“Predators in the Thickets” – The Filmand an Introduction to the DNI Bible Project (Dictionary of Nature Imagery of the Bible)
These introductory remarks describe briefly the vision, scope, and goals of the DNI Bible project, and then more directly introduce the topic: “Lions, Leopards, and Bears from the Forest and the Thickets of the Jordan: Nature Imagery and Images in Biblical Hebrew Poetry.” This topic was the theme discussed in the Biblical Hebrew Poetry section, on November 17, 2018, in Denver (see http://dni.tau.ac.il/news/).
Following this introduction, is the film: “Predators in the Thickets: A Film Interview with Two Botanists and a Zoologist in Israel.” The film brings excerpts from interviews I conducted (on August-September 2018) with three Israeli specialists in zoology (Dr. Uzi Paz) and botany (Prof. Avi Shmida and Dr. Yoel Melamed), to consult about some of the questions raised in the biblical data. The full length interviews will be incorporated into the website as part of the relevant entries in the next few months.
A. The DNI Bible Project: Its Vision, Scope, and Goals
[You may want to open http://dni.tau.ac.il/ homepage and roll down]
The Dictionary of Nature Imagery of the Bible is envisioned as a dynamic, multidisciplinary, comprehensive, online encyclopedia (http://dni.tau.ac.il/). It is designed to supply biblical scholars and students with academic articles written by experts addressing all possible aspects of each nature reference found in the Bible. The entries fall into one of five categories: fauna, flora, landscape characteristics, climate systems, and water sources. Although we hope (of course!) that the DNI Bible will be useful for biblical exegesis across the board, we expect that it will be of particular use for the study of poetic and prophetic literature, where the symbolic use of such imagery is particularly rich.
Let me briefly explain the vision that propels this project. I allow myself to suppose that each one of us in this room, both biblical scholars and students, have experienced the difficulty of addressing a passage in which the name of a plant or an animal occurs, which is unknown to us either by name or by description. More frustrating is the realization that this same imagery has a pivotal role in its literary context—it has served the biblical author as the focal point around which the author has constructed the message of the entire verse, or even the larger passage. This is the point at which information from the natural sciences or material culture is essential for our interpretation of the passage; to put it negatively, the inability to decipher such a term is a genuine loss in our ability to fully understand our text.
As we all know, Bible scholars are trained to explain the text in its textual, linguistic, historical, cultural, sociological, and theological contexts, and possibly to bring other fields to bear as well. But the material and ecological information that bears on these texts is often regrettably minimized, dealt with in a sporadic or fragmentary manner, or avoided altogether. One factor at play here is that these materials remain out of reach to many biblical scholars, who therefore feel that they must avoid or minimize these aspects in their interpretations.
[roll down to the vision and goals] The DNI Bible is designed to expand our exegetical toolbox by providing data on various aspects of nature and landscape for critical scholarship. To produce informed exegetical studies, we look at how nature imagery plays a role in or changes across diverse biblical texts. Each item is studied through six types of information [roll down to the table]: Biblical Data; History of Identification; Life and Natural Sciences Information; Material Culture (including: archaeological findings, archaeozoology, archaeobotany, and iconography); Exegetical Studies on specific biblical passages; and Reception History. Each segment is written by professionals in their respective fields and credited to the individual authors.
As you can understand, this is a very ambitious project, which will continue to develop for many years to come, and which will succeed only if many different experts from these various fields will join us in contributing the diverse pieces that create the larger picture. So, please, feel invited to take an item you have always wanted to know more about – contact me [!], and write the biblical data segment, which will become the basis for the full entry.
B. Lions, Leopards, and Bears from the Forest and the Thickets of the Jordan: Integrating Fauna, Flora, and Landscape to the Study of Biblical Nature Imagery
When discussing with Mark Boda different topics for this session, Mark raised the question whether any of the biblical references to large predators (e.g., 2 Kgs 2:24; Jer 4:7; 5:6; Zech 11:3) reflect “real life” in the land west of the Jordan? Or, are they just authorial fantasy? To phrase this last question in scholarly terms: Could those references be only literary-conventions, or even conceptual structures, that authors were led to use for diverse literary purposes? Or were those large predators really out there, known to the biblical authors? Listening to Mark’s questions, I myself was intrigued by the challenge. As a theme for the session, this topic required the integration of two, or even three, natural arenas: fauna (the large predators), flora and landscape (the ya‘ar and the ge’on hayyarden). Thus, it gave me the opportunity to conduct a multidisciplinary case study. My challenge was to showcase what the DNI Bible multidisciplinary format might contribute to clarifying such questions.
The point of departure for the DNI Bible is always the Hebrew Bible references, and for this session, we participants limited our investigations to five items: lions, leopards, and bears on the one hand, and two of their biblically ascribed habitats, the ya‘ar and ge’on hayyarden, on the other. The choice to concentrate only on these three large predators was quite arbitrary, though it does have its justifications. These are the three largest predators mentioned in the HB. In literary contexts, they do quite often appear side by side (e.g., 1 Sam 17:34, 36, 37; Isa 11:6–8),  and both lions and bears are said to reside in at least two habitats. Lions are mentioned as dwelling in the ya‘ar, in Amos 3:4: הישאג אריה ביער וטרף אין לו (“Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?”); as the second half of the verse shows, the ya‘ar is the location of the מעונה, the den, of lions (היתן כפיר קולו ממענתו בלתי אם לכד “Does a young lion let out a cry from its den without having made a capture?”); Jeremiah 12:8 compares the people (היתה לי נחלתי NJPS: “Mine heritage is unto me”) to “a lion in the forest” (כאריה ביער, Jer 12:8); similarly, in Jeremiah and in Zechariah, lions come out of ge’on hayyarden (Jer 12:5; 49:19; 50:44; and Zech 11:3); and in Kings, two bears emerge from the ya‘ar (2 Kgs 2:24); though, they may also be found “in the field” (דב שכול בשדה in 2 Sam 17:8).
These verses identify ya‘ar, ge’on hayyarden, and sadeh as the habitats of those predators – but what are they exactly? Where are they? And could they really be the flora formations, the habitats, where those predators were said to reside in, and to attack from?
Writing a DNI Bible Entry – The Process
[You may want to open http://dni.tau.ac.il/using-dni/ Using DNI Bible, and roll down]
At this point, let me share with you the procedure we went through in planning the session. For these five items, I wrote the first two segments, on the biblical data and the history of identification. On the Biblical Data [open], I had the task of studying the distribution of these terms within the HB; of gathering the “parts, elements, and features that are specified in the HB”; and of seeing how the various references each function in their different contexts. The second level of description, [open] that of the history of identification, allowed me to trace ancient up to modern suggestions to identify each of the terms. Even with all this information, I was left with a list of questions that were clearly beyond my reach as a HB scholar. Thus, as a third level of discussion, [open] I therefore approached three Israeli experts, two botanists and a zoologist, to clarify the many riddles left open, and the filmed interviews with them will follow.
The next two presentations tackle two further interesting aspects. Anna Angelini touched upon the history of identification and reception history based on Greek and Roman sources; and Sanna Saari and Izaak de Hulster collected the iconographic data of the second and first millennia BCE concerning those predators. Finally, all these materials were put at the doorstep of a biblical scholar, Carol Dempsey, for evaluation and response. Hence this session was formed to present the different types of information we produce in the DNI Bible to deepen our exegetical work as biblical scholars.
To lead us into the discussion, I will introduce only some of the main questions raised by the biblical data, beginning with the landscape terms and moving more briefly to the predators. [see the more complete discussions on the DNI Bible entries]
[DNI Bible entry under Landscape Characteristics: Thickets of the Jordan, Biblical Data]
- גאון הירדן (ge’on hayyarden) occurs four times in the Hebrew Bible, three in Jeremiah (Jer 12:5; 49:19; 50:44), and the fourth in Zechariah (11:3). The first questions that arise are matters of basic definition: Is גאון הירדן the name of a specific site or of a region? And to what does it refer: the Jordan water flow (as suggested by Qimhi) or the vegetation of the Jordan river banks? 
The meaning of גאון הירדן has been debated, primarily due to the ambiguity of גאון in this phrase. According to HALOT (169), גאון stands for the “height” of sea waves (e.g., Job 38:11) or the high tone of the divine voice (Job 37:4), and HALOT reads the four occurrences of גאון הירדן accordingly.  This meaning accords with the verb גאה, “to grow tall,” used of plants thriving on an abundance of water (e.g., Job 8:11); or to describe rising waters (Ezek 47:5; and גאות הים in Ps 89:10). 
[roll on to Parts, Elements … on the item] The opposition of גאון הירדן to ארץ שלום (“a secured land” or “a tranquil land”) in Jer 12:5, and the proximity of this entity to other geographic locations, e.g., to Lebanon and the Bashan in Zech 11:1–3, confirm the definition of גאון הירדן as a phytogeographic designation or a geographical region (not a place name). However, the botanical features that distinguish this landscape are not specified. Instead, the term is described by its unique fauna. גאון הירדן is a dangerous region, the habitat of lions, who are a threat to shepherds (Jer 49:19; 50:44; and Zech 11:3).
The main questions I introduced to Dr. Yoel Melamed, of Bar Ilan University, focused therefore on – what would גאון הירדן look like? i.e., what might he be able to tell us of the phytogeographic characteristics of the Jordan valley and its vegetation?
[DNI Bible entry, under Landscape Characteristics: Forest, Biblical Data]
- The Forest, Ya‘ar, Forest / Chaparral
One of the intriguing riddles in the landscape of the land of Israel / Canaan, both west and east of the Jordan is, what was its “natural” flora formation? The biblical term יער (ya‘ar) occurs fifty-eight times in the Hebrew Bible, but what does it actually mean? And what do the associated terms חורשים, חורשה, חורש stand for?
The DNI Bible entry on ya‘ar at the basic layer of the Biblical Data is fairly detailed (and I invite you to read it through). Note the two etymologies that have been suggested for ya‘ar, which actually lead to two opposite meanings: The more common understanding of ya‘ar is “thicket, undergrowth, wood, forest,” as suggested by BDB (420) and by HALOT (422), based on Ugaritic cognates y‘ir and pl. y‘irm (’ib b‘il t’hd y‘irm “the enemies of Ba‘al took to the woods,” Baal, 1.4:VII:35–36), as personal name, bn y‘irn (321:III:10), and even a place name y‘irt (syllabic: ia-ar-tu3, RS 11.830);  Moabite חמת היערן is understood as either one of the building projects in Dibon, or possibly a wall surrounding a planted forest.  A second etymology of ya‘ar is based on Arabic وعر (and on Geez). It may refer to a place, a road, a treeless rocky mountain, that are “rugged and difficult to ascent,” or “a place inspiring fear, and desolate.”  These opposites were my points of departure to examine other contextual information that may add to our understanding of the botanical characteristics of the biblical ya‘ar. Does the term designate a stand of trees? Were they tall trees or just “thickets”? Or on the contrary, should ya‘ar be understood as a rocky and treeless slopes?
Through a study of the “Parts, Elements, Features that Are Specified in the Bible,” it was easy to confirm the meaning of ya‘ar as designating “forest or thickets,” or even a flora unit involving both the high trees of Lebanon that may still create thickets, as in Isa 10:34: ונקף סבכי היער בברזל, והלבנון באדיר יפול (“The thickets of the forest shall be hacked away with iron, and the trees of Lebanon shall fall in their majesty”). 
In contradistinction, there are several occurrences where ya‘ar cannot mean “forest or thickets.” The most significant example is the Elisha legend concerning the two bears that come out of the ya‘ar (2 Kgs 2:24); this ya‘ar, however, is supposed to be on the road between Gilgal and Beth El, hence bordering on areas that are considered to have been part of the Benjamin Desert. What could ya‘ar mean in this context? Does it designate the treeless, rocky slopes, that are difficult to ascend and that inspire fear, like the Arabic wa‘ar?
In fact, a look at the geography of places termed ya‘ar shows that the term designates quite different types of conditions, from the Mediterranean subtropical environs to semi-desert arid settings. Poetic passages suggest parallels between ya‘ar and sadeh (e.g., Hos 2:14: והשמתי גפנה ותאנתה … ושמתים ליער ואכלתם חית השדה (“I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, … I will turn them into brushwood, and beasts of the field shall devour them”), or ya‘ar and midbar (e.g., Ezek 34:25: וישבו במדבר לבטח וישנו ביערים “and they shall live secure in the wasteland, they shall even sleep in the woodland”) and thus ya‘ar may at times designate “the wild, the opposite of a cultivated (and inhabitated) land.” Surprisingly, these usages expose very little of the actual flora species that comprise the ya‘ar. (This is then quite similar to what we just saw with respect to גאון הירדן – the botanical details are oftentimes simply lacking).
The major point of information I wanted to learn from Prof. Avi Shmida, of the Hebrew University, was thus how he would define the different flora formations that stand behind the biblical definitions of ya‘ar – as “forest,” “thicket,” or something else?
Like the geon hayyarden, the ya‘ar figures most prominently as the habitat of different animals, mainly of predators, כל חיתו שדי … כל חיתו ביער (“All you wild beasts, come and devour, all you beasts of the forest!” Isa 56:9); בבהמות יער (“among beasts of the wild,” Micah 5:7); as also כל חיתו יער [(“all the beasts of the forests,” Psa 104:20). Bears, lions, and boars reside in and emerge from the ya‘ar. [(“Thereupon, two she-bears came out of the woods,” 2 Kgs 2:24); עלה אריה מסבכו (“The lion has come up from his thicket,” Jer 4:7); על כן הכם אריה מיער (“Therefore, the lion of the forest strikes them down”); Jer 12:8: היתה לי נחלתי כאריה ביער (“My own people acted toward Me like a lion in the forest”); Amos 3:4: הישאג אריה ביער וטרף אין לו (“Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?”); Micah 5:7: כאריה בבהמות יער (“Like a lion among beasts of the wild”). יכרסמנה חזיר מיער, וזיז שדי ירענה (“wild boars gnaw at it, and creatures of the field feed on it,” Ps 80:14). Hence, the ya‘ar is a source of danger to individuals and to human settlements.
- Three large predators—Leopards, Bears, and Lions
In contrast to the two landscape features presented above, which lend an air of realia to poetic depictions, allusions to these three large predators (which have gradually extinct from our region) indeed border on fantasy. However, these allusions in the HB seem quite vivid.
In preparing the materials on these predators for the DNI entries, the section I found most valuable was: “Parts, Elements, Features that Are Specified in the Bible.” The zoological information that can be gathered from the biblical passages seems fairly rich, although it is at times quite confusing. To a great extent, the nature images seemed zoologically valid (i.e., correct in terms of what one can find in any modern zoological book), but time and again there were images that clearly contradicted the zoological information. Was this sheer ignorance on the part of biblical authors? Or, are those purposeful deviations, motivated by specific literary or even ideological agendas? — I thus was curious to bring this question to Dr. Uzi Paz, a leading zoologist in Israel, to hear what he had to say about the varied and sometimes contradictory information embedded in the HB nature imagery referring to these predators. For the sake of time, I will take just one of the three, the lion, to share some of these elements.
[DNI Bible, Fauna: Leopard, Biblical Data] (a) The נמר, leopard (Panthera pardus) is mentioned seven times in the HB, all in a metaphoric sense. With one exception (Jer 13:23), the leopard always occurs as part of a list of predators, along with a smaller carnivore, the wolf (Isa 11:1; Jer 5:6; Hab 1:8), or with larger ones, like lions and bears (Isa 11:16–8; Hos 13:7, shachal; Dan 7:1–8; Songs 4:8); nesher (Hab 1:8), and snakes (Isa 11:8).
The DNI Bible “Parts, Elements, Features that Are Specified in the Bible,” bring together information concerning the leopard’s habitat; its physical characteristics: the spotted fur; and behaviors: its run, as also its hunting strategies.
Let me mention just two points of interest. One is a seeming contradiction in what the HB sources say about the leopard’s habitat. The Song of Songs (4:8) describes leopards as living in the remote high mountains in the north of the land of Israel, the mountains Snir and Hermon ממענות אריות מהררי נמרים “from the dens of lions, from the hills of leopards.”  Yet, according to Jer 5:6, the leopards look for prey just outside human dwellings. I asked Uzi Paz which (if any) of the two could be seen as accurate?
The second point of interest is a puzzling image used by Habakkuk that portrays the leopard as a swift runner: וקלו מנמרים סוסיו (“Their horses are swifter than leopards,” Hab 1:8). Zoologists challenge this description and suggest that this specific quality does not suit the leopard, but rather the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), otherwise known as the bardelas. Interestingly, the LXX uses πάρδαλις as the consistent translation equivalent for MT נמר (see History of Identification). Thus, we might ask whether the LXX’s translation practice reflects a history of interpretation that more (or rather less) accurately identifies the animal?
[DNI Bible entry, Fauna: Bear, Biblical Data] (b) The דב, or bear (Ursus arctos syriacus), is considered second only to the lion among the large predators, and is named thirteen times in the Hebrew Bible. Bears are referred to alone only four times; they more commonly appear along with lions. Bears and lions are portrayed as the two animals most threatening to shepherds and their flocks (1 Sam 17:34, 36, 37; 2 Sam 17:8 and 10; and note the reverse utopia in Isa 11:7), and to humans in general, either as individuals or in a group (2 Kgs 2:24; Hos 13:8; Amos 5:19; Prov 17:12; 28:15; Lam 3:10; and Dan 7:5). In several images, God is portrayed as a threatening bear (Amos 5:19; Prov 17:12; Lam 3:10). The repeated image of דב שכול (“a bear robbed of her whelps,” 2 Sam 17:8; Hos 13:8; Prov 17:12) conveys the greatest danger. Both ancient and modern translations of these passages relate this behavior to the mother’s-bear care for her young; do these accord with zoological information? Is it the male or the female that presents the greatest danger in such situations? And why then does MT using the masculine?
[DNI Bible, Fauna: Lion, Biblical Data (in progress)] (c) The אריה, lion, “the mightiest of the beasts” (ליש גבור בבהמה, Prov 30:30), appears one hundred and fifty four times in the HB under seven different names:  אריה (arieh), ארי (ari), לביא (lavi’), כפיר (kfir), ליש (layish), שחל (shachal), גור אריה (gur arieh), and the female: לביא (leviya’h). The early translations and rabbinic literature suggested explanations for this plentitude of names and their interrelationships, but for the sake of this entry, I group all seven names together.  This abundance of different names might be taken in itself as an indirect indication of the prevalence of lions in biblical times; at the very least it indicates the major importance of lion imagery in biblical literary compositions.
Narratives, prophecies, poetic and wisdom passages, all relate diverse interactions between lions and humans. The lion’s habitats, predatory habits, qualities of power, persistence, etc., all served the biblical authors as metaphors that illustrate qualities of bravery and leadership, invoked in contexts of blessing and praise for leaders (e.g., 2 Sam 1:23; 2 Sam 17:10) and for tribes (Gen 49:9; Deut 33:22). But more commonly the lion’s threatening aspect (his roar), power, and cruelty as predator characterize the cruel violence of leaders, kings, royal officials (e.g., Prov 28:15)—and God himself (e.g., Isa 31:4). Enemies are depicted as lions (e.g., Ps 7:3; 22:14, 22; Jer 4:7); God may be portrayed like a lion, as a dangerous and threatening predator (e.g., Jer 25:34–38).
One of the intriguing questions regarding this vast lion imagery in the HB is whether these images are drawn from nature / real life or are simply literary conventions, invoking a cultural “imagination” of lions?  The DNI Bible entry considers both possibilities.
Looking at the distribution of lion imagery within the HB, I have suggested that we might answer this question by evaluating the data in terms of three categories of descriptive features: 1) “naturalistic” (or zoological) portrayals; 2) iconographic and literary conventions; 3) “imagined” portrayals that counter known zoological features in the service of ideology, theology, etc. It is clear that these categories are somewhat permeable, and there are passages that are tough to classify. Still, I believe these distinctions to be of value. The observation that biblical references contain all three types of descriptive features, raises sharply the need to evaluate what the biblical authors actually might have known about lions, and consequently, how their readers and hearers would have understood their use of such imagery. This is thus one point at which the multidisciplinary approach of the DNI Bible becomes most helpful.
As I hope this introduction has illustrated, correlating the biblical information for each of these entries is an eye-opening experience. The “biblical data” level of the DNI Bible directs users to specific features that the biblical authors chose to emphasize in their writings, thus leaving aside aspects in each of the entries that are not addressed by the literary sources at hand. While this partial description can be somewhat frustrating, it is important to note that the nature terminology is always surprising in what it exposes and in what it hides. This is a very important observation for evaluating the freedom exercised by the biblical authors in selecting or highlighting certain aspects of an image and suppressing or ignoring others.  Furthermore, the basic “biblical data” reveals the great diversity of distribution and of literary usages (and functions) for the various items, both realistic and metaphoric. This collected information is also valuable for the second analytical level of the DNI Bible, the “History of Identification,” where it may help to evaluate different suggestions brought in the various textual traditions. Finally, studying this biblical information immediately raises questions for the natural and life-sciences arenas, as well as methodological questions. Some of these questions are addressed in the film which follows.
Following this introduction is the film: “Predators in the Thickets: A Film Interview with Two Botanists and a Zoologist in Israel.” I hope you will enjoy the film [see https://youtu.be/GtLfuti3Mi0].
 In addition to this triad, there are other animals mentioned, e.g., זאב (Jer 5:6), and others.
 The Targum to Jer 12:5 offers a double translation of גאון הירדן. The Targum first describes the vegetation along the river, and the fear of the wild beasts that dwell there (ואיכדין את מדמי למעבד כל קביל חיות ברא די ברובי ירדנא, note that the lion is not specifically mentioned); ברובי ירדנא should be translated here as “the place of plant growth of the Jordan.” The Targum closes this elaborate translation with a statement of consolation that refers to גאון הירדן as a watershed (understood here as a blessing): הא כמיא דנחתין שטוף לירדנא. The other three occurrences of גאון הירדן are translated in the Targum as מרום ירדנא, thus taking the phrase more literally as the “height of the Jordan.” This duality was further elaborated in medieval interpretations such as that of Qimhi (see History of Identification), as well as by modern critics, such as William McKane, Jeremiah I–XXV (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986), 264–65; Jack R. Lundbom (Jeremiah 1–20 [Anchor Bible 21A; New York: Doubleday, 1999], 647) briefly refers to both understandings.
 While HALOT (169) understands גאון in human contexts to have the negative connotation of hubris, based on the contexts of the above mentioned passages, BDB (144–45) has a different understanding of this word. גאון in itself means “exaltation” and thus has a neutral or even positive connotation when it refers to the “exaltation, majesty, excellence,” of nations, which denotes “their wealth, power, magnificence of buildings.” According to BDB, a second meaning, with the negative sense of “pride” is more limited in its occurrences: Job 35:12; Ps 59:13; Prov 8:13; 16:18; Ezek 7:20; 16:49; Zeph 2:10; and, in reference to Moab, Isa 16:6 and Jer 48:29.
 Another meaning of גאון is “eminence,” a meaning restricted to God (Exod 15:7; Isa 2:10, 19, 21; 24:14; Mic 5:4); Job 40:10 clusters this meaning with other meanings of the term—height, eminence, and glory—denote facets of the divine גאון. In relation to individuals or nations, however, גאון is understood negatively as “pride, hubris” (Prov 8:13; 16:18; Ps 59:13; Job 35:12). In the national sphere, גאון denotes a sin committed by Israel (Hos 5:5; 7:10; Amos 6:8; 8:7); by Jerusalem or Judah (Ezek 7:20, 24; 16:56; 33:28); or by their surrounding enemies: Assyria (Zech 10:11) or its ruler (Isa 14:11); Babylon (Isa 13:19); Egypt (Ezek 30:6, 18; 32:12); Moab (Isa 16:6; Jer 48:29; Zeph 2:10); Philistia (Zech 9:6); Sodom (Ezek 16:49), and Tyre (Isa 23:9)–a sin that God will judge (e.g., Isa 13:11). גאון עזכם may refer to the land (Lev 26:19; and, with a positive tone, Ps 47:5) or to the Jerusalem temple (Ezek 24:21). Consolation prophecies mention גאון as the restored dignity of God’s people (Isa 4:2; Isa 60:15; Nah 2:3).
 See Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute: 1965), 173, 412; and G. del Olmo Lete and J. Sanmartin, A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition (trans and ed. W. G. E. Watson; 3d revised ed.; HdO; Leiden: Brill, 2015), 934–35.
 Mesha Stele, line 21: אנך בנתי קרחה חמת היערן וחמת העפל (“I built Kirho, the wall of Ya‘aran and the wall of the Ofel”) seems to understand Ya’aran as one of Mesha’s building projects in Dibon. See Shmuel Ahituv (HaKetav VeHamiktav [Jerusalem: Bialik, 2012], 380, 390) who suggested a parallel to Solomon’s בית יער הלבנון; compare to Isaam K.H. Halayqu (A Comparative Lexicon of Ugaritic and Canaanite [AOAT 340; Münster: Ugarit Verlag 2008], 357), who suggested that the walls surrounded a “parkland,” a planted forest.
 Edward W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (2 vols.; Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1877), 2.2953; Hans Wehr (A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (ed. K. M. Cowan; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1966), 1081) added the following meanings: “covered with rock debris, cleft, riven”; “wild,” and thus “rough, hard, difficult.”
 Another indication of the ya‘ar as a tree formation may be deduced from references to its destruction in judgment prophecies, e.g., Jer 21:14: והצתי אש ביערה ואכלה כל סביביה (“I will set fire to its forest; it shall consume all that is around it”); or by cutting its trees, e.g. Isa 10:33–34: הנה האדון יהוה צבאות מסעף פארה במערצה, ורמי הקומה גדועים והגבהים ישפלו. ונקף סבכי היער בברזל, והלבנון באדיר יפול (“Lo! The Sovereign LORD of Hosts will hew off the tree-crowns with an ax: The tall ones shall be felled, the lofty ones cut down. The thickets of the forest shall be hacked away with iron, and the Lebanon trees shall fall in their majesty”).
 Amanah, Snir, Hermon are hapaxes in the Song of Songs, while Lebanon occurs seven times in the scroll. They each and all together represent the furthest northern and remote mountain areas in the Song of Songs, see also Song 4:11, 15; the cedar among the trees of Lebanon, Song 3:9; 5:15; or the hight of Lebanon, 7:5. Yair Zakovitch (Song of Songs [Mikra LeYisrael; Tel Aviv and Jerusalem: Am Oved and Magnes, 1992], 92 [Hebrew]) took those as simply standing for the exotic far. The general geography of the Song is more commonly around the city of Jerusalem and the Judean Desert, and still there is an observable tendency in the Song to mention remote places (ibid., 29).
 This high number of occurrences pertains to the explicit references to lions in the HB; Brent Strawn adduced about fifty more verses in which lions are implicitly referred to. See, What Is Stronger than a Lion? Leonine Image and Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (OBO 212; Fribourg: Fribourg Academic Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005), Appendix 1, 293–325, and Appendix 2, 327–56.
 See Rashi on Job 4:10–11; and Alkana Bilik, “Aryeh,” Encyclopedia Mikrait (8 vols.; Jerusalem: Bialik, 1950), 1:560–64, esp. 561–63. Rabbinic literature treated the lion as the king of the beasts, e.g., b. Hagigah 13b. For a thorough study of lion imagery, see Strawn, What Is Stronger than a Lion? Appendix 1, 293–325, including the suggestion that the different names may stand for diverse subspecies within the species lion (p. 31).
 Strawn (What Is Stronger than a Lion? 27, and passim) used the thoughtful phrase “imag(in)ed,” and thus left open the two possibilities. Nevertheless, his basic conclusion, based on the large number of passages that mention lions in the HB, was that lions were prevalent in ancient Israel/ Palestine. While he noted that this conclusion is debated, he still took this position as his working hypothesis. I find myself agreeing with him (and others) on this point.
 To highlight some of the most significant unknown aspects: What was the vegetation typical of the Jordan? What were the trees comprising the different ya‘ar areas, and how come different “forest or thickets” areas are all termed ya‘ar? etc.