Biblical Hebrew Homeschool Curriculum

Wild Hebrew


You may have never met a pygarg or coney, or heard a turtle sing. Here's your chance to meet some Biblical wildlife and the endearing Hebrew word building behind their names.

crane migration

rock hyrax

Rock Badger, Coney, Hyrax

"...the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers."
Psalm 104:18 (ESV)

Rock hyraxes live in groups, foraging together on grasses and leafy plants until an alarm call from their posted sentry sends them scuttling to hiding places amongst the rocks. Because they are so apt to hole up, their Hebrew name, shaphan, comes from a root meaning to conceal. Since we often conceal valuables, this root has also formed a word meaning treasure. And since parents treasure their babies, that word became a proper name, as in 2 Kings 22:12.


The Voice of the Turtle

"The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."
Song of Songs 2:12 (KJV)

Make that turtle dove for modern English speakers! The turtle dove's Hebrew name is onomatopoeic: the name sounds like the turtle dove's sound. Both sound like "tor." Even the dove's scientific species name is onomatopoeic: Streptopelia turtur.

turtle dove

Turtle dove became a term of endearment, too. It is used in Psalm 74:19 about God's people: Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts; do not forget the life of your poor forever. (ESV)

Speaking of doves and poverty, we know that Joseph and Mary were short of funds from Luke 2:24, which quotes Leviticus 12:8, in which the Lord allows an offering of two turtle doves if a lamb would be too expensive for the new parents.

Listen at right to the tor of the tor, the voice of the turtle.


"The hart and the roe, the buffle, the chamois, the pygarg, the wild goat, the camelopardalus" Deuteronomy 14:5 (Douay-Rheims)
The pygarg? Pygargos means white-rumped in Greek, and this was the term chosen by the Septuagint translators. Like with unicorn, later translators without a clue as to what Israeli animal a Biblical author was talking about followed the Septuagint as closely as possible. Many modern translations choose ibex instead for the Hebrew dishon. The Hebrew word seems to come from kindred roots meaning to tread or thresh and to leap or dance!



"proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof" Leviticus 25:10 (KJV)
This verse appears on the US Liberty Bell, but doesn't say a word about swallows. However, the word translated here as liberty is translated elsewhere as swallow! They both come from a root meaning to move rapidly. Perhaps the derivation of swallow is already clear. From the idea of rapid movement also arose the use of the word for free-flowingness, release, and liberty.




"Who has let the wild donkey go free?" Job 39:5 (ESV)
Onagros in Greek means wild donkey and gave rise through the Septuagint and Vulgate to the English word onager, meaning the same thing. The Hebrew word comes from a root that means to run swiftly.

In Genesis 16:12, the angel of the Lord tells Hagar that Ishmael will be estranged from other people: literally, an onager man.


mountain goat

Mountain Goat

"The high mountains are for the wild goats;" Psalm 104:18 (ESV)
In agreement with this verse, the Hebrew name for the mountain goat arises from a root that means to ascend on high!

Like many Hebrew roots, the literal meaning gave rise to more abstract, figurative meanings. To benefit or profit derives from the same root as mountain goat, as in things are looking up!


Ee Yee!

"Therefore wild beasts shall dwell with hyenas in Babylon,"
Jeremiah 50:39 (ESV)

The Hebrew word translated here as hyena sounds like ee-yeem. The m at the end shows plurality, like an s in English. The rest of the word is probably from the howling and yipping of the hyena! Hear it here:


Do I Look Like a Sea Serpent?

"And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons,"
Jeremiah 51:37 (KJV)

Two Hebrew words have caused translation confusion over the centuries. Tannin is a singular noun that refers to clearly dangerous, perhaps venomous, serpentine, and at least often aquatic creatures. Aaron's staff turned into one. It has been translated as dragon, snake, sea serpent, crocodile, and monster.

Tannim is the plural of tan, which means jackal. Through confusion of these words, in some translations dragons took all the jackals' jobs, such as inhabiting a ruined Babylon. The same Hebrew root may be behind both words, in different ways. The root's basic idea is elongation and it is easy to follow that idea to a great big snakey thing. It is also applied to racing, in which competitors stretch out their necks to cross the finish line first. Since the jackal is a speedy fellow, racer was a fitting appellation.



"In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." Psalm 104:24 (ESV)

Meet more Biblical creatures, great and small, in the Biblical Hebrew: Show and Tell DVD.


copyright 2022 Alef Press

Images: :: Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.