1. By the law of Moses the ass was declared unclean, and therefore was not used as food, excepting, as it would appear, in cases of extreme famine. This inference, however, is drawn from a case where the term "ass's head" may be explained to mean not literally the head of an ass, but a certain measure or weight so called, as in 1Sa 16:20, where it is said that Jesse sent to Saul " an ass of bread;" for, in our version, "laden with" is an addition to the text. Although, therefore, the famine in Samaria may possibly have compelled the people to eat asses, and a head may have been very dear, still the expression may denote the measure or weight which bore the same name. The prohibition, however, had more probably an economical than a religious purpose; hunting was thus discouraged, and no horses being used, it was of importance to augment the number and improve the qualities of the ass. This example of the use of asses' flesh (an "ass's head") in extreme famine (sometimes the flesh was regarded as a delicacy, Apul. Metanm. 7:p. 158, Bip. ed.; comp. Galen, Facult. alim. i, 2, p. 486, ed. Kuhn; Plin. 8:68) occurs in 2Ki 6:25 (comp. Plutarch, Vit. Artax. 24; Barhebr. Chronicles p. 149, 488), although it was unclean (Philo, Opp. ii, 400; comp. Ex 13:13; Ex 34:20), and the ass could not be offered in sacrifice (Porphyr. Abstin. ii, 25; but it was otherwise among the Persians, Strabo, 15:727; even in magic its flesh was used, Ammian. Marc. 30:5, p. 228, Bip. ed.). SEE FOOD.
2. As this animal was most serviceable to man, its name was held in respect rather than contempt. The slander, therefore, current among the Romans, and directed against the Jews, that they adored the head of an ass in secret, may not have originated in direct malice or misinterpretation, but have arisen out of some Gnostic fancies, in which the Alexandrian Jews, who had nearly forsaken the Scriptures in search of the magical delusions of the Cabala, and new semi-Christians in that city so deeply indulged during the first centuries of our era. Hence the Ophite sect figured in the circles of Behemoth, the last genius or Eon (?), under the name of Onoel, shaped like an ass; and there exists an engraved abraxas, or talisman, of Gentile or Gnostic origin, bearing the whole length form of a man in flowing robes with an ass's head, and holding an open book with the inscription " Deus Christianorum menenychites." It is not likely that mere malice would engrave its spite upon amulets, although, ifJablonski be correct, the ass was held in contempt in Egypt, and, therefore, in Alexandria; but among the Arabs and Jews we have " the voice of one crying in the wilderness," a solemn allusion derived from the wild ass, almost the only voice in the desert; and in the distinguishing epithet of Mirvan II, last Ommiad caliph, who was called Hymar al-Gezerah, or wild ass of Mesopotamia-proofs that no idea of contempt was associated with the prophet's metaphor, and that, L;y such a designation, no insult was intended to the person or dignity of the prince. In more remote ages Tartak or Tarhak was an ass-god of the Avim, and Yauk was the Arabian name of another equine divinity, or a different name for the same Tartak, whose form may possibly be preserved to the present day in the image of the Borak, or mystical camel, which, according to the Koran, bore Mohammed, and is now carried in processions at the Nurus. It is shaped like a horse, having a white body with red legs, a peacock's tail, and a woman's instead of an ass's head. Yet this attributing of the worship of the ass (ass's head) to the Jews (Plut. Sympos. 4:5; Tacit. Hist. v, 4; Diod. Sic. Exc. ii, 225; comp. Josephus, Apion, ii, 7) was a highly odious misconstruction (see Bernhold, in the Erlang. Anzeig. 1744, No. 52). The historical foundation of this tradition cannot be traced to the well-known legend of a fountain of water discovered in the desert by an ass (Tacit. ut supra), for the arguments adduced by Creuzer (Comment. Herod. i, 270 sq.) lead to no clear result (see Fuller, Miscell. iii, 8, p. 332 sq.), and the etymological reference by Hase (De lapidefundamenti, in Ugolini Thesaur. viii) to the idol Ashimam (q.v.) is as little satisfactory (see Muller, in the Stud. u. Krit. 1843, 4:909 sq.; Bochart, Hieroz. i, 199 sq.; comp. Minuc. Fel. 9:4; and the Talmud, Shabb. v, 1). See generally, on this subject of onolatry, the treatises of Polemann (Brem. 1706); Morinus (in his Dissert. p. 285-336); Haseeus and Ottius (Erf. 1716); Del Monaco (Neap. 1715); Bernhard (in the Erl. Gel. Anzeig. 1744, No. 52); Linder (Exc. ad Minuc. Fel. 9:4); Grape (Lips. 1696); Hasseus (in the Bibl. Brem. iii, 1036 sq.); Heine (in his Dissert. ii, 1. c. 10); Schulze (in his Dissert. i); Schumacher (De cultu animalium, p. 60- 90); Munter (D. Christen im heidn. Hause, p. 118 sq.). SEE ONOLATRY.