Leopard, נמר, Panthera pardus

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English:

Leopard

Hebrew:

נמר (namer)

Scientific Name:

Panthera pardus

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Biblical data

Introduction

The נמר, or leopard, is mentioned seven times in the Hebrew Bible. With one exception (Jer 13:23), the leopard always occurs as part of a list of predators, together with either a smaller carnivore, the זאב (wolf, Isa 11:1; Jer 5:6; Hab 1:8), or larger ones like lions and bears (Isa 11:168; Hos 13:7, שחל; Dan 7:18; Songs 4:8), as well as with the נשר (eagle, Hab 1:8) or snakes (Isa 11:8).

Distribution within the Bible

Five of the seven references to the leopard appear in prophecy. It occurs in a judgment prophecy in Hosea (13:7), twice in Jeremiah (5:6; 13:23), once in Habakkuk (1:8), and once in the utopian consolation prophecy in Isaiah (11:6–8). The line of threat is kept also in Daniel’s dream (Dan 7:1–8), as the leopard is third in line after the lion and the bear. Song of Songs (4:8) is the one occurrence in poetry.

Parts, Elements, Features that Are Specified in the Bible

The information one can gather from the seven occurrences in the Hebrew Bible contain references to the leopard’s habitat and its physiology (its spotted fur and its run), as well as its hunting strategies.

Habitat. The leopard’s habitat is referred to in Song of Songs (4:8) as being at the remote high mountains in the north of Israel, Senir and Hermon, where ממענות אריות מהררי נמרים, “from the dens of lions, from the hills of leopards.”[1] Yet leopards are looking for prey just outside human dwellings according to Jer 5:6. Indirectly, place names with the base נמר may further establish the prevalence of leopards in regions east of the Jordan; see נמרה in Num 32:3 and בית נמרה in Num 32:36; Josh 13:27 in the Israelite settlement of Gad, as well as מי נמרים in Moab (Isa 15:6; Jer 48:34).

Physiology.

  • Fur. The leopard is characterized by its spotted fur ונמר חברברתיו (Jer 13:23), which is said to be consistent from birth to its death and an identifying characteristic; see the zoological information.

  • Fast run. The leopard’s speed is behind the description in Hab 1:8: וקלו מנמרים סוסיוTheir horses are swifter than leopards.” Yet zoologists challenge that description and suggest that this specific quality better suits the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), otherwise known as the bardeles (pa¿rdaliß), which the LXX uses as the consistent equivalent of MT נמר; see History of Identification.

  • Laying down. The leopard is mentioned as “laying down” רבץ aside a גדי (kid, Isa 11:6).

Hunting strategies. The leopard is said to lie in wait outside city gates to capture its prey, which may be any humans going out of town: נמר שקד על עריהם כל היצא מהנה יטרף “A leopard lies in wait by their towns; whoever leaves them will be torn in pieces” (Jer 5:6). Leopards also lurk for prey on the main roads: כנמר על דרך אשורLike a leopard I lurk on the way” (Hos 13:6).

Function in Context

All seven occurrences are metaphorical uses that build upon the leopard’s physiological characteristics and its predatory strategies and skills. In Song of Songs (4:8), the leopard symbolizes the remote and high places of its sojourn. As predator, the leopard symbolizes a human enemy equipped with battle horses (Hab 1:8) or even God as an enemy (Hos 13:7) who summons predators against his own people (Jer 5:6).

End Notes

[1] Amanah, Senir, and Hermon are hapax legomena in Song of Songs, while Lebanon occurs seven times in the scroll. Each of them individually and all of them together represent the most northern and remote mountain areas in Song of Songs; (Song 4:11, 15), the cedar among the trees of Lebanon (Song 3:9; 5:15), or the height of Lebanon (Song 7:5). Zakovitch (Song of Songs, 92) took them to stand for simply an exotic distant place. The general geography of Song of Songs is more commonly around the city of Jerusalem and the Judean desert, yet there is an observable tendency to mention remote places (Zakovitch, ibid., 29).

Bibliography

Zakovitch, Yair. Song of Songs. Mikra LeYisrael. Tel Aviv: Am Oved and Jerusalem: Magnes, 1992.

Contributor: Prof. Dalit Rom-Shiloni, DNI Bible Project Leader, Department of Biblical Studies, Tel Aviv University, Israel

History of Identification

Identification History Table

Hebrew Greek Aramaic Syriac Latin Arabic English
Ref MT LXX Revisions Targumim Peshitta Vulgate Jewish Christian KJV NRSV NJPS
Isa 11:6

ונמר עם גדי ירבץ

καὶ πάρδαλις συναναπαύσεται ἐρίφῳ

ונמרא עם גדיא ישרי

ܘܢܡ݂ܪܐ݂ ܥܡ ܓܕܝܐ ܢܪܒ݂ܥ

et pardus cum hedo accubabit

אלנמר

 

 

and the leopard shall lie down with the kid the leopard will lie down with the goat

 

The leopard lie down with the kid
Jer 5:6

נמר שקד על עריהם

καὶ πάρδαλις ἐγρηγόρησεν ἐπὶ τὰς πόλεις αὐτῶν

יבזונונון שלטונין דחסינין כנמריא כמנין על קרויהון

ܢܡ݂ܪ݂ܐ݁ ܢܟܡ݂ܢ ܥܠ ܩܘܪ̈ܝܗܘܢ.  ܟ݂ܠ ܕܢܦܘܩ ܡܢܗܘܢ݂ ܢܬܬ݂ܒܪ

pardus vigilans super civitates eorum omnis qui egressus fuerit

אלנמר

a leopard shall watch over their cities A leopard is watching against their cities A leopard lies in wait by their towns
Jer 13:23

ונמר חברברתיו

καὶ πάρδαλις τὰ ποικίλματα αὐτῆς

ונמרא שלטי רקמתיה

ܘܢܡܪܐ ܟܟ̈ܠܬܗ݂

 

 

aut pardus varietates suas

אלנמר

or the leopard his spots? or leopards their spots?

 

Or the leopard his spots?
Hos 13:7

כמו שחל וכנמר על דרך אשור

καὶ ὡς πάρδαλις κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν Ἀσσυρίων

כליתא כנמרא דכמין על שבילא

ܘܐܝܟ ܢܡܪ݂ܐ ܒܐܘܪܚܐ ܕܐ݁ܬܘܪ

eis quasi leaena sicut pardus in via Assyriorum

כנמר

as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them like a leopard I will lurk beside the way

 

Like a leopard I lurk on the way
Hab 1:8

וקלו מנמרים סוסיו

καὶ ἐξαλοῦνται ὑπὲρ παρδάλεις οἱ ἵπποι αὐτοῦ

וקלילין מנמריא סוסותהון

ܩ̈ܠܝܠܝܢ ܪ̈ܟܫܗ ܡܢ ܢܫܪ̈ܐ݂

leviores pardis equi eius et velociores lupis

מן אלנמור

Their horses also are swifter than the leopards Their horses are swifter than leopards

 

Their horses are swifter than leopards
Song 4:8

ממענות אריות מהררי נמרים

ἀπὸ μανδρῶν λεόντων, ἀπὸ ὀρέων παρδάλεων

יתבי כרכין תקיפין דאינון גברין כאריון ותקרובתא מן קרוי טוריא דחסינין מן נמורים

ܡܢ ܡܪܒܘܥܝܬܐ ܕܐܪ̈ܝܘܬܐ.  ܘܡܢ ܛܘܪ̈ܝ ܢܡ݂ܪ̈ܐ

 

 

de cubilibus leonum de montibus pardorum

מן ג׳באל אלנמור

rom the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards from the dens of lions,

from the mountains of leopards

 

From the dens of lions, From the hills of leopards
Dan 7:6

וארו אחרי כנמר

θηρίον ἄλλο ὡσεὶ πάρδαλιν  

ܐܝܟ ܢܡܪܐ

quasi pardus

מת׳ל אלנמר

like a leopard like a leopard

 

like a leopard

 

Contributor: Prof. Dalit Rom-Shiloni, DNI Bible Project Leader, Department of Biblical Studies, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Biological Information