mentioned five times (once translated "adder," Prov. xxiii. 32); but, from Is. lix. 5, would seem to be more deadly than the pethen.


 (Lev. xi. 29.)



The word translated "tortoise" (which) see), is translated in the LXX. "land crocodile See Dabba.

The crocodile is probably the animal called Leviathan, which see.


 (Lev. xi. 29.)



Uromastis spinispes.

The Arabic dhab, thought by some to be the tzâb (tortoise of A. V.), a large species of lizard, common in sands of Arabia, well known in Judæa; burrowing in sand, and living in holes of rocks; feeding on beetles. T.

English Name. Hebrew and Greek. Zoological Species. Remarks.


(Is. xxxiv. 13;

Ezek. xxix. 3.)




In the passages where "dragon" is used as the symbol of Egypt, the "crocodile" is meant. Tan (always pl.) is classed with wild beasts and fowls, and inhabits "desert places;" it "wails," "cries," and "snuffs up the wind;" hence thought to be the Jackal, which see, p. 79.

Tannin is a water-monster, with feet, or a huge land reptile, as that "serpent" into which Moses' rod was changed. In the former sense it is synonymous with "leviathan."


(Ex. viii. 2;

Rev. xvi. 13.)



Rana esculenta.

Hyla arborea.

The Hebrew word is of Arabic extraction, and only occurs in the Old Testament in connexion with the Egyptian plague. It was adored as a female deity in Egypt, and was the symbol of regeneration. In the Book of Revelation frogs represent "uncleanness." The Esculenta, a water-frog, is common in Egypt, and the Hyla, or tree-frog, in Palestine.


(Lev. xi. 30.)



Ptyodactylus gecko.

Anâkah ("ferret" in A.V.) from its classification among "creeping things," is more probably the "gecko," a lizard uttering a mournful noise (the meaning of anakah). It is found in Palestine and Egypt, everywhere, frequenting rocks, ruins, and houses. Its appearance is repulsive, and it is regarded with disgust. T.


(Prov. xxx. 15.)


LXX. (?)

Hæmopis sanguisuga. H.

H. Hirudo medicinalis. T.

The 'alukah is only once mentioned, and by some thought to be the vampire-bat, its root meaning "to suck;" but the Arabs call a leech 'alak, and so the LXX. and Vulgate translate it. The horseleech is found in Palestine, but the medicinal leech in much greater abundance.


(Ps. lxxiv. 14;

Job xli. 1.)



Crocodilus vulgaris.

The word occurs five times, and in every case but one (Ps. civ. 26) denotes the "crocodile;" though some think in Is. xxvii. 1 it refers to the great python, often seen on Egyptian monuments.T. There is a full description of it in Job. It is not now found in Palestine, but was captured in the last century in the river Zurka, flowing through the plain of Sharon.


(Lev. xi. 30.)



Generic (?).

The word only occurs once, but there is no question as to its meaning. Lizards abound everywhere, and the species are very numerous. There are those of the land, the water, and sandy desert. Every district has its kinds; but they swarm in the desert places, while some frequent cultivated plains, and others the forests of Tabor and Gilead. Perhaps letâah is the generic term of the whole lizard tribe. T.





See Chameleon.


(Deut. viii. 15;

Luke x. 19.)




Scorpions are named as part of the terrors of the wilderness of Sinai (where they are still abundant, and the species numerous); also as symbols of desolation, and as Divine scourges. More than ten distinct species have been found in Palestine. They swarm in many parts, and their sting is painful and dangerous. T.


(Ps. lviii. 4;

Prov. xxx. 19.)

1. Nâchâsh.


Generic term.

Seven Hebrew words are used for various kinds of serpents, translated somewhat indiscriminately:–1. Generic term, denoting no particular species. 2. Generally rendered "dragon," sometimes "serpent," sometimes "whale," (Job vii. 12, &c.); seems to denote any sea or land monster, therefore not to be limited to any species. 3. Deaf Adder, or poisonous Asp, which see.

(Ex. vii. 9, 10.)

2. Tannin.



(Ps. lviii. 4.)

3. Pethen.


Cobra Ægyptiaca.

English Name. Hebrew and Greek. Zoological Species. Remarks.

Serpent (cont.).

 (Gen. xlix. 17.)

4. Shephiphon.


Cerastes Hasselquistii.

4. Poisonous adder of sandy deserts. 5. Thrice mentioned (see Viper). 6. Found only in one passage, "adders' poison." 7. Five times mentioned; translated in A.V. by "adder" and "cockatrice," the latter fabulous, supposed to be hatched by a cock from serpents' eggs, and so represented as a dragon with a cock's head; called also "basilisk," or crested serpent. It may be the large yellow-streaked serpent, not uncommon in Palestine; dangerous from its size and nightly prowlings. T.

Serpents were generally regarded by the ancients as symbols of the spirit of evil. More than twenty species have been lately found in Palestine; but only nine are poisonous, viz. the cobra, six species of vipers, Daboia xanthina, and Echis arenicola.

"Fiery" or "deadly" serpents were probably so called from the burning fever caused by their bites. The "fiery flying serpent" is distinct from this; but "flying" is poetic imagery, not in accordance with natural phenomena.

For the habits and peculiarities of serpents noted in Scripture, see Tristram's "Natural History of the Bible."

 (Job xx. 16.)

5. Epheh.


Echidna Mauritanica.

 (Ps. cxl. 3.)

6. Achshûb.


Vipera Euphratica, or Vipera ammodytes.

 (Prov. xxiii. 32;

Is. xi. 8.)

7. Tsepha.


Daboia xanthina (?). T.

Serpent, fiery.

 (Num.xxi. 6-8.)



Serpent, fiery flying.

 (Is. xiv. 29.)



 (Lev. xi. 30.)

1. Chomet.



Two Hebrew words are translated "snail" in the A.V. Each occurs only once. 1. Ghomet, among unclean creeping things, is translated in ancient versions by some kind of lizard, probably a sand-lizard, of which there are many species in the Sinaitic peninsula and Judæan wilderness, many of which have no visible feet, and so were distinguished by Moses from the other lizards. T.

 (Ps. lviii. 8.)

2. Shablul.



2. Shablul is evidently a snail, that wastes away, either in accordance with the popular error, that the slime emitted in its track gradually consumed it, or from the fact of its melting under the influence of salt, and so a fit illustration of the wicked, blighted by God's curse. More than 140 species of land and fresh-water molluscs have been found in Palestine, many being peculiar to it. (See Tristram's "Natural History of the Bible.")




See Serpent.



Bufo Pantherinus.

Very common in all parts of Palestine. T.


 (Lev. xi. 29.)



1. Testudo Græca.

2. Testudo marginata.

3. Emys Caspica.

1. The land tortoise is found everywhere, creeping over hills and plains in summer, burrowing under leaves at the foot of trees, or rocky holes in winter. It is the food of several birds of prey, and is eaten by the natives.

2. A larger kind, found on Mount Carmel.

3. Water species, very numerous in all streams and marshes, especially about the Waters of Merom. It feeds on fish, frogs, young birds, &c., and has a very offensive odour. T. See Dabba.


 (Job xx. 16;

Is. xxx. 6; lix. 5.)



Echis arenicola. T. (Sand viper.)

A poisonous serpent, of small species, about one foot long; found in sandy districts and under stones by the Dead Sea; quick in movement. The viper which fastened on Paul's) hand (Acts xxviii. 3) was Vipera aspis, common in the Mediterranean Isles. T.


 (Is. li. 8.)

1. Sâs.



Three words are translated (A.V.) by "worm:" 1. Occurs only once, in connection with the "moth," of which it is evidently the grub. See Moth, p. 93.

 (Ex. xvi. 20;

Job xxv. 6;

Is. xiv. 11.)

2. Rimmah.



2 and 3 are used many times, and are apparently synonymous; generally of the maggots or grubs of insects, rather than the earth-worm. Rimmah seems to mean the larvæ

English Name. Hebrew and Greek. Zoological Species. Remarks.

Worm (cont.).

 (Job xxv. 6;

Is. xiv. 11.)

3. Tole'ah.


Tortrix vitisana (?). H.

of insects, especially such as feed on putrid matter, e.g. dead or diseased bodies, &c.; while tole'ah seems to be the caterpillar or centipede, eating the vines, and destroying the gourd (Jonah iv. 7), but it is also used of the larvae of the meat-fly, feeding on dead bodies of the slain (Is. lxvi. 24), where it is the symbol of eternal punishment. It is doubtful what worm is meant by *** (Acts xii. 23), the special scourge of Herod Agrippa, as also of Herod the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes. Probably "serpents" are meant in Mic. vii. 17.

Worm (earth).


Lumbricus. T.

Several species of earth-worms, and of centipedes or millipedes, abound in Palestine, furnishing food for birds. T.

Worm canker.


Myriapoda. T.

See Locust, Yelek, p. 93.

Worm palmer.



See Locust, Gazam, p. 93.

Worm crimson.



See Cochineal, (below).

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