(עֲטִלֵּŠ, atalleph'; Sept. νυκτερίς; Syriac Vers. peacock) occurs in Le 11:19; De 14:18; Isa 2:20; and Baruch 6:22. In Hebrew the word implies "flying in the dark," which, taken in connection with the sentence, "Moreover, the bat and every creeping thing that flieth is unclean unto you; they shall not be eaten," is so clear, that there cannot be a mistake respecting the order of animals meant, though to modern zoology neither the species, the genus, nor even the family is thereby manifested: the injunction merely prohibits eating bats, and may likewise include some tribes of insects. At first sight, animals so diminutive, lean, and. repugnant to the senses must appear scarcely to have required the legislator's attention, but the fact evidently shows that there were at the time men or women who ate animals classed with bats, a practice still in vogue in the great Australasian islands, where the frugivorous Pteropi of the harpy or goblin family, by seamen denominated flying-dogs, and erroneously vampires, are caught and eaten; but where the insectivorous true bats, such as the genera common in Europe, are rejected. Some of the species of harpies are of the bulk of a rat, with from three to four feet of expanse between the tips of the wings; they have a fierce dog-like head, and are nearly all marked with a space of rufous hair from the forehead over the neck and along the back. For a description of the various kinds of bats, see the Penny Cyclopaedia, s.v. Cheiroptera.
In the foregoing enumeration of unclean animals, the bat is reckoned among the birds, and such appears to be the most obvious classification; but modern naturalists have shown that it has no real affinity with birds. It is now included in the class of mammiferous quadrupeds, characterized by having the tegumentary membrane extended over the bones of the extremities in such a manner as to constitute wings capable of sustaining and conveying them through the air. The name of Cheiroptera, or hand- winged, has therefore been bestowed on this order. It comprises a great number of genera, species, and varieties; they are all either purely insectivorous or insecti-frugivorous, having exceedingly sharp cutting and acutely tuberculated jaw teeth, and the whole race is nocturnal. They vary in size from that of the smallest common mouse up to that of the vampire, or gigantic ternate bat, whose body is as large as that of a squirrel. The smaller species are abundantly distributed over the globe; the larger seem to be confined to warm and hot regions, where they exist in great numbers, and are very destructive to the fruits. The purely insectivorous species render great service to mankind by the destruction of vast numbers of insects, which they pursue with great eagerness in the morning and evening twilight. During the daytime they remain suspended by their hinder hooked claws in the lofts of barns, in hollow or thickly-leaved trees, etc. As winter approaches, in cold climates, they seek shelter in caverns, vaults, ruinous and deserted buildings, and similar retreats, where they cling together in large clusters, and remain in a torpid condition until the returning spring recalls them to active exertions. In the texts of Scripture, where allusion is made to caverns and dark places, true Vespertilionidae, or insect-eating bats, similar to the European, are clearly designated.
The well-known habits of the bat afford a forcible illustration of a portion of the fearful picture drawn in Isa 2:20 of the day when the Lord shall arise "to shake terribly the earth:' "A man shall cast his idols of silver and his idols of gold to the moles and to the bats," or, in other words, carry his idols into the dark caverns, old ruins, or desolate places, to which he himself shall flee for refuge; and so shall give them up, and relinquish them to the filthy animals that frequent such places, and have taken possession of them as their proper habitation. Bats are very common in the East (Kitto, Pict. Bible, note on Isa 2:20). Layard (Nineveh and Babylon, p. 307) describes his visit to a cavern on the banks of the Khabour swarming with bats. "Flying toward the light," he adds, "these noisome beasts compelled us to retreat. They clung to our clothes, and our hands could scarcely prevent them settling on our faces. The rustling of their wings was like the noise of a great wind, and an abominable stench arose from the recesses of the cave." They are also found delineated upon the Egyptian monuments (Wilkinson, 1:232, 234, abridgm.). Several species of these animals are found in Egypt, some of which occur doubtless in Palestine. Molossus Ruppelii, Vespertilio pipistrellus var. Aegyptius, Vauritus var. Aegypt., Taphozous perforatus, Nycteris Thebaica, Rhinopoma microphyllum, Rhinolophus tridens, occur in the tombs and pyramids of Egypt. SEE ZOOLOGY.